Vocal Vision

Solar Originality! Uta Dives into Trouble!

Ancient Lucentian texts speak of a bond; a sacred, holy, unspoken pact between the student: young, eager, thirsty for knowledge; and the master: stoic, proud, and wise with the weight of years.

In their native language, it is referred to as “synkana,”the "bond of knowledge." Poets have written of its glory in storied, purple prose. Bards have sung of its divinity in awestruck reverence. It forms the basis on which learning may thrive, spreading its roots ever deeper, shaping the minds of youth, the past empowering the future.

In many ways, the role of an educator is much akin to that of an artificer. Both are craftsmen by nature, the difference lies only in the materials they work with. In lieu of wood, stone, or metal, the educator shapes the substance of those he teaches. Not with a lathe, hammer, or saw does he ply his craft, working much more effectively and efficiently with only his words.

In the same manner is the student like a block of unchiseled marble: clean, smooth, and unblemished before the hands of the sculptor. He awaits his instructor’s lesson with barely contained anticipation, and hangs on every word. As he learns, he is shaped, formed, hewn into a form of beauty. Pygmalion’s work incarnate, he steps down from his pedestal as something more.

Scholars and historians have written theses on the enigma of this bond’s ambiguity, being something invisible, untouchable, yet undeniably present. They wax philosophical of its extensive intricacies and its implications, mysterious and inimitable.

Yes, the annals of history sing the praises of the holy connection that is the relationship of teacher to pupil.

Somehow, one gets the feeling that this isn’t quite what history had in mind…

Miku ducked, dodged, weaved, and rolled to avoid the veritable firestorm of vocal energy bolts currently raining down on her head.

“You’ll have to do better than that!” Luka yelled, all the while throwing more and more energy blasts, “A real enemy is going to be way more accurate than this!” as if to accentuate her point, one of the blasts impacted inches away, knocking Miku over. She quickly rolled over onto all fours and gathered energy in her arms and legs, pushing off the ground to avoid another blast that blew apart the space she had been occupying only moments before.

Landing on her feet, Miku ran to the left, strafing as a barrage of shots came at her again. Bars of running sixteenth notes in her head plied her legs with energy, granting her a boost of speed. If ever she needed fast, it was now.

It worked, up to a point. She noticed almost too late the lone energy bolt heading for the ground in front of her. She jumped at the last moment, propelling herself over the blast. She stretched her arms out in front of her and tucked her legs in as she hit the ground, somersaulting back into a run.

Regaining her bearings, she actually noticed the tree this time before she hit it. Dammit! Why is it always a tree!?!? she screamed in her head. No. Not this time. Never again would a plant get the better of her. She grit her teeth, steeling herself for action.

As she reached the trunk she placed one foot on it, then another, using her momentum to carry her up the vertical surface. On the third step she closed her eyes and pushed off into a backflip as another blast hit the tree and splintered the wood.

In the air, time slowed. She felt the rush of wind and a strange sensation in her belly, like the world had dropped out from under her. Opening her eyes again she encountered the peculiar feeling of seeing the ground above rather than below. This was accompanied by the briefest moment of weightlessness before gravity kicked in again, pulling her down.

She arched her back, bringing her body upright again as her feet touched down. But her momentum was too great and she overbalanced, stumbling backwards a few steps before falling flat on her behind. She turned her head just in time to see an energy blast on a collision course with her face. With no time to move she brought her arms up to shield herself, bracing for impact…

It never came. Just as the blast reached her, Luka clenched her hand shut and the blast dissipated, hitting Miku with nothing more than a slight gust of wind. “Your reaction time needs work” came Luka’s voice from her position near the house. “It took you way too long to get the hang of it.”

“What do you mean it took me too long?” she asked indignantly, “You just said ‘dodge’ and started attacking me! What was I supposed to do?”

“I would have thought that the meaning of the word dodge would have been clear” said Luka, raising an eyebrow, “Would you have preferred ‘move’ or ‘don’t get hit’? Oh, how about ‘I’m going to start blasting you now, better get out of the way if you don’t want to get blown up’? Sorry, but you’re the one who wanted to step it up. You reap what you sow.”

Miku couldn’t argue with that. Well, actually she could but she knew it wouldn’t get her anywhere. The option was still tempting though. She had in fact asked Luka to make her training more intense. So it made sense that now she had to put up or shut up.

But even though she was complaining, she couldn’t deny that this training was more like what she had originally imagined. It was pretty difficult, but it was definitely interesting to say the least. Even so, Luka had told her that they were still working on the basics. If this was basic, then Miku could only wonder what the advanced stuff was like.

“Fine, fine, whatever” she intoned, waving her hand dismissively, “So what’s next then?” Despite her outward attitude, she was actually eager to continue.

Luka gave her a searching look and suddenly took on a more serious tone. “Miku, before we go any further with this, there’s something I need to know” she said, crossing her arms, “It’s a very simple question, but it’s one that every fighter must ask themselves at some point.”

She pointed directly at Miku and said in an authoritative voice: “Miku Hatsune, why do you fight?”

Okay… that came out of nowhere. She could have a least tried to make some sort of segue.

“Uh, what?” Miku would have thought it was obvious. It was because she enjoyed it. “It’s what I’m good at. I thought I already told you.”

“That isn’t what I meant” Luka replied, crossing her arms once more, “Every fighter needs a reason to fight. It’s that one central purpose that drives them. Just fighting for the sake of fighting or just because you like it isn’t a reason. If you want to be a true fighter, then you need a purpose. Otherwise it’s just pointless violence.”

Great, another one of Luka’s philosophical quandaries. She wasn’t good at these. Couldn’t Luka just stick to trying to blow her up? At least then she wouldn’t have to use her brain so much. Of course, these things did usually end up making some sort of sense once they were done with.

Miku thought about it for a moment. Why did she want to be a fighter in the first place? She had been fighting for as long as she could remember. Ever since she was a child, it had been her favorite thing in the world. Nothing felt as exhilarating as being in a good brawl. Two people pitting themselves against one another to see who could outperform the other. To her, it was the ultimate form of competition, the logical endpoint of her naturally competitive personality. But hadn’t Luka just said that fighting only because you enjoy it wasn’t really a reason to be a fighter? If that was the case then Miku wasn’t sure why she wanted to fight.

She knew that fighting was a part of who she was. It was more than just a hobby or pastime for her. It was an intrinsic part of her being. But why? Why did it hold such significance to her? What made her want to dedicate her life to it? Why was it that she felt compelled to fight, even though there might not even necessarily be a need for it? Miku didn’t have answers to any of these questions.

“I don’t know” she said simply, “I really couldn’t tell you why fighting is important for me. I just know that there’s nothing else I would rather do. I know that if I can’t be a fighter, then life isn’t worth living anymore.”

Luka gave her a small smile. “That’s good. Don’t worry. There’s no hurry to figure it out. It’s something that comes with time. You’ll get it eventually.”

Miku was silent for a moment, then she asked: “Ok, I get that I need to have a reason, but why? Why is it so important?”

Luka didn’t hesitate at all with her answer. “It’s because without a purpose fighting doesn’t have any meaning to it.”

Ok then… That pretty much sounded like a redundant statement. If something doesn’t have a purpose, then it’s meaningless, that goes without saying. Miku wasn’t sure how that was supposed to answer her question.

Seeing the puzzled look on her face, Luka continued. “Let me explain. You see, every great fighter in history had a purpose. I have one, my master had one, his master before him had one… you get the picture. The point is this: the purpose you have is more than just a reason for fighting; it’s a reason for living. A true fighter takes their purpose into their personality and it defines a part, if not all, of who they are.”

Luka looked at Miku and saw that she still had the same look of non-comprehension. She sighed and thought for a moment. “How can I explain...” She said to herself. Then she snapped her fingers. “Ah ha!”

“How about this?” she said, “Think of it like a sandwich.”

“A… sandwich?” Miku didn’t quite understand what Luka was getting at, even if she did appreciate the food metaphor.

“Yeah, it’s exactly like a sandwich” Luka insisted, “A fighter is like a sandwich. The filling for that sandwich is their reason for fighting, for living. What do you get when you take away the filling in a sandwich?”

“Um… bread?” said Miku.

“Exactly!” replied Luka, clapping her hands together, “A fighter without a purpose is like a sandwich without any filling. And a sandwich without filling is a sandwich without feeling I always say.”

“You’ve never said that before…” said Miku, but Luka wasn’t listening.

“If you take away a fighter’s filling then all that’s left is the bread. And bread alone does not constitute a sandwich.” She crossed her arms and nodded, obviously satisfied with her own explanation.

As strange as it sounded, the sandwich analogy was actually working. Miku could see what Luka meant. What kind of person would want two pieces of bread with nothing between them? It wasn’t just a travesty against food, it was an affront to life and liberty as we know it!

“Wow…” Miku said softly, “I didn’t know it was that important…”

“Indeed. Sandwiches, er, I mean purposes are no laughing matter” said Luka, “Once you find your purpose you’ll know it. You’ll be able to feel it. It’ll be something that will be incredibly precious to you.”

Miku contemplated that for a moment. Something precious to her… It certainly sounded important. She wondered if she’d ever find her purpose. Luka said that it would come with time, but she also said that it was monumentally important. If it was so important, then shouldn’t Miku concentrate on finding it right away?

“Well, all this talk of sandwiches has gotten me hungry.” Said Luka, grinning, “I think I’ll go make some.”

Miku was instantly booted out of her reverie as her stomach gave off a deafening roar. Oh yeah, a sandwich sounded great right about now. However, as she started walking towards the door, Luka stopped her.

“Oh, I’m sorry. I suppose that was easy to misinterpret.” She said, her grin turning evil, “I meant for me. If you want one I’m afraid it’s not going to be quite that easy.”

Miku experienced the strangest feeling of dread in the pit of her stomach (or the pit that was her stomach, given how hungry she was). This sounded bad. Very bad. If Miku had to rate Luka’s evil grin on a scale of 1 to 10 for how bad it was, it would easily be a 13.

Noticing Miku’s expression change to one of horror, Luka continued. “Oh yes, not easy at all I’m afraid. You see we’ve been covering all sorts of basics for weeks now. I think it’s time we moved on just a tad. I’ve been teaching you techniques that I invented. They’re effective, sure, but I did all the work in making them. If you want to be considered a true fighter, then you’ll have to create some of your own.”

Miku swallowed hard. She suddenly had an idea where this was going, and she didn’t like it one bit.

Luka narrowed her eyes as her grin grew even wider. “So here’s how this is going to play out. You can have a sandwich, but not until you show me a completely original technique of your own creation.”

“Is that it? Wow, you had me worried there for a second!” Miku let out the breath she hadn’t been aware she was holding. Was that all? That wasn’t difficult. It was easy! She already had tons of original techniques! She could show Luka her “Iron Fist Blitz” or maybe her “Hornet’s Sting Kick”, there was always the deadly “Guillotine Slice”. Any number of moves would do (ridiculous names aside). But as she caught the look on Luka’s face her momentary excitement vanished in an instant.

“It’s not going to be that easy, is it?” she asked, already knowing the answer.

“You catch on quick.” Said Luka, that manic grin never leaving her face, “It most certainly will not be that easy. I don’t want just any old rubbish technique here. It can’t be something you’ve already come up with, original or not. I want a brand new shiny technique that you think up right here today.”

“Ok, that’s harder but I still think I can…” started Miku before she was cut off.

“And one more thing” added Luka, “It has to be something that projects vocal energy outside your body. Lasers, explosions, things like that. I don’t want anything involving punches and kicks.”

Miku groaned. Of course it had to be something that required her to use the aspect of her powers she was the worst with. She’d barely learned how to project vocal energy from areas other than her hands and now Luka wanted a flashy technique doing just that? It was going to be a long day.

“You can’t be serious! Vocaloids can’t shoot lasers!” protested Miku as Luka turned and walked back towards the house.

Without warning Luka spun around and brought her hand up. A bright pink beam shot out of her palm and streaked across the clearing. It impacted the trunk of a tree and left a smoldering, smoking hole that pierced all the way through the wood.

Luka didn’t say anything. She just gave Miku a look, grinned that evil grin, and walked back inside. Miku just stood there dumbfounded, staring at the hole left by Luka’s attack.

Her stomach growled.

Gumi Megpoid was frustrated. Utterly, totally, unequivocally frustrated. Net Launchers 101 should be worth college credit for the difficulty it was giving her. She’d had the motion sensors on her door rigged in a single day; but after an entire week of work, she was only about halfway done with just the launching mechanism. To her credit, it was the most difficult portion of the project, but she still had a long way to go.

After extensive calculations, she realized that the amount of force required to knock a human over with a net launcher was way higher than she had the means to make. It wasn’t feasible (or safe) to work with something that could generate enough momentum to potentially harm you. At least, not without the proper facilities; and Gumi was pretty sure her bedroom wasn’t up to code when it came to safety around dangerous machines.

That was alright though. She didn’t need to knock the person over to get the desired result. As long as they were incapacitated, that was enough. So she turned her attentions towards not just the launcher itself, but the net as well. It was surprising how much there was to know about nets, actually. Gumi hadn’t really given them much thought before, why would she? However, now that she needed to know about them, she was discovering that there was a lot more to it than one might expect.

You see, a net isn’t just a bunch of rope. There are factors that must be taken into account. First off, the materials that the net is made of matter. A low quality rope will result in a low quality net that may fray or break easily. Maybe the net isn’t even made of rope at all. Secondly, there are certain things to consider when designing a net. For what purpose is the net being used? A fishing net won’t be very good for catching a falling trapeze artist. A net used for climbing isn’t going to catch any fish. It’s all about having the right net for the job. Third: once you have determined what type of net you need, you have to be sure that you use it correctly.

Step one had turned out to be the biggest issue for Gumi simply because of her limited access to materials. A good net requires good materials and that was something that she couldn’t acquire easily. She had pondered the issue for hours before coming up with a solution. In the end, she just decided to forego using rope entirely. Digging through her closet, she found what she was looking for. She had a long length of thin metal chain that was strong yet malleable. She’d used it for a school project several years previously. Unfortunately the chain wasn’t big enough to be used as it was. However, as I’ve said before (and will most likely say again), Gumi is a smart cookie. Using her powers, she cut the chain into sections and used those to construct a makeshift net.

It was excruciatingly slow work. Her vocal energy was barely strong enough to slice through the metal links. It took her half an hour of continuous effort to finish a single cut and she was exhausted afterwards. Still, it got the job done, and that was what mattered.

The second step in the process was actually easier than she imagined. Most nets aren’t designed for catching people. After reading up on the subject online, Gumi found that the net had to be constructed just so. The ends needed to be weighted and have a bit of extra length to them. This way, when the net wraps around the target, the weighted ends get tangled with each other and keep the net securely closed. As for what she could use for weights, there were plenty of metal ball bearings in her father’s garage. He wouldn’t notice if a few went missing.

The last step would take the most time but it was also mostly mathematics and that was something Gumi was very familiar with. The net would have to be launched at the right angle and hit the target in the correct manner in order for it to work. This brought up the interesting point of how she was going to position the device once she finished it. It would need to be attached to the wall to prevent the recoil from knocking it off balance. She was going to have to think up an excuse to tell her parents for why there was a strange device screwed into the support beams.

During her brainstorming she had also realized something else. What if the net launcher failed? What if some unforeseen circumstance prevented it from functioning correctly? She needed a backup plan. If she couldn’t take them out, she still had to prevent them from capturing her. She was confident that she could easily get them into her room and into the threat zone of whatever contraptions she thought up. It was as simple as refusing to come out and making them come to her.

Still, she needed a plan B. This second option was a little more up her alley and she knew that she could implement it no problem. By placing thin metal plates on her door and doorframe and running an electrical current through them, she could create a magnetic lock that would be pretty much impossible to open without breaking the door or turning off the current. This way, even if the net launcher failed to do its job, she could still prevent the target from leaving her room.

But when she put a little more thought into it, was there really a need for her to be in the room at all? Couldn’t she just make them think she was there? Besides, if the net launcher failed she would be trapped in a small room with a trained soldier and she didn’t like her odds in that situation. In that case, magnetically locking the door would just make her more screwed than she already was. Fortunately, there was an easy was around this.

It was simple, really. Make a few recordings of her voice and put them in her room while she hid down the hallway. They hear that and logically assume she must be there. They go in, get hit with the net and then she makes a break for it. Pretty cut and dry.

Gumi laid her head down on her desk. Yeah right. This plan had about as much of a chance of working as a certain warm place freezing over. She stared at the halfway-finished mechanism in front of her. She considered just scrapping the whole project. It would certainly be a lot easier. But then a tiny voice in the back of her head (that sounded suspiciously like Miku) told her that she couldn’t give up. And for God only knows why, she believed it.

And so she sighed and once again resumed her daunting task.

“Teto I swear to God if you are not out of that shower in 5 minutes I am coming in there!” Uta yelled, pissed off at Teto’s outrageous bathing habits. She wasn’t kidding. Uta was fully prepared to drag her out of there kicking and screaming and leave her naked in the hall.

“Aww! Come on! It hasn’t been that long!” came Teto’s protest from the opposite side of the door.

“Bull! Forty minutes does not qualify as ‘not that long’!” Uta argued back, “How can the water even still be hot!?!?”

As expected, Teto’s integration into the Utane household had not come without its share of obstacles. As appealing as the notion of having her best friend as a sister had sounded initially, Uta was beginning to think that maybe being an only child wasn’t so bad. At least that way she would be able to take showers without having to fight for them.

Finally, Uta heard the water shut off. It was a glorious thing, the silence that followed. The door then opened and out stepped a disgruntled-looking Teto in a towel. She gave Uta a look and then turned her nose up as if to say “fine then, take your stupid shower”. She then marched back to their room. Uta just sighed and shook her head. That girl will be the death of me she thought to herself.

Despite that little disagreement, the two friends were soon once again behaving like nothing had happened; talking and laughing as they gossiped about recent goings-on. This was the summer they had planned for; one where their daily activities consisted of no more than what struck their fancy at any given moment.

The pair spent most of their time outside (thanks to Uta’s efforts to get Teto to be active) doing the things that one would expect from girls of their age. They went window shopping, bought ice cream with their meager funds, and just enjoyed the heck out of life.

Yes it was the perfect summer aside from the ever-present dark cloud of the quarantines. But with as much fun as they were having, Teto and Uta managed to push even that to the back of their minds. What place did such dark thoughts have in the summer sun?

And then one day Teto finally worked up the courage to do something that had been nagging at her since the vacation had started: go swimming. She had a perfectly good and brand new swimsuit that she had brought along with her to Uta’s house that she as of yet had been unable or unwilling to wear.

Teto had never given much thought to the opposite sex, and indeed, she wasn’t really giving it much thought now. Still, she couldn’t deny that it might be nice if all the boys’ eyes were on her for once. She couldn’t help but blush every time she imagined herself in public wearing something so… exposing.

Uta simply watched her friend squirm, at a loss as to why Teto was so embarrassed about wearing a regular two piece swimsuit. She guessed that in Teto’s shy eyes, even if everyone around her was wearing the same swimsuit (and there were many girls whose chosen apparel was far more risqué), it was still a big leap for her to make.

“So… are you just going to sit there hyperventilating all day or are you actually going to put on the darn thing?” asked Uta, eager to get to the pool.

Teto’s only response was to squirm even more and whimper a bit. She had been so sure of herself earlier. However, now that they were actually doing this, it was a lot more difficult than she had imagined. After several moments of silent deliberation, she jumped up and pushed Uta out of the room.

“Hey hey hey! What gives?” Uta said, surprised at her friend’s behavior.

“I’m going to change! You can’t look!” said Teto, shutting the door in Uta’s face.

“What are you talking about? We get dressed in the same room all the time!” said Uta, “What’s so different now?”

All Uta got was an embarrassed squeak in response. She sighed. “Fine. Look, just hurry up! I want to get there sometime today.”

It took almost five minutes for Teto to finally change into her new swimsuit. Uta heard periodic shuffling, a few bumps, and one loud crash, but finally the door opened and there stood Teto…

Covered in a towel.

“Oh brother” said Uta, shaking her head, “Look, you’re going to have to take that off when we get there, so what’s the point of covering yourself up now?”

“I’ll… I’ll… I’ll figure it out when we’re there!” Teto replied, her voice an octave higher than normal, “Let’s just go, alright?”

With that she walked past Uta and headed for the front door. Uta smiled a bit and had to stifle a chuckle as she watched her friend’s antics. Teto might be a lot of things, but a show-off was definitely not one of them. Sometimes Uta wondered how she managed, being as shy as she was. Then again, at the same time she was shy and withdrawn in public, Teto was the complete opposite around those that were close to her. It would be interesting to see how the two halves of her personality clashed.

The walk to the pool was a mostly silent one, with Teto casting furtive glances all about her watching for other people and all the while clutching the towel tighter about her. When they finally reached the pool and saw the crowd of people there, Teto nearly fainted on the spot.

“M-m-maybe we should come back” she said and began to turn around. Uta grabbed her shoulder and dragged her back.

“Oh no you don’t. I haven’t been swimming once this summer and I am not going to pass it up now just because you can’t get over yourself. Now come on.” She walked towards the entrance, pulling Teto along with her.

Uta paid the small fee at the front desk while Teto hid behind her, trying to avoid the gaze of the woman behind the counter. For her part, the woman barely paid Teto any heed whatsoever and was far more interested in the teen gossip magazine she was reading.

The changing room was mercifully empty, even though all Teto really had to do was remove the towel covering her and she would be ready. Easier said than done she thought to herself. Uta, who had already changed into her suit before they left, had started towards the showers but stopped when she saw Teto hesitating once again.

“Come on already!” she said exasperatedly, “It’s just a swimsuit. Everyone out there is wearing one.”

“But everyone out there isn’t me!” said Teto, not caring that it made no sense at all.

But that was the final straw for Uta. She was done waiting, and whether Teto liked it or not, she was going out there; even if Uta had to drag her out there. “Alright! That’s it! Come here!” said Uta, grabbing the towel and forcefully yanking it away.

As she had guessed, underneath was a completely normal two piece bathing suit. Teto went crimson and froze up completely, making Uta’s job all the easier. Grabbing her wrist, she lead her dazed friend through the showers and out into the pool area.

Teto wasn’t sure what she had been expecting to happen. Perhaps everyone would point and laugh. Perhaps they would comment on how ugly she looked. Maybe she’d be ridiculed and be forced to live in shame for the rest of her life.

What actually happened, however, was far more predictable. Teto was yanked out into plain view, beneath the cruel, judging eyes of the general public and…

No one cared.

Not a single person so much as glanced in their direction. Why should they? It was just two more people coming to enjoy the pool after all. Teto was still completely rigid, but as Uta waved her hand in front of her face and she slowly realized that there was no scornful laughter or hateful looks, she began to think that maybe, just maybe, it wasn’t quite so bad after all.

Uta, of course, had known this all along. “See? There was nothing to worry about.” She said, placing a hand on Teto’s shoulder.

“But I thought that… and the people… and why not?” was all Teto managed to say.

“Shh… it’s ok, you’re just an idiot” said Uta with a motherly tone, “Now let’s go swimming… please?”

After that Teto had no problem getting into the summer fun. It was hot outside, the water felt nice, and she was there with her best friend. Before long, she was laughing, splashing, and pretty much just enjoying herself to an absurd extent. At that moment, there was really nothing that could possibly ruin her mood…

Oh wait, said karma, there is one thing…

That’s when SHE showed up.

It happened while Teto and Uta were over at the concessions stand, looking to purchase some Ice cream; the perfect complement to a hot summer’s day. They would’ve too. But then…

“Well well well. What do we have here?” came a voice that made Teto’s blood turn to ice. She spun around on the spot and came face to face with Yumi Motone as well as Sumi and Suki, her ever present goons. Yumi was wearing a swimsuit that looked like nothing more than a few strings and strips of cloth and a smirk was plastered on her face. As usual, she gave off the feeling of a lion stalking its prey.

Teto’s pulse quickened and she went into defensive mode. She brought her arms in close to her body on reflex as if to shield herself from the coming onslaught. Why did this have to happen today of all days? She had finally worked up the courage to show herself in public wearing her new swimsuit and Yumi just had to come along and ruin it.

Uta was by her side in an instant. “And to what do we owe the displeasure of your company?” she asked, throwing out all pretense of politeness.

“Aw, Uta I’m hurt” said Yumi, the smirk never leaving her face, “Can’t we ever just have a friendly conversation?”

“If you were anyone else I might say yes but past experience indicates that whenever you three show up the ambient jackassery in the air increases to dangerous levels.” Uta shot back, clearly not in the mood for Yumi’s usual brand of insulting conversation.

“Why you little…” began Yumi, but then she paused. Perhaps there was better way to handle this than an outright battle of words (which, though she hated to admit it, she would probably lose). An evil smile crossed her face. “Hey hey hey… why the hostility? We just came over here to see if you might be interested in some friendly competition.”

“Really? I always assumed you sucked at everything and therefore weren’t interested in competition.”

That was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Leaning in close, Yumi narrowed her eyes and said “You. Me. Diving board. Right now.”

Uta’s not stupid. She knew that Yumi would never challenge her to a competition that she wasn’t confident she could win. You see, Yumi is actually a rising star on the school’s swim team. However, Uta also has an extreme hatred for Yumi. If there was a chance that she could humiliate her in public, then she would jump on it. And so instead of just walking away (like she knew she should of) she instead replied:

“You’re on. Who’s gonna be the judge?”

Yumi looked around and then sauntered over to the lifeguard stand. The lifeguard on duty was a young man who couldn’t be more than 3 or 4 years older than Teto. Yumi walked up behind him, tapped him on the shoulder, and in a bit of disturbingly well-done acting said “Excuse me, I know that you have a very important job to do but my friends and I have a small problem. You see, we want to have a… friendly diving contest but none of us know the first thing about the proper way to judge it.” She feigned nervousness, tapping her fingers together. “So I thought that maybe someone experienced, someone knowledgeable, someone like you might be able to help us out.”

She followed this up with a pouting look that would have melted the heart of any man. The lifeguard didn’t stand a chance. Strutting back over to where Uta was standing she said “That takes care of that. Let’s go.”

“Isn’t it dangerous if the lifeguard isn’t watching the whole pool?” Teto chimed in. The two girls, however, didn’t hear her and were already walking towards the diving board. Suddenly Teto was flanked by Suki and Sumi who snickered and grabbed her arms.

“We can watch from over there” they said in unison, escorting Teto to some chairs that were positioned at poolside.

Yumi only took a moment to gloat before stepping up onto the flexible structure: “I’ll go first. Wouldn’t want you getting any false misconceptions about being better than me.”

“Sure. Just be careful not to break the board wide load.” Replied Uta, noting with satisfaction the anger on Yumi’s face.

We’ll see who’s laughing once I wipe that smug grin off her ugly face thought Yumi to herself. Walking carefully out to the end of the board she began to focus. Her breathing slowed, she tuned out the noise around her. The only things that existed were her and the pool.

She started to bounce a little, building momentum for her dive. When she had a sufficient amount of force behind her jump she leapt off into the air, tucking her legs in and rotating. Her hair whipped around her as she executed no less than three flips before straightening out and coming down into the water with barely a splash. She breached the surface grinning and looked up to the lifeguard for her score.

A perfect 10. But then again could Uta have expected anything else after the way Yumi had worked the poor sap over? Yumi exited the pool amidst raucous cheering from Sumi and Suki as Uta tried to look unimpressed. However, she had to admit that Yumi’s dive had been impressive to say the least. It was clear that the girl had skill when it came to water-based competition. This wasn’t good for Uta who, though she was fairly athletic in her own right, definitely didn’t have prowess of that caliber. She was about to be humiliated, and she knew it.

Still, Uta’s not the type of person to back down from a challenge. Despite the consequences, she would rather die than forfeit the contest without even trying. And so with the understanding that she would most likely never live down what was about to happen, Uta stepped up to the diving board.

Meanwhile, Teto was watching the entire spectacle from the sidelines; feeling quite uncomfortable sandwiched between Sumi and Suki. She gasped as Yumi performed the most perfect dive she had ever witnessed. This was bad. She knew that her friend was amazing but Uta couldn’t do THAT. Oh no… she thought, As if Yumi doesn’t have enough fuel for her fire already. This would be the end if Yumi won. Their last two years of high school would be filled with constant reminders that they were losers and could never hope to be anything other than losers. Compared to that, Teto would take normal Yumi any day.

No, Uta had to win or else. But how? There was no way to cheat in this situation. This was it. She was going to have to learn to live in a world where she was tormented constantly by her mortal enemy.

Her heartbeat sped up.

As Uta stood on the diving board she considered her options. There wasn’t exactly a lot she could do in this situation. She had no formal training whatsoever and she didn’t know the first thing about proper form for diving. She would have to wing it. She would try her best. She’d conquer this like she conquered any other challenge in her life: she would throw herself at it with all she had and damn it she would be victorious.

Yumi had stepped out to the end of the diving board and gradually worked up her momentum. Screw that. Uta was going full speed right from the start. She’d hit the end as hard as she could and get as much distance as possible. Maybe she’d throw in a fancy trick or two if she could manage it. Whatever happened, at least she’d look cool.

Well, no sense in prolonging the inevitable she thought to herself. Without further ado she sprang forward, leapt towards the end of the board and put as much force as possible into her jump.

Teto closed her eyes in horror. She couldn’t watch her social reputation dying before her eyes. She had the strangest sensation in her chest, like her heart was trying to beat its way out of her rib cage. Suddenly the beating steadied all at once and she again experienced that strange lightheaded feeling she had felt when she cheated on the biology exam. Each pump of her blood became the staccato beat of a drum. That beat was all she could hear as she opened her eyes and fixed them on the diving board.

Teto really couldn’t have explained what happened next. As she saw Uta leap towards the end of the board it was as if everything slowed down. Her eyes fell on the tip of the board just as Uta landed on it. As she pressed down on the end it was enveloped by an invisible force and practically jerked downward until it was bent nearly twice as far as it had been on Yumi’s jump.

Suki and Sumi, who still had their hands on her shoulders, jerked away as if they had been shocked. They looked at each other in confusion and then quickly snapped their attention back to Uta as a most impossible thing happened.

As the board snapped back to its horizontal position Uta was propelled off of it like a rocket. She launched almost ten feet into the air and at the same time shot forward nearly twice as far. Mid-jump she crossed her arms over her chest and spun. At the same time she flipped herself upside down and then back upright again before piercing the surface of the pool like an arrow.

The expression on Yumi’s face was priceless. She looked like someone had slapped her. Sumi and Suki likewise shared expressions of disbelief.

The entire time Teto had been in a sort of trance; watching the events unfold as if from outside her own body. Feeling suddenly flooded her senses again and she gasped for air and clutched her chest as her heartbeat slowed. What… the hell… was that? Her mind raced. She had never felt anything like that before. The feeling had been so… intense. She had felt… powerful; like she could make things happen just by wishing it.

She was snapped out her reverie by Uta’s whoop of laughter as she resurfaced. Looking straight at the lifeguard she said “So how many points does that get me?”

The lifeguard’s mouth was hanging open. He sputtered for a second and then said “She wins” while pointing at Uta.

“YES! Take that you jerk!” she shouted at Yumi, who could do nothing but stand there in shock.

As Uta got out of the pool and walked back over to Teto, Sumi and Suki shrank back, as if they were scared to get too close to her. They glared at Uta with suspicion, like they suspected something but were too afraid to bring it up. A voice over the loudspeaker announced the end of the free swim period.

Smiling ear to ear, Uta walked up to Teto and said “Well, how’d I do?”

Teto couldn’t answer. Like the twins, she was afraid of what had just happened. That sensation had been so strange. She couldn’t help but wonder if there was something wrong with her. She was spared the task of replying however when Sumi spoke up.

“You… you’re a Vocaloid…” she muttered quietly, then pointing at Uta she said louder “You’re a Vocaloid!” A few people in the vicinity turned their heads at the exclamation.

Uta narrowed her eyes. “What did you say?” She had nothing against Vocaloids, but given the current state of things, that was a pretty serious accusation to make.

Sumi and Suki cowered in fear and shrank back even further. They acted like Uta was some sort of monster trying to eat them. “Just stay away!” they said in unison, “We don’t want to get contaminated!” They turned tail and ran. Uta just stared in disbelief.

Several other people who had heard were starting to look in Uta’s direction. She didn’t like where this was going. Casting a dark glance in the crowd’s direction she grabbed Teto’s arm. “Let’s get out of here” she muttered as she lead Teto back through the changing rooms.

“Can you believe those two?” Uta said angrily as they gathered their belongings, “Of all the lowdown things… how could they? Talk like that could get someone arrested.”

Teto said nothing. She was still mulling over what had happened in her head. She could see why Sumi and Suki would think what they did. Only a Vocaloid could pull off what Uta had done. However, there was one thing that she felt they were wrong about:

She didn’t think Uta was the one they should be afraid of.


“AAARRRRGGGHH!!!!!!!” yelled Miku in frustration as the energy she was working with exploded in her face yet again. After hours of effort, all she’d gotten for her trouble were a bunch of failed attempts and some slightly singed hair. Lunch was not getting any closer.

Luka had been outside several times to “check on her progress”, each time holding a different item of food. Miku had a strong suspicion that she wasn’t actually hungry but was just doing it to taunt her. Wait, scratch that, she was sure she was doing it to taunt her.

She knew Luka well enough by this point to be certain that she would keep her promise. Miku wasn’t going to eat until she produced a technique to Luka’s liking. This was practically torture. Preventing a growing girl from eating just for fun? Criminal, that’s what that is. But as torturous as the task was, that didn’t get rid of the fact that Miku still had to do it if she wanted lunch… well… dinner at the rate things were going.

With a resigned sigh, she once again went back to struggling with her assignment. It had taken her a while to decide on what she wanted to do. Luka had suggested lasers or explosions and while the former was impossible for Miku, she was usually quite proficient with the latter. The only problem was that Luka had already seen about a million different ways she could make something go boom.

It had occurred to her that Luka was probably looking for something that would show her that Miku’s energy control was improving. That had been the main focus of her training for the last several weeks anyways.

That left her with making an explosion that demonstrated control… great. Weren’t explosions more about losing control? Isn’t that why they were so… explodey?

With that vague idea of what she wanted in mind, Miku had set to work. Her first attempt involved trying to make an explosion that would only blow up in one direction. Her initial progress made her hopeful. She could get it to go in a single direction, only the direction was random every time. This had resulted in a lot of blasts going off in her face. That happened while Luka was watching (and eating, Miku noted with annoyance) and she had nearly choked on the apple she was taking a bite of when she started laughing uncontrollably.

Miku gave up on that idea shortly thereafter. She briefly considered trying a laser but if she couldn’t get the explosion to go the way she wanted, a laser would probably be even more dangerous.

Back to explosions she went. But for the second time she encountered the problem of producing something Luka hadn’t seen her do before. After her attempt at making a firebomb failed (miserably, I might add) she was back to the drawing board once again.

This continued for hours. Every time she would think of something that seemed good it would end up doing more damage to her than her target. It was getting increasingly difficult to think as the day went on. The summer heat was becoming unbearable and Miku was sweating profusely. She felt like her brain was cooking inside her skull and all this thinking was only making matters worse.

The afternoon came and went in much the same manner as the morning had. Idea after idea was conceived, tried, and failed one at a time. As evening began to fall Miku’s luck hadn’t improved and Luka had taken to watching her with a bowl of popcorn from the window. Miku wondered darkly if Luka’s teacher had enjoyed watching others suffer as much as she did. Surely it wasn’t normal to take this much enjoyment out of another’s misery.

Finally she decided that she needed a break. Maybe she would clear her head and approach this from a different angle. She went to get a drink from the garden hose, feeling like she had sweated away most of the fluid in her body. She made the mistake of not waiting for the water to cool down first after having been in the sun all day and received a mouthful of scalding liquid for her trouble. The deluge also drenched her clothes and made her even more uncomfortable (if that was possible).

She wanted to scream she was so frustrated. She did not deal well with being hungry and now she was not only hungry but hot, tired, and soaked to boot. She fell to the ground and lay on her back in the grass, staring up at the sky as it turned orange in the light of the setting sun.

She didn’t know how long she laid there for but eventually it occurred to her that if she waited much longer, she would be doing this in the dark. Well, what could one more inconvenience do to her at this point? At least if it was dark Luka wouldn’t be able to watch her fail anymore…

Wait… dark… hmmm…

What is an explosion exactly? If you were to look in the dictionary it would tell you that it is “a release of mechanical, chemical, or nuclear energy in a sudden and often violent manner with the generation of high temperature and usually with the release of gases.” But what Miku knew was this: It’s a big boom that releases heat and often light. Light. That was the key to solving this problem.

She hadn’t gotten anywhere with the heat part of the equation. All that had given her were some blows to her ego. The big booms had produced similar results, most of them just knocking her on her ass or making her look like an idiot. But there was one thing she hadn’t tried yet. Light didn’t burn you, or blow you up, or embarrass you in front of your sadistic teacher.

Luka hadn’t actually said that the technique she came up with had to be a damaging one. This would be a lot easier (and safer). The only problem was that Miku didn’t have any previous experience to build upon. The only time she had tried making light was on All Splendors Eve, and thousands upon thousands of tiny floating orbs (that she had since decided to call “fireflies”) wouldn’t exactly do anything for her now…

Or would they? Miku smiled as the first good idea she’d had all day finally hit her.

When 10:00 PM rolled around and the sun had at last set beyond the horizon, Luka still hadn’t heard anything from Miku and was beginning to wonder if maybe the challenge had been too much for her. After getting tired of waiting around for her to come up with something presentable, Luka had gone upstairs to take a nap.

She’d woken up several times as the dreams she had been having all ended with blinding flashes of blue light. Each time she opened her eyes, she could have sworn that the same flash had happened in reality only moments before but the only sight that greeted her when she looked out the window was the clearing separating her house from the surrounding forest.

When she finally awoke on her own it was dark and she chided herself a bit as she realized that she’d slept far longer than she had intended. Briefly she wondered if Miku had made any meaningful progress but the answer came almost immediately in the form of an obnoxious banging on her bedroom door.

“You choose now to take a nap?” came the voice of her student from the other side of the door.

She may have just woken up, but the haze of sleep did nothing to reduce her ability to be snarky. “Sorry, I guess I was just tired after laughing so hard from watching you make a fool of yourself” she replied.

“Yeah whatever just hurry up and get out here before I starve to death.” Said Miku.

“Oh this should be good” said Luka, throwing on some clothes and opening the door, “What are you going to do this time? Break your own arm? Burn off all your hair? Maybe you’ll…”

She would have continued but she finally got a look at the state Miku was in. The front of her clothes was soaked, the tips of her hair were blackened, and she was covered in dirt and grime. Anyone else probably would have shown some concern; Luka just took the opportunity to break down into a fit of giggling. Her protégé simply glared at her and turned away to walk downstairs.

They went outside, Miku only throwing a brief glance towards the kitchen as if to say “don’t worry, we’ll be together soon.” When they got to the middle of the clearing the stars were clearly visible in the night sky. They shone like a million pinpricks of light on a vast black tapestry. Luka never did get tired of nature’s grandeur. Miku was too hungry to care.

“Alright, let’s get this over with so I can punch you in the stomach and tell you that you suck” said Luka, flexing her arm a little.

Miku was far beyond the point where Luka’s threats meant anything to her. Pass or fail, she just wanted something to eat. Her left eye twitching a bit she shot an annoyed look at her mentor and held her right hand palm up. Forming the necessary notes in her head she produced a single tiny orb of light which she then threw straight up into the air.

Luka followed it with her eyes. When nothing else happened she looked back at Miku. “Well? You did hear me say original technique didn’t you? That’s nothing new.”

Miku, however, seemed not to hear her. Her face was screwed up in concentration and she was humming quietly under her breath to help with her energy control as she held a clenched fist out in front of her.

Luka cocked an eyebrow. Curious, she activated her Vocal Vision to see just what she was up to. Miku’s hand glowed blue before her eyes as she analyzed her energy signature. She recognized the simple pattern for making the decorative orbs of light used during All Splendors Eve. Only… wait, what was she doing? It was like the same process repeating over and over again. The glow in her hand grew more and more intense as the energy for hundreds of the tiny glowing balls was channeled into her grasp but not released. All at once the buildup ceased and it all coalesced into a single point. Miku opened her eyes and looked at her.

“I hope you brought your shades” she said, “It’s about to get a little bright. I call this the ‘atomic firefly’!” She grinned as she raised her hand above her and opened her fist. The stored energy shot off like a rocket and hit the single orb she had produced before.

Luka would remember the event later as the closest she had ever come to going blind. An incredible burst of blue light illuminated everything within several hundred yards. She shielded her eyes with her arms as an artificial sun dawned above them.

The light subsided as quickly as it had come; only lasting about two seconds. Suddenly plunged back into darkness, Luka stumbled around blindly as she continued to see nothing but the image of a glowing orb that was now burned into her retinas. “Holy crap! Warn me next time before you do that!” she said, glaring angrily at the empty space to Miku’s left.

“Well, I’ll let you take a second to get your bearings again” said Miku, edging slowly (and eagerly) towards the house, “I’m gonna go get something to eat…”

“Hey! I never said you passed!” said Luka, but she didn’t have to be able to see to know that Miku was arching her brow and giving her a look that said “you can’t be serious.”

“Yeah, ok. I see your point” she admitted grudgingly. After that display she would be hard-pressed to find an aspect of Miku’s performance that didn’t meet her expectations. Sure, maybe it was based on something but even Luka hadn’t thought of doing that.

“But take a shower first! You smell like garbage!” she yelled after Miku’s already-retreating form.

“Like hell!” came the reply from inside.

There were a few bangs and crashes from inside the house as Miku practically tore the kitchen apart in her quest to acquire anything edible. Luka cringed as she realized there probably wouldn’t be anything left by the time she was done.


And that they might need a few new dishes as well.

An hour later Miku emerged from the bathroom dressed in her pajamas with a towel around her shoulders. There certainly was nothing quite like taking a hot shower after a hard day of training.

She was feeling pretty good now that the beast of her hunger had been quelled. After seeing the state that the kitchen had been left in after Miku’s rampage, Luka had vowed to never again use withholding food as a training incentive; she didn’t think the house would survive.

As she walked out into the living room she saw that Luka had been able to return most of the kitchen to its normal, undestroyed state. Now she was sprawled out on the couch watching some late night talk show, wearing her usual neon pink pajamas (And she had complained about Miku’s technique hurting her eyes? Sheesh).

Miku walked around and plopped herself down on the couch as well, Luka moving her legs to make room. For several minutes both just stared at the screen and zoned out for a bit. Then a question flitted into Miku’s mind.

“Hey, Luka…” she asked, “What’s your reason for fighting?”

Luka smiled a bit. “I was wondering when you’d get around to asking that” she said, “Why do you want to know?”

“Well…” Miku said, unsure, “I guess I’m just curious. What, is it a secret or something?”

“No, no, nothing like that. It’s just that…” she paused, a strange look on her face. Was that… embarrassment? “It’s just… it sounds a bit cheesy.”

Well now Miku had to know. “Go ahead, I promise I won’t laugh” she said. Much, that is she finished in her head.

Luka sighed. “Alright, here’s how it happened. A long time ago, I used to be a very different person. I was a mercenary for hire, a bounty hunter. Actually, we both were…” Her eyes looked off into the distance.

“You and Haku, you mean?” Miku asked.

“Yeah, me and Haku…” Luka smiled a little as she remembered it fondly, “We had just completed our training under Master Kamui and after we said our goodbyes we were trying to figure out what we wanted to do now that we were on our own. After all, our skill sets didn’t really make getting a regular job an option. So we settled on the one thing we knew how to do: fight.”

Miku sat in awe. That… that was so… cool! But Luka was far from finished.

“Before we ever started bounty hunting we set up a code for ourselves. We would never kill a target unless it was an absolute last resort. Second, no solo jobs. If we did anything, we did it together and we split the profits between us. Third, no glory mongering. If fame was offered to us, we would take it, but we would never purposefully go out of our way to make a name for ourselves.”

Luka sighed. “And then we actually got our first real job. There was man. A serial killer who had murdered eight people. He was a Vocaloid by the name of Kazuki. It took us three weeks of searching but we finally cornered him in tiny run-down bar in Suzaraki City. The fight that followed was… brutal. There was a reason he’d been able to evade authorities for so long. Both Haku and I came away from the fight with serious injuries.”

She rolled up her sleeve and showed Miku a scar that ran from her elbow to her shoulder.

“I almost lost my arm. If Haku hadn’t been there, I would have. In the end, though, we managed to subdue him and turn him over to the police. They even called in the special ops division because he was considered so dangerous.”

“That’s so awesome!” piped up Miku. She had stars in her eyes wondering what it would be like to bring down a dangerous criminal. However, Luka’s next statement quelled her enthusiasm.

“You’d think so, wouldn’t you? I probably would have too, but Haku and I had done extensive research on him before we actually caught up to him. What we found was actually pretty sad. See, he used to be a reputable competitor on the Vocaloid championship fighting circuit. But during one of his matches, he accidentally killed his opponent. It was an honest accident. He was never charged with a crime but the scandal forced him to quit professional fighting forever.”

“I don’t get it” said Miku, “He got kicked out of competition so he started killing people all over the place?”

“Yes, in a way. That was his purpose, Miku. His career was the reason he fought. That’s what he lived for. When that got taken away… he lost sight of his purpose.”

That was pretty heavy stuff. It suddenly became a bit clearer to Miku just how much a fighter’s purpose meant to them. She sat in silence for a moment, trying to fully comprehend.

“That’s what led to me discovering what my own purpose was. Actually, both Haku and I figured it out that very night.”

Luka’s voice was heavy with sadness. It was clear that remembering all of this wasn’t exactly a pleasant trip down memory lane.

“After seeing what had happened to Kazuki when he lost sight of his purpose, we made it our mission to seek out others that had done the same. We vowed to go wherever someone had forsaken their reason for living and fix it if we could, put a stop to it if we couldn’t.”

Miku sat in stunned silence. Cheesy? Like hell that sounded cheesy! That was probably the single coolest thing she had ever heard in her life! “So… you were like superheroes” she said.

“Well… yeah, I guess if you really wanted to put a spin on it you could say that” Luka replied, “But it really wasn’t all that glamorous. We encountered things that should never have happened. I’ve seen the lowest depths of human depravity Miku; and it will haunt me for the rest of my life. It’s a dark and destructive world out there.”

That caused Miku to sober up a bit. But… “Still, you two were like a crime-fighting super team! That’s like something straight out of a movie!”

In spite of herself, Luka smiled a bit. “Ok, I guess it was pretty cool at times…” she admitted. Then she glanced at the clock. “Good God! It really did take you forever to figure that technique out, didn’t it? It’s almost two in the morning!”

“Hey, criticize if you want but you can’t deny how sweet my ‘atomic firefly’ is.” Miku stated simply.

There really was no keeping her spirits down, was there? Still, Luka was glad for the change of subject. “Yeah, yeah. Get your ass to bed. We’ll have a late start tomorrow.”

They said their goodnights and Miku turned around and ascended the stairs, noting how sore she was and how great it would feel to finally lay down.

Luka stayed on the couch. She looked at the television but didn’t really see it. She had too much on her mind. Once again she had meant to tell Miku so much more, but had again found herself unable to do so.

Memories. Ghosts of the past that pop up to remind us of what we’ve gained… and what we’ve sacrificed. They are heralds of another time and place. A moment in history that will never happen again. Sometimes they are there to help us, others to hurt us. But what really matters is what we learn from them.

Luka remembered that night as clearly as if it had been yesterday. Kazuki, drunk, sitting at the bar, had looked up at their approach. He had attacked them without provocation, lunging at them with apparently no regard for his own safety… or the safety of others. The ferocity of their battle had almost killed several other customers. Luckily they managed to avoid any casualties in the crossfire.

The rest of the battle was a blur. But the end was still as clear as crystal.

Haku, hit by an attack that nearly slit her throat. She fell, bleeding profusely.

Anger. Pure, unbridled, white-hot anger. Luka’s rage spilling over.

Kazuki’s broken body lying on the floor amidst the wreckage of tables, broken mugs, and barstools with Luka standing over him, ready to deal the killing blow.

Haku’s voice. Weak, almost inaudible, begging her not to do it. It brought her back from the brink. A simple surge of energy to end his life. But that’s not who she was… right?

Her purpose was to find those who had forgotten their own and put a stop to them.

But still… she sometimes had to wonder…

Had she lost sight of hers?

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