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I'm not sure how long it was until the next major operation we went on, but at some point during the intervening time, Mom did actually manage to drag me in for that drink. I learned a few things about Natsume Hikasa then—she took her alcohol much slower than Mom did, for one thing. I felt a little out of place—while Natsume mostly just smiled and nodded, Mom reminisced about all sorts of adventures they'd gone on when they were younger... or, well, that Mom had gone on and Natsume had wound up stuck to.
Eventually, I asked. "How did you two meet?"
That got Mom to actually have to think for a bit, but Natsume had an answer ready to go. "Our families were acquainted," she said, holding the stem of her glass between her fingers. "The Akaneno family had a reputation, even then, for those of exceptional talent, and we Hikasas have governed the talented of Japan for generations. As our parents took their time as heads of the families, it was only natural that two similarly-aged daughters of these families would wind up together."
"Ah, yeah," Homura said, kicking back and drinking some wine straight out of a bottle she'd appropriated for herself, "your dad was such a drag." Pause. "So was mine, though," and she took another drink. "Here's to not repeating the mistakes of our forefathers, right?"
"What mistakes would those be?" Natsume asked.
"Huh?" Homura sat up, raising her eyebrows. "You know, like..."
"In your case, Homura," Natsume said, "of course. After all, I never would've had to babysit you so much had your own parents paid attention to you. But I am ever so curious as to what mistakes you believe my family has made—"
"Y'know!" Homura said, leaning forward onto the table. "Being all old and fusty! I mean, here we are, now, right? We're on the cusp of a new era—we're surviving this crazy dragon apocalypse thing! We can pick and choose what we want to keep, right? We can do it better!"
"By parading around and acting like a moron?" Natsume asked.
There was a look in Homura's eye that meant a few things—primarily it meant that she was drunk. "Sometimes that's what people need, right? I mean, me being the smartest lady in Japan doesn't mean much if people can't put a face to my name! People love heroes! Heroes give people the strength to keep going, y'know?"
"So you're saying that the sin of my ancestors was being insufficiently personable," Natsume said.
"Enough about that!" Homura wiped the line of discussion away with her hands. "I'm saying, uh, yeah, what was I saying... right!" She raised her finger. "I'm right, right, Chisa?" Huh? I started up. "Right?"
"I, um, don't understand?" I mumbled.
"Nacchan always gives me crap about this," Mom said—and she was Mom again, now that I wasn't just looking at two old friends drinking, "but I just think heroes are the coolest. How heroes can just come out of nowhere to save the day!"
When Mom said that, Natsume did something I hadn't heard before. She laughed. It was a dry laugh that made her shake her head and put her forehead in her hand. "I can't believe you sometimes, Homura. Do you not understand what you just did?"
"I asked my kid for her opinion," Mom asked, raising her eyebrow at Natsume.
After flapping my gums for a little bit, I said, "I don't know." I cleared my throat. "Heroes... I used to really admire them when I was younger. Paragons of justice who'd fight onward through anything, like Mom says." My eyes stared down at the hem of my skirt. "But sometimes I wonder. What do those heroes think about their own role? Someone who comes from nothing to fight for justice—they can't ever stop fighting for justice and return to nothing unless there's no more story to tell. And what about people who didn't volunteer? Sure, it's nice to have heroes, but... I just don't know."
"Spoken like a true hero!" Mom laughed, patting me on the shoulder. "At least you volunteered, right, Chisa?"
"Er, right," I said. Natsume laughed, too, but it was that same dry, head-shaking laugh, like she was laughing at a joke I wasn't sure I'd heard.
I wondered, then, that night. How does a hero... stop? Can they ever stop being a hero?
I'd wondered that a lot.
...'cause I've got the wind in my hair and a fire within, 'cause there's something beginning! I got a mystery to solve, and excitement to spaaaaaaare!
Really. It's Disney showtunes now? At 4 AM?
I've got a song in my heart sometimes, Miroku.
I guess, but singing like that makes you sound lame.
Does not! It's fun!
Says me... and Richter, and he's an adult.
It's fine not to sing. Personally, I think your drawings of Youka and Gatou beating up dragons together are very nice.
Shut up! Don't look at my diary, jerk!
Just trying to encourage your interests.
Hehehehe. You're just worried about not being 'cool'.
Am not! I'm so much more mature than you.
Well, I heard that girls mature faster than boys.
Nuh-uh—...Jeanne? Do you, uh, do you see that?
...Oh, uh... Yes? Richter, do you see that?
...Um... that reading right there, you mean?
And that bit of footage?
Yes, um. I do. What... what is that?
I'll, um, I'll go wake someone up. Anyone.
Yeah. Good idea.
Part 13: Steel Myself for Battle
I'd had fairly restful sleep that night, which was a surprising blessing. Nightmares had been plaguing my sleep for the past few days, so I was really enjoying actually being asleep.
Then the morning decided to announce itself with an earthquake.
Mmhm. I'm up. I'm up.
Yeah, I gathered.
Well, we're on red alert. You've been ordered to the Meeting Room—hurry!
So. Morning. Where's everyone else?
Probably already off.
Who are we killing?
Well, we should probably get off to the Meeting Ro—
Mio, did you make this bento?
...This isn't going to be drugged, is it?
Natsume hands us a Makunouchi, which is a multi-target MP recovery item, healing 30 for everyone. Awful nice! Thanks, Boss!
Mind if we go check on Aoi and Genji?
They're not up yet?
Oh, Genji can sleep through just about anything.
Morning, Unit 10! We're under attack!
I'm up, I'm up.
Don't worry, Senpai, I'll get the ol' grump out of bed and up to work.
Lovestruck Worker: It couldn't have been... Mr. Gatou's snoring, could it? That can't be it. Can it?
Oh, yeah. It very much can.
We should probably check on everyone around here just in case, if we're under attack.
Theeeere's Captain Chisa. Knew you'd get there eventually.
I had to wake up a bit first.
...Unless I've missed something important, they definitely aren't here. Miya, have we missed something important?
Not that I know of. If any dragons have come through the front door, they're very stealthy.
I was about to turn away, when—
Um, now? Really?
That's a honto, pronto! Are Japanese folks super night owls? They all seem to come in at 12 mayonaka!
Plenty of people get a second wind late at night.
It's a new day, and a new day brings with it new quests. Right now, obviously. Why wouldn't we?
Toshima? That's a new one.
Even more yabai bakemonos have shown up there! You'll probably be going there anyway, Taichou, so even if you never forget the smell, it doesn't matter! Nippon needs you!
Oh, I suppose that it's probably part of the Scaber's domain.
...Um, it's this big... it's a very large dragon. Kind of like a subway train.
'Warcry' I understood, but 'Scaber'?
I think it's a corruption of 'scabbard' somehow.
Ah, hai-hai. Divine inspiration blasts into the mangaka's mind! Not a bit of control over it!
See? Sharon understands.
Speaking of the sewer. What's this now?
Something awfully taihen's happened... brown water!
That's taihen, alright.
It's unbelievable! The cause is probably in the sewer, but that pit is monster city! So, plumber-san is waiting here at the entrance for you, hero-tachi!
Don't take this the wrong way, babe, but I'm suddenly really glad I'm a side character.
Oh, no, understandable. I'd love to be a side character right now.
Did you see? Did you see? You saw, right? I'll explain, so kitte... brrr, oooh.
You okay there, Sharon?
Sharon-chan is dai sensitive to the cold, hai.
You wanna borrow my shawl? Or I could grab you a coat!
A coat? That's a warauful joke, Mio-chan. This is my style! This blanket shortage is important, so get up there and help the cold! Sharon Furusuga has atsui blood and a heart of fire, though!
I appreciate the dedication.
This quest will have a material impact!
...'cause you're gathering materials in Shibuya, ne?
Ah. Yes. Everything's closed off, but I'm sure we can find something or another.
Hai, hai! Let's Working, Taichou-chan! For all the deets, head to Residential A! The manager-san will give you the lowdown!
The plumber wasn't far away, in the entrance.
Er, two of us, anyway.
Toiling Plumber: I'd be fine alone, y'know, but the boss wouldn't allow it, so to get my work done I had to go through that weird lady and get you. I've been plumbing for thirty years, don't sweat it. So you coming or not? Let's clean this crap up, chop chop!
Um... Unit 13 is a six-person unit, sir. Half of us aren't present. We need to go get them.
Toiling Plumber: Seriously? Then you better make it snappy! I'm running out of patience!
Hey, kids. How's guarding the entrance going?
Tanaka: Place is mad bait, but I'm gonna t-try going outside.
Haru: Glad you checked the quest board, Ms. Fudoji. Miss Haru thought about it, but she can't leave the entrance.
If any dragons come in the entrance, roundhouse 'em for me, right?
Haru: You got it, Sensei!
Let's see... We might as well while we're checking up on the civilians, right? Excuse me!
That we are! Lay it on us.
Old Softy: That's something to be thankful for... I donno what we could've done on our own. The truth is... our senior citizens here aren't really dressed for the cold. People are too cold to get sleep, and more and more of them are having back issues. Our supply of blankets is sorely lacking, and it's really hurting our morale.
You could use some of Murakumo's beds.
Old Softy: Uhh, no way! From what I've heard about those, forget the cold, they'll put your back out in a SNAP!
It's true, they're not the best.
This is saying more about you than it is the beds, Youka.
Old Softy: But, I've been gathering info on my own, and people who came out of the Kokubunji subway have said they saw these tanuki-looking animals in there—
Mio dashed out of the room, and a moment later, returned with a bundle of pelts from the badgers in the subway.
Kept 'em around for just this sort of occasion. If you need any help working with them, just ask Lady Mio. I'm quite the handywoman, you know.
Old Softy: Oh, yeah, these are perfect! You don't mind helping out?
What else am I here for, right?
On the bloody battlefields of Comiket did I train my skills. My lady may work with a katana, but the dark countess Mio Akaneno—her blades are shears and scissors.
Old Softy: Then let's get to cutting and handing these out!
Hehe. I'll help too, but I doubt we'll need to do too much.
Oh, you're working, I'm sorry.
Sorry to keep you waiting, Richter. Sharon blindsided us with some work.
Richter's face remained stationary, but I could tell he was gobsmacked by the speed and flourish with which Mio was whacking away at the pelts.
That's Mio for you. Give her a deadline, and it's like time slows down for her.
Kyehehehehe. No matter the place, no matter the time... None of you shall escape from my world!
She's banged out entire manuscripts in a week when she felt the time crunch. She's a smooth operator under pressure.
That's... fascinating. I wish I had that sort of gumption.
But really, do please hurry. The longer I have to dread explaining this, the more nervous I become.
Hobbled Senior: Thanks, kids.
Sickly Spinster: It was getting colder and colder, until I could hardly bear it. They say people are selfish at times like this, so I thought I'd have to grin and bear it... but you kids are so kind. Thank you so much.
Old Softy: Alright. With those, they should be able to make it through their lives as refugees! Unit 13... you're amazing. Not just the way you fight, but the way you care for everyone. I think it'd be wonderful to see you guys up on a flag somewhere.
T'weren't nothing! That's charity, baby.
Softy here gives us an SP Up 100 and three Nano Fixes, along with the fuzzy feelings of having helped the elderly. Go us!
Did I see Richter over there?
He left to let you work.
Aww. Sorry, Richter! We'll be there in a second.
That's charity, baby.
That we are.
ABC Manager: I need someone to go check out my stock. I'm the manager of a shop in Shibuya—"Always Be Cheapest", or the ABC store. Not to blow my own horn overmuch, but my store handles everything from consumer electronics to basic staples. If there's still anything of value there, I thought we could make use of it.
Definitely not a bad idea.
ABC Manager: My store's toward Dogenzaka, in Shibuya, but the front door's a wreck. That said, with her on the case, you're sure to be able to open up a shutter. Try checking the back alley.
Shutter-opener Youka Fudoji, at your service! Any other stores we should be on the lookout for?
ABC Manager: I've talked to some other managers, and their stores in Center Street might have something left. Please just bring back anything you find!
I'm great at scavenging. Plus, I'm sure Satsuki will be delighted to hear.
You really bonded with that trash can, huh?
Privy Man: Hey, I'm not joking! It makes a lot of racket if you're inside it!
Oh, I know. I've had to hide out in trash cans.
You two really are soulmates, huh!
...*sigh* Yes sir, Hatano-san.
MP Hatano: I declare. Where were our countermeasures before? *grumble, grumble* Your boss is in the meeting room.
Alright, let's get the bad news.
Youka, Mio, and I filed into the back of the room. Richter was assisting Kirino with sorting some data, and Satsuki and Koron were sitting in the corner—I saw Satsuki rapidly fidgeting.
koron how long do i have to sit still like this for
The rest of them are here.
Oh! Hey, y'all. Have fun?
We got some quests from Sharon dropped in our lap, so Mio had to shear some blankets.
Miss Furusuga should learn the proper order of operations, in my humble opinion. Is she hard of hearing? Does she lack a vestibular sense?
I think she's just a live-and-let-live kinda chick, Nacchan.
What a nightmarish thought. I already find myself terrified any time Mio exhibits a trait at all similar to you. I would rather there only be one of you.
You really do like me!
Everyone is now present, so I'll begin the emergency meeting. Kirino, report.
Alright. So, firstly, you may have noticed the large quake earlier. That was actually a massive threat. Our analysis indicates that that vibration was not caused by an earthquake, but rather a massive electromagnetic laser.
A what now?!
It detonated with an eighty megaton force. The Takadanobaba neighborhood is gone—there's just a crater left.
All of Takadanobaba, wiped out? It's the size of a small city!
With that kind of power, it's likely an Imperial Dragon.
I agree, but we don't know what its objective is. Hypothetically, it could just randomly target urban areas. Anything could be at risk of destruction—no matter what we guess, things look very bad.
...Hm. We don't have a meaningful answer for that sort of threat.
As long as that Imperial Dragon is out there, the facilities and people here are at risk. We need a plan at once.
You tell them, Richter. You and the Navis found it, after all.
Well, yes, er... Essentially, the... The train tracks from Ikebukuro Station have been ripped out of the ground, bending upwards toward a gravity well such that it constructs a sort of dungeon around it. It looks scalable, but it's quite large—
I'm still having trouble picturing this.
You really will have to see it for yourself! It's rather surreal!
We've also located several powerful electrolasers within the dungeon, in position to annihilate any conventional intruders. Tackling such a massive dungeon is going to require a multifaceted plan of attack. I propose that we cooperate with the SDF to come up with a suitable strategy.
In that case, every branch of Murakumo will make preparations to join in executing the plan.
We don't have the Dz for that at the moment, though.
Yes, well, that's why we're going to have to request our Dragon-Elimination Strike Team's assistance! There's an entrance to the Toshima sewers in the underground, if you can't think of any other dragons to go harvest.
Wow, Sharon really was prescient there, huh?
Oh, it's just that she gave us a quest to go to the Toshima sewers just a bit ago.
Or perhaps she's keener than I thought...
Exposing your midriff makes you psychic, Nacchan, I told you
No, it doesn't. You are not psychic, Homura.
Kinda wish I was sometimes though.
Prime Minister Inuzuka: ...Er, ladies?
The SDF Barracks were present in our menu the whole time up until now, but we weren't able to build them because Rin is a grumpybum until now. If you have the Dz stored up from not building the Industrial Area or something, it's actually possible to just build the Barracks right off, but that's also a terrible idea, equipment upgrades are your entire fucking life.
So. There's an Imperial Dragon with an eighty-megaton electromagnetic laser beam in a floating rail-cage in Toshima and it just obliterated Takadanobaba a bit ago.
First the Warcry, then that wyrm in the subways, and now this?
These Dragons really do have the most fascinating ways of surprising me.
I don't wanna explode
Then we should probably get to harvesting.
...When did this become so normal?
Around the time you were nearly murdered by a fireball and took a month-long coma while the world was overtaken by parasitic alien lizards.
...Yeah, that's fair.
Mio, will you go inform Miya of what we're going to need and get the supply line started?
You got it, babe!
Seeing me sighing again, she shot a pair of fingerguns at me.
[Don't worry, don't say I'm sorry!] Chin up, Chisa!
[We make a new start every daaaay~]
You played that game?!
Bro, I can do speed clips in Billy Hatcher. A few of them, anyway.
It was such a bomb, I'm always surprised to see someone else played it.
Such is the fate of a mid-2000s non-Sonic Sonic Team game.
How's FFT going?
Oh, I just got my first Calculator, it seems like a lovely class.
You let Koron get a Calculator?!
HOW DO YOU THINK I FEEL
I love you so much, Mio.
Normalcy in times of strife is lovely, isn't it? Thanks, girls.
At that point, Kirino cleared his throat from the back corner.
Happy as I am that you can have such casual conversations at a time like this, I have work to do and I can't do sappy stuff right now.
SORRY SIR BYE SIR I'M SORRY SIR
I'll do my best out there, Mr. Ayafumi.
I know you will! Also, how are you playing vi—
Wait, Major Dojima.
What is it? You don't think I trust you guys?
No. I'm just saying that our only chance of dealing with this crisis is for each organization to cover the other's structural weaknesses.
That was the formal meeting, but I'm asking you now personally for the full cooperation of the SDF. We need your strength for this war.
I understand. Anything we can do to fight Dragons, we'll do it. Don't worry.
You ever get the weirdest feeling like you just missed something important?
All the time. Anyway, so we need to go do some plumbing.
Oh! Oh. Literally, we need to—
Toiling Plumber: No, I'm the one doing the plumbing.
Satsuki, we need to stay on our guard.
>Satsuki vibrates intensely.
Satsuki, do not jump over the railing and grab that treasure chest.
>Satsuki looks disappointed... but follows your commands anyway.
Toiling Plumber: Alright, I'm gonna get to work. You guys just stay outta my way and keep an eye out for nasties.
These are not Ropers, they're Tentacles. They're chunkier than regular Ropers.
Alright, let's get a workout before we get to work proper. Jeanne?
Hi, good morning. How many of these you think there are going to be?
Not too many... Maybe about five?
'Chunkier than regular Ropers' doesn't prevent me from absolutely clowning the shit out of them, of course.
Toiling Plumber: That kid shoot fire out of her head?
Toiling Plumber: Huh. Damn.
Let's keep up the pressure!
Koron, on the right!
Cut them down, Chisa!
Alright! That was a good first fight of the day. Good work, you two! And thanks for keeping the back, Youka, Sa—
>Satsuki has returned to vibrating intensely.
With one more crank, he looked satisfied with what he'd done.
Toiling Plumber: Alright, that should do it. Looks like you guys got a decent workout, too—you've got some good bodyguard game! Let's beat feet back to City Hall, now we're sa—is the green one okay?
Want. I want it. I want it so much I've dispensed with the gimmick.
Let's get the nice plumber back home before we loot it, okay?
Toiling Plumber: Well, it's all thanks to these guys. But how's the water, looking good?
Dutiful Official: Yeah, it all appears to be clean.
Toiling Plumber: That's a relief. No matter what's raging outside, if we've got water we can tough it out.
Dutiful Official: Food and bathrooms, caring for the sick... Water's a necessity for just about everything. But emergency water stores are limited, so maintaining water supply is a top priority. Let me thank you too, Unit 13.
400 Az and an SP Up 100. Nice!
Happy to help!
Toiling Plumber: Well, I'm heading back to my post. Even here, there's plenty of drains and taps not working. If I don't fix 'em, who will? It's a chance to show off my skills!
That's a good outlook!
Toiling Plumber: So, you kids keep doing the same.
One more errand, okay, Satsuki?
>Satsuki retains her gimmick.
It was subtle, but as we walked around outside, I was starting to notice a slight lessening in the overall density of Bloom.
Calling Unit 13. The SDF has reported they've obtained a map of the Toshima Sewers. It's not a mission-critical objective, but please take care when inspecting it.
i will when they
Dogenzaka, he said?
Yup. One by Dogenzaka, a few on Center Street.
OMG ARE WE GOING TO LOOT
Yes, we are!
I love you all and thank you for keeping this blessed surprise. Thank you. I will loot like the most bestest looter what ever looted.
The sign of the ABC store was still fairly intact, so we were able to find it pretty easily.
Aww, I was kinda hoping I'd get to see Mama Fudoji rip it in half.
Maybe some other time.
The inside of the store was dimly lit, and awfully messy. It took us a fair bit of time, but we did manage to find something.
h*ck yes. a genesis. aww yeah, baybee.
Wow, Phantasy Moon? It's been ages since I've seen these. Are games this old still popular nowadays?
Of course they are. Why do you think there's a market for vinyls?
There's... a market for vinyls?
Satsuki lugging the game console in her back aside, we found a vending machine in Center Street that looked fairly unmarred by the Bloom.
Alright, don't worry. I've got this one.
Please try not to destroy the supplies inside.
Hey now, I've got more self-control than that~
Youka steadied herself for a deep breath, and then—
She delivered a single, decisive blow into the chassis of the vending machine, denting it and causing a few extra cracks in the pavement underneath.
Do you do that often?
When I needed to. I don't generally condone thievery, but sometimes one needs to survive off of chips and canned strawberry milk.
I am worried about the state of your backstory, Miss Fudoji.
Oh, look! Magazines! Oh, this is a lovely pile. These sorts of fashion magazines always pique my interest—I find myself leafing through them at work when I've got a spare moment.
a resource it's always good to have more of imo
This'll be a nice find, I think.
Think that's enough?
Satsuki, you can put some of those in my pack, you know.
:< my loooot
Satsuki, do not give yourself a hernia.
Alright, with that taken care of, let's get to hunting, team!
We'll turn those in next time. Also next time: THIS PLACE IS FILLED WITH POISON GAS!!