"Hey! Hitomi Murasakime here! Did you enjoy StarLight Volume 1? If you haven't read it yet, you should go do that! If you have read it, then great news! Volume 1 is now available on Amazon Kindle, and it'll shortly be available in printed format on the Amazon Book Store! It comes exclusively with some brand-new scenes and improvements, plus a handy "Jokédex" to help you understand any references that may have gone over your head! Isn't that cool? Anyway, I'd better let the narrator get on with Volume 2... I hope you all enjoy it!"
Inaba-sensei pulled into the car park of Mitsuzawa High School, ready for another day of teaching. She had had a late night the previous night, and it has not done her any favours. She had one hand on the steering wheel, and the other hand massaged her throbbing temples. As she parked up, she spotted a pair of nearby students chatting eagerly and exchanging kisses. They're lucky, she thought to herself.
Inaba-sensei exited the car, walked past the couple without a second glance, and headed towards the main building, continuing to massage her aching forehead as she walked. God, I hate Mondays.***
Inaba-sensei did not seem her usual cheerful, energetic self when taking the register that day.
"Here. Sensei, are-"
“Card Game Guy?”
“I AM PRESENT!”
When the register was done, Sanae tried again. "Inaba-sensei, are you okay? You don't look so good.”
Inaba-sensei forced a smile. "I'm alright, really. It's just, yesterday was my birthday, and-"
Immediately the class sprang to life. "It was your birthday?" "Why didn't you tell us?" "We could have signed a card for you, or clubbed together and brought a present!" "Happy late birthday, Inaba-sensei!" "How old were you?"
Inaba-sensei did not answer any of the questions, nor did she react to any except the last one, at which the pallor of her face seemed to intensify and her eyes grow more sunken.
"Come on, Inaba-sensei!" begged another student. "It's not really even a personal question! We just wanna know how old you are!"
"I’m not telling you!" snapped Inaba-sensei suddenly. "A lady is entitled to her secrets!"
Sanae, knowing exactly which buttons to push, set about pushing them. "Why is it such a big deal, though? I mean, it's not like you're forty or something, right?" She grinned slyly. "Or are you one of those people who are secretly much older than they look? Are you actually forty already?"
The needling had the desired effect. "I’m twenty-six!" blurted out Inaba-sensei, before realizing her admission and covering her mouth, her face turning bright scarlet.
"That's still pretty young," said Sanae, in an attempt to reassure her.
"Unless," remarked Amaya in an undertone, "you're still single."
Sanae suddenly remembered the old "Christmas cake" analogy. In Japan, it was traditional to buy such a cake at Christmas, but after the 25th, the remaining ones would be left on the shelf, get heavily discounted, and then eventually thrown out, as no-one would want to buy them anymore. It was considered the same with women; if they had not found a boyfriend by the time they turned 25, they had been "left on the shelf", as it were, and their chances of finding love severely decreased. It seemed an outdated concept to Sanae, yet many still believed in it, and clearly Inaba-sensei did too.
“You’re right,” said Sanae. “That might be why she’s so depressed suddenly! Come to think of it, I can’t recall a single female teacher in anime who wasn’t a Christmas cake! It’s gotta be the case with Inaba-sensei as well!”
“Are you thinking what I’m thinking?” asked Amaya.
“That depends,” said Sanae. “Are you thinking that we should find Inaba-sensei a hot boyfriend as soon as we possibly can?”
“That’s pretty much what I was thinking, yeah,” said Amaya. “Let’s do it.”
At lunchtime, the girls headed up to the roof, to come up with ideas on how to set Inaba-sensei up with potential lovers. “We could set up a Timber profile in her name,” Sanae suggested.
“Nah, for that we’d need a photo and stuff,” said Amaya. “Let’s start simple for now. Maybe a lonely hearts ad?”
“A lonely hearts ad?” asked Sanae. “What’s that?”
“Don’t you read the newspapers?” asked Amaya.
Sanae shook her head. “I get all my news from the Internet! Did you know there are thirteen cats that look EXACTLY like the Empire State Building?”
Amaya sighed. “A lonely hearts ad is an advertisement you take out in a newspaper, offering yourself up for dates. Something like… ‘Spunky twentysomething female teacher seeks like-minded male for long-term romance. Likes long walks on the beach-‘”
“Mitsuzawa doesn’t have a beach,” said Sanae. “The nearest one’s a two-hour drive. I know because I was looking it up, ahead of the inevitable beach episode.”
Amaya sighed. “Well, you get the idea,” she said. “We can work out the wording later. But does that sounds like a good plan?”
“It’s a good start,” said Sanae. “All we need now are Inaba-sensei’s contact details, right?”
Amaya shook her head, smiling. “No,” she said, “we won’t be needing those.”
That afternoon, Amaya headed home to write the lonely hearts ad and get it submitted to the newspaper. Sanae, meanwhile, found herself explaining the situation to Kousen, who of course had no idea what the fuss was all about.
“-and that’s why she needs to find a boyfriend as soon as possible, before she succumbs to eternal loneliness and despair!” Sanae explained.
“I see,” said Kousen. “I forgot about the human need for reproduction.”
“That’s got nothing to do with it!” said Sanae, looking flustered. “Well, it might do, but… i-it’s not about making babies! It’s about love! It’s about Inaba-sensei’s emotional wellbeing!”
Kousen sighed, perching herself upon Sanae’s desk. “This is not an area in which I am an expert,” she said. “As an emotionless being, I can’t claim to understand the concept of love. But if you believe that finding her a boyfriend will bring her happiness, then I’m sure it’s the right thing to do.”
“Thanks,” said Sanae. “I’m just not sure how we’re gonna do it.”
“Well, don’t look to me for advice,” said Kousen.
“Hmm…” Sanae lay back on her bed and thought for a moment. “Couldn’t I just use my magic to make somebody fall in love with her?”
“No,” said Kousen. “As I’ve told you repeatedly, your magic is only to be used for emergencies, and in any case, it would be beyond the power of the Emblem. Remember, we youkai are an emotionless race, therefore our magic cannot affect emotions.”
“Yeah, I figured that’d be too easy,” said Sanae. “Ah well. I guess we’ll just have to see how well this lonely hearts ad of Amaya’s pans out.”2: Episode 7: Operation Christmas Cake (Pt.2)
“There,” said Amaya, as she hit ‘Send’. “I’ve e-mailed the lonely hearts ad to the local newspaper. They’ll be printing it in tomorrow’s edition.”
Kage peered over Amaya’s shoulder at the advert, which was printed on the screen. “You listed your own phone number, nyaa~” she said. “Shouldn’t you have listed Inaba-sensei’s number instead?”
Amaya shook her head, smiling. “We’ve got it all worked out,” she said, steepling her fingers. “When someone inevitably calls asking about the advert, I’ll pretend to be Inaba-sensei and arrange a date at, say, the park. Then, Sanae and I will innocently coerce Inaba-sensei into visiting the same location at the same time, on some other pretence. When she arrives there, she’ll find her future lover waiting for her. From there, it’ll be up to her… although Sanae and I will be lurking nearby just to make sure everything runs smoothly. If all goes as planned, she’ll be in a stable, loving relationship before the end of the month.”
Kage cracked open a beer and took a swig. “That sounds kinda complicated, nyaa~” she said.
“Maybe,” said Amaya. “But it should work. And if not…” If Amaya wore glasses, they would have glinted dangerously at this point. “There’s always Plan B.”
The following afternoon, Inaba-sensei was relaxing in front of the TV, her troubles very much out of her mind. She was watching a game show in which contestants had to answer questions while standing at the top of a 300-foot-tall bungee platform. If they got an answer wrong, they were pushed off the platform and eliminated from the game; the last one still on the platform won. This was a little extreme even for a Japanese game show, but it was mindless entertainment, and Inaba-sensei loved it.
“Alright, next question,” said the host, standing before the next terrified contestant. “The national flag of Honduras features how many stars?”
“The flag of Honduras has stars on it?” said the flummoxed contestant. “Uhh… oh gosh, I have no idea… one?”
The host laughed for a moment, then pushed the man off the platform. The man fell screaming for about 150 feet before the bungee cord attached to his ankles kicked in, slowing his descent and, after several bounces, leaving him dangling in mid-air, along with two other fallen contestants. Inaba-sensei couldn’t help giggling at the man’s screams, even if she wouldn’t have coped much better herself in that position.
Her moment of schadenfreude was interrupted by a phone call. She picked up her handset and put it to her ear. “Hello?”
After a moment’s listening, Inaba-sensei sprang to her feet, an expression of shock on her face. “What?!” Rushing to the kitchen table, she grabbed a copy of that day’s newspaper and hurriedly opened it to the lonely hearts column. There, right at the top, was the following entry:
“Hot young teacher. 20-something woman wltm hot guy with gsoh for warm cuddles and romance. Call Inaba-sensei at 0461 16 1115.”
I don’t believe it, though Inaba-sensei. Somebody’s put out a lonely hearts ad in my name! But who… and why? Inaba-sensei quickly turned detective. Could it be my parents-? No. They know what my number is, and they wouldn’t call me ‘Inaba-sensei’. Nor would they be this subtle if they were trying to set me up with someone. So this must have been one of my students. And I know exactly how to find out who.
Inaba-sensei turned her attention back to the caller, who was still hanging on the line. “I’m sorry, I’ll call you back,” she said. “Thanks for letting me know about this.” After hanging up, she set about dialling the number listed in the advertisement. You wanna set me up, huh? Two can play at that game.
Inaba-sensei cleared her throat, and when the call connected, she spoke in a deep voice, trying to sound as masculine as possible. “Hello?” she asked. “Is this Inaba-sensei?”
Amaya, on the other end, answered in a girly, high-pitched voice. “Hi~! This is Inaba-sensei~!” she said.
Inaba-sensei looked genuinely offended by the poor imitation of her. I don’t sound anything like that!, she thought to herself. And I wouldn’t call myself ‘Inaba-sensei’ either! “Ahem… my name is, uhh…“ The sound of another screaming contestant coming from the TV gave Inaba-sensei an idea. “Banji. My name is Banji. I’m calling about the lonely hearts ad.”
“Ah!” Inaba-sensei could hear the excitement in her impostor’s voice. “So, you’re interested in going on a date with me? I’m so lonely, you see~”
You’re making me sound desperate!, thought Inaba-sensei, her annoyance increasing. Despite this, she managed to keep her voice calm. “I’d like to meet you, yes. Perhaps at the park, this Friday afternoon?”
“The park sounds wonderful~” said Amaya. That’s what I was going to suggest anyway. “You’ll recognize me by my long brown hair and generic teacher-like appearance. I’ll be there at four, okay?”
Like hell I’ll be there at four!, thought Inaba-sensei. Does this child realize how much marking I have to do every night?! “Uhh, four’s no good for me,” she said. “I have work until five. How does five-thirty sound?”
“Yeah, that’s fine,” said Amaya. “Alright, I’ll see you there, Banji~”
“See you there, Miss Inaba,” said Inaba-sensei. She hung up, and let out a deep sigh. “Honestly… those kids can be such a pain sometimes. I know they mean well, but…” Well, I guess I’ll have to wait for now. After all… they can’t set their teacher up on a date without their teacher actually being present.
Inaba-sensei remained none the wiser as to who had placed the advert until the following afternoon, just after the final bell had rung. Just as she had predicted, the instigators of the scheme came forth themselves.
“Hey, Inaba-sensei!” said Sanae. “I was wondering, have you been to the park recently?”
Inaba-sensei had to conceal her triumphant grin. Gotcha, she thought. So it was you two, the main protagonists… I really should have guessed. “No, I don’t think I have,” she said innocently. “Why do you ask?”
“Oh, it’s wonderful this time of year!” said Sanae. “All the scenery, and the greenery, and the, uhh… the scenery… anyway, you should go check it out sometime! Say… maybe this Friday, after school?”
“Well, I have a lot of marking to do,” said Inaba-sensei, “but I should be able to get up there for, say, five-thirty?”
“That’d be perfect!” said Amaya. “I hope you have a great time, sensei!”
“Oh, don’t worry,” said Inaba-sensei, smiling innocently. “I’m sure I will~”
“Alright then,” said Sanae. “See you tomorrow, Inaba-sensei!”
“Goodbye, you two!” said Inaba-sensei, waving them off. The moment they were gone, she steepled her fingers and flashed a sinister grin. All according to keikaku, she thought. [TL Note: “keikaku” means “plan”]3: Episode 7: Operation Christmas Cake (Pt.3)
That Friday afternoon, Sanae and Amaya concealed themselves behind a bush in the park as they waited for Inaba-sensei and Banji to arrive for their date. “What do you reckon Banji looks like?” asked Sanae. “It’d be no good if he shows up and turns out to be some really ugly fat guy. Or worse, he shows up and we don’t even recognize him.”
Amaya thought for a moment. She was not much of a romantic, but she tried to draw some kind of conclusion based on the brief telephone call. “Well, his voice sounded a little effeminate,” she said. “Maybe he’s one of those dashing, flamboyant types: you know, long hair, white suit, always poses like this…” Amaya plucked a flower from the ground and held it against her bosom with one hand, her eyes closed and an enigmatic smile on her face. “I personally hate guys like that, but Inaba-sensei might be into them.”
“Yeah, maybe,” said Sanae. “Or she might just be desperate enough that she wouldn’t care.”
“If she was that desperate, she could have gotten a guy by now through any number of means,” said Amaya. “Maybe she’s just resigned herself to being a Christmas cake forever. Or… could it be th-“
“Shhh!” whispered Sanae suddenly. “I think I hear someone coming!”
The girls fell silent and retreated further inside the bush, peeking out as they watched Inaba-sensei approach. She casually checked her watch, as though making sure she wasn’t late. “It sure is convenient that she happened to show up in the exact region of the park that we were already spying on,” whispered Amaya. “We’d have been screwed if the two of them met up on the other side of the park and we didn’t realize until they’d already gone home.”
“I think we might still be screwed,” whispered Sanae.
“Why is that?” asked Amaya.
“Because Inaba-sensei is coming this way,” whispered Sanae. And sure enough, she was now purposefully striding towards the bush the girls were concealed in.
“I-Impossible!” whispered Amaya. “It must be just a coincidence, there’s no way she could have known we were in here-“
“I didn’t,” said Inaba-sensei suddenly. “I just thought to myself, ‘If I were going to set my teacher up on a date, and then spy on her to make sure it went well, where would I hide?’”
“Oh, okay then,” said Amaya. Then, doing a double-take and realizing that Inaba-sensei was standing right before them, grinning dangerously down at them, she fell over backwards out of the bush with shock. “Uwaah! Inaba-sensei!”
“The jig’s up, girls,” said Inaba-sensei. “I know it was you two that took out that lonely hearts ad in my name.”
Sanae popped her head out of the bush, shaking the twigs out of her hair. “Before you get mad, Inaba-sensei,” she said, “just know that we’re doing this for your sake! If you don’t find a boyfriend soon, you’ll be doomed to ‘Christmas cake’ status forever, just like every other anime teacher in existence! We don’t want that!”
Inaba-sensei let out an amused sigh, smiling to herself. “So that’s what this about, is it?” she said. “Look, girls, I appreciate the effort, and I’m touched that you care that much about me, but I really don’t need any help getting into a relationship. I’m fine, honestly. So you can stop with all these silly plans, alright?”
“But Inaba-sensei-“ objected Sanae.
“No buts,” said Inaba-sensei. “Promise me you’re not going to try anything like this again.”
The girls sighed in unison. “We promise,” they said.
Inaba-sensei smiled at the girls. “Thank you,” she said. “Now then, I’d better get home. My dinner’s not going to cook itself.”
“Couldn’t you at least wait for Banji to get here?” asked Amaya, as their teacher began to leave. “You never know, you might end up liking him.”
Inaba-sensei looked back over her shoulder at the girls and put on her deep, masculine voice once again. “I’m afraid ‘Banji’ has stood you up,” she said, before walking away.
Realizing she had been duped, Amaya turned bright scarlet. “Well… that explains how she found us out,” she said sheepishly, before turning to Sanae. “So what do we do now? Should we give up on her, like she said to?”
Sanae shook her head. “No. She’s a woman in denial. She needs our help whether she realizes it or not. We’ll just have to be more subtle about it. Any ideas?”
Amaya thought for a moment. "Hmm… well, we don’t know much about what Inaba-sensei is into. Maybe if we knew what her interests were, what she does in her spare time and stuff, maybe we could find a guy with the same interests and pair them up that way."
Sanae’s eyes lit up with approval. "Hey, that might work! Nice thinking, Amaya! And I think I know just how to get that info.”
"I’ve told you a dozen times, Sanae!" scowled Kousen, once Sanae arrived home from school, "The power of the White Star Emblem is to be used for emergencies only."
"This is an emergency!" retorted Sanae. "If we don't act now, Inaba-sensei will die alone!"
"Unless she's going to die in the next few hours, it's not an emergency," insisted Kousen.
Sanae decided to try the emotional plea. "Well, how would you feel if you never found love, and grew old and died alone?" she asked.
"We youkai do not form romantic attachments as humans do," Kousen responded, "and as we are ageless, we do not grow old."
This response threw Sanae for a moment, but she recovered surprisingly quickly - and strongly. "Then how could you possibly claim to know it's not an emergency if you have no knowledge or experience of the subject at hand?" she demanded.
Kousen's curveball had been hit right out of the park, and she realized it. "You raise a surprisingly valid point," she conceded, before heaving a sigh. "Alright. Just this once. But be careful not to be seen by anyone."
"I don't think I need to worry about that," responded Sanae.
On Saturday morning, having looked up Inaba-sensei’s address online (“This In-Turn-It really can do anything!” Kousen had remarked), Sanae transformed into White Star and used a spell to render herself invisible. The plan was for her to spend the day spying on Inaba-sensei, peering in through her windows and following her should she happen to leave the house. Amaya would then do the same on Sunday.
While the plan certainly sounded creepy, it was the only way Sanae and Amaya could think of in which to learn about their teacher’s habits and interests. Besides, if they were invisible, nobody would be able to catch them, least of all Inaba-sensei (not that either of them knew that the other would be turning invisible, of course). However, their plan had one glaring flaw.
“Amayaaaa~” whined White Star into her walkie-talkie. “I’m boooored. How much longer do I have to sit out here? Inaba-sensei isn’t even doing anything!”
“Sanae, it’s only one o’clock,” said Amaya. “I know this must be boring, but you have to remain patient. Didn’t you bring anything to keep you occupied? Your phone? Your 4DX?”
“I, uhh… didn’t think to,” said White Star. In truth, she simply hadn’t bothered, partly because the items wouldn’t have turned invisible when she had, partly because the 4DX required both hands and she needed one hand to hold onto the White Star Emblem, and partly because her outfit didn’t have pockets.
“Well, that’s your stupid fault, then, isn’t it?” said Amaya. “Look… she’s been awake for a few hours by now. She must have done something in that time.”
White Star shook her head. “She went downstairs, had breakfast, and ever since then she’s just been sat on the sofa watching TV. She hasn’t even gotten dressed yet! I had no idea she was this lazy!”
“Wow, that is lazy,” said Amaya. “Well… just keep waiting, and hopefully something will happen eventually.”
White Star sighed. “Roger that,” she said. “Over and out.” Putting down the walkie-talkie, White Star resigned herself to several more hours of boredom.4: Episode 7: Operation Christmas Cake (Pt.4)
At about 5pm, Amaya noticed that she hadn’t heard from Sanae for quite some time. Picking up her walkie-talkie, she decided to check in to make sure everything was okay. “Sanae? Are you there? Come in.”
Sanae was, at that particular moment in time, busy fighting a monster that had shown up in the industrial area. It was a sort of harpy-like creature that soared through the skies around her at dazzling speed, slashing at her with its claws. It was taking all her concentration just to battle it, and having to talk to Amaya was the last thing she needed, but at the same time she couldn’t ignore her friend.
“Oh, you gotta be kidding me…” Clutching her wand in one hand, White Star picked up her walkie-talkie in the other. “Yeah, I’m here, Amaya.”
“Is everything alright?” asked Amaya. “You’ve gone quiet all of a sudden. And you sound a little out-of-breath.”
White Star ducked yet another attack from the harpy creature. “Yeah, I’m fine,” she said. “I’m just a bit… busy at the moment.”
“Busy?” repeated Amaya. “Oh… is Inaba-sensei finally on the move?”
“Uhh… yeah, sure, let’s go with that,” said White Star, as she lined up an attack. “I’m tracking her right now.”
“Why didn’t you radio in to say something?” asked Amaya. “Where is she?”
“She, uhh… might have heard me,” said White Star. “So… yeah. I was being stealthy. Where is she? She’s, uhh- whoa!” White Star ducked at the last second as the harpy came swooping in once more, letting out a loud screech.
“What was that?” asked Amaya.
“I, uhh… tripped over a stray cat,” said White Star. I think I’m getting good at these excuses, she thought. “Anyway, Inaba-sensei is heading towards the, uhh… the industrial district.”
“Why would she be heading towards the industrial district?” asked Amaya.
After another close call, dodging the harpy’s claws by millimetres, White Star decided that the conversation had gone on long enough. “I don’t know!” she said, exasperated. “That’s why I’m tailing her to find out! Anyway, I’ll get back to you later. Over and out.”
With a weary sigh, White Star switched off the walkie-talkie and tossed it over her shoulder. “Jeez, what a pain…” she muttered, turning her attention back to the harpy monster. “You guys always show up right when I’m in the middle of something… I guess on this occasion I should thank you, though. Any longer without anything happening and I would’ve gone insane. Of course, I’m still going to have to destroy you. Sorry.”
“It’s a monster, it can’t understand you,” said Kousen drily.
“Actually, I think they can to an extent,” said White Star. “Have you always noticed how they stop dead whenever I’m talking? I think they’re listening.”
“Listening and understanding are two completely different things,” said Kousen. “I listen to everything you tell me and yet I barely understand half of it.”
“You know that kinda makes you sound stupid, right?” said White Star.
Kousen was thrown for a moment, trying to understand what White Star was talking about, before letting out a resigned sigh. “Just defeat the monster already,” she said.
“Can do!” said White Star. “First, let’s do something about that speed of its.” As the harpy came swooping in once more, White Star raised her wand. “Arctic Blast!” A freezing blast of snow froze the monster solid, trapping it in a thick layer of ice and immobilizing it. The monster thus plummeted to the ground, whereupon its icy tomb shattered, freeing it. The harpy took a moment to stretch its wings before emitting a loud screech and soaring straight at White Star once again.
“Well, that didn’t work like I hoped,” remarked White Star, a moment before the harpy slammed straight into her, knocking her backwards through the air. Shaking off the attack, White Star suddenly had an idea. As the harpy came swooping in yet again, she clutched the White Star Wand in two hands like a baseball bat and readied a swing. “Batter up!”
SMACK. White Star threw all her strength behind her Wand and smashed the harpy straight in the face with it as it attacked her. The harpy was sent flying across several city blocks before crashing into the roof of an office block and tumbling to a halt.
Before it could try to get up, White Star pointed her wand at it. “Finishing Move: White Star Beam!” A powerful beam of light burst forth from her wand and obliterated the monster, leaving nothing behind but its Black Heart, which White Star promptly picked up. “I must have quite the collection of these by now,” she remarked. “Anyway, I guess I’d better get back to Amaya and continue that stakeout… ugh. I should drawn that battle out a little longer…”
Just as White Star had feared, the rest of the stakeout proceeded to be as boring and uneventful as it had been before the monster had appeared. She had learned nothing at all about Inaba-sensei, other than that her teacher liked watching a lot of TV on Saturdays.
“Well, that was a total waste of a Saturday,” Sanae groaned, as she headed back home that night. “Just think of all the things I could have done today, instead of sitting there watching someone do nothing the whole day!”
“You mean like sitting in your room playing video games the whole day?” said Kousen.
“Yeah!” said Sanae. “Like that!”
Kousen rolled her eyes. “Can I just point out that I disagreed with this plan from the start?” she said.
“You can, but I’ll ignore you,” said Sanae. “Anyway, it’s too late to do anything about it now. Tomorrow it’ll be Amaya’s turn to do the spying.”
“If she must, then at least tell her to be careful,” said Kousen. “She doesn’t have the benefit of an Emblem to turn herself invisible, like you do.”
“Sanae didn’t have the benefit of an Emblem to help her be stealthy, like I do,” said Amaya the next morning, as she gazed upon the Black Star Emblem sitting on her desk. “This’ll be easy.”
“It’ll be boring, nyaa~” said Kage, folding her arms. “Why use the Emblem for something so dull?”
“Because I promised Sanae that I’d help her,” said Amaya. “And we promised Inaba-sensei that we’d help her find love, and we can’t do that if we don’t know anything about her. Besides, I’m sure there’ll be the opportunity for a few invisibility pranks along the way.”
That last bit piqued Kage’s attention, as Amaya knew it would. “Alright, sure,” she said. “But I’m staying here and getting wasted, nyaa~” She pulled a bottle of beer out of nowhere and cracked it open with her sharp fingernails.
“Where do you even get all that beer from?” asked Amaya.
Kage shrugged as she took a swig. “Never you mind, nyaa~” she said. “You go ahead and do your thing.”
Taking hold of the Black Star Emblem, Amaya was engulfed in a bright white glow. Her casual clothes morphed into a black minidress with white lace trim. Her shoes morphed into black high heels whose straps wound up her pale shins. Amidst a sudden rush of wind, a black witch's hat manifested itself on top of Amaya's head, and her jet-black fringe swept across one side of her face. Finally, the Emblem transformed into the Black Star Wand, and as Amaya clutched it tightly in her right hand, her transformation into Black Star was complete.
Turning invisible, Black Star headed out of her house and flew over to Inaba-sensei’s address. Along the way, she couldn’t help performing little mischiefs such as flying close to a young woman, causing her skirt to billow up, and knocking over a greengrocer’s box of apples. “No! My apples!” cried the greengrocer.
Heh… nothing personal, kid, thought Black Star.5: Episode 7: Operation Christmas Cake (Pt.5)
Black Star’s stakeout proved to be a little less boring. She had taken her phone along with her, and simply charged it using magic, something White Star evidently hadn’t thought of doing. What’s more, halfway through a game of Irritated Pigeons (These Chinese knock-offs suck, she thought to herself), Inaba-sensei started getting ready to leave the house.
Black Star pulled a walkie-talkie from more or less thin air and whispered into it. “Sanae, you there? Looks like Inaba-sensei’s on the move.”
“Well, go follow her then,” replied Sanae, in an equally hushed tone.
“Roger,” said Black Star. “Over and out.”
Black Star put the walkie-talkie away as the front door opened and Inaba-sensei stepped outside, wearing a sun hat and dark shades. While it was sunny outside, Black Star got the distinct impression that she was trying to disguise herself. That’s strange, thought Black Star. Even if she somehow knows I’m here, which is impossible, she can’t be wearing that disguise to try and fool me, because she knows I know that she’s the only person in the house. So, why is she…
While Black Star pondered this, Inaba-sensei consulted a to-do list. “Let’s see… groceries first…” she muttered, before setting off. Black Star followed behind her at a safe distance, resisting the urge to pull any more invisibility pranks for fear of giving herself away.
After a few minutes, Inaba-sensei arrived at her first destination, a local supermarket. Heading inside, she picked up a basket from the stack and set about tracking down her groceries. “Let’s see… beef steak… beef steak…”
Black Star, meanwhile, positioned herself at the entrance to the aisle, peering round the shelf and staring intensely at the teacher. “Jiiiiiiiii…~” she muttered.
“You know, you might be a little stealthier if you weren’t muttering “Jiiiiiiiii~” while you’re spying on her,” Sanae whispered into the walkie-talkie.
“Don’t worry,” Black Star whispered back. “I’m sure she can’t hear me.”
Inaba-sensei, who was busy reading the dates on a packet of fresh pork, looked up suddenly. “Is there a mosquito nearby…?” she asked herself. After a moment or two, she dismissed the noise and carried on with her grocery shopping.
“What’s she buying?” asked Sanae. “Anything interesting?”
Black Star, having taken a mental note of everything Inaba-sensei had put in her basket, thought to herself for a moment. “I was honestly expecting her to be buying lots of cheap cuts and junk food, like cup ramen, but she’s really splashing out and going for all the expensive stuff. Is her salary really that good?”
“Maybe she’s a comfort eater, and she’s planning on drowning her singleton sorrows in gourmet food,” suggested Sanae.
“That’s not good!” said Black Star. “If she eats that much…”
Sanae drummed her fingers on the desk. Homeroom was almost over, and yet their teacher still hadn’t arrived. “Where’s Inaba-sensei?” she wondered aloud. “She should be here by now.”
A sudden low boom rattled the classroom windows, causing the chairs and tables to jump very slightly off the floor. Amaya, previously half-asleep, jolted to her senses and looked over at the classroom door. “Here she comes now,” she said.
No sooner had she said this than there was another boom, and then another. Ripples formed on the surface of the glass of water on Inaba-sensei’s desk as the noises gradually grew closer and louder. Finally, with one last deafening boom, the door to the classroom was thrown open and there stood Inaba-sensei, gasping for breath. A vicious cycle of comfort-eating had caused her to balloon to almost spherical proportions, her face ruddy and sweaty and her thick legs trembling as they struggled to support her massive weight.
“S… sorry I’m… late…” gasped Inaba-sensei. Waddling inside, she closed the door behind her and then managed to squeeze her way behind her desk. As she sat down at her chair, it almost immediately gave way under her weight and smashed into pieces, sending Inaba-sensei plummeting to the ground with a massive thud, whereupon every table and chair in the room jumped about a foot in the air before landing back down with a clatter.
“—no man would ever love her then!” said Black Star, as she woke from her own nightmarish vision.
“Excuse me?” said Sanae, in a tone of mock indignation. “That’s triggering! Check your thin privilege, Amaya!”
“Are you calling yourself fat?” muttered Black Star in a confused tone. “Whatever. She’s at the checkout. I’ll head outside and follow her to wherever it is she’s headed next.”
Inaba-sensei’s next destination was the local market, where she bought some fresh vegetables. Black Star had to resist the urge to kick over any of the stalls. Inaba-sensei’s third and final destination, however, was far more interesting: a manga shop.
"I didn't know Inaba-sensei read manga," Sanae remarked, when Black Star relayed the news to her.
"Well, duh," replied Black Star. "That's the whole point of this mission, remember?"
"What kind of manga is she buying?" asked Sanae. "That oughta give us a good idea of what she’s into.”
Black Star watched covertly through the window (“Jiiiiiiiiii…~”) as Inaba-sensei headed down one of the aisles. After glancing around suspiciously for a moment, she picked up one of the manga and headed towards the checkout. "I can't make it out from here," said Black Star. "I saw where she got it from, though. I'll sneak inside once she's gone and take a look."
By now, Inaba-sensei had reached the checkout. She paid for the manga, then tucked it away inside her carrier bag and left the store, all the while unaware that the invisible Black Star was watching her. "Okay," whispered Black Star, "I'm going in."
Black Star entered the manga store, the automatic door sliding open as she did so. The store clerk looked up, saw the door open and close by itself, and rolled his eyes. “Darn door’s broken again…” he muttered.
Having entered more or less undetected, Black Star reached the aisle Inaba-sensei had been in and soon located the manga she had bought. "I'm pretty sure it's this one." she whispered quietly into the walkie-talkie. “Office Ladies in Love… never heard of it. Must be some soppy shoujo romance.”
“Poor Inaba-sensei,” said Sanae. “She’s escaping into idealistic fiction to find the romance she can’t have in real life. That’s so sad!”
“Might as well take a look,” said Black Star. She picked up the manga - again, fortunate that no-one was around to see a manga floating in the air - and flicked through it. Very quickly she froze, mortified, staring in horror at the images on the page.
"Th... this is... a yuri manga!" she managed to splutter.
"Come again?” said Sanae. “It sounded like you said ‘yuri manga’."
"That is what I said!" insisted Black Star, whose face would be as red as a tomato if it were actually visible. "Inaba-sensei bought a lewd yuri manga!"
"Wait... speaking of Inaba-sensei, where is she now?" asked Sanae.
Black Star suddenly realized that while she'd been checking the manga, its purchaser had gone off down the high street and eluded her. "Well, uhh... it’s funny you should ask..." she whispered nervously.
"You lost her?" asked Sanae incredulously, forgetting about having to be quiet. "Well, go find her again!"
As Sanae's shout buzzed through the walkie-talkie, the store clerk heard it and looked up, confused, and Black Star hurriedly left the store - but not before the terrified clerk caught a glimpse of an open yuri manga apparently floating in mid-air. "It's a perverted ghost!" he cried out as the door closed behind Black Star.6: Episode 7: Operation Christmas Cake (Pt.6)
Black Star was ultimately unable to find Inaba-sensei again, and so she snuck off to cause some more mayhem (this time by removing all the traffic lights at a four-way intersection) before heading home for the night. She and Sanae did not see their teacher again until Monday morning, when they happened to bump into her on their way to homeroom; she did, at least, look rather sprightlier than she had the previous Monday.
“Good morning, Inaba-sensei!” said Sanae. “Did you have a nice weekend?”
“I did indeed,” said Inaba-sensei. “Thanks for asking.”
Sanae gave her teacher a smug look. “How’s things with your “boyfriend”?” she asked, making air quotes as she said the word “boyfriend”.
Inaba-sensei let out a small sigh. “You’re still going on about this?” she said wearily. “Me and my partn- uhh, that is, me and my boyfriend are perfectly fine, thank you for asking.”
“Partner…?” Somewhere in Amaya’s mind, the penny finally dropped. “…oh! Inaba-sensei… don’t tell me you’re a lesb-“
Inaba-sensei reacted as though Amaya was trying to stab her. “NO!” she shrieked. “DON’T SAY IT! DON’T SAY THAT WORD!” Her sudden freak-out had understandably caught the attention of everyone else in the corridor, and with a panicked look on her face, Inaba-sensei quickly ushered the two girls towards a nearby door. “Quick! In here!”
“This is a broom closet,“ said Sanae.
“Just get in!” hissed Inaba-sensei. She pulled open the closet door, ushered the two girls inside, then entered behind them and closed the door, barricading it with a broom. There was barely enough room inside for the three of them, and Sanae and Amaya were forced to stand almost uncomfortably close together.
Inaba-sensei leaned back against the wall of the broom closet and let out a heavy sigh. “Well… I guess you’ve figured me out,” she said. “The truth is… I’m a lesbian. I am in a relationship, but… with another woman.”
Sanae's eyes lit up as she began to connect the dots. "Oh, of course!" she exclaimed. "It's so obvious, now that I think about it! I mean, every magical girl anime has at least one lesbian in it, right? And actually, come to think about it... that one time in your office..."
"It's okay, Sanae, I've got this," said Hitomi, cutting off her upperclassman. Leaning forwards, her demeanour suddenly changed, becoming rather sinister and upsetting. "You're forgetting, Inaba-sensei… I know your secret."
Inaba-sensei's attitude also changed dramatically. Her eyes shot open in genuine panic, beads of sweat forming on her brow as her face turned pale. "I… I'm afraid I don't know what you're talking about, Murasakime-" she said.
Hitomi was persistent. "You wouldn't want the whole school to find out about it, would you, Inaba-sensei?" she said, smiling cheerfully all the while.
The mere thought of this seemed to be enough to get Inaba-sensei to fold. "Wh-what was it you wanted me to sign again?" she asked.
Inaba-sensei nodded. "Yes. I don't know she found out about it, but she must have been threatening to out me." Sanae decided not to mention that Hitomi had simply been bluffing.
Amaya also nodded. "It would also explain that yuri manga you bought yesterd…" At the look on Inaba-sensei's face, Amaya's voice petered out as she realized she had given the game away.
“Were… were you two spying on me?!” asked Inaba-sensei, outraged.
Sanae decided to try and steer the topic away from this. “A-anyway… if you were a lesbian the whole time, then why didn’t you just tell us that? I mean, sure, this episode would have been a lot shorter, but we could all have avoided a whole load of embarrassment!”
Inaba-sensei looked down at the floor, suddenly looking unusually uncomfortable. “My parents have… never really approved of my orientation,” she said. “They thought it was some phase that I’d just grow out of, and when I didn’t, well… I’m not on speaking terms with them anymore. I’ve kept my sexuality a secret ever since, because I’m afraid of other people rejecting me like my parents did. Japan isn’t really the most tolerant country when it comes to lesbians and gays. Other than my girlfriend, you two are the first people I’ve told.”
Sanae nodded sagely. “I guess this is the episode where we deliver the heartwarming ‘just be yourself’ message, huh?” she said to herself. Laying a hand on Inaba-sensei’s shoulder, she smiled up at her teacher. “Nobody should have to hide who they really are,” she said. “Your parents might not accept you, but we definitely will. Right, Amaya?”
Amaya nodded. “You’re not the only one who’s been abandoned by their parents,” she said. “I dare say you’re handling it much better than I am. You have my support.”
Inaba-sensei looked genuinely touched for a moment, before smiling back at her two students. “Thank you, girls,” she said. “To be honest… I don’t really care what my parents think about me anymore. I’m a grown adult now, and I don’t need their approval. It’s society’s approval I’m worried about. But… I guess as long as my girlfriend and I have each other, that’s all that should matter to us, right?”
“Exactly!” said Sanae. “Right, that’s the morals done with, back to the comedy.”
Inaba-sensei shook her head, amused. “You can’t ever be serious for more than about two minutes, can you, Hikari?”
“Not until the series finale,” said Sanae.
Inaba-sensei smiled to herself. “You know, it was my girlfriend who tipped me off about your lonely hearts ad…”
Inaba-sensei’s moment of schadenfreude was interrupted by a phone call. She picked up her handset and put it to her ear. “Hello?”
On the other end of the line was Inaba-sensei’s girlfriend, Yuriko. “Hey, Yui!” she exclaimed, barely holding back her laughter. “You won’t believe this! Someone’s put out a lonely hearts ad in your name!”
Inaba-sensei sprang to her feet, an expression of shock on her face. “What?!”
“No, seriously!” said Yuriko. “Check today’s Mitsuzawa Times!”
“Well, that closes that particular plot thread,” said Sanae, as the flashback came to an end. “Which leaves just one… if you weren’t feeling depressed about becoming a Christmas cake, then how come you were all depressed and cranky last Monday morning?”
Inaba-sensei exhaled sharply through her nose, her smile fading a little. “Firstly, I wasn’t feeling depressed or anything like that, I was just hungover. I overdid it celebrating at the weekend. Secondly, like I said at the time, it’s rude to ask a lady about her age.”
The sound of the bell suddenly reverberated through the corridor, signalling the start of homeroom. Inaba-sensei jumped, startled. “Ahh! I forgot about homeroom!” she exclaimed. “Come on, girls! Everyone’s waiting for us!” She removed the barricade from the closet door, then paused with her hand on the doorknob and smiled once more. “You know… I actually feel a lot better, now that I’ve come out to you two. I guess it’s like a weight has been lifted off my shoulders. From now on, I’m not going to worry what other people think about me being a lesbian. I’m going to live my own life, and-“
“Inaba-sensei, I hate to interrupt your inspirational monologue,” said Sanae, “but we really need to get to homeroom.”
Inaba-sensei awkwardly rubbed the back of her head. “I guess we do,” she said. “Don’t worry, I won’t mark you down as late or anything, since it’s my fault you’re here so late... but don't think your spying on me will go unpunished~” With a confident look on her face, Inaba-sensei pulled open the door and stepped out of the closet.
That evening, while her dinner was busy cooking in the oven, Yuriko occupied herself by trying to build a giant house of cards on the coffee table. She was almost finished when there was a sudden knock at the door, startling her. Fortunately, she managed to avoid accidentally knocking the tower, and carefully got up to answer the door. She did not notice the house cards fall over of its own volition once she was halfway to the entrance.
Yuriko opened the door to find Inaba-sensei – or Yui, as she knew her – standing outside with the most excited expression Yuriko had ever seen her wear. Before Yuriko could ask her what had happened to perk her up so much, Yui excitedly blurted out, “I came out!”
Yuriko’s dark brown eyes lit up with joy. “You did?” she said. “That’s amazing news! Who to?”
“My students!” said Yui. “Some of them found out, so I told the whole class, and they were all really supportive of me! Isn’t that great?!”
“You bet it is! Come here, you!” Yuriko pulled her girlfriend into a warm, tight embrace. “Ohh, I’m so proud of you! We have to celebrate this!” Pulling back, she took hold of Yui’s hands. “I don’t have enough dinner for two, but we can order takeout, watch some movies, I’ve got some beers in the fridge… we’re gonna party like it’s New Year’s!”
Yui smiled. “You know I have work tomorrow, right?” she said. “If I keep coming in hungover, I’ll get in trouble.”
“Yeah, but come on, this is a big occasion!” said Yuriko. “We gotta celebrate it!” Tugging Yui’s hands, she pulled her over the threshold, then turned round to discover the ruins of her house of cards. Her excitement and joy immediately gave way to sadness and shock, tinged with panic. “Uwaaah! What happened to my h-“ Pausing suddenly, she sniffed the air, and her panic quickly intensified. “Uwaaah! I forgot to check on the oven!”
As Yuriko dashed off to the kitchen, Yui laughed at her girlfriend’s clumsiness and absent-mindedness. They were two of the traits that had endeared her to her in the first place. “Aren’t we ordering takeout anyway?” she pointed out. “And also, you forgot to close the front door.” As Yuriko extracted her burnt food from the oven, Yui headed back to the front door and closed it behind her.
The following morning, Inaba-sensei once again found herself driving to work with a hangover. In spite of her warning to Yuriko, they had ended up overdoing it again last night, and Inaba-sensei massaged her aching temples with one hand while steering with the other.
As she pulled into the car park, she spotted another pair of students standing at the school gates, chatting happily and exchanging kisses. Inaba-sensei managed a weak smile as she drove past them. They’re lucky, she thought. Love is a wonderful thing.7: Episode 8: Summer Vacation (Pt.1)
“Alright, let’s get down to business.” Hitomi made a show of shuffling the two pieces of paper on the desk in front of her, as the rest of the White Star Fan Club stared at her expectantly, waiting for the meeting to actually begin.
“Okay, firstly, we’re finally off hiatus!” said Hitomi, raising her hands in celebration. “The author has finally finished his university work, and we can get back to our usual fourth-wall-breaking, trope-parodying antics.”
“I’m sure our three remaining readers will be delighted,” quipped Nagisa sarcastically.
“Secondly,” said Hitomi, ignoring her, “some more good news! As you all know, summer vacation is coming up, so I propose that we all go on a club camp together! It’ll be our first official outing!”
“What about all those times we went to go watch White Star in action?” asked Mio. “Minus Sanae, who was always conspicuously absent.”
“Those were unofficial club outings, since they weren’t planned out,” said Hitomi. “And it also doesn’t count if we’re not all there.”
“I guess not,” said Mio, adjusting her glasses. “Well then, we should make sure we plan this one thoroughly. For starters, where were you planning on holding this camp?”
“No idea!” said Hitomi, with far too much enthusiasm.
Mio sighed. “You should probably have thought of that first…”
Hinata tentatively raised a hand. “Umm… my parents own a summer house near the coast, I’m sure they’d let us use it… I mean… maybe…”
Hitomi gave Hinata a gracious thumbs-up. “Alright! Way to go, Hinata! If you need help convincing them, I’d be happy to talk it over with them!”
“You’re not gonna blackmail them like you did Inaba-sensei, are you?” asked Sanae.
Hitomi chuckled. “Oh, of course not!” she said, waving a hand. “Don’t be ridiculous! Hahaha…!” That’s totally not suspicious, thought Sanae.
“Actually, come to think about it, we should take Inaba-sensei along with us!” said Sanae. “She is our supervisor, after all. And something tells me she could use a vacation as well.”
“Sure, why not?” asked Hitomi. “Hinata, would your parents’ house have enough room for six?”
Hinata nodded. “It should do,” she said.
“Great!” said Hitomi. “Now we just need to set the time, though I guess we can decide that when we ask your parents about it, right?” Hinata nodded.
“I’m actually pretty excited about this,” said Sanae. “It’ll be good to get away for a while and have some fun with you guys, and if we’re by the coast, then we can cram in the obligatory beach episode while we’re there, right?”
“Speak for yourself,” said Nagisa, folding her arms. “I refuse to be used for fanservice purposes.”
“I bet you’re only saying that because you have no boobs-“ said Sanae, an instant before Nagisa’s foot connected with her face, sending her sprawling to the floor. “Oww… okay… maybe we should cut to the next scene before I say anything else stupid…”
“Summer vacation with you guys? Sure, why not?” said Inaba-sensei that break, after Sanae had asked her. “It’s about time I did something in my capacity as your supervisor. Do you know when or where yet?”
“Nah, we’re still working on it,” said Sanae. “Given that this series doesn’t have a fixed timeline, setting an exact date might be difficult.”
“I see,” said Inaba-sensei. “Well, once you’ve decided on the dates, let me know so I can check whether I have anything planned for those days.”
“You have stuff planned for the holidays, Inaba-sensei?” asked Sanae.
“Of course I do!” said Inaba-sensei. “I have tons of marking to do, as usual, and Yuriko and I have stuff planned for the holidays as well.”
“Oh, right, of course,” said Sanae, nodding. “The only thing I really have planned for the holidays, other than the vacation, is the inevitable study session/sleepover towards the end of the break, when we all realize we’ve been too busy being anime protagonists to do our homework.”
“Or you could just all do your homework now…?” suggested Inaba-sensei, looking decidedly unimpressed.
Sanae shrugged. “Anyway, I’ll let you know the full details once we’ve worked them out. I’ll see you later, okay?”
Inaba-sensei nodded. “Alright. And please make sure you do your homework over the summer, and properly this time. Last year you answered every homework question with ‘Homura did nothing wrong’.”
“Rebellion Story traumatized me!” defended Sanae.
That lunchtime, Sanae discussed her summer vacation plans with Amaya, up on the rooftop. “Hey, you should come join us as well!” Sanae suggested. “I’m guessing you’d be pretty lonely here by yourself, wouldn’t you?”
“We’ll have plenty of time to hang out together, don’t worry,” said Amaya, dismissively waving a hand. “You go do your protagonist stuff. Besides, I’ve already drawn up a whole load of plans to keep myself busy over the summer.”
“Really?” asked Sanae. “Like what?”
“Oh, you know… study timetables, revision, gonna frequent the arcade,” said Amaya. And of course, I’m gonna cause all kinds of mayhem as Black Star, she thought to herself.
“Alright,” said Sanae. “Well, have fun with that."
“Oh, I will,” said Amaya. “I will.”8: Episode 8: Summer Vacation (Pt.2)
By the time summer vacation started, the details had all been worked out, the travel arrangements had been made, parental permission had been granted – one way or another – and the White Star Fan Club’s first-ever summer camp was officially ready to go. Sanae couldn’t wait.
Kousen, on the other hand, was a little less enthusiastic. “What if a monster attacks Mitsuzawa while you’re gone?” she asked Sanae, a few days prior to the vacation. “The city will be defenceless!”
“I don’t think that’ll happen,” said Sanae thoughtfully. “If I remember your lengthy exposition correctly, the monsters are attracted to the White Star Emblem’s power, so if I take the Emblem with me, any monsters that appear should follow me over to the vacation house. I think.”
“You’re forgetting about Black Star, and her Emblem,” Kousen pointed out. “On that note, what if Black Star decides to show up? Who’s going to protect the city from her?”
Sanae rolled her eyes. “Oh, come on, Kousen,” she said, “it’s only a couple of days. The world’s not going to end while I’m gone. I’m the protagonist, after all; the action always follows me. Besides, didn’t you ever have a vacation while you were protecting Mitsuzawa?”
“I did,” said Kousen. “It lasted 372 years.”
“That wasn’t really a vacation,” remarked Sanae. “More of a voluntary retirement.”
“I suppose,” said Kousen. The youkai looked at Sanae for a moment, then heaved a defeated sigh. “I guess you do deserve a small break,” she said. “You’ve been doing a good enough job ever since you inherited my powers, especially since you’re having to balance your education on top of it as well. I hope you enjoy yourself.”
“Thanks, Kousen!” said Sanae. “You’re not usually this nice.” Her smile then slipped somewhat. “Wait, does that mean you won’t be coming with me?”
Kousen pouted and folded her arms, a surprisingly display of emotion for a supposedly emotionless being. “I wouldn’t have thought that you’d want me to come along anyway, since I’m apparently not nice enough for your liking,” she sulked.
Sanae winced, feeling a little guilty. “Well, I just thought that you might want a break as well,” she said, backtracking.
“Not having to worry about you for a couple of days will be enough of a break for me,” said Kousen. “Besides, even if I can’t engage any monsters directly, I can still keep a look out in case any appear here while you’re gone.”
“Ah, okay,” said Sanae. Stretching, she jumped onto her bed, lying on her back with her head resting on her arms. “Man, I’m so excited,” she said. “Finally, a breather episode, where I get to just relax in the sun…”
It was not sunny on the morning of the trip. It was, in fact, pouring with rain. As Inaba-sensei’s car wasn’t big enough to fit six people, they were having to take the train instead, and as Sanae’s parents were predictably still busy over the summer break, she was forced to trudge halfway across the city towards the train station, an umbrella in one hand and dragging her luggage case with the other, looking decidedly less happy about the trip than she had been a few days previously.
“I suppose I should’ve seen this coming,” she remarked bitterly. “You’d think a character with my level of genre-savviness would stop walking into these traps after a while, or at least walk into them with a knowing grin. Guess I just never learn, huh? I just hope it’s-” Sanae cut herself off before she could say “not raining at the vacation house”, then gave a sly grin and finished, “…raining even harder at the vacation house.”
When Sanae arrived at the station, the other White Star Fan Club members were already there waiting for her, sheltered beneath their own umbrellas. They waved to her as she approached, and Sanae, unable to return the wave, rushed over to meet them. “Hey guys,” she said. “Where’s Inaba-sensei?”
“Your guess is as good as mine,” said Hitomi. “We can’t phone or text her either, because we don’t have her number.”
“You know, we honestly weren’t sure whether you’d show up or not,” remarked Nagisa. “Oh, by the way,” she added, turning to Mio, “you owe me 500 yen.”
Mio dug into her picket and pulled out the money with a miserable expression. “That was my popsicle money,” she said, as she handed the money over.
Sanae decided to ignore the jab at her previous (and justified) absences. “I hope we’re not waiting too long for her,” she said. “This is the second time this series I’ve gotten soaked because of her.”
“I hope so too,” said Hitomi. “If she doesn’t get here soon, we’ll miss the train.”
Luckily, the girls didn’t have to wait long. Within moments, Inaba-sensei had pulled up in front of the station and was clambering out to meet them. “Sorry I’m late,” she said, as she put up her umbrella. “I got caught up in something.”
Yuriko, sitting in the passenger seat, waved cheerily at the girls. “Hi,” she quipped, “I’m ‘something’.”
“Nngh… it won’t come out!”
“I’m pulling as hard as I can!”
“Aah! That hurts!”
“Well, that’s what happens when you get your hand stuck in a can of Crinkles!”
Yuriko was stood in the kitchen, sobbing almost comically as Inaba-sensei frantically tried to pull the stuck can of Crinkles off her arm. “How did you even manage this?” asked Inaba-sensei incredulously. “If you can’t get your hand out, then how did you even get it in there?”
Yuriko’s only explanation was a tearful, lamenting, “I really wanted some Crinkles…”
“Anyway, I’m here now,” said Inaba-sensei. “Let’s hurry, or we’ll miss the train.”
The six of them hurried inside the station, dragging their luggage cases with them, and a few minutes later they were on the train and headed on their way towards Hinata’s summer house. Sanae sat next to Hitomi, Mio sat next to Nagisa, and Hinata ended up sitting next to Inaba-sensei. “I’ve never gone on vacation with students before,” said Inaba-sensei, as the train started to pull away. “This is kind of exciting.” She looked out of the window, rain still streaming down it. “I just hope that-“
“No, don’t say it!” said Sanae, cutting her off before she could say “-the weather’s better at the other end”.
“What?” said Inaba-sensei. “Well, it can’t be worse at the other end, can it?”
“Oh, come on!” shouted Sanae over the sound of the monsoon, as she sprinted towards the bus station with her umbrella up. “Haruhi Suzumiya never had to put up with this crap!”
“That’s because she was God!” Hitomi pointed out.
“I always thought it was Kyon that was God?” asked Mio.
“Whoever God is, I’m going to punch them in the face if they don’t stop this rain!” yelled Nagisa.9: Episode 8: Summer Vacation (Pt.3)
The sheltered bus station provided some much-needed respite for the girls, and the bus itself arrived only a few minutes later. By the time they finally reached the vacation house, the worst of the rain had subsided, but this was of little comfort to the sodden girls as they made their way inside.
Sanae, however, was still in a good enough mood to crack meta-jokes. “It’s a good thing none of us are wearing white shirts, or we’d be fanservicing pretty hard right now,” she remarked, tugging at her soaked shirt, which clung tightly to her body.
Hitomi, meanwhile, dropped her luggage case and had a look around the entrance room of the summer house. It was large and spacious, yet well-furnished, seemingly in a more Western style. Every surface was covered with a fine layer of dust, betraying the house’s lack of regular use.
“Sorry about the dust,” said Hinata, as she wrung out her saturated socks. “I guess we’ll have to clean up a bit…”
“We can do that when we’re not all soaked to the skin,” said Inaba-sensei. “Come on, let’s all dry off and get changed before you all catch colds.”
“We’re not going to catch a-“ Nagisa began.
“Do you really want to finish that sentence?” Sanae interrupted, throwing Nagisa a sharp glare. “Do you really?”
Nagisa paused for a moment, then simply said, “Let’s go dry ourselves off,” and walked off.
“Umm… the stairs are the other way…” said Hinata.
Even after the five girls and Inaba-sensei (“Excuse me?!”) had dried themselves off, changed into fresh outfits, and cleaned up the dusty summer house, the rain had still not abated. “Guess we won’t be doing much today,” said Mio wistfully, as she peered out of the window at the drenched landscape beyond.
“That’s okay!” said Hitomi. “A night in together can still be fun! We can order take-out, and play Old Maid, and stay up late telling scary stories!”
“That does sound like fun,” said Nagisa, “but are take-out places really going to deliver to-“
“Did someone say take-out?” said Inaba-sensei. “That’s a great idea! How about McRonald’s?”
“McRonald’s is over-rated,” said Mio. “I’d rather have Quintuple Fried Chicken.”
“’Over-rated’?” Nagisa repeated incredulously. “What are you, some kind of fast food hipster? Besides, everyone knows the best fast food chain is Burger Queen.”
“I want Six Men!” said Sanae. Mio snickered.
Hitomi folded her arms in attempt to look authoritative. “Obviously there’s only one way to settle this,” she said.
“Everyone orders what they want individually?” suggested Inaba-sensei.
“Of course not!” said Hitomi. “We’ll decide in the only logical manner… Reverse Old Maid!” Hitomi dramatically pulled a deck of cards from seemingly nowhere. “Whoever has the Old Maid at the end of the game wins!”
Mio adjusted her glasses, causing them to gleam dangerously. “Oh? How interesting,” she said. “That changes the strategy of the game entirely.”
Nagisa, meanwhile, merely blinked. “Wait, how is that the logical solution?” she asked.
“What’s the matter, Nagisa?” said Sanae with a smug expression. “Scared you’ll lose and have to eat Six Men?” Mio snickered again.
Nagisa was immediately fired up by the remark. “Of course I’m not scared!” she retorted. “I’m not scared of anything! Reverse Old Maid it is!”
Inaba-sensei, Mio, Nagisa, and Sanae gathered round in a circle on the floor, and Hitomi shuffled the deck of cards before dealing them out. Sanae received the first card, and thus ended up with one more card than the others, but none of them was the Old Maid. Hiding her annoyance behind a perfect poker face, she glanced around the circle for any hints of joy from her fellow players, but it was no good; their faces were equally expressionless. Even Nagisa was managing to keep a blank face.
We’re going clockwise, so I’ll be taking cards from Nagisa, Sanae thought to herself. I’ll have to hope that she has the Old Maid, and not Inaba-sensei or Mio, otherwise I’ll be relying on it being stolen from them before it can get to me.
Inaba-sensei did not have the Old Maid either. It’s easy to assume that the person with the extra card has the Old Maid, she thought to herself. In this case, that would be Sanae. But of course, that’s just gambler’s fallacy; in reality, it’s more likely that either of the other two has it. I hope that’s not the case…
In anime, the person who ends up with the Old Maid at the end of the game is always the person with the worst poker face, Mio thought to herself. Does that mean I can win by simply having a bad poker face…? No... this is Reverse Old Maid. There’s no guarantee that that will work, since it’s effectively a different game. I’ll just have to play my best.
Are we actually going to start playing, thought Nagisa, or are we just gonna sit around internally monologuing like Death Note characters?
Eventually, the game got underway, with the four players putting down their first pairs. Starting with Inaba-sensei, they each took it in turns to take a card from the person to their right, then place down any resulting pairs. The aim in this version was to steal the Old Maid – a joker that had been added to the deck – and then keep hold of it until the end of the game. This would be easy at first, but as the cards got whittled down, and the chance of picking up the Old Maid increased, it would get harder and harder to hang onto it. If you ran out of cards, you were out.
Nagisa was the first to lose all her cards, setting down the last two with a scowl. “Why couldn’t we have played normal Old Maid, and the first to lose all their cards is the winner?” she asked bitterly.
“Normal Old Maid is too boring and cliché,” said Hitomi. “This is way more exciting!”
“Now you’re being hipster about card games?!” said Nagisa.
“Yes, because this series is totally averse to clichés,” Sanae remarked sarcastically.
The game continued, and soon Mio was out as well, her last card being taken from her by Sanae. “I guess we’re not having chicken tonight…” she said sadly.
That meant it was down to just Sanae and Inaba-sensei, and soon there were just three cards left in play. Inaba-sensei had two of them: the Old Maid, and the six of diamonds. Sanae had the six of hearts, and it was her turn next. It’s sudden death now, she thought to herself. Either I take the six of diamonds, and lose the game, or I take the Old Maid, and Inaba-sensei will have the same 50-50 chance of losing next turn. In theory, we could keep passing the Old Maid back and forth forever, without ever finding a winner-
“-or you could sit there monologuing forever,” quipped Nagisa, gently karate-chopping Sanae on the forehead. “Come on, hurry it up, we’re all starving.”
Sanae reached out towards Inaba-sensei, her hand hovering near each card in turn, trying to gauge her teacher’s reaction. Inaba-sensei decided to go for the bluff, faking a gleeful grin whenever Sanae’s hand hovered above the Old Maid, and a look of wide-eyed panic whenever Sanae’s hand hovered over the six of diamonds. That’s it… take the card… we’ll be having McRonald’s before you can say-
“Nice try, Inaba-sensei,” said Sanae, before snatching the Old Maid from her hand.
Inaba-sensei’s faked look of shock abruptly transitioned into a real look of shock. “H-H-How did you know I was bluffing?” she stammered, aghast.
“I’m the protagonist!” said Sanae. “I can analyse anything, even things I shouldn’t logically be able to! Now then…” Sanae rapidly shuffled the two cards in her hand before offering them to Inaba-sensei. “…your turn, sensei.”
Inaba-sensei quickly gathered herself. “Calm down, Yui,” she muttered to herself. “You’ll just get the Old Maid back, and you can try the mind games all over again next turn…” Inaba-sensei reached out, and took the six of hearts.
“Alright!” said Sanae, joyously slamming the Old Maid down onto the floor. “I win! And just in time, too! I’ve got a serious hunger for Six Men!”
At this, Mio collapsed on the floor in a fit of hysterical laughter. “Stop… making… innuendos!” she wheezed between chortles. “My sides can’t take it!”
“How about you get your head out of the gutter?!” Nagisa retorted.
After dinner had been delivered, eaten, and cleared away, the six girls set up their futons and got ready to go to sleep. Before that, however, Hitomi insisted that they stay up late telling scary stories, complete with torches shining on their faces from below, and she duly went first.
“-and then, six months later, just as the man had forgotten about the story…” Hitomi paused for dramatic effect, her mouth twisting into a dark grin. “…it updated.”
The girls all gasped in unison. “Wh-wh-wha… what did the update say?” squeaked Hinata.
“The update consisted of only a single horrifying sentence,” said Hitomi dramatically. “The most horrifying sentence known to mankind.”
Mio’s eyes widened in fear behind her spectacles. “You can’t mean…”
“Yes,” said Hitomi. “The update said this, and only this: ‘This series is now on indefinite hiatus!’”
A blood-curdling scream filled the room as the other five girls recoiled in horror. “That’s the worst fate of all!” howled Mio. “Feeling your lingering hopes slowly get crushed over time is why hiatuses are so much worse than outright cancellation!”
“Hitomi, that was too far!” protested Sanae. “I don’t think any of us are gonna sleep tonight after that! Even Nagisa is afraid!”
"N-no I'm not!" objected Nagisa, in spite of the obvious trembling of her body.
“Yeah, I guess I went a little too far there, huh?” said Hitomi. “Sorry, everyone. I didn’t mean to scare you that badly. And I should probably apologize to the readers as well, in case they thought this was a set-up for an actual hiatus. Sorry for the lateness of this chapter as well – hopefully the length made up for it! Don’t worry, we’ll actually hit the beach next chapter! Right after I hit the writer for taking so long…” Wait, what?10: Episode 8: Summer Vacation (Pt.4)
By the time the girls woke up the following morning, the rain had stopped and the clouds had vanished, leaving behind nothing but glorious sunshine. Without a second thought, the girls immediately capitalized and prepared for their long-awaited day out at the beach.
At about nine-thirty, the group arrived at the nearby beach, ready to play. They had each changed into their swimsuits, and were each carrying a plastic bag filled with various items without which a beach episode would not be a beach episode. Sanae, at the head of the group, was wearing a modest purple bikini with frilly edges. “This is gonna be so much fun!” she exclaimed. “I’ve been looking forward to this episode all series!”
Hitomi was wearing a similar bikini, except white with turquoise spots. “Me too!” she said. “So, what are we gonna do first?”
Mio’s gold bikini was a little more daring. “I’ve prepared a list of all the things we can do while we’re here,” she said, holding up a sheet of paper. “I guess it doesn’t matter which order we do them in, though.”
Inaba-sensei, wearing a plain black bikini and sunglasses, stretched as the enjoyed the sun’s warmth. “I’m going to just sunbathe and relax,” she said. “You girls enjoy yourselves.”
Nagisa was wearing a sporty-looking one-piece, dark grey with turquoise trim. “Hey, are you sure it’s alright for us to be unsupervised?” she said.
Hinata was also wearing a one-piece, a frilly pink one. “I don’t have anything to say on the matter,” she said sheepishly, “but I don’t want to break the chain of outfit introductions.”
“We’ll be fine!” said Sanae. “Come on, let’s let Inaba-sensei have her relaxation time, and go have fun ourselves!”
As Inaba-sensei set up her deckchair and started putting on sun lotion, the others set about their various planned activities. Hitomi went straight for the ocean, grabbing a rubber ring and diving in with a cry of “Banzai!” Emerging from the surface, she slipped into the rubber ring and began to float peacefully. “Ahhh… so cool~”
Sanae and Nagisa, meanwhile, decided to play a one-on-one game of beach volleyball. “Prepare yourself, Nagisa!” said Sanae, as she prepared to serve. “I’m the protagonist, and the protagonist never loses!”
Sanae’s serve flew neatly over the net, but Nagisa was positioned perfectly to return it, and even somehow had enough time for an uncharacteristic gloat. “If you’re the protagonist,” she said, “then you know that this is the part where you get hit in the face with a volleyball!”
Nagisa swung full-force at the volleyball, but miscued her hit and sent it soaring over fifty feet into the air. She and Sanae stood still for a moment, watching to see where it would fall, and the ball then slammed straight into Nagisa’s face. Sanae collapsed to the ground in hysterical laughter, and Nagisa promptly lost it, seizing the volleyball and chasing after Sanae with it. “Come on!” she roared. “Best two out of three!”
“Let’s call it a draw!” cried Sanae as she fled. “Let’s call it a draw!”
Hinata was sat off to the side, quietly working on an impossibly elaborate sandcastle which, to her relief, Sanae and Nagisa managed to avoid. Mio, meanwhile, was… sat at the beach steps, playing on her phone. When Nagisa saw this, she forgot about Sanae and the volleyball and rounded on Mio instead. “What are you doing, Mio?!” she asked. “You’re here to have fun with the rest of us, not sit on your own playing video games!”
Mio did not look up from her phone as she responded, her fingers a blur over the touch-screen. “But Like-Love School Festival has a new event out,” she explained, “and I’m trying to get this new Super-Rare of-“
Nagisa, unimpressed, snatched Mio’s phone out of her hand and switched it off. “My combos!” cried Mio.”
“Forget about your combos!” said Nagisa, tossing the phone back to Mio. “This is the obligatory fanservice-y beach episode! You’re the obligatory ambiguous lesbian! This should be your idea of paradise! Shouldn’t you be groping somebody’s breasts right now or something?”
Mio stared silently at her deactivated phone for a few seconds more, then gave Nagisa a devilish grin and raised her hands. “Allow me to oblige,” she said.
“KYAAAAAH!” Nagisa’s squeal roused Inaba-sensei from her relaxation, and she lifted her glasses, looking over at the commotion. “I-I didn’t mean me!” exclaimed Nagisa from off-screen. “I-I wanted no part of this-!”
“Come now, Nagisa~” said Mio. “Don’t you know having your breasts rubbed makes them grow bigger?”
“ARE YOU CALLING ME FLAT-CHESTED?!!” cried Nagisa.
Inaba-sensei giggled and shook her head. “Ahh… young love~” she muttered to herself. Actually… that gives me an idea. Inaba-sensei picked up her own phone, opened Snipchat, and took a photo of herself winking, her bikini-clad breasts quite prominent. “Bet you wish you were here~ ;)”, she captioned it, before sending it to Yuriko.
About a minute later, Inaba-sensei received a Snipchat back. It was a picture of a bowl of katsudon with a dark red liquid splashed across it, with the caption, “You made me nosebleed all over my lunch! >.<”
Inaba-sensei giggled once more, then turned to the girls. “Alright, I think that’s enough fanservice for one episode, you girls,” she said. “Now then, what else is there that you all wanted to do while we were here?”
“Well, we haven’t done watermelon-smashing yet,” said Sanae. “You always have to smash watermelons when you’re at the beach!”
“Did someone say watermelon-smashing?” asked Hitomi, who was still relaxing at sea. “I’m so in! Hang on, let me go get the watermelon! You guys all in?”
Hinata, who was just putting the finishing touches on a perfect scale replica of the Taj Mahal, nodded. “I’m almost finished with my sandcastle,” she said, “so sure.”
“Me too,” said Mio. “Like you said, it’s a tradition that has to be upheld.”
“And you, Nagisa?” asked Hitomi.
Nagisa was curled up in the sand by the stairs, covering her chest with her arms and shivering slightly. “My body has been defiled… I can never be a bride now…” she whimpered.
“That’s not what being defiled means…” said Sanae.
Once Nagisa had recovered, Hitomi went to her bag and fetched the watermelon, a towel, a blindfold, and a large wooden stick. She placed the large fruit down on the towel, and the five girls (minus Inaba-sensei, who was still sunbathing) gathered around it to play. Since Hitomi had been the one who brought the watermelon, she was allowed to try and smash it first.
“Left! Left!” called out Sanae.
“Right a bit!” called out Mio.
“That’s it, now forwards!” said Nagisa.
Hitomi slowly stepped forwards, trying to judge where the melon was in front of her. She raised the stick, ready to strike. “Am I close yet?” she asked, a second before she tripped right over the watermelon and fell flat on her face. As she climbed back to her feet, spitting sand out of her mouth, she removed the blindfold and pouted angrily. “Why didn’t you guys tell me I was that close to it?!” she demanded.
Mio giggled. “Sorry,” she said. “We just thought it would be funnier not to. Anyway, shall I go next?”
Hitomi handed Mio the stick, and as she tied the blindfold over her eyes, she glanced over at Nagisa and the two made a silent pact that they would use this opportunity for a little spot of vengeance. Instead of guiding Mio towards the watermelon, the two purposefully guided her towards Inaba-sensei, quietly hushing Sanae or the others whenever they tried to issue a correction. “That’s it… forwards… forwards… left a little… that’s it, now strike!”
Mio raised the stick high above her head, but before she could bring it down, Inaba-sensei spoke in an almost eerily calm voice. “If I were you, Natsume-san, I would think very carefully about what it is I’m about to do. Don’t you think?”
With a feeling of dread, Mio took off the blindfold and saw Inaba-sensei lying on her deckchair right in front of her. She wasn’t looking in Mio’s direction, but had somehow sensed her coming, and was radiating an unmistakeable aura of intimidation in spite of her perfectly relaxed features. Mio instantly lowered the stick, a look of abject horror on her face, but a moment later she gripped it tightly and started to chase after Nagisa with a more menacing expression. “Why did you try to make me hit Inaba-sensei?!” she demanded.
“That’s what you get for groping my breasts!” shouted Nagisa as she fled.
As Sanae watched the two of them run off, she awkwardly scratched the back of her neck, a bead of sweat forming on her forehead. “Maybe we should just smash the thing already…?” she suggested sheepishly.
Once the watermelon had been smashed open and consumed, the rest of the day passed in a peaceful, joyful blur. Lunch and dinner were eaten there on the beach, with Nagisa having brought a portable barbecue and each girl having brought a range of food to cook on it. Hinata built an entire complex of sandcastles, each more intricate than the last, complete with Venetian-style canals running between them. Mio managed to find time to complete the Like-Love School Festival event, as well as make peace with Nagisa through a friendly game of volleyball, which ended with both girls taking hits to the face before collapsing on the sand with laughter.
Sanae and Hitomi, meanwhile, spent most of their time relaxing in the sea, as did Inaba-sensei once she decided she’d soaked up enough rays. As the sun began to set, the girls gathered on the beach for a brief fireworks display, followed by playing with sparklers. Finally, with night falling and the girls’ list of beach episode clichés fully ticked off, they headed back to the vacation house feeling utterly content.
“Ahhh…~” Sanae let out a blissful sigh as she flopped down onto her futon. “Today was the most fun I’ve had all series~”
“Same~” said Mio. “Why can’t every episode be a beach episode, like in Tako Musume?”
“It wouldn’t be the same, then,” said Nagisa. “But I have to admit… today was great.”
Hitomi suddenly sat bolt upright. “It’s not over yet!” she declared. “There’s still one last thing we have to do tonight!”
“What’s that?” asked Sanae. “Shiritori?”
“Karaoke?” suggested Inaba-sensei.
“Moonlight confessions of love?” suggested Mio.
“Of course not!” said Hitomi. “I’m talking about…” Hitomi picked up her torch and shone it under her face. “…a test of courage!”11: Episode 8: Summer Vacation (Pt.5)
With night having fallen, and the moon shining high in the sky, the six girls gathered outside for the test of courage. There was a forest just beyond the grounds, with two dirt paths leading into it. “The two paths form a loop,” said Hinata. “If you enter the forest one way, and follow the trail, you’ll walk for about fifteen or twenty minutes and then wind up back here via the other entrance.”
“Sounds perfect for a test of courage!” said Hitomi. “Alright, we’ll go in pairs, two minutes apart. I’ll go with Sanae.”
“I-I’ll go with Nagisa…” said Hinata. “I might know my way through the path, but it’s still scary…”
“Don’t worry,” said Nagisa with a grin. “I’ll protect you, Hinata.”
“I guess that leaves me and Inaba-sensei then,” said Mio.
“It’s been a while since I did a test of courage,” said Inaba-sensei. “I’m looking forward to it.”
“Alright then,” said Hitomi. “Now that we’re all paired up, let’s be off!”
Hitomi and Sanae entered the forest first, making their way carefully along the path. It was too dark to see well, so if there were any pebbles or fallen branches in their way, they wouldn’t know until they’d tripped right over them. “We should’ve brought your torch,” Sanae remarked. “I can’t see a thing.”
“We could’ve done, but that would defeat the purpose, wouldn’t it?” said Hitomi. “After all, not knowing what’s around the corner is what makes a test of courage so scary!”
“No, that’s not what I’m saying,” said Sanae. “I know what’s around the corner: trees, and probably some more trees. I just can’t see the corner itself.”
“Don’t worry!” said Hitomi. “As long as we stick together, we won’t get lost!”
“I hope not,” said Sanae.
Mio and Inaba-sensei entered the forest next. “You know, I’ve never really thought to ask about what made you all start a White Star Fan Club together,” said Inaba-sensei. “Are you all really that enthusiastic about her?”
Mio nodded. “We all have our different reasons for liking her, though,” she said. “Nagisa admires White Star’s tenacity and strength. Hinata admires White Star’s bravery, and how she never runs from a real fight. Hitomi just loves magical girls in general. As for me… well…”
“Let me guess,” said Inaba-sensei. “You’re in it for the lesbian shipping?”
Mio stopped in her tracks, blushing. “I-it’s not that!” she said. “W-well, maybe it is that, but that’s not the only-“
Mio was cut off by a sudden sharp hissing sound, like gas escaping from a leaking pipe. She jumped, startled, before looking around nervously for the source of the noise. “What was that…?!”
“Probably just the wind rustling in the trees,” said Inaba-sensei.
Taking up the rear were Nagisa and Hinata. Nagisa strode purposefully ahead, with Hinata following on behind. Despite being the only one with knowledge of the area, she seemed to be the most nervous. “C-could you slow down a bit, Nagisa?” she asked. “I can’t see where I’m going… I might trip over…”
“Relax!” said Nagisa. “Just follow my every step! If there’s anything here you might trip over, I’ll trip over it first!”
Hinata seemed a little surprised by Nagisa’s bravery. “A-aren’t you scared?” she asked. “Even a little?”
Nagisa turned to face Hinata, grinning confidently. “Of course not!” she said. “I told you before, didn’t I? I’m not scared of anythi-“
At that precise moment, there was an almighty crash from in front of them, and an enormous monster burst out of the trees just to their right, blocking the path. It was a ferocious snake-like creature, almost fifty feet long, its black and purple scaled body silhouetted against the moon. All Nagisa and Hinata could see of it were two glowing red eyes, and two tremendous fangs protruding from its mouth, glistening dangerously with venom. The two girls stared up at it in shock and horror. Then, Nagisa screamed.
“KYAAAAAAAH!!!” Frantically backpedalling, Nagisa hid behind the smaller Hinata as though it would make her invisible, tightly squeezing the girl’s shoulders as she ducked her head behind her back. “SAVE ME, HINATA!” she squealed.
Hinata, only slightly less frightened than Nagisa, backed away from the monster as much she could without pushing Nagisa over. “B-b-but I thought you weren’t scared of anything…” she stammered.
“I’m not scared of anything… except snakes!” corrected Nagisa. “And being groped! And indefinite hiatuses! And list jokes!”
“I think everyone’s scared of those last three…” said Hinata, as the monster began to advance.
From up ahead, Sanae and Hitomi heard the screams and wheeled around in horror. “That sounded like Hinata and Nagisa!” said Hitomi. “They’re in trouble!”
Oh crap!, thought Sanae. My protagonist senses are telling me that it’s a monster attack! That means Hinata and Nagisa are in serious trouble! On the plus side, I was right about the monsters following me here rather than attacking Mitsuzawa… and with all this darkness around, I can just slip away unnoticed without needing an excuse!
As Hitomi rushed back down the trail to see what was going on, Sanae quietly hung back. Once her friend’s footsteps had faded away, she slipped the White Star Emblem out of her pocket and raised it above her head. “White Star: Transformation,” she whispered.
Once more, Sanae was engulfed in a blinding white light. Her school uniform morphed into a beautiful white knee-length dress with violet lace trim. White thigh-high socks and high-heeled shoes gently enveloped her feet and legs, the straps of the shoes winding their way delicately up her shins. White gloves manifested themselves on her hands, and as the Emblem transformed into the White Star Wand, she clutched it tightly in her right hand. Finally, her hair curled itself into two neat ringlets either side of her head, and her transformation into White Star was complete.
With no time to waste, White Star immediately soared up above the treeline and flew back towards where the screams had come from. It didn’t take her long to see the monster. “That’s a big one... but all that makes it is a bigger target for me,” she mused. “Now to save my friends!”
Down below, Hinata and Nagisa continued to cower in fear as the monster loomed before them. Suddenly it reared up, baring its fangs, ready to strike, and Nagisa recoiled, covering her face with her arms as though it would protect her. “I’M TOO YOUNG TO BE KILLED OFF!” she cried.12: Episode 8: Summer Vacation (Pt.6)
"I'M TOO YOUNG TO BE KILLED OFF!" cried Nagisa.
"You already said that..." said Hinata.
Just as the snake was about to strike, a brilliant white light shone above them, and a split second later there was a loud boom as a ball of energy impacted the side of the snake’s head, knocking it off-balance. As the snake turned round to face its attacker, hissing dangerously, Nagisa and Hinata slowly looked up to see White Star hovering above them, clutching the White Star Wand tightly with a menacing look on her face.
“Let me give you two pieces of information,” she said, addressing the snake monster. “One: I don’t like it when monsters attack innocent people, especially my fan club. Two: you might think you have the advantage by attacking in the dark, but I’m the person who turns on the lights! Wait, no… that sounded better in my head. Er, what I mean is…” White Star glanced back at her friends, grinning, then asked, “What time is it?”
“I-I think it’s about 9:30-” said Hinata.
Nagisa, meanwhile, had broken out into a relieved grin, her fear slowly dissipating. “No, it’s… time to let the light of justice shine!” she said triumphantly.
“That’s right!” said White Star. “Time to send this monster to oblivion! Star Shower!”
A stream of star-shaped projectiles burst forth from the White Star Wand and impacted the monster, sending it reeling back. Shaking off the blows, the monster lunged at White Star, but she was ready for it. “Shield of Light!” A shining white barrier surrounded White Star a split-second before the monster’s fangs struck it at high speed. There was another flash of light as the shield repelled the attack with ease, sending the snake recoiling backwards, stunned.
“Now to finish it!” said White Star. “White Star Beam!” A large beam of light erupted from the end of the White Star Wand and impaled the snake monster just below its head. The monster let out a loud hissing roar before collapsing onto the forest floor and dissolving away into nothing, leaving behind only its Black Heart.
As White Star swooped down to pick up the trinket, Hitomi, Mio, and Inaba-sensei finally arrived at the scene, Mio panting hard and clutching at a stitch in her side. “Are you guys okay? What happened?” asked Hitomi.
Nagisa seemed to have fully recovered from her earlier fear. “We’re fine,” she said. “We were attacked by a giant monster, but White Star saved us.”
Hitomi’s attention immediately turned to her idol, her eyes shimmering in the darkness. “White Star! What are you doing here?! How did you find us?!”
“My magic senses led me straight to the monster, as always!” White Star declared. “It’s my duty to defeat evil wherever it appears! …or at least within a 50-mile radius of the city,” she added. “Anything beyond that is out of my jurisdiction.”
“Well, I guess by the time you’ve flown 100 miles, it’d probably be too late anyway, huh?” said Hitomi thoughtfully. “Good thing monsters only ever appear within that radius!”
“Tell me about it!” said White Star. “I’m glad you’re all safe. I was really worried for a moment.”
Nagisa, a little embarrassed, tried to play it off. “W-we had everything under control…” she said.
“You were cowering behind Hinata, begging for your life,” said White Star, completely deadpan.
As Nagisa flushed bright red, Hitomi and Mio looked to her with astonishment. “Really?!” said Hitomi. “You were scared, Nagisa?”
“I wasn’t scared!” said Nagisa defensively. “I just… really don’t like snakes…”
White Star put a comforting hand on Nagisa’s shoulder. “It’s okay to be scared, Nagisa,” she said. “It’s nothing to be ashamed of. Everyone’s scared of something. Even I get scared. I’m scared that I might lose during the climax and have to pull a deus-ex-machina out of my ass. I’m scared that I’ll sleep through my alarm clock one day and have to the running-with-toast-in-my-mouth gag for about the third time this series. You can only do a gag a certain number of times before running it into the ground, you know. And most of all, I’m scared that this series will get cancelled, or go on hiatus again.”
“I think we’re all scared of that last one,” Mio interjected.
“The point is,” White Star concluded, “it’s okay to be scared. No-one will think any less of you for it. You don’t have to put on a mask and act like everything’s okay when it’s not.”
Nagisa let out a sigh. “I guess you’re right,” she said. “I mean, most of the time, I really am that confident and fearless, but when I do get scared, I try and put on a brave face because I don’t want to look weak. I wanna be strong like you, White Star. I wanna be strong for my friends, but…”
“Well, if you’re strong and confident 99% of the time, then what does the 1% matter?” said White Star. “You should take more pride in yourself, Nagisa! Your courage is admirable!”
The compliment caused Nagisa’s eyes to shine, a reverent look passing over her face. Then her expression suddenly snapped back to her usual brash confidence, a grin spreading across her mouth, and she determinedly clenched her fist. “Thank you, White Star!” she said. “You’re right! From now on, I’ll never hide my fear again!”
“Is that really a good enough Aesop to end the episode on?” Mio asked Hitomi.
“Eh, good enough,” said Hitomi. “Besides, the episode’s not quite over yet. Also…” Hitomi suddenly looked around, finally noticing her senpai’s conspicuous absence. “…where’s Sanae?”
“I guess she must be lost in the forest or something,” said White Star. “I’ll go look for her.”
As White Star flew off, Mio looked at her curiously. “How does she know where to look for Sanae…?” she pondered.
After a moment’s thought, Hitomi suggested, “Magic senses?”
The others all nodded in agreement. “Oh, of course,” said Mio pensively.
Before the girls knew it, their vacation was over, and the following morning they found themselves on a train heading back to Mitsuzawa. Sanae leaned back in her seat, stretching. “Well, that was fun,” she said.
“It sure was!” said Hitomi. “Plus we managed to tick off so many boxes… all kinds of fanservice, a monster-of-the-week, a 200% increase in fourth-wall-breaks, people got hit in the face a couple of times…” Hitomi counted them off on her fingers as she spoke. “We even got some character development in! Right, Nagisa?”
Nagisa nodded in agreement. “Mhmm. I think the only one of us who needs any character development now is Hinata.”
“It’s funny you should mention that…” said Hinata, looking up from the Episode 9 synopsis that she was currently browsing through.
“We even got to see White Star again!” said Hitomi. “Even Sanae got to see her this time… sort of!”
Sanae nodded. Luckily it seemed her friends still hadn’t caught on to her secret identity yet. “It really was an honour to finally meet her… even in that sort of embarrassing circumstance,” she said.
“It’s a shame she had to take off so quickly, though,” said Hitomi. “She pointed you in the right direction and then just took off. I guess she had other places to be, other people to have, huh?”
“Must be a busy life, being a magical girl,” said Mio. “Especially if she’s still in school, like us.”
“She can handle it,” said Nagisa. “She has magic to help her out, after all.”
“I wonder if she could use her magic to give us all passing grades,” said Hitomi thoughtfully.
“You’re the only one who needs that,” said Mio.
As the White Star Fan Club’s discussion continued, Sanae looked out of the train window at the scenery rushing by. I wonder what Amaya’s been up to while I’ve been gone…
At that moment, Amaya was laid up in bed, a cold towel laid across her forehead in an effort to cool her down. Kage floated by her bedside, a nurse’s cap on her head and a disapproving frown on her face. “I told you you’d catch a cold if you went outside in the rain, nyaa~” she said.
“Shut up,” croaked Amaya, before sneezing again. “I just wanted to cause some more mayhem… while White Star wasn’t here…”
“Well, you’ve ended up making yourself sick, nyaa~” said Kage. “Don’t worry; I’ll look after you.” Kage pulled a beer can out of nowhere, downed the whole thing in one go, then tossed the empty can over her shoulder. “What is it they say? ‘Feed a cold, starve a fever’? I’m on it, nyaa~”
“I don’t think that actually works-“ Amaya protested, but before she could finish, Kage suddenly produced a large chocolate cake from nowhere. Amaya’s tired eyes opened in shock. “You… you’re not serious…”
Kage obliviously picked up a large slice, smiling down at Amaya. “Come on, eat up,” she said. “You’ll feel better in no time, nyaa~” And before Amaya could protest any further, Kage shoved the slice of cake into Amaya’s mouth.
Without a choice, Amaya forced herself to eat the slice, swallowing it down. “Even with my cold, it tastes good… but I don’t think it’s good for me to me to eat this much chocol- mmmf!” Amaya was silenced as Kage, convinced she was helping, rammed another slice of cake into her mouth.13: Episode 9: She Will Be Loved (Pt.1)
Ryouichi woke up early on Monday morning, eagerly catapulting himself out of bed and crossing to the calendar on his bedroom wall. February 7th. It’s almost here, he thought to himself. The day that I’ll finally get my beloved Sanae-senpai to notice me… Valentine’s Day!
Ryouichi had several plans lined up to get Sanae’s romantic attention in the run-up to Valentine’s Day. With any luck, he would only need one, but he wasn’t going to leave anything to luck. His first plan was simple: he would bake her a cake and present it to her, as a token of his affections. You can’t go wrong with cake, he thought to himself, as he started getting dressed. Girls love cake! Unless they’re diabetic, I guess, but I don’t think Sanae-senpai is… maybe I should ask her-
Ryouichi’s thoughts were suddenly interrupted by the shrill beeping of his alarm clock, which he had forgotten to turn off. Halfway through putting his trousers on, Ryouichi let out a cry of surprise and then promptly fell over. “Oww…” However, his spirits were too high for him to be upset for long, and he quickly put his trousers on before switching off his alarm clock. I’ll succeed eventually… I’m sure of it.
Meanwhile, at Sanae’s house, Sanae was having to explain the concept of the holiday to a baffled Kousen. “Basically, it’s a special day on which women confess to the man they love,” she said. “They buy them chocolates, or make their own, and present them as a token of their affections. A month later, on White Day, the man is expected to give them a gift in return, even if he doesn’t feel the same way.”
Kousen looked no less confused than before. “Why would he give the woman a gift if he doesn’t feel the same way?” she asked.
“Obligation!” said Sanae. “Same reason people will buy chocolates for their friends and co-workers, even if they’re not actually in love with them!”
“I’m… still not sure I understand, but okay,” said Kousen. “Is there anyone you’re planning to give Valentine’s Day chocolates to?”
“Nope,” said Sanae. “This series’ improbably-female cast means I don’t even have to bother with obligation chocolates either. I’d get some for Kazuo, ‘coz he hasn’t appeared for a while and I kinda feel sorry for him, but he’d probably think they were part of some conspiracy.”
“Was that the kid who was freaking out the other day that a lizard woman from Mars was going to become the American president?” asked Kousen.
“Probably,” said Sanae. “I can’t say I pay attention to his rants anymore.” Glancing at her alarm clock, Sanae suddenly realized it was about time for her to be heading to school. “Oh! I’d better head off to school. Wanna come with? Maybe you’ll understand Valentine’s Day more if you observe the build-up first-hand.”
“Sure, why not,” said Kousen. “I don’t have anything better to do.”
Sanae duly grabbed her things and headed off to school, with Kousen floating along behind her. Halfway there, as usual, she met up with Amaya. Her friend seemed unusually happy, a large smile spread across her pale face. “What’s up, Amaya?” asked Sanae. “I haven’t seen you look this happy in ages.”
“My mom’s finally gotten out of the house!” beamed Amaya. “Admittedly, it’s to go play Piggymon Go, but still—I can’t remember the last time she got out of the house! It’s great!”
“Wow, that is great!” Sanae exclaimed. “We’re really drowning in character development at the moment, aren’t we?!”
“We sure are,” Amaya replied. “Hey, maybe I should hide all the games consoles before she gets back.”
“But what if she then ends up outside playing Piggymon Go all the time?” asked Sanae. “You might not ever see her again!”
Good, thought Amaya. Out loud, she said, “I’m sure that won’t happen. She’d have to come back eventually to weed her Animal Junction city.”
“You do know that Wintendo have announced an Animal Junction mobile game, right?” said Sanae.
Amaya immediately stopped in her tracks, a look of awe slowly washing across her face. Suddenly, she seized Sanae’s hand and began sprinting towards the school with an enormous smile on her face. “THIS IS THE BEST DAY EVER!” she exclaimed.
Amaya’s good mood lasted for the rest of the day, and by the time Sanae headed off to the White Star Fan Club, it had rubbed off on her as well. The five girls sat down, and Hitomi took out a sheet of paper with her notes written on it. “Alright, first order of business-“
Hitomi stopped abruptly, having noticed that Hinata had tentatively raised her hand. The other girls looked at her in surprise for a moment; it was very unusual for the quiet Hinata to contribute to club meetings, especially so early in the proceedings. “What is it, Hinata?” asked Hitomi.
Hinata shuffled a little uncomfortable in her seat. “Well… it’s kind of embarrassing… and it’s not really White Star-related, but… y-you girls are my best friends, so I thought maybe you could help me with it…” she began.
“You need our help?” repeated Hitomi. “What with? Homework?”
“Bullies?” suggested Nagisa.
“Could it be… love?” suggested Mio.
Hinata flushed bright red, and nodded. “Yes.”
The four other girls all immediately leant forwards, eager for more details. “Tell me more! Tell me more!” said Sanae. “Is it a boy from your class?”
“Tell me more! Tell me more!” said Mio. “Does he-“
Nagisa held up a hand, cutting Mio off. “If your question is gonna end in ‘ass’, then you can stop right there,” she said. “Hinata is pure and innocent, and must be protected from your perverted mind.”
“But it needs to rhyme!” said Mio, pouting. “We can’t do a Greece reference that doesn’t rhyme!”
As Mio continued to pout at her, Nagisa sighed, rolled her eyes, and in a monotone voice said, “Tell more more, tell me more. Do his… feet smell like… grass... I don’t know!” she added defensively, as the others gave her derisive looks. “You try rhyming something on such short notice!”
“It’s easy to rhyme,” said Sanae, folding her arms with a smug look on her face. “I do it all the time.”
“Ohhh!” cried Hitomi, with an amazed look on her face. “Nice one, Sanae!” Mio pulled an airhorn out of nowhere and fired it as Sanae continue to sit there smugly. Nagisa simply sat there looking appalled by the whole spectacle.
Hinata, meanwhile, suddenly burst into giggles, causing the other girls’ attention to return to her. “His name is Hideki,” she said, looking a lot less embarrassed than before. “He’s in my class. And I… don’t know if his feet smell like grass, but… I really like him. He’s nice, and funny, and handsome, and I want to ask him out for Valentine’s Day, but… I don’t know how to get him to like me.”
“So you want romantic advice?” said Sanae. “I don’t think any of us are qualified to give out that sort of advice… but if any of us are, it’d be Mio, given the number of dating sims she plays.” She turned to Mio. “So, Mio? What’s the most effectively way to win a man’s heart?”
“Hmm…” Mio thought for a moment. “Well, you definitely can’t go wrong with the classics. Write him a love letter and then slip it into his shoe locker when he’s not looking. It’s easy, and it’s fool-proof.”
Hinata nodded. “Okay. Thank you. I’ll try that. Umm… any idea what the love letter should say?”
Mio stroked her chin thoughtfully. “Hmm… oh! I know! ‘Dear Hideki, you have a nice ass-“
“MIO!” cried Nagisa. “Stop lowering the tone of this show!”
“I don’t think this show’s tone can go much lower at this point,” Sanae remarked.14: Episode 9: She Will Be Loved (Pt.2)
Later that afternoon, Ryouichi gathered together his ingredients, and a recipe he’d got off the Internet, and set about baking the cake that he intended to present to Sanae. It would be a simple chocolate cake with white and pink icing; in theory, there was no room to screw anything up. Just to be careful – he was, after all, in a comedy series – Ryouichi made sure to follow the instructions to the letter, replicating the recipe as exactly as he could. He wanted it to be as perfect as possible when he presented it to Sanae.
By the time Ryouichi was finished, it was late in the evening, and the effort he’d expended had worn him out. The final product, however, was worth it in his eyes. Some of the icing was a little crooked, but it looked delicious, and since he’d followed the instructions exactly, it would surely taste delicious as well. He wasn’t going to try a piece to find out, of course. He’d just have to wait until Sanae sampled it for herself.
Ryouichi placed the cake inside a metal tin to keep it safe and fresh, and then placed the tin inside the fridge to cool overnight. “There,” he said to himself. “This cake is sure to win Sanae-senpai’s heart! Now I guess all I have to do is wait until tomorrow and present it to her!” Ryouichi, full of optimism, headed up to his room to get some rest.
Hinata was barely able to sleep that night. The letter she’d written for Hideki lay on her desk, with various abandoned drafts crumpled up inside her waste paper basket. When she woke up early the next morning for school, she was exhausted from the lack of sleep and had to take a shower to wake herself up before having breakfast. Like Ryouichi, however, Hinata felt that her efforts had been worth it, and that the letter couldn’t possibly fail to win Hideki over. All she had to do now was get to school before him and sneak it into his locker, ready for him to find.
Staving off a yawn, Hinata slipped the letter into her backpack and headed off to school. When she arrived, there was barely anyone else there. Hinata crossed to her own locker to put away her shoes, took the love letter out of her bag, then paused, realizing that her plan had a fairly obvious and damning flaw that had somehow never occurred to her before.
“I don’t know which locker is Hideki’s…” Hinata looked around, worried. What do I do?, she wondered to herself. I deliberately got here early so nobody would see me, so I have no-one to ask… but then again, I can’t ask anyone which locker is Hideki’s because then they’ll know what I’m trying to do, and-
A loud bang interrupted Hinata’s thoughts, startling her and causing her to jump about three feet into the air. Turning around frantically, she saw that Card Game Guy had burst dramatically through the school front doors and was now slowly making his way towards her. Hinata decided she was out of options. “Umm… Card Game Guy!” she said. “Umm… sorry to bother you, but… do you know a boy in my class named Hideki Aizawa?”
“I do!” proclaimed Card Game Guy, coming to a halt in front of Hinata. “He watches my show occasionally!”
“Great!” said Hinata. “Umm… do you know which locker is his? I, uhh…”
“I do not!” proclaimed Card Game Guy, with an equal amount of gusto. “However,” he proclaimed, as Hinata began to look disheartened, “I can find out for you by using the SOUL OF THE CARDS!”
“The… Soul of the Cards?” repeated Hinata blankly.
Card Game Guy produced a card from nowhere and held it between two fingers in a dramatic pose. “This card of mine glows with an AWESOME POWER!” he declared. “Its burning laminate tells me which locker is Hideki’s! TAKE THIS!” Card Game Guy threw the card sideways and it sliced through the air, embedding itself into the door of a nearby locker. “That locker is Hideki’s!” said Card Game Guy.
“Thanks, Card Game Guy!” said Hinata. Without hesitation, she headed over to the indicated locker and slipped the love letter inside.
Card Game Guy tugged the card free of the locker door and gave her a bright grin. “Don’t mention it!” he said. “Now, I have to go and prepare! This lunchtime, I’m playing for the soul of my friend, who was sent to the Pit of Eternal Darkness!”
Hinata wasn’t entirely sure how to respond to this. “Uhh… right,” she said. “Good luck with that, I guess…”
Meanwhile, Ryouichi, having gotten ready for school, headed into the kitchen to retrieve his cake. Opening the fridge, the tin was still right where he had left it. He picked it up, then froze, realizing that it was unusually light. Panicking, Ryouichi opened the tin and saw that it was empty. Not a single crumb remained.
“Impossible!” exclaimed Ryouichi. “That’s impossible! It was there last night, and nobody could have eaten it… where did it go?!”
“What is it they say?” said Kage, staring down at the sick Amaya. “‘Feed a cold, starve a fever’? I’m on it, nyaa~”
“I don’t think that actually works-“ Amaya protested, but before she could finish, Kage suddenly produced from nowhere a large chocolate cake with white and pink icing. Amaya’s tired eyes opened in shock. “You… you’re not serious…”
Kage obliviously picked up a large slice, smiling down at Amaya. “Come on, eat up,” she said. “You’ll feel better in no time, nyaa~” And before Amaya could protest any further, Kage shoved the slice of cake into Amaya’s mouth.
Ryouichi watched the flashback in disbelief. “That doesn’t even make any chronological sense!” he exclaimed when it was over. But whether it violated the rules of narrative or not, the cake was gone, and there was nothing he could do about that. Ryouichi heaved a deep sigh. “I guess I’ll just have to move on to Plan B…” he muttered.
That lunchtime, Hinata decided that she may as well head out into the courtyard to watch Card Game Guy battle to win back his friend’s soul. A few others had had the same idea, and the corridor seemed a little busier than usual as she made her way through the school building. However, before she reached the entrance, she was interrupted by a voice from behind her. “Excuse me? Morishita-san?”
Hinata turned round to see a girl with long lime-green hair standing behind her, her face crimson with embarrassment. “I, umm… I got your confession letter!” the girl squeaked, and to Hinata’s horror, she held out the letter that she had written for Hideki. Evidently Card Game Guy’s Soul of the Cards was not as accurate as he had thought. As if Hinata was not mortified enough already, the girl then continued, “It was very touching, Morishita-san, but… I’m afraid we can’t be together! It’s forbidden love! Girls can’t love girls!”
At that precise moment, Inaba-sensei loomed behind the lime-haired girl, a frightening false smile on her face. “Would you care to repeat that statement?” she asked, in a jarringly saccharine tone.
“Eep!” The girl jumped and turned around, her face turning from scarlet to white. “Uhh… wh-what I mean to say is… I’m not a lesbian!” And with that, the flustered girl ran off the way she had come, taking Hinata’s letter with her.
Inaba-sensei watched her go for a moment before turning to Hinata, looking slightly puzzled. “What was that all about?” she asked.
Now it was Hinata’s turn to blush. “I wrote a love letter to the boy I like, but I guess I put it in the wrong locker by mistake…” she said, her voice growing fainter with each syllable.
“I see,” said Inaba-sensei. “I’ll go explain the situation to that girl once she’s calmed down a bit.”
“Thank you.” Hinata then had a sudden idea. “Say… how did you ask Yuriko out?”
“Well, actually, she asked me,” Inaba-sensei replied. “We were at a party together, and she was kinda drunk… she asked me, I said ‘sure’, and here we both are.”
“That’s… not really helpful, but thanks,” said Hinata.
“Don’t mention it,” said Inaba-sensei. “Good luck with the whole confession thing!”
“Thanks,” said Hinata. “Oh, I’d better get going…” Hinata headed off on her way, hoping that Card Game Guy hadn’t already pulled out his instant-win card and ended the battle.15: Episode 9: She Will Be Loved (Pt.3)
Ryouichi bounced back quickly after the failure of his first plan. He had, after all, had the foresight to think up several in advance. That afternoon, he put his Plan B into action: he would buy a dozen red roses and present them to Sanae, along with a card containing a message asking her out.
“I should have gone with this plan first,” Ryouichi remarked, as he exited the flower shop with the roses in hand. “It’s foolproof! Girls love flowers, and nobody’s going to steal them; this is sure to win Sanae’s hea... ha... A-CHOO!”
Ryouichi sneezed violently, and then again, and then again. “Ah... th... the roses... AH-CHOO! I must be... allergic... AH-CHOO!” Ryouichi was forced to abandon the flowers and head home, sneezing the whole way. “Ah... so much for Plan B,” he said. “On to Plan – AH-CHOO! – Plan C...”
Meanwhile, at the White Star Fan Club, the girls were consoling Hinata after the failure of her initial attempt at wooing Hideki. “I’m sorry, Hinata,” said Mio. “I should have realized the holes in my plan.”
“It’s okay,” said Hinata, managing a smile. “There’s still plenty of time before Valentine’s Day... we’ll just have to try something else...”
Hitomi decided to offer her advice this time. “Do you know what kind of girls Hideki is into?” she asked. “Tsunderes, yanderes, kuuderes... himederes...?”
“Alternately,” suggested Nagisa sardonically, “he could be into girls with actual rounded personalities rather than one-dimensional archetypes.”
“Or he could just like big boobs,” said Mio, shrugging. “In which case, I’m afraid you’d be flat out of luck, Hinata.”
Hinata pouted angrily, unconsciously covering her flat chest with her hands. “You’re not exactly Hitomi Tanaka yourself, Mio,” she retorted.
“Guys, come on,” said Hitomi, “let’s not argue about this. He could be a lolicon for all we know. So that’s why I’m suggesting that we spy on him for a bit, to try and find out what he’s into. Then, Hinata can hit on him by appealing to his interests. If he’s into fat chests, she can pad her bra.”
“Or stuff water balloons down it like I did in Episode 4,” suggested Sanae.
“Exactly!” said Hitomi. “That way, Hitomi can win his heart no matter what he’s into!”
“Why can’t she just be herself?” asked Nagisa.
“Because Hideki might not like ‘herself’!” said Hitomi. “Uhh, no offence, Hinata. I think you’re just fine the way you are. But I’m not the one you’re trying to impress.”
“It’s okay,” said Hinata. “If changing will make him like me more, then I can change.”
“So how are we going to spy on him?” asked Mio.
“Hmm...” Sanae thought for a moment. “I think I have an idea.”
“Hideki is an Illuminati lizardman?!” repeated Kazuo, shocked.
“Sshhh!” Sanae admonished him in a hushed tone. “Keep your voice down! I said I think he’s an Illuminati lizardman. I don’t have any proof yet. But either way, we don’t want to let him know that we’re on to him.”
“Oh, right, good point,” said Kazuo, managing to restrict himself to a stage whisper. “We don’t want him using his evil laser vision inside the school. So, what should we do about it?”
“I want you to spy on him, and see what you can find out,” said Sanae. “Listen in on everything he says, and report it all back to me, every word. Even the seemingly innocuous things, like what kind of girls he likes, or what he had for breakfast, or what kind of girls he likes. He could be speaking in code.”
“Of course!” said Kazuo. “That fiend! Don’t worry, Sanae. I’ll tail him, find out what I can, and then together we’ll expose him as the Illuminati lizardman that he is!”
“Yeah, good luck with that,” said Sanae. “Anyway, you should probably go after him right away. The sooner we start gathering info on him, the better.”
“True,” said Kazuo. “Alright, I’ll go find him, and then stick to him like glue! Except not really.” He leaned in closer, and whispered, “It’s a known fact that lizardmen have super-slippery skin that nothing can stick to.” With that bizarre parting remark, Kazuo turned and headed off. “I’ll report back to you tomorrow, White Star!” he said.
“I’m not White Star!” Sanae called after him. Smirking, she turned and headed off in the opposite direction. Sanae, you’re a genius, she thought to herself. Exploiting Kazuo’s paranoia means he’ll do all the dirty work, none of us have to get our hands dirty, and if he does get caught, the real reason for the spying will remain hidden! Now all we have to do is hope that Kazuo gets us some good information.
The following lunchtime, Sanae was subjected to thirty minutes of increasingly nonsensical rambling, during which Kazuo dissected every single sentence Hideki had uttered over the past twenty-four hours, and pondered what they could possibly have meant. Not a single one of those sentences contained any meaningful information about Hideki’s preferences, but to Kazuo, they were a goldmine.
“-and then he asked his mother – if she really is his mother, and not an Illuminati plant – he asked her if he could help with the washing-up,” Kazuo continued, barely stopping for breath. “Of course, when he said ‘washing-up’, it must have been code for something else. Perhaps he meant ‘revolution’ – it would make sense for a lizardman agent to want to assist in the overthrow of humanity and the creation of the New World Order. Perhaps his ‘mother’ doesn’t feel he’s experienced enough yet. Of course, there’s the fact that he actually did help with the actual washing-up, but I believe that his lizardman seventh sense told him I was there, and he played along to try and throw me off the scent... but Kazuo ??? is not easily deceived!”
Sanae decided she couldn’t take any more of Kazuo’s delusions. “Thank you, Kazuo,” she said hurriedly. “You really did dedicate yourself to this, huh? I think that’s more than enough information, I’m going to go away and examine all that for a while... a really long while...”
“Should I continue tailing him?” asked Kazuo. “Or do you have enough proof now to expose him?”
“You should stop for now,” said Sanae, “and I’ll get back to you later about this.”
“Alright,” said Kazuo. “Good luck with your analysis, White Star.”
“For the hundredth time, I’m not White Star!” said Sanae.16: Episode 9: She Will Be Loved (Pt.4)
"So the spying was a bust too, huh?" said Hitomi, as that day's White Star Fan Club meeting got underway. "Darn. I really thought that would work."
Sanae awkwardly scratched the back of her neck. "Yeah, on second thoughts, I probably should have remembered that we tried spying on Inaba-sensei like that a couple of episodes ago, and it didn't work that time either. Well, it kind of did. But not in the way we were expecting."
"You're all being too subtle!" Nagisa, who barely understood the meaning of the word 'subtle', slammed her palm down on the table as she spoke. "You need to be more assertive! Guys like it when girls are forward with them!"
"Umm... okay," said Hinata, a little startled. "So... how do I do that?"
Nagisa smiled. "Simple," she said. "I'll teach you a technique that's been passed down the Tezuka household for generations! Mio, I'll be needing your assistance."
"Huh?" said Mio, a split second before Nagisa seized her by the wrist and pulled her to her feet. "Oh, uhh... okay then..."
Nagisa proceeded to drag the curious Mio towards the back wall of the classroom, looking over her shoulder to make sure Hinata was paying attention. "First, you have to get Hideki alone," she said. "Make up some kind of excuse if you have to. Then, once it's just the two of you together, you pin him up against the wall like this."
Nagisa positioned Mio with her back against the wall, and then with a loud slam, she placed her hand against the wall a few inches to Mio's right, leaning in towards her. With a surprisingly gentle touch, Nagisa used her other hand to cradle the blushing girl's chin, tilting her head upwards a little to gaze into her vivid blue eyes.
"Then," continued Hinata, "you look into his eyes and say: 'Hideki... for so long now I've been helplessly in love with you. The thought of being with you drives me crazy. I can't take it anymore. I have to have you. Be mine, Hideki.'" All this was delivered in such a soft, sultry voice that for a moment, Sanae almost forgot that it was Nagisa who was speaking.
Hinata, meanwhile, was studiously taking notes while blushing a little at the sight of Nagisa being so forward. "And... th-that'll work?" she said.
"It seems to be working on Mio," Sanae remarked drily.
Mio, sure enough, was gazing up at Nagisa with a newfound reverence, her eyes sparkling and a hint of drool at the corner of her mouth. "Take me now," she breathed.
Nagisa, ignoring Mio, turned her attention back to the others. "So, you think you can do that, Hinata?"
Hinata blushed a little harder, but nodded. "I'll try," she said.
"Good," said Nagisa. "If you do it right, he'll be yours for sure."
However, as the week wore on, try as she might, Hinata could not find an opportunity to get Hideki on his own. As she headed into school on Friday, she decided there was nothing else for it: she would simply have to wall-slam him wherever and whenever she had a chance, regardless of whether or not anyone was watching. It would certainly be embarrassing, but thinking about it, the pressure of having people watching might make Hideki more willing to accept her feelings. I have to at least try, she thought to herself.
That day, during one of the breaks between lessons, Hinata spotted Hideki hanging around in the corridors near their classroom. This is it, she thought to herself. I won't get a better chance than this. I have to go for it.
As Hinata walked towards Hideki, a crowd of other first-years also approached from the opposite direction. Hinata didn't care. She had a job to do. Walking into the crowd, her gaze fixed on Hideki, she zeroed in on him. He didn't seem to have spotted her. After a moment's hesitation, Hinata lunged forward, pushing Hideki up against the wall and slamming a hand against the wall next to... her?!
It wasn't Hideki that Hinata had pinned against the wall. It was the green-haired girl from earlier.
The corridor fell silent as the surrounding crowd stopped to look at them. The two girls stared at each other in awkward silence for a moment, their faces growing steadily redder, until finally they parted ways with an embarrassed squeal and darted off in separate directions. "I'msosorryIthoughtyouweresomeoneelse!" squealed Hinata as she fled.
"Forbidden love!" squealed the green-haired girl as she ran off.
"Uuuuu..." Hinata slumped over the White Star Fan Club meeting table, seemingly close to tears. "Nothing I did worked..."
Sanae sighed. "You're all making things too complicated," she said. "Just do what everyone else does: make some homemade chocolate over the weekend, and when you come in on Monday morning, present it to him."
"I don't know how to make chocolate, though," said Hinata.
"Well, that's okay!" said Hitomi. "There's plenty of recipes available on the Internet! Besides, you have us to help you out! If we all pitch in together, we'll make those chocolates, no problem!"
Hinata sat up a little, staring up at Hitomi with sparkling eyes. "Really? You'd do that for me?" she asked.
"Well, we've helped you so far, haven't we?" Mio pointed out. "Even if it hasn't always gone that well... but Sanae's right. I don't see any flaws in this plan. Let's make it work together."
Nagisa nodded. "Our previous plans might not have worked, but that just makes us all the more determined to make sure this one works!" she said.
"You guys..." Hinata's eyes lit up with newfound hope, and she too nodded in agreement. "You're right. We can do this."
"That's the spirit!" said Sanae. "I'll go look up some recipes, you can take care of the ingredients, and then we'll all meet up at your house on Sunday to make those chocolates together! Sound good?"
Hinata nodded. "Mhmm. Thanks, everyone. I really appreciate it."
"Don't mention it," said Hitomi. "That's what friends are for!"
Ryouichi, meanwhile, was in significantly lower spirits. None of his plans had worked. Confessing via Macebook hadn't worked; he'd messaged the wrong Sanae Hikari. Coming to her house to confess outside her window hadn't worked; he'd gotten lost. Now he only had one plan left. I didn't want it to come to this, he thought to himself that night, but it seems I have no choice now.
Opening his wardrobe, Ryouichi began thumbing through its clothes. His final plan hinged on the fact that ever since White Star had appeared, she had not only become immensely beloved and popular herself, but had also boosted the popularity of costumed superheroes in general. So Ryouichi had had an idea: if he became a popular hero like White Star, and then revealed his identity, Sanae would want him for certain.
Of course, he'd saved this plan for last because in order for it to work, something requiring a heroic intervention would have to occur between now and Monday morning, and there was no guarantee of that besides the fact that the monster-of-the-week hadn't shown up yet. It was a risky plan, but Ryouichi was desperate, and this was the only thing he had left to try. I'll just have to do my best, he said, pulling a white dressing gown out of his wardrobe. If White Star can be a hero... then so can I.17: Episode 9: She Will Be Loved (Pt.5)
On Sunday morning, Sanae, Hitomi, Nagisa and Mio met up outside Hinata’s house, as agreed. To their surprise, the house turned out to be located in the wealthiest part of town, and was very large, with three floors. “Wow,” Sanae remarked. “I figured Hinata’s family were rich, because of the summer house, but I didn’t think they were this rich!”
“My family live in a tiny apartment,” said Nagisa, gazing up in wonder at the house. “I don’t know how you’d even fill this much space.”
“With whatever you want, of course!” said Hitomi. “Rich people buy all kinds of stupid stuff just because they can afford it!”
“Why doesn’t she just throw money at Hideki?” pondered Nagisa. “Money is the ultimate means of seduction.”
“I suppose she wants Hideki to love her for who she is, rather than the stuff she has,” said Mio.
The other girls nodded, agreeing with Mio’s statement. A moment’s silence ensued, before the foursome began exchanging awkward glances. “Are we gonna knock, or just stand here talking?” asked Sanae.
“I already rang the doorbell before we started talking,” said Mio. “Nobody answered.”
At that precise moment, Hinata slowly opened the door. “I’m sorry,” she said. “I was upstairs, it took me ages to get to the door-“
“Your house is too big!” said Nagisa.
With an apologetic smile, Hinata opened the door wider and stepped aside to let the others in. They took their shoes off at the threshold and followed Hinata into a large, spacious kitchen. “It would have taken too long to make chocolate from scratch,” said Hinata, “so I bought some from the store. I didn’t know how much we’d need, though...” Several large bars of dark chocolate were piled up on the counter, along with some heart-shaped moulds, a saucepan, and a glass mixing bowl.
“Isn’t this simple enough for you to do by yourself, Hinata?” asked Nagisa.
“Maybe,” said Hinata. “But I thought it would be fun if we all did it together. You guys can have any chocolate that’s left over afterwards.”
“Besides,” said Mio, picking up one of the chocolate bars, “it’s clear she doesn’t really know what she’s doing, if she bought dark chocolate. That’s too bitter for a Valentine, Hinata.”
“Oh,” said Hinata. “I didn’t realize. My family only eats dark chocolate, so I didn’t realize... should I go out and buy some milk chocolate instead?”
“Don’t worry about it,” said Sanae. “This’ll have to do. Dark chocolate’s supposed to be healthier, so maybe you can explain it to him that way.”
“Maybe,” said Hinata. “Okay, let’s get started, then, I guess.”
The girls quickly got to work. Hitomi unwrapped the chocolate bars and she and Sanae broke them into pieces, placing them into the mixing bowl. Mio and Nagisa half-filled the saucepan with hot water and placed it on the stove to heat up. Hinata placed the mixing bowl on top of the saucepan, letting the gently boiling water heat it up and gradually melt the chocolate, stirring it every so often to make sure the heat was distributed evenly.
Once all the chocolate had been melted, it was carefully scooped into the heart-shaped moulds and left to cool in the refrigerator. In an attempt to sweeten the chocolates up somewhat, Hinata found some white icing mix in one of the many kitchen cupboards, and began whipping up some icing to go on the top.
“You should write a message for Hideki with the icing!” suggested Hitomi. “Just something simple, like, ‘I love you’.”
“Or, ‘Be mine’,” suggested Nagisa.
“Normally I’d make a lewd suggestion at this point,” added Mio, “but we want him to like you, not think you’re some kind of freak.”
“Thank you, Mio,” said Sanae. “I wish you’d show that kind of tact more often.”
Once the chocolates had cooled down and hardened, Hinata took them out of the fridge and the group set about icing them. Each of the chocolates was given a thin, even layer of icing applied all the way across the top, except for Hideki’s, on which Hinata neatly wrote “I love you”. Finally, Hideki’s Valentine was wrapped up and tied with a red ribbon, and the remaining chocolates were distributed among the five girls. “I hope you like them,” said Hinata.
“I’m sure they’ll taste delicious,” said Sanae. “Thanks, Hinata.”
“Oh, it’s almost lunchtime,” said Hinata, suddenly looking up at the clock. “Um... would you all like to stay for lunch? We can help make it together.”
“Sure, why not?” said Hitomi. “It’s not like we have anything better to do.” The others all nodded in agreement, and the five girls duly set about preparing lunch.
The White Star Fan Club ended up spending most of the day at Hinata’s house, and it was already dark by the time Sanae left for home, carrying her chocolates in an old plastic bag. Though she had enjoyed herself immensely, there was one thing nagging away at her. “In the end, we were so busy I didn’t even get to make any jokes,” she lamented.
About halfway from home, she was suddenly approached by Kousen. “Ah, there you are, Sanae,” she said. “I’ve been looking for you. Another monster has just appeared and is terrorizing the area with all the strange controllable pictures.”
“You mean the arcades?” said Sanae. “That fiend!” Sanae held out the carrier bag. “Here, hold my chocolates. Whatever you do, don’t eat them.”
Kousen seemed strangely emotional as she took the carrier bag. “Are these... Valentines chocolates?” she asked.
Sanae quickly realized her faux pas. “Th-they’re not for you!” she stammered. “They’re for me, from Hinata!”
Kousen gave Sanae a quizzical look. “I thought Hinata was going to confess to Hitomi?” she said.
“No, Hideki!” corrected Sanae. “She’s going to confess to Hideki! These are just chocolates that she had left over!”
Kousen was no less confused after this. “I see,” she said. “I think.”
“Anyway, I’ve got a duty to fulfil,” said Sanae, pulling the White Star Emblem out of her pocket. “White Star: Transformation!”
Once more, Sanae was engulfed in a blinding white light. Her school uniform morphed into a beautiful white knee-length dress with violet lace trim. White thigh-high socks and high-heeled shoes gently enveloped her feet and legs, the straps of the shoes winding their way delicately up her shins. White gloves manifested themselves on her hands, and as the Emblem transformed into the White Star Wand, she clutched it tightly in her right hand. Finally, her hair curled itself into two neat ringlets either side of her head, and her transformation into White Star was complete.
White Star had only made it a couple of blocks before she heard a voice call out to her. “Wait! White Star!” White Star paused, and looked round to see a teenage boy standing atop a lamppost nearby. Had she known him, she would have immediately recognized him as Ryouichi. He was wearing a navy-blue tracksuit, and had tied his white dressing gown around his neck like a cape; it billowed out behind him as he posed heroically. As if he didn’t look ridiculous enough already, Ryouichi had topped off his haphazard ensemble with a sombrero, which he wore tilted forwards in a crude attempt to hide his face.
White Star had to keep from laughing. “Wh... who are you supposed to be?” she asked.
“I’m here to help you,” said Ryouichi. “My name is, uhh...” Ryouichi looked down at his costume as though searching for inspiration. “Dressing Gown... Hat... I am Dressing Gown Hat.”
“Yeah, I’m just gonna call you Sombrero Guy,” said White Star. “You’re here to help me?”
“That’s right,” said Sombrero Guy. “I’ll help you protect Mitsuzawa this night, in order to win the heart of the girl I love!”
White Star couldn’t help but be swayed by such a noble intention. “Awww, that’s so sweet,” she gushed. “But... are you able to fight? Monsters are real dangerous, you know.”
“I’ll be fine,” said Ryouichi. After a moment’s silence, he added, in the same heroic voice: “I can’t get down from here.”18: Episode 9: She Will Be Loved (Pt.6)
After White Star had helped Sombrero Guy get down from the lamppost, the two of them made their way through the streets towards the arcades. White Star had to fly a lot slower than she would have wanted so that Sombrero Guy could keep with her on foot, and by the time they arrived at the arcades, there was already a lot of damage, with broken glass and scattered debris all over the street. Thankfully, it seemed as though everyone had already safely evacuated.
As White Star came in to land, there was a loud crash to her right and the shattered remains of an upturned arcade cabinet came skidding out through the broken front window of one of the buildings, its exposed wires spitting out sparks. It was a retro racing game, perhaps twenty years old. Surely a priceless cabinet. White Star clenched her fists in anger. “That monster... desecrating the city is one thing, but desecrating these sacred halls of gaming?! That’s unforgiveable! Let’s take it down!”
“Alright!” said Sombrero Guy, positioning himself in a crude combat stance. “Just tell me what to do!”
“For now, stay back, and don’t do anything stupid,” said White Star. “This could get ugly.”
A moment later, there was a snarling roar from within the arcade and the monster leapt forward into the street. It was a strange four-legged creature, a little shorter than waist-height, with seemingly no eyes and a mouth full of sharp teeth that took up most of its face. A broken piece of arcade cabinet was clutched in its teeth, bent and gnarled from repeated bites. With a violent shake of its head, the monster sent the shrapnel flying about twenty feet down the road.
White Star scowled. This monster was clearly very dangerous, and having Sombrero Guy around made things more complicated. “You should get out of here,” she warned him. “This thing’s out of your league.”
“I can’t leave!” objected Sombrero Guy. “I have to prove myself as a hero to impress the girl I love!”
“Whoever she is, she’s not worth putting yourself in mortal danger for!” said White Star, inadvertently slighting herself in the process. “Just go! I’ll take care of it!”
Sombrero Guy lingered for a moment longer, but then reluctantly conceded that White Star was right. While this wasn’t a series in which he could die, he could still get horrifically maimed, and he wouldn’t look like a hero then, merely an idiot who’d bitten off more than he could chew. Perhaps he was. With tears of frustration welling in his eyes, Sombrero Guy turned and fled the scene. “Good luck, White Star!” he called out.
White Star watched him go with a somewhat mournful look. “Poor kid...” she muttered, before turning her attention back to the monster, her face hardening. “Alright, monster, now you’ve really pissed me off. Time to let the light of justice shine!”
The monster immediately leapt at White Star, who simply knocked it aside with a sweep of her arm. Undeterred, the monster leapt again, but this time White Star caught it by the gnashing jaws and suplexed it, sending it crashing into the ground. Before the monster could climb back to its feet, White Star pinned it beneath her high-heeled foot, pointing the White Star Wand directly at it.
“This is for wrecking the arcade and that kid’s dreams,” said White Star. “Finishing Move: White Star Beam!” A colossal beam of white light erupted from the end of the White Star Wand, striking the monster point-blank and disintegrating it. When the light faded, all that was left was a smoking crater, with the creature’s fallen Black Heart lying in the centre.
Kousen picked up the Black Heart, examining it curiously. “I’m sure I know what these are,” she remarked. “I still can’t remember, though. How vexing.”
“I’m sure you’ll remember eventually,” said White Star. “I feel kinda bad for Sombrero Guy, though. I mean, sure, he didn’t actually do anything, and I’m sure he would have been completely useless in an actual fight, but he was just trying to help and impress his crush.” White Star thought for a moment. “I wonder if there’s something I can do to help him out...”
Ryouichi trudged into school on Valentines’ Day feeling despondent. His final, last-ditch attempt at attracting Sanae’s attention had failed. It doesn’t look like I’m ever going to get senpai to notice me, he despaired, as he put his shoes away in his locker. I might as well just give up...
“Umm... excuse me?” Ryouichi, in his state of despair, did not initially register the words as being addressed to him. He turned and started to leave when the voice called out again. “Excuse me? Are you... Sombrero Guy?”
Ryouichi stopped in his tracks, surprised, and turned round. It was the green-haired girl that Hinata had been inadvertently harassing. Upon seeing Ryouichi’s face, her eyes lit up. “It is you!” she said. “I thought I recognized you! I’m a huge fan of yours!”
Ryouichi was caught completely off-guard by this. “Really? But... I didn’t do anything...”
“That’s not what White Star said,” said the green-haired girl. Fishing out her phone, she opened FooTube and showed Ryouichi a video. It was of White Star, seemingly giving an interview to a news crew after the events of the previous night.
“White Star, not only have you defeated this latest monster with hardly any effort,” said the reporter, “but you also used your magic to repair all the damage it had caused! Is there anything you can’t do?”
“Well,” said White Star, “I can’t ignore danger wherever it arises, I can’t reveal my secret identity, I can’t drive, I can’t dance, I can’t talk, the only thing about me is the way I walk, I can’t watch B*ku no H*ro Acad*mia without raging at how bad the pacing is, I can’t watch A*gel B**ts without crying like a baby... and I also can’t take all the credit for tonight. I was helped out by a guy in a sombrero: the hatted hero, Sombrero Guy. He risked his life to fight alongside me, all for the girl he loves. I don’t who she is, but she’s a lucky girl.”
Ryouichi’s mouth fell open, astonished that White Star had had the heart to credit him despite his apparent failure. Meanwhile, the green-haired girl stopped the video, gazing reverently at him. “I thought what you did was so romantic~” she gushed. “A knight rushing to the rescue of his princess... now that’s true love! She must have been so flattered by it!”
Ryouichi’s face fell. “Actually... she doesn’t even know I exist. I hoped that Sombrero Guy would finally get her attention, but...” The sentence trailed off and Ryouichi let out a sigh, looking down at the ground. “I guess it just wasn’t meant to be.”
With a sympathetic smile, the green-haired girl gently lifted Ryouichi’s chin back up, gazing into his eyes. “It got my attention,” she replied.19: Episode 9: She Will Be Loved (Pt.7)
Meanwhile, Hinata was nervously heading off to homeroom, her homemade Valentine clutched delicately in her hand, lest it melt beneath her fingers. The hard part was over. She knew Hideki would be in today, so all she had to do was walk in, hand him the chocolate, and confess.
Hinata opened the classroom door and quickly scanned for Hideki. “Ah, there he is,” she said, spotting him near the window. “Umm... H-Hideki-“
But then Hinata noticed someone else standing next to him. It was another girl. And she was holding out a box of chocolates. “Hideki-kun!” she squeaked. “I know this is a bad time, but, uhh... I want you to be my boyfriend!”
Hinata immediately started to panic, unsure what to do, but Hideki was quick to respond, chuckling nervously and rubbing the back of his neck. “Sorry, Katsuragi,” he said. “I’m not looking for a girlfriend right now. I want to concentrate on my studies. But I really appreciate it.”
Hinata’s face froze, staring at Hideki in disbelief. He’s... not looking for a girlfriend...
At that precise moment, the rest of the White Star Fan Club entered the classroom. “Hey, Hinata!” said Hitomi, enthusiastically clapping her friend on the shoulder. “How’d it, uhh...” Hinata’s voice trailed off as she noticed the look on Hinata’s face. She looked from her friend to Hideki and back again, then said, “Oh.”
“That badly, huh?” Nagisa remarked.
The remarks drew Hideki’s attention, and he turned to face Hinata with a surprised look. “You were planning to confess to me too, Morishita?” he asked. Hinata flushed bright red, but nodded.
“Wow, I didn’t realize I was so popular,” said Hideki, looking a little embarrassed himself. “Sorry to disappoint you both. Like I said, I’m not ready for a relationship yet, but as soon as I am, I’ll let both of you know. Just promise you won’t fight over me in the meantime.”
Hinata glanced over at the other girl, and they both nodded. “W-will you still accept our chocolates though?” asked Hinata. “I put a lot of effort into making mine...”
“Of course I will,” said Hideki. “Thank you both. I’ll be sure to return the favour to each of you on White Day.” Hideki accepted the box of chocolates from the other girl, then from Hinata, who felt her heart skip a beat.
As their teacher walked in to start homeroom, Hinata walked to her seat in a giddy daze. Wait for me, Hideki, she thought to herself. I’ll win you over yet!
That lunchtime, Ryouichi headed to the back of the school buildings at the invitation of the green-haired girl, whose name he had learned was Maki. She was waiting for him there, smiling radiantly, a homemade Valentine clutched in her hands. “I thought I should do this properly,” she said. “So... will you go out with me, Ryouichi?”
She’s not Sanae-senpai, Ryouichi thought to himself, but she’s good enough for me. “Sure,” he said.
I don’t mind spending every day
Out on your corner in the pouring rain...
To celebrate Hinata’s success – sort of – in confessing to Hideki, the White Star Fan Club went out to a karaoke venue. Naturally, Hinata was made to sing all the romantic songs that came up, and while she was initially very shy about doing so, she gradually came out of her shell, especially once her friends started complimenting her singing voice. Mio’s drew even more praise, while Nagisa’s singing (if it can be referred to as such) was generally met with clamped ears and pained expressions.
Look for the girl with the broken smile
Ask her if she wants to stay a while...
Amaya, meanwhile, spent that afternoon playing Piggymon Go on her phone. As she approached a Pigstop to replenish her items, she noticed somebody suddenly place a Lure Module on it, attracting several Piggymon to her immediate vicinity. Surprised, Amaya looked round to see who had placed it, but saw only a tangled mess of black hair disappearing round a corner.
“Could that have been...” Amaya blinked a couple of times, staring at the spot where the woman had been, then shook her head. “Nah. Can’t have been.” Returning her attention to her phone, Amaya set about trying to catch the Piggymon that had been attracted by the lure.
Hiding around the corner, her back against the wall, Amaya’s mother looked down at her phone and smiled.
And she will be loved
And she will be loved...
Inaba-sensei and Yuriko celebrated Valentine’s Day by having dinner together at a fancy restaurant. Yuriko, on a whim, scooped up some of her food with her fork and raised it towards Inaba-sensei’s mouth. “Here,” she said. “Say, ‘aah’.”
Smiling, Inaba-sensei duly closed her eyes and opened her mouth. “Aah~” Yuriko moved her fork towards Inaba-sensei’s mouth, but the food never arrived there, instead falling off the fork and dropping onto Inaba-sensei’s lap. The two women looked at the fallen food for a moment before busting into uncontrollable laughter.
...don’t try so hard to say goodbye...
Ryouichi turned out his bedroom light and climbed into bed, a huge smile on his face. Maki’s half-eaten Valentine lay wrapped up on his bedside table, the red ribbon dangling over the side. Any lingering thoughts of Sanae had faded from his mind, driven away by thoughts of his new girlfriend. Today had been a good day.
“...I FORGOT TO DO MY MATH HOMEWORK!” Panicking, Ryouichi scrambled back out of bed and promptly fell over. “Oww...”20: Episode 10: The Great Pretender (Pt.1)
It was a lazy Sunday afternoon, and Nagisa was lying on her bed, playing a puzzle game on her 3DX. She wasn’t very good at them, but she enjoyed the challenge. She was interrupted mid-puzzle, however, by the loud buzzing of her phone, signalling an incoming call. With a sigh, Nagisa put down the handheld console and picked up her phone to answer it. “Hello?”
“Nagisa!” It was Hitomi, and she sounded frantic. “What are you doing right now?”
“Playing a video game,” said Nagisa. “Why, what’s going on?”
“Turn on your TV and you’ll see!” said Hitomi, before hanging up.
Nagisa rolled her eyes, picked her 3DX back up, and switched it off. By the time she’d finished watching whatever it was Hitomi wanted her to watch, she would have forgotten where she was in the puzzle and had to start over anyway. Putting the handheld to one side, Nagisa got up and headed downstairs in search of her house’s only TV.
“No... we can’t do this... we’re both guys...”
“So what? It doesn’t matter, so long as we love each other...”
Mio sat enraptured before her laptop as the yaoi visual novel played out before her, absent-mindedly drooling onto the keyboard as she clicked through the dialogue sequences. Before things on the screen got very far, however, Mio’s phone went off. The startled girl jumped about three feet in the air, her face turning beet red, and slammed the lid of her laptop shut. “I-I-I wasn’t just watching something indecent!” she squeaked as she answered the phone.
“Uhh... right,” said Hitomi, caught off-guard a little. “Well, whatever indecent thing it is you’re not watching, stop not watching it and go watch the news instead! Something big is happening!” With that, Hitomi hung up, leaving a still-startled Mio to get up from her desk and switch her TV on.
Hinata, with nothing to do, was simply taking an afternoon nap when she was woken by her phone going off. Cracking open an eye, she stretched out and picked up the handset. “Wh-who is it?” she asked, still half-asleep.
“It’s me, Hitomi!” Her friend’s panicked voice woke Hinata right up. “What are you doing right now?”
Startled, Hinata began to wonder whether there was some emergency happening. “I-I-I was sleeping,” she said.
“Well, wake up and turn on your TV!” said Hitomi. “Something big is happening!” Hitomi promptly hung up, and Hinata scrambled out of bed in search of her TV remote.
“I can’t believe they managed to drag this fight out for an entire season,” remarked Sanae through a mouthful of chocolate, as she tuned in for the latest instalment of her generic shonen anime.
“I can’t believe you’re still watching this nonsense,” retorted Kousen.
“It’s not nonsense!” said Sanae. “It’s just too deep for you to understand!”
“What’s ‘deep’ about two shirtless men yelling at each other for several months?” asked Kousen.
Before the burgeoning argument could progress any further, it was interrupted by the ringing of Sanae’s phone. Sanae muted the TV and quickly answered. “Hello?”
“Sanae!” exclaimed Hitomi. “What are you doing right now?”
“Watching TV,” said Sanae.
“Well, stop watching TV and... wait, no. Uhh... turn over to the news channel right now! It’s urgent!” With that, Hitomi hung up.
“Thank goodness you’re going to change the channel,” Kousen remarked, having been listening. “But still, what could be so urgent?”
“I don’t know,” said Sanae, staring at the handset with a confused expression. “Hitomi’s not usually that panicky. Could it be another monster attack?”
“Impossible,” said Kousen. “I’m not sensing any monsters.”
“Then what could it be?” wondered Sanae. Curious, she un-muted the TV and switched over to the news channel.
“If you’re just tuning in,” said the newscaster, rather conveniently, “our top story is this: local ordinary high school student Shiro Hoshino has today outed herself as being the magical girl ‘White Star’.”
Sanae immediately sat up, a look of abject horror on her face. “WHAT?!!” she exclaimed.
As the news report continued, a picture of a girl with long lavender hair and sharp eyes appeared on the screen. “At a press conference today, held at Mitsuzawa City Hall, Hoshino took credit for White Star’s many victories and-”
Too angry to listen to any more, Sanae muted the TV, glaring at the screen. “I can’t believe this!” she exclaimed. “How dare this woman take all the credit for my good deeds!”
“That’s not to say that anyone believes her, though,” Kousen pointed out.
“Well, obviously somebody believes her, Kousen, otherwise she wouldn’t have gotten to have a press conference at City Hall, not to mention national news coverage,” said Sanae. “Seriously... how can anyone be that attention-seeking?! It’s just wrong!”
“It’s certainly going to cause us a few problems,” said Kousen. “But I’m sure it’ll cause this girl a few problems too. There’s a reason I told you not to reveal your identity, after all.”
“I know,” said Sanae, “but I can’t just sit here and let her pretend to be me! At the same time, though, I don’t really know what to do about it! I can’t reveal myself as the real White Star, and I doubt she’ll stop even if I tell her to...” Sanae heaved an annoyed sigh. “What a pain...”
“Indeed,” said Kousen. Something on the TV then caught her attention. “Hmm... it seems they’re performing some kind of interrogation on her. Perhaps she’ll reveal herself to be a better person than we assume.”
“You mean an interview,” said Sanae. “Yeah, maybe. Who knows, maybe she’s just doing this to give White Star a tangible face, someone people can look up to even when there’s no danger around.” Sanae hit the mute button again, restoring the sound.
“-there are people out there who claim you’re just making this up for attention,” said the interviewer. “What do you say to those people?”
Shiro smiled smugly. “I say those people are just jealous because I’m a famous hero and they’re not,” she said.
“She’s a total bitch!” exclaimed Sanae.
“Do you have any proof to offer to those who doubt your credibility?” asked the interviewer.
“Proof?” repeated Shiro, amused. “Just look at me! I’m the spitting image of White Star! Plus, ‘Hoshino Shiro’ literally means ‘White Star’! What more proof could you need?”
“How about something actually tangible, and not total coincidence?” said Sanae sardonically. “’Yes, hello, my name is Arthur, this obviously means I am the reincarnation of the hero of English legend-’ She really expects people to believe her?!”
“I see,” said the interviewer. “Well, that certainly is compelling evidence-”
“Are you serious?!!” exclaimed Sanae.
“-but I have to ask, what do you feel you have to gain from revealing your identity?” the interviewer continued.
“I just feel it’s time I stopped hiding behind my fake identity and started taking more credit for my own actions,” said Shiro.
“You mean taking credit for my actions!” snapped Sanae.
“People deserve to know who it is that’s been saving their butts all this time,” added Shiro.
“People don’t deserve to be lied to!” retorted Sanae, clenching her fists.
“I see,” said the interviewer. “Well, now that you have revealed your identity, what do you plan to do next?”
“Obviously I’m going to keep saving the city from monsters,” said Shiro, and it seemed to Sanae in her anger that she gave a knowing smile to the camera. “But in the meantime, I’m going to just kick back and relax and allow the world to get to know the real White Star-”
There was a loud smash and a shower of sparks as the remote went straight through the plasma screen. Sanae had seen enough. “I can’t stand that woman!” she exclaimed. “I can’t stand it! I’m going to expose her for the fake she is, no matter what it takes!”21: Episode 10: The Great Pretender (Pt.2)
Unsurprisingly, Shiro Hoshino was the talk of the school the following day. Wherever Sanae went, there were people discussing whether Shiro was the real deal or not, and what they thought of her.
Amaya’s opinion of Shiro couldn’t be plainer. “I hate her,” she muttered, as she sank into her seat. “I hate her so much.”
“I know!” said Sanae. “I can’t believe she’s taking credit for White Star’s good deeds!”
“It’s not just that,” said Amaya. “She’s an annoying, stuck-up attention whore. I can’t stand her.” At least I have a legitimate reason for seeking attention as Black Star, she thought to herself.
Sanae nodded, then smiled. “Same here,” she said. “Nothing like mutual hatred to bond two people together, is there?”
“Nope,” said Amaya with a smirk. “Nothing at all.”
Kazuo was not convinced either. He spent the entire day telling anyone who would listen that Shiro was merely an Illuminati spy, working deep undercover to discredit White Star so that the organization would be unopposed when they began their conquest of Japan. While Sanae appreciated Kazuo’s efforts to debunk her rival’s claims, she wished he’d go about it in a more readily-believable manner; most people responded to Kazuo’s claims by simply rolling their eyes and walking away, as usual.
The White Star Fan Club, naturally, was also consumed by discussion of Shiro during its daily meeting. “I think you all know what we’re going to discuss today,” said Hitomi, who hadn’t even bothered with her usual one-page itinerary. “Shiro Hoshino: is she really White Star, or just making it up for attention?”
“Making it up,” said Sanae.
“Definitely making it up,” said Nagisa.
“Well... w-we don’t really know that yet...” said Hinata.
“Then where’s the proof?” demanded Nagisa. “Where’s her proof that she’s White Star?”
“There might not be any yet,” admitted Mio, “but there also isn’t any proof that she isn’t White Star. We don’t know either way at the moment, so I feel like we should reserve judgement for the time being. However, I must admit that I hope she isn’t White Star. She did come across as extremely arrogant during her interview.”
“Exactly!” said Hitomi. “White Star would never be that arrogant! Plus, she’s breaking the cardinal rule of magical girls, which is ‘never reveal your secret identity’! So I’m pretty sure she’s lying, but Mio’s right: we don’t really know for sure yet.” I do, thought Sanae.
“So, what now?” asked Nagisa.
“I’ll spread the word on the forums that we should all be cautious about Shiro’s claims,” said Mio. “In the meantime, I suppose there’s not much else we can do, apart from simply waiting to see what Shiro does next. With all the scepticism surrounding her, one would assume she’d have to offer up some kind of proof eventually.”
“And if she can’t provide it, then we’ll know she’s a fake,” said Sanae.
“Exactly,” said Hitomi, before pausing awkwardly for a moment. “Well, that about wraps that up, I think. I didn’t have anything else planned for today. And we still have 55 minutes of club time to fill.”
The club members fell into contemplative silence for a moment as they pondered how best to spend their remaining time. Finally, Mio piped up, “Wanna watch funny videos on FooTube?”
The other members glanced at each other and nodded enthusiastically. “Sounds good to me,” said Hitomi.
“I’ll get my laptop,” said Hinata.
“Bring up that video where someone remixed Donald Trump’s speeches to make him sing ‘All-Star’ by Smashmouth!” said Sanae. [A/N: I don’t think this is actually a thing, sadly, but if I had the money then I would pay someone to make it]
After an hour-and-a-half of FooTube videos (the girls got rather distracted), Sanae arrived home in very high spirits. “Some-BODY once told me the wall ain’t getting paid for-” she sang as she burst through her bedroom door.
“Ssh,” said Kousen, who was attentively watching the TV. “Quiet. Shiro’s having another one of those interview things on the magic viewing screen.”
Sanae’s good mood was instantly quashed. “Why are you watching that?” she asked, confused.
“Honestly, I am very interested to see how long she can keep up this pretence for without being discovered,” Kousen explained.
“Me too,” said Sanae, sitting down to watch. “Sure hope she crashes and burns soon, though.”
The interview duly began, with Shiro, dressed in normal street clothes, being interviewed by a famous Japanese talk show host. “I have to say,” he began, “I’m surprised that you’ve turned up in civilian guise, rather than as White Star.”
“I’m here to be interviewed as myself, not as White Star,” Shiro began without hesitation, as though reciting from a script. “I don’t want the public to only pay attention to me when I’m White Star, and ignore the real me.”
“You just want attention, period,” muttered Sanae, her anger taking over again.
“I see,” said the interviewer, adjusting his glasses. “Well, I suppose I can understand that. But would you mind perhaps transforming briefly? I’m sure we’d all like to see you perform some magic here in the studio.”
The audience cheered in the affirmative, and for the first time Shiro looked slightly rattled, but she managed to recover quickly. “Of course I don’t have the Emblem on me right now,” she said. “I keep it safely hidden away, and only make use of it during dire emergencies. Can you imagine what would happen if the Emblem were to fall into the wrong hands?”
“That’s not how it works,” said Sanae and Kousen simultaneously. They, of course, knew that even if the Emblem did fall into the wrong hands, it would be completely useless, as only Sanae could wield it. The only danger was if a monster managed to grab hold of it and absorb its chi, and as far as Sanae could see, there was very little chance of that happening.
Shiro’s comments, however, got Sanae thinking. “Hmm... since she doesn’t claim to have the White Star Emblem on her, I could always disprove her by simply showing up in public as White Star! Oh, but then she might just accuse me of having stolen the Emblem from her hiding place... hmm...”
“Why not just do it anyway?” asked Kousen. “As far as I can see, you don’t really have anything to lose.”
“Yeah, I guess not,” said Sanae. “And I’d like to see her back up her claims when the real thing is floating right in front of her smug little face! Let’s do it!” Sanae crossed to her desk and picked up the White Star Emblem, holding it aloft. “Might as well go through the whole transformation sequence,” she remarked, “otherwise this episode will run short. White Star: Transformation!”
Once more, Sanae was engulfed in a blinding white light. Her school uniform morphed into a beautiful white knee-length dress with violet lace trim. White thigh-high socks and high-heeled shoes gently enveloped her feet and legs, the straps of the shoes winding their way delicately up her shins. White gloves manifested themselves on her hands, and as the Emblem transformed into the White Star Wand, she clutched it tightly in her right hand. Finally, her hair curled itself into two neat ringlets either side of her head, and her transformation into White Star was complete.
“Let’s go bust a myth,” said White Star.
“Don’t you need a permit for that?” asked Kousen.22: Episode 10: The Great Pretender (Pt.3)
As Shiro headed for the studio exit after her interview, she casually sipped on a milkshake that one of the showrunners had brought her. “So, how do you feel the interview went, Miss Hoshino?” the showrunner asked, nervously walking alongside Shiro.
Shiro casually shrugged. “Ehh, I think it went pretty well,” she said. “People really wanna see me in costume, though, so I guess next time I’m gonna have to turn up as White Star.”
“I think that’s a brilliant idea,” said the showrunner, in an obvious display of sycophancy. “It’ll do wonders for the ratings, and for your own popularity.”
Shiro flashed a smug grin. “It’s a good thing I thought of it then, huh?” she remarked.
As Shiro entered the studio’s front lobby, she encountered a media frenzy, which immediately confused her, as the one in the centre of it was not her. Standing in the middle of the lobby, surrounded by reporters and flashing cameras, was the real White Star. “Can you – ow! – can you cut that out, please?” she asked, shielding her eyes from the bright lights. “I can’t see, and if those camera flashes go off any faster, we’re gonna go full Dennou Senshi Porygon up in here.”
Instead of dying down, the camera flashes only intensified as the gathered reporters noticed the arrival of Shiro. The reporters pulled away from White Star and gradually formed into a circle, surrounding the two girls, eagerly anticipating what was about to unfold.
White Star duly rounded on Shiro, shooting her a confident smirk. “You’ve got some nerve, going around pretending to be me,” she said.
Shiro had by now recovered from the initial shock of seeing White Star, and quickly hit back. “Me? Pretending?” she repeated mockingly. “I think you’re the pretender around here. You’re comparing yourself to me? Ha! You’re not even good enough to-”
“You’re nuts if you think quoting Sonic Adventure 2 is enough to convince anyone you’re the real deal,” said White Star. “Why don’t you offer up some actual credentials, instead of unoriginal retorts?” The reporters oohed at the stinging remark, before turning their attentions to Shiro to see how she would respond.
Once more, Shiro looked slightly rattled, but recovered within seconds. “Well, I can see your credentials quite clearly,” she said, eyeing the White Star Wand. “Well... my credentials, that is. You must have stolen them from my hiding place, and now you’re using them to impersonate me. How pathetic.”
“Can you prove I stole them?” asked White Star. “Or rather... can you prove they ever belonged to you in the first place? Of course you can’t... because they didn’t.” Another chorus of oohs from the crowd of reporters.
“Well, can you prove they belong to you?” countered Shiro. “Surely the burden of proof should lie with the accuser?”
“What is this, Ace Attorney?” asked White Star. “Just admit you’re a fake already and be done with it.”
“I won’t admit to being something I’m not,” said Shiro.
“You already did that when you said you were me!” said White Star in exasperation.
“Wait, I’m confused,” said the showrunner, who was still standing off to the side, watching the argument unfold with a nonplussed expression. “Which of you is the real White Star?”
“I AM!” said Shiro and White Star simultaneously. A second’s pause later, they each pointed at the other and yelled, “JINX!”
White Star folded her arms. “Alright,” she said, looking around at the reporters. “We’ll put it to a vote. How many of you believe that I am the real White Star?” One or two reporters tentatively put their hands up, but by and large it seemed that they all believed Shiro over her.
“Well, there you have it,” said Shiro. “Nobody believes your ludicrous claims. Now, I’d appreciate it if you’d give me back my Emblem.”
White Star was astonished. How can they all believe Shiro over me?!, she wondered. It’s ridiculous! Well, no matter what, I can’t let her get her hands on the White Star Emblem. Granted, she wouldn’t be able to use it, which would expose her as a fake, but it would also reveal my secret identity in front of all these reporters! There’s only thing to do...
“Are you gonna stand there internally-monologuing,” asked Shiro impatiently, “or are you gonna give me back my-”
Before Shiro could finish, White Star pointed off into the distance. “Look!” she exclaimed. “A cute guy dressed as a woman!” Everyone in the vicinity immediately turned round in search of the non-existent trap, allowing White Star to fly away unnoticed. “Haha, suckers,” she chuckled under her breath.
Sanae flopped down onto her bed with a sigh. “Did it not work?” asked Kousen, who was starting to pick up on such bodily language.
“Nobody believed me,” said Sanae, pouting. “Just as I expected, Shiro pulled out the ‘you stole the Emblem from me’ card, and instead of proving anything, she just pointed out that I couldn’t prove anything. Which I can’t, without revealing my identity!” Sanae rolled over, burying her face in her pillow. “What do I do, Kousen...”
Kousen floated down and sat on the bed beside Sanae. “Honestly, Sanae, I don’t know the solution to this problem,” she said. “But I sense that your predicament is, in a way, similar to the one that Kage and I faced all those years ago. The people are losing their faith in you, but you cannot afford to lose your faith in them, lest you end up like Kage. As difficult as it may be, and as unappreciated as you may feel right now, you must simply continue to do your duty as the city’s magical guardian.”
“I guess,” said Sanae, her face muffled by the pillow. “I mean, I can’t allow a monster to destroy the city just because of some petty grudge. I’ll have to just keep doing my work while Shiro sits around on her daytime talk shows and takes all the credit...” Sanae fell silent for a moment, then suddenly rolled over to face Kousen. “That’s it!” she exclaimed. “The solution is so obvious!”
“Then I’m sure you’ll enlighten me,” said Kousen, nonplussed.
Sanae sat up, an excited look on her face. “I don’t have to prove that Shiro isn’t White Star,” she said, “I just have to prove that she doesn’t deserve to be White Star!”
Kousen blinked. “I’m still not following you,” she said.
Sanae sighed, but quickly perked up again, shooting Kousen a sly smile. “You’ll see,” she said. “All we have to do is wait for another monster attack, and pray that it comes at a bad time for Shiro.”23: Episode 10: The Great Pretender (Pt.4)
A week passed without any monster attacks. Sanae’s appearance at the TV studio had caused a brief furore, but this died down after Shiro falsely reassured the media that she had apprehended the culprit and recovered her “stolen” Emblem. Nonetheless, the disquiet among the White Star fandom had spread, and the voices of doubt had grown louder and more numerous. Not that Shiro particularly cared.
At that precise moment, she was being ferried towards yet another TV appearance, this time decked out in a full White Star costume, complete with replica wand. Sitting opposite her was one of the TV studio’s executives, holding a tablet computer, and sitting in the driver’s seat was an anonymous chauffeur whose name she hadn’t bothered to remember.
“So what if 43% of the official fansite’s members think I’m lying?” she asked the executive dismissively. “That still leaves a majority who believe I’m the real deal.”
“Actually, only 47%,” said the executive, consulting his tablet. “The remaining 10% are undecided.”
Shiro folded her arms. “Well, hopefully seeing me in costume is going to make up their minds for them,” she said.
“That’s the idea,” said the TV executive. “And if you can pull off a little magic while you’re at it, I’m sure that’ll help your popularity and our ratings!”
Shiro was, of course, not very enthusiastic about this idea. “I-I’ll see what I can do,” she said, avoiding the executive’s gaze.
Before the executive could press the matter further, his cellphone rang. “Hang on,” he said. “I should probably take this.” He put down his tablet, picked up his phone, and answered the call. “Hello?” Shiro couldn’t hear what the person on the other end was saying, but whatever it was, it sent the executive into shock. “What?! You’re kidding!” Apparently the other person was not kidding, for a moment later the executive said, “Alright. We’ll be there as soon as we can. I’ll tell White Star to get ready.”
“What’s going on?” asked Shiro as the man hung up.
“There’s another monster attack taking place,” said the executive. At first his face was serious, almost grave, but it abruptly turned into an excited grin. “This is so great!” he exclaimed. “Instead of a boring old TV interview, we’ll get to show you fighting a monster live on air! Your popularity will explode! Our ratings will explode! Our viewers’ minds will explode!”
“Your heart’s going to explode if you’re not careful,” said the limo driver, in a completely deadpan tone.
Shiro, on the other hand, was growing more uncomfortable by the second, as she realized the game was likely up. She tried to maintain her facade, but it was beginning to slip. "Oh... well, uhh... I guess I'll do my best..."
"You always do!" said the executive. "Heck, I probably shouldn't be saying this, but even if you happen to fail this time, that'll just push our ratings up even further! Nothing pulls in viewers like a real-world tragedy! Though of course," the executive hastily added, as Shiro visibly began to panic, "I sincerely hope, as we all do, that that doesn't happen, and that you prevail like always."
Shiro nervously swallowed, but then nodded, forcing a smile. "I-I hope so too", she said.
The executive turned his attention to the driver. “Set a course for the dockyards!” he said. “I’d better phone the camera crew! White Star, you just sit there and look pretty until we get there. Your part’s still to come!”
Meanwhile, Sanae was eating lunch with Amaya up on the school roof, when Kousen floated up behind her. "There's a monster attacking the port," she said. "It's a fairly large one. And speaking of ‘large’, have you seen the size of some of those boats?! They're colossal! Not to mention those giant yellow towers with the strange floating hooks..."
They're called cranes, Kousen, thought Sanae, who by now had gotten the hang of not reacting to Kousen's sudden appearances. Also, define "large".
"They must be at least a thousand shaku in length!" exclaimed Kousen, stretching her arms out as wide as they would go to emphasize the point. [A/N: A "shaku" is a medieval Japanese unit of measurement based on the length of one's forearm, analogous to the ancient Roman "cubit": one shaku is equal to 30.3cm. 1000 shaku would be roughly the length of a standard Panamax container vessel] "And as for the - what did you call them? - cranes, they stretch almost to the-"
No, I meant the monster!, thought Sanae, a look of exasperated annoyance creeping into her expression. Exactly how big is it?
Amaya noticed the sudden change in her friend's expression. "Are you alright, Sanae?" she asked. "You look annoyed about something."
Sanae didn't have to think very hard to come up with an excuse to explain this away. "I just remembered that Shiro Hoshino was a thing," she scowled, her face souring.
"Oh." Amaya's face promptly soured. "Great. Now I remembered she's a thing. Thanks, Sanae."
"Sorry," said Sanae, before switching back to thought mode. Anyway, you were saying, Kousen?
"I'd say that the monster is around a hundred shaku tall," said Kousen.
Using the conversion listed in the author notes, Sanae calculated that the monster was roughly 30 metres tall. Quite the challenge, she thought to herself. But you know what they say: the bigger they come, the harder they fall. Also, remind me to teach you about the metric system sometime. Nobody measures things in shaku anymore.
"The saying is semantically correct," noted Kousen, "but monsters don't fall. They simply disintegrate into nothingness when you-"
It's a saying, Kousen!, thought Sanae. You're not supposed to take it literally!
"You're frowning again," Amaya pointed out. "You sure there's not something else bothering you?"
Sanae decided to take advantage of the opportunity to make her escape. "I need the bathroom," she said, scrambling to her feet.
"Hurry back," said Amaya, as her friend scurried out of sight. "Lunch will be over soon."
"I'd better skip over the transformation sequence, then," said Sanae, as she pulled the White Star Emblem out of her pocket. "Good thing we already showed it earlier in the episode."
Sanae held the White Star Emblem aloft, and was swiftly engulfed in a brilliant white light. When it faded, she had transformed into White Star, the Emblem transforming into the White Star Wand. She stealthily flew away, taking care to ensure that Amaya did not see her do so, and then raced through the city towards the docks. Below her glistened one of the three rivers that carved through Mitsuzawa, and which the city had taken its name from. Before her, she could just make out the monster in the distance, a black mark staining the coastline. "But not for much longer!" she exclaimed confidently. "It's time to let the light of justice shine!"
"Who are you talking to?" asked Kousen, confused.
"I gotta teach you how to break the fourth wall as well," remarked White Star.
"What's a 'fourth wall'?" asked Kousen.24: Episode 10: The Great Pretender (Pt.5)
The limousine screeched to a halt on the edge of the dockyards, and the studio executive quickly scrambled out, followed reluctantly by Shiro. The limo driver remained inside, indifferently switching on the car radio and leaning back in his chair. His job here was done, for now.
The sounds of the monster could be heard now, the ground beneath Shiro's feet trembling in time with its booming footsteps. A deafening clang rose up as the monster swatted aside a stack of shipping containers like they were alphabet blocks, and as Shiro jumped in fright and wheeled round to see what the commotion was, she came face-to-face with the monster.
Just as Kousen had estimated, it was thirty metres tall, vaguely humanoid but with no discernible features. Wisps of shadowy aura emanated from its jet-black body, giving it an almost ethereal, ghostly appearance. It stared blankly down at Shiro and the executive, motionless, and Shiro looked back up at it in turn, frozen in fear. Her knees began to tremble and she unconsciously shrank back, as though hoping she would sink down into the concrete and disappear.
The executive, seemingly undaunted, clapped Shiro on the back, gently shoving her forwards. "Go on then!" he said. "It's your time to shine!"
Shiro managed to stay calm enough to realize that she needed to stall for time until she could find some way of escaping. "Sh-shouldn't we wait for the camera crew to show up?" she asked. "We don't wanna start without them, do we-?"
The instant she finished speaking, there was almighty squeal of tyres behind her as the camera crew's van came hurtling round a bend amid a haze of burning rubber, barreling towards them and then screeching sideways to a stop just a few feet away. The side door slid open and half-a-dozen people stepped out of it, carrying a camera and tripod, a boom mike, and all manner of other audio-visual equipment. One had even brought a bucket of popcorn to enjoy while he watched the battle.
"Well, how about that?" exclaimed the executive, as Shiro looked on in horror. "Talk of the devil... we were just saying, we can't start without you guys!"
"Sorry we got here so late," said the cameraman, aiming his lens straight at Shiro's rapidly-paling face. "Traffic was mayhem. "Alright, we're live in three, two, one!"
A red light on the front of the camera winked on, and just like that Shiro was being broadcast live to the nation. The executive quickly jumped in front of the camera to provide a suitable introduction for her. "You join us here at the dockyards for an exciting exclusive! The incomparable White Star is about to vanquish the deadliest monster this city has ever seen, live on air for your viewing pleasure!" He stepped aside, staring expectantly at Shiro. "Alright, do your thing!"
For a moment, Shiro did nothing, staring down the camera lens like a rabbit caught in the headlights. Then the monster took a lumbering step towards the group, scattering another small cluster of shipping containers as it did so, and any semblance of composure Shiro had vanished entirely. She screamed in terror, then fled in the opposite direction as fast as her legs could carry her.
The news crew hurried after her, keeping the camera trained on her as best they could. "Genius!" exclaimed the executive. "She's luring the monster into a more advantageous position, so she can carry out whatever master plan she's concocted to take it down! Surely a tactical masterstroke!"
The rest of the crew were not as blind to Shiro's blind panic as the executive was. "And the screaming?" asked the boom operator with growing skepticism.
"That's to attract its attention!" shouted the executive, over the booming thumps of the monster's footsteps. "And it seems to be working!"
Shiro continued to flee through the maze of shipping containers, pursued by both the camera crew and by the monster, until finally she reached a dead end and had nowhere left to run. In her desperation she nearly ran headlong into the container blocking her path, pressing herself against it as though hoping she would somehow phase straight through. "Oh, no," she gasped. "Oh, no, no, no, no, no, no--"
There was another almighty clang as the monster knocked over yet another stack of shipping containers, turning and advancing slowly down the dead end towards Shiro and the camera crew. "You've got the monster lured into a dead end!" said the executive. "What's your next move, White Star?"
"I'M NOT WHITE STAR!"
In her panic, the words were out of Shiro's mouth before she could stop herself. Silence fell around her, and even the monster seemed to hesitate for a moment before continuing on its relentless advance. The game was up, and Shiro let out a long, low sigh. "I'm not White Star," she said. "I was just pretending to be her for the fame and attention. I never wanted to fight monsters; I just wanted to go on TV shows, and drink champagne with idols backstage, and switch on Christmas lights in towns I've never been to before. I'm sorry I lied to everyone, and took credit for things I didn't do, but I'm sure you'll understand why after I explain my tragic backstory. You see-"
"You heard it here first, folks!" said the executive, cutting her off. "The girl we all thought was White Star was just a big fat liar the whole time, and now, because of her, we're probably gonna get sent to the Pit of Eternal Darkness! This is Studio-Executive-That-The-Writer-Couldn't-Be-Bothered-To-Think-Of-A-Name-For, signing off for probably the last time! Don't cut the camera yet," he added, "I wanna record a video will in the hope that-"
"Nobody here is recording a video will!"
Shiro and the camera crew turned round to see White Star standing heroically atop the shipping containers to their right. "But please, keep that camera turned on," she added. "You promised the public a show, and I'm gonna give them one!"
The camera crew were, understandably, skeptical. "How do we know you're the real White Star?" asked one of them.
White Star rolled her eyes, pointed the White Star Wand in the air, and cried, "Spell of Identity-Proving!" A small firework shot out of the end of the wand and exploded high above their heads, the glittering sparks spelling out the words, "I AM THE REAL WHITE STAR".
"Yep, she's the real thing," said the executive. "Keep that camera rolling! We're gonna get two exclusives here for the price of one!"
White Star flew up in front of the monster's face, catching its attention, and it turned and began pursuing her instead of the camera crew. "Once the path is clear, retreat to a safe distance!" she called out to them.
“You got it!” said the executive. The cameraman trained his lens on White Star, as the monster retreated to chase after her, and for the first time since she had started her charade, Shiro found herself completely ignored.25: Episode 10: The Great Pretender (Pt.6)
Once the monster was a sufficient distance away from the camera crew, White Star readied herself and began pondering how best to attack it. "I'll have to use some powerful attacks to affect something this big," she mused, "but I don't want to knock it down because it would wreck the entire harbour. I'll have to be careful."
The monster, which had no such reservations, drew back a fist and punched White Star with enough force to send her flying halfway across the dockyard, slamming into a pile of shipping containers and sending them scattering like bowling pins. [A/N: This is funnier if you imagine it with authentic bowling sound effects] As she shakily climbed to her feet, the cameraman called out to her: "Are you okay?"
White Star, seeing double, pointed vaguely in the direction of the camera. "I don't know which of you said that," she mumbled, "but I'm perfectly--" CLANG. The monster dropped a shipping container on White Star before she could finish, and the magical girl disappeared from sight.
The film crew let out a collective gasp. "Should I stop the camera?!" asked the cameraman.
"Are you kidding me?" exclaimed the executive. "Tell me you're getting this!"
The dockyard was still and silent for a moment, the monster looking down at the shipping container it had dropped as though expecting White Star to suddenly burst out of it. She did not. Rather, she simply opened the front doors of the shipping container and stepped out, as nonchalantly as if she were heading for an afternoon stroll. Her outfit seemed a little ragged, but otherwise, she appeared to be completely unharmed.
“Right, now that I’m actually paying attention,” White Star remarked, “it’s time to let the light of justice shine!” With renewed spirit, White Star flew up until she was level with the monster’s torso, but did not attack. She had a plan.
The monster raised its hands and then violently clapped them together, attempting to squash White Star between them as a human might squash a mosquito. White Star dodged out of the way just in time and, before the monster could separate its hands again, she raised her wand and cried, “Mei-Is-Bae Attack!” A freezing jet of ice shot out of the White Star Wand and encased the monster’s hands and lower arms, binding them together.
While the monster tried to free itself, White Star took the opportunity to clear up some of the battle damage, moving the scattered shipping containers back into place with an almost casual flick of her wand. “Might as well get the boring bit out of the way,” she remarked. “Now then...” White Star flew closer to the monster, flashing it a smug grin. “Not so tough after all, are you?”
The monster, as though taking this as a challenge, promptly smashed its way out of its restraints and threw another tremendous punch at White Star. This time, she was ready for it, and casually blocked the strike with her palm, not even flinching in spite of the tremendous force. “I rest my case, your honour,” she quipped. “I find the defendant guilty of all charges. His sentence: WHITE STAR BEAM!”
A massive beam of blinding white light erupted from the tip of the White Star Wand, piercing the monster straight through the chest and blasting a gaping hole in its shadowy form. The monster was still for a moment, then slowly fell backwards as its body began to disintegrate. By the time it would have hit the ground, there was nothing left of it but its Black Heart, which clattered softly to the ground.
The camera crew cheered and applauded as White Star descended back onto terra firma. “You saw it here first, folks!” said the executive, addressing the camera. “White Star has vanquished yet another monster, saving Mitsuzawa and an entire dockyard’s worth of cargo! This is Studio-Executive-That-The-Writer-Still-Couldn't-Be-Bothered-To-Think-Of-A-Name-For, signing off and not for the last time! Okay, now you can cut the feed,” he added in the undertone, and the camera crew duly wrapped up.
“Well, that wasn’t so hard, once I actually focused,” White Star remarked, as she picked up the fallen Black Heart. “Now then...” Noticing that Shiro was still there, grinning meekly, White Star headed over to her with a scowl on her face.
“L-look, I’m sorry about the whole pretending-to-be-you-and-stealing-all-your-credit thing,” said Shiro, nervously backing away. “I really didn’t know how hard you had it. B-besides, I’m sure you’ll understand my reasons once you hear my tragic backstory. You see, when I was a little girl, I—”
“Save it,” said White Star. “You’re a one-off character, your backstory’s not important to me. What’s important to me is that you’ve learned your lesson and you never, ever pretend to be me again. Or anyone else for that matter. At the risk of sounding clichéd... just be yourself. Got it?”
Shiro nodded. “I promise, I’ll never commit identity fraud again.”
“Good,” said White Star. “Now get off my show.” Shiro duly scampered off, and for all intents and purposes, was never seen again.
“Well, that worked out pretty nicely in the end,” remarked the executive, as he watched Shiro go. “The fake got exposed, the monster got destroyed, the dockyard didn’t get wrecked, you got your... whatever the heck that is—” He gestured at the Black Heart in White Star’s hand. “—and I got the whole thing on film!”
“Yep,” said White Star. “All’s well that ends well!”
THE FOLLOWING DAY
“Alright, let’s get these crates unloaded.”
The three dockyard workers made their way through the maze of shipping containers towards a cluster lying on the ground near the shore. “Let’s start with these ones,” said the lead worker. “They came in from America a couple of days ago. According to the manifest, they contain American sports cars worth millions of yen each. There’s a car carrier waiting nearby; we’re gonna get each car out, drive it up to the carrier, and load it on.”
“We’re gonna get to drive American sports cars?” said the second worker. “Wow, that’s awesome! Even if it is just for five minutes!”
“Wait, hold on,” said the third worker with a concerned expression. “Weren’t these some of the shipping containers that got bashed about during the White Star monster fight yesterday? The cars might have gotten damaged.”
“Yes,” said the lead worker, “but she fixed all the damage. The cars will be fine.”
The lead worker opened up the first of the crates and immediately saw that the car inside was not fine. The windows were smashed in, the bodywork bent and buckled, and the suspension appeared to have collapsed on one side. While White Star had moved the shipping containers back into place, she had neglected to actually fix their contents, and indeed, had probably damaged them even further.
“That car is not fine,” said the second worker, rather obviously.
“Are we gonna get fired for this?” asked the third worker.
“WHITE STAR!!!” yelled the lead worker.26: Episode 11: How Dare You Make Such Lewd Things! (Pt.1)
White Star soared through the skies above Mitsuzawa, heading to the site of the latest monster attack. Hovering hundreds of feet above the city's shopping district was a strange black orb, around six feet in diameter, surrounded by a spiked metallic ring that span at such high speed it appeared to be a blur. The rotating mass whipped up the air around the monster and created a dreadful whirr, causing White Star to clap her hands over her ears and wince as she approached it.
"I really think the writer's running out of ideas," White Star remarked, shouting over the howl of the wind. "You'd think he'd have had time to come up with a better monster design, given all the recent delays."
"I think it looks quite fierce," Kousen replied. "But it also looks perfectly beatable."
"Of course it's beatable," said White Star confidently. "Time to let the light of justice shine! Star Shower!"
A barrage of star-shaped projectiles shot out of the White Star Wand and flew towards the monster. Every single one was deflected away by the spinning ring and fizzled away into nothing. "It’s no good,” said Kousen. “You’re going to have to stop that ring.”
“Wow, really?” quipped White Star sarcastically. “I hadn’t guessed.” She raised her wand once more. “I’m-Running-Out-Of-Attack-Names Attack!”
A thick, gooey purple liquid spurted out of the end of the White Star Wand (“This attack seemed a lot less phallic in my head,” White Star remarked) and coated the monster, gluing the ring in place and jamming it up. The howling winds died down and dissipated, and White Star could focus properly without the horrendous noise deafening her. As the monster tried to shake the ring free, White Star moved herself into position, pointing her wand at the monster’s exposed core.
“Sorry, monster,” said White Star, “but it looks like, uhh...” She paused for a moment. “...hmm. Well, it looks like I can’t think of a good pun for starters. Something about ringing your death knell...? Yeah, that’s all I got. Why couldn’t you have been, like, a tiger or something? I can think of a decent pun for that! Ah, whatever.” With the monster still stuck, White Star reading herself. “Finishing move: White Star Beam!”
A brilliant beam of white light burst forth, and the helpless monster was destroyed. As usual, the only trace of it was its Black Heart, which White Star quickly swooped down to catch. “Tiger, tiger, burning bright... in hell,” she quipped. “See, now that would have been a good one-liner.”
“Nicely done, White Star,” said Kousen, floating over to rejoin her. “That monster could have caused quite a lot of damage, but you dealt with it comfortably.”
“Thanks,” said White Star. “I really feel like I’ve gotten the hang of his magical girl thing now. Oh, hang on,” she added, looking down at the crowded streets below her. “I think my adoring public are calling for me. I’d better go say hi.”
“Alright,” said Kousen. “You go and greet them, and I’ll take the Black Heart back to your room. While we’re on the subject, actually, I think we need to find somewhere else to keep them,” she added. “That drawer is getting rather full.”
White Star nodded, then descended back down to street level, where she was immediately surrounded by cheering fans. “White Star! Can I have your autograph?” cried one. “Let me take a selfie with you!” cried another. “Sign my body pillow of you!” cried a third, holding up a large pillow with a scantily-clad drawing of White Star on it.
“Don’t worry,” said White Star, conjuring a pen from thin air, “I have enough time for selfies and autographs with all of you. Well, most of you. Not the daki guy. I’m not signing that thing.” As the man with the body pillow skulked off, White Star set about signing autographs and taking pictures with her numerous gathered fans.
Before long, she came to a short bespectacled man who appeared to be a businessman: he was wearing an expensive-looking black suit, and carrying a briefcase. “White Star, good afternoon,” he said. “Can I talk to you for a moment?”
White Star figured she had time to squeeze in a business deal, especially now that the crowd was starting to thin out. “Sure,” she said.
"Excellent," said the man. He reached into the breast pocket of his suit jacket and pulled out a business card, handing it to her. "My name is Satoshi," he explained. "I represent a video gaming company based here in Mitsuzawa. I'd like your permission to use your likeness in a video game we're developing."
White Star's interest immediately perked up. "You're going to make a video game of me?!" she exclaimed.
"That's what we're hoping to do," said Satoshi. "Of course, first we'll require you to read through this contract and sign it." He opened his briefcase and took out the largest pile of papers that White Star had ever seen, handing it over to her with a smile. "We'd like it back as soon as possible, please," added Satoshi.
White Star briefly and carefully thumbed through the loose stack of papers with an increasing look of incredulity. There had to be at least a hundred pages altogether, perhaps two hundred. How can a single contract be this long?!, she thought to herself. Yeah, there's no way I'm reading all this.
White Star spent a minute or two pretending to skim through the contract without actually reading any of it, then took her pen and signed on the dotted line. A magical girl signing a contract, she wryly thought to herself . No way this can go wrong. "Here you go," she said, handing the contract back.
"Excellent," said Satoshi, stowing it back in his briefcase. "Thank you. I assume you fully understand the terms of the contract?"
"Yeah, sure, whatever," said White Star indifferently.
"Well, we'll send you a copy in the post, for you to keep," said Satoshi. "Please inform us of any issues you many have with the contract as soon as possible, or it'll be too late for us to change them."
"Gotcha," said White Star, who had no intention of looking at the contract again. "So, will you be needing any input from me?"
"Oh, no, we have everything we need from you," said Satoshi. "We wouldn't want to keep you from your crime-fighting. We already have plenty of data on your appearance and personality from the previous episodes, so we're confident we can portray you accurately, but of course, once the game’s ready for playtesting, we’ll be bringing you in so you can help us get your portrayal just right.”
"Sounds good to me," said White Star. "So how long do you think it'll take before the game’s ready?"
Satoshi smiled confidently. "Shouldn't take more than a few months," he said.
TWO YEARS LATER
“We had a few teething problems with the game engine,” said Satoshi sheepishly, as he attempted to explain the delay to White Star. “It took us longer than expected to get them all ironed out, but the game is finished now, and we’re confident you’ll like it.”
Having been informed of the game’s completion, White Star had turned up at Satoshi’s studio, eager to finally see the finished game for herself. She and Satoshi were now stood in the building’s lobby, ready to head to the playtesting area. “I’m sure I will!” said White Star. “After all, it’s a game with me in it!”
Satoshi chuckled. “I admire your confidence,” he said. “Alright, would you like the tour, or would you like to head straight to the playtesting area?”
“Let’s get to the good bit first,” said White Star.
“Right you are,” said Satoshi. “Follow me.” He turned and headed through a set of glass double doors, and White Star swiftly followed after him.27: Episode 11: How Dare You Make Such Lewd Things! (Pt.2)
After a short walk, White Star and Satoshi arrived at the programmers’ section of the building. There were roughly twenty men (and all of them were men) sitting at their desks doing virtually nothing. Some were engrossed in a group game of Underwatch, some were lazily tapping away at personal projects, and the rest were merely browsing the Internet with languid expressions. Almost all of them had a coffee mug or some other caffeinated beverage positioned on their desk, but for the amount of life and activity in the room, they may as well have been drinking Valium.
“There’s nothing much for them to do right now,” Satoshi explained, as they meandered through the stagnant cubicles. “The game’s finished, and all that’s left is the debugging, which isn’t their responsibility. So they’re all relaxing for the moment, and recovering from the burnout that comes after a crunch period.”
“Oh, I know about crunch periods,” said White Star, wincing as she recalled having to stay up until 4am in order to frantically cram for her most recent midterm.
Satoshi flashed an amused smile. “Oh, just wait until you hit college,” he remarked.
“I’m not going to college,” said White Star. “I don’t need to; I’m a magical girl, I’m set for life.”
“Fair point,” conceded Satoshi, his smile growing wider. “Alright then...” The pair reached an unoccupied cubicle, and Satoshi sat down briefly at the desk while he logged into the workstation and opened the game. White Star, of course, had no idea what to expect, and was a little surprised when a visual novel-style menu appeared, complete with a bright, overexposed artwork of herself in the background. “So, first impressions?” asked Satoshi, as he made way for White Star to sit down.
“The art looks really good,” White Star remarked, as she put on a pair of headphones resting on the desk. “Though I didn’t think visual novels needed a lot of programming...”
Satoshi shushed her, leaning in close. “They don’t know that,” he muttered. “We had them coding other stuff for most of the project, and then just wrote the whole thing in Ren’Py.” He straightened back up again, grinning. “Anyway, go ahead and hit ‘New Game’. Or if you prefer to dive in halfway, I think there’s some saved games from previous playtests. There’s about twenty hours of story material, so I don’t expect you to play through the whole thing.”
White Star clicked ‘New Game’ and started playing, still somewhat unsure what the game was actually about. She soon discovered that the story was a vaguely clichéd romance in which the protagonist, a generic self-insert male, was torn between his love for two different women: the fictional White Star (“This voice actress sounds nothing like me”, she had remarked), and his childhood friend Junko, who was quite obviously the fictional White Star’s alter ego.
As clichéd as the storyline was, White Star couldn’t help cracking a grin as clue after clue went flying straight over the protagonist’s head. “What an idiot!” she scoffed, as the protagonist failed to realize the fictional White Star’s identity for the umpteenth time. “Imagine not being able to tell that your own best friend is a magical girl!”
Satoshi chuckled. “We milked as much humour out of that as we could,” he said.
“I can tell,” said White Star. “But you know what? I’m gonna skip right to the reveal. I wanna see the look on Faceless Self-Insert’s face when he realizes how dumb he’s been!”
“I think Save File #17 was just before the reveal,” said Satoshi. White Star opened the menu and loaded Save File #17, and the scene changed to show Faceless Self-Insert and Junko standing alone in Junko’s bedroom, poised for the big reveal.
“Junko, I... I have something to tell you,” said Faceless Self-Insert. “I... I’ve been cheating on you with White Star!”
Junko stared at Faceless Self-Insert in disbelief for a moment, then let out a long, irritated groan. “You’re so dense!” she said. “Look... I’ll spell it out for you, okay?” There was a flash of bright light, and suddenly Junko transformed into White Star.
Faceless Self-Insert let out a shocked gasp. “Y... you’re White Star?!” he exclaimed. “You were White Star this whole time? Why didn’t you tell me?!”
“I was just trying to protect you!” said White Star. “But I see now... the best way for me to protect you, is for me to be with you... always...”
White Star leaned in and kissed Faceless Protagonist. Though startled at first, he soon closed his eyes and responded in kind. Then, before the real White Star watching on had time to realize what was happening, White Star had pushed Faceless Self-Insert onto the bed, kissing him more passionately. His hands roved to White Star’s back, starting to unfasten her dress...
What followed was a scene too intimate to describe without raising this story's age rating, but which, needless to say, was far more intimate than White Star had been expecting to see. As the scene progressed, her face grew redder and redder with every screen, her eyes slowly widening in shock. Finally, she could take no more, and let out a flustered, "EHHHH?!!" before turning to face Satoshi. "Wh-wh-what is this?!" she stammered. "I never agreed you could use me for such... lewd things!"
Satoshi gave White Star a half-puzzled, half-concerned look. "But you did," he said. "You did read through the contract, didn't you?"
"Of course I didn't read through the contract!" White Star retorted. "It's like, 200 pages long! You expect me to read all that?!"
Satoshi sighed, rubbing his forehead. "Oh boy..." he muttered. He opened his desk drawer and pulled out his own copy of the contract, flipping to a page about halfway through and placing it on the desk in front of her. "Read right there," he said, pointing to one of the paragraphs.
White Star removed her headphones - she couldn't bear to keep listening to the terrible porno music playing in the background - and peered down at the slightly faded sheet. "'The signatory hereby agrees that Satoshi Gaming Ltd may use her likeness for any lawful purpose they choose, including... adult scenarios?!'" White Star abruptly looked back up at Satoshi, the colour rapidly draining from her face as she realized her mistake. "If I'd known something like that was in the contract, I never would have signed it!"
"But you did," countered Satoshi, his expression turning mildly annoyed. "It's not our fault if you didn't read the contract properly. In any case," he continued, "there's nothing either of us can do now. The game's already gone gold, and it ships in two weeks. It's too late to make changes now, especially something as drastic as cutting all the sex scenes out."
"'All the sex scenes'?!" repeated White Star with disgust. "You mean there's more?!!"
“Unless you’d like to see them,” said Satoshi, straightening up, “I don’t believe we have anything more to discuss.” In spite of the circumstances, he bowed politely. “Thank you for your time, White Star. We’ll be in touch. I trust you can find your way out--?”
By the time Satoshi had straightened up, White Star had already vanished.
When White Star arrived home, Kousen was waiting for her. "So, how did it go?" she asked. When White Star promptly flopped onto her bed and let out a moan of despair, Kousen added, "Is the game really that bad?"
"The game's not the problem, Kousen," said White Star, her face muffled by the bedsheets. "Well... the quality isn't the problem. The problem is that I didn't realize what I was signing, and now they're making the virtual me do all kinds of... naughty things!"
"Naughty things?" repeated Kousen blankly. "You mean like stealing?"
"No, I mean sex!" said White Star, looking up at Kousen with exasperation. "Please tell me you know what sex is, Kousen! I'm not explaining it to you!"
Kousen thought for a moment. "Isn't that the activity that humans perform together in order to reproduce?" she asked.
White Star rolled over onto her back. "Well, you're not wrong," she admitted. "But I don't want people to see me like that! It's extremely embarrassing, and it's damaging for my reputation! If this game gets released, with me doing... those kinds of things... people will look at me and see the me from the game! And then..."
White Star’s face grew redder and redder as she imagined all the horrible comments she might have to endure, and eventually she rolled back over and buried her face in her pillow. "Nooo!! I don't want everyone thinking I'm a hussy!" she cried. "I don't wanna end up like Ellen Baker!"
“Then do something about it,” said Kousen bluntly. “I mean, I assume you have a plan other than just lying there and complaining?”
“I’m too upset to think of a plan!” said White Star. “Although... maybe the White Star Fan Club will know what to do!”28: Episode 11: How Dare You Make Such Lewd Things! (Pt.3)
"They did WHAT?!"
"I know!" said Sanae, in response to Hitomi's outburst. "I can't believe they're switching to paid-only DLC either! And you know what's worse?! They're making an erotic game of White Star, without her permission!"
Mio's face abruptly turned white, and she scrambled in her pocket for her smartphone. "Cancel pre-order, cancel pre-order, cancel-pre-order..." she muttered as she opened the phone's Internet browser.
The other fan club members were equally shocked. "That's despicable!" exclaimed Nagisa.
Hinata seemed a little more skeptical. "Wh-where did you hear that?" she asked.
"Uhh..." Sanae scrambled for the most reputable news source she could think of. "...πchan!"
"Then it must be true!" declared Nagisa, banging her fist down on the table. "As White Star's fans, we owe a duty to her to stop this game's release! Who's with me?" Everyone at the table raised their hand in agreement, and so Nagisa continued, "We'll set up a campaign group to drum up support, with the aim of pressuring Satoshi Games into cancelling the game. It'll need a snappy title. Something like... 'Girls Against Sexism', or 'GAS' for short."
"Is this really a sexism issue?" queried Sanae. "It's more of a 'this game degrades me and was made without my explicit permission' kinda issue."
"Of course it's a sexism issue!" retorted Nagisa. "This isn't the only game that treats women as some kind of prize! I dare you to name one game that fetishizes men like that!"
"Literally every BL game ever," said Sanae and Mio in unison.
"And Mio would know," added Sanae, "she's played most of them."
"I have not!" retorted Mio. "Well... not most..."
Hitomi took it upon herself to put the discussion back on track. "Anyway, since we're all in favour, let's start working on a plan of attack. Nagisa, you seem to know the most about social justice. How should we start?"
"Well, first," said Nagisa, "we need to gather support. Satoshi Gaming might not listen to five people, but they'll listen to 5,000. We have to let the world know about GAS, and what it stands for."
"So... to the Internet?" asked Sanae.
"To the Internet!" declared Nagisa.
The following day, the girl all brought in their laptops, posted their agenda across every social media site they could think of, then sat and watched as the responses started to roll in. While their fellow White Star fans seemed to be receptive to GAS' message, those who were only interested in the game... were not.
"These comments are terrible!" exclaimed Hitomi, as she scrolled down the group's Macebook feed. "Listen to this one: 'If you dumb girls try and take away our games, we're going to burn your houses down'?!" Hitomi stared at her laptop screen with derision. "'You don't... even... know... where we... live'!" she muttered to herself as she typed her reply.
"H-how do I respond to these?!" asked Hinata, her face alternating between beet red and ghostly pale with each comment she read.
Nagisa got up and crossed to Hinata's desk. "Simple," she said. "You just throw every buzzword you can think of at him. Here..." Nagisa took the keyboard and began to type. "'How dare you try and mansplain our femagenda! Your microaggressions are triggering me! Consider yourself blocked, you alt-right, GamerGate-supporting demagogue!'" Nagisa hit Enter and grinned at the screen. "There," she said. "He'll be so confused by that stream of buzzwords that he'll give up trying to respond, and you'll win the argument by default!"
"I'm not sure that's how arguments work, Nagisa," said Sanae.
"How dare you try and mansplain the... er, femsplain the..." Nagisa paused, thrown for a loop. "Hmm. Maybe you have a point there."
"Ooh, here's one who agrees with us!" said Hitomi. "Listen to this: 'Haha, I agree so much! Guys who only see women as objects disgust me, but I'm a nice guy, and I don't think like that. Perhaps would could meet up sometime? As an intellectual and fellow feminist, I'd love to chat to you about your ideas, as long as you don't believe in phony gods haha winking emoji.'"
"Eurgh, I'm cringing just hearing that," said Mio with a shudder.
"Sorry to break it to you, Hitomi," said Nagisa, "but that guy's just a white knight. He's only agreeing with you so he can try and get in your pants."
"I don't think he'd fit in my pants," said Hitomi innocently, peering at the man's profile picture. "He looks really fat. Also, why would he want to wear ladies' pants? That's kinda weird."
Mio recovered from her hysterical giggling fit for just long enough to pat Hitomi on the head and say, "Oh, you poor, innocent cinnamon roll," before doubling over and howling with laughter. "'Wouldn't fit in my pants', that's classic!" she gasped. "Oh god, I'm putting that on Mumblr!"
Two days later, and GAS had still not recruited anyone to their cause, though the stream of ridicule had at least died down. "If this isn't working," said Nagisa, "then we need to change tactics. We're just wasting time here."
"I couldn't agree more," said Mio lazily. She had already stopped paying attention to the failing campaign and was instead reading a White Star fanfiction, her chin resting on her hand.
"So what now?" asked Hitomi.
"I was hoping that once we'd gathered some support, we could organize a march on the company's headquarters, and take our protest straight to them," said Nagisa. "We can still do that, but a five-woman protest might look silly."
"Not as silly as a one-woman protest," said Hitomi. "Have you read about those guys in Britain who used to dress up as superheroes and climb important buildings while yelling about fathers' rights or something? That just sounds stupid."
"I'll tell you what else is stupid," said Mio, who was barely listening. "Leaving a story on a cliffhanger and then not updating it for five months. Who does that?!"
Hitomi awkwardly coughed for absolutely no reason whatsoever I don't know what you're talking about. "Aaanyway," she said, "we'll just have to make up for our smaller numbers by making even more noise!"
"I can do that!" said Nagisa. "Mio, you can write slogans for us to shout. Sanae, Hinata, you can make picket signs for us. You can't have a protest without picket signs."
"What do I get to do?" asked Hitomi.
"You continue to man the social media accounts," said Nagisa. "Uhh, I mean... woman the social media accounts. Block all the haters, and see if you can drum up any last-minute support." She turned to address the entire room. "Since time is of the essence, we'll be holding the protest tomorrow, after school. It'll be B.Y.O.B.: bring your own bullhorns. By the end of tomorrow, we'll have spread GAS across the whole city!"
The following afternoon, Satoshi's work was interrupted by a loud chant coming from outside: "Roses are red! Violets are blue! If you buy this game, then shame on you!" With a quiet sigh, he got up and crossed to the window to see what was going on, followed closely by some of the more bored programmers.
Outside, the White Star Fan Club had gathered for its schedules protest, with the exception of Hitomi, who was mysteriously absent. The four girls who were present each held a megaphone in one hand and a placard in the other, and making quite the commotion. From the distance they were at, the workers could not make out what was written on the placards save for Hinata's, which seemed to simply read, "I AM UPSET".
After a minute or so, the chant changed: "Two, four, six, eight, White Star should stay celibate!" Nagisa did a double-take, then lowered her megaphone and turned to Mio. "Mio, these chants you wrote are terrible," she said.
"I only had one day to write them," said Mio defensively. "Coming up with snappy rhymes is harder than it looks."
Nagisa took another look at the sheet of chants Mio had written, her brow furrowing. "This one is just 'We Are Number One', but every 'number one' is replaced with 'G-A-S'!" she exclaimed.
"Hey, I mean, it works," said Mio. She lifted her own megaphone to her mouth and shouted, "If you want to be a gaming number one, you shouldn't exploit women for sleazy fun!"
"Okay, that was pretty clever," remarked Sanae. "Even if it is meme humour, and will probably be dated by the time this finally hits Amazon Kindle."
Nagisa shrugged, and turned her attention to other matters. "Where's Hitomi?" she asked. "We told her to be here at 5pm sharp!"
At that precise moment, Hitomi came sprinting towards them, slightly out of breath. For some reason, she was wearing a headband with what appeared to be papier-mache bull's horns stuck to them. "Sorry I'm late, girls," she said. "These took longer to dry than I thought." Upon reaching the girls, she paused and gave them all puzzled looks. "Say, why aren't you all wearing yours?" she asked.
Nagisa stared at Hitomi in disbelief. For a moment, all she could say was a stunned, "Hitomi..." before she raised her megaphone and barked, "THAT'S NOT WHAT I MEANT BY 'BULLHORNS'!"
As Hitomi flinched backwards, covering her aching ears, the front door to the building swung open and Satoshi stepped out onto the threshold, looking fairly irritated. "What's the meaning of all this?" he demanded.
Nagisa immediately raised her megaphone, directing her wrath at the bespectacled man. "Your game is sexist and derogatory, and humiliating to White Star!" she declared. "We are GAS, and we will not rest until you cancel the game's release!"
Satoshi let out an almost weary sigh. "Did White Star put you up to this?" he asked. "Look, you're trespassing on our property. Leave now or I'll call the police."
"Go ahead and call the police!" said Nagisa defiantly. "We're not the ones in the wrong here! They can't arrest us!"
As Nagisa flashed Satoshi a smug grin, Sanae panicked and wrenched the megaphone from her hands. "Nagisa, no!" she exclaimed. "Haven't you learned from Episode 8? If you say things like that, the scene will change and-"
"-we'll be in prison."
And they were. "Thanks, Nagisa," Sanae added sardonically.
Nagisa seemed almost uncharacteristically apologetic. "I guess maybe I got a little carried away," she said, scratching her neck. "But, since it's just the five of us, I'm sure Hinata's parents will be willing to bail us out. Right, Hinata?"
Hinata wasn't paying attention. She was huddled in a corner of the cell, gently rocking back and forth, muttering frantically to herself with an expression of abject terror. "-myfamilyhavealwaysbeenlawabidingcitizensandohmygodwhatifourfamilyfriendsfindoutaboutthisthey'llbealwaysbringingitupatdinnerpartieshowtheMorishita'seldestdaughterisareprobateandohmygodmygrandmotherwillkillmeforthisshe'salwaysthoughtIwasthemostuselessoneinthefamilyandnowI'vegottenmyselfarrestedand-"
"...okay, maybe not," said Nagisa.29: Episode 11: How Dare You Make Such Lewd Things! (Pt.4)
After a couple of hours, some tense phone calls, and a lot of hyperventilating from Hinata, Satoshi agreed to drop the charges against GAS on the condition that they never set foot on his premises again. The girls were duly set free, and their first priority was calming down the upset Hinata and seeing her home.
The red-haired girl was still visibly rattled by the time they reached her house, but by then her friends had had plenty of time to come up with an excuse to explain away her lateness and trembling appearance. "She ate a bad shrimp," Hitomi explained. "She was throwing up a lot."
"An awful lot," corroborated Mio.
"All over Nagisa," added Sanae, earning her a piercing glare from the green-haired girl.
"Oh, my poor Hinata!" her mother exclaimed. "No wonder you look so pale! Come right inside, you need food and rest." Hinata stepped forward and was ushered into the house, flashing her friends an appreciative smile before disappearing behind her mother as she headed off to her bedroom.
"Thank you for taking such good care of my daughter," said Hinata's mother, smiling. "I'm glad she's made such good friends. Now, I suppose you'll all be on your ways? It's late, and I'm sure your own parents must be wondering where you are."
Sanae nodded. "Yeah, we'd better jump-cut home," she said.
Sanae flopped down onto her bed and let out a heavy sigh. "What a day..." she groaned. "And I'm still no closer to preventing that game's release."
Kousen was glued to Sanae's laptop, seemingly on another information binge, and largely ignorant of her mistress' plight. "Did you know there was a Second World War?" she asked. "I didn't know there was even a First World War. I ask because so many of these 'video games' of yours seem to be about wars."
Sanae shrugged. "It's a convenient setting," she remarked. "But more importantly, what do I do? I'm running out of time here."
Kousen merely shook her head sympathetically. "I'm sorry, but this isn't exactly my area of expertise," she said.
Sanae closed her eyes and began rubbing her temples, falling silent for a few moments while she thought things over, considering her options. Finally, she sat up with a deep sigh, her expression serious. "There's nothing else for it," she declared. "I'm going to have to do something I should have done a long time ago."
"You're going to threaten him?" suggested Kousen.
Sanae gave Kousen a look that bordered on disgust. "No, I'm not going to threaten him!" she retorted. "Who do I think I am, Black Star?!" (Over in her bedroom, Amaya suddenly sneezed.)
"Then what are you going to do?" asked Kousen.
"What you told me I should have done in the first place," said Sanae. "I'm going to read through the entire contract, cover-to-cover. Somewhere in those way-too-many pages is the loophole that will get me out of this." Sanae hopped off her bed, crossed to her chest-of-drawers, and retrieved the dusty pile of papers. "Make me a coffee, Kousen," she asked. "This is going to be a long night."
"What's a coffee?" asked Kousen.
Sanae sat down on her bed and placed the contract before her. "Ask Moogle," she said, turning to the first page.
Needless to say, Sanae's night was long and very boring, especially since it took Kousen almost an hour to figure out how to make a cup of coffee properly. Finally, however, she found what she was looking for, joyously jabbing a finger at the page before her. "Of course!" she declared. "Why didn't I think of that before?!"
"Isn't it usually 'narrative purposes'?" noted Kousen, who was now, for reasons even she couldn't remember, engrossing herself in the discography of Pat Benatar.
"Probably," admitted Sanae. "But still, I've found my ticket outta this mess!"
The following morning started as normal over at Satoshi Gaming. Satoshi and the other employees were putting the finishing touches on the game, getting ready to release it to the world. The director had put the events of the previous day behind him, but his subordinates had not. "So, what was all that fuss about yesterday, boss?" one of them asked.
"Nothing you guys need to be concerned about," said Satoshi dismissively. "It won't have any effect on the game's release."
White Star chose that moment to burst dramatically through the front doors. "HOLD IT!" she barked, pointing a finger at Satoshi. "No games are getting released today!"
"Not even Personnel 5?" asked one of the programmers.
"Especially not Personnel 5!" said White Star.
Satoshi wearily rolled his eyes. "Oh, here we go," he muttered. "Look, White Star, as I've already explained to you, you have no legal right to force this-"
"Oh, but I do!" she declared. "You see, I, White Star... AM SIXTEEN YEARS OLD!"
The room fell silent, save for the dramatic music swelling in the background. Satoshi's mouth fell open in horror as he realized the implications of what White Star had just said. "But boss," one of the programmers finally stammered, "she signed the contract-"
"Which I didn't read!" White Star declared. "But it doesn't matter! It's illegal to depict under-18s in sexually-explicit scenarios! Your game is breaking the law!"
Satoshi flinched back, but then tried to regain his composure. "Can you prove you're not of legal age without exposing your identity?" he asked.
"I don't have to," said White Star. "Since you don't know my identity, you can't prove I am of legal age! And who is a court of law more likely to believe, anyway? Mitsuzawa's beloved - and very upset - hero of justice, or some nerd?"
Satoshi bristled at the use of the word 'nerd'. "You're forgetting the time skip," he pointed out. "You may have been sixteen at the start of the episode, but you'd be eighteen now!"
"OBJECTION!" cried White Star, pointing dramatically once more. "You're forgetting about the floating timeline this series operates on! The two-year timeskip was nothing more than a throwaway gag, riffing on the concept of development hell - a gag at your expense, in case it went over your head! I'm still the same age as before, and I always will be! And even if I did age during the timeskip..." White Star crossed to the nearest desk and dramatically slammed her palms down upon it, glaring at Satoshi. "-YOU HAVE NO WAY OF PROVING I WASN'T FOURTEEN WHEN I FIRST SIGNED THE CONTRACT! FACE IT, SATOSHI: IT'S GAME OVER!"
The front doors dramatically burst open once more as the background music swelled to a crescendo, a tremendous gale blowing into the building and billowing around White Star's skirt. Satoshi was swept off his feet by the gale and thrown to the floor with a startled cry, his glasses flying off his face.
Slowly, the defeated CEO climbed back to his feet, his head low in resignation. "We don't have a choice," he conceded. "We're going to have to cancel the game."
At once there was a collective cry from the gathered developers. "But boss, we worked so hard on it!" protested one of the artists. "We can't just throw it all out!"
"What about the fans?" asked another. "They've been looking forward to this for months!"
"I know," said Satoshi, "but White Star is right. The law is the law. We don't have a choice."
Even in her moment of triumph, watching the growing disappointment and grief of the developers was too much for White Star. "Oh, it sucks being the all-loving protagonist sometimes," she muttered. "Hey, listen... to be honest, I only objected to this game because it had me in it, and I never agreed to that. Otherwise, I'd have nothing against it. I mean, it's just vanilla sex, it's not like it's tentacle rape or something."
"Yeah, we threw out the tentacle-rape idea early in development," remarked one of the writers."
"So anyway, couldn't you just replace me with an original character who is over 18?" suggested White Star. "You'd get to release your game without breaking the law, your fans wouldn't be getting let down, and my wholesome reputation will remain untarnished. Everyone wins, right?"
Satoshi slowly raised his head to look at White Star. "That could work," he said. Regaining his composure somewhat, he adjusted his glasses and glanced across at one of the senior artists. "How quickly could we replace those art assets?"
"We can just palette-swap them and change a few details," the artist replied. "Shouldn't take too long."
"Then it seems we have some work to do," said Satoshi. "Thank you, White Star. I'll draw up an amended contract tomorrow - I suggest you actually read it this time before signing it."
"Lesson learned on that one!" said White Star, nodding. "Moral of the story, kids: always read the fineprint! And don't sexualize minors!"
After a two-month delay, the retooled game was released, now starring an original magical girl named "Galaxy Ranger". It was an immediate hit, and hardly anybody seemed to care that it no longer starred White Star - indeed, some of her fans were quite happy about her purity remaining intact, not least the White Star Fan Club.
"Well, all's well that ends well, I guess!" said Hitomi, at the first club meeting after the game's release. "We even got this episode wrapped up way shorter than usual!"
"I still think White Star should have sued those sleazeballs into the ground," said Nagisa, folding her arms. "They tried to exploit her for money!"
"So she should try to exploit them for money?" asked Mio.
"Yes!" exclaimed Nagisa. "That's equality!"
"I dunno," said Sanae, "I think I'd prefer a kind of equality that doesn't involve being equally douchebags."
"Me too," said Mio. "Can't we all just get along and enjoy the beauty of-"
"Stop talking about lewd things, you damn pervert!" said Sanae and Nagisa in unison.
"Wh-why are we even having this discussion?" asked Nagisa, her expression growing more and more worried as the discourse continued to intensify. "Can't we just forget about it?"
"Well, the episode ended up running really, really short, because the author can't pace things to save his life," said Sanae. "So we have to pad this out somehow."
The girls fell silent for a moment, thinking of other ways they could inflate the word count. They thought about it, and then they thought about it some more, and then they thought about it some more, and then they thought about it some more, and then they thought about it some more...
"I've got it!" said Hitomi.30: Episode 12: The Mysterious Transfer Student (Pt.1)
Spring had arrived in Mitsuzawa, and the cherry trees were in full bloom, peach-coloured petals fluttering in the breeze and scattering across the pavements. One of the three rivers that gave the city its name was lined with the trees for several miles, right up to the point at which it merged with the other two; it was colloquially known as Sakurazawa, for at this time of year its waters became so clogged with the petals that it resembled a giant pink ribbon trailing through the city.
It was early morning, and the sun had only just fully risen, the horizon still tinged as pink as the cherry blossoms. At the banks of Sakurazawa, staring down into the petal-strewn waters, was a teenage girl with long, snow-white hair. She wore the standard Mitsuzawa High School uniform: navy-blue skirt and blazer, white shirt and thigh-high socks, and a golden-yellow ribbon that denoted her as being a second-year student. She stood almost motionless, watching the waters below grow progressively pinker and pinker.
A sudden gust of wind tugged at the girl's skirt, her hair billowing out sideways. Above her, a large clutch of blossoms were swept from the trees into the river below. The girl turned away, as though the gust had reminded her of something, and set off towards Mitsuzawa High School. She couldn't be late on her first day.
The bell rang to signal the start of homeroom, and Inaba-sensei shuffled some of her papers on her desk before standing up to address the class. "First of all," she announced, "we have a new student joining us today. They've only just moved to Mitsuzawa and I'd like you to make them feel welcome."
On cue, the classroom door opened and the white-haired girl entered the classroom, standing before the other students. She was handed a piece of chalk, and proceeded to write her name on the blackboard. "My name is Kotone Asahara," she said, introducing herself. Her voice was low and hushed, almost a whisper. "I'm new in town. My interests include running, reading, and being enigmatic." She bowed slightly. "I hope to get along with you all."
As Kotone took the available empty seat at the back of the classroom, Sanae watched her go with a look of suspicion. "What's up, Sanae?" asked Amaya.
"Well, first of all," said Sanae, "transfer students in anime are inherently mysterious and suspicious. Like Itsuki Koizumi, or Rei Kuroki, or basically the entire cast of Witch Craft Works."
"We're getting too obscure with these references now," interjected Amaya.
"Secondly," Sanae continued, "it’s April. Nobody changes schools in April. Thirdly, it’s the penultimate episode! You don’t get transfer students in the penultimate episode unless they’re super-important to the story arc!”
"Okay, I see your point there," said Amaya.
"Finally, she just seems suspicious in general," added Sanae. "Transfer student, white hair, quiet voice, looks like a cheap Kanade rip-off? She even said she enjoys being enigmatic, I mean, who says something like that? I reckon we should investigate her."
"First of all," said Amaya, "we already did an investigation episode back in Episode 7. As you may recall, it didn't go very well. Secondly, why should I just blindly go along with your silly ideas?"
"Because you've had literally no screentime since Episode 7," Sanae pointed out.
Amaya changed her tune immediately. "Investigation it is," she said, nodding decisively.
Over the course of the day, Sanae and Amaya learned a few things about Kotone. Firstly, while she had little apparent interest in sports beyond running, she was prodigiously talented at them. Their gym class that day involved a mock baseball game, and Kotone effortlessly hit home runs every time she stepped up to the plate. Her pitching was significantly worse until she was taught the concept of curveballs, whereupon she soon started pitching strikes more often than not.
Secondly, Kotone was extremely asocial, though this came as no surprise to Sanae. During the first half of the day, inquisitive classmates would approach Kotone at every opportunity, asking her about her hobbies, her interests, where she'd lived prior to moving to Mitsuzawa, what her mother and father did for a living, and so on. Kotone would typically either give monosyllabic answers or avoid the question entirely, with one notable exception.
"White Star?" she repeated, when asked for her opinion on the magical girl. "I hate her."
This remark drew a look of utter dismay from Sanae, and intrigued looks from some of her fellow classmates. "Huh? So you're a Black Star fan?" asked one of them.
Kotone blinked uncomprehendingly. "Who's Black Star?" she asked.
Amaya's expression changed to match Sanae's. "How can she not know who Black Star is?!" she exclaimed.
"Well, to be fair," said Sanae, "Black Star hasn't shown up since, like, Episode 5." Amaya made a mental note to go and smash up a convenience store that night. As for the rest of the class, they gradually lost interest in asking Kotone questions once it became apparent that she wasn’t going to respond to any of them with more than five words.
As for Kotone's academic ability, she seemed to be a good learner, but lacking in the fundamentals, to the extent that Sanae found herself wondering whether the schools in Kotone's previous hometown had been any good at all. This came to a head during the last lesson of the day, when she was called upon to read aloud during English; after a minute of staring blankly at the foreign glyphs in front of her, she simply stated, "I have no idea what this says," prompting howls of laughter from her classmates.
Even Sanae had to stifle a giggle, but at the same time, she had made up her mind. Something was off about Kotone. As the bells rang to signal the end of the school day, Sanae pulled out her phone and texted Hitomi. I won't be coming to White Star Fan Club tonight. I have something to investigate.
Hitomi's response came back almost disarmingly quickly: OwO what is it? a romour??? Two seconds later, this was followed by: *rumour, stupid phone
Sanae scowled. Hitomi's texts were notoriously hard to read. Kinda, she texted back. It's not White Star-related, though. Just something I'm curious about.
is it a boy??? =w=, Hitomi texted back.
This is a magical girl series, typed Sanae. I'm not allowed to date unless it’s destiny, or a trap, or something.
you’re into traps???? Owo, replied Hitomi, at which point Sanae merely rolled her eyes and put her phone away again. At some point, you just had to stop texting Hitomi.
Kotone stayed in the classroom for a few more minutes, taking notes and revising, before packing up her stuff and quietly leaving the classroom. Sanae gestured to Amaya, who nodded, and the two picked up their own bags and left to follow her. Step one: find out where and how she lived.31: Episode 12: The Mysterious Transfer Student (Pt.2)
Sanae and Amaya followed Kotone back to a large terraced apartment building in the suburbs, a surprising distance from the school. "She lives further away than I thought," Sanae remarked, as Kotone climbed the steps towards the third-floor terrace.
"Yeah, she must have quite a walk to get to school on time," said Amaya. "Hang on, let me see what I can see from here." Amaya reached into her school blazer and pulled out a pair of binoculars, raising them up to her eyes and pointing them at Kotone's apartment window.
"Where did you get binoculars from?" asked Sanae.
Amaya slowly turned the dial on the side of the binoculars until the interior of Kotone's apartment came into sharp focus. "I got them in my cereal box," she replied.
This answer merely raised further questions for Sanae. "What kind of cereal are you eating?" she asked.
Amaya produced a cereal box from nowhere, holding it up for Sanae to read the wording on the front. "'Foreshad-O's'," she read aloud. "'A future plot development in every box'."
"They taste great," said Amaya, "but they tend to spoil pretty quickly." Turning her attention back to Kotone's apartment, Amaya squinted through the binoculars. "Hmmm... I can't see anyone other than Kotone in there. I think she lives by herself."
"Honestly, that's not too surprising," said Sanae with a shrug. "This is an anime, I reckon half our school has at least one missing parent. Ourselves included, of course."
"Your parents aren't missing, they're just never around," said Amaya. She adjusted the binoculars a little more. "It's a pretty barren apartment... not a whole lot of stuff in it... I wonder if she's poor..."
"She's a high school student living by herself, Amaya," said Sanae, "of course she's poor."
"Can't you at least be a little sympathetic towards her?" asked Amaya.
"I am sympathetic!" said Sanae. "She obviously has no friends, family, or money, and some kind of tragic backstory! I'm just saying, none of those things are too surprising when you're as genre-savvy as I am."
“I guess,” said Amaya, lowering her binoculars. "So, where do we go from here?"
"I say we befriend her," said Sanae. "We'll have an easier time finding out if she has any kind of dark secrets or plot relevance, and she'll get to have friends and not be alone all the time! Everyone wins!"
“Sounds good to me,” said Amaya. “Now, I'm gonna head home and try and fill out the wordsearch on the back of my Foreshad-O's box. Apparently, the leftover letters will spell out a hidden plot twist."
“Have fun with that,” said Sanae. “Don’t tell me what it is, though.”
“I won’t,” Amaya reassured her.
The following lunchtime, Sanae and Amaya put their plan into action. Reasoning that the easiest way to start befriending Kotone was to eat lunch with her, they left the classroom in search of the white-haired girl, who had apparently bolted from the classroom without them noticing. Sanae was not overly-worried that there might be a repeat of the previous day, when Kotone had given one-word answers to everything. "We just need to ask the right questions," she explained to Amaya.
"Like what?" asked Amaya.
"I dunno," said Sanae. "Just not dumb stuff like 'What's your favourite colour', or 'What brand of shampoo do you use', or 'Who do you think would win in a fight between Superman and Madara Uchiha'."
"Well," said Amaya, " that depends. Are you talking about Edo Tensei Madara Uchiha, or-"
"You're not actually supposed to answer that!" interrupted Sanae.
After a few minutes of walking and discussion, the pair eventually located Kotone, eating lunch by herself on top of the roof. "Aha!" whispered Sanae. "Only important characters eat on the roof! I told you she was important!"
"Aren't we assigning her importance anyway by making our investigation of her the primary focus of the episode?" countered Amaya.
"Are you implying I'm warping the fabric of space-time to fulfil my own prophecies?" asked Sanae.
"Not the fabric of space-time," said Amaya, "just the plot of this episode."
"Of course I'm bending the storyline to my will," said Sanae, rolling her eyes. "I'm the main character. That's how storylines work."
At this point, the pair were interrupted by Kotone, who had noticed their increasingly-loud debate. "Did you come here just to have a meta-discussion?" she asked bluntly. "Because you're interrupting my lunch."
"Oh... sorry, Kotone," said Sanae. "I forgot to put 'whispered' instead of 'said'. Anyway, we actually came up here to have lunch with you, if that's okay."
Kotone blinked. "You want to have lunch with me?" she repeated. "Why?"
Sanae again took the initiative. "You seem like an interesting person," she explained, "and we hope we can be friends with you. Is that okay?"
Kotone took a moment to think it over, but then nodded. "Okay," she said. "Just don't be too loud."
Sanae and Amaya nodded in agreement, and sat down with Kotone to eat.
The rest of the day was mostly uneventful, but Sanae and Amaya felt that Kotone was already starting to warm up to them. After classes ended, the pair went their separate ways, with Amaya heading home while Sanae headed off to the day's White Star Fan Club meeting. As she approached the stairwell, however, she found herself confronted by Kazuo.
"Oh hey, Kazuo," said Sanae. "I haven't seen you around for a while. To be honest, I almost forgot you were in the series at all."
"I've been doing some investigating," said Kazuo. "It turns out that the US election was hacked, not by the Russians, but by the company that makes those 'Make America Great Again' hats. Think about it! They're getting all kinds of business out of Trump's campaign and election! Their sales are skyrocketing! And that's exactly what they want! You see, they aren't just ordinary hats... they're brainwashing devices! Put one on and it gradually sucks out your brain, turning you into a mindless drone, as part of the hat company's plan to take over the world! Think about it! When was the last time you saw a person in a 'MAGA' hat say anything remotely intelligent?"
"As hilarious as that theory is, I don't really have time for this," said Sanae, successfully suppressing a giggle. "I have to get to my club meeting."
"Before you do, I wanted to talk to you about Kotone," said Kazuo. "I saw you eating lunch with her at lunchtime. Surely you've noticed how suspicious she is?"
"Oh, I have," said Sanae. "That's why I'm trying to get close to her. You know, we're actually on the same page for once here. Usually we're not even in the same book."
"That's because the book of the common people is a book of lies," said Kazuo in a sinister voice. "It was written by the lizardmen to manipulate the masses into-"
"-aaaand you're out of the book again," said Sanae. "I gotta go. See you later, Kazuo."
"Investigate Kotone!" Kazuo called after her. "And investigate Zlatan Ibrahimovic! I have proof that he's one of the lizardmen!"
Amaya, meanwhile, was headed home, but as she entered the locker room at the school entrance, she spotted Kotone being cornered by a trio of the school’s less hospitable girls. They had Kotone pinned up against one of the banks of lockers, smug grins plastered across their faces.
“What’s wrong with you?” sneered one of the girls. “How come you’re so stupid? Like, you don’t know anything!”
“I bet there’s someone wrong with her brain,” said another of the girls. “That’s why she’s so quiet... and stupid!”
Kotone didn’t seem to realize that she was being bullied. “I don’t think there’s anything wrong with my head,” she said blankly.
“Well, of course you wouldn’t know if there was,” said the first girl smugly. “’Coz you’re stu-”
“Is there a problem here?” Amaya’s voice sounded calm enough, but her expression and posture seethed with barely-restrained anger, a fiery black aura seeming to surround her. The look on her face alone was enough to cause the bullies to rethink their position.
“Not at all,” said the apparent ringleader hastily. “Come on, let’s leave the two idiots alone with each other.” The three girls scarpered, leaving Amaya and Kotone alone in the locker room.
Kotone watched the girls leave with a look of mild confusion. “What strange girls,” she remarked, in a disarmingly casual manner.
Amaya swiftly rounded on Kotone. “Kotone, you can’t let people treat you like that!” she said. “You have to stand up for yourself!”
Kotone nodded quietly. "How do I do that?" she asked.
"I dunno," said Amaya, "that's up to you. But they won't leave you alone unless you show them that you aren't gonna take any of their crap. Promise me you'll do that?"
Kotone nodded again. "Promise."
"Good," said Amaya. "Also, for what it's worth, their insults were so lame that they're not worth getting upset about. If you really want to insult someone, tell them they look like a M*ss Effect: Andr*meda NPC. That'll show 'em."
Kotone tilted her head quizzically. "How did you make those bleeping sounds?" she asked.
"You'll get the hang of it," said Amaya.32: Episode 12: The Mysterious Transfer Student (Pt.3)
Late that night, Sanae was roused from her sleep by a frantic Kousen. "Ughh... what is it?" she groaned, brushing her tousled fringe out of her eyes.
"I'm sensing the presence of an extremely powerful monster," said Kousen. "The city is in imminent danger!"
Sanae let out another low groan. "Why can't the city be in imminent danger in the morning?" she muttered.
Kousen folded her arms, shooting Sanae a stern glare. "We already did this routine back in Episode 5," she said. "Come on, out of bed. You've got a city to save."
"Okay, fine," said Sanae. She pulled herself out of bed, staggering to her feet. "Give me a few minutes to wake up. Actually, go get me a non-specific energy drink."
One can of non-specific energy drink later and White Star was ready to go, although much to Kousen's confusion, the drink did not appear to have made her sprout wings ("Does this mean their message on the magic picture screen was a lie?", she had asked). White Star, of course, did not need wings; she was perfectly capable of flying without them, and with her brain now in gear, she made haste towards the monster's location while explaining to Kousen the concept of metaphors and hyperbole.
They were flying over the suburbs close to Kotone's apartment when Kousen suddenly stopped, puzzled. White Star, realizing she had left her familiar behind, floated back to her. "What's up?" she asked. "Have you just remembered another advert you mistook for a fact?"
"Well, I may have to investigate whether washing machines really do live longer with a non-specific laundry detergent," remarked Kousen, "but that's not the important issue. The important issue is that that monster's energy signature has just vanished all of a sudden. I can no longer detect it."
White Star's expression froze. "You're kidding, right?" she said.
"If by 'kidding', you mean 'using a metaphor or hyperbole', then no, I am not," said Kousen. "I can no longer detect any trace of a monster."
White Star let out a long, low moan. "You mean you dragged me out of bed at two in the morning for nothing?!" she exclaimed.
"I apologize," said Kousen. "This is most unusual."
"You're telling me!" said White Star. "Is it even possible for monsters to just disappear like that?"
Kousen scratched her chin. "There are three possibilities," she said. "Well... four, I suppose. One: I was wrong, and there was no monster to start with, but that's so improbable I'm going to ignore it. Two: the monster has been destroyed by someone else. Also improbable. Three: the monster has wandered back into the World Below from whence it came. That's the most likely explanation."
Kousen did not state the fourth possibility, and White Star did not care enough to ask. "Fair enough," she said. "Come on, let's go home and get some sleep."
Despite her interrupted night, Sanae woke up the following morning still feeling refreshed, much to her relief - that gag had already been used too often to be funny anymore, if it had ever been funny to start with. She met up with Amaya at the front gates as usual, and to her surprise, Kotone was waiting there as well. "Oh, hi Kotone," she said. "What's up?"
"Amaya said she was waiting for you," said Kotone, "so I decided to wait for you as well."
"Oh, that's very kind of you," said Sanae, swiftly followed by, "Wow, that sounded hella condescending," and then, "Do people say 'hella' anymore?"
"That one chick from L*fe is Str*nge says it," said Amaya.
Sanae gave Amaya a puzzled look. "How are you making those bleeping sounds?" she asked.
Amaya was about to explain when she was interrupted by a loud cry of "WE'RE SORRY!" Sanae and Amaya looked round in time to see the three girls who had been bullying Kotone the previous day barreling towards them, expressions of abject terror on their faces. The girls threw themselves at Kotone's feet, practically prostrating themselves in front of her.
"We never meant to upset you!" pleaded one of the girls. "We were just jealous and insecure about all the attention you were getting as a new student!"
"We don't really think you're stupid!" insisted the second girl. "That's just a stock insult we use on everyone!"
"Shut up, stupid!" said the first girl. "Your apology sucks! Kotone will never forgive us if our apology isn't good enough!"
"Oh, please forgive us, Kotone!" pleaded the third girl, clutching at the white-haired girl's ankle. "We'll do anything to make it up to you! Anything!"
As the third girl illustrated her point by kissing Kotone's shoe, Sanae and Amaya exchanged awkward and confused glances. Kotone just stared blankly down at the girls, as though she couldn't comprehend what was happening either. The former bullies looked back up at Kotone, desperate for mercy. Finally, the white-haired girl remarked, "You look like Ma-" Sanae, fearful of a lawsuit, quickly pulled out a bleep machine and hammered the bleep button. "-dromeda NPCs."
This half-censored retort was enough to cause the three girls to burst into tears and flee towards the school building. "Kotone didn't forgive us!" wailed one of the bullies. "We're so dead!"
Sanae and Amaya blinked, stunned. "What was that all about?" asked Amaya.
"You told me to stand up for myself," said Kotone. "So I did."
"Sweet Utena, what did you do to them?!" exclaimed Sanae. "They were scared for their lives!"
Kotone did not answer, instead simply turning around and starting to head towards the school. "You don't need to worry about it," she said. "They won't bully anyone again. That's the important thing."
As Kotone headed off, Sanae and Amaya exchanged another puzzled glance. "Kotone definitely did something to those girls," said Amaya in an undertone. "People don't just issue grovelling apologies out of nowhere like that."
"Nor do they go around licking people's feet like that one girl was doing," said Sanae. "Well, not unless they're in some kinda weird porno."
"Or Bakuon," noted Amaya.
"You're getting too obscure again," said Sanae, "I think everyone's already forgotten about that show. And anyway, that probably classifies as 'weird porno' considering the bike-washing scene."
"And Biker Jesus looking at nude magazines," said Amaya.
"People who haven't watched Bakuon are probably reading this now like, 'What the hell is this show?!'," Sanae remarked. "I can assure them that yes, it really is that weird."
"Let's head to class before we end up standing here talking about widget shows for the next twenty minutes," suggested Amaya.
“Good idea,” said Sanae. As the two girls headed off to homeroom, Sanae mused to herself that while this incident had raised her suspicion levels yet higher, it had also given her a newfound respect for Kotone. Whatever it was she had done, it had to have been pretty badass.33: Episode 12: The Mysterious Transfer Student (Pt.4)
After the incident with the three bullies, any negative behaviour towards Kotone abruptly petered out, and the rest of the school began to take care not to get on her bad side. While some students were now wary of her, most, like Sanae and Amaya, had gained a significant amount of respect for Kotone for having apparently stood up for herself. While most still avoided making idle conversation with her, having recognized the futility, Kotone's general popularity had shot back up again. Sanae and Amaya, however, remained the closest things she had to real friends.
That Friday, during lunch, Amaya decided to make a proposal. "Say, Kotone, you've never been to the local shopping centre, have you?" she asked. "How about the three of us all go up there tomorrow, for a girls' day out?"
"Hey, that's a great idea!" said Sanae. "We can go to the arcade, and look at clothes, and pull faces in a photobooth, and maybe do a montage sequence together!"
"As long as there's no random lyrics in the middle, like the last time we did a montage sequence," quipped Amaya. "That was just cheesy."
"What if they're heavy metal lyrics instead?" suggested Sanae. "Then it wouldn't be cheesy, and it would be an amusing contrast-"
"You're meta-discussing again," said Kotone, through a mouthful of sandwich.
"Oh, sorry," said Sanae. "We got kinda sidetracked there. Anyway, what do you think? Are you up for a day out with us?"
Kotone nodded. "Sure," she said. "It sounds like fun."
"Alright, then it's settled!" said Sanae. "This Saturday, we hit the town!"
That Saturday, it ended up raining heavily.
"Dammit," muttered Sanae, shaking out her umbrella as she entered the warm sanctuary of the shopping centre. "I thought we already did this gag."
Amaya and Kotone were already there waiting for her, looking equally drenched. "Nothing like a good running gag to keep the audience entertained," said Amaya. "Right, Card Game Guy?"
Card Game guy was, at that moment, emerging from a card game shop with an angry scowl on his face, his multi-coloured hair in disarray where it had been caught in the rain. "I can't believe they NERFED MY FAVOURITE CARD!" he declared to thin air, brandishing a pack of game cards. "How am I supposed to pull last-minute victories out of thin air when the Giant Shoe of Ultimate Doom requires THREE TRIBUTES TO SUMMON INSTEAD OF TWO?!! Somebody's getting sent to the PIT OF ETERNAL DARKNESS FOR THIS!"
Amaya chuckled to herself at Card Game's Guy's unwarranted anger. "I love that guy," she remarked.
The girls' first stop was a clothing store. They bought nothing - their monthly allowances didn't quite stretch far enough for a fashion spree - but instead had fun simply trying on outfits of increasing silliness. Kotone had to be reminded to change back into the clothes she had arrived in, having nearly walked out in a pair of fluorescent trousers, neon-pink sunglasses, and a "My Other Car Is A Cat" t-shirt.
Their next port of call was the photo booth. It was a little cramped, but the three managed to fit inside without much of a problem. Kotone stared curiously at the camera, watching as her movements were reflected in the LCD screen above it. "What exactly do we do?" she asked.
"Hmm? You've never been in one of these before, Kotone?" remarked Sanae. "Simple, you just pull silly faces and then wait for the flash. Here, copy me!"
Sanae proceeded to pull a perfect ahegao face, complete with twin V-signs, but was swiftly elbowed in the ribs by Amaya. "Knock it off," said the black-haired girl. "You keep moaning at the rest of us that this is a T-rated series."
"Sorry," said Sanae, pressing a fist against the side of her head and sticking her tongue out. "I couldn't resist. I guess that's my fanservice quota used up for the rest of the series."
Sanae inserted some coins into the machine, activating it. "Hello!" chimed an automated female voice. "Please get ready! The first photo will be taken shortly!" The girls positioned themselves inside the booth, pulled simultaneous Sailor Moon poses, and held them until the photo was taken. Next, they all pulled JoJo poses, glaring menacingly at the camera as it clicked. Then, they all pulled their best yandere faces; Sanae's was unconvincing, but Amaya's was downright frightening.
Many photos and silly poses later, the girls took turns adding digital filters and stickers to the pictures before finally printing them out. Exiting the booth, they split the pictures amongst themselves and examined the results. "Wow, we look like such idiots!" exclaimed Sanae with amusement.
"I am not an idiot," retorted Kotone.
"I said we look like idiots, not that we are idiots," said Sanae quickly. "Nice to see you're still standing up for yourself, though! So, food next?"
Amaya nodded. "I'm starving," she said. "Let's get some lunch."
The girls duly went to McRonald's, a fast food chain that bore absolutely no resemblance to any other fast food chain. Sanae ordered a hamburger and fries, Amaya ordered a chicken nugget meal, and Kotone, unsure what to get, ordered both. "Would you like a roast with that?" asked the twintailed girl behind the counter.
"Sure," said Sanae. "Hit me with your best material."
The girl behind the counter pulled the smuggest expression she could manage. "Hit you? I don't need to hit you," she said derisively. "You already look and sound like you've taken a few too many hits to the face."
"Hey, that was pretty good," remarked Amaya, before adding to Kotone in an undertone, "You don't need to defend us on this occasion."
The barista's expression and tone promptly snapped back to normal. "Thank you!" she said cheerily. “Enjoy your meal!”
Once they had eaten, the girls spent the rest of the day drifting aimlessly around the mall, with one exception. Located on the mall’s mezzanine level was a piano, which anyone could sit down at and play at their leisure to entertain the shoppers walking past. The first time the girls passed by the piano, Kotone was immediately drawn towards it. She sat down, positioned her fingers over the keys, and began to play a sombre ballad.
“Wow, she’s really good,” Sanae whispered to Amaya.
“Yeah,” agreed Amaya. “I didn’t know she could play the piano. I can’t even play the kazoo.”
“I would pay actual money to hear you play the Elfen Lied theme song on a kazoo,” whispered Sanae.
“I’d pay money to be able to do that,” Amaya whispered back.
It was almost sunset by the time the girls parted ways. “Man, today was fun,” said Sanae. “Did you have fun, Kotone?”
For the first time that Sanae could remember, Kotone offered her a small smile. “Yes,” she said. “I had fun.”
“Glad to hear it!” said Sanae. “And you, Amaya?”
“Of course,” said Amaya. “We’ll have to do this again sometime.”
Sanae nodded in agreement. “Alright. We can discuss it further on Monday. See you girls later!” The three girls waved each other goodbye, Kotone still smiling, and then went their separate ways.
Sunday was normally a day for Sanae to lounge around her bedroom in her pyjamas, playing video games and procrastinating her homework. On this particular Sunday, however, she had a prior engagement: the opening of a new library in the city centre. This would have been a trivial matter if not for the oversized ceremonial scissors she was required to cut the ribbon with; they required two hands to hold, but she had to keep hold of the White Star Wand at the same time to prevent herself from depowering. It took White Star almost a full minute to manhandle the giant scissors into position.
"Finishing Move: Ribbon-Severing Attack!" declared White Star, before cutting the ribbon with a loud snik. "I hereby declare this library open! Let the light of knowledge shine!"
The crowd gathered outside the library cheered, but a moment later, the mood was dampened by one of the mayor's police escorts, who quietly sidled over to White Star. "I don't want to cause any alarm," he muttered, so that the crowd could not hear, "but we're starting to get reports of a monster attack downtown. You might wanna head over there ASAP."
"Gotcha," White Star whispered back. "Alright, everyone," she announced, "I'm afraid duty calls, but it was great to meet you all! I hope you all enjoy your new library!" White Star waved to the crowd as the flew off, and the crowd waved back, cheering ever louder.
Just a few seconds later, Kousen came flying over to meet her. "White Star! I take it you heard about the monster?"
"Yep," said White Star. "It must already be causing damage; people are phoning the police about it."
Kousen nodded, her expression grave. "It's the same energy signature I detected the other day," she said. "There's no doubt. Whatever you're about to face will be a powerful opponent, perhaps the most powerful you've ever faced.”
White Star was not daunted. “I’m ready,” she said.
It did not take White Star long to locate the scene of the disturbance: a thick trail of smoke rose up into the sky from the banks of Sakurazawa. As she drew nearer, White Star saw the burnt-out remains of several destroyed cars, and rubble from damaged buildings strewn across the street. One of the cherry trees lining the river had toppled over, crashing into the frigid waters below. Thankfully, nobody seemed to be hurt; indeed, the street was entirely deserted, save for a single person standing amidst the destruction.
"Kotone?" said White Star, puzzled. "What's she doing here?" The magical girl swooped down, approaching her friend. "Hey, Koto- I mean, random citizen. It's not safe to be standing around here. There's a monster on the loose... although I don't see it anywhere," she added, glancing around with a look of deepening confusion.
"You're looking at it," said Kotone bluntly.
The sudden remark threw White Star for a loop. "Wait, what?"
The next thing White Star knew, a crimson glow began to surround Kotone, and her appearance began to change. Blood-red streaks appeared in her silvery hair, her fingernails extending into sharpened claws with an audible snikkt. Her skin grew even paler, almost snow-white, and at the same time, her eyes turned jet-black, with blood-red pupils. The sound of ripping fabric was swiftly followed by the emergence of a single large wing with blood-red feathers, extending magnificently from Kotone's back and bearing her into the air. Finally, Kotone's mouth twisted into a demonic grin, one made all the more terrifying by the girl's prior lack of expressiveness.
Kotone's mouth opened to show sharp fangs, and as she spoke, even her voice had changed, growing deeper and more layered, as though multiple people were speaking in unison. "Behold, my true form! I am Ciriel, and I have come to seal your doom, White Star!"34: Episode 12: The Mysterious Transfer Student (Pt.5)
White Star turned to Kousen in shock. "I don't understand!" she exclaimed. "Since when could monsters transform into humans and stuff?"
"They can if they absorb enough chi," said Kousen. "That was the fourth possibility I mentioned the other day, except I never mentioned it because I thought the chances were too remote."
"The chances are not remote," said Ciriel, gesturing theatrically. "Through the power of chi, I have transcended both man and monster! Now, White Star, prepare to be cast into the Pit of Eternal Darkness!"
Ciriel suddenly darted forward and, before White Star could react, landed a blow that sent the magical girl flying about fifty feet backwards. White Star tumbled, but recovered just in time to parry a second blow, before blocking a third. There thus began a brief stalemate, White Star's hands locked with Ciriel's, the two pushing against each other with all their might in hopes of gaining some slim advantage.
With the battle slowed to a standstill, White Star was finally able to start putting the pieces together. "So wait a minute... that incident with the bullies--"
"That's right!" said Ciriel. "I unleashed my true power in order to scare them out of bullying Kotone!"
"Your prodigious sporting ability and lack of knowledge--"
"--were respectively the result of my immense power level and my lack of time spent in this world!" explained Ciriel.
White Star felt her elbows begin to bend. "And that bit where you played the piano--"
"--was an intentional reference to Neon Genesis Evangelion!" said Ciriel.
"You're not supposed to... explain the references... especially if you logically... shouldn't know them yourself..." White Star could hold on no longer, and her arms buckled under the pressure of Ciriel's strength. The monster landed another harsh blow and White Star was sent flying backwards down the street, slamming into an already-damaged car. The metal bodywork bent like tin foil, the windows shattering and the alarm sounding. White Star was a little disoriented as she staggered to her feet, and the shrill alarm was not helping. "Oh, shut up," she groaned, and with one hand she hoisted the car aloft and threw it into the river. The sound of the alarm soon faded as the car's remains slipped beneath the blossom-laden waters.
Ciriel grinned in triumph. "You're tiring, White Star," she said. "How long do you think you can continue to resist me?"
White Star steadied herself, shaking her head vigorously to clear her vision. "I think this is the part where I'm supposed to try and 'reach out to you', and get you to turn back into Kotone," she said. "You know, the whole, 'Snap out of it! I know you're still in there somewhere!' kinda thing. But there is no Kotone to reach out to, is there? She was just a mask for you to use while you bided your time, waiting for me to appear so you could destroy me. That's it, isn't it?"
"That's exactly right!" said Ciriel. "There is no Kotone Hara, only Ciriel! And that's a Ghostbusters reference!"
A strange shadow began to loom over White Star's face, the light in her eyes temporarily dimming. Her fingers tightened around the White Star Wand until her knuckles were as white as her gloves. "You know... Amaya's not going to be happy when she realizes her only other friend was a phony," she said.
The name caught Ciriel off-guard. "Amaya...? Wait a--"
White Star did not allow Ciriel to complete that thought. "A more powerful foe needs a more powerful finisher!" she declared, perking back up. She raised her wand, taking aim at Ciriel. "Finishing Move: Heavenly White Pillar!"
A glowing white pentagram appeared on the ground beneath Ciriel, gradually increasing in size until it was at least six feet in diameter. The glow intensified until it was blinding, and then with a tremendous scream of energy, a beam of light burst vertically out of the pentagram, shooting upwards into the sky. Ciriel was instantly engulfed by the beam, howling in pain as it tore at her body, draining her strength.
As the light faded, White Star saw that while Ciriel had been defeated, she had not been destroyed. Instead, she had reverted back into Kotone, and lay collapsed on the ground, staring blankly up at the sky. As the magical girl looked on, Ciriel’s body began to disintegrate starting at her feet, glowing fragments drifting up into the sky like cherry blossoms. It was all very poignant, but White Star still had questions to ask.
White Star crossed over to the fallen monster and knelt beside her. Slowly, Ciriel turned her head to face her. “Sanae… it’s you, isn’t it?” she said, her voice soft and frail.
White Star instinctively put on a bemused look. “I’m afraid I don’t know what you’re talking about-” she began.
“It’s okay,” said Ciriel. “You can tell me. I’m going to die in ten paragraphs anyway.” Her feet had already dissolved into thin air, and now her shins were slowly being eaten away by the magic as well. She didn’t have long left.
“Yeah, good point,” conceded White Star. “Alright, you got me. It’s me, Sanae. I guess the ‘Amaya’ remark kinda gave it away, huh?”
Ciriel nodded, and managed to muster an amused smile. “Ironic, isn’t it? We were friends and enemies at the same time…”
“Yeah, that is pretty ironic,” said White Star. “I mean, could you imagine if Black Star turned out to be, like… Inaba-sensei or someone? I’d totally freak out! Oh, right, speaking of Black Star, I’d better get to the point. Was she the one who pumped you full of chi and sent you after me?”
Ciriel shook her head. “Black Star is not my mistress,” she said.
“Then who is?” asked White Star. “It must be some new character we haven’t met yet, right? What’s her name?”
Ciriel took in a deep breath, trying to hang on as the dissolution spread up past her knees. “Her name is… is…”
White Star leaned forward expectantly. “Come on…”
“Her… her name is…” After a moment’s silence, Ciriel suddenly burst into maniacal laughter, her right eye glowing red again. “Did you actually expect me to tell you?!” she taunted.
“Actually, I was kinda expecting you to die mid-sentence,” said White Star.
“Sorry to disappoint you on both counts!” said Ciriel. Lying back against the shattered tarmac, she began to laugh once more, and was still laughing even as the last of her body fizzled away, leaving nothing behind but an unusually large Black Heart.
White Star reached out and picked up the Black Heart, staring at it wistfully. "Hey, not to break the mood or anything," she remarked suddenly, "but does this make me a... Ciriel killer?"
"Well, yes," said Kousen. "You did just destroy her."
"You don't get the pun, do you, Kousen?" asked White Star.
"What's a pun?" asked Kousen.
"Never mind." White Star rolled her eyes and sighed. “My best material is wasted on you, Kousen. Wasted.” Her attention turned back to the Black Heart. "Anyway, how come Ciriel's Black Heart is so much bigger than the other monsters I've fought? Is it because she was that much more powerful?"
"In a manner of speaking," said Kousen. "I remember what the Black Hearts are for now. They're a special crystalline organ that allows a monster to absorb chi and grow stronger. They can be used to forge new Emblems."
"Wow, really?" said White Star. "I was wondering when I was gonna get a squad of magical girl allies. No self-respecting magical girl fights by herself!"
Kousen nodded sagely. "As strong as you’ve grown, I do feel as though you’re in need of some assistance," she said. "In any case, the true question remains. If it wasn't Black Star who empowered this monster... who was it?"
"Uh-oh," said White Star. "That sounds like a cue for a dramatic-irony-inducing jump cut."
At that precise moment, in the World Above, a youkai shrouded in shadow watched White Star and Kousen's conversation with interest. "What is she talking about? 'Dramatic irony'? Is this another one of those strange human concepts I need to look up before beginning my conquest?" The youkai picked up a notepad and quill and wrote "Dramatic irony" in unnecessarily fancy cursive, right underneath "Red squares with 'B' in them" and "Ghost busters".
The youkai tapped the quill against her chin, pondering her next move. "Clearly the 'supercharge a monster with chi, let it loose in Mitsuzawa, and hope it kills White Star' plan didn't exactly work out," she mused to herself. "I guess this is why you shouldn't send a monster to do a youkai's job. Well, it doesn't really matter in the long run. Now I know the limits of her strength: she's good for a human, but she's no youkai."
With a wave of her hand, the youkai closed the portal. "You'd better watch out, White Star," she declared to nobody in particular. "I'm coming for you and your inferior world, and when I do..." The youkai dramatically snapped her quill in two between her fingers. "...you're history. And not the exciting kind of history either, like World War I or the Emu War. I mean the bad, boring kind of history that nobody cares about, like, uhh..." The youkai paused for a moment, went to jot down a note, and then remembered she had just snapped her quill in half. "Wait, crap, I needed that to write. I wonder if Jade Moon would let me borrow one... or I could just steal one, I guess. I mean..."
The youkai moved into the light, and some of her features came into sharp relief - the glittering scarlet of her nails, the blood-red gleam of her eyes, the large, almost satanic wings on her back. "I am the villain of this piece~" she concluded with a grin.35: Episode 13: Red Moon Rising (Pt.1)
It seemed like a regular morning in Mitsuzawa. Sanae's alarm clock went off as usual, and she slipped out of bed and got ready for school without any fuss. It had been about a week since the destruction of Ciriel, and while Sanae was still none the wiser as to who had empowered the monster, she knew that with Ciriel defeated, there was no way for her to find out. She would simply have to wait for the villain to emerge, and given that this was the series finale, she figured that she wouldn't have to wait too long.
Kousen elected to come with Sanae to school that day, in order to continue learning about humanity first-hand. Kage, unusually, also elected to go along with Amaya – “It’s boring just sitting around drinking beer and waiting for you to get back, nyaa~” she had explained. The result was that as the four of them made their way towards the school together, each thought that only three was present and attempted to make it look as though only two were present.
“I can’t believe it’s the season finale,” Amaya remarked, as they waited to cross a junction. “It feels like just yesterday we were nothing more than concept art made in one of those anime profile picture creators.”
“Yeah, I remember,” said Sanae. “Back when the fourth wall existed, the plot was treated somewhat seriously, and we didn’t have memes and political jokes shoehorned into our dialogue for cheap laughs.”
“Yeah, I kinda miss those days sometimes,” said Amaya, looking up at the sky. “Speaking of which, you wanna see my new fidget spinner?”
Sanae looked at Amaya as though she had just kicked a puppy. “Why the hell did you buy a fidget spinner?!” she exclaimed.
Amaya grinned. “So I can annoy people who hate fidget spinners,” she explained. She slipped her hand into her pocket and pulled out a small trefoil-shaped spinner – black, of course. She placed the between forefinger and thumb and flicked it with her other hand, pitching it into a hypnotic spin. "And for my next trick," she remarked, "I'm going to put pineapple on a pizza--"
Amaya was cut off by a sudden rumble, following by an intense roar coming from the sky above them. Sanae, Amaya, and their familiars looked up to see a small crimson tear appear in the sky. It gradually grew wider and wider, then began to rend open with an ear-splitting screech. “I think you just offended the very fabric of reality,” quipped Sanae, even as she clamped her hands over her ears.
Amaya ignored her friend’s jibe. "What the hell is that?!" she exclaimed.
"That's a youkai portal!" exclaimed Kousen and Kage in unison.
"I'm gonna need something stronger than beer for this, nyaa~" added Kage, pulling a vodka bottle out of thin air.
As the four watched on in horror, a shadowy figure began to emerge from the tear. It was far too distant for Sanae and Amaya to make out anything about it, but they knew what it was: a youkai, similar in appearance to Kousen and Kage. The figure descended until it was hovering about five hundred feet above the city, then threw open its arms and began to speak. Or so it seemed, because its voice didn’t carry as far as the two girls.
Sanae and Amaya glanced at each other. “Do you have any idea who that is?” asked Amaya. “Or what they’re saying?”
Sanae had a vague internal suspicion, but she simply shrugged and said “Nope” before cupping her hands to her mouth. “We can’t hear you!” she called out. “You’ll have to speak louder!”
There was a moment of silence, followed by an ear-splitting burst of feedback, before a cool female voice echoed out across the entire city. “Hello? Testing, testing,” it said. “Can you hear me now? How about you, waaay at the back? Yes, you, with the stupid multi-coloured hair. Can you hear me n-- you can? Okay, great, that’s good. Sorry about that. Let me start over from the beginning. Ahem...”
The figure threw out its arms once more, and boomed: “Greetings, inferior life forms! I am a youkai, descended from a realm beyond your own! You may address me as Red Moon, and starting today, I shall be the ruler of this realm! You lesser creatures do not deserve to rule a realm as large and beautiful as this, not when superior beings such as myself exist! Don’t worry, I’ll let you all keep running around and spinning fidgets and starting wars and stuff, but from this day forward you will all bow only to me!”
Sanae was already bristling with anger, but then Red Moon continued: “I seek the one known as ‘White Star’! Not only is she the protector of this realm, but she has the audacity – the unmitigated gall – to wield the power of the youkai as if it were her own! The power of chi is not a power that humans deserve to wield, and I intend to take it away from her, thus removing the only obstacle between myself and the global domination that is my right!”
Sanae could take no more. She turned on her heel and began to march towards the nearest convenient changing point. “I’m not listening to this,” she declared.
“Where are you going?” asked Amaya.
“I’m going to write an angry status on the Internet,” said Sanae.
“But we have school-”
Sanae did not stop or even look back. “There’s a youkai attacking, Amaya,” she said. “Class is probably cancelled.” And with that, Sanae turned down an alleyway and was gone.
Kage snorted as she pulled the vodka bottle away from her lips. “So much for the tolerant left, nyaa~” she remarked. “Can’t even take a differing opinion.”
“You’re shoehorning in political jokes again,” Amaya said sternly to the writer. Sorry, I couldn’t resist.
Meanwhile, safely hidden inside the alleyway, Sanae was about to remove her backpack when Kousen suddenly cut her off. The youkai's expression was grave, even by her own standards. "You can’t fight her, Sanae," she said. "You've improved greatly, but you're still no match for a youkai. We have far superior physical strength and endurance, and our bodies are far more efficient at harnessing chi. A fight would be no contest; Red Moon would destroy you without even trying."
There was a loud thump as Sanae defiantly swung her backpack down onto the floor. "First of all," she declared, "I'm not giving up, no matter how story-breakingly powerful you think Red Moon is. That's what anime protagonists do. That's what you yourself have been telling me to do all series: to fulfill my duty as guardian of Mitsuzawa! I can't – and I won’t – abandon this city to its fate! Secondly, this is a magical-girl comedy series! The protagonist never dies in either of those genres!" Sanae unzipped her backpack and began rooting around for her Emblem. "Red Moon won't – and can’t – destroy me. Season finale or not, my plot armour is just too strong."
"I understood all those words individually," said Kousen blankly. "Look, don't get me wrong, Sanae, I admire your courage and heroism, but there are some battles you simply can't win."
"Oh, I couldn't agree more," said Sanae. "Like the battle we're having right now about whether I should fight Red Moon or not, which I'm afraid you've already lost."
"How have I-" began Kousen, but she fell silent upon seeing the White Star Emblem clutched in Sanae's hand. At once the girl was engulfed in a blinding white light, and her school uniform morphed into a beautiful white knee-length dress with violet lace trim. White thigh-high socks and high-heeled shoes gently enveloped her feet and legs, the straps of the shoes winding their way delicately up her shins. White gloves manifested themselves on her hands, and as the Emblem transformed into the White Star Wand, she clutched it tightly in her right hand. Finally, her hair curled itself into two neat ringlets either side of her head, and her transformation into White Star was complete.
"I'll be right back," said White Star, and with that she flew vertically upwards out of the alley to confront Red Moon. Kousen watched her go, concern etched across her pale face.36: Episode 13: Red Moon Rising (Pt.2)
Red Moon sighed impatiently, folding her arms. "Is White Star just running late, or is she too scared to fight me?" she mused. "It's not like she could have gotten lost, I mean, I'm right here floating in the middle of the sky, it's not like you could miss me--"
"Oh, I'm here all right, Red Moon." The youkai turned around to see White Star hovering twenty feet behind her, clutching her wand and glaring fiercely. As she turned, Red Moon gave White Star her first proper look at her newest foe.
Red Moon was tall by human standards, at least six feet, with long red hair that reached almost to her waist. Her bat-like wings were a deep blood-red, almost maroon, and slightly larger than Kousen's. She was clad in a red cheongsam with white and black detailing, and black stilettos with sharp heels that had to have been at least four inches long. It was not exactly the most villainous ensemble White Star had ever seen, but she got the impression that Red Moon did not care for human rules, not even the ones about villainy.
"Hello, White Star," said Red Moon, flashing a disarmingly courteous smile. "It's about time you showed up."
"I could say the same to you," said White Star. "I take it you're the one who sent that monster after me last episode?"
"Yes, that was I," said Red Moon. "If I'd known your finishing attacks were that powerful, I would have poured more chi into it." The youkai's expression turned more smug. "It's just a shame about the rest of you. If you hadn't pulled that attack out of your frilly behind, you would have been rightfully destroyed."
"I'm a magical girl," said White Star, unfazed. "Pulling attacks out of my ass is my speciality." She took aim, pointing the White Star Wand at Red Moon's chest. "Here's one just for you! Youkai-Killing Beam!"
A thin, sharpened beam of light erupted out of the end of White Star's wand like a bullet. Her expectation was that it would pierce straight through the youkai's chest and kill her. Instead it simply bounced off Red Moon's breast without causing so much as a jiggle, and then harmlessly dissipated. Red Moon looked down at her chest and blinked. "Was that meant to be an attack?" she queried.
It was at this point that White Star realised just how right Kousen had been. One of her strongest attacks, and Red Moon had barely felt a thing. If this were a certain shonen anime, her scouter would surely have exploded trying to work out Red Moon's power level.
"More importantly--" Before White Star could even react, Red Moon was upon her. "--that means it's my turn now, right?" Red Moon reached out and lightly tapped White Star on the nose. "Boop."
There was a deafening bang, a bright crimson flash, and White Star was hurled backwards across the sky at frightening speed. Before she even knew what had hit her, she had smashed straight through the window of an office building, demolishing seven office cubicles before finally tumbling to a rest inside an eighth, sprawled across the desk of a very startled-looking salaryman.
"Are you alright?!" asked the salaryman.
White Star was clearly not alright. The hem of her dress was torn in several places, her violet hair a tousled mess. She raised a hand, looking up at the man with unfocused eyes. “I forgot about Blackadder 4,” she declared, and with that, she passed out. The White Star Emblem tumbled from her hand, landing on the ground with a clatter, and a second later her body was enveloped in a white glow as she reverted back to Sanae Hikari.
As the salaryman looked on in dismay, Kousen soared in through the shattered front of the building and came to a rest in front of the unconscious girl, startling the workers even further. To enable her to carry Sanae to safety, and for sheer plot convenience, she had used what little remained of her magic to make herself tangible and visible again. She gently scooped the girl up in her arms, cradling her head. "I warned you, you idiot," she said quietly.
The salaryman put his surprise at Kousen’s appearance to one side. Stranger things had happened, after all. “Is she gonna be okay?” he asked.
“Her outfit will have protected her from the worst of the damage,” said Kousen, “but she’s still pretty hurt. She needs to rest.” She looked up at the shattered cubicles that marked White Star’s path through the building. “What about everyone here? Is anyone hurt?”
“We’re background characters,” noted one of the other workers, brushing the dust off her skirt. “We don’t get killed or injured unless the plot demands it.”
“That’s a relief,” said Kousen. “I’m sorry about your workplaces.”
“Are you kidding?” exclaimed another of the workers. “This means we get to go home early today! Come on, let’s all go get drunk!”
A loud cheer rose up among the workers as they fled the building en masse, leaving Kousen alone with the unconscious Sanae. The youkai spread her wings and flew back out through the shattered window, searching for a safe place for Sanae to recuperate.
Red Moon watched Kousen go with a venomous sneer. “Was that really all it took to defeat her?” she remarked. “I know humans are pathetic and all, but-” A black ball of energy suddenly struck Red Moon in the back, but the youkai felt nothing and continued monologuing. “-I didn’t realize they went down so easily. On the other hand, that should do an excellent job of convincing the rest of her species of my superiority-”
Another ball of energy hit Red Moon in the back, and again she did not react. She only realized what was happening when the third strike was accompanied by a loud cry: "Hey! Stop ignoring me when I'm attacking you!"
Red Moon tuned round to see Black Star floating behind her, wand raised, a ferocious scowl on her face. “Oh, right, I forgot there was another one of you,” said the youkai.
"How dare you defeat White Star!" Black Star snarled. "That was supposed to be my job! Seriously, it says it right here in the script!" Black Star pulled out a bundle of papers and angrily gestured at them to get her point across.
"What? Let me see that." Red Moon floated over to Black Star, peering over her shoulder at the papers. "This just says 'Black Star is the geartest' in blue crayon," said Red Moon. "What does 'geartest' even mean?"
"It means you fell for it," said Black Star, and a split second later an enormous beam of pitch-black energy burst out of her wand, engulfing Red Moon. Black Star grinned, believing herself victorious, but as the beam faded it became apparent that Red Moon was completely unscathed. The youkai brushed aside a stray hair and fixed Black Star with her best villainous glare, her crimson eyes burning.
Black Star's smugness vanished in an instant. "Oh... uhh... wow, would you look at the time! I'm late for school!" Black Star turned and flew off as fast as she could, but she was not fast enough; Red Moon rolled her eyes, waved her hand, and a burst of crimson energy swatted the magical girl out of the sky. The last thing Amaya saw before losing consciousness was her hand desperately reaching for her Emblem as it went spinning out of her grasp.
Kage caught Amaya comfortably in one hand and the Black Star Emblem in the other, rolling her eyes as she did so. "Honestly, I turn my back on you for two minutes..." she muttered. Slinging the unconscious girl over her shoulder, Kage off in search of a resting place. In the distance, she spotted a white-clad figure doing the exact same, and an amused smile passed across her lips. "It's about time you showed up, nyaa~" Kage remarked.
With both magical girls defeated, Red Moon was victorious. She triumphantly folded her arms, smiling down at the stunned crowd below. "Right, now where was I...? Oh, right, subjugation of humanity. Okay, listen up," she declared. "You pathetic humans have exactly one... uhhh..." Red Moon paused, frowning. "What do you pathetic humans use to measure the passage of time?"
Though Mio was as horrified as the rest of the White Star Fan Club, she still had enough sense to quickly shout out, "Millennia!"
Red Moon nodded. "Thank you, pathetic human," she said. "You pathetic creatures have exactly one millennia in which to submit to my rule. If you haven't surrendered by the end of the millennia, I shall conquer your realm by force!" Red Moon perched herself on the tallest building in Mitsuzawa, grinning down at the city. Within moments, however, her grin had already faded. "So, uhh... how long exactly is a millennia?"
Before Mio could tell anyone not to tell Red Moon, Hitomi blurted out, "A thousand years!"
This answer was completely meaningless to Red Moon. "And how long is a year?" she asked.
"Three-hundred-and-sixty-five days!" Nagisa replied. "Honestly, didn't you ever go to school?"
"I predate your pathetic human concept of 'education'," said Red Moon haughtily. "I existed back when your race was still scrabbling in the dirt for sticks." A moment later, she added, "A 'day' is defined as a single rotation of your planet around its sidereal axis, right?"
Mio gave the youkai a quizzical look. "How come you know that, but not-"
"Silence!" commanded Red Moon. "I'm impressed with you for trying to trick me into giving you 365,000 days in which to surrender-"
"That's not including leap years," pointed out Mio.
"Why is your time-keeping system so needlessly complicated?" asked Red Moon. "Anyway, the point is, your plan didn't work. I'm going to give you exactly one rotation of your planet around its sidereal axis in which for you to et cetera, et cetera, conquer by force. Now get to surrendering. I quite like these giant shiny box things you've built all over the place-" She patted the roof of the skyscraper she was sat atop. "-and I'd hate to have to destroy them all."37: Episode 13: Red Moon Rising (Pt.3)
Kousen chose a nearby furniture store as the best place to allow Sanae to recuperate. As much as it pained her, she could not take the girl to a hospital, as that would mean revealing her identity as White Star. Instead, she floated down into the store, which was mercifully empty - everyone was outside watching the ongoing drama - and located the bed section. After testing a few beds, Kousen found a king-size bed with a suitably soft mattress and seats, and laid Sanae down upon it, her Emblem in her lap.
"Room for a small one?" Kousen looked up to see Kage standing on the opposite side of the bed, cradling the unconscious Amaya in her arms. She gave her former enemy a soft smile. "Long time no see, nyaa~"
Kousen did not return the smile. "372 years, to be precise," she said. "Since you betrayed me and humanity and forced us both inside our own Emblems."
"Oh, come on, are you still angry about that?" asked Kage. "Can't we just let bygones be bygones, nyaa~?"
Kousen let out a long, quiet sigh, looking down at Sanae. "I guess we have more important things to worry about right now," she said. She gently moved Sanae over, and Kage placed Amaya down on the bed next to her, laying the Black Star Emblem in her lap. Seeing the two girls next to each other, Kousen could not help cracking an amused smile. "So Black Star was Amaya the whole time," she remarked. "I'm surprised I never noticed."
"I'm surprised neither of them noticed," said Kage, raising an eyebrow. "They were right in front of each other all along, nyaa~"
"I'm not surprised at that," said Kousen, "they're both idiots." She pinched the bridge of her nose, her forehead wrinkling in concern. "Now what?"
"I think we should leave them for a while," said Kage. "They've got a lot to discuss... and so have we, nyaa~ You still drink wine? I'll buy you a glass."
"With what?" asked Kousen, raising an eyebrow. A second later, Kage produced Amaya's wallet. Kousen opened her mouth to object, but then Sanae began to stir, and the youkai decided there was no time to waste arguing. "Fine, whatever," she said. "You'd better make it a big glass; this has been a long and tiring series. Of events."
"You can say that again, nyaa~" said Kage. "Alright, let's vamoose." The two youkai flew back out of the furniture store, leaving Sanae and Amaya alone on the bed.
A moment later, Sanae opened her eyes, and then suddenly sat bolt upright. "Shut up, Gary! I deserved that Gym Badge!" she shouted at thin air, before blinking and realizing she was awake. "...huh. I just had the weirdest coma dream." Hearing a sudden movement to her left, Sanae looked over to see Amaya lying beside her. "Amaya? What are you doing he-"
Sanae saw the Black Star Emblem lying in Amaya's lap and froze. Amaya woke up, looked over and saw the White Star Emblem lying in Sanae's lap, and she too froze. Slowly, the two girls turned to look at each other, and what followed was the longest, most awkward silence of their lives. A ball of tumbleweed drifted lazily past the bed. Had either of the girls noticed it, they would have pointed out the improbability of the occurrence, but they were both so busy processing the dramatic plot twist that it was able to roll by unseen.
Finally, the silence was broken by a small cough. "Well.... this is awkward,” said Amaya.
Downtown, Red Moon remained on her rooftop perch, impatiently drumming her fingers against the concrete. “Has it been a day yet?” she asked.
“Not yet!” Hitomi called out.
Red Moon sighed. “The rest of this episode is going to take forever,” she groaned. "Especially since we messed up the timing and put the big reveal at the start of the chapter."
Back at the furniture store, Sanae and Amaya were finally coming to terms with said big reveal. "So all this time you were the villain?!" said Sanae incredulously.
"I wouldn't say I was the villain," said Amaya, fidgeting on the mattress. "I was more like the rival; you know, the Fate Testarossa."
"First of all, Fate Testarossa was the villain, at least initially," retorted Sanae. "Second of all, Fate was in lesbians with the main character! Like, they-get-married-and-have-a-daughter-together kinda lesbians! You're making things worse! I mean, we're lying together on a bed right now, the shippers are already having a field day with this scene!"
Mio, still staring up at Red Moon, paused suddenly, putting her hand to her face. Her nose was bleeding. "I feel... a disturbance in the force..." she whispered.
"Really?" said Hitomi. "I feel a disturbance in my neck from looking up like this for the entire episode." Hitomi lowered her neck with a sharp crack. "Oww... that's better."
"A better comparison would have been the blue-haired girl from Nurse Witch Komugi-chan R," admitted Amaya, "but you said to stop making obscure references."
"Touché," said Sanae.
Silence fell once more, the girls each looking down at their feet, silently contemplating. "So... what now?" asked Sanae eventually.
"I don't want to fight you," said Amaya quietly. "Heck, if I'd known it was you the whole time, I never would have fought you in the first place." She nodded decisively, then turned to Sanae. "We should team up. It'll be easier to fight Red Moon if there's two of us. And besides..." She gave her friend a reassuring smile. "Magical girls don't fight alone."
Sanae returned the smile, a wave of joy rushing over her. "Hell yeah, team-up!" she said. She stuck out her fist, and Amaya gladly fist-bumped her, sealing the deal. "Red Moon is so going down!" added Sanae.
Amaya paused, and the smile slowly began to fade from her face. "...how, though?" she asked. "She's so much more powerful than us. She resisted our strongest attacks and then knocked us both out in one hit."
"There has to be a way," said Sanae defiantly. "The writer wouldn't introduce an enemy that can't be defeated. There's gotta be some kind of foreshadowing in the earlier episodes, that'll tell us how we can still win."
Amaya's mouth fell open. "You don't mean-"
"I'm afraid I do," said Sanae. "It's time to engage the most dreaded of anime tropes: the flashback montage."
"You can’t fight her, Sanae," said Kousen. "You've improved greatly, but you're still no match for a youkai. We have far superior physical strength and endurance, and our bodies are far more efficient at harnessing chi. A fight would be no contest; Red Moon would destroy you without even trying."
“...ultimately Kage was defeated, and I sealed her away inside her own Emblem. However, my powers had been greatly weakened during the fight, and I was close to death. With the last of my strength, I sealed myself away inside my own Emblem, in the hopes that… well, you know the rest," Kousen concluded.
Sanae looked pitifully down at the bandaged girl lying in the bed before her. "Become a magical girl, Sanae," said Kousen, hovering at her shoulder, "or we'll make Rei do it again."
Ciriel grinned down at the injured Black Star. "You don't know the power of the youkai," she declared. "White Star never told you what happened to Kotone."
"She told me enough!" retorted Black Star, gritting her teeth as she tried to struggle back to her feet. "She told me you sent her to the Pit of Eternal Darkness!"
"No," proclaimed Ciriel. "I am Kotone."
Black Star searched her feelings. She knew it to be true. "NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!" she screamed.
"Wait, what was that last one?" asked Amaya.
"Uhh, nothing, nothing!" said Sanae hurriedly. "The official cover story is that Kotone moved back to the Kansai region!" She decided to change the subject quickly before Amaya could ask any further questions. “Anyway, the point is, we know how to defeat Red Moon now! We just have to seal her inside her own Emblem, like Kousen did to Kage!"
Amaya nodded. The plan made sense, and it wasn't even a deus ex machina. "Can we pull it off?" she asked.
"Sure we can!" said Sanae. "We have the power of friendship on our side now! Every magical girl knows that that's the greatest power in the universe!"
Amaya grinned. "That's just the confidence I'd expect from an anime protagonist. We got this."
Sanae nodded, returning the grin. "Let's do it," she said, a second before remembering they were both still half-lying on a king-size bed. "Right... poor choice of words. Let's go."
Sanae grabbed her White Star Emblem, and Amaya grabbed her— “-wait, no, that’s my fidget spinner.” Amaya tossed the plastic object over her shoulder, grabbed the actual Black Star Emblem, and both girls were surrounded in blinding light.
Sanae’s school uniform morphed into a beautiful white knee-length dress with violet lace trim. White thigh-high socks and high-heeled shoes gently enveloped her feet and legs, the straps of the shoes winding their way delicately up her shins. White gloves manifested themselves on her hands, and as the Emblem transformed into the White Star Wand, she clutched it tightly in her right hand. Finally, her hair curled itself into two neat ringlets either side of her head, and her transformation into White Star was complete.
Amaya’s school uniform, meanwhile, morphed into a black minidress with white lace trim. Her shoes morphed into black high heels whose straps wound up her pale shins. Amidst a sudden rush of wind, a black witch's hat manifested itself on top of Amaya's head, and her jet-black fringe swept across one side of her face. Finally, the Emblem transformed into the Black Star Wand, and as Amaya clutched it tightly in her right hand, her transformation into Black Star was complete.
“I hadn’t seen your transformation sequence before this series,” White Star remarked, as the two girls drifted into the air. “It’s pretty cool.”
“Thanks,” Black Star replied. “Yours is pretty cool too, and shorter than I was expecting, considering it’s a filler paragraph.”
"What were you expecting, half a page?" asked White Star. "We don't wanna bore the readers to death. That's why we didn't go with the 'two pages of ellipses' idea for the awkward silence earlier."
"If we don't wanna bore the readers to death, then let's get going already," said Black Star. White Star nodded and soared out of the furniture store, with Black Star following behind, accidentally-on-purpose knocking over a lamp as she passed. Old habits die hard.38: Episode 13: Red Moon Rising (Pt.4)
Downtown, Red Moon was growing ever more impatient. "Ugh, I can't stand just sitting here waiting," she groaned. "I gotta find something to do to keep myself busy until the deadline passes and I can start subjugating you all."
"You could go back to your own realm," suggested Mio. "We'll call you once the deadline passes."
Red Moon wasn't fooled. "Nice try, human," she remarked. "I'm not falling for it this time."
"Watch some TV!" suggested another citizen.
Red Moon reached into her pocket to write "TV" on her list of human curiosities to investigate, then remembered that said list existed. "Oh, yeah, that reminds me," she said, pulling out the list. "I have this list of human words and concepts that I don't know the meaning of. I care not for the trivial pursuits of lesser beings, but if I'm going to be an effective tyrannical ruler, I should at least be able to understand what you're all saying." She squinted at the first item on her list. "What is an 'emo-G'?"
"It means we're about to kick your butt!"
The city fell silent, turning as one towards the horizon. White Star and Black Star were flying straight at Red Moon at intense speed, their skirts billowing behind them, determined smiles on their faces. A deafening cheer rose up from the crowd, almost dislodging Red Moon from her perch; the youkai sneered in disgust and floated back up into the air to confront the magical girls, her affable aura vanishing in an instant. "I thought I already took care of you both," she snapped.
"You thought wrong, Red Moon!" declared White Star. The crowd burst into a fresh round of cheers, and White Star duly turned her attention to them. "Can you take it easy down there, please? I appreciate the cheering and all, but I can't do the whole 'hero's climactic speech' thing if you're interrupting me after every sentence. Thanks." An overzealous fan whooped in reply, and White Star promptly yelled, "Were you even listening?!"
Red Moon rolled her eyes. "I emo-G'd you both in five seconds the last time you fought me," she said. "I can refresh your defective memories with a flashback if you like. What makes you think you can defeat me this time?"
"First of all, please stop saying 'emoji'," said White Star. "Secondly, no flashbacks. I know this episode is running kinda short, but we've already had enough filler. Thirdly, we're not going to fight you this time. We're going to seal you away inside your Emblem, so you can never harm humanity again!"
Red Moon was laughing in derision before White Star had even finished. "Good luck with that!" she chortled. "What in the World Above makes you think you can pull off such a complex spell?"
"We have the power of friendship on our side!" Black Star declared. "The strongest power there is; a power you couldn't possibly comprehend!"
"This is so lame," muttered Nagisa, watching on from below.
"This is so awesome!" said Hitomi, cracking open a bag of popcorn.
"This is so going on Mumblr!" said Mio, her finger a blur as she took picture after picture of the two magical girls.
Red Moon scoffed again. "A power stronger than chi?" she repeated. "You're right, I can't comprehend that at all. But if you fools really think you can pull it off, then go ahead." Red Moon spead her arms wide, grinning at the magical girls, taunting them. "Try it. See what happens. Spoiler alert: nothing."
The magical girls glanced at each other, then returned the grin. "You asked for it," said Black Star, raising her wand.
"Your overconfidence and lack of genre-savviness will be your downfall, Red Moon!" said White Star, raising her own wand in turn. "Ready, Black Star?"
"Ready, White Star," said Black Star.
At the tops of their voices, the two girls yelled, "FINISHING MOVE: YOUKAI-SEALING SPELL!"
A blinding light surrounded the two girls' Emblems, and Red Moon's own Emblem. White Star could feel the chi rushing through her body, her wand vibrating as it channeled the immense amount of energy. Daring to glance to her right, she saw Black Star scowling, then grimacing, her hands trembling as she tried to retain her focus. Red Moon was right about one thing: alone, they would never have been able to pull this spell off. The energy requirements were staggering. But together...
Red Moon's own Emblem began to vibrate, and suddenly her right hand was sucked inside it, disappearing up to her wrist. The youkai's eyes widened as she realized her folly. "What?! No... this can't be happening..." She seized her arm with her remaining hand, trying desperately to pull it free, but she was powerless to resist the pull and soon her arm had been swallowed up to the elbow. She stared wide-eyed at the two magical girls. "How is this possible?!"
"I told you!" said White Star, her voice straining with the effort of sustaining the spell. "The power of friendship... and plot convenience! I suggest you take some time to read up on clichés while you're trapped... it's not like you'll be able to do much else!"
"I know this isn't the time," interrupted Black Star, "but you're really good at this 'heroic speech' stuff."
"Thanks!" said White Star. "I've been practicing."
Red Moon continued to struggle as she was pulled inexorably into her Emblem. "NOOOOOOOOOOOO-" Her voice continued to echo until her stiletto-clad feet sank into the Emblem, and the sealing was complete. The glow faded, the vibration ceased, and the Red Moon Emblem tumbled from the sky and landed with a clatter at the feet of Hitomi.
Watching on from a distant rooftop, bottles of wine clutched in their hands, Kousen and Kage shared a proud smile. "They did good, nyaa~" said Kage.
Even from a distance, the youkai were nearly deafened by the tremendous roar that rose up from the crowd as they realized that Red Moon had been vanquished. It seemed to them that almost every voice in the city was cheering. "Listen to that, Kage," said Kousen. "Does that sound like an ungrateful populace to you?"
Kage shook her head. "You were right, nyaa~" she admitted. "Humans are worth helping after all. Well... most of them."
Kousen did not argue, merely smiling and raising the wine bottle to her lips. "'Most' is good enough," she said.
Meanwhile, at the scene of their latest victory, White Star and Black Star had recovered from their exertions and descended back to street level. Hitomi immediately ran forward and hugged White Star tightly around the midriff. "I knew you could do it!" she exclaimed, overjoyed. "You can do anything!"
"Except die," quipped White Star. "After all-"
"-the heroine never dies in magical girl shows!" completed Hitomi, with a triumphant grin.
"Actually, that's not true." interrupted Black Star. "Evidently neither of you have watched Puella Magi- OOF!" Black Star's lecture was cut short as Hitomi then dashed over and hugged her tightly as well.
"And now you're a hero too, Black Star!" said Hitomi excitedly. "I always thought, why didn't White Star just convince you to become a good guy, and now she has! Hey, maybe I should rename the White Star Fan Club to include you in it!"
"What, the 'White and Black Star Fan Club'?" remarked White Star. "Doesn't exactly roll off the tongue, does it? I guess we'll have to think of a team name for ourselves."
"That's great and all," gasped Black Star, "but can you get her off me first? I can't breathe right now."
"Oh, sorry!" Hitomi released Black Star and stepped back. "Well, I'm glad that's all over! That's the season wrapped up in a nice, neat, cliché-ridden bow!"
"Actually," said Black Star, massaging her ribs, "not quite. There's still one dangling plot thread to take care of."
"Huh? What's that?" asked Hitomi.
Black Star knelt down and picked up Red Moon's fallen Emblem from the asphalt. "What are we going to do with this?"
TO BE CONTINUED...
Hi. This is the author speaking. I hate to use the J-word, but StarLight has been one heck of a journey. I started planning it in October 2012, started writing it in January 2015, and now finally, in July 2017, it's the first original story I've ever actually completed.
But it's not over yet.
Yes, there's a sequel attached to that hook! It's called "StarLight Q", and will start in early 2018. I had an immense amount of fun writing StarLight, but I burnt out on multiple occasions. I need time to recharge, refresh, and make sure I have plot ideas for StarLight Q nailed down so I don't end up having to invent entire episodes from scratch. Again.
In the meantime, a new project will be starting in August, with instalments posted monthly rather than weekly. I'll try and continue Late Bloomer as well. I have a video game I'm working on as well but that's not really a FictionPress thing.
Anyway, thank you all for your support and readership (special shout-out to Brendan Rizzo for reviewing every single chapter and helping me out with brainstorming and such). I'm glad that this series has (for the most part) been well-received. And so, for now, I will leave you with the question Black Star posed, and a question I've been waiting to type for years:
Who would you like to see wielding Red Moon's Emblem?