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Unveiling the Mask

written by Dare Cheung
HTML-ized by Subito

  Kimiko checked her watch. It was nearly time. Seven Chobetsu agents, excluding herself had set up position in the hallways around room 521 in the Kadozaguri apartment. Local police forces had lent a small group of special task force officers as well. Four of them were already outside the door; two were handling a special door-smashing ram while the other two were readying their sidearms. Kimiko checked her watch again. 9:59pm. One more minute to go. She studied that watch carefully, waiting for the digits to change. When they finally did, she took a deep breath, raised her arm and closed her fist sharply.

  The two police officers swung back the ram and smashed it against the door, bringing it down. At nearly the same instant, the other two officers began to swarm into the room, followed by several of the Chobetsu agents. Kimiko was about to get up when she noticed her shoelace was untied. She paused for a second, not wanting to trip over herself. She looked again and saw that it was indeed tied. Strange...

  A loud explosion rocked the hallway. Instintictively, Kimiko shielded her eyes from the blast. One agent was flung back against the wall, and slumped to the ground. Smoke filled the hallway along with splintered pieces of wood. Five men burst through the destroyed doorway, guns blazing.

  "It's a trap!" Kimiko yelled, pulling herself back around the corner of the hall. She returned fire when there was a pause. She chanced a look around and saw the five men were racing down the opposite direction. She leaned to her collar. "Five men heading your way, over!"

  "Got it," a voice crackled in her earpiece.

  She stepped quickly into the hallway. It was smoky and hard to see. Her gun was raised at eye level but the five men had already fled. She raced over to the first agent on the floor. She didn't have to check to know he was dead. She closed her eyes a moment and got back up. Two agents fell in step beside her. They moved into the room silently.

  The four policemen were sprawled on the floor along with a second dead agent. The room was large and the explosion had destroyed most of the items inside. There was a table with laptops at the other end. She made a move towards it when a blinking light caught her eye.

  "Dammit!! Everyone out! OUT OUT!!" She started to run back through the doorway when a second thought entered her mind. Without giving a split second to decide, she spun around and headed back for the table. The lights were blinking faster. She leapt onto the table, grabbed one of the laptops and jumped towards the window. At the same time, the lights stopped and the rest of the explosives wired to the room exploded.

  Kimiko cradled the laptop under one arm and the other covered her face as she broke through the glass window. The force of the explosion helped push her out, a little too violently though. She felt herself falling through the air. She moved the laptop and clutched it tightly against her chest. As she fell five stories down, the blast from the explosives engulfed outwards the open window. Kimiko prayed for something to break her fall.

  Luckily something did. Kimiko tore through the overhang canopy of the front entrance but it reduced her descent. She rolled sideways on impact with the ground to lessen the force but it still hurt. After she stopped, she opened her eyes, breathing hard. "Itai.." she muttered.

  * * *

  Kimiko received several bandages on her back for the burns from the explosion. She had small cuts on her face but they would heal completely. And finally her shoulder and left arm were bruised. She was lucky to be alive. The same couldn't be said for eight men.

  "We lost two agents on entry, including four of the local police, and another two while the suspects were making their escape," the Chief debriefed her. "They came out the service entrance near the loading bay. We had four men posted there but they were carrying quite heavy artillery."

  Kimiko nodded. "They knew we were coming," he continued, "the whole place was wired up. The door was rigged with explosives that went off when the door opened." He got up. "Thankfully we recovered one of their laptops. That was a very stupid thing you pulled, Souichi." The chief was serious at first but he smiled. "But good job nonetheless. Just don't keep pulling those stunts."

  "Yes Chief," she automatically replied.

  "The bad news, if you can believe there is more, is that we can't crack the encryption on the files. We've tried our best people and software and nothing. We need those files because we believe they contain schedules for the next shipment of their guns." He pounded a fist into his other palm. "I want to be there when that shipment occurs and I want these bastards."

  "I'll get right on it, Chief," Kimiko responded. She was about to get up when the chief motioned for her to stay seated.

  "No, don't bother. We need a specialist to crack this one but unfortunately she's detached at the moment.."

  "What do you mean 'detached', Chief?"

  He picked up the file on his desk as he had already been reading it prior to her arrival to his office. "Well, she was working at first but we sort of lost track of her. We've located her now and I want you to bring her back."

  Kimiko was confused. "Bring her back?" She took the file from his hands. "Is she a rogue agent?"

  "Read the file."

  When Kimiko opened the file she gasped and nearly dropped it.

  * * *

  The students huddled around the marks board at Tokyo International College. Everyone was waiting to see the results of the latest set of midterms. The hallway was abuzz with conversation and excitement. Some students walked away with happy grins while others didn't look so good. Elyssa Au Yeung, majoring in electronics, stood by the wall away from the crowd. She didn't want to fight to see her marks. Once everyone left she could go check. Unless..

  "Elyssa!" a girl shouted as she left the group of students. "Elyssa, you placed above 90's again! That's amazing!"

  "Thanks Karen," Elyssa thanked her school friend.

  "How do you do it? Getting 90's in post-secondary is almost unheard of!"

  Elyssa shrugged modestly. "I dunno, I just study hard. I always seem to remember exactly everything in class. And it's all just a matter of applying it properly."

  "You gotta help me study for the finals Elyssa! I bombed the Hardware midterm! Please?"

  She grinned. "Sure, no problem Karen. Oops, I gotta head to work!"

  Karen shook her head with a smile. "Top marks, a cool job, how do you manage? All you need is a good looking boyfriend and then I'd be really jealous!"

  Elyssa laughed. "Well, two out of three isn't bad, huh? Besides, you're seeing Michael, aren't you? Now who should be jealous?" The two girls giggled and Elyssa waved goodbye to return to the retreat.

  * * *

  Business was normal at the Lurker's Retreat. As the bar was nearing closing time, Elyssa wiped the tables that were empty and checked up on the tables that weren't, reminding the patrons that it was time to leave soon. She returned to the bar where Madoka was busily typing on her computer, probably chatting, from what Elyssa could see.

  Madoka said she could leave early as things were relatively quiet. Elyssa thanked her, hung up her apron and headed back to her apartment at the UCHWAN. The place was hers for the past few months simply because her roommates Lina Miyagami and her brother Saphiros had not been around. With all the strange people coming in and out of Capow, that didn't bother her. She liked the open space.

  Elyssa got into her pajamas and went to bed. She had a quiz tomorrow but she didn't want to study. She remembered everything from class. Closing her eyes, she went to sleep.

  Elyssa's eyes flung open. It had felt like mere seconds but when she looked at the clock, she had been asleep for four hours. Then she noticed she was naked. She pulled the blankets over her immediately, heart racing. What happened to her? Where were her clothes? Why was she just lying on the bed with no blankets?

  She swallowed hard. She listened carefully in case someone was in the apartment. She prayed not. She was scared. After several minutes of lying completely still in bed, she got up. Wrapping the blanket around her body, she looked for her clothes in the dark. Her pajamas, as she found, were neatly folded inside her dresser. She walked over to the bathroom, dragging the blanket in behind her. Turning on the light, she nearly jumped.

  The figure in the mirror was not her. No, it was her. She blinked. It was her reflection but it didn't feel like her. She dropped the blanket and she stared herself. The reflection stared back. What was happening to her? The past few weeks she had felt uneasy about herself. She woke up disoriented at night, face drenched with sweat. This was the first time she had found herself naked. It scared her greatly. Furthermore, she had the distinct feeling things weren't right with her. Was she losing her mind? She sat down on the ground and brought her knees to her chest and closed her eyes.

  * * *

  Lyta hummed softly as she swept the steps of her shrine. She didn't know much about being a priestess but, after watching some stuff on the box with moving pictures, she noticed that shrine keepers were usually sweeping their steps. She didn't know why but she did it anyway, even though the steps were so clean you could probably eat off them.

  Ahlen was practicing with his sword in the front courtyard near the large bell. He was shirtless and that distracted Lyta frequently. Sometimes she would sweep and find herself staring at him as he practised until she realized that she wasn't sweeping anymore but leaning on the broom and thinking things she shouldn't be thinking.

  Lyta found herself leaning on the broom and staring again. Frustrated, she dropped it on the ground and marched down the steps (which incidentally had two very neat piles of dirt and dust on either side) and towards Ahlen. He stopped as he saw her coming. There was a determined look etched on her face.

  He cocked his head slightly, his way of asking if something was wrong.

  Lyta didn't bother relaying any signs through body language but instead stood firmly before him with arms crossed over chest. "Alright, I've had enough!"

  "Enough of what?" he asked confusedly.

  "With you practising with your shirt off, sweat glistening off your hardened body... us alone in this little temple with nobody around... nobody to bother us.." She quickly stepped foward and put her hands in his. "I want you, now!" she breathed.

  Ahlen gulped. "Ah??" He was completely caught off guard.

  Lyta decided for the more direct approach and pulling him down a little, she planted a hard kiss on his lips. He squirmed at first, trying to break away but he gave in after a few seconds and reciprocated with full vigor. Lyta felt her body heat rise hotter than a dragu-slave. Her hands were running wildly through Ahlen's hair.

  Then something caught the corner of her eye. It was Elyssa, just as her head peeked over the stairs leading up the hill to the temple. She stopped when she saw Ahlen and Lyta, lips locked in a passionate embrace.

  Lyta broke off. Her cheeks were burning red and she covered her face with her hand. Ahlen was a little tipsy but grabbed the shirt he left on the bench. Lyta remained slightly behind him as they both went to greet Elyssa.

  "Anoo... I can leave if this is a bad time.." Elyssa started.

  "Sure thing," Lyta said.

  "No, it's okay," Ahlen said at the same time.

  The two looked at eachother. Lyta flashed a "Get rid of her" look but Ahlen didn't catch it. He smiled and said, "What brings you to the shrine?"

  Lyta frowned inwardly. "Yes, Elyssa-san, what can we do for you?"

  "Oh well, I just wanted to talk," Elyssa replied.

  Lyta noticed her composure wasn't her normal, cheerful self. Instead she looked pensive and confused. Maybe even a little depressed. She let go of Ahlen's hand and took Elyssa by the arm. "What's wrong?" she asked with true concern.

  They walked over to the stone benches by the bell and gazebo. Sitting down, Elyssa smoothed her skirt. "Well.. I'm not sure.. that is.. it's just.. oh! Okay." She took a breath and looked straight at Lyta, "Have you ever felt like you're not who you are?"

  Lyta blinked then smiled. "Sure! I've felt like that before. When I was growing up, I was always referred to as 'Lina's daughter' or 'Gourry's daughter'. Do you know how bad that is? I didn't have my own identity. I didn't have a name for myself. Everything was already determined because of who my parents were. Making friends were hard. When I was a little kid, I would meet someone and I would try to be friends with them but their parents were afraid that if their kid somehow got me mad, they would really get it from my mother and father. And let's not talk about when I got older and the countless guys who tried to date me. It was endless annoyance! It wasn't until I left home and came here that I truly found out who I am and who I belong with." She gave Ahlen a sweet look.

  Elyssa shook her head. "No, I mean. Well, it's different. You had to make a name for yourself, become more than just your parents heritage. What I mean is, have you ever felt like you aren't the person you were the day before? Like you're living someone else's life with their face and experiences?"

  "Uhhh... I can't say that I have," Lyta answered.

  Elyssa got up. "That's okay. I think.. I think I'd better be going to classes."

  "Okay," Lyta said, disappointed she couldn't help the girl a little more. She still seemed lost.. The two watched as Elyssa disappeared over the steps. Without so much as a glance, the two slipped into the main shrine, slid the door behind them and continued where they left off. Lyta had managed to get Ahlen's shirt unbuttoned again and they dropped to the floor.

  Suddenly they heard Elyssa scream. Lyta swore silently, got up and slid the door open. The two raced out to see what was wrong.

  Elyssa was backing up the stairs. Beyond her was a Kimiko. She had a gun aimed squarely at the girl and her own face was emotionless.

  "Onee-sama!" Ahlen shouted. "What are you doing?"

  "Stay away from her," Kimiko warned. "She's not who she seems."

  "What are you talking about?" Lyta asked. Instead Kimiko kept advancing with her gun ready.

  "Stop this Onee-sama," Ahlen pleaded. He was concerned for everyone. Especially his sister if something was causing her to behave irrationally.

  Lyta decided to take action. She quickly stepped in front of the frightened Elyssa with arms wide.

  "Get out of the way Lyta!" she snapped.

  "Stop Kimiko-san! What's going on?"

  "I have to take Elyssa back with me. I'm under orders. She's to come back no matter what. It's for her own safety!"

  Lyta created a magical raywing barrier around the agent. A bubble enveloped her and she floated up into the air. Kimiko fell inside the bubble. She thought about firing but Lyta headed that idea off. "I wouldn't," she said, "the bubble will explode if you do." In reality it would just pop but she didn't think Kimiko knew anything about her spells.

  "Let me out of here," she ordered, not deciding to call Lyta's bluff. She pointed to Elyssa, who was cowering behind Lyta for protection. "She's dangerous and she doesn't even know it. I have to bring her back for her own good."

  Elyssa blinked. The, feeling the fear rise away from her, she stepped out from behind Lyta. "Wait, you said I'm not who I seem. I've been feeling the same things lately. Do you have the answers to my confusion?"

  "You're not you," Kimiko answered. "You're really a Chobetsu agent undercover. In fact, you're so deep undercover that they erased your mind and planted you with new memories so that you could pass yourself off as someone else and accomplish some mission. I don't know what it was but it's time for you to return to your old life."

  "What? That's absurd!" Lyta put up a compromising gesture. "Okay, even if that were true, why the gun and hostility?" she asked. She still kept the raywing bubble suspended in the air with Kimiko inside.

  "The file said that the process might become undone prematurely but with unknown results without a proper resurfacing. They said you could be dangerous. I didn't want to take any chances. They said you might refuse to return. Or even become violent."

  Elyssa swallowed hard. She was feeling so confused. More so even now. She didn't know who she was anymore. A part of her told her not to believe Kimiko's story. It was so far-fetched and how could it be real? She had a whole life behind her, how could she deny everything she remembered? Yet a little voice inside just whispered one word: believe.

  "I can't..." fear returning to her voice. If what Kimiko said was true, they were going to take away the only life she knew. They were going to erase her."I'm scared. I liked this life. I felt good about who I was. What if I start remembering things that I did before? What if I killed someone before?"

  "Elyssa, if you don't come back, your mind may deteriorate. You may lose this life as well. Do you want that to happen? Do you want to become a vegetable?" Kimiko was getting desparate. She hit the bubble of the raywing and it burst. She fell to the ground hard. Lyta tried to create another raywing bubble but Kimiko was too fast. She had already gotten to Elyssa and held her tightly by the wrists. "You have to trust me. Once you regain your old memories, everything will feel normal again. You're only scared because you don't know what's going to happen."

  "She's scared because you came here to take away everything she's known!" Lyta spoke up. "Kimiko, I respect you because you are a good person. I believe that. And I'm believing your crazy story, as impossible as it sounds to me. But what you are asking of Elyssa is too much! Now, we're sitting on my turf. As priestess of this shrine, I say that you let Elyssa decide. If she wants to stay here, then I'll protect her. I don't want to fight you but I'll protect her." Lyta's stomach fluttered. Those were big words she had just spoken. She hoped Ahlen wasn't going to be mad at her.

  Kimiko thought for a moment and let go of Elyssa. "Alright," she whispered and put away her gun. She folded her arms across her chest. "What's it going to be?"

  Elyssa looked helplessly to Lyta. She looked back to Kimiko. "I'm so scared of what might happen. Yet the funny thing is, I believe you too, Kimiko. I believe in your story. I don't know who I really am. But I'm Also scared of losing this life. Can't you see? It's all I've known."

  "That's because you can't remember anything from before!"

  "But I remember growing up in the States. I remember my first doll. My first boyfriend. My first kiss. But somehow, it feels like it's fake. It feels like someone else's memories. Someone else's experiences." She paused. "Alright, I'll come back." She turned to Lyta. "Thank you for.. for protecting me I guess. I owe a lot to you, not just for today I believe."

  Lyta just smiled. "Good luck, Elyssa, or whoever you are. Come back here when you find out everything you need to know. I'm sure you'll still remember us."

  "I will."

  "C'mon Elyssa," Kimiko said. "The sooner you get your mind reorganized, the better. We've got some important work for you."

  As the two disappeared over the stairs, Lyta felt Ahlen's arms wrap around her body. She turned around in his embrace and looked up at him. "Are you mad?" she asked.

  "Mad? For what?"

  "For threatening your sister?"

  "Mad? No. Concerned as to what could have happened. Yes."

  "Good, I'm glad." She smiled wickedly already putting the events out of her mind.. "Now where were we before all these interruptions?" She planted a soft kiss on his lips. "Oh yes.. there we were." She kissed him again, a little harder this time.

  A cough interrupted them. Lyta turned to see an older man, standing with a long staff in his hands. He had a fist over his mouth.

  One thought entered Lyta's mind. Someone was going to fry.

  "Hi, is this the Shin Muchitsujo shrine?" the man asked. "My name's Talon Gauss. I'm uh, looking for some flowers for a friend? Hey! What the--?"

  "I'm going to cast the biggest fireball I can make even if it drains me for a week!" she screamed.

  "Lyta!" Ahlen shouted, trying to hold her back from strangling the new visitor.

  * * *

  The lab room where Kimiko had brought Elyssa to was large and cold. In the centre was a chair surrounded by a group of computers and monitors and other medical equipment. The whole entire set up resembled an execution by electrocution. That didn't help to calm Elyssa's nerves at all. The doctors took Elyssa from Kimiko and began preparing her for the procedure. Kimiko gave Elyssa one last, reassuring squeeze and let go of her hand. She returned to the observation room where her chief was waiting.

  "Can I get some answers now?" Kimiko demanded. "I felt like crap the way I had to bring her back."

  "You know this job isn't easy, Kimiko," the chief reminded her harshly, "but yes, you can have some answers."

  "Who is she?"

  "She's Elyssa Au Yeung, a Chobetsu specialist. Her skills lie in decryption and computer hacking."

  "Is that why you brought her back? To break the files on that laptop?"

  "Yes. We've been after this group of gun smugglers for months now and we can finally capture them with Elyssa back with the agency."

  "Okay, why all the cloak and dagger before? What was with the brain washing and new personality? What was her mission?"

  The chief turned to her. "Elyssa's special. She's a gifted person with an incredible mind. She's one of those people with a 'photographic memory' memory if you will, but it's more than just that. She can pick up a stack of papers, glance through each page for less than a second and write the whole thing out a week later, word for word. How does she do it? She recognizes patterns and fiddles with them inside her mind. That's why she's such a good hacker."

  "Okay, but that doesn't explain the entire brain wiping."

  "A while back we were investigating Mashima Heavy Industries. You should know, you were involved. It was no coincidence that Elyssa was involved too. We wanted someone inside. We knew that Mashima was doing tests on employees and erasing their minds afterwards. That meant if we sent in an agent, they would have spotted her immediately prior to testing. But if we rewrote Elyssa's mind with a new personality, then they wouldn't notice. We were able to get a full report of their happenings from Elyssa subconsciously."

  "What about Mashima's tests on her? They brainwashed her too. Didn't that conflict with her supressed memories?"

  "As I recall it," the chief answers, "her memories weren't exactly surpressed. They were 'removed' from her mind completely. There was nothing there to supress. Elyssa was worried that the intensive mind procedures Mashima would do might affect what we had done. That was why she was supposed to return back immediately. But she didn't and we lost her in the shuffle of paperwork."

  Kimiko frowned. "You used her. What you did to her was unfair. She had to give up her entire life and become someone she wasn't."

  The chief frowned back. "You don't understand. It was Elyssa's idea. She even helped design the algorithms that control the procedure for it all. She wanted to do it. She was the only one who could. Because of her sharp mind, she's tough enough to go through what she went through. Otherwise her mind would have been fried at the beginning of the test. Besides, her incredibly youthful looks give her a nice cover as a student. She's older than she seems. She's almost your age actually."

  Kimiko looked back to the lab room. The resurfacing procedure seemed to be over and the doctors were unbuckling the straps to Elyssa's chair. She got up tenatively, tried to stand. She looked dizzy and the doctors had to help stabilize her. But she regained control quickly. The girl who was Elyssa walked around and finally entered the observation room with a few doctors in tow.

  "Is she?" the chief asked.

  "The procedure was a complete success," the doctor answered. "Her original memories have reintegrated and she remembers everything now. Scans showed that no deterioriation in her mind has occurred. She's fit to return to duty, surprisingly." The two doctors left.

  The girl smiled. "See, chief, I told you I was the only one capable of doing it." She turned to Kimiko. "You were right, Kimiko. Everything is fine now. I remember who I am and I feel like myself again."

  Kimiko didn't respond. She just frowned. "I don't even know what to call you, Elyssa."

  "Call me Elyssa Au Yeung because it is my real name. I was born and raised in Hong Kong. I went to HKU and studied a lot of computers and that attracted Chobetsu's attention. I've been with the agency as long as you have, Kimiko. It's just we've never really crossed paths."

  The chief got up. "Well, we have things to get to. Elyssa, we need your skills once again."

  "Lead on, Chief."

  * * *

  It was child's play for Elyssa to crack the encryption on the files. She took a few moment to glance at what the files were encrypted to and quickly wrote an algorithm to reverse it.

  "Looks like they have a shipment coming tonight," Elyssa said, moving her finger down the screen. "At this location, midnight."

  "Alright, let's get a move on then! They can't expect us this time!"

  * * *

  Kimiko checked her watch and her shoelaces this time. Somehow, thinking they were untied last time had saved her life. But now she didn't care. She wanted to take these guys down. She wanted to do it for the four agents that had given their lives in the previous bust. The digits on her watched changed to 12:00am. Once again, she raised her arm and signalled for them to move.

  The sale of guns was scheduled to take place in an abandoned warehouse. This time the Chobetsu team decided to use a little payback and instead of busting down the door, the blew open the front entrance with C-4.

  Kimiko led the agents in after the explosion. "Chobetsu! Drop your weapons, you're under arrest!" She didn't think they would. She hoped they wouldn't. They didn't and opened fire instead.

  The agents, who had surprise on their side this time, scrambled to boxes for cover and returned fire. The gunrunners had little cover for themselves and soon each were picked off by Chobetsu fire. Most of the enemy fell right away.

  One man scrambled into his van and sped towards the gaping hole in the front entrance. From around the corner, Elyssa ran in front of the van and raised her weapon. She began firing at the driver but her aim was unsteady. The driver accelerated at her. Kimiko ran and grabbed the girl just before she hit the speeding van. Kimiko got back up and fired at the tires, blowing them out as the van raced away. It spun out of control and hit a post. The two agents ran to the front of the van to capture down the driver but he was already dead. His head hit the windshield hard.

  "Should have wore his seatbelt," Kimiko noted.

  Elyssa studied her gun. "Good at computers, bad at shooting people. Oh well." She gave Kimiko a soft look. "Thank you for saving me back there. I know after all that we've been through the past year, we've had problems together. But I really hope things will work out." Then she took Kimiko's hand and rubbed it against her own cheek.

  * * *

  Kimiko stretched out in the little study of her apartment where she watched TV on the couch. She had the news on but her mind was elsewhere. She was thinking about everything that had happened. Elyssa Au Yeung was really a Chobetsu specialist. She wasn't a student she knew when they first met. When Elyssa was involved with Mashima and the mecha suit, it wasn't by accident. It was Chobetsu's intricate plan to get inside the industry giant. And not only did she go through the whole crazy procedure of becoming a different person just to fool Mashima's brain scans and psychological testings, but she actually helped designed the whole procedure! Kimiko sighed. She supposed she had to admire Elyssa's dedication to the agency.

  There was a knock on her door and Kimiko got up to see who it was. When she opened it, Elyssa was standing outside her apartment with several suitcases and boxes of stuff.

  "Elyssa??! What are you doing?"

  "I'm moving in!"


  Elyssa smiled happily. "It was a condition I made before I underwent the mission to change my memories. I said that I would proceed with the guarantee that after I resumed my normal life I would become your partner and be allowed to live with you. Chief's orders so you can't go against them unless you want to be fired."

  "WHAT?!" Kimiko repeated.

  Elyssa waggled a finger. "Repeating yourself is often a sign of a stressed mind, did you know that? I'll let you in on a secret. I knew you when you first came to Chobetsu but you didn't know me. And the truth is, I like you."

  "WHA--" Kimiko was about to repeat herself for the third time. "Uh uh, no way, you can't move in with me! First of all, there's no room. Second of all.. I like men! MEN!"

  "I like men too... I just like you better! Oh come on Kimiko! It'll be fun. I'm still the same bubbly, cheerful person you knew. I just have a deeper and more mysterious background than you think. I already got out of my lease at the other place I was staying before. So now I have no place to go but here. And I know that Ahlen used to live with you so I can have his room." She batted her eyelashes. "Personally I would have liked it if we could share the bed together but I won't rush it."

  "..." Kimiko just gasped. She wanted to faint. She wanted to shoot Elyssa. She wanted to just get out of her. So she did. She grabbed her coat and headed out the door.

  "Where are you going?"

  "I'm going to the Lurker's Retreat and get myself drunk. Maybe when I come back everything will just go away, including you!"

  "Oh good! When you come home you're all mine!"

  "AAAGH!" she ran down the hallway and down the stairs as fast as possible.

  "I hope Kimiko realizes I still work there parttime," Elyssa said to no one in particular.

  "Woof! Woof!"

  "Oh, Pochi-chan! Don't worry, we're going to be just fine here." She picked up the little dog cage. Inside, her puppy wagged its tail excitedly. "I missed you too Pochi-chan. I'm so glad Hanikara took such good care of you over the last year. C'mon, let's get unpacked!"

  She began bringing her stuff into her new home. "I wonder if Kimiko is allergic to dogs?"

  * * *

  As the sun set over the Shin Muchitsujo shrine, Talon Gauss patted a tender bump on his head with a wet towel. He had managed to get some flowers but not before the girl/priestess began hitting him with his own staff.

  "Geez," he muttered, "you'd think they could just get a hotel room or something."


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