Vocal Vision

Finding One's Purpose Part 2: The Worst Birthday

Chaos. Complete and utter chaos. This is what the world had become for Teto Kasane.

As the door crashed down everything became yelling and pushing and hands grasping at her. She was dimly aware of the feeling of being moved, but her ability to think clearly had been temporarily disabled.

The suddenness of it all was too much for her. Her brain simply shut down, numb to any incoming stimulus. How could these people be here now? How could they be here at all, really? Never in her wildest dreams (or nightmares, rather) had she ever imagined that something like this could happen.

She briefly wondered where Uta was. Surely her ever-vigilant protector could put a stop to this madness. Surely she could draw some sort of reason out of this unreasonable situation. Uta would just clap her hands or twitch her nose or whatever she did that let her work her magic. But she knew that Uta would just now be getting out of school halfway across town. Sorry Teto. No knight in shining armor this time.

She was jerked back to reality by the sound of her mother’s voice; confused, desperate, pleading. This was not the voice of the parent she loved. This was something wretched, something frantic, something terrified out of its wits. Never before had she heard that tone in Riko’s voice, and she dearly hoped that she would never hear it again. She snapped out of the stupor consuming her and finally began to assess her situation.

There were four men in their living room. All were wearing full combat gear. Shiny, black rifles gleamed in the hands of two of them, deadly and menacing.

One of the men held her arms behind her back, restraining her. Not that he was really doing anything. Teto hadn’t put up much of a fight, disoriented as she had been.

Now, however, the fog of confusion was blown away by the sight of her mother struggling against another of the soldiers while the other two trained their weapons on her. She pleaded with him, trying to pull away.

The soldier was quickly growing annoyed with Riko’s resistance and before Teto could speak up, or offer any sort of protest, he raised his hand and viciously slapped her mother across the face.

Teto’s next actions were born more out of instinct than rationality.

All at once she began struggling violently against the man holding her. Her sudden outburst took him by surprise and she quickly succeeded in wrestling her arms away from his half-hearted grip. But as she got halfway across the room, she pulled up short.

A familiar sensation welled up inside of her. It was the same thing that had happened at the pool with Uta, only it felt to Teto like it was a thousand times worse. She didn’t believe it was possible for her heart to beat harder or faster than it was at that moment. She could practically feel the blood surging through her veins, burning like fire. It was accompanied by that odd, lightheaded sensation that made her feel disconnected from the situation at hand, as if she was looking at it through a pane of glass.

And then something new happened. Teto felt… something… rising up within her. It was unlike anything she had ever felt before.

Powerful. That was the word. It was a power created by her anger at the man who had the audacity to assault her mother. It was a power created by the fear she felt at the prospect of having her life torn apart. It was a power created by every raw emotion she had ever experienced and a few that she couldn’t remember having ever felt before. An immense energy surged inside of her and she found herself unable to control it. She knew that if she tried to contain it, it would tear her apart.

So she let it out.

A massive force struck out at the man who had slapped her mother. It blasted him across the room and smashed him into the wall, causing large cracks to spread out in all directions. He fell to the floor and lay there in a crumpled heap, unconscious.

The other two men’s focus was instantly on Teto, but they balked at the sight that awaited them.

Teto stood in the center of the room, breathing heavily. Her face was turned towards the floor. One of her hands was clutching at her chest. The other, held out in front of her as if to steady herself, smoked from the blast she had just released. She raised her head and looked at the soldiers, her eyes glowing a bright pinkish-red. The air around her warped and distorted as enormous amounts of energy sloughed off of her in waves.

The soldiers were deterred only for a moment and quickly regained their composure. The two with the rifles pointed their weapons at her and shouted warnings that Teto couldn’t hear. Her ears were full of the sounds. So many sounds. Some were melodies; others were just tones that continuously fluctuated and harmonized with each other. It all blended together in a symphony of chaos that fueled the fountain of energy gushing out of her.

She raised her hand in a placating gesture, trying to communicate that she hadn’t meant to do… whatever it was she had done. All she succeeded in doing was inadvertently releasing another blast that caught one of the soldiers in the chest and knocked him backwards into a lamp.

She let out a scared noise, drawing her hands back in close to her body. The man who had been holding her before grabbed her shoulder from behind. She quickly spun to face him.

“Wait, stop! I didn’t…” she began, but the mere act of speaking blew the man off his feet and sent him sprawling.

The only remaining soldier had seen enough. He raised his weapon, took aim, and fired.

Teto threw her arms up in a futile defense; hoping to somehow block the stream of hot metal that was about to tear her to ribbons.

The bullets never reached her. The field of energy around her lashed out and swatted them aside where they lodged in the floor or pieces of furniture. Teto was about to try and speak again, to perhaps communicate even some of the confusion she felt, but was stopped by a sound that cut through even the fantastical orchestra in her head.

With a loud screech full of blind fury and rage, Riko Kasane threw herself at the soldier who had dared to turn his gun on her daughter. The fact that she was outmatched in terms of both strength and size meant nothing to her. The only thing that mattered was tearing that man into shreds, and she would do it with her bare hands if need be.

She jumped on the soldier, clawing and biting at any part of him she could reach. He was thrown off by her sheer ferocity; his combat armor the only thing protecting him from Riko’s clawing nails and teeth.

Riko drew her arm back and threw a wild punch that caught him in the face. There was an audible crack and blood started to pour from his nose. The man fought back.

He had the clear physical advantage and he easily shoved Riko away. She fell to the floor but was on her feet again in seconds, lunging at the man in front of her. She leapt towards him…

BANG.

A single shot rang out. Riko dropped to the floor.

Time stood still for Teto. She couldn’t breathe. She couldn’t think. She could only watch as her mother crumpled where she stood.

One moment the soldier was there and the next moment he was not, a burst of energy smashing him completely through the wall of the house and into the neighboring yard. He lay where he landed, unmoving.

This was of little concern to Teto, who at the moment couldn’t care less whether the soldier was even alive.

A numbness spread through her. No feeling was possible. Emotions were too hard at the moment.

The scene in front of her was too much to handle. There wasn’t a logical explanation for what had just transpired. It couldn’t be true. The entire scene felt too surreal.

And yet… somehow… it felt familiar as well. As if she’d seen the exact same thing a long time ago but couldn’t quite remember it. That couldn’t be right. Teto was sure that she’d never…

An image flashed through her mind, sudden, unbidden. Then another. And another. They were all strange, fleeting images. There was a man. A man whom she loved very much, but she didn’t know who he was. She had visions of the two of them together. There they were at the park, laughing and playing without a care in the world. A woman walked into her view. Was that… her mother? Why would she be here with this strange man who…

“AH!”

She let out a yelp. An intense pain shot through her skull and she clutched her head. The numbness she had experienced moments before vanished and all of her senses came rushing back at once. But this only served to make the visions sharper and more vivid. She could remember sounds and smells. Things she couldn’t actively recall but that felt undeniably familiar.

The image shifted. It was darker now. She felt scared. She had to find that man, whoever he was. She turned a corner and there he was, drawing her into a warm embrace that made her feel safe. She looked up into his eyes, and as his face finally came into focus the pain in her skull redoubled. Tears streamed down her cheeks as she at last recognized him.

Her father.

She fell to her knees, her mind under assault. The pain was almost unbearable. Her hands held the sides of her head and she shook, an intense agony blowing away all but the images that now came in a constant flood.

She screamed as the memories came rushing back.


Nine Years Earlier

A young girl shivered in the chilly September winds as she waited for the bus with her parents. She pulled her jacket tighter about herself and leaned on her mother in an attempt to shield herself from the invading air currents.

Fall had come early this year. The summer heat disappeared suddenly to be replaced by cold breezes and frequent rain, the latter of which was mercifully absent on this particular morning.

The girl fidgeted a little. She was nervous. The first day in a new place can be scary; especially the first day of first grade. What if the other kids didn’t like her? What if they were mean to her? What if, God forbid, the teacher was a witch? These were all real and valid concerns (particularly the part about the witch).

Noticing her worry, the girl’s father knelt down beside her and offered a few words of encouragement. She brightened considerably as he told her about all the fun she was going to have. There would be so many other children there. He was sure, beyond all doubt, that his daughter would be positively drowning in friends by the end of the day.

“Really, Daddy?” she asked, her eyes wide. “Is it really that fun?”

“Cross my heart and hope to die” he replied, ruffling her hair. She giggled a bit but sobered up again instantly as she saw the bus round the corner. Her father looked up as well.

“Well here we are!” he said brightly, still wearing his confident smile. He winked at his daughter.

Both of her parents gave her a hug as the bus drew near. Her father kissed her on the forehead and once again assured her that everything was going to be fine. Her mother fussed over her hair, flattening errant strands and making sure her single drill ponytail was straight.

The bus arrived and her parents ushered her through the weird fold-up door thing that scared her. Doors didn’t work like that. It wasn’t natural. She looked up at the driver, a kind-looking older woman wearing a bright green windbreaker and managed a half-hearted smile. She turned and looked down the aisle at the rows of seats where many other children were already seated. She found an empty seat and plopped her bag down into it before settling in herself.

As the bus began to move she cast one last glance at her waving parents through the window. Despite what her father had said she still felt incredibly unsure about the whole situation. Her nervousness only grew as she realized again that she didn’t know anyone at this school. And of course there was still the matter of whether the school board saw fit to employ practitioners of witchcraft or not.

This is going to be the worst day ever Teto thought to herself.


That was the best day ever! thought Teto as she sat on the bus ride home. She couldn’t recall having ever had more fun in her life. Class time was fun. Recess was fun. And lunch? Fun and delicious. Indeed, she concluded succinctly, school was cool.

It had started out kind of rough, though. She had been afraid at first that none of the other kids would like her. Soon, however, she realized that they were all in the same boat. Like her, most of the other kids there had been nervous in their new surroundings.

It had helped a lot that the teachers were so nice. They were all smiles and did their best to make sure that everyone felt at home. And the best part? None of them were witches! Teto was fairly certain that one of the lunch ladies was an ogre, though. A nice ogre, but an ogre nonetheless.

But nice ogres and the absence of witches aside, Teto was pretty sure that she was going to enjoy her time in school. Her father had been completely right. How had she ever doubted him? She knew he was always right about everything ever. He was her all-knowing grown-up Dad and he loved her enough to tell her the future that morning. If he said that school was going to be fun, then it was going to be fun. She only wondered why he hadn’t told her that he could see the future before. It probably had something to do with the laws of superpowers or something.

As the bus pulled up to her stop she saw her parents standing in the same spot and waving just as they had that morning. Even though she knew it wasn’t the case, Teto couldn’t help but feel like they hadn’t moved the entire day. She shook her head to clear it and smiled and waved back at them.

The door opened and she ran off the bus, eager to tell her parents about her super fun first day. She said goodbye to the kindly bus driver as she passed and the woman responded in kind, saying that she’d see her tomorrow.

Teto ran off the bus and straight into the arms of her father, who picked her up and twirled her around before setting her down again. Riko walked up and placed a kiss on the top of Teto’s head before crouching down to give her a hug herself.

As the trio walked slowly back to their house, Teto happily swung between the arms of her parents, babbling incessantly about every single detail she could remember from that day. They listened contentedly, occasionally sharing glances between the two of them and laughing at their daughter’s antics.

The rest of that evening passed in a blur for Teto. She wasn’t really concentrating on anything other than being at school again as soon as possible. For the first time in as long as she could remember, she didn’t even put up a fight when it came time for bed. She brushed her teeth, undid her ponydrill, and donned her pajamas before climbing into bed.

She shut her eyes, intending to go straight to sleep but, as it is prone to do when one is excited, sleep proved elusive. Teto’s mind was abuzz with far too many thoughts and memories for her to simply fall asleep.

She tossed and turned fruitlessly, unable to get into a comfortable position. There was no way she was going to be able to get any rest like this. She needed something to take her mind off the amazing day she’d had. So she did what she always did when she couldn’t sleep…

“DADDY!”


“Can you believe it Tetsuo?” asked Riko, an inkling of disbelief in her voice.

“I know, I thought it was impossible” he replied, shaking his head. “She hasn’t gone to bed without putting up a fight since… ever. We should have put her in school years ago.”

They both dumped themselves unceremoniously onto the living room couch. Each let out a contented sigh as they relaxed. Several seconds of silence passed between them before it was finally broken by Tetsuo.

“Riko?” he asked.

“Yes?” she replied.

“What are we supposed to do now?”

“I don’t know. I’ve forgotten what it’s like to have a free evening” said Riko wistfully.

“A free evening… what a beautiful thing” said Tetsuo, wiping some imaginary moisture from his eye. “It’s almost enough to bring a man to tears.”

Riko rolled her eyes at her husband’s joking. However, she couldn’t deny the truth of his words. It had been so long since the two of them had had an evening together.

As if reading her mind, Tetsuo scooted closer and placed his hand on Riko’s thigh. He slipped his other arm around her shoulders and leaned right up next to her ear. “You know, I might know something we could do…” he said with a mischievous grin.

“Oh really?” she replied. “Do tell.”

“Well, for starters we could…” he whispered something in her ear that made her giggle.

“That could be fun” she said, “But what about…” she something of her own. Now it was Tetsuo’s turn to chuckle.

“Oh yes, definitely” he replied. “And then maybe…” another whisper. This time Riko’s face turned bright red and she hit him on the arm playfully.

“You’re terrible” she said, giggling again. Then her eyes narrowed and she gave Tetsuo a sultry look. “But I might consider that… if you can convince me.”

“Oh I’ll convince you alright” he said, going in for a kiss.

“DADDY!” came Teto’s voice from upstairs.

The atmosphere in the room disappeared in an instant as both Riko and Tetsuo sighed in unison, their lips inches away from one another’s. It was almost enough to bring tears to their eyes; if for different reasons this time.

“Oh responsibility you are a cruel mistress” groaned Tetsuo. He cast a pleading glance at Riko. “Do I have to?”

“You know she’ll just keep doing it until you go in there” she replied. Though he wished it were not the case, Tetsuo knew she was right. Still, he attempted one last futile effort at resistance.

“But what if…” he began.

“DADDY!!!” Teto’s voice called again, ruthlessly crushing her father’s hopes and dreams.

Defeated, Tetsuo got up from the couch and shambled towards the stairs. As he reached the base, he paused and cast one last longing glance back at his wife, who gave him a sympathetic look and motioned for him to get on with it. With a heavy heart he began the climb to his daughter’s room.

He took a few deep breaths and steadied himself during his ascent, changing from “husband” mode to “daddy” mode.

As he entered Teto’s bedroom he noted the familiar decorations, not a few of which he remembered being unable to deny her when she pleaded with those adorable puppy dog eyes. The most noticeable of these decorations was a large, colorful poster depicting her favorite TV super-heroine, the beautiful Princess Moonbeam, who fights evil with the powers of love and truth. Tetsuo had never been a fan himself and thought it was a little silly, though he had never once refused one of Teto’s requests for him to play the evil Lord Galactrix so she could vanquish him.

“What’s up, Sweetie?” he said, letting his eyes fall on Teto, who had the blankets pulled up to her chin.

“I can’t sleep” she replied simply.

“Can’t sleep?” he said, feigning surprise. “Well whatever for?”

“I’m too excited” Teto said.

“About school, right?” asked Tetsuo, already knowing the answer. She nodded. “Well maybe if you talk about it it’ll help motivate you to go to sleep.”

Teto had no problem recounting the events of the day; and even though Tetsuo had heard nothing but these same things since they had picked her up that afternoon, he was more than happy to sit there and listen, making all the appropriate ‘ooohs’ and ‘aaahs’ and acting like it was the most interesting thing in the world.

Not that he wasn’t genuinely interested. Tetsuo loved his daughter, and he could easily sit and listen to her talk for hours on end. He was feeling especially proud of Teto today. The first day of “big kid school”, as she called it, was an important occasion.

It was, in what was quickly becoming a theme that evening, almost enough to bring a tear to his eye. His little girl was growing up fast. Where did the time go? It seemed like just yesterday that they brought her home from the hospital, even though he knew very well that over 6 years had passed. Why was it that the happy times were always the ones that seemed to be over the quickest?

But regardless of how fast it went Tetsuo wouldn’t have given it up for anything. And so he sat patiently and listened attentively as Teto told him all about the really nice girl that sat next to her in class and how the teachers were so much fun to listen to because they must know everything and how she was almost 100% sure that there was a troll working in the lunch room. She talked and talked, filled with a seemingly endless stream of things to gush about.

It was doing its job, though. Tetsuo could see that Teto was finally getting tired. At last she let out a huge yawn just as she was describing a particularly interesting educational poster in her classroom.

“Well, look at that” said Tetsuo, smiling. “Looks like someone talked all the energy right out of themselves.”

Teto’s original goal had been to make herself tired so she could sleep, but now that she had gotten into her stride talking about school, she didn’t want to stop. She tried to look defiant as she said “Nuh-uh. I’m not tired.” This failed spectacularly as she yawned again.

“Nope. Can’t fool me. I can see it” said Tetsuo. “Time for sleep.”

Teto’s eyes widened as she remembered her earlier revelation. Of course he could see it. He could see the future. Or at least Teto was almost 100% sure that he could. But she wanted to know for sure.

Tetsuo kissed her on the forehead and made to get up but paused when he felt a small hand grab his sleeve. He turned around to see Teto looking at him with a scrutinizing gaze.

“Daddy… you can see the future, can’t you?” she said, her tone completely serious.

He looked puzzled. “No. Of course not. What gave you that idea?”

Teto was unfazed. She frowned. “You don’t have to hide it from me. I promise I won’t tell anyone. Not even mom!”

Her eyes were big, almost pleading. He just sighed and pulled his sleeve out of her grip. Rising from the bed, he strode across the room to the door. Teto looked crestfallen. However, as Tetsuo reached the door he paused. He made a show of checking the hallway for anyone who might be listening. Turning around he looked directly at her and raised a finger to his lips.

“Shhh….”

He winked at her and slipped around the corner.

Teto just sat there with her mouth hanging open. Then she broke out into a huge grin.

“I knew it!” she said under her breath.

Tetsuo chuckled softly to himself as he walked back down the stairs. He never tired of seeing that beautiful smile on his daughter’s face. But as he changed back into “husband” mode once again he couldn’t help but imagine another smile that never got old. The smile of a certain Riko Kasane, who, he noted with relish, was still seated on the couch where she’d been before.

He snuck down the last few steps as quietly as possible and crept silently up behind her. All at once her grabbed her from behind and spun her around. She almost screamed but her voice was quickly muffled by a passionate kiss. Breaking away, Tetsuo flashed a roguish grin.

“Now… where were we?”


Teto awoke with a start. Her room was dark save for the dim light being cast by her night light, which was for practical purposes and definitely not because she was afraid of the dark. She woke in such a fashion due to a loud bump she had heard moments before from elsewhere in the house.

Now, as any small child knows, bumps in the night can only have one possible source: monsters. It’s the only logical explanation. However, as any small child also knows, monsters cannot penetrate the covers of a bed. Teto threw her covers over her head and hid, confident that there were no monsters in existence that could reach her now.

After several minutes of this she figured it was safe to take another look above ground and make sure the coast was clear. She lowered her quilt just far enough to peek over the edge. Predictably, there were no monsters in her bedroom and no signs of them lurking in the darkness beyond her doorway.

She scolded herself a little. She was a big girl now. Big girls weren’t afraid of monsters. Big girls knew that monsters weren’t even real. That bump probably hadn’t even been a bump at all. It was probably just a figment of her…

*Thump*

Teto froze. Monsters or no, she had definitely heard something that time. In her six year old mind, this situation had just gotten very real. What could it be? There was plethora of possibilities, most of which were almost too terrifying to think about. What if…

Wait. Stop. Big girl time now. She wasn’t the only one in the house. That noise was probably one of her parents shuffling around doing… whatever it was parents did in the middle of the night. Teto wasn’t sure.

*CRASH*

Ok, unless her parents were wrecking up their own house, something was definitely wrong. She could hear muffled voices coming from downstairs, angry and frightened.

Teto was more scared now than she had ever been in her life. There was obviously something… exciting… going on downstairs. Whatever it was, she didn’t really want to find out. She once again threw the covers over her head and hid.

But… how could she do this? Wasn’t she supposed to be a big girl? What would a big girl do in this situation? Would she hide under the covers like a baby? No. She would go downstairs and make sure her parents were ok. She wouldn’t be a coward. Big girls were brave!

Before her thoughts could scare her back under the covers again Teto leapt out of bed and ran to the top of the stairs. Here she paused. The voices were clearer now, but she still couldn’t quite make out what they were saying.

Tentatively, and ever so slowly, she tiptoed down the steps. She could see the arched entryway into the living room, where the voices were coming from. The only illumination was provided by the moon (mostly full tonight) shining in through the large front window and bathing the room in that strange, ethereal glow that only moonlight can provide.

As the scene before her came into focus she stopped short and her blood ran cold. Even being as young as she was, Teto knew what a gun was. So it was with a great deal of fear that she registered the masked man currently holding her parents at gunpoint.

“Please, just take anything you want and leave” she heard her mother say, her voice shaking slightly. Riko was huddled behind Tetsuo, who held his arms out protectively.

The man with the gun seemed a bit nervous. He would make like he was about to lower the weapon but then would only reinforce his grip. He was hesitant, like he had expected to accomplish his intended theft without any of the house’s occupants waking up. Riko’s words seemed to shake him out of his internal debate.

“Shut up! Just… just get over there in the corner and don’t move” said the man, clearly not sure on how to progress.

“Daddy?” said Teto, hesitantly.

*BANG*

The man reacted on reflex. Hearing Teto’s voice he swung around and fired in that general direction. The bullet lodged in the plaster less than a foot to Teto’s right. She screamed and flattened herself against the wall.

Now, Tetsuo Kasane was not a violent man. He would always prefer to talk a problem out rather than solve it through fighting. But he’d be damned if was going to let anyone get away with firing a weapon as his little angel.

And so it was that in one fluid motion and with all the strength he could muster that Tetsuo leapt from where he was and smashed his fist squarely into the jaw of the intruder. The man stumbled sideways into the wall and the gun fell to the floor. Tetsuo was on him in an instant, pummeling away at any part of him he could reach. The man kicked Tetsuo in the gut and he fell backwards with a grunt. He leapt onto him and they grappled across the floor of the room.

Riko jumped up from her spot near the edge of the sofa and ran to Teto. For her part Teto was still plastered to the wall, frozen by fear. However, she quickly clung to her mother when Riko embraced her. The two of them watched in horror, unable to tear their eyes away as the fighting continued.

The two men punched, kicked, and bit at each other, growling like animals. All at once, Tetsuo saw an opening and landed a hit dead center of the man’s face. He scrambled to his feet and stomped on the man’s diaphragm. The intruder doubled over in pain, trying to clutch at both his face and his stomach simultaneously.

Tetsuo looked up towards where Riko was shielding Teto at the base of the stairs. He grinned slightly, one of his eyes nearly swollen shut and bleeding lightly from a cut across the bridge of his nose.

“Riko, call the police. I-” he began.

*BANG*

That awful sound again. Teto had only heard it twice now and she already knew that it was probably her least favorite sound in the entire world.

The man on the ground had ended up inches away from the dropped firearm and had taken the chance presented to him. His smug smile quickly faded, however, as the full extent of what he had just done washed over him. The gun clattered to the floor once again.

Tetsuo looked surprised, more than anything. He stared down at the red spot blossoming over his heart, the blood quickly soaking through his shirt. A soft “oh!” was all the sound that escaped his lips before he collapsed.

Riko screamed. A horrible, piercing sound. Somewhere in the far back of her mind, Teto thought that everyone on their block would hear it, but she wasn’t really registering anything besides the soft *thump* of her father’s body hitting the carpeted floor. It was something a six year old girl shouldn’t see. Something that no one should see, really. But there it was.

The man on the floor scrambled to his feet and turned towards the front door. Before he could take two steps, however, an enormous tremor rocked the entire house and knocked him off his feet again.

Teto’s eyes glowed brightly, her mouth open in a silent scream. There was a large crack reaching up towards the ceiling in the wall behind her and several steps had buckled under the force of the shockwave. Strangely enough, Riko, who was inches from her, remained untouched. Her face didn’t seem to be able to display her thoughts. There were simply too many to sift through.

Teto’s fiery gaze fell upon the man on the living room floor, rapidly moving back and forth from him to her father’s motionless body. He opened his mouth to speak…

But he never got the chance.

As though he was being grabbed by an invisible hand, the man was lifted off the floor and brought within inches of Teto’s face. Her eyes, the pupils lost in the bright glow of energy, stared straight into the man’s. Then her face contorted into an expression of pure rage. The man attempted to scream but was immediately silenced as he was flung bodily against the ceiling.

Before he hit the ground he was again grasped by that invisible force and it carried him the rest of the way, bashing him again and again into the hardwood of the main hallway.

Teto’s wrath only increased the longer she pulverized the man. One look at her face would tell that her actions were no longer her own. Her rational mind was lost beneath the broiling sea of emotions, and amidst the cacophony of sound filling her ears.

Higher and higher her vocal energy built upon itself until finally she felt as if she would burst. She released her grip on the (by now unconscious) man and he fell to the floor in a heap. Riko could only watch as Teto’s small hands clutched the sides of her head and she screamed. The air around her began to ripple as the power increased and the house began to shake.

Then everything went white.


Present Day

Teto nearly collapsed as the images finally ceased tormenting her. How could she have forgotten? The tragic death of her father, the police investigation that eventually wrote the whole thing off as a gas explosion, the pain in her mother’s eyes at his funeral…

She’d known that her father had died. It hadn’t been a secret to her. But for some reason she hadn’t ever recalled the events, no, couldn’t recall them. It was as if she had blocked out that entire night as well as the weeks that followed.

But they were blocked out no longer and her tears flowed freely. And though she cried her hardest, the immense power flowing through her vaporized them the instant they left her eyes.

It was too much for her. How could this possibly happen again? She had lost her father nine years earlier and now her mother was destined to die as well? It wasn’t fair!

She looked around at the unconscious forms of the soldiers and at her mother’s body and her anger flared anew. But this time there was something else present: despair. Where the anger felt like fire, hot, burning, almost searing her flesh, this sadness was quite cool, but it pushed forward with a driving force that would not be ignored.

The two emotions mingled and coalesced as the sounds grew somehow even wilder, if that was possible. She felt that pressure inside of her again. Building…

Now she knew what was coming. She knew that soon the power would overwhelm her and the dam would break. She couldn’t contain it for long. Briefly she wondered how long it would be before reinforcements arrived. Surely the gunfire and the sound of bodies crashing into things had alerted others. As if on cue she heard the telltale shouts and rapid footfalls of additional men approaching (How she managed to pick that noise out over the sound of her powers she had no idea).

But what could she do? Where could she go? Even if she’d had time she had no plan. There wasn’t anything to do. There wasn’t anywhere she could go.

She crawled over to her mother’s body and her sobs redoubled as she saw her motionless form. She brushed a bit of Riko’s hair out of her face as she gazed down at her. The power surged uncontrollably. She threw her head back, her mouth opened wide but no sound came out. Her eyes were twin globes of fire as she stared into nothing. The energy pulsed outward one more time…

And then the house exploded.

The noise was deafening. The shockwave could be felt miles away. Debris and shrapnel were blown in every direction. Wood splintered, glass shattered, and bits and pieces of furniture were launched hundreds of feet into the afternoon sky.

The soldiers approaching the house were blasted off their feet as violent tremors rocked the ground. The rumbling lasted for what seemed like an eternity, and debris continued to fall from above for what seemed like an eternity more.

When the dust had finally settled, all that remained of the Kasane household was the foundation; the baseboards charred and blackened and the few supports that remained broken and buckled.

And in the middle of it all lay the forms of a mother and daughter. The latter slumped on top of the former. As smoke billowed up around them and the wail of sirens could be heard in the distance, Teto’s unconscious form lay still, her powers having finally exhausted themselves.

In the street, a badly burnt teddy bear sat smoldering, staring impassively at the wreckage before it.

In the end, she’d finally moved it. “Congratulations, Teto” it seemed to say. “Looks like you’re special after all.”


Tuesday, August 31st

Gumi Megpoid was… does it even need to be said? Worried.

But then again, why wouldn’t she be? This was only the day where she would attempt to outwit and incapacitate highly trained and, might she add, heavily armed members of the military. There was every reason for her to be worried out of her mind, and being the kind of person she was, probably even a little more worried than that.

She had been in constant correspondence with Miku (and Luka) since she had woken up that morning. By now she could recite the plan verbatim. Step one: lure the soldier(s) upstairs. Step two: get the better of him/her/them with the net launcher and the door locks. Step Three: escape the house and hide till nightfall. Step four: get out of town and travel to Sesame Town, where she would meet up with Miku and Luka. It would be pretty straightforward after that.

Yeah, sure… like her life was ever going to be straightforward ever again. There was no future that she could foresee that involved her life being normal. The way she saw it there were two possibilities. One, successfully escape, meet up with Miku, and spend the rest of her days on the run from the government or two, get captured by the military and spend the rest of her days locked up in a Vocaloid internment camp. And while neither option sounded particularly appealing to her, she had to admit that being on the run with her best friend was a lot better than rotting away in a cell somewhere.

But in order for that “dream” to become a reality there were things that had to happen first. Important things. Dangerous Things. So for the umpteenth time that day Gumi went through her checklist.

First and most important was her bag. It held a few essentials that she would need for the trip. She couldn’t take anything bulky with her since she had to travel light, but she figured a few tools might come in handy. She slung the strap over her shoulder and looked around her room.

Net launcher? Check. Magnetic door locks? Check. Recorded voice clips to fool the soldiers? Check.

…Wow, there was just no way to make “recorded voice clips to fool soldiers” sound sane. Even with context it still sounded impossibly strange. Well, whatever; performance and practicality over style. If it worked, then it could sound as weird as it wanted to.

Night vision goggles and her scooter? Well, the goggles never left her head and the scooter… She mentally traced her route down through the house and out the back door to where it would be waiting for her. Check and check.

Next was her phone. Well, the thing that resembled a phone but could only call Miku. It was more of a glorified walkie-talkie, really. Like her goggles, it hadn’t left her person since she woke up. It was currently residing in a makeshift harness on her hip, where it would be easily accessible. Check.

Last on the list was… oh… that. She wasn’t particularly fond of this item. It clashed with her personality (not to mention her wardrobe). The only reason she’d made it in the first place was because Miku wouldn’t shut up until she’d agreed to take some form of weaponized protection with her.

So it was with a sigh that she opened a drawer at the top of her desk to reveal a plain, black glove. There was nothing remarkable about the glove itself, it’s only identifying features being a tiny metal spike affixed between the second and third knuckle of each finger. They were all very sharp and could easily puncture someone’s skin if applied with enough force.

The glove wasn’t actually anything special. Gumi hadn’t made it. It was leftover from one of Miku’s old Halloween costumes. The single modification she had made to it was a simple one, but an effective one nonetheless. A wire was connected to each of the small spikes and ran back along the inside of the stitching until they connected at the wrist. It then extended from the cuff and ended in a copper connector.

Alone the glove was useless, but when paired with the other item in the drawer it became a device that Miku had affectionately dubbed “the concession”, due to it being the only concession Gumi was willing to make in the way of armaments.

The item in question was nothing more than a small black box with a small button and a receptor for the glove’s wire. But this wasn’t just any box…

It was a stun gun. It was something a police officer uses to take down criminals. And Gumi was absolutely terrified of it. It was capable of putting out 50,000 volts; easily enough to kill a person if applied incorrectly.

By all rights she shouldn’t even have it. It was just another one of those things she’d picked up over the years but hadn’t ever used. It had sat in her closet (hidden deep in a shoebox where her parents wouldn’t find out about it) for a long time until now.

She’d made a few minor modifications to it over the last several days. It was a simple matter, wiring the device to pump its electricity into the glove. All she’d had to do was redirect a few things, hook up a connector, run some wires and it was finished. Simple, effective, dangerous…

Scary.

So basically she would be walking around wearing the equivalent of a TASER on her right arm. Of course it was only for use under extreme circumstances. She would do everything in her power to ensure that it never became necessary. If all went as planned, there wouldn’t be any need for it and she could throw it away when she met up with Miku and Luka.

Dangerous weapon that would be the source of her nightmares for weeks? Check. She put the glove on and strapped the box to her arm. It was close enough to game time at this point that it didn’t really matter if her parents found out or not, considering they would know anyways in about… she checked the clock… 5, maybe 10 minutes. It was 1:55 PM and the move for her neighborhood was scheduled for 2. Taking into account the fact that soldiers probably wouldn’t just come breaking her door down at exactly that time, she still had a few minutes to prepare.

She looked around her room. But then again… she thought, there isn’t really any more preparation to be done…

Gumi sat down on her bed as the full realization of what she was about to do washed over her. It was a bit overwhelming when you took it all in at once. She knew her life was going to change, and drastically at that, but there were so many other things she’d have to adjust to.

For one, she’d have to get accustomed to living somewhere other than her house. It was the only place she’d ever lived, and while she had never really appreciated it before, she knew that she was going to miss it after she left.

Another thing was the complete lifestyle change. It had been easier for Miku. She had never had any solid plan or routine… or one place to live… so it was a lot easier for her to just change on a whim. Gumi recalled how quickly Miku had started calling Luka’s guest bedroom “hers” so soon after she’d arrived.

It wouldn’t be so easy for her. There would be a lot of adjusting to do, living in the middle of a forest. At least they had electricity… and television and internet somehow… Gumi was really curious as to how that was even possible. She’d have to ask Luka when they met up.

Yes, adapting to her new surrounding would be difficult indeed, but what Gumi was going to dread even more was the loss of her desk. That simple structure of wood and metal that had been the location where she had spent so many hours of her life was going to be hard to let go of. Not to mention all of her electronics and projects. She’d have to start from scratch; and while she wasn’t worried that she wouldn’t be able to reproduce any of her current endeavors, it was still a lot of work gone to waste.

But the worst of it was what this was going to do to her parents. They would be so confused by the whole thing. She hadn’t had the heart to tell them of her plans in advance. They’d been worried sick ever since the quarantines went into effect and now this? Gumi felt incredibly guilty about keeping them out of the loop, but it had to be done. If they had known what she was planning they could be arrested for aiding a fugitive. In the end, it was for the best.

She sighed. This waiting was getting tedious. She checked the clock again. 2:06 PM. Where were they? Seriously, it was actually starting to get boring-

KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK

Ok, not boring! Not boring! Oh God, was this really it? Was it finally happening? Maybe it was just…

“Gumi Megpoid! Under Section 1, Part C of the Vocaloid Relocation act you are hereby ordered to surrender yourself into the custody of the national armed forces for immediate relocation to an appropriate facility. Resistance of any kind will not be tolerated. Do you understand the conditions as stated?”

Ok, no. It was definitely go time. Gumi started to panic. She wasn’t ready! She needed more time! She needed…

You need to calm the hell down is what you need to do! said a little voice in her head. She took a deep breath. This is what she had planned for. It was time to see if her crazy schemes would actually pay off after all.

Alright, step one… She dashed out of her bedroom to the railing on the upstairs balcony that overlooked the front door. As she passed through the doorframe she reached into her pocket and clicked the switch on her remote to activate the motion sensors. Then, before she could think about it anymore, she took a deep breath…

“You’ll never take me alive!” she shouted as loud as she could. “If you want me you’ll have to come and get me!”

To say the least, her statements had the intended effect. The door was suddenly kicked inward as two (oh great, two) soldiers entered the house, guns raised. Ok. That was fine. She’d planned ahead in case there were two. That’s what the magnets were for. She would just…

And that’s when things started to go very, very, wrong.

Startled first by the knocks on the door, and then by Gumi’s yelling and the door being broken down, her parents entered the room and immediately had one of the men’s guns trained on the both of them.

This wasn’t in the plan. Oh God how had she overlooked this? Of course her parents would be a factor here! What should she do? At this point there wasn’t a lot she could do. Unable to think of anything else, she hit the button to play the first voice recording.

“Come on! I haven’t got all day! Come and get me if you’re brave enough!”

She groaned inwardly. That had sounded a lot more intimidating when she’d listened back to it by herself. At least it did its job… mostly. The soldier pointing his gun at her parents motioned to the second man who nodded and began to ascend the stairs.

No no NO! She needed both of them to be upstairs. How was she supposed to get out if there was still one soldier blocking her escape route? She retreated back down the hallway a bit and hid around the corner. Closing her eyes, she hit the button for the second recording.

“Seriously! You’re slower than dirt! Hurry and get up here so I can pound ya’!”

Gumi facepalmed. Why had she thought it was a good idea to take suggestions from Miku?

The soldier reached the top of the stairs. His feet moved soundlessly across the carpeted surface of the hallway towards the door of her room. She could feel her pulse pounding in anticipation. This was the moment of truth. Just a few more steps. Just a couple more…

WHUMP

The net launcher made a noise like a mortar as it discharged. Gumi heard the sound of something heavy hitting the floor. Holy crap, had it actually worked? She sprung up from her hiding spot and ran to the doorway. Sure enough, there was the soldier, struggling to free himself from the entangling metal fibers. Good luck with that thought Gumi, Took me forever to get out of it…

SNAP

Gumi stared in horror as things proceeded to go even more wrong than before. She had thought… she had been sure that those patched sections would hold. This was bad. This was very bad. Apparently she had made a slight error in judgment when comparing her own strength to that of a man three times her size. She hadn’t been strong enough to break the net in the places she’d repaired it. Unfortunately, this soldier didn’t seem to be bound by the same restriction. He quickly began extricating himself from the broken net.

There was no time to think. She did the one thing she could do. She quickly reached forward and grabbed the door knob, pulling the door shut before the soldier could free himself completely. Reaching into her pocket once again, she flipped the switch to engage the magnets.

They came on not a moment too soon. From the other side of the door she could hear the man trying to force it open. Fortunately, the magnets held firm. But now Gumi had another problem.

Turning around, she looked back down into entryway of the house, where the other soldier had sensed that something was awry. He looked over his shoulder at the sound of the net launcher and put his sights on Gumi when he saw her slam the door shut.

“Freeze! Don’t move! Arms above your head. NOW!” shouted the soldier in an authoritative voice.

She froze. This was it. Game over. She was caught. Gumi had many useful talents, but avoiding bullets was not one of them. She slowly raised her arms above her head as the soldier started to speak into his radio, never taking his eyes off of her.

“This is Tango Zero-Zero-One requesting backup. I am currently in position One-Zero-Alpha-Foxtrot. Repeat, this is Tango Zer-

And that’s all he got out before he was shoulder-tackled by Gumi’s father. His gun and radio clattered to the floor, but he immediately started to regain his footing. He only got about halfway back up, however, before a porcelain lamp was smashed forcefully over his head by her mother. The soldier immediately fell to the floor unconscious.

Gumi stood in the upstairs hallway, her jaw hanging open in shock, her arms still raised halfway above her head. But she didn’t get long to stay surprised.

“What are you waiting for?” said her father with a note of urgency in his voice. “That backup he requested will be here any second! GO!”

“I… I don’t… wha?” said Gumi, completely unable to process what had just happened.

“Gumi Megpoid, get down here this instant!” yelled her mother, her eyes wide and her tone leaving no room for argument.

Still in a daze, Gumi descended the stairs to stand in front of her parents. “But… how did you…?” she started, but she was unable to properly articulate.

“You think I didn’t notice those ball bearings missing from the garage?” said her father, with the ghost of a smile. “And really? A telescope? What kind of telescope gets bolted to the wall and isn’t near a window?”

“You guys… knew?” she asked in disbelief. “All this time… you knew?”

“Sweetie, we’re your parents. It’s our job to know when you’re up to something” said her mother.

“But you two just… just…” she gestured wildly towards the unconscious soldier on the floor. “You’ll be arrested!”

“Baby girl, you’re a genius. I would have thought that much would be obvious” said her father. “That was kind of the point, after all. It’ll give you enough time to get away and meet Miku.”

Gumi was horrified. “No!” she yelled. “Why would you do that!?!? My whole plan was to leave you out of it! And how do you even know that I’m meeting her!?!?”

“You should learn to speak more quietly when you’re on the phone, dear” said her mother.

“But… I can’t let you-“ Gumi started.

“It’s not your decision, Sweetheart” her mother stated simply. “It’s our job to protect you, not the other way around.” She smiled at her daughter. “You’re running out of time. Now go.”

Gumi had tears in her eyes as she looked helplessly at her parents. But it was without a trace of fear or regret in their eyes that they looked back at her. Gumi lunged forward and grabbed both of them in a tight embrace, a few tears on her cheeks. They returned the gesture briefly before her father pushed her away forcibly.

“Don’t worry about us” he said, his own eyes showing signs of tears. “Your scooter is outside waiting. Take Union Street down to Junction and follow it out of town. That’s where there’ll be the smallest number of soldiers.

Gumi didn’t pause to question how her father knew this, but instead ran to the back door. Before she stepped through, though, she turned around and fixed her parents with a determined look. “I’ll find you. I’ll get you out. I promise. Miku and I are going to put a stop to whatever is going on in this country.” She couldn’t believe what she was saying. When did that become the plan? Still, she said it without a hint of falsehood and she knew instantly that she would do whatever it took to make it come true. Giving them one final nod she turned and left.

Her parents let out a sigh. It was up to her now. But they had faith in their daughter. If there was anyone that could do it, it was Gumi. She is, as both were well aware, a very smart cookie.

They looked at each other and knew that everything was going to work out, somehow. Even as more soldiers entered the house and forced them both to the ground they didn’t break their gaze. At that moment they shared an unspoken sentiment between the two of them. That gaze carried everything they cared about. All their love for their daughter, and all their love for each other. But most importantly it carried the one thing that would let them carry on through what was to come: hope.


Worried? What’s all this crap about being worried? Miku was pumped! That’s why she was incessantly pacing the floor of her bedroom, and why her heart was beating fit to burst, because she was ready for action. Yeah, that was it. No nervousness here, no sir. She was completely, totally, one hundred percent ready for what was coming. She was excited, not worried. Please, don’t get the two confused.

Miku slumped. Oh who was she kidding? She was a nervous wreck. Gumi was about to risk her life escaping from the army and here she was, far away and unable to do anything but watch. Wait, scratch that, she couldn’t even watch, only listen… periodically… on a piece of crap walkie-talkie with terrible reception.

At least she’d have something to distract her soon enough. Her bags had been packed for days now and she and Luka were ready to leave at a moment’s notice. They were to set out the moment they knew that Gumi had gotten out of town.

She checked the clock again compulsively. 2:27 PM. Two minutes had elapsed since the last time she’d looked. Ugh! Why did it have to take so long? She could handle the doing; it was the waiting that killed her!

She’d called Gumi no less than 8 times that day already. She probably would have called again, too, had Gumi not flat out told her to stop. The plan was that she would contact Miku once she managed to get out of her house as a check-in and then again after she’d left town completely.

This was too much. She couldn’t just sit here and wait. She had to do something or she’d explode. Striding over to her door she walked purposely through it with every intention of going downstairs and doing something to take her mind off the situation at hand…

…And was back on her bed clutching the makeshift phone within seconds. No use. She couldn’t do it. She was just too worked up over what was about to happen.

A few less-than-optimistic thoughts pushed themselves into her head. Gumi should have called by now, shouldn’t she? It had been nearly half an hour since the extraction of Gumi’s neighborhood had begun. Why was it taking her so long for her to call? Surely she’d had enough time to do what she needed to by now, right? Honestly, how hard could it be to take care of a couple of soldiers?

She took a few calming breaths, attempting to get her nerves back under control. Maybe Gumi was just being cautious. This was a dynamic plan, after all. It was subject to change at any time in order to meet the changing demands of the situation. Maybe she’d had to lay low for a while and let things cool down. Yeah. That sounded logical. She was probably just… being careful.

But then again…

Maybe she’d never gotten out of her house at all. What if the plan had just… failed? Maybe the net launcher had jammed or something? Maybe there were too many soldiers for her to handle. If that was the case, then right now Gumi might be on her way to some awful, cold, dirty… prison! Or maybe her resistance had been met with more… forceful means? She could be injured or worse! She could be dea…

RING RING RING RING!

The phone on the bed in front of her began to make the horrible clanging wail that passed for its ring. Miku lunged at it and fumbled with it for a moment before mashing the green button and shouting into the receiver.

“GUMI! Gumi! What’s going on!?!?! What happened? Where are you?” she said in a rush.

The voice that replied to her sounded winded, but ok otherwise.

“Calm down!” said Gumi from the other end. “I’m fine. Listen, I had a bit of a… problem… getting away from the soldiers. It’s nothing I can’t handle, but waiting until nighttime isn’t really an option anymore. There are patrols everywhere and I don’t think I can wait in one spot for long enough. I need to get out of here, fast. Any ideas?”

The urgency in Gumi’s voice snapped Miku out of her panic. “Wait, problem? What do you mean ‘problem’?” asked Miku. “What kind of problem are we talking about here?”

“I don’t have time to explain right now” she replied, her voice hurried. “Time is of the essence. They’ve got everyone looking for me and if I don’t leave now I’m going to run out of options pretty quickly.”

Miku was amazed by the change in her friend’s normally passive demeanor. Gumi sounded tired, stressed, and agitated, but for all of that Miku couldn’t detect a hint of nervousness in her tone. She briefly wondered if this could possibly be the same girl she’d spoken to that morning.

“Hello? Miku? Are you there?” came Gumi’s voice again. “I really need some advice here and… God, am I asking you for advice again? This is the weirdest day I think I’ve ever had.”

“Yeah, sorry, sorry. I’m here” said Miku focusing back in on the task at hand. “Ok, where are you right now? How close are you to a way out?”

“I’m within fifty yards of that gas station that’s right at the edge of town. You know, the place where that creepy guy with one eye works? Well, they have the street barricaded and I can’t get through.”

“Barricaded? How many soldiers are guarding it?”

Gumi chanced a quick glance around the edge of the fence she was hiding behind. The road was blocked by concrete slabs and several men with guns patrolling back and forth. She counted quickly before ducking out of sight again.

“I can see three, but there are probably more” she said.

“Hmmm…” came Miku’s reply. “Yeah. No way are you getting through there. Maybe you could circle… no, that won’t work. Or you could… nah, that won’t work either. Give me a second.”

Gumi passed a few tense moments waiting for Miku’s response. If this was her idea of helping then she seriously needed to rethink a few things. She was about to speak up again when Miku finally said something.

“I’ve got it!” she said triumphantly. “Remember that back alley on the other side of the gas station? Think they’ve got that blocked too?” Gumi could practically hear her grinning.

She realized Miku was probably right. Looking at it logically, there was a relatively low chance that they would have spared a man that was most likely needed elsewhere to guard such a small alley.

“That’s… a surprisingly good suggestion, actually” said Gumi, a little taken aback that Miku had actually managed to give her some useful method of escape.

“Surprising?” Miku replied, a little indignantly. “There’s no one alive who knows that town better than me! Who was the one who spent most of her childhood staying with every family in town? I know the inside and outside of practically every building.”

Gumi realized she really was right. Considering her… unique upbringing, there probably wasn’t anyone better qualified for this than Miku. Plus, there wasn’t really anyone else available anyways so she’d have to take what she could get.

“Ok… yeah, I see your point” she conceded. “Give me a minute to get over there.”

She replaced the “phone” in her pocket. She reached out with her right hand and grasped the handle of her scooter. Peaking around the edge again, she made sure the coast was clear before crossing the street to pass through the sparse cover a few front yards could provide. Thankfully, Mr. Stetson lived on this street. Gumi had never been so grateful that someone could have such a strange interest in topiary. The assorted hedges and decorative trees afforded her a few much-needed hiding spots.

She eventually made it to the end of the street. Crouched behind a big blue recycling receptacle, she could see her target. The gas station had a narrow alleyway on its eastern side which wasn’t visible from the soldier’s position. Its opposite end was obscured by some thick vegetation, which would veil her escape nicely. She went a short distance further down the street on her left, and then doubled back so she could cross without being seen. She ended up right at the mouth of the alley, which she slipped into quickly, wheeling her scooter in behind her.

Once she’d made it to the opposite end she took the phone out of her pocket again. “Hey, I made it. I think I’m home free. There doesn’t seem to be anyone over here. I’m just about out. You two should probably leave.” She kept her voice low, for fear that the soldiers might be close enough to overhear.

“You’re good? Awesome!” came Miku’s reply. “I’ll go get Luka. We’ve been ready to go for days!”

“I can’t believe this actually worked” said Gumi, slightly stunned that she had actually made it this far. She exited the alley and turned right. “I was sure something was going to go…”

She froze. There was a man, a soldier, standing directly in front of her. His gun was leaning up against the concrete wall of the building adjacent to the gas station and he had a cigarette clasped firmly between two fingers.

“wrong” she nearly whispered the last word. For a moment, the two of them just stared at each other. He seemed to be as shocked to see her as she was him. Then, as one, both of their eyes slowly trailed downward to rest on the rifle leaning against the wall.

They moved at the same time. Both of them lunged towards the gun. Both the phone and the cigarette fell to the concrete. Gumi was closer and she reached it first. There was just one problem. She had never used a gun before in her life. Before she could even begin to ascertain how to operate it, the soldier was on top of her. She fell backwards as he tackled her, and as she landed she heard (but mostly felt) a loud crunch as the walkie-talkie was crushed beneath their combined weight.

The struggle was a brief one. Gumi was no match for her much larger opponent and he soon had her pinned. She could barely move. She would have been doomed right there had she not suddenly noticed that this particular soldier didn’t seem to be wearing a vest. She could only assume that this was because he wasn’t part of an extraction team. This fact wouldn’t have been anything particularly noteworthy had her right arm not also been trapped between the two of them. In this position, the spikes on the glove had pierced the front of his shirt and made contact with bare skin.

What happened next took only an instant, but felt like an eternity to Gumi. In less than a second the obvious course of action became apparent. Her eyes widened and her pulse quickened. Oh no… Oh please no. Don’t make me do that… she pleaded silently.

Fate was an impassive observer in this case, however, and there was no one to answer her pleas. She quickly realized that there was no other choice. She couldn’t pass up such a perfect opportunity, no matter how opposed to it she was. It was either this, or she was caught.

For a brief moment, her eyes met those of the soldier. I’m sorry she tried to communicate through her gaze alone. The man’s eyes simply looked back at her, brows knitted in concentration as he fumbled for his radio.

Shifting her weight, she shoved her upper arm against the man and rammed the little black box into his shoulder, pressing the button. The Concession came to life, humming and clicking dangerously.

Almost immediately the man on top of her began to convulse. The experience was a terrifying one for Gumi, but she couldn’t leave anything to chance at this point. She held the button down and allowed the current to continue to flow. It shut itself off after several seconds had passed. The man stopped his shaking and lay still, groaning slightly.

With some effort, she shoved the man’s immobile body off of her. He protested weakly and tried to grab her again, but she wasn’t going to give him another chance. She grabbed her scooter and prepared to speed off before something on the ground caught her eye.

Her breath caught in her throat as she saw the remains of the walkie-talkie. A terrible realization crossed her mind: without that, she had no means of contacting Miku. There was no way to tell her she’d gotten away or to let her know they needed to leave to meet her. How would she know what to do? Where to go? How to survive? She didn’t know the first thing about traveling.

Her thoughts were cut short as circumstance once again reared its ugly head. The man was already getting to his feet. A stun gun was painful, but only provided her a few seconds at most. Quickly stuffing the pieces of the walkie-talkie into her shoulder bag, she hopped on her scooter and sped away as fast as she could.

As she rode, her mind raced. What would she do now? What could she do now? Miku and Luka would obviously fear the worst and assume she had been caught. What else could they think? Miku had definitely heard the beginnings of the struggle before the walkie was destroyed. With no way to contact them and inform them that she was ok, she’d be alone.

A type of fear that Gumi had never known before gripped her heart as the wind whipped through her hair. For the first time in her life, she realized that there was no one there to help her. The road in front of her, though it was broad daylight, seemed to her the darkest thing she had ever seen, filled with uncertainty and despair.

There was only one thing she knew for sure as she looked ahead at the miles in front of her: Miku wouldn’t be coming to save her.

She was on her own.


“Wrong…” said Gumi’s voice from the earpiece.

There was a moment of silence. Then Miku heard a sharp crack as Gumi dropped her walkie. “Gumi? Gumi! What’s going on? What was that noise?” said Miku, concern creeping into her voice. There came the sounds of a struggle before…

KRZZZT!

The line went dead.

“Gumi? Gumi!?!? GUMI!” shouted Miku, clutching the walkie and screaming into the receiver. There was no response.

“GUMI!!! GUMI SAY SOMETHING!!!” she yelled, her cries quickly becoming hysterical. Still, the line remained silent.

Miku then did something that she never did. She started to cry. Not crying like one would cry when watching a sad movie. These were violent, full-bodied sobs accompanied by wails of despair. It quickly deteriorated into silent quaking and gasping as she sunk to her knees, holding the walkie in her hands and just staring at it, unable to tear her gaze away.

Luka burst into the room, alarmed by Miku’s sudden outburst.

“What’s going on? What happened?” she said, her tone concerned. She stopped at the door, taken aback by the scene in front of her.

As Luka watched from the doorway, Miku clutched the makeshift phone to her chest. Her hair hid her eyes behind a curtain of blue, but it couldn’t hide the tears of rage and despair that flowed freely down her cheeks and left little spots on her shirt.

One word.

“Gumi…”

It was immediately apparent to Luka that Gumi’s escape had met with some unexpected trouble. She drew in a sharp breath. This was bad. This was very bad. Emotionally speaking, Miku had been unstable enough lately. She couldn’t postulate on how this turn of events might affect her.

“Miku…?” she started softly, taking a hesitant step towards her student’s crying form.

Miku’s head snapped up to look at her. The look in her eyes was one that Luka knew all too well. It was the look of one at crisis with themselves. That mixture of rage, sadness, and fear had adorned the features of far too many of the people she had chased as a mercenary.

Seeing it on Miku nearly broke her heart.

“Listen… I know this is hard… but you need to…” she began.

“I need to what, exactly!?!?” spat Miku, her features suddenly contorting with rage. “Calm down? Is that what you were about to say? I need to calm down? My best friend just got captured by soldiers and you just want me to CALM DOWN, IS THAT IT!?!?”

Luka kept her tone level. “I’m not trying to argue with you, but we need to consider all of our options here. Do you know for sure that she got caught?”

Miku’s anger only grew. “I heard it happen! I sat here and listened to her get taken when I should have been there helping her escape! It’s my f…”

“Not another word!” said Luka, her intensity flaring suddenly. “Don’t you dare start blaming yourself for this!”

“What would you know about it!?!?” Miku fired back. “You’re the one who convinced me not to go in the first place! I should never have listened to your stupid advice!”

Luka began to get wary. She didn’t like where this was headed. Raising her hands in a placating gesture she circled around to Miku’s front, standing at the foot of her bed.

“Listen. This situation is bad, yes, but we aren’t going to get anywhere if we lose our heads. What we need to do now is think about what to do next.” She took a step forward, Miku practically growled back at her. She acted as if she hadn’t even heard Luka’s appeal.

Miku’s eyes narrowed as she continued speaking, fixing Luka with an icy glare. “Yeah… that’s right, isn’t it? I could have been there to save her if it wasn’t for you.” She said the last word with too much venom for Luka to ignore.

Ok, now she REALLY didn’t like where this was going. “Miku. Stop. Please. You’re very angry right now. That’s understandable. But we can’t start pointing fingers here. This isn’t the fault of either of us. Gumi knew that she might not make it out. She went into this knowing what could happen.”

Miku’s glare intensified. “So now you’re saying it’s her fault!?!?” she said, her eyes looking more dangerous by the second. “You think she got herself caught, is that it? That she was too weak to pull it off? That she doesn’t matter!?!?!”

This was quickly spiraling out of control. Luka tried in vain to grasp hold of the reins of the rapidly deteriorating conversation. “I never said that. If you would just listen to me we could…”

“No! I’m not listening to you anymore!” yelled Miku, standing up again. “Gumi’s only in this mess because I listened to you in the first place!” Her hands clenched into fists.

Luka was really starting to get worried now. She activated her Vocal Vision and, sure enough, Miku’s energy was starting to flare. Her blue aura leapt and flickered like fire, steadily growing along with her rage. Luka gave one last attempt at pacifying her irate pupil.

“Fighting amongst ourselves is not going to solve anything!” she yelled back, gathering a small amount of her own energy. This was not lost on Miku, who immediately dropped into a fighting stance. “Please! Let’s just sit down and talk this out! Gumi wouldn’t want you to…”

But Miku was beyond reason. “DON’T YOU DARE TALK ABOUT GUMI!!!” she shouted. With a yell, she leapt at her master.

Luka caught the attack easily and spun Miku around, throwing her back to the floor. But she wasn’t expecting what came next. Instead of stopping, Miku continued forward. She jumped, planting her feet squarely on the opposite wall. Luka saw the energy gather in her legs and barely had time to bring her guard up before Miku shot herself off like a rocket, hurtling directly at her.

Luka immediately regretted her decision to move to the foot of the bed. As Miku crashed into her she was dimly aware that there had been a window directly behind her. The forward momentum of Miku’s charge lifted Luka off her feet and they both crashed into the pane of glass, shattering it and throwing them out into the bright afternoon sun.

Being on the second story, they immediately began to fall in a wide, lazy arc. It was only by Luka’s lightning-fast reflexes that they avoided a messy crash landing. Throwing her powers into full tilt, she reached one arm out behind her and landed on it. Using her energy, she canceled out the force of hitting the ground and redirected it. She wrapped her other arm around Miku and executed an extremely tight spin on her supporting hand. She launched her student away from her, coming to rest on one knee with hardly a hair out of place.

On any normal day, Miku would have cared that she had just witnessed the most impressive feat of acrobatics she had ever seen in her life. However, at the moment she was far too angry to care about anything other than beating the ever-loving snot out of her mentor. She flipped in the air and planted her feet into the ground, skidding to a stop.

Teacher and student eyed each other from across the clearing. Luka spoke up. “Miku, I do not want to fight you, but don’t think for one second that I’ll go easy on you. It’s clear that you’re not thinking straight. If this is how I have to make you see it…”

“Fine by me! I never said I wanted you to go easy anyways!” Miku shouted back, flaring her energy again.

“So be it” said Luka. “If you want the tiger, then you’ll get her.”

Miku had no idea what that meant, but she didn’t have much time to wonder. Luka slowly lowered herself into a stance that she had never seen. Her teacher’s aura suddenly grew in size until it was at least three times larger than she had ever seen it. Her eyes blazed a bright pink.

Then she disappeared. There was no other way to accurately describe it. One moment she was there, and the next she wasn’t. The only way Miku was able to track her movement was by the fist that sunk itself suddenly into her gut, and by that point tracking Luka’s movement was irrelevant.

Now, Miku had gotten used to having the wind knocked out of her. It had practically become a part of her daily training regimen. Not like this. This wasn’t just a punch. It was pure agony.

The fist hurt, sure, but the energy blast that followed it was infinitely more painful. It felt like being hit in the gut with a cannon, or at least Miku imagined that it couldn’t be far off.

But it didn’t stop there. A second punch followed the first, and then a third. On the fourth hit Luka’s open palm slammed into Miku’s chest and sent her flying back a few feet. Once again, she caught herself before she hit the ground, but Luka was on her again before she could blink.

It was at this point that Miku realized just how far in over her head she was. Luka didn’t seem to be moving so much as teleporting from place to place. Even with her Vocal Vision, Miku could only see her when she stopped to strike. It was also at this point that Miku realized she didn’t give a single rat’s ass about how strong Luka was. Her anger burned away the pain.

But her anger alone couldn’t stop the beating.

Luka’s attack was relentless. Blow after blow rained down on every part of Miku’s body, all of them too fast for her to react to, all of them more painful than anything she had ever felt.

Suddenly, by some chance, she caught a slight blur of movement coming in on her left and threw up her arm in time to block. She immediately counterattacked with a powerful kick, but the only thing she hit was air.

“Now the monkey!” she heard Luka yell. Miku knew that Luka had a thing for animals, but this was new. She had never seen any of this before. Before she could begin to wonder what “the monkey” could be, Luka once again answered her with her actions. Executing an almost impossible dodge maneuver she grabbed hold of Miku’s leg and actually climbed it. One arm grabbed her shoulder and Luka swung herself around Miku’s back, her feet never touching the ground. She grabbed Miku’s other shoulder and completed the rotation, her right arm coming to rest on Miku’s neck. Her weight suddenly seemed to return and she drove Miku straight into the dust, slamming her down on her back.

Her hand still clasped around Miku’s neck, Luka said “Give up. You can’t even do anything.”

“Screw you!” Miku shouted back. And so the torture continued.

“Fine! Now the bear!” said Luka, calling upon yet another creature. She lifted Miku up completely by her throat and threw her into a nearby tree. Before gravity had a chance to drag Miku down, Luka barreled into her with a vicious shoulder charge. The tree trunk splintered from the force.

Miku’s vision was swimming at this point. She felt two hands grab her shoulders before she was lifted completely into the air and tossed like a rag doll. She struggled to her feet and saw Luka slowly approaching her, a predator closing in for the kill.

She summoned what energy she could into her hand and threw it at Luka. Luka’s form flashed to the side and the blast missed completely. She summoned another and threw it too, but her teacher would not be hit. Each bolt of vocal power failed to touch anything but the landscape behind her.

This continued until Luka was standing mere inches away. Miku threw a punch and Luka blocked it. She threw another and Luka blocked that one as well. The entire time, Luka’s gaze didn’t leave her face, her expression impassive and her eyes hard and unforgiving.

At last Miku’s anger could sustain her strength no longer. She threw one more punch. Instead of swatting it aside Luka caught her wrist and held it. Miku tried to hit her with her other fist. Luka caught that one too and held it the same.

She struggled for a few seconds longer before tears overtook her again and she slumped. But before she could fall, Luka wrapped her up in a hug and held her there as the pain and anger ran their course. Miku buried her head in Luka’s shoulder and bawled her eyes out, not caring if she had been trying to kill her moments before. Some distant part of her mind, which would usually have been telling her how much of a pansy she was being, remained silent.

They stood there for what felt like hours, Miku sobbing uncontrollably into Luka’s shirt as she was held and comforted. At that moment Miku was nothing more than a scared teenage girl, worried to death about her best friend. Eventually the crying dwindled down to only the occasional hiccup.

“It’s ok…” Luka whispered soothingly as she gently stroked the back of Miku’s head. “I know it’s hard. But everything will be ok, I promise.”

“I know” came Miku’s muffled reply.

“Good” said Luka.

“No, I mean I know. I figured it out” Miku clarified.

“Figured what out?” asked Luka, puzzled.

“My purpose” she said simply. “Just now. It hit me. I know.”

Luka drew her away to arms length. Her expression hardened again. “You’re sure?”

Miku just nodded, wiping her eyes with the back of her sleeve and sniffling a bit.

Luka just stared at her for a few moments, her gaze probing Miku’s features. She released her shoulders and stepped back a few paces. “Well… I guess there’s really only one question to ask then.”

Luka raised her hand and pointed straight at Miku. In a loud, commanding tone she asked: “Miku Hatsune, why do you fight?”

Miku raised her head. Her cheeks were stained with drying tears but a fiery resolve burned in her eyes. It was without a hint of uncertainty that she replied:

“I fight for my friends.”


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