Starlight - Book 1 in the Starlight Trilogy

After an enjoyably peaceful year living and attending university in the east coast town of Kamogawa in Japan, Meg Momozono finds herself thrust into an exhilarating and terrifying adventure of magical girls, fairies, and gods. And the discovery that not everything can be easily explained by science...

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22. Chapter 22

  With Meg’s room set up to allow her guests a reasonably comfy night involving a spare mattress from one of the other rooms, they settled down to relax for a time. Topaz was napping on Meg’s bed as though he owned the place, much like all cats – and, apparently, catlike spirits who adamantly maintained they were not cats – and Lifa had nipped out to get some fresh air and to stretch her wings, so Emilia introduced the subject of their evening’s exercises.

  “You remember I said I’d teach you how to see at night?” she said to Meg, who nodded.

  “Is that what we’re doing tonight?” Meg replied, perking up. She’d been looking forward to trying this technique for a while. The idea of being able to run across the night-time rooftops made her giddy with excitement, as though she was Batgirl fighting injustice and crime.

  “The ability to see in the dark, you say?” Yasuko said, also perking up, though for entirely different reasons.

  “Here we go again…” Meg muttered, just as her father called up the stairs.

  “You girls fancy some honey toast?” came Kentarou’s voice.

  Now it was Emilia’s turn to perk up. “Honey!?”

  Down in the kitchen, they gathered around the table, where Kentarou had a jar of freshly harvested honey. He grinned at them. “If you’ve never had honey straight from the hives, you haven’t lived!”

  A few minutes passed, during which time Kentarou toasted some slices of bread, placing them on a plate and leaving it on the kitchen table. He nodded at them. “Enjoy! Now, I’m heading to the pub, prior engagement, sorry, girls. Maybe send me a text before visiting next time, Meg?” He bopped his daughter on the head on the way past.

  “Sorry, it was kind of short notice for us as well,” Meg said, waving.

  Once he’d left, the three of them slathered some honey on the crisp and hot bread, then headed back up to Meg’s room, making themselves comfy on the bed.

  “Uh, where was I?” Emilia said, spraying crumbs.

  “Seeing in the dark?” Yasuko prompted.

  “Oh right. As I was saying, it’s super useful being able to see in the dark, but it takes a fair bit of practice,” Emilia continued once she’d swallowed her current mouthful.

  “How does it work?” Meg asked, taking small bites of her toast.

  “All things give off a kind of energy that can be seen by those with magical potential,” Emilia said, finishing her toast and beaming like a catnipped cat. “Have you seen those really old computer games from back when things were all made up of simple lines?”

  Meg indicated she had.

  “You’ll see the world sort of like that, but with more detail. It can be disorienting at first, which is why it’s a mid-level technique not normally taught to beginners.” Emilia leaned back against the pink wallpapered wall, stretching her legs out in front. “Once you’re used to it, you can easily traverse most terrain even if it’s totally dark.”

  “Nothing like our night vision tech, then?” Yasuko said, licking her lips.

  Emilia giggled at this. “Nope, nothing like that green effect. It’s more like a gentle highlighting of shapes and edges.”

  “Cool, can’t wait to try it out. Also, that’s some damn good honey, Meg. Wouldn’t mind a jar for… purposes,” Yasuko said.

  “I’m not even going to ask,” Meg muttered.

  Waiting half an hour for their snacks to settle, during which time Topaz awoke from his slumber and Lifa returned from her undirected wander, they eventually left the house and took a stroll towards Cheddar Gorge.

  The moment they were reasonably far from the village, where there was minimal chance of being spotted by potential evening ramblers, they transformed and took a brief stealth flight to the gorge itself, where they now stood at the village end, a single road snaking between the high rock walls to either side. As the light faded, the sheer rock faces, stepped and detailed, loomed over them, heavy and foreboding.

  Emilia in particular was awestruck. “This is amazing,” she said, turning round and around.

  “Right?” Meg concurred. “Used to love cycling around here, though you have to be super careful.”

  “Why?”

  “Rocks can fall on the road. That’s bad enough in a car, but on a bike? Say bye-bye to your skull, haha,” Meg said.

  “You know, I’m back to thinking that you like danger?” Emilia said, head cocked and an amused expression on her face.

  “I do not!” Meg countered, blushing. “Anyway, weren’t we meant to be training?”

  “Nice deflection,” Yasuko murmured with a brief chuckle.

  Emilia spent a few minutes flying around the area to get a feel for the lay of the land, returning to find only one of her two friends. “Huh? Where’d Meg go?”

  Yasuko scanned the area. “No idea…”

  “Uh, I’m right here?” Meg said.

  Emilia jumped, spinning around to face the direction her friend’s voice had come from. “What the… how did you do that!?

  Stepping forward, Meg returned to being visible. “Um, I’m not sure what I did?”

  “You vanished, my dear Meg,” Yasuko said, grinning; the ability to blend into the background would be quite convenient for a whole host of reasons, she felt.

  Topaz, sitting nearby and licking his fur like a cat might, pointed a paw. “Meg has the power of earth now, yes? This also allows her the ability to blend into anything natural, such as rocks or mud.”

  “How did I even do that when I don’t know I can?” Meg said, cocking her head and staring at Topaz.

  “What were you thinking of?” Topaz asked.

  “Nothing much that I’m aware of. Just that this gorge is still as beautiful as ever,” Meg replied with a shrug.

  “You were focusing on the gorge itself, yes? In which case you put yourself into the right frame of mind to blend into the scenery. To use a cliché phrase, you became one with the earth,” Topaz informed her.

  “Oh. That’s handy,” Meg said, nodding once or twice.

  “Only if you can learn to activate it on demand,” Topaz said.

  “Topaz is correct,” Lifa said, hovering nearby. “New powers are a good thing, but you’ll need to learn a level of proficiency in order to use them correctly, and avoid potential problems.”

  “Why don’t we let Meg practice that first?” Emilia suggested. “If she’s being distracted by a new power, it’ll be hard to teach her another.”

  Topaz cleared his throat. “Now, you’re already aware of your offensive capabilities, at least to a degree. So let’s have you test something a little more passive.”

  Meg stood to attention, ready to jump into action at a moment’s notice.

  “Along with your ability to blend into the background, you should also be able to find people using the same basic ability,” Topaz continued. “The very earth itself is your ally, through which you can search for a particular signature.”

  “Signature?” Meg said, confused.

  “All living things give off a unique magical signature,” Emilia said. “Search magic works by letting you seek out particular signatures, though it’s not the most accurate of things. It’s more for narrowing down to a smaller area to avoid wasting time on large-scale searches.”

  “Sounds similar to what you described for seeing at night,” Yasuko said.

  Emilia pointed at her. “It’s the same basic school of magic, yeah.”

  “Quite so. However,” Topaz said, his feline features once again breaking into one of those disturbing grins he was so fond of, “Meg’s abilities extend beyond that sort of basic magic.”

  “Basic?” Emilia said, surprised. “Search magic is actually a high level ability, Topaz.”

  “But limited by the magic user, yes?”

  “Well… yeah, you can only search to a certain radius, that’s normal. All magic is limited to some degree, because we’re only human, at the end of the day.”

  “Meg might be only human, but her elements are not,” Topaz said, wondering how long it’d be before Emilia worked this out.

  “What are you saying, Topaz?” Yasuko asked.

  “I’m saying that Meg won’t have the same limitations. A regular magic user is limited in the range they can cast magic simply by their own physical limits. But what if you’re using an outside force to boost those limits, hmm?”

  “You mean because she’s linked to you, she can break the normal boundaries?” Emilia said.

  “With training and practice, yes,” Topaz said, returning to licking his fur.

  “Um, I have no real idea what any of this means,” Meg said, raising a hand.

  “Magic users like us have physical limits on what we can do,” Emilia explained. “Physical exercise is a big part of the curriculum at the temple because improving your health improves your magical ability, but there are always hard limits, and some people are just naturally more powerful than others.”

  “Okay…” Meg said, nodding.

  “What Topaz is suggesting, is that because you’re directly linked to him and his elements, you wouldn’t have the same limitations,” Emilia concluded.

  “A-Ahaha, that’s uh… terrifying?” Meg muttered. “You mean I could cause even more damage if I ever lost control again?”

  “I don’t want to worry you, Meg, but yeah, possibly,” Emilia said, placing a comforting hand on her friend’s shoulder.

  “To put it into context,” Topaz said, “Emilia might be able to use search magic to locate someone ten miles away. Meg could potentially find them around the other side of the planet.”

  “Eeeh!?” came Emilia’s response. “That’s crazy!”

  “She merely needs to tap into the very earth itself and, as it were, ask for assistance. There shouldn’t be anything surprising about this, surely? I’m not suggesting she could do this right now, of course,” Topaz said, shaking his head. “But it’s certainly possible.”

  “What about Yacchan?” Meg asked.

  “The same. However, with Blue’s power being so limited due to the strain he’s under, Yasuko won’t have the same access, even if she could harness it without training first.” Topaz got to his paws and gave Emilia a glance. “In any case, Meg won’t be able do anything if we don’t get on.” He therefore had both Emilia and Yasuko fly off and hide themselves somewhere out of sight, while remaining relatively close by.

  “Now,” Topaz continued, “place a hand to the ground, Meg, and focus on your friends. See if you can locate them without my help.”

  Nodding, Meg closed her eyes and concentrated, crouching down and touching a finger to the rough, grassy surface beneath her feet. “Okay, let’s go for Emilia first…” she murmured, bringing her friend’s face to mind.

  At first, nothing happened. Meg therefore concentrated harder, thinking of her partner in as much detail as she could; hair, face, outfit, build, everything. Still nothing. Opening her eyes and standing, Meg tapped a finger to her chin, in time to the simultaneous tapping of an irritated foot. “Mm, okay, that’s not working. Which is odd.”

  “Why is it odd?” asked Topaz.

  “Because my other powers all seem to work by visualisation, right? So why doesn’t this one?”

  “I couldn’t say,” Topaz said, his expression neutral.

  Meg glared at him, but said nothing. She closed her eyes once more and tried to think of other options. Okay, so visualisation wasn’t working. What else did she know about her powers? That they could go out of control if she didn’t stay calm. And staying calm was all about controlling…

  “My emotions, huh?” she whispered, smiling. “All right, how do I feel about Emilia?”

  Now something happened. A faint pulse, an amber colour in her mind’s eye, spreading out in… that direction!

  Meg jumped into the air and flew directly at Emilia, landing on top of one of the enormous rocky outcroppings that lined both sides of the gorge. “Found you!”

  Emilia got to her feet and hugged her friend. “You did great, Meg. Most new girls at the temple take a few months to master search magic, though you have an advantage or two over them, haha.”

  “Thanks!” Meg said, beaming with pride. “Time to find Yacchan.” This time it was easier, now she knew roughly what she was doing, and because she’d known her best friend for over a year by now and understood her feelings better when it came to her.

  A minute or two later she stood with her other friend on the other side of the gorge, hidden behind a large boulder at ground level.

  “You got me,” Yasuko said, stepping out. “Looks like this’ll be a handy power.”

  “Yep! Though because it relies on how I feel about someone, I’m not sure how well it’ll work for finding Nami’el or the other two,” Meg said, jumping back into the air and flying with Yasuko to where Topaz was chatting to Emilia.

  “She found me!” Yasuko said, touching down nearby.

  “Excellent,” Topaz said. “You each have many tools in your arsenal, be sure to use them. And practice using them! Never was there a professional artists or musician or soldier who maintained their position without regular training. The same goes for each of you, though I doubt I need to belabour the point with Emilia, at least.”

  “Hey, I spend all day every day drawing cute girls, Paz, I’m as professional as it gets,” Yasuko said, nodding sagely.

  “… Paz?” said the cat, a brief halo of angry red materialising around his body.

  “You’re a member of the team now, you need a proper nickname!” Yasuko stated.

  “And you believe ‘Paz’,” Topaz spat, “to be appropriate for a powerful, nay, godlike spirit such as I? Honestly, this is why I hate water types.”

  “Paz happens to be the name of a character in one of my favourite anime, there’s nothing wrong with it,” Yasuko added, looking a little downcast for possibly the first time Emilia had ever seen.

  Emilia interrupted before their very own red versus blue conflict erupted, like some of those multiplayer games she’d once tried. “All right, let’s get on with this, it’s more than dark enough now.” Her partners became attentive. “As magic users, we’re attuned to the natural energies of the world. We can tap into those to do things ordinary people can’t. It’s a bit like those birds, they home in on things? I forget the name…”

  “Pigeons?” Meg suggested.

  “Those, yeah! I saw something about them using magnets to navigate. What we do is kind of similar,” Emilia said.

  “Magnetic field, not magnets,” Yasuko corrected her. “And that’s probably not true anyway, current theory is that they navigate by smell.”

  “How do you even know this?” Meg asked.

  “I like birds,” Yasuko said with a shrug.

  “We’re well aware of the type of bird you like, Yacchan…” Meg said in a low tone.

  “It doesn’t matter much anyway, it’s enough that you understand what I’m getting at,” Emilia interjected again before things got out of hand. “This is a good location to practice since it’s so quiet. You’ll need to concentrate a lot at the start. Trying this in a city would be impossible, there’s just too many random things intruding into your consciousness, at least until you’re experienced enough to tune them out.”

  Directing the two of them to close their eyes and visualise the landscape as best they could, Emilia walked them through the process of attuning their minds to the magic flowing through the world.

  “Can you sense it?” Emilia asked, receiving a negative from Meg.

  Yasuko, however, had opened her eyes and was now looking about with an expression of surprise, her eyes barely visible by their wet highlights in the gloom of night. “This is… different.”

  “You’ve already got the hang of it? I’m impressed!” Emilia said, nodding at her. “You’ve always come across as really clear-headed, Yacchan, that gives you an advantage when manipulating magic.”

  “With age comes maturity and wisdom, Emicchi,” Yasuko replied.

  “And smugness,” Meg muttered. “Mm, okay, this is tricky. I keep picking up the four of you instead.”

  “I figured as much,” Emilia said. “Your new earth powers are interfering. It’s okay if you’re struggling, we can try again when we get home, but we’d need to find somewhere quiet. Starlight City could work, now I think about it.”

  “Sounds like a plan,” Meg said, and stopped concentrating; her head already ached from focusing on her new powers, adding more stress didn’t seem wise.

  “Shall we head back to Meg’s place?” Yasuko said. “I expected this to take longer, to be honest.”

  “Might as well,” Meg said, jumping into the air.

  A short flight saw them landing in the house’s rear garden, well away from the bee hives; they didn’t want to go upsetting Kentarou’s pride and joy. In Meg’s room, Yasuko collapsed onto the mattress Meg had laid beside the bed, letting her two friends jump into Meg’s together after getting into their pyjamas.

  Under the lightweight duvet, Emilia shuffled a bit closer and took the plunge on something she’d wanted to try for a while. “Um, Meg?”

  “What’s up?” Meg said, eyes closed.

  “There’s something I’d like to share with you, if you’re up for it?”

  Meg’s eyes flicked open, glowing with interest. “What sort of something?”

  “Mm, a memory, I guess you could call it?” Emilia hazarded. It was difficult explaining something that came naturally to her but didn’t exist in any form in this world.

  “Sounds neat! What do I need to do?”

  “You need to be almost asleep,” Emilia said, her cheeks warming for reasons Meg couldn’t work out.

  “That’s fine, but why are you blushing?”

  “Because there’s another way I could share, but it’s not really something I can suggest,” Emilia murmured.

  Meg stiffened. She just knew, knew without being told, that Yasuko’s ears had pricked up immediately. “Mind, gutter, Yasuko!”

  “I’m not listening in or anything, don’t worry about me,” Yasuko said from her mattress on the floor.

  “I’ll be happy to share with you as well, Yacchan, it’s just really draining and I can only do one person at a time,” Emilia called over from her position near the wall.

  This made Meg slap a hand over her face. “Way to give her even more ammunition…”

  “So that’s a ‘no’ to the possibility of a threesome, huh? Damn. You’re breaking my heart here, Emicchi!” Yasuko replied, laughing uncontrollably.

  “Is there nothing Yacchan can’t ruin?” Emilia murmured.

  “If there is, I haven’t found it yet,” Meg said, laughing. “So I’m guessing the other option is, um, something a bit more… intimate?”

  “A lot more intimate,” Emilia corrected. “There’s two ways to share memories. The way I’m going to do it tonight, and the way where you… make love. If it was just two ways to do the same thing, that’d be okay, but it’s actually really different, and I’d love to show you properly, but…”

  “The family friendly version is fine!” Meg said, her own cheeks matching those of her friend.

  Emilia okayed her and had Meg relax as much as possible, closing her eyes with the intention of sleeping.

  It took a good half an hour of silence and trying not to imagine what Emilia might show her, but eventually Meg was sufficiently far gone for Emilia to begin.

  Emilia held Meg’s hand and concentrated, closing her eyes as a purple glow appeared around their clasped hands. The room faded out of existence, replaced by a velvety blackness, like space with the stars erased. And rushing towards them both, a scene of gold and orange and green.

  Meg found herself standing in a desert of deepest auburn, a heat haze sitting across the land like the air over a scalding hot summer pavement. In the distance, lights sparkled and glittered under the purple dusk sky, and to one side, a beautiful desert oasis with trees similar to palms and crystal clear water. As vivid as the scene looked, though, there was no scent, the lack of smells from the trees or water or even the boiling hot sands making for an oddly… flat panorama.

  The scene faded back to black and Meg opened her eyes, followed by rubbing them with both hands to remove the sense of disorientation she felt. “That was beautiful! Is that your home?”

  “A place just outside Nassalia, yeah. That’s the city you saw on the horizon,” Emilia said. “A few of us from the temple would go to that oasis and spend the evening talking and guzzling fizzy drinks. You remember I told you that part of our training was just spending evenings discussing things like philosophy? The oasis is where we’d do that a lot of the time.”

  “We should do that one day! I’m not sure there are any oases in Japan, haha, but maybe we could substitute for a hot spring or something?” Meg said once her vision had returned to normal.

  “I’d like that,” Emilia said with a smile.

  “You said it’s a different experience if you make love?” Meg added, rubbing her eyes.

  “From what I’ve been told,” Emilia said, nodding. “I asked Mama once, because she’d mentioned sharing with Papa. She said it’s sort of like the difference between looking at a picture of a grassy field, and standing there in person.”

  “Wow, that’s a pretty major difference. Is that why I couldn’t smell anything?”

  “Yep. I’ve always wanted to share with someone, but… well, you know…” Emilia muttered.

  “I’m guessing it needs to be someone special, not just a… uh, a one night stand kind of deal?” Meg said.

  “It’s not so different to using our powers. So while you can share a memory like that with someone you don’t know very well and don’t have much attachment to…”

  “It might result in bad things happening?”

  Emilia nodded. “Kind of. Nightmares would be an improvement over the sorts of things your partner could experience if there’s no emotional connection to them.”

  “Youch…” Meg shuddered. Then a thought occurred. “Hang on, I just remembered something…”

  “Mm?”

  “When I had that nightmare at Mum’s place. When we visited Starlight City?”

  “Ah… yeah.”

  “I had a really nice dream, but I still don’t remember what it was about. All I recall is that I felt super refreshed when I woke up. Was that thanks to you?”

  Emilia shrunk a little, avoiding eye contact. “Um, yeah, I might’ve shared a few memories while you slept. Was that bad?”

  “Why would it be?”

  “Well… I did it without permission, which is normally a really serious crime in my world. But you were having nightmares, and I wanted to help…” Emilia murmured, fidgeting like mad.

  Meg gave Emilia a tight hug. “Thanks, I appreciate the sentiment!”

  “While we’re on the subject, do you make love the same way we do?” Yasuko asked, clearly still awake.

  “Eh? O-Of course we do!” Emilia said, disentangling herself from Meg’s warm embrace.

  “So all your bits and pieces are the same as ours?” Yasuko added.

  “Yes! Jeez…”

  “Haha, sorry, just checking. I like to be certain of these things.”

  Emilia sighed. “Are you seriously already plotting how to ravish girls from my world if you ever meet any?”

  “Maybe…”

  Another sigh. “I didn’t even need to ask, did I.”

  “Is this psychic connection thing something everyone can do? Or just magic users?” Yasuko added.

  “Mostly just magic users. Though we can share memories with anyone, even non-magic users, as long as that emotional connection exists. There have been cases of people tried for crimes relating to… um, effectively mind rape, I guess? It’s a really serious crime, for reasons I shouldn’t need to explain.”

  “Why are there always people who take wonderful gifts and do stupid things with them?” Meg said, shaking her head.

  “There’ll always be people like that,” Yasuko said. “Especially if it’s something that can be used to control others, or to give you serious power. Then there’s the people who’d consider the three of us to be monsters because of our powers. Just a sad fact of life, I’m afraid.”

  “Monsters? Us?” Meg said, sitting up and pointing to herself with a look of horror on her face. “But we’re the good guys! Uh, girls! Whatever, you know what I mean!”

  “Sure, but look at it from the point of view of someone without these powers,” Yasuko countered, raising herself on an elbow. “If even one of us went rogue, how much damage do you think we could cause? Do I even need to ask?” She stared at Meg, who blushed.

  “Remember I told you before about people awakening late?” Emilia said. “This is why Galaisin are sent to deal with them. Suddenly being given that amount of power goes to a person’s head more often than you might imagine. That’s why the temples exist, and why Galaisin are trained from an early age to control their powers and their emotions.”

  Meg looked thoroughly dejected. “I can’t believe anyone would think of me as a monster. That’s really horrible.”

  “Not something you normally see in magical girl shows, huh?” Yasuko commented with a shrug.

  “I can see why!” Meg stated, her brows furrowed. She thought back to her first ever encounter with Tear. He’d been annoyed at her calling the elementals monsters. At the time, she hadn’t thought much of it, but now… now she had some idea of why he had been angry with her.

  “Well, we might get lucky in the event people find out, but you should definitely be prepared, Meg. The chances of people being all happy and accepting are pretty low in general,” Yasuko concluded.

  “I’m going to remain positive,” Meg said firmly. “Especially in Japan, people are less flappable than other countries.”

  “What do you think the response would be if Godzilla showed up for real?” Yasuko added with a wink.

  “They’d probably hope there were some cute girls with super powers around to help them!” Meg snapped, fuming at her best friend’s annoyingly calm demeanour in the face of human stupidity.

  “Care to place a bet?”

  “No! But I will anyway, because I’m not as jaded as you,” Meg said, her annoyed expression making way for one of resignation. “Thousand yen says people will be okay with us, even if it takes a little while.”

  “I’m not sure that’s a valid bet when you’re hedging on the outcome, my dear, but okay, I’ll go for that,” Yasuko said, shaking hands to seal the deal.

  “I’m not sure which of you is going to win this,” Emilia said. “On the one hand, you girls have shown me a wonderful side of your world. But on the other… I’ve seen first-hand the sorts of awful things people do to each other here. I think I’m going to side with Meg, though, because I prefer to believe in a better world.”

  “That’s fair,” said Yasuko, and dropped back down to lie flat, staring at the darkened room’s ceiling. “To be honest, I hope you win, Meg. But we’ll see.”

  With that, they tried to sleep.

 

***

 

  Next morning, they said goodbye to their impromptu host, sitting around the kitchen table for some breakfast before heading out.

  “Lovely meeting you, Ken,” Yasuko said, polishing off her honey-drizzled cereal. “Thanks for the hospitality on such short notice!”

  “Any friend of Meg’s is welcome in our humble home,” Kentarou said, beaming.

  “And what about Meg herself?” said Meg, pointing at her own face.

  Emilia took Meg’s hand. “I’m your friend, so wouldn’t a friend of a friend be okay?”

  Kentarou burst out laughing. “Good answer! I’m looking forward to seeing you both again, look after my daughter, not that I think she needs it.”

  They agreed to do so, at which point they headed out to keep up appearances; it wouldn’t do to run to the bathroom and use a mirror to zip back to Japan, that might be stretching their cover a little too much. Instead, they ran back to the abandoned shack where they’d arrived.

  Emilia touched a hand to the glass of the single window in the rickety wooden wall. Meg picked up Topaz in one arm and touched her other to Emilia’s outstretched palm. Yasuko took Lifa and did the same, and with a flash and a pop, they vanished, arriving back at the mansion’s Mirror Room.

  Blue was already there, sleeping one off in the corner with a large pipe sticking out of the side of his mouth. The arrival of the girls awoke him from his slumber. “Mm? Oh, welcome back, babes! Auspicious timing indeed,” he said, puffing on his smouldering pipe.

  “Auspicious?” Emilia said. “Great. What happened now?”

  “Something you might want to look at,” Blue said, pulling up an image on one of the many mirrors. It zoomed into one of Kamogawa’s many commercial streets, showing the girls a birds eye view of a veritable throng of people.

  Beyond the crowd, standing behind a line of police tape, several blue-uniformed officers of the local force had congregated around something large splayed in the middle of the road. Something familiar.

  Meg gasped. “Is that…?”

  “It is,” Emilia said with a sigh.

  The smooth carapace of an elemental shone under the morning sun, the creature’s limbs crumpled in unnatural positions, as though it had appeared at height and tumbled to the ground. Several cracks in the asphalt seemed to confirm this.

  “Going to be a lot of annoyed people around pretty soon, I imagine,” Yasuko muttered. “Surprised they’re all awake, actually.”

  Meg sighed. “Well, we’re screwed. This’ll be all over the news within the hour!”

  “Is that bad?” Emilia asked.

  “You’ve seen enough of our world by now to know the answer to that, surely?” Yasuko said.

  “Yeah, but it’s not like anyone knows we’re involved at all,” Emilia countered.

  “Not yet, but how much harder do you think it’ll be to deal with any elementals those three summon if everyone’s on edge because a real life monster appeared on the news?” Meg said.

  “Oh… I hadn’t thought of that,” Emilia said, blushing a little. “In my world, monsters are commonplace things. I sometimes forget people here panic at the first sign of anything out of the ordinary.”

  “Fortunately, Japanese people tend to be a lot more organised in how they panic,” Yasuko said, chuckling. “Not like all the rioting and things that happen in western countries.”

  Meg detected a hint of accusation in her friend’s tone. “Don’t look at me like that! It’s not my fault.”

  “Do people really do that?” Emilia asked, aghast.

  “More often than I like to admit, yes,” Meg muttered. “Anyway, time I was home, got uni this afternoon.” She exited the room and headed downstairs, followed by Yasuko and Emilia, who joined her out on the pavement just outside the mansion’s gates, leaving Topaz to settle in at his new home.

  “See you later, and keep an eye on the news!” Meg said, waving as she ran off up the street, eager to avoid further probing on the deficiencies of her home country.

  Yasuko emitted another chuckle. “Flustered Meg is just the cutest thing.”

  “She’s cute pretty much all the time,” Emilia said. “It’s a nice word, cute. We don’t really have an equivalent in my language.”

  “You don’t? Maybe it’s time for an update?” Yasuko suggested with a wink.

  “Maybe…” Emilia said, vaguely staring after Meg until she was out of sight. “See you, Yacchan.” She headed through the gates and back into the mansion.

  Yasuko spent a moment studying Emilia’s gorgeous beige-toned hair, then turned her attention to where Meg had vanished around a distant corner. Then she shrugged and walked home.

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