Project Kawaii: Scramble War!
(an original magical girl fic)
By Ammadeau

~amm/

Episode 9: The Obligatory Setup Episode!

***

The normally peaceful monks of an order unknown to the
outside world had recently become distinctly agitated. For their
remote monastery had been built on what they called 'The Pulse of
the World.' Mere words failed convey the sheer perfection of this
rhythm, filling the ears of a monk after decades of training and
meditation. For with it came true peace and enlightenment.
For as long as the eldest monk could remember, the Pulse
had been a steady, complex rhythm. It repeated the same overall
pattern like a mantra, but with small variations as the Earth itself
grew and changed. Recently, something had disrupted that pattern;
a discordant note suddenly appearing amongst a wave of perfect
resonance. It had taken a week without sleep for the monks to
locate the source of this disturbance; the epicenter of the event that
was throwing off the world's own heartbeat. Now came the
problem of what to do about it.
"We must travel to this town and do what we can to prevent
this disharmony," one of the younger monks, only being in his late
forties, suggested firmly. Lack of sleep had awaked his youthful
aggressiveness, not to mention putting him a bit on edge.
The others, who had gathered to discuss the problem,
gasped in shock at such a bold suggestion. Once a monk became
attuned to the Pulse of the Earth, the outside world was given up
on forever, as inaccessible as the moon.
One of the older monks, who didn't see the point of keeping
track of his age past one hundred, replied, "We who have heard the
Pulse can never leave this monastery. It has been this way for as
long as our recorded history. Besides, can you live without the
divine song for more than a few moments?"
The young monk flinched, realizing the words of his
ancient brethren were true. The thought of doing without the Pulse
of the World and going back to his old unenlightened self was
almost too much to bear. In his former life, he had been a salary
man stuck with a terrible job and an even worse wife. Only with
the aid of the Pulse was he able to find harmony in his life.
"What is there that any one of us could do to cure this
problem anyway?" another monk, only in his late seventies,
pointed out. "For something to create a disturbance of this
magnitude, it must be truly powerful."
"There is only one thing we can do," the head monk, who
had been silent up to this moment, finally spoke. He looked like a
well-preserved man in his eighties, but no one was sure how old he
truly was. For as long as any of the other monks could remember,
he had been there to guide them down the path of the divine Pulse.
"We must petition her for aid."
The other monks stared at him in surprise for several
moments before nodding, realizing how true his words were.
There was simply no other solution. With that decided, the monks
immediately fell unconscious from extreme exhaustion.

As frilly curtains stirred in the gentle morning breeze, Emi
carefully studied the items she had laid out on her bed. It had
taken all night, but she had managed to narrow down her vast
selection of cute things to these few. Choosing for herself would
have been easy; she already had a mental list of which accessories
went best with which outfit. Right now, however, she was looking
for the perfect object of kawaii, the keystone on which to build a
solid foundation of cute for her best friend in the world: Ju-chan.
Emi frowned as her eyes swept over shiny shoes, frilly
socks, assorted bows and ribbons, and even a heart-shaped makeup
case which had a large crystal embedded into it for some reason.
Over a dozen items in all and each had the potential to be the first
step on Ju-chan's road to kawaii, but which would be the perfect
one? This was just too important for Emi to risk messing up.
"It's time for school now, Emi-chan," Tamiko informed her
young charge as she appeared by her side. She carefully rested her
hand on the little girl's shoulder, not wanting to wrinkle her pretty
dress; a dress she herself had made for Emi-chan's last birthday
party and something she knew the precious angel only wore on
special occasions. Tamiko couldn't help wondering if she should
make another one for Yoji... for when he needed to disguise
himself as Emi-chan of course. "I know you don't want to be late."
"Tamiko-san?" Emi asked shyly. Her parents had always
encouraged her to make her own decisions in order to grow into a
strong and resourceful young woman, but she didn't want to hurt
Ju-chan by making the wrong choice. "If you had a friend who
wanted to start small in becoming cute, what would you give her?"
"It so happens that I have a similar problem," Tamiko
admitted with a faint blush. With a flick of her wrist, she plucked
a hair clip made to resemble a butterfly in mid-flight out of thin air.
It was detailed to the point that it was more a work of art than a
fashion accessory. "I was going to give this to Yoj... I mean you,
but why don't you let your friend have it instead?"
"It's perfect! Thank you, Tamiko-san!" Emi exclaimed in
glee as she hugged the older woman in appreciation. The hair clip
was small and could go with virtually any outfit. It should also be
something that Ju-chan can get used to wearing easily, so they
could move onto the next step really soon.
"You're welcome, Emi-chan," Tamiko said with a smile
while she considered mentioning having another child with her
husband again. He was so cute when he blushed; still embarrassed
by the fact that she had basically seduced him into becoming her
husband. That had caused a whole horde or problems, but she still
firmly believed that everything had worked out for the best. "Now
hurry along to school."
"Right!" Emi agreed immediately, giving Tamiko a quick
kiss on the cheek before setting the hair clip the box she had ready
and waiting, securing that with a bow, and finally dashing out of
her room in the direction of the waiting limo.

"Sidekick," Junko muttered under her breath as she glanced
over at Emi's still thankfully vacant chair. Deforesting a small
section of the nearby woodlands with magically enhanced punches
and kicks had cooled her rage somewhat, but she couldn't easily
forget the sheer arrogance of that wannabe magical girl to insist
that she, the genuine article, was her sidekick. All those morons
that preferred flash over substance must have inflated Emi's
already huge ego even more. What she needed was a good swift
puncture in her pride to let all that hot air out.
*I am unfamiliar with this term 'sidekick,'* Akito spoke in
his host's mind, mildly concerned that her current agitated state
might overcome the blocks in place to keep her from transforming
in public. Never before had he served someone capable of such
rage, and also possessing the will to act upon it. Perhaps it was the
fact that she was half-human. They did seem to be a violent
culture. *Why does being referred to as such incite your anger?*
*A sidekick is a joke,* Junko thought with a snort, having
seen their antics many a time in her own discount anime collection.
*They never get to fight or anything cool. They usually show up
to give the person their powers and try to help advise the main
character, but always end up as lame comedy relief. Emi is the
silly useless one here, not me!*
*That sounds like my function...,* Akito replied hesitantly.
*Right,* Junko agreed with a small nod.
Further mental conversation was interrupted as Emi finally
made her entrance in class, only moments before the bell, much to
everyone's surprise. While she was never first, always waiting for
a decent-sized audience to build up beforehand, the cute little
blonde girl was still careful to be punctual and maintain her perfect
attendance record.
"Good morning, everyone!" Emi shouted with a grin as she
helped Usagi-kun in her arms to hold a small package he held in
his, the latter being much too puny for the job. The stuffed bunny
looked like he was trying his best though.
Junko glared at the cute little blonde brat who thought the
whole world was her sidekick; everyone was there for her own
amusement while she was the sole star of the show. Emi didn't
want a friend, what she wanted was a stooge who would submit to
her ridiculous demands. She had probably been laughing to herself
when she made Junko wear that silly pink dress, doing it just to
humiliate the plain girl. She might as well have enjoyed it because
that would be the last time Junko would submit to the sadistic girl's
kawaii torture. She would have to find another dress up doll.
Whispered speculation began to circulate over the contents
of the simple white box secured with a bright red bow that Emi
held so carefully. Yet another gift form one of her many admirers,
a present for the teacher, or a special surprise for the whole class
were some of the more popular guesses. One of the bolder
students put the question to the source, asking Emi nervously,
"Emi-san... what's in the box?"
"It's a present for my best friend, Ju-chan!" Emi exclaimed
before doing a sudden somersault in the air, to land gracefully
before Junko's desk where she carefully deposited her gift with a
small curtsey. Her eyes were on her friend, not even
acknowledging the applause of her fellow students that filled the
air around her.
Junko glared at the box as if trying to reduce it to ash from
the power of her stare, not realizing the faint trails of steam now
rising from her clenched fists hidden under her desk. The plain
girl didn't need x-ray vision to know that the thing inside was yet
another attempt by this devious girl to humiliate her. Only this
time, Junko wasn't going to fall for it. She didn't care that the other
students were now gathered around her desk to watch. Junko was
going to stand up to the pushy spoiled kawaii menace for once and
tell her just what she could do with her 'gift.'
"Please everyone take your seats. It's time for class to
begin," Shoko Matsuno announced as she strode into the room,
looking more like a businesswoman than a teacher in her
conservative clothes and stiff walk.
Shoko was secretly pleased to see everyone grouped around
Junko's desk. She had worried that the new transfer would be
ignored by her fellow students, even after Emi had taken a liking to
her. However, after a slow start, she finally seemed to be fitting in.
"And what's that on your desk, Junko-san?"
"It's a present from Emi," Junko replied flatly, narrowing
her eyes at the teacher's sudden interruption of her impending
tirade. She was finally armed and ready to tell her smug highness
off, but someone had to interfere. Maybe the world really did
revolve around Emi after all.
"That was nice of her. Why don't you open it and show the
class what it is?" Shoko asked with a smile. This could be just the
thing to get the class interested in a student who seemed
determined to play the loner. As her teacher, Shoko felt it was her
duty to aid Junko in forming close bonds with others during this
critical time in her development. A gift from the most popular girl
in school could be just the thing to win the approval of her fellow
classmates.
For the first time, Junko wished she were back in her old
school. The lessons there had been a lot less interesting, but at
least everyone had left her alone. Her mother had instilled enough
manners in her not to talk back to a teacher though, so with a small
sigh, Junko unraveled the bow and opened the box.
At first, Junko thought that Emi had given her a dead
butterfly; a hobby that seemed oddly appropriate for the cute-
obsessed girl. As she examined it closer, however, she realized it
was completely artificial, but with an elegant design that
shimmered as she gently lifted it up to the light. A hair clip, she
noted then, which seemed too mundane a purpose for something
that had been so lovingly crafted. Junko had been dreading
something cute, but this was a work of art.
"Do you like it Ju-chan?" Emi asked with some concern,
unable to tell if Junko approved of her present or not. Her pseudo-
aunt had always been right in the past, but her new best friend was
a very unique person. "Tamiko-san made it herself."
"Yes, it's beautiful," Junko replied in awe before catching
herself. "That is if you like that sort of thing... It really doesn't suit
me though, so you'd better have it back Emi."
"Nonsense," Shoko disagreed, snatching up the hair clip
before Junko could return it, and therefore ruin her chances with
the rest of the class who were rather fond of the enthusiastic blonde
student. They might misunderstand, thinking that Junko didn't
appreciate such a generous gift. The teacher carefully clipped the
mock butterfly to her new student's hair and said cheerfully,
"There! I think it suits you well, Junk-san. It makes you look very
mature. Don't you think so class?"
"You look great, Ju-chan!" Emi enthused with all the
excitement she could muster, nearly deafening her fellow
classmates. She now understood that Junko was only being shy
when she tried to return the present. Her expression as she had
pulled the hair clip from the box showed how much she really
liked it. Confidence was the key in her friend's cute
transformation.
Emi's own enthusiasm spread like an infection to the rest of
the class, who, once they had regained their hearing, all loudly
voiced their approval of Junko's new look.
The plain girl just slumped forward in defeat. The fact that
the only sympathetic pair of eyes were stitched to a stuffed toy
bunny only made her feel worse.

Kozo marched down the halls of IHI with a spring in his
step and a grin plastered to his face. While his luck had ranged
from simply bad to disastrous lately, the executives normally in
charge of the construction division had come out of the hospital
and he was finally returning to his own peaceful, nonexistent
division. The changing of the executive guard had taken the latter
part of the day, with Kozo sweating and pretending like he knew
what he was talking about the entire time, but he just couldn't leave
work for the day without gazing upon his real office once more.
"Did you miss me, girl?" Kozo asked as he hugged his
large oaken desk. It had been special ordered by another executive
trying to pull a fast one on the company. When he had been
caught, Kozo had taken it upon himself to give the expensive piece
of office furniture a good home. He treated it well by doing
absolutely no work on it. "Don't worry, because I'm staying right
here and won't leave you alone ever again."
"Mr. Kitaue?" asked an office lady in a startled tone. She
stared at him strangely from the doorway that he had foolishly left
open, the files she had dropped in her surprise scattered at her feet.
"I was just err... making sure no one was damaging
company property while I was gone," Kozo lied nervously, his
earlier good mood now dented by his embarrassment. "Don't want
to waste the company's precious resources."
The woman obviously didn't believe him, not that he had
expected her to. "Now I know why no one knew how to find your
office...," she commented as she knelt down to retrieve the dropped
files. "I was only sent to inform you that the presidents wish to
speak with you before you leave for the day."
"Mr. and Mrs. Ishiyama want to talk... with me?" Kozo
asked fearfully, tempted to hide behind his precious desk from this
harbinger of bad news. There were just so many terrible
possibilities for the reason behind this little chat that he didn't
know which to be scared of most.
The office lady nodded as she backed away from him
slowly, not making any sudden moves. Once she judged herself a
safe distance away, she dashed out of sight, shouting, "Well, my
job here is done... and I won't mention your furniture fetish to
anyone. Bye now!"
Kozo nearly banged his head on the desk, but stopped
himself in time and banged his head on the wall instead, though
only for a few moments because he knew it was pointless. This
wasn't like a memo he could pretend had gotten lost, and besides
he knew better than to play that game when the presidents handed
down a summons. There was no choice but to face the music.
Despite his resolve, Kozo took the scenic route to the
concert hall with the hope that this wouldn't be his swan song. It
was easy for him to logically accept the inevitable. Emotionally on
the other hand, he still had some reservations. He knew that he
could quite easily leave and never return. His home planet, which
he had yet to actually step foot on, couldn't be that bad. There
might even be a cute girl just like Emi-chan there, which he could
build a new and better shrine for.
It was thoughts of his niece that kept him on track, or more
specifically, it was thoughts of what she, along with her mother
and grandmother, would do to him if he even attempted to abandon
her. Trying to take Junko with him would most likely result in a
similar fate, as his sister-in-law hadn't agonized over leaving
behind her only child just for him to show up with her a few weeks
later. Facing the two Ishiyamas was definitely mild by
comparison.
"They've been expecting you. Please go right in," the
secretary said when he nervously introduced himself, and
inadvertently crushed his hopes of a long wait to calm his nerves.
Kozo nodded, swallowed the lump in his throat, and went inside.
The full glow of the afternoon sun steamed through the
glass wall that backed the cavernous presidents' office, two stories
tall and twice as wide. The wall appeared completely black from
the outside, allowing for a cheery atmosphere while ensuring
complete privacy. Kozo, however, felt completely exposed as he
made his way across the thick carpet towards the two massive
desks and the people who studied him intently from behind them.
"Please take a seat, Mr. Kitaue," Ryuji offered Kozo. The
man looked a bit stunned, though he supposed it was
understandable considering the sort of image he and his wife had
amongst their employees. It wasn't anything they had intently tried
to cultivate, but it did have its uses. "There is much to do today so
I think we'd all prefer to get this over as swiftly as possible."
"Yes, sir," Kozo managed to reply without stuttering as he
assumed the seat indicated. The chair had been designed by IHI's
own R&D department to set a person at ease, but the earth-bound
alien was much too tense at the moment to enjoy it. He knew he
was about to be fired and didn't have much in the way of savings.
Maybe he and his niece could join a traveling circus to get by.
Hime Star-chan could be a daring trapeze artist while he would fit
in with the rest of the clowns.
"We temporarily reassigned you to the construction
division since you were the only executive readily available,"
Michiko spoke in a commanding tone that immediately grabbed
his attention. "That made us realize despite you being a division
head, we haven't had much contact with you since you were hired;
which as I recall now, was at the request of the government."
Kozo willed himself not to shake. Worse than just being
fired, they were going to force him to pay back all the funds that he
had written off over the years; falsified reports of expenditures to
keep up the illusion that the troubleshooting division actually
existed. And he had no idea how to get that money since it never
actually existed. Since the reports had only gone to the president,
the financial division never allocated him any funds beyond his
own salary.
"We have also just received a call from the construction
division on your performance, and also an evaluation from the
mayor's office about your temporary reassignment," Ryuji added,
quickly flipping through the report in question. "To be frank, we
were rather surprised by what they had to say about you. Even our
own daughter had a few words on your behalf due to her brief stay
over at your apartment."
*You're a dead man now, Kozo,* he thought glumly. In his
entire life, no one had ever had something truly positive to say
about him. The most teachers in high school would say to his
parents was 'Kozo is a good person,' which he always translated as
'utter failure.' The presidents finding out about his small Emi-chan
obsession was just the final nail in the coffin.
"So we are dissolving the troubleshooting division
immediately," Michiko spoke, blinking in surprise as their
employee looked as if she had just handed him a death sentence.
She thought there was a slight possibility that he might
have misunderstood the purpose of this meeting, even though she
had personally explained it to the office lady sent to deliver the
message. So she made sure to smile as she continued, "Starting
tomorrow, the remaining resources of that division, including
yourself, will be reallocated to a special newly-formed division
where your talents won't be wasted."
"My... talents?" Kozo asked, completely bewildered. They
had to be confusing him with someone else because he didn't have
any talents. His younger brother had gotten all the good genes
with a clever mind, a strong body, and shining charisma. All he
got was an obsession with cute and the instinct to avoid work at all
costs.
"Why yes," Ryuji replied with a touch of confusion over
the man's reaction, then understood that he was simply being
humble. "The head of the construction division told me that his
division has never operated so efficiently before. Everyone is
working together with almost no need of supervision at all. Both
the mayor and his secretary were particularly pleased with your
performance, saying how impressed they were with your
dedication to your duties. Even our daughter thinks you're 'neat.'"
Kozo knew there had to be a crossed wire somewhere in
this communication, whether he was misunderstanding the
presidents or they were misunderstanding their sources. Having
had no idea what to do as the head of the construction division, he
had simply done whatever the workers told him to. In dealing with
the mayor, he had been motivated more by the fear of being fired
than any dedication to duty. Though he couldn't help but feel
pleased that Emi-chan thought he was neat.
"This new division is very important to us and we wanted
to be sure it was headed by someone we could trust," Michiko
explained to the man, who was looking overwhelmed by this
sudden good news. It made her feel a bit uncertain if he would be
up to handling his new duties, but it had to be someone Emi
approved of. "Officially, your new duties will be to continue as
our liaison to the local government in all matters. You will also be
in charge of public relations for the MMPA Project. I shouldn't
have to tell you how important that is to this company."
"That might be a bit too much for me to handle," Kozo
admitted, surprised at the responsibility that was suddenly being
dumped in his lap. Dealing with the mayor on a regular basis
wouldn't be so bad, at least in comparison to being fired, but to be
put in charge of promoting IHI's new mascot, their very own
kawaii magical girl Magical Mecha Princess Ami... He felt
unworthy of such an honor.
"Naturally, you will be given a staff to help you out with
these duties, though everything must be overseen and approved by
you personally," Ryuji added, then quickly continued, "There will
also be several unofficial duties which you will be required to keep
secret, even from your new staff. These will be explained as they
crop up, but will usually involve dealing with a... special employee
currently busy with a secret project."
Kozo felt an ominous shiver at the small addendum to what
otherwise sounded like an ideal promotion. Doing nothing all day
had started to lose its appeal after so many years anyway. Then his
old division didn't even exist anymore, not leaving him with much
choice in the matter. He bowed to both of them and said, "I will do
my best to live up to the trust you have placed in me."
"We'll look forward to your results then," Michiko said
with a smile as she opened the automatic doors of her and her
husband's massive office. "We won't keep you any longer, though
we will expect you here bright and early tomorrow to begin
training in your new duties."
"Umm, yes. I'll do my best," Kozo replied earnestly,
though still feeling a trace of confusion as he slowly left the office
of the heads of IHI, the door shutting firmly behind him.
Still inside the office, Michiko and Ryuji each breathed a
sigh of relief. Both were overjoyed that they wouldn't have to deal
with that insane woman ever again, even if the man had seemed a
bit unreliable.

The secluded monastery had been built around a central
courtyard. In the center of that courtyard, and where the sound of
the Pulse of the World was the strongest, a koi pond had been
constructed. Upon that koi pond floated a small shrine. No living
monk knew how long it had stood there, nor did any know the
interior of this sacred place for no monk had ever allowed ingress.
It was the privilege of one person and one person only.
The monks encircled the pond and began to chant in their
own crude imitation of the song of the world. Once all were in
harmony, their utterances flowing like a small brook compared to
the mighty river that roared in their ears, the head monk finally
spoke in a formal tone, "Oh goddess of the Pulse, protector of the
Earth, please come forth from your shrine and hear our plea!"
The small shrine remained silent as the monks continued to
chant. The head monk was not discouraged, however, and made
his plea two more times, each more desperate than the last. He and
the other monks held a small fear that they would be deemed
unworthy of being in the presence of the goddess. Much to their
relief, the small door to the floating shrine finally opened.
"Koi?" asked the little girl who stuck her head out of the
door, blinking her large innocent blue eyes. Her curly sea green
hair flowed like the ocean down to her shoulders and her clothes
appeared to be made of golden fish scales, including a mock fish
head for a hood with large glassy eyes.
All the monks immediately dropped to their knees and
bowed with their foreheads against the cobblestones. In a voice
trembling with awe, the head monk spoke again, "Great goddess,
we did not wish to disturb your meditation, but we have a dire
situation that you alone can correct."
Careful to lock the door of her shrine behind her, the little
girl put her fingers to her lips and whistled. Immediately all the
koi of the pond darted over to her, forming a small platform with
their bodies that she gently stepped on, her fish-shaped shoes
sinking only slightly in the water. They carried her the short
distance to the edge of the pond where she stepped onto dry land.
Then she turned around with the grin and shout "Koi koi!" as the
fish dispersed again.
Remaining on their hands and knees, the monks moved to
form a circle around their goddess, making sure to keep a
respectful distance away. For many, this was the first time they
had ever been in her divine presence.
The myth of their order was that the first monk had been a
fisherman who had accidentally captured the goddess in his net.
Wanting to be freed of his mundane life and a nagging wife, he had
begged her for enlightenment. She had lead him to the Pulse of the
World. In gratitude, he built her special floating shrine that she
had made her home and had lived in ever since.
"Oh divine goddess, we have recently heard a disturbance
in the holy Pulse and believe that you are the only one who can
restore the perfect harmony," the head monk begged with tears in
her eyes. "Please, will you help us?"
The little girl put her finger to her chin in thought for
several moments, while the monks all around her held their breath
and waited for the divine verdict. Finally, she grinned, patted the
head monk on the head, and shouted, "Koi!"
As the monks wept for joy, the petite goddess went back to
her room to pack.

Kozo reveled in the surge of relief that filled him as he
walked casually down the street, finally heading home for the day.
The great burden of being discovered as a sham employee by the
presidents of IHI had been lifted from his shoulders at last, only to
be replaced by a cushy job whose particulars he didn't completely
grasp yet, but then he would soon have his very own staff to figure
out such things for him.
*In charge of promotion for Magical Mecha Princess
Ami,* Kozo thought, practically giggling with delight. While the
new cute girl was definitely third in his hall of kawaii fame, that
couldn't dampen his joy of having first dibs on all new MMPA
merchandise and even coordinate events with the magical girl
herself. Kozo would do his best to act cool and professional,
however, and only ask for three or four autographs.
Finally fate, which tended to use him for kicking practice,
was smiling down upon this poor Earth-bound alien. He was a true
executive now, which surely meant a pay raise granting a bigger
apartment and possibly his own house, with a room for each
individual shrine. Not just that, but company perks like the outings
he had always avoided before, use of the executive washroom
which he had avoided using for the same reason, and even the use
of a company car! But why stop there? Why not a limo? Like the
one that had just pulled up in front of him, blocking his path.
Kozo blinked as a large Chinese man stepped out of the
limo, and continued to step out until he towered over the alien,
who had always thought himself rather tall. The man wore a suit,
but it didn't fit him well. The fabric stretched like a chain gang
desperately trying to escape their giant warden. The portion of the
man's face not hidden by dark glasses held no hint of an
expression.
"Mr. Nebishin would like to speak with you," the goliath
finally spoke in heavily accented Japanese, moving stiffly as he
indicated the open door of the limo which he had so impressively
vacated earlier.
Kozo idly glanced around, doing his best not to peer into
the dark recesses of the limo. It had finally happened. The secret
of his origins had leaked from those knowledgeable few in the
Japanese government and now a Chinese Triad wanted the super
advanced technology that had brought him to Earth. Technology
that he didn't have. Besides Junko's armband, the only remnant of
alien technology left on Earth was currently in orbit around it. It
was a special satellite which let him send and receive messages
from his brother, but the device he used to communicate with it
was no more advanced that the average satellite dish.
Sadly, there was no one in sight to hear a panicked cry for
help, and as seeing the large man was more than capable of
reaching out the snatch him before he could run away, Kozo
slumped his shoulders and meekly submitted to the large man's
demand. Hesitantly, he stepped inside the dark interior of the limo,
flinching at heavy sound of the door as it was shut behind him.
"Ah, Mr. Kitaue, we meet at last," spoke a rotund Chinese
man who now sat across from Kozo, peering at him intently from
behind circular lenses. "You are a moderately difficult man to find
for someone of my resources. Please make yourself comfortable.
Would you care for something to drink? They seem to have
stocked this rental limo with every alcohol known to man, though I
am strictly a tea-drinker."
"No, no thank you," Kozo replied nervously, finding it hard
to maintain his earlier apprehension in the face of this silly little
man. He was probably an important person in the Chinese mafia,
but there was absolutely nothing even remotely menacing about
him. He was more like a sidewalk salesman than a gangster.
"I know your time is precious, so right on to business then.
Ah, but where are my manners? First, allow me to introduce
myself. My card," the man offered his business card and added
after it had been reluctantly accepted, "No doubt you have heard of
me and already know the matter I wish to discuss."
'Cho Nebishin President, Super Colossal Toys, Ltd,' Kozo
read the business card several times, wondering if this toy business
was a front and he was just supposed to understand there was more
important work hidden by it. Then again, he found it much more
believable that Cho was the head of a toy company than a leader in
a criminal syndicate. Still, he was polite when he said, "No, I'm
sorry, but I haven't."
"She must have thought I wasn't serious about my offer,"
Cho commented to himself with a small frown, before smiling
once more at Kozo. "My situation should be easy to understand. I
started a toy company in my native Hong Kong, which has grown
to be moderately successful, if I may boast. Now I wish to expand
my business into Japan, but this has already proven most difficult.
The Ishiyamas, who I have endless respect for, have a stranglehold
on much of the toy industry. If am to turn a profit against them, I
must have a new toy line that will sell well here in Japan."
"What do you want with me then?" Kozo asked nervously,
worried that this man either knew he was an alien and wanted to
build amazing toys with super technology, or wanted to blackmail
him into turning against his own company.
"It was perhaps more than a week ago," Cho began to
explain, leaning back in the customary pose of someone preparing
to recite a long antidote. "I was relaxing in my hotel room after a
long battle with the local government for permits when something,
or rather someone, on the evening news caught my eye. I knew
right away that she was perfect for a new line of toys and
immediately began to work on designs that suddenly filled my
brain. I had not felt so excited since I had first begun my business,
which now seems like a long time ago indeed.
"Through long hours without sleep, I had constructed my
first prototype. However, I knew that without the endorsement of
the person who my designs were based on, I could not hope to
succeed. My despair was short-lived though, for only yesterday
fate allowed me a chance to speak with the very one I sought. She
explained to me that Kozo Kitaue would handle all the details. Of
course, I am speaking of none other than the amazing magical girl
Hime Star-chan."
Kozo was thankful that he had passed up on that drink
since he knew he would be choking on it at the moment, though he
could use a strong shot of alcohol to calm his nerves. It sounded
like the sort of thing his niece would say, not even considering the
consequences of her actions. Junko lived with him now, and if it
became known that he was close to Hime Star-chan, someone was
bound to make the connection. Then not only that, but their alien
heritage would be out in the open, causing all sorts of problems
which he was sure the girl's mother would blame him for.
"I don't know why a magical girl would mention me like
that... Are you sure you didn't misunderstand her?" Kozo asked,
rubbing the back of his head while chuckling a bit in a vain attempt
to lighten his own mood, which had been a roller coaster ride of
highs and lows recently.
"I always carry a small tape recorder with me in case I get a
new toy idea while I am away from my drafting table," Cho said as
he took out a small recorder from his pocket and popped in a tape,
which Kozo noticed had 'do not erase!' written on the side. "Fate
smiled on me once more, allowing me to record this."
"You need to talk to Kozo Kitaue. He's sort of my agent,
and I won't even consider any offer he hasn't approved first," spoke
the small recorder as Kozo's stomach sank past his knees and right
to the floor. The tiny speaker distorted the voice, but it had clearly
been Hime Star-chan speaking. He only felt a small sense of relief
that the voice was distinctly different from Junko's normal one, so
her secret identity could not be revealed by sound alone. Now it
was his responsibility to keep it secret.
"I can understand your reasons for wanting to keep your
relation to the magical heroine a secret. Be assured that I simply
wish you to act as a go-between and will not reveal your
connection to anyone," Cho did his best to comfort the obviously
nervous man. Noticing that Kozo was staring intently at the
recorder, he popped out the tape and handed it to him. "Please take
this. I only kept it to prove that I spoke to her. I swear upon the
graves of my ancestors that it is the only copy."
"I appreciate your discretion...," Kozo said, hoping the man
wasn't lying, "but I don't think I can accept your offer. I'm an
executive for Ishiyama Heavy Industries and they have their own
magical girl toy line. It would be a clear conflict of interest."
"You will be paid for your services, of course," Cho
offered, but he could see right away that money was the least
concern for this prospective business connection.
Cho was so close to securing this deal. He could feel it. If
he offered the man just the right thing, success would once again
be his. But he really didn't have anything else to offer, except...
"It is then unfortunate that this will never see store
shelves," Cho said as he carefully searched though his satchel, to
remove an object wrapped entirely in tissue paper, giving it an egg-
like shape. Slowly he unraveled it, pleased as Kozo studied it with
growing curiosity. "This was my first prototype, based on seeing
Hime Star-chan on the evening news. I have another one of her
alternate uniform back at the apartment I have moved into."
Kozo stared awestruck of this carefully constructed replica
of his own niece's much cuter self. Not a detail had been missed,
from the way the long boots flared out slightly near the top, to the
shimmer of the shoulder pads when they caught the light, even
down to the defiant glare in the figure's eyes. He was tempted to
weep at such a masterful and incredibly cute work of art.
"Please give this to Hime Star-chan when you see her next,
as a small token of my gratitude for granting me such inspiration,"
Cho said, carefully placing the prototype figure in Kozo's numb
hands. "Now I have already taken too much of your precious time.
Is there someplace we can let you off?"
"Wait a minute here," Kozo finally spoke after staring at
the figure in his hands, cupping it gently as if he held a fabridge
egg. It might be a bit tricky to manage both his job of promoting
one magical girl while helping out her rival, but then again he did
have an obligation to his niece, and it wouldn't be fair to the cute-
loving public to let such hard work go to waste. "Maybe we can
come to some sort of agreement after all."
Cho only smiled as fate blessed him once again. Moments
after Kozo had left, he was on the phone to his factory, giving
them the final go ahead to begin production.

Junko brooded. It wasn't something she was used to doing
since she was the sort of girl that was normally quick to anger, and
quick to take out said anger on its cause. This particular cause
though had a small army of trained ninja to protect her, none of
which deserved a mega-blast on their mistress's behalf, with the
possible exception of that pushy camera boy.
The plain girl had long had a policy of not picking on
anyone weaker than herself, which generally put her against
opponents many times her own brawling abilities. She still always
managed to come out on top though, normally due to the surprise
her gender usually caused and her trusty baseball bat. Even though
she knew better, Emi always looked so delicate and fragile,
especially after turning on the waterworks on the very bed Junko
know brooded over. Before she had been reluctant to even raise
her voice against her forced friend, but then the girl, who was as
egotistical as she was kawaii, proved she was determined to turn
Junko into a fun house mirror version of herself. The plain girl
wasn't about to let that happen without a fight.
The pink dress Junko had been given as her starting point
of cute was now buried in the dark recesses of her closest where it
would hopefully never see the light of day again. The butterfly
hair clip, however, lay with wings down on her dresser, as if
mocking her resolve. She didn't want to like it, but she couldn't
help it. Just because she despised all things cute didn't mean she
couldn't like beautiful things that also happened to be a bit cute,
did it?
The sound of the front door opening distracted Junko from
her thoughts. Her uncle was surprisingly late getting back from
work. It was nearly dinnertime and she was starting to get hungry,
but she was too deep in her brooding to make anything herself.
But what if it wasn't Kozo? What if someone had robbed her
cowardly uncle and was using his keys to break in and steal
everything he could carry? And possibly kidnap a sweet, innocent
girl like herself?
Hime Star-chan didn't lower herself to dealing with
common thugs. Her good old reliable bat should be more than
enough to deal with the thieving scum. And if acted too fresh,
Junko could pump a little power into the bat for a special surprise.
Teaching a potential burglar a lesson might be just the thing she
needed to get over her brooding.

While Junko was switching from brooding to potential
pummeling, Kozo was in the living room, inching towards the
locked door of his tiny shrine room. He moved so carefully and
quietly it was as if the object he held protectively in his arms was a
bomb that the slightest jolt or whisper would set off. However,
Kozo knew the only explosive in his apartment was his niece. If
she saw this ultra-cute model of her magical alter ego, the delicate
figure would really end up blown into a million tiny fragments.
The deal Kozo had struck with the enthusiastic Chinese toy
designer had been a fair one, at least in his opinion. In exchange
for use of her name and image, 'Hime Star-chan' would get a
percentage of the sales, which he would deposit into a savings
account for Junko, and also retained final judgment on what
designs could or could not be sold. In order to judge this, naturally
Kozo would receive the prototypes of each new design, which he
would be allowed to keep. Now he only needed to find just the
right way to explain it to Junko...
"What do you think you're doing, uncle?" a familiar girl's
voice asked him with not at all concealed irritation, at the same
time something hard and metallic nudged him in the back.
"Sneaking around your own apartment? I thought you were a
burglar or something... Hey, you're not up to anything perverted,
are you?"
"Me? Of course not!" Kozo laughed uneasily as he turned
around to face his frowning niece. He was very thankful that he
had taken the precaution of rewrapping the prototype in its
protective tissue paper shell, making it unrecognizable. "I was
just... moving quietly so not to disturb you. Just in case you were
studying for school."
Junko eyed her uncle a while longer, her gaze lingering
over the odd object he cradled like a newborn, but in the end
decided she just didn't want to know. The plain girl slung her
trusty bat over her shoulder and walked away, saying, "Well,
you're late and I'm hungry. Hurry up with dinner."
"Will do!" Kozo replied enthusiastically, unable to believe
he had just survived that unscathed. It was obvious to him that
Junko was in a worse mood than usual and he had fully expected to
be the chosen target of her accumulated rage. Not wanting to
strain his good fortune, Kozo quickly deposited his treasure in the
shrine room and hurried off to start on dinner preparations. It was
clear to him that now was not the best time to mention the
merchandising of Junko's magical girl form. It had to take months
to prepare the mass marketing of a new toy line though, so he had
plenty of time to wait for his niece to be in a good mood.

Back in her room, Junko was no longer brooding. Bat
propped against her bed, she was lying down on her stomach as the
gouts of electronic blood and gore from Blood Fist 2 reflected in
her eyes. It was almost enough to make her forget her appetite.
Coming across more of her uncle's usual silly, and quite
possibly hentai, behavior had put the whole thing in perspective for
the plain girl. It was only one pink dress and one small hair clip;
not the kind of stuff she should be getting all worked up over.
Sure, Emi was being pushy and self-centered as usual, but Junko
didn't have to obey her. Next time, and she was sure there would
be a next time, she wouldn't get angry, she wouldn't silently curse
Emi's existence, she would just firmly tell the little blonde princess
no. And that would be that.
The doorbell rang, causing Junko's character to be quickly
sliced into a half dozen pieces and eaten. Damn cannibal samurai.
Her recent resolve had put her in a good mood, however, and
seeing how her game was blown anyway, Junko decided to help
her uncle out by getting the door. Her stomach growled, pointing
out she wasn't quite as selfless as that. She wanted Kozo to finish
dinner as quickly as possible.
"Kitaue residence. May I help you?" Junko asked the
delivery boy at the door. He looked a bit familiar, but it was hard
to tell the way he had pulled down the cap he wore to conceal his
eyes, though he was obscured even further by the huge package he
held; making him look like no more than a cap, two arms, and a
pair of shoes.
"Err, this is for Junko Kitaue," he explained, sounding not
at all happy about it. It was probably due to the trouble of hauling
around such a large box, which was only marked by 'fragile'
stickers placed in excess all over its surface. Tucking at his cap
once more, he left, nearly fleeing from her.
Her eyebrows scrunched in confusion, Junko carried the
large box inside and shut the door. It was more awkward than
heavy, but no match for her own dexterity. For her? But what
could it be? There was no sign of a return address or anything
other than the fragile labels, along with a few this side ups. The
plain girl shrugged, deciding the only way to find out was to open
it. There was no knife handy to cut the thick tape though.
Suddenly, Junko got an idea. In her magical girl practice
sessions, Akito always wanted her to work on her control. She
normally ignored his advice and went for bigger and better
explosions instead, but now that she thought about it, having a
better handle over the subtlies of her powers might be useful after
all. Like for the mysterious breaking of camcorders, whether
wielded by Emi's little pet Yoji, or Emi's bigger pet, Junko's uncle.
Junko took a deep breath to clear her mind as Akito had
instructed, and then gathered just a tiny bit of her energy into the
tip of her finger, straining to keep power level down, which was
harder than she thought it would be. Perspiration started to gather
on her furrowed brow as she finally managed to hold a stable
pinprick of power. This she quickly slid against the tape, slicing it
with ginsu-like precision. The plain girl finally expelled the
energy, gasping for air.
*Well done, Junko,* Akito spoke in her head.
*Piece of cake,* Junko thought with a grin, even though
she was feeling winded and generally drained. Letting her power
run wild through her was a lot less strenuous than trying to control
it. *Now let's see what's in this box.*
At first, it seemed to be only a sea of foam packing peanuts,
but brushing them aside, Junko's fingers discovered something
large and soft wrapped in plastic. Stuffed animal? A cushion?
The plain girl freed the mystery object from its foam peanut filled
prison, only to frown deeply as the light revealed a frilly blue
dress, along with a pale yellow one that had laid just underneath.
Her earlier resolve was now a bitter taste in her mouth, realizing
that it was no good planning to tell Emi no when she didn't deliver
her cutifying objects in person.
"Who was at the door, Junko?" Kozo asked as he entered
the living room. The dinner was finally done and he was hoping it
would be good enough to calm his irate niece, though he knew
well how bland his cooking normally was. He blinked to see what
she was holding up and spoke mostly to himself, "Wow, what a
cute dress..."
Junko's glare, now firmly focused on him, immediately put
a halt that kawaii line of thought. Kozo considered taking his own
meal into his room for a safer dinner as he nervously told his niece,
"Just wanted to tell you dinner is ready."
Nodding firmly, Junko casually tossed the dress back into
the box and followed her uncle into the kitchen. Food first, then
on to concoct a fitting revenge for the queen of cute.

Emi was all grins that morning as she raced into school
ahead of her usual time. She was just too excited to wait that day.
Ju-chan had worn the hair clip all day without ever once taking it
off. She was sure that this was a sign her best friend had grown
used to it already, which was why she had Yoji send her the rest of
her custom-made dresses. Surely, her friend was just as excited to
go onto the next step as she was.
"Good morning, Ju-chan!" Emi shouted in glee as she
threw open the door to the classroom. Oddly though, Junko did
not return the greeting, but instead flinched only slightly and
otherwise remained perfectly still. She was reading something
though, so maybe her attention was so focused on that that she
hadn't realized her best friend in the world had just entered the
room.
"What are you reading, Ju-chan?" Emi asked, trying once
again to get her friend's attention now that she stood next to her
desk. Usagi-kun's head drooped, peering down at the manga,
though his shiny eyes were disinterested as always.
Emi noticed that her friend wasn't wearing the cute
butterfly hair clip she had given her yesterday, but she probably
had just forgotten in her haste to get ready for school. She didn't
have a loyal ninja family to remind her of things like that.
Junko continued to read in silence without so much as a
glance in Emi's direction, staring intently at the manga as if trying
to burn every line into her memory.
"Oh, no! My best friend has gone deaf!" Emi shouted in
alarm. It must have happened so suddenly that Junko didn't even
realize it yet. She had never heard of instant deafness before, but
they always say that the worse tragedies strike without warning.
Emi pulled out two books and loudly banged them together while
shouting at the top of her voice, "Can you hear me Ju-chan?"
The plain girl's hands shook as she clutched the manga so
tight that she tore the edges of the pages, but despite her grimace of
pain, she did not once glance up. The stomping of her feet was
completely drowned out by Emi's cacophony.
"Emi, please take your seat, and Junko please put that
away. It's time for class to begin," Shoko announced as she stood
before her desk, idly wondering about the blonde girl's odd
behavior. It was probably just something someone of her older
generation wouldn't be able to understand.
"Yes, sensei," Junko replied quickly, her tone even more
proper and respectful than usual as she put the manga away and
took her textbook and notebook to ready herself for the first class
of the day. Her smile seemed more than a bit forced, however.
Emi blinked several times at this as she slowly took her
seat. Her best friend could hear the teacher, but not her for some
reason. Junko wasn't deaf, so... had Emi turned invisible,
somehow becoming a ghost that no one could see or hear? No, the
teacher had clearly seen her, but what else could the answer be?
The little blonde girl decided to put her thoughts into note
form and send them to her friend as she normally did during class,
hoping that Junko's usual terse responses would shed some light on
this mystery. No matter where Emi managed to land her notes on
her friend's desk, however, Junko simply brushed them to the edge
and continued to focus on the lesson. Emi's notes remained
unopened and unread.
Frowning a bit as she ignored the lecture in favor of
puzzling out this new development, the darling of the classroom
quickly arrived at a fitting solution. Junko must have realized that
being an academic failure was certainly not cute at all and had
become completely devoted to her studies. Emi wouldn't think of
disrupting her friend's noble effort, so would just have to wait until
lunch to talk to her.
Only when lunchtime finally arrived, Junko wasn't waiting
for her friend at their accustomed table in the center of the
schoolyard. Not having any appetite for some reason, Emi ignored
her saucy German meal in favor of searching for her best friend,
worried that some terrible fate had befallen her. Junko was just a
normal girl and no match for the sort of things her cute friend had
to face as her alter ego Magical Mecha Princess Ami.
Emi found her friend in a secluded spot in the yard, sitting
up against a tree as she idly munched on a box lunch, looking
perfectly content to enjoy her meal without any need of
companionship. The petite blonde normally considered herself to
be intelligent and able to divine any problem, no matter how
troublesome or complex, with only a moment of thought.
However, she couldn't even being to imagine what was causing her
best friend to act so strangely. Using the ninja skills that Ichiro-
sensei had taught her, Emi inched forward to get a closer look.
"Emi is so clueless. I wonder if she even realizes that she's
supposed to be suffering," Junko thought out loud around a mouth
full of rice. "This is what she deserves for calling a real magical
girl her sidekick."
Emi gasped, then quickly fled as Junko looked up. She
simply could not believe what she had heard, but it did explain
why Junko was acting so strangely all of the sudden. She had
thought that Hime Star-chan had given up on her evil ways and
joined the side of good, which was why 'Ami' had proclaimed her
as her sidekick, but apparently that was a ruse to lull Emi into a
false sense of security. Now the evil magical girl was mind
controlling her best friend to use against her! She was truly a
ruthless enemy.
What was there for a still green magical girl to do about it
though? Emi wanted to free her best friend from this evil and
uncute influence, but didn't want to risk hurting her friend in the
process. There was only one thing for her to do. Find Hime Star-
chan and force her to free Ju-chan from her domination. She
couldn't even think of hurting her poor deluded friend, so would
simply have to play along until she could be rid of this evil
influence.

When he returned to work, Kozo was dunked straight into
the preparation of his new position. The middle-aged woman who
directed all publicity for IHI seemed stern and imposing as she
commanded her large staff with the authorative voice of a drill
sergeant, but was quite friendly when Kozo nervously explained he
would be taking over her major project, the promotion of the
world's first commercial magical girl, Magical Mecha Princess
Ami. It just must have been his natural charm.
The remainder of a week was a blur as she gave Kozo a
crash course in advertising and promotion, while simultaneously
keeping her staff in motion and focused on their own duties. The
alien hoped his own staff, when he finally received them, wouldn't
require so much guidance. He was going to have a hard enough
time figuring out what he was supposed to do as the majority of the
woman's quickly-spoken instructions and vague gestures went
right over his head.
This all culminated in Kozo's first project. There were
rumors of a rival toy line that was going to be released soon, so the
presidents had decided to hold a special event at their toy store
staring none other than Magical Mecha Princess herself. Kozo had
been placed in charge of organizing this media event, being loaned
a portion of the advertising staff and the head of the advertising
division looking over his shoulder to make sure he didn't make too
many mistakes.
Kozo couldn't believe just how much work it took to setup
something that was only going to last ten minutes. He worked late
into the night at home and his plans began to invade his dreams,
the demonic form of the advertising head attacking him with an
endless supply of sketches, reports, and forms. Thanks to the help
of his loaned staff, however, the event was more or less set after
nearly a week of work.
That was when he received that call from Mr. Nebishin,
who he had all but forgotten in his sudden attack of real work. The
Chinese toy designer had a simple request for Hime Star-chan to
appear for only a short while in a certain place and at a certain
time, though was a bit vague on the details. Kozo's sleep-deprived
mind didn't immediately find anything wrong with this request,
though doubted that Junko would agree to it.
He hadn't gotten around to telling her about the whole toy
deal yet as her bad mood hadn't seemed to lighten all week. Cho,
however, was persuasive enough to convince Kozo to at least ask
her. So, seeing as Junko's mood was as bright and cheery as the
local cemetery at night, Kozo simply explained to his niece about
some request for Hime Star-chan he had overheard to appear for a
press thing, though it might just be a rumor. To his surprise, she
agreed to immediately with a fiercely determined expression.
Somehow that made him very nervous.

Groups of people with similar interests will often converge
and form bonds when a major event arises to jell those connections
together. The chaos that followed the unveiling of the Magical
Mecha Princess Ami toy line, quelled by the magical girl herself,
was the required mucilage to form her very own unofficial fanclub.
Many of these were former members of the unofficial Emi
Ishiyama fanclub, believing that a magical girl was a more fitting
icon to worship than a simple mortal one. The minority who
steadfastedly retained their loyalty to the first and true princess of
kawaii were stung by this sudden betrayal.
The split was deep, turning friend against friend and
brother against brother, each declaring their preferred darling was
the most kawaii of them all. However, the smallest and the most
vocal minority was a new group, who were disgusted with the
flagrant cuteness of both Emi and the new magical showoff.
Instead, they saw in Hime Star-chan everything a true magical girl
could be, showing real emotion instead of a kawaii mask.
The remainder of the Emi fanclub followed the teachings of
their goddess and saw that violence was not the way. Finding their
words falling on the deaf ears of their fellow fangirls and fanboys,
they retreated to the safety of their shrines, confident in their belief
that they had chosen the true apogee of cute.
While on the outside, the tension between the two
remaining groups continued to build and build. It reached the
point where it would only take a single match to set the kawaii
community of the city ablaze.

The week passed quickly for the traveling fish goddess.
Though she had started out on foot, with only a large conch-shaped
backpack, an eel-shaped walking stick, and the fishy clothes on her
back, it wasn't long before the cute girl was noticed by the other
people on the highway, though most of them zipped by in their
cars, making the scenery little more than a blur. Despite that,
people with even the weakest vision were able to notice her, and
those with even the smallest compassion offered her a lift. Which
meant she should have reached her destination in less than a day,
suffered by her only vague idea of where she was going and her
lack of solid communication skills.
However, that was all behind her now as she stood upon a
convenient outcropping that allowed her to stand majestically,
using a rock or two to help with her diminutive stature, to look
down upon the town that lay below. This was her true destination.
She could feel the powerful buildup of raw negative emotion,
almost ready to explode. Posing with her eel staff pointed to the
sky above, she shouted out the name of the only power in the
universe capable of saving this doomed city. "Koooiiiii!"
"Did you hear that, sempai?" Rei asked. She was sure
Nayoko's latest giant robot had bumped into something as they
reached her sempai's favorite place to view the city from before
launching her attack. The windshield of the legs portion of the
giant robot that she had been made the pilot of, however, was
obscured when joined with the other two. It made it a bit difficult
to know what direction she was supposed to walk, but her sempai
was always nice enough to correct her when she went astray.
"It must have been the sound of the town's occupants
quaking in fear to know that once again the dread Lady Morgana
has returned! Ohohohoho!" the dark mistress of robotics
announced.
She was currently strapped in tight to her plush pilot's
chair, within easy reach of the mini fridge. Doe-Rei had a bit too
enthusiastic about tying her though, which was making it hard for
her to move the controls, not that she would admit any such
difficulty. Luckily, there wasn't much she needed to do as the head
of her latest and greatest creation.
"You're the greatest, sempai!" Doe-Rei enthused, nearly
giggling with delight. As pilot of the arms, it would be her
privilege... duty to smash everything within their path, which
hopefully would include one of those two mecha brats that had
foiled her mistress's earlier schemes. "You're a genius!"
Meanwhile, the arc of the petite goddess's sudden airborne
trajectory began to decay, sending her plummeting to the city far
below. Such is fate.