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Part 18: All My Pride
By the time we dragged our carcasses back through the doors of City Hall, what adrenaline had remained had leaked out, and the pleasant greetings of those who'd heard the good news didn't stop me from feeling like my head was swimming. About the only person who seemed like she was still in fighting form was Youka, who happily trotted along, carrying Koron on her back.
We used up our precious sample, mind, but we won with few additional casualties.
Haaah... yup... sure did...
you're not you when you're hungry. have a snicker's
Satsuki crammed one of the standard-issue candy bars into my mouth, though thankfully she let me chew at my own pace. They weren't Snicker's, but I don't remember at the moment what exactly they were.
Another showing of your sterling judgment, Mr. Ayafumi.
Ahah, well. I can't take the credit for this one.
Okay, I'm more conscious now. What?
I was saying that I'm already looking forward to that earful Homura is going to give me.
Private Makita: They aren't going anywhere, it's fine.
Should we build a clinic next, then?
What do you mean?
I mean they're out of contact. I imagine it's possible that the Imperial Dragon's self-destruction knocked out their comms equipment.
Oh, of all the—
Natsume Hikasa sighed out of her nose, not her mouth. It had a way of making her just that bit more upper-crust.
...There's a chance they were attacked by Dragons, and we need to confirm their safety. I understand you just returned from the hardest mission of your careers thus far—
I had some candy and Koron and Youka weren't on the front lines for the battle against the Jigowatt. That should be enough. We'll let Satsuki and Richter stay behind.
If you don't... give me a damn moment, Chisa...
Let's return to our room so that we can take a moment to breathe.
You certainly seem to be in higher spirits now, Chisa.
Heh, what can I say? The feeling of a job well done is a satisfying one. I—
Could I get the sample from the Jigowatt? I have orders to analyze it post-haste.
Oh, do they have the Expressway running?
Before this, the SDF was making strides in ensuring that we had at least some of the system up and running, though all those dragons you've all killed haven't hurt.
So the area will be clear of dragons, then. Convenient.
Here's hoping. You should go check in with Jeanne to find their exact location, though. Oh, and Richter—nice job. I knew you had it in you.
Your faith is flattering, sir.
We try. How're you feeling, Aoi?
Well, Mr. Kirino and I were both feeling pretty down about Mr. Gatou, but... things are okay. So, I guess I'm just proud I didn't screw everything up.
Growing pains are only natural in any new position. I believe you have the makings of an amazingly skilled operative, Agent Unose.
Oh, by the way—he's started calling you guys by your first names, right? How do I get him to do that for me?
Oh, no. Have I done something wrong again?
So I've got good news and bad news.
Welcome home, by the way.
The good news is, I made you a bento.
The bad news is, it's bad. Like, it's really bad. I am not used to these sorts of limited supplies. I did not do very well.
So we get an earnest try and a set from our Machiavellian overseer.
So, is this one drugged?
Not unless it takes a while to kick in, I kinda had a little nibble of Chisa's.
We've occasionally been picking up Ingredients from combat drops, and here's what those are for—you can talk to your other party members in your room and have them make Bentos themselves! As far as I know, it's totally random what determines the results, but you can get much better stuff. Failed Bentos, unfortunately, only restore 1 LIFE, so they're basically useless.
Still, if I'm gonna life the housewife style for a bit I oughta get better at it.
I could teach you some pointers one of these days.
Hu hu hu. My slow absorption of every skill possible continues.
Oh, we should go and check in—have things been going alright over here?
You're asking for a progress report?
If it's not too soon. I know things were a bit touch and go there for a while.
We've begun reparations of the second floor, as well as the fifteenth level of the north tower. The Industrial Area is nearing an upgrade to their work. Additionally—
Oh, sou, sou! This maji stylin' ojii-san rolled in and gave Miya-chan the business!
In his words, "oh, darling, you've got this much on you and you've only got one fixed up living floor? Give that here, sweetie, I've got chutzpah." I wasn't able to object, but he seemed to have the expertise necessary to assist in the construction process alongside Mio.
Ah, that'd be my father. We located him in Ikebukuro. You must forgive him—he's a touch of a perfectionist, and a bit more high-strung than his foppish demeanor might imply.
Hah! I knew it! I knew onee-ojii-san-san gave me a kioku flash. Koron-chan, you resemble him.
Well, you're also a touch of a high-strung perfectionist.
...Anyway, he has experience in several fields, but his time as a construction worker was one of his most enthusiastic periods. I'm not surprised he asserted himself into proceedings. If you ever need to shake him off, please inform me—I know how to deal with him.
Noted. The finishing touches are being put on the ninth level as a second residential floor. I imagine it'll be finished by the time you return.
You're welcome, Miss Fudoji.
You're stepping up front?
Well, you've had quite a busy day. I figured Mama could help out for a bit. I'm a sturdy gal, y'know.
No kidding. You're seriously not even winded?
You only lose the match if you can't tough it out to the end.
The Navigators were hard at work, as usual.
...You did good out there. Keep it up.
Thank you, Miroku. I'm sure you and Aoi will make an awesome team!
Don't patronize me.
I'm not. I'm being honest.
She is, Miroku. Chisa is bad at lying.
Well, that's true, but do you have to say it that way?
Jeanne averted her eyes.
Um, anyway... I've got their exact position on the radar. We should hurry.
The Expressway—another fixture sent into ruins by the dragons. I was amazed at how much was still standing, more than anything.
The wind was still blowing awfully loud up on the freeway, even though we weren't nearly so high up. With Dragons making everything so chaotic, it was hard to remember sometimes that weather could occur for other reasons.
...oh, what's that? I'm detecting people over there.
Oh, you've got to be kidding me.
Guchi: Hey, hey, hey, what punks're trying to get through? You're not getting any further on my watch—
Good afternoon, kids. Nice to see you. How's everything going?
Akira: Uhhh... great, ma'am, I guess?
Ino: Of all the—! Like, really?
Sui: Hell no, I'm letting Neko and Daigo handle this!
Guchi: I-I'm with you, there! No more punching, please!
...So SKY attacked our Logistics team. Great.
I had some unfinished business anyhow. Let's proceed if they aren't going to throw themselves on the fire.
Oh? I was just thinking about how you seem to be quaking in your boots, Madam.
Ino: Do I look old enough to be a 'Madam' to you? Huh?
Sui: (Ohhh my god. Oh my god. Oh my god, if I let them by Neko's gonna diss me when she comes by, but if I don't what if the buff lady punches me?)
Are you afraid, Madam? Afraid that your garish makeup isn't going to disguise the fear you feel in the face of your superior in the art of pyrokinesis?
Ino: Heh, joke's on you, shrimp! I don't even know what that word means!
She's got you there!
What? How have I lost this debate?
Ah, yup. Here we are again.
Given the footwork with which she dodged the soldier's fire, I was again sure that if they'd met under different circumstances, Satsuki and Neko would be either the best of friends or the worst of enemies, with absolutely no in between.
Ah-ah-ah~! You think if I don't hear you, you can sneak through without getting hurt?
Supply Corps: Oh, cram it! You think I'm really just gonna hand over something as important as our meds supply to you?
Hmmmmm... Y'know, I just want a little bit. No need to gimme that big ol' scowl, now.
We really need to stop meeting like this, you two.
Aw, geez, they're here already?
I suppose we didn't say anything about anyone on the Expressway, to be fair.
Friend of yours?
Supply Corps: Oh, thank god, you saved me! They're trying to steal our supplies—!
Look at Daigo. You think we really couldn't have just roughed you up and taken your stuff?
Honestly, they probably could've.
Supply Corps: Everyone's waiting for these, you hooligans!
We get that. But, we've got a situation too. And we can't just let you hang around here without teaching you a lesson. How are we supposed to explain that?
That's true. Admittedly I haven't spoken much with Takehaya, but he does seem like the stubborn type.
They all seem like the stubborn type.
...Really? We just got back from killing an Imperial Dragon, and you want to fight over this?
You've got to learn one thing about kids on the street, Chisa. They speak with their fists. The only way you can resolve disputes like this is with a good scuffle.
Heeey, Mr. Soldier! You might wanna stand back! I'm about to let loose!
So ol' Miss Ghost is gonna fight us herself this time?
Seems like it.
Oh, did they fill you in on that part of her backstory?
I can listen to people when I wanna, sassypants!
I'd tell Chisa to stand down, but I don't want to be disrespectful.
Well, we're going to need to give it our all to beat them, you know.
As I drew my blade and Koron prepared herself for battle, Youka squared up with the slightest bit of a smirk. Her feet planted firmly on the ground, she steadied herself to take all comers. It was then I realized—maybe, every so often, she was having fun with this.
No getting out of it this time—we're in the ring with Neko and Daigo for real now. While their stats have increased to level-appropriate areas, the two of them don't really have any changes from last time in terms of strategy.
I'll show these punks what kind of psychic 'doesn't have buffs'.
Oh my gawd, are you still mad about that?
I have the memory of an elephant, Neko. I do not forget a slight.
You've got the face of one, too!
Don't get so riled up, Koron. We need to focus on the fight.
Neko! Watch out!
Ice stuck to her coat, weighing her down, and yet Youka powered through it, taking an earth-shattering step forward to deliver a counter-strike to Neko's face.
Her wisdom here was sound—Neko was the more threatening of the two in terms of overall battle flow, even if Daigo could harm us more directly. I opted to follow her lead.
OW ow ow ow!
First lesson. Don't show your best card the instant you get into a fight. If an opponent can size you up all the way, then they can know all of what they'll have to deal with.
Daigo came in with a shoulder barge, and struck Youka directly—
—but it left Youka with a chance to toss his arm aside and strike him in the gut, the veil of flames Koron placed upon her wreathing her fist in fire.
Second lesson. Every time you get close, your opponent has an opportunity. Never count anyone out, no matter how much you think you've got them. Overconfidence is the greatest enemy.
Chisa! Burn her!
Here's a tip for you—overloading your abilities with one thing has a tendency to make you vulnerable otherwise.
Neko stuck her tongue out, even as she staggered from the force of my swing. It hadn't hit directly, as she'd repelled some of it with telekinetic force, but the fire burnt at her informational field all the same.
Since you were so curious, I'll tell you—I don't alter physical properties like you or your little toady, no, but my mind is a finely honed scalpel for healing or killing.
Third lesson. Overspecialization is your other greatest enemy. If you've got one trick and an opponent gets past that one trick, you're done for. You have to be adaptable—you have to be able to use any opportunity to press an advantage.
Neko, you probably should've hit Fudoji.
Her sword hurts!
Well, she's not coming at you with a—
Fourth lesson! Never take your eyes off of your opponent. Give them an inch, and they'll take a mile.
Neko! Give me a boost!
What? Oh, okay!
Yeah, here we go! Show me your stuff!
Daigo's fist, spreading Neko's ice as it swung across all three of us in a brutal lariat, was the strongest weapon they had—and Youka smiled as she took it right to the gut. Koron and I were staggered, falling to our knees... but Youka stood through the whole fight, hardly even moving backwards.
Haha! That's the way! You've got different talents! Make them fit together!
Even though Daigo was still in good condition, I saw his frown deepen.
...Neko. I think we've lost.
What? You kidding? They're on the ropes, Daigo!
That was the best the two of them had. So, as the momentum flipped back in our direction, Youka launched forward—
Last lesson, and most important! Life isn't like a boxing match.
Youka rushed in, barrelling forward with the might of a raging beast.
The one who gets knocked down first isn't the loser...
You lose if you can't tough it out to the end!
Youka's spinning hook sent Neko down for the three-count, and she stumbled down onto the proverbial mat.
I'm not going down just yet!
Taking Neko down will cause Daigo to follow up with Raging Ambition, which gives him a 50% buff to his attack damage and speed, as well as halving the damage he takes, for a few turns. Unfortunately for him, he has Burn and Freeze on, meaning he's still taking those un-mitigated DOTs.
Daigo barged forward to deliver a stunning hook to Youka, and she didn't counter directly back—she took the strike, then grinned at him.
Yeah. You've got potential, kid.
But you're not there yet!
A forward punch laid Daigo out, too. And that was it.
That'll be it for today. I hope you learned something.
Why does the old lady try and coach us?
I'm not sure.
...and how'd she get so crazy strong?
I did work in a big game gun store once.
Ugh, enough already! This one's on you, Daigo! Bluugh, but I don't wanna owe them one, though...
...ummm, are you ignoring me?
Hey... I'm asking you, now. Could we have just a little bit of your stuff? Same as you, we've got pals in need. Lots of sick and wounded, these days.
The soldier in the back nervously looked between us and them.
Supply Corps: Um... I'm gonna let you guys decide. They could've taken it if you weren't here, see...
Alright. Well, then.
Supply Corps: Aha, right... you know, if I handed some of it to you, how would I ever know if you gave anyone some?
Captain. Vice-Captain. I'm formally requesting permission to distribute some of our resources to these kids.
Permission granted. I'd be doing it even if you weren't.
You're both such do-gooders. Not that I think you're wrong, mind you—it just strikes me.
Then, fashionably late as ever, who would stroll onto the scene but Takehaya, scarf fluttering in the wind.
Um, are you okay to keep going like this?!
Sure enough. You're the real thing, aren't you, Ghost of Yotsuya.
You can just call me Youka, you know. I don't mind.
...Hey, Neko. She's got a good head on her shoulders. You might want to take her advice.
Nice to see you again, sir. How's life?
I was watching your fight over in Ikebukuro.
Tell me about it. If I didn't know Mom had no actual sense of self-preservation, I'd have no idea how they remained friends.
Two peas in a pod, those two.
Sorry about the trouble, but hopefully these supplies help out.
...You really are something, aren't you. Hunting down two Imperials is no small feat—and the common thread was you, Captain Inomiko.
Our squad managed those victories together. I won't have you give me undue credit.
A paragon of justice, as always.
He made to leave, but I called out.
Hold on! Your friend. Aitelle was her name? I want to speak to her. If she knows more about this situation than we do, which it sounds like she does, then we need to talk to her.
...She had asked me... whether I loved this world. The unearthly woman who followed Takehaya—something in me felt I needed to know what she knew.
If you're looking for Aitelle, we'll have to meet again sometime. Stay alive until then, Unit 13. Neko! Daigo!
...What a tool.
He's at that age.
Supply Corps: We'll give you a ride back to City Hall for saving our bacon, if you want?
Next time, we actually build that room for one person, and also get to hear about psychological manipulation tactics.