7 thoughts on “Unprompted Ficlets”

  1. A/N: For the AU

    Puzzle pieces everywhere. Anna sat in the middle of a veritable carpet of puzzle pieces.

    Fushimi paused in the doorway, uncertain if there was any safe ground to walk on at all, and clicked his tongue.

    She looked up, all serious eyes and expression in her pale face. She was a bright spot of red in the middle of a sea of blue because Munakata believed in dressing her in something she wanted to wear and colors she could see. A child in the middle of the Captain’s office, all his puzzle pieces on the floor around her instead of on the desk where they belonged was an incongruent picture.

    “Ah, Fushimi.” Munakata grinned warmly at his favorite, interlacing his fingers like a stereotypical schemer. “I was just looking for someone to take Anna on an outing.”

    Fushimi froze, wracking his brain for an out while Anna stared at him with a curious, intent gaze.

    “You don’t have to,” she said quietly.

    He sighed, surrendering before the Captain thought of any inducements he’d rather do without. “Very well.”

    1. Aww, this is cute, with the subtle bits of the affection Munakata has for her and her doing puzzles.

      And Fushimi, not wanting any part of it, lol.

      Though now I feel like I need a fic where he has to take her shopping for a present for Munakata and all that would entail, lol.

  2. Okay, here’s hoping this doesn’t go in the wrong spot. I thought for sure I was writing another Anna & Munakata bit, but for some reason, I had to do this first… and it’s purposely vague, so I apologize.

    I believe I might use it as the crossover’s true opening… a bit of hint of things to come…

    ********

    That does not look promising.”

    The other man winced. “It is not. While I had believed that perhaps the increase was limited, the effect constrained to one individual alone, this is proof that it is not. The effect is spreading. Levels have risen not just in myself but in everyone known to us.”

    I see. And your estimation of the potential damage?”

    If the progression continues in him, I believe he will think he has no other recourse than removing his eyes, as he has threatened to do in the past. Already the effect seems to linger longer than in the past when direct contact was broken, and the number of infatuated idiots in his fan club has increased. Their level of devotion has always been… troublesome.”

    Is that the worst case or simply the one that seems most pressing?”

    The other may become active. So far it seems dormant, or at most passive, but if the trend continues, then we are looking at a full manifestation with unpredictable results. In someone that angry and easily provoked… the danger could be extreme.”

    His brother?”

    Difficult to say. Even knowing what we do, gathering information has been nearly impossible, and his level of paranoia has been at too high a level for even casual analysis. More drastic measures could become necessary, but for now… I can only assume if he has any sort of ability, it, too, is passive.”

    The others?”

    I only know of one other. Her ability seems passive. She is harmless, though she seems to be worse as time progresses. That, I fear, is in part because of her misdiagnosis. They believe she has a mental illness, not an ability beyond that of ordinary humans.”

    And yours?”

    Mine remains the most dangerous of all, of course. Currently it is under control, unless my concentration slips and I let a random thought go too far, but if this increase in levels continues… there may be no controlling it.”

    That is why you are with me.”

    Yes. If it comes to it, I know you will do what is necessary.”

  3. And… the need to edit said to do the actual first meeting of Ikki and the blue clan, so… I tried.

    And it’s… terrible.

    **************

    Intriguing.”

    Fushimi looked over at the captain, once again wondering just what broke in his head when he became the Blue King. “You think a riot is interesting?”

    Munakata smiled. “I suppose you believe that you’ve seen one and therefore seen them all, hmm? Or is it the fact that this particular riot seems to have been caused by a bunch of girls that bothers you?”

    Fushimi grunted. Yata was the one who couldn’t deal with girls, not him. He didn’t care one way or another, though he sometimes amused himself by picturing just how tongue-tied Misaki would be if he had to report to Awashima on a daily basis. Poor little virgin. He probably wouldn’t manage a word. It would be worse than watching Hidaka try and romance her.

    It’s beneath us.”

    Oh, really. Is it now?”

    All of you just stay back,” a familiar voice called out, making Fushimi frown. “Mr. Ikki is mine. And I will defend him by whatever means is necessary.”

    Awashima?”

    Indeed. Something very curious has happened after all,” Munakata said, making no move to contain the situation even though it was clear that if she felt threatened, she’d use her aura on the crowd. She didn’t have her sword since it was her day off, but that was about the only positive thing Fushimi could see in the current situation.

    Really, I told you, that’s not necessary,” the man next to her said. “I mean, I appreciate it and all, but I would really just like to find my—”

    Your sunglasses,” she said, holding the mangled pair out to him as he winced. Even if they could have been unbent, both lenses were broken, and there was no salvaging them.

    Damn. I knew they were fighting over them, but this is bad. Really bad.”

    Fushimi checked his readings. “Captain, that’s a Strain.”

    Is it? I hadn’t noticed.”

    Fushimi ignored the urge that welled up in him to call his superior officer an idiot. Of course Munakata had noticed. He wasn’t a complete fool, even if he seemed to be acting like one now. “We can intercept him as part of our mandate. We don’t have to wait for orders from anyone else. He’s well within our purview.”

    Agreed.”

    Do you intend to do nothing? What, you expect Awashima to suddenly snap out of it and arrest him for you?”

    Of course not.”

    Then I can send the squads in?” Fushimi asked, still not sure why Munakata wasn’t acting. He seemed to want to observe this for some reason, but Fushimi saw no value in it. Getting no response, he gestured for Enomoto and Hidaka to move in and others to disperse the crowd. Munakata would stop it if he wanted to, but again he did nothing.

    The other members of the blue clan managed to block the man and Awashima off from the others, and some of the girls seemed to shake off whatever it was the Strain had done, leaving the area without a fight but plenty of confusion.

    Everything would have gone smoothly if not for Awashima. Still locked in whatever it was he’d done to her, she started fighting everyone who drew close, and since she tended to wipe the floor with all of them in the dojo, her doing so now was no surprise. What was Munakata waiting for?

    Enomoto, she’s distracted. Get the Strain.”

    The man dodged away from Enomoto, grabbing a handful of polished stones from the street vendor nearby and throwing them at Enomoto as he backed away, actually forcing the squad leader on the defensive.

    Look, really, this is a big misunderstanding. Someone bumped me, my sunglasses fell, my fan club was here and it just got a bit out of control, okay? Really, all I need is a new pair, and it’ll all be fine again. I promise,” the Strain said, weaving away from the other clansmen who’d joined Enomoto. He used anything he could grab and throw at them, even hitting a few of them despite their training. “Please. Just… Damn it, where is that tall scary guy in the long coat when you need him?”

    Fushimi frowned. “Is he talking about you?”

    Munakata shrugged. He stepped forward and Awashima stopped, allowing Hidaka to get a hit in on her to his surprise and sudden horror. She frowned, looking around in confusion.

    Captain? What… I was just shopping and then…”

    It would seem we have encountered a rather powerful Strain, Lieutenant. Do not be surprised if you do not remember much of what happened today.”

    She flushed. “Actually, I… No, sir, you’re absolutely correct. I remember nothing.”

    I’m so hurt,” the Strain said. “And here I thought we had something special.”

    She whirled on him. “I don’t know what you think—Oh. Mr. Ikki. Do you believe in love at first sight?”

    The Strain sighed as she caught him, clinging to him like a school girl. “No. I don’t, and that’s not what this is. Trust me, it’s not.”

    I’d give you all the anko in the world.”

    No, that’s okay, we can skip the anko, it’s not really my thing, and so if we could just—” the Strain tried to free himself, but she held on even tighter. “Okay, I get it. I shouldn’t have said anything without my glasses, but she wasn’t affected anymore. It shouldn’t have pulled her back under like that.”

    You’re saying your ability is out of control?”

    The Strain looked at Munakata and swallowed. “Um… yes? I mean, no. No, absolutely not. Damn it, where is he? I mean, I got a scary tall guy in a coat, but so not the one I needed. I swear I just need my glasses. You don’t have to do anything… violent.”

    Oh, I don’t believe I will. However, I cannot speak for Lieutenant Awashima when she regains her senses again.”

    The Strain glanced at her. “Well, in that case, perhaps it would be better if I didn’t have my glasses.”

    Even as he said it, Fushimi heard something above his head and looked up to see a pair of sunglasses headed towards the Strain. They looked to miss him completely, but he reached up and caught them, twirling them in hand.

    Thanks a lot,” he muttered, shaking his head as he put them on. Awashima let go and stepped back from him, another confused look on her face as she fixed her uniform. The Strain ignored her and called out around her. “Just so you know, we’re back to archrivals now.”

    Are we?” Munakata asked, and the Strain flinched, looking like he would run if Awashima hadn’t taken firm hold of him again.

    I suppose you won’t believe I said that to my best friend, would you?”

    Munakata only smiled.

  4. Sorry. I’m in edit mode, so… more additions… To build up a subplot and give some insight into characters… there’s this following the attempt to eat at Meido No Hitsuji.

    ****************

    What was that?” Orion asked, and Kokoa shuddered again. She didn’t know, but she wished Kent hadn’t left. As humiliating as what happened was, she felt safer with him around. She knew Waka was dealing with that customer, but that didn’t make it easier. Kukuri was doing her best to soothe her, but Kokoa couldn’t calm herself, not when Orion was just as upset as she was.

    It didn’t help that Kukuri couldn’t see or hear Orion at all—Kokoa was the only one who did—and somehow didn’t remember anything but the man making that awful cocoa innuendo. None of that made sense, and Kokoa should probably go back to her doctor for a higher dose of the medication. Would the hallucinations finally stop then?

    Would Orion… just disappear?

    I don’t want to go,” Orion said, and she winced, knowing he was scared. He seemed like a pretty young boy, and this whole thing would be terrifying for him if he was truly that age. Still, if he wasn’t real… Then she was just making excuses to ignore her illness, right?

    I swear I’m real,” Orion said, getting her to look at him again as he pleaded with her with those big eyes of his. “I know I am. That’s not… Please. I know it’s weird, and I don’t like it, either. I was so scared and mad, but I couldn’t do anything. I couldn’t help you. I couldn’t stop him. I couldn’t even yell at him. And then that wall came up, and we were safe, but it was scary, too.”

    Kokoa nodded. That had been really strange.

    Are you sure I can’t get anything for you? You’re shivering.”

    She shook her head. “I’m fine, Kukuri. Or… as fine as I ever am.”

    The door opened again, and Kent stepped into the room. “We’re closed. You can go home as soon as you feel ready.”

    Oh, but I—”

    Waka and I will handle the closing duties. Do not worry about it. Or about your compensation,” Kent said. “Though in the future, it would be wise not to bring those friends here to eat.”

    Kukuri nodded. “I know. Neko was just so excited about it, I didn’t have the heart to turn her down, but she can be a bit wild when it comes to food and—”

    Kent shook his head and walked away before Kukuri could finish. She sighed, her shoulders slumping. Kokoa stood and went to her side, touching her arm.

    Your friends do seem kind and even… sweet, but they’re a bit much for either Kent or Waka. Waka is so the sort of man who’d spend all his time in a zen garden or something like that and Kent… well, people in general make him uncomfortable, and Ikki can be too much for him when he’s hyper, so… it was just too much, I think, especially with that customer… Besides, Kent’s been working all these doubles to cover for Shin with his mom in the hospital. He’s got to be exhausted, but he won’t admit it. If Ikki was here, he’d drag him straight home.”

    Maybe you should,” Kukuri said. Kokoa blinked. “He listens to you. Far more than you think. You should see his face any time you say something nice about him. He might try and brush it off, but he watches you sometimes after you say that, and I think he really thinks about what you say, you know? Your words matter to him.”

    Oh.”

    It’s kind of sad, isn’t it?” Kukuri shook her head. “I know Kuroh told me that most people don’t do the right thing even when they should, but sometimes I think Kent genuinely doesn’t understand how anyone can be kind.”

    Ikki says he has nice parents, that they’re funny, but very logical, even more so than Kent is,” Kokoa said, thinking about it. “There is a difference between polite nice and kind nice, though. Kent doesn’t usually do polite nice, like he doesn’t think it’s worth it because it’s not as genuine sometimes, and kind nice… he does it, but he doesn’t realize he does it and then if someone points it out to him, he has to try and rationalize it or explain it… almost like he can’t believe he was kind at all. Shin does it, too, but differently. Shin’s more of a ‘fine, I’ll help you so you don’t screw it up’ kind of guy whereas Kent helps and then realizes he did and gets embarrassed.”

    Kukuri smiled. “You really do understand people well. Is that because you’re studying to be a psychologist?”

    Kokoa had chosen psychology because she was almost certain she herself was going insane, but she wasn’t about to admit that to anyone. “Did you need someone to walk to the train station with you?”

    Kukuri shook her head. “I’m fine. I’m going to go change now unless you need me to stay.”

    No. I’m okay. I’ll just go make sure Waka knows that before I leave.”

    You’re such a liar,” Orion said, almost making her jump as he spoke again. He’d been quiet, and she’d forgotten him for a few minutes. She lowered her head and tried to calm herself again. She didn’t know how much longer she could do this. “Hey, that’s not—I just meant you shouldn’t go home alone. You know you were thinking of staying until Kent finished. You just lied to her about it.”

    Orion…”

    The constellation or the myth?” Kent asked, and she almost jumped for the third time. “Admittedly, the constellation was chosen by the Greeks to represent the hunter of myth. Other civilizations called it by other names and connected it to different gods or myths. It is simply that the Greco-Roman mythology persists whereas the others have become more obscure, even if most feature some kind of archer.”

    She found herself smiling. “The amount of things you know is amazing.”

    Not particularly. I am not an expert in any field at present even with my bias towards math.” Kent took a breath and let it out. “Waka said he would handle the closing and wishes me to walk you home.”

    Oh. I… That’s not really necessary. I can—”

    Waka did not make it sound like a request, nor is he the only one who thinks it wise you do not leave alone. True, the chances of that customer still being present are slim, but no one wants anything to happen to you. The other girl’s friends are waiting for her, as much as Waka asked them to leave, so she will be fine.”

    Kokoa found herself fighting a smile as she shook her head. “Kent, she has a name.”

    I am aware of that. I may even know what it is. At least… if you truly believe I know everything.”

    Kokoa giggled and took his arm. “Thank you for that. I know you don’t think you have a sense of humor, but you tried anyway to cheer me up, and… it was nice.”

    It was practical. I hardly want to walk with you if you are crying. People will think I caused that by being tall and scary or something ridiculous like that.”

    Tall and safe,” she corrected, since not even hearing Orion’s commentary on that could take that feeling away when she was near him.

  5. Went back to trying edits to see if I’d feel less like this story was horrible if I did them… Not sure that helped, but I do have the explanation for Kuroh’s reaction now…

    ********

    Kuroh had taken up a guarding position outside the door while he waited for the girls to shop. He could have left them to their own task and seen to the acquisition of the necessary supplies, but he did not care to leave any of them with a potential threat like Kent, even if Neko could generally fend for herself. This was, in fact, an opportunity to observe him away from the dividing line that Shiro had agreed to and assure himself that Kukuri was safe with her work companions. He knew she was not officially clan—yet, it seemed that Shiro had yet to extend the invitation, as much as Neko had, and perhaps this was not a good time, with all the clans being under threat from Jungle—but Kukuri was still a good friend to them all.

    He would not allow her to come to harm.

    He watched the others leave the shop and go around to the alley. Making certain to keep Kukuri and Neko in sight within the shop as much as possible, Kuroh followed them.

    He almost regretted his choice a moment later when he saw the girl hold out her hand for Kent to touch. Kuroh grimaced. This was simply an intimate moment between two lovers, not anything he should be witnessing—but then out of nowhere, a child appeared beside the girl and yanked her down by the hand.

    Kuroh frowned. What was this? Some kind of illusion? Kent had his phone in hand, and the screen still shone a bright green. Could that have been Jungle using its manipulation powers?

    He gripped the hilt of his sword and waited, watching, only to have Neko rush past towards the girl and put herself and Kukuri right in the middle of danger.

  6. Here is a revised version of Kent’s theory that is… more streamlined, more in character, and addresses some issues raised in counter to it. Eh, what can I say? I liked my theory that I gave to Kent, so…

    And then it goes into the research part and Kuroh’s scene would come after it. Not sure any of the science is good. Thought maybe I’d feel better after fixing this… but I don’t.

    ***************

    The green king made contact with me,” the Silver King announced from his position at the podium. He clearly considered himself the leader here, and by the mythology involved in this world, he was, being the first king, though he was not one that Kent could see much value in following, even if he had been the one to introduce the Slate to the world. In fact, that just made it easier to reject anything that came from that man’s mouth. “He asked to form an alliance. When I refused, he grew angry. He intends to steal the Dresden Slate.”

    Another childish response,” Kent said. Though others saw an advanced strategy in the actions of Nagare Hisui, he saw a temper tantrum thrown by a child who had not gotten his way.

    What do you even know about it?” The red clansman with the skateboard demanded, making Kent regret not making that wall more solid and that people with auras had increased healing abilities. “You haven’t been dealing with Jungle like us. We’ve been the ones hunting them down and dealing with them, not you. You’re not clan. You’re just a Strain.”

    I have yet to see any conclusive evidence that being part of a clan has made any of you smarter to any significant degree,” Kent said, his annoyance provoking him to a rather childish reaction of his own. He knew that being a ‘Strain’ was the accurate term for what he was, and yet he disliked it intensely when it was applied to himself. Yata gaped at him while Fushimi laughed. “It seems to have done nothing to quell your impatience and recklessness, which is easily countered if one can plan on your rash behavior.”

    You little—”

    I don’t like to use my… abilities, but I assure you if you lose your temper now, I will, and it will not be pleasant for you. I think something worse than the time I made Ikkyu three times his size is in order.”

    Ikki shuddered. “Don’t do that again, Ken. Please. I still have nightmares.”

    Can we get back to the point?” Munakata asked, pushing up his glasses. “If the green king does intend to come after the Slate, we will have to defend it.”

    Yes, exactly,” the Silver King said with relief, gratefully taking back the lead that the Blue King had given him. “That is what I wanted to discuss. I believe I’ve come up with a plan that will allow us to protect the Slate and defeat the green king.”

    That seems arrogant of you,” Kent observed, and the Silver King blinked, looking over at him. Kent supposed he was used to dealing with those who saw the Kings as something greater, affording them deference and even reverence, but Kent was not a part of any clan, nor did he subscribe to their mythology. “In the first place, are you not the same man who avoided all interaction with humanity for seventy years? And before that you were a scholar, were you not? Tell me, when did you learn to lead armies into battle?”

    The swordsman beside the Silver King gripped his sword tightly. Like all clansmen, he was quick to rise to the defense of the man he considered his king. “I assure you that Master Shiro is more than capable of leading us in battle. He possesses considerable wisdom, both in insights into our enemy but also the Slate itself.”

    Thank you, Kuroh. I appreciate your confidence in me.”

    Which would be useful if he wasn’t the only one who had it,” Kent said, aware of the attention he was drawing to himself, but he could not stay quiet under these circumstances, either. “I am not particularly good with social nuances, but I can tell I am not the only one here with doubts as to your ability to lead anyone. And you needn’t bother sending another illusion my way, cat. My ability to manipulate mass makes it pointless, though it would have been obvious enough since it was in full color when the only one I can see is green.”

    Unless he was in the presence of a certain other Strain, that was, though he failed to see any point in mentioning Kokoa’s ability to bring other colors into his world. He still did not understand how she did it.

    I can only see red,” the Red King said quietly, studying Kent for long enough to make him uncomfortable.

    Kid’s got a point,” Kusanagi said, leaning back in his seat. “I was about to ask a few pointed questions myself. Devil’s advocate is a role I know well by now.”

    I believe I also would have to say I do question the unilateral appointment of you as our ‘leader,’” the Blue King said. “If anyone here is experienced with full-scale military operations, it is me. With all respect due your position as Silver King, I agree that I would like an actual reason to back your decisions in this situation. There is too much at stake to do otherwise.”

    The Green King once challenged the Gold King in a fierce battle. The lieutenant told me all about it, and I have his records of the battle as well. Few others would be as qualified as I am in this instance.”

    Kent glanced toward Waka, who shrugged, suggesting the possibility he’d been present for at least part of that altercation, even if not the whole thing.

    That is a start, but it is still a naive one,” Kent said. He shook his head to see them all staring at him again. Some were angry, others were just confused. “Are you all truly idiots and none of you has considered the possibility that the Slate wants the green king to free it?”

    It’s not like you to think of it as a sentient being,” Ikkyu said, shuddering in an exaggerated manner. “Damn, you said that, and I’m scared as hell because you… you wouldn’t say something like that without reason.”

    The Silver King frowned. “Well, it is true that Hisui’s stated purpose is to release the Slate’s full potential, but why would you believe the Slate wanted that?”

    I am curious as well,” Munakata said. “I believe I can guess at some of your reasons, but I would hear them all.”

    Very well.” Kent rose and stood between the stage and the chairs. “First, you will all agree that there is some form of ‘sentience’ to this Slate. You have all spoken of being ‘chosen’ by the Slate, have you not?”

    Three nods came, some more reluctant than others.

    Then, holding to that supposition, why would the Slate chose someone like Nagare Hisui? According to the records of his age at the time he was first known to have become the Green King—”

    Hold on,” Kusanagi said. “How did you get access to all of this information, anyway?”

    Kent looked over at Waka. The other man smiled thinly. “I had access to nearly everything in the Gold Clan before my retirement. As that oath was never one I wanted to take in the first place, I saw no reason to abide by it after I was gone. I did not spread the truth to everyone I met, but it would have been foolish to withhold it from Kent, who was working tirelessly to understand his condition and Ikki’s.”

    I didn’t believe it at first, but we are well past that point now,” Kent said. He had been forced to concede the truth of Waka’s revelations, even if he still disliked them. “If I may continue…?”

    Fine by me. I just wanted to be clear on the source.”

    Again, Nagare Hisui’s age at the time of his selection as green king is something difficult to understand.”

    The Slate chooses when there is a need.”

    And it needed a child? Even with green’s express purpose being change, how does one justify selecting a child to wield the kind of abilities of a king? They all have the ability to change probability. Now that doesn’t sound like much to the uninitiated, but probability can be applied to nearly anything in the known universe. It is, effectively, the power of ‘gods.’ You can reshape the world with it, and putting it in the hands of an immature child is reckless at best,” Kent said, making sure to continue with the rest of his thoughts. “While Miss Kushina is quite capable and mature for her age, Nagare Hisui shows himself to me to be the opposite. The way he created a game as a means to recruit members, trading lives and other crimes for points… that is not the work of a mature person, but a child.”

    There is some truth to that,” Munakata said, “and in such a case, he would be a very dangerous child indeed.”

    I don’t know. Manipulating social media like that, getting hundreds of disposable agents… kind of smart if you ask me.”

    One can debate for days whether he is a skilled tactician, a general willing to sacrifice his troops when necessary, or merely a child discarding a broken toy,” Waka said, his voice cold. “It doesn’t change the threat he is. Nor does it by itself invalidate Kent’s theory if Hisui’s plan is the result of careful planning and ruthlessness.”

    Green is called the king of change, and he may well see this as his role, his purpose, to bring about the end of an era.” The Blue King tented his fingers together. “Whether or not his motivations are… pure, shall we say, he remains a threat.”

    Agreed. If any benefit of the doubt were to be given to him, I suppose it is that if he is acting as a child, he has no true comprehension of the outcome of his actions, the implications and the end results. Specter Four and HOMRA have been subduing dangerous Strains for years now, but when the Slate is liberated, everyone will have that kind of power.” Kent looked around the room, wanting to be certain that the people here understood the implication of that. “We are talking chaos on a global scale. Even those who think the best of humanity—and I am not one of them—would agree that granting everyone such power is a disaster. Perhaps it would be the greatest demonstration of the concept of ‘survival of the fittest’ even as it very likely means the end of the world and humanity itself—not simply as we know it, but everyone. Everything.”

    This something to do with that research you’ve done, Kent?” Shin asked, clearly uncomfortable. “You know for sure this will happen?”

    Give even a small percentage of the population in this country alone the ability to create a Kagutsu Crater and the world will assuredly be uninhabitable, though it is equally unlikely anyone will live to see it. If you like, I will give you the calculations I have done, but I am reasonably certain that nothing will exist after natural selection takes its course. The Silver King doesn’t have to worry about that, of course, being immortal, but the rest of the world is not so fortunate.”

    The Silver King winced. “That doesn’t mean I’m not working to prevent that. Nor does it mean the Slate wants Nagare to do this. When I found the Slate, I truly believed it was a way to make people happy.”

    Kent folded his arms over his chest, not the least bit pacified. “Is that so? Then why would the Slate choose someone as deranged as the last Colorless King?”

    Silence fell over the room. The events of the past year were still quite raw for most of them, and Kent knew that, but there was no avoiding the issue.

    Kent adjusted his glasses. “Yes, that is what I thought. No one has a good answer to that, either. I have given the matter consideration, and it makes little sense outside of the idea that the Slate was trying to engineer its freedom.”

    The Silver King shook his head. “We don’t know what the Colorless King was originally like. By the time I confronted him, he had already taken over so many bodies and assimilated their personalities so that his original persona was gone. He could have been a good person.”

    Does a good person take over someone else’s body in the first place?”

    The Silver King winced. “I suppose that does seem rather… bad.”

    Munakata nodded. “Even if at first it started mischievous, it quickly escalated to malicious.”

    We can go further back than that choice as well,” Kent said. “Think about how long it took for the present blue king to be chosen. That long without the king designated to keep order. Strains were out of control even with the rise of the Red King, Suoh, but that, too, took years from the death of Kugutsu. It is entirely possible that gap was allowed in order to increase the population of Strains and weaken the position of the other kings. Recall that there were only two other kings functioning at that point—green was still a child, gray is believed lost in Kugutsu as well, and Silver was up in the sky refusing to have anything to do with the world below. That left only the aging Gold King and the Colorless King to stand against the Slate. Had that situation continued, the Slate could already have been liberated by this point.”

    Yeah, but the Slate chose Mikoto and that jerk, so it never happened.”

    Kent nodded. “Yet it did still lead to this outcome, did it not? The Colorless King killed a member of the red clan, framing the Silver King while inciting a war between clans. That left one clan without a king, diminished in power and leaderless until the rise of the current Red King. The Blue King, in turn, lives with the burden of killing another king and is also weakened. The situation is ripe for green to exploit, and it is possible that was the intention all along.”

    You think this guy knew what the Colorless King was up to, Ken?”

    It’s possible. I have no conclusive point at this time, but I would not be surprised if he did or if he had some other part in it. Hisui’s reach is extensive, since he can use his abilities to manipulate the internet as well as his followers. There is something else, something… intangible and just outside the limits of my own abilities. I can track the fields around the epicenters, and I thought I’d found another one, but I lose it…”

    I say you’re full of it,” the loud red clansman said. “You’re just trying to pick a fight with us, divide us up and make us think no one can be trusted and there’s no point to even fighting. This your way of getting out of things because you’re a coward?”

    Kent took off his glasses and started cleaning them. “Only an idiot wants to fight.”

    Don’t,” Shin said. “You left yourself wide open to that one.”

    It’s true Ken does tend to favor covering his complete discomfort around people by relying too heavily on his big brain and his pride,” Ikkyu said. “That’s only part of what this is. If Ken is right and the Slate is working to free itself, then there may be no point in fighting, that’s true. And before you call me a coward, too, there’s a difference between understanding your situation and running from it. No one’s done that yet. Ken’s still here, he’s just making us aware of the possibilities because that’s what he does. He sees the big picture, and he points out the flaws. Really, never go see a movie with him. He’ll always point out the plot holes. Or the bad science. Or even poor editing.”

    I can see why someone might reach the conclusions you have,” Munakata said. “In fact, I find the argument rather intriguing. I can also see it as a means by which a division could be driven among us quite easily as well. It is true most of the red clan already hates me for what I did in ending Mikoto Suoh’s life to prevent his Damocles down, but then I could counter with saying that the Silver King himself wanted that.”

    What? I didn’t—”

    You did hit me back with your umbrella. I have often wondered if that was because you were fighting for control with the Colorless King or if you thought I would not do what you wanted and kill the Colorless King. While it is true I would have considered alternatives to such an act, I did understand that the Colorless King was capable of changing bodies and a great threat to everyone. In such a case, due process would not have been an option. If I had been closer, I could have been the one to act, not Suoh, and it would not have meant a Damocles down.”

    I… Yes, that is true.” The Silver King winced, closing his eyes. “It could have gone differently.”

    Are you actually giving this guy what he wants?”

    Munakata shook his head. “Our alliance is tenuous, and it would not take someone infiltrating our current assembly to cause divisions within us. Kent’s attempt to educate us is not that at all, regardless of the likely truth of Ikki’s statement that he is distancing himself through academic pride.”

    Kent shook his head. “While I suppose my explanation may seem overly pompous—”

    Please, like that’s the worst you’ve ever lectured,” Shin scoffed. “You were worse in that math class Toma dragged me to.”

    He had to do scary Ken to keep the ladies in line. They were giggling like crazy and not putting any effort, aside from Kokoa, that is. I mean, it was kind of clear they wanted me to teach the class, and if they wanted me, it was never about math to them. All anyone sees with me is my pretty face.”

    Get over yourself. You’re not that good looking.”

    Ah, Shin. I know you’re just jealous. Though really, wrong person. I didn’t steal fair maiden’s heart this time. It was someone else.”

    Ikkyu.”

    Ikkyu shrugged, but he fell silent and sat back in his seat. Kent grimaced, putting a hand to his head. “It was simply my intention to point out that any plan to keep custody of the Slate may already be doomed to failure simply because the source of your power is actively working against all of you.”

    Gee, you’re a lot of fun at parties, aren’t you?”

    He’s hilarious. You just have to get him drunk first.”

    No, Ikkyu, you just think everything is funny when you are drunk. I still have no sense of humor.” Kent said, returning to his seat. His head ached fiercely, and he did not want to be a part of this, had never wanted to be.

    No. I don’t believe that,” the Silver King said. “The Slate… it wants to make people happy. It helps when there is a need. It grants them wishes.”

    Wishes?” Kent asked, unable to help his disbelief. Was this one as much of a child as he appeared to be? He was supposed to be immortal, said to have spent seventy years in the air, and he had learned nothing in all this time? Forget the Slate working against him. That idiot was enough.

    Yes. I truly believe that it was the Slate’s intention to work with us to grant us the power to make the changes we wanted. It didn’t take away our free will, so Nagare could see this as the path that he needs for change, but it doesn’t mean the Slate wants that.”

    It does seem a possible case for unintended consequences,” Munakata said. “I know when I first met with the Gold King, he was clear in allowing me to reshape Scepter Four as I saw fit, though it was suggested I reuse all of those from the former Blue King to rebuild faster than I did.”

    You were fast enough,” Kusanagi said. “Wasn’t that long between when you started and when you came knocking around our door, that’s for sure.”

    Munakata smiled.

    I guess I can see how it fits,” Ikkyu said, grimacing. “I mean, I did make a dumb wish, and now I’m stuck with it.”

    Perhaps, but it doesn’t hold in every case.”

    You want the Slate to be working against us? That’s messed up.”

    The Red King studied Kent. “You do not want your power. You never asked for it. Nor are you one to make wishes.”

    He lowered his head. “Yes. All of that is true, but it is not limited to me. Not even to Waka.”

    Waka nodded. “If I had wished for anything, it would have been freedom. Yet here I am, still in the middle of the clans again.”

    When were you in the middle of the clans?”

    Don’t be an idiot, Misaki. He’s former Usagi. You would never have known which one he was.”

    Saruhiko—”

    Whether or not this theory is true changes little.”

    We still have to try,” Anna said with determination. “We cannot allow Nagare to have the Slate.”

    Agreed,” Munakata said. “If the green king liberates the Slate, the consequences will be catastrophic. That is not what any of us wants.”

    Kent.”

    He looked over at Waka. “The levels you were tracking. Is it already too late?”

    He shook his head. “No. Close, dangerously so, but not yet that high.”

    Very well. Then it may yet be beneficial to have a plan.”

    And I do have a plan that should allow us to fend off his attack,” the Silver King said. “As I said before, I know a great deal of Nagare Hisui’s abilities because of his attack on the Gold King. The lieutenant shared that information with me.”

    He outlined his plan, explaining everyone’s roles in it for the three clans. He did not give a place for Kent or Waka, however.

    Shin didn’t care much for that, it was clear. “So, what, you’re sitting this one out, Kent?”

    Kent leaned back against the wall, feeling increasingly fatigued. “I do not know that I will be of any use.”

    Are you kidding? All those Jungle jerks you took out and you’re not of use? More like you’re a coward or a traitor.”

    You are exceedingly tedious.” Kent was actually tempted to make that one feel some consequence to his words. “My ability functions not unlike how the Silver King described to you all of Hisui. It can be incredibly powerful for a very short time. As long as I can do the calculations to manipulate the world around me, I can do nearly anything, however, there is a danger in making them incorrectly, and even if that does not happen, each manipulation takes a physical toll that makes further calculations impossible and leaves me exhausted enough to sleep for days.”

    Very true. I had to spend three days as fat Ikki because Ken passed out and couldn’t undo what he’d done to me.” Ikkyu frowned as some of the others laughed or smirked. “It’s not funny. Don’t laugh. Come on. It was horrible. If he did it to you, you’d hate it, too. I mean, there are worse things he could do than make a guy fat. That’s adding mass. If you think about him subtracting—”

    Ikkyu. Enough.”

    Yeah,” Shin said. “No one wants to think about that.”

    Especially not me, which is why you will not have to fear my ability being used to that purpose,” Kent said, disgusted. “This is… ridiculous.”

    I think it’s best we keep Kent and Waka as floaters who would go where they’re needed most,” the Silver King said. “Remember, green’s plan will be to exhaust us. We need to keep our strength up and exhaust them.”

    Kent grimaced. Waka put a hand on his shoulder.

    If their plan works, you and I will not be needed at all.”

    That, Kent thought, was no consolation. “Will you still blame green if you are?”

    I will blame Hisui. I can separate the actions of one person from those of all, even if I felt no inclination to stay with the Gold Clan after my father died.”

    That was different.”

    Agreed.”

    ***************

    Now that the roles are settled, would you care to enlighten us as to the nature and scope of your research?” Munakata asked, his curiosity on the matter still peaked, perhaps even more so now that he had heard the man’s other theory. While he did not care to be a mere pawn of the Slate’s will and preferred to be making his own way with the power he’d been granted, he could not deny that the idea was intriguing. He had even given some similar thought to the matter when he first became king, before dismissing it as an unimportant thought exercise.

    More lectures?” The red clansman groaned. “Come on. That’s optional, right?”

    Does it really matter, Misaki? It’s not like an idiot like you could understand it.”

    Damn you, Monkey. I ought to—”

    Enough,” the order came, oddly enough from the clanless one, though Waka’s sense of authority was no less strong for his lack of affiliation. Munakata would like to see the extent of his abilities, since the man had no small amount of confidence, a great deal of menace, and the training of the Usagi as well, so if the younger members chose to defy him, he thought he’d let that situation play out to its natural conclusion.

    I don’t take orders from you.”

    You might not, but you’re sitting next to Shin, who is still my employee. Do you wish to tempt your fate or not?”

    Yata looked at the newcomer and frowned. “You wouldn’t really take his orders over Anna’s, would you? Hurt a fellow member of HOMRA?”

    Anna hasn’t given me any orders,” Shin said, “and yeah, I sure as hell am not stupid enough to tell Waka no.”

    Waka smiled. Munakata sensed in him an equal, even if the other man was not a king. His leadership skills were clear.

    You spoke before of elliptical patterns,” Munakata said, adjusting his glasses. “You named epicenters of significance as well. Kugustu, Mihashira Tower, Dresden, and Prague.”

    Kent nodded. He seemed fatigued now, as if that bit of public speaking was too much for him. “I have been tracking the level of Strain activity.”

    Big deal. Everyone does that.”

    No, not everyone,” Waka disagreed. “Kent’s focus has been different from the start. You track active Strains, process them, arrest them, or beat them. Kent has been tracking the number of Strains as well as the level of their abilities.”

    That’s still data collection,” Fushimi said. “We have those kinds of records. He could have been doing that for us.”

    I want nothing to do with clans,” Kent said, which to Munakata’s mind was a pity—he had a very Blue mindset. “And it’s not the same. Your data comes from active users and those cataloged at birth. Though the exact nature of its connection to my ability is elusive—my current theory is that by manipulating any object or person’s mass or state of being, I must have some kind of… connection to them or perhaps the wavelengths running through them, and through that, I can tell latent Strains as well as the active ones, their respective power level, and even the amount of waste given off by the Slate. It has increased, as has the level of Strains all over the country, but those already existing do tend to congregate around the epicenters I previously mentioned or have past ties there.”

    You sense Strains?”

    And auras. Being in this room is the equivalent of nails on a chalkboard. No, it was when I walked in. It has only grown worse as the conversation progressed.”

    Indeed. That would be a considerable drawback to being in a clan,” Munakata said, and Kent nodded. “Still, you are welcome to join Scepter Four if you’d like. Fushimi didn’t offer the best recruitment speech, but you do seem suited to us, even more so than your friend.”

    Ooh, do it, Ken. Then we could be clan.”

    You do realize that makes it even less appealing, don’t you, Ikkyu?”

    You say that, but I know better. You are my best friend, after all, and sooner or later your parents are going to adopt me because we’re like brothers anyway.”

    No one understands you two idiots but each other, at least,” Shin muttered, and Ikki prepared to throw a spade at him.

    It was clear Ikkyu’s ability had increased, though his was not the only one. Strains and their ability levels are increasing across Japan.”

    It coincides with the absence of the Gold King,” Waka said. “Kent first noticed it then, though he didn’t know the significance of the date.”

    You mean his death.”

    No, I mean his absence.” Waka fixed his gaze on the Silver King. “How long was it? A year? Yes, about that. You had disappeared after the death of the Colorless King. The Gold King was also absent, though his death is more recent than that.”

    Your connection to him was strong,” the Silver King said. He sighed. “Yes. The lieutenant found me after the incident on the school island. He kept me hidden while green made their initial move, but he… fell ill and died.”

    Munakata had suspected the Gold King had been absent for some time, but he had not had it confirmed until now, not even when the Silver King told them of his death and asked for an alliance. “The levels you said were dangerous.”

    Kent nodded. “Strains are increasing and their abilities. Ikkyu’s relatively harmless one is more powerful than it used to be. Others that were latent no longer are. Some that were previously under control may now be unstable.”

    Fushimi,” Awashima said, “when we return to headquarters, organize a search and analysis of all recorded Strains to see if there has been an increase in their Strain abilities.”

    Yes, ma’am.”

    If that is all, I will be going now,” Kent said, getting to his feet and starting to leave.

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