"Tide goes in, tide goes out. You can't explain that. You can't explain why the tide goes in!"
"I concur not, my good friend."
"In other news, LeBron James-"
"Don't care about LeCramp."
"You're all with me?"
"Didn't we go through this already?"
"How many times do we have to say it?"
"To the ends of the earth."
"To the ends of time."
"Then, let's go. We have a wedding to crash."
"Another re-run? When are they going to release the next episode?!"
"My Little Pony, My Little Pony…"
"No." Yang let out a growl as she pressed the 'off' button on the television remote. "Ugh. There's nothing good on!"
"Then find something else to do!" Weiss snapped from the opposite end of the couch, where she was busy going over the lyrics to her mother's song. "Just stop whining, Honey Badger!"
Honey Badger was the name Weiss had taken to calling Yang in retaliation to 'Ice Queen'. It was generally agreed that she was not very good at coming up with nicknames, despite her insistence that it fit perfectly. Nevertheless, Yang had taken the name in stride.
"Honey Badger don't care," she grunted. "Honey Badger don't give a shit." Weiss' eyebrow twitched, but she refrained from commenting further.
"Really, Yang," Ruby muttered. "You've been acting like this ever since you found out that she has bigger breasts than you."
"They are not bigger!" the blonde growled. "They just look big in proportion to how short she is!"
"Can you not talk about my breasts when I'm sitting right here?" Weiss demanded. "Actually... On second thought; don't talk about my breasts, period!"
"Ugh!" Yang heaved a long, frustrated sigh. "Where the heck is Kyo?! He should've been back from the convenience store twenty minutes ago!"
"Wait," the white-haired girl broke in, a confused frown on her face. "The convenience store? He told me he was helping his sister shop for school supplies."
"Eh?" Ruby exclaimed. "But, Kirino told me that they were going to the hospital so Kyousuke could donate his kidneys!" An awkward silence descended upon the room as the other two girls turned to stare at her. "W-Why are you looking at me like that?"
"And you believed her?!" Weiss roared. Yang shot out of her seat, a dark scowl forming on her face.
"That jerk!" she growled. "He was supposed to be buying me ice cream!"
"I think there are more important issues at hand here!" the heiress pointed out, glaring at the taller girl. "Like why they would lie to us."
"I dunno…" Yang murmured, before a grin stretched across her face. She slammed her fist into an open palm. "But we're going to find out!"
Kyousuke shuddered, glancing back over his shoulder as a prickling sensation made its way down his spine.
"What's wrong?" Kirino asked, raising an eyebrow at him.
"I just had this sudden feeling of impending doom," the black-haired teen muttered, shaking his head. "Anyway, do I really have to come with you? You can handle a group of girls on your own, can't you?" It had been several days since Weiss and the others had moved in and the two siblings were currently walking down Main Street towards the commercial district. Or rather, Kirino was currently dragging her reluctant brother towards their destination.
"If you leave now, I'll probably end up going home too," she snapped. "Besides, we're almost there. You might as well stick it out till the end."
"Ugh," Kyousuke groaned. "Fine. Well, there it is…" The two rounded the corner to see a medium-sized establishment across the street. The sign out front read in flowing cursive, 'Cure Maid Cafe'. It was where Kirino would be meeting with the online group, Otaku Girls Unite. "I'll be by that bench over there," Kyousuke gestured towards the opposite side of the street, where a bus stop bench was situated just in front of an alleyway.
"You'll definitely look like a creepy stalker from there," Kirino said, somewhat snidely. She glanced over at the cafe to see several girls already beginning to gather at the entrance. "I'd better go now..."
"That's the spirit," he smiled, ignoring her first comment entirely.
"To make sure no one sees me with you," the girl finished, striding over to the gaggle of girls waiting by the restaurant.
'Damn her,' Kyousuke thought, glaring at her back. He sighed, cursing his own spinelessness for the umpteenth time before making his way over to the bench and collapsing onto it. The black-haired teen watched dispassionately as the all-female party entered the establishment together.
"Come on!" Yang urged as she, Ruby and Weiss trudged down the streets of Vale. "He went this way!"
"And just how do you know that?" the heiress demanded.
"I'm glad you asked, Ice Queen!" the buxom blonde grinned. She opened her scroll — which her companions noticed she'd been periodically checking every few minutes — and showed them the screen.
Weiss raised an eyebrow. On the device was a scrawling map of the city. A yellow arrow in the residential district that was tagged 'Me', was blinking.
Over in the commercial district was a blue dot, tagged 'Kyo'. A green, dotted-line was stretched between the two, displaying the shortest path from Point A to Point B.
"This is my KyoDar," Yang said proudly. "I designed it myself."
"Y-You're tracking him?" Ruby squeaked.
"...Does he know about this?" Weiss asked lowly.
"Eh," the blonde shrugged. "What Kyo doesn't know won't hurt him."
"You can't be serious, Yang!" her sister protested. Weiss, on the other hand, was silent for several moments.
"I won't say anything to him," she said. "But I want a KyoDar as well."
"Deal." Yang grinned. The two shook hands on it.
Kirino sat silently, a feeling of awkwardness washing over her as the girls around her engaged in their own conversations. "Excuse me," the voice of their leader spoke. A tall, pony-tailed, green-haired girl rose from her seat, gently tapping her teacup with a spoon. "I'd like to thank all of ye for attending. As you know, my name is Saori Bajeena, de gozaru."
The group tittered at the phrase, bringing a smile to the girl's face.
"Though tis only for a short while, let us speak of ourselves and deepen our friendship," Saori continued. "And although this is only our first meeting, we are all bound by the bonds of otakudom. Newtypes that understand each other's hearts. Let us spread the word! Now then, enjoy thine chat!"
The girls surrounding her cheered while Kirino just clapped politely, still feeling incredibly out-of-place. Unconsciously, she brought her hand to the hilt of her bowsword — which was currently wrapped in white cloth — in an attempt to comfort herself.
"Excuse me... Kiririn-san?"
"Ah!" she jumped, glancing at the admittedly nondescript girl beside her. "Y-Yes?"
"I love your outfit," the girl smiled. "Who are you cosplaying as?"
"I'm not cosplaying as anyone," Kirino replied, somewhat indignantly. "These are my clothes."
"Oh, did you make it yourself?" another girl asked, fingering the tasseled shoulder pads of Kirino's outfit.
"No, actually," she answered, shifting away from her awkwardly. "My mother had it commissioned for me. I designed it though."
"Commissioned?" the first girl repeated in confusion.
"You know, for combat training," Kirino elaborated.
"C-Combat? Y-You're a Huntress?"
"I'm training to be one, yes."
"Then, that cloth you keep touching…" the other girl muttered. "Is it…?"
"Yup," Kirino grinned, pulling the cloth aside and revealing her signature blade. "This is Starseeker."
However, she did not receive the reaction she had been hoping for. "A-Ah," the girl stammered. "Isn't that… dangerous? Should you really be carrying it around like that?"
"I got my weapons license when I was ten," Kirino said, a confused frown forming on her face. "I know what I'm doing."
"I-I see," the girl quickly turned her attention to the other girl. "S-So, what pairing from Dark Heart are you into…?"
"Ah, I just love Anna/Haru!"
"Really? Me too!" Kirino watched this in mild shock. She'd never had someone react like that when she told them of her training.
"Ha," a dark voice chuckled. Kirino glanced to her left to see a black-haired girl girl smirking at them from a few seats away. The girl was rather short; about the same height as Weiss, give or take an inch or two. Her long, black hair fell to mid-back in a hime-style cut. She had red eyes that glowed slightly — a common sign of repeated, extensive exposure to Dust.
She wore a long, gothic-lolita dress and resting in the crook of her arm was a strange, white, cat-like doll with bat wings. However, what drew Kirino's attention the most was the pair of black cat-ears, proudly displayed atop her head. A matching tail was jutting from her lower back and was currently swaying behind her in amusement.
She was a Faunus. The sole Faunus of their group.
"Intimidated, are we?" the Faunus girl asked, an amused glint in her red eyes. "How droll."
"O-Of course not!" the girl said defensively.
"Oh? But it certainly seemed that way," the black-haired girl said with a coy smile, her tail curling in amusement.
"Tch," they heard another girl whisper. "Who invited the Faunus?"
Immediately, the smile fell from the cat-girl's face. Her ears twitched and her tail turned rigid as she turned to face the one who'd spoken. "Ara, did you have something to say to me?" she asked coldly. "If so, then, you should say it to my face."
Suddenly, the doll in her hands came to life and began floating beside her. "How dare you insult Kuroneko-sama, kupo!" the doll spoke in a squeaky, high-pitched voice that reminded Kirino of a small child.
"W-What the heck?!" one of the girls shrieked.
"Are you scared?" Kuroneko smiled coyly. "Tis my semblance, human. You know what that is, don't you? It is an innate ability unique to each person. This is mine: Animation. I have the ability to turn any inanimate object into one of my minions. This here is Mog."
"You're gonna pay, kupo!" Mog exclaimed, flailing his tiny staff around like a club.
"So," the Faunus continued, her face still set in a cool smile. "Did you have something to say to me?"
Kyousuke yawned, his jaw giving off a satisfying crack as he did so. The girls seemed to be more or less hitting it off. As luck would have it, the group took a seat directly in front of the window, giving Kyousuke a perfect view of their party. None of them really stood out too much in his opinion… Well, except the black-haired Faunus girl and the giant green-haired girl.
But even so, neither of them stood out as much as his little sister did. Kirino was currently wearing her signature battle outfit; complete with tasseled shoulder pads and steel-adorned boots. Starseeker laying rather conspicuously on the table before her wasn't helping.
"She sticks out like a sore thumb…" Kyousuke murmured. Not that he was one to talk, if the way every passersby pointed and stared at him was any indication. His black-leather outfit and Blazefire Saber strapped to his waist seemed to give off an intimidating appearance. Neither sibling would have worn their respective outfits if not for the insistence of their mother. With the increase of criminal activity in the city, the police were on high-alert and Yoshino, ever the worrywart, insisted that they be prepared for anything.
"Kirino was right," the teen sighed. "I do look like a creepy stalker." However, as he sat there, something felt… off. The hairs on the back of his neck prickled and his muscles involuntarily tensed. His aura began to flicker in warning as his senses keened.
He was being watched.
For a moment, his mind wandered back to the sudden feeling of doom he experienced earlier and — making sure that his face never wavered from its indifferent stare — he stood. Kyousuke calmly made his way over to the secluded alleyway behind him. "I know you're there," he called out, keeping his hand near the hilt of his gunblade. "Show yourself!"
Kyousuke had little time to react as a black shadow fell from a nearby rooftop and charged at him. He barely cleared Blazefire Saber out of its holster in time to block the incoming slash at his jugular. The teen caught a brief glimpse of his attacker's amber eyes narrowing before the shadowy figure retreated — dashing further into the darkness of the alleyway.
The black-haired boy grit his teeth and glanced back at the cafe before following.
"Well?" the Faunus demanded, staring at the girl across the table, who was currently sweating bullets as all attention fell to her.
"Now, now," Saori said in a placating manner. "Kuroneko-shi, let's all just calm down. There's no need for such talk among friends."
"Hmph," the black-haired girl sniffed, turning her nose up at the offending girl. "I suppose. Dealing with such ignorant trash is beneath me."
"You lucked out, kupo!" her doll, Mog, exclaimed.
The green-haired, pony-tailed girl smiled nervously and turned to face the group at large. "Now, let's carry on, everyone." The group let out a spatter of murmurs before carrying on whatever it was they were doing before the little debacle took place.
Suddenly, however, a scream pierced through the ambient noise of the cafe, drawing all attention towards the entry way. "There are gunshots coming from the alleyway across the street!" a woman cried out. "Someone call the police!"
Kirino glanced out the window in alarm to see people scattering in every which direction, panic etched on each of their faces. Around her, the group began panicking as well. "We've gotta get out of here!" one girl exclaimed.
"No, you idiot!" Kirino snapped. She quickly stood, picking up Starseeker as she did so. "You all stay here! Lock the doors, close the blinds and call the police!" She made to leave, however...
"Wait!" Saori called after her. "We're going with you."
"Sorry." Kirino told her. "Don't take this the wrong way or anything, but you'll just end up getting in my way."
"Don't act so high and mighty, knave," Kuroneko sniffed, crossing her arms.
"Kuroneko-sama will show you how awesome she is, kupo!" Mog agreed.
"You aren't the only Huntress-in-training here," the green-haired girl smiled, lifting a mechanical object out of her handbag. Kirino watched as it unfolded into a halberd. Beside her, Kuroneko raised a single palm, upon which a small fire burst into existence.
Kirino stared at them in astonishment for several moments before nodding.
"Alright, then," she said. "Let's go."
Kyousuke ducked beneath another slash, his eyes wide. He barely managed to bring up Blazefire Saber to parry an incoming thrust from his attacker's secondary weapon.
'This guy is unbelievably fast!'
The black-haired teen attempted to slash at the shadowy figure, but his gunblade met only an after image as the figure nimbly leapt away. His opponent hurled one of his weapons at him, forcing Kyousuke to leap to the side in an attempt to avoid it. However, as it sailed overhead, Kyousuke saw a long black ribbon attached to the hilt of the blade. His opponent quickly swung his arm in a wide arc, sending the weapon after him once again.
Falling into a roll, Kyousuke slashed the weapon aside before shifting his gunblade into Assault Mode. But before he could even fire a shot, his attacker was upon him. The black-haired teen hastily raised his weapon in defense to stop the incoming blade in its tracks. His opponent began raining a flurry of blows upon him and steadily began to push him back.
It was all he could do just to keep up and avoid serious injury. His opponent had landed several glancing blows on him, while the black-haired teen hadn't been able to return any at all. Kyousuke's eyes widened as he felt something wrap around his leg. His attacker pulled his arm back, bringing the weapon — and the ribbon wrapped around Kyousuke's leg — with it.
With a grunt, the boy landed on his back — hard.
His opponent quickly closed in, seeing his first real opening since the skirmish began. However, making substantial contact with the black-haired teen had been his first and biggest mistake. Kyousuke quickly grabbed the weapon — a pistol with a katana mounted on top — and sent a stream of electricity down the blade and the ribbon his opponent was grasping in turn.
His attacker let out a high-pitched scream of pain as the electricity coursed through her body.
Kyousuke blinked in surprise. It seemed his attacker was female. Her ungodly speed and the surrounding shadows had made it difficult to tell. The girl snapped her wrist, untangling her weapon from Kyousuke's leg and stumbled backwards.
The black-haired teen took a deep breath to steady himself. He closed his eyes and concentrated his aura around his body.
His attacker glanced up in alarm as the smell of ionized oxygen reached her nostrils. A bright blue glow emanated from the boy's body, as electricity rolled off of him in waves and his image seemed to vibrate where he stood. The girl shook her head and leveled her weapon…
Only to gasp in shock as Kyousuke suddenly appeared before her. She slashed wildly, only to meet empty air. The hair on the back of her neck prickled and she hastily leapt away to avoid an incoming strike from behind. The tables had turned. Kyousuke's earlier attack had left the girl's muscles stiff from the electric shock whereas he was using his semblance to artificially increase his speed.
Kyousuke's eyes narrowed as his gunblade slashed through another clone-like afterimage. Readying his gunblade, he dashed forward once more. The girl's eyes widened as she felt something tap her boots. Quickly spinning her blade in an arc, she stabbed behind her, only to meet air once more.
A bright blue glow in front of her drew her attention and she saw Kyousuke appear several feet in front of her. Seeing his low stance, she anticipated another attack and quickly leapt away…
Or at least tried to.
The girl nearly ended up falling face-first into the ground as her feet refused to budge. She glanced down at her shoes in shock to see small currents of electricity running along the soles of her boots. The ground beneath her also seemed to be similarly affected. She quickly glanced up and saw Kyousuke nearly upon her. The girl raised both of her weapons in a desperate last-ditch attempt to save herself.
It was in vain, however, as she soon found Blazefire Saber resting against her throat.
"Who are you?" Kyousuke demanded. Even his voice seemed to vibrate as electricity continued to roll off his body. "And why are you following me and my sister?"
"Me?" the girl snapped. "Who are you? And why are you following my sister?"
"What?" the black-haired boy asked, his face set into a confused frown. "You're not after Kirino?"
"Who is Kirino?" the girl asked, just as confused. "You're not after Ruri?"
"...You're kidding," Kyousuke deadpanned. "So, you… this… it was all just one, giant, clusterfuck of a misunderstanding?"
"A-Ah…" the girl murmured, a sheepish tone entering her voice. "...Sorry?"
Now that she was finally stationary, Kyousuke could finally make out her features. The girl was about the same height as Yang, with long, black hair, upon which sat a black bow. Her outfit consisted of a black buttoned vest with coattails, and a white, sleeveless undershirt that exposed part of her midriff as well as a pair of white spats. She wore a pair of black, high-heeled boots and blackish-purple stockings. On her left bicep was a black arm sleeve. She had bright, amber eyes and skin that was rather pale, contrasting well with her dark hair and outfit.
"Well, this is just great…" the boy murmured. "Alright. Well, if you're really sorry; think could you do me a favor?"
"Please, catch me," Kyousuke requested as the glow surrounding his body faded away and the electricity subsided. Immediately, his body began to lurch forward precariously. Surprised, the girl attempted to catch him, but a combination of her semi-paralyzed muscles and underestimation of his weight caused them both to fall to the ground in a heap.
"H-Hey! What's wrong?" she exclaimed from her rather awkward position straddling his waist.
Kyousuke groaned, but the sound was muffled by the girl's shirt. He felt as though his entire body was on fire. A consequence of using his semblance in such a reckless manner and the reason why he always hesitated to use it like that. He would be incapable of moving more than a few inches on his own for several minutes.
Well, at least—
"What the hell!?" a familiar voice roared. Kyousuke let out yet another groan as he glanced up to see Kirino and two of the otaku girls from the cafe staring at them, their jaws hanging open.
"Wow, how naughty, kupo!" Mog remarked.
"This isn't what it looks like," he said weakly. His attacker glanced down at him in confusion before realizing the rather incriminating position they were in. With a sharp intake of breath, she leapt off him, her face flushing in embarrassment.
"You were supposed to be keeping an eye on me," Kirino snapped. "And what do you do instead? You go molest some random girl in a dark alley!" One of the otaku girls — the black-haired one — was staring holes into Kyousuke's attacker, who he noticed was fidgeting awkwardly beneath the shorter girl's gaze.
"Look, this really isn't what you think," the boy said desperately, still unable to move. "I'll explain later, but… we really should get out of here." He could hear police sirens blaring in the distance. And if their father happened to be on duty, Kyousuke really did not want to be here.
Kirino let out an irritated sigh. "Fine," she grunted, rubbing the bridge of her nose. "Help me move him. And quick, before the cops show up."
"Are you sure this is where he went?" Weiss asked skeptically as the trio of girls stopped in front of a bus stop bench. The entire street seemed to be devoid of people for some reason.
"This was his last known location before the KyoDar's frequency emitter was fried," Yang frowned.
"But why would he go to…" Ruby cocked her head at the building across from them. "What's a maid cafe?" Neither of her elders answered her.
"I-I see…" Weiss murmured, a thoughtful look on her face. "So, this is the kind of thing he likes...?"
"Wow, Kyo," Yang grinned. "I'm finding out so much about you that I didn't know before!" She let out a small chuckle. "Alright, little sister, Ice Queen!"
"Change of plans!" the blonde exclaimed. "We're hitting the mall!"
"The mall?" Weiss raised an eyebrow. Yang just shook her head, chuckling as she began leading the way once more.
"Sorry about that," Kyousuke said to the black-haired girl sitting across from him. After escaping the alleyway, the group of five had made their way to a WcDonalds a few blocks away. Kyousuke and the black-haired girl had taken a table to themselves, while Kirino and her fellow otakus had taken one nearby.
"And I apologize for attacking you," she replied, calmly sipping her drink. "It's just… your weapon and the way you seemed so focused on them... unnerved me. You looked like a creepy stalker."
Kyousuke groaned, letting his face slam into the table, thankfully avoiding his Big Wac as he did. The nearby restaurant patrons turned to glare at him for the disturbance, but he paid them no heed. "Thanks," he grumbled.
"I was originally just going to interrogate you, but when you fought back… well…"
"It's fine. I get it." Kyousuke sighed before sitting up and giving her a curious once-over. "I never did catch your name."
"Blake," the girl told him. "Blake Belladonna."
"Kyousuke Kousaka," the boy said. He made a gesture to the girls sitting at the other table. "The girl dressed like a pop idol is my little sister, Kirino."
"Really?" Blake raised an eyebrow at him. "You two look nothing alike."
"Gee, thanks," Kyousuke snorted. "And I'm guessing the black one is yours?"
"...What makes you say that?"
"You're kidding right?" he asked incredulously. "You told me yourself that your sister was in the cafe. The resemblance between you two is uncanny. You even dress similarly. And don't think that bow is fooling me. I saw it twitch just now."
"I… see," Blake murmured, stroking the bow self-consciously. "She's my little sister — born less than a year after me."
"Irish twins? And judging by the way she's been glaring at you for the past ten minutes, I take it you're not on the best terms?"
"I could say the same to you," the girl countered, glancing over his shoulder. "Here they come now." Kyousuke turned to see Kirino and her two otaku friends dragging their table over to them.
"Alright, spit it out," his little sister demanded. "Just what the were you doing back there?"
"It was just a misunderstanding," he said, waving it off.
"Hey," the green-haired girl spoke up. "Kiririn-shi, who is this person? Is he your boyfriend?"
"No!" the two siblings shouted.
"He's just my perverted brother!" Kirino snapped.
"I resent that," Kyousuke grumbled, throwing her a glare. "The name's Kyousuke."
"Haha! I see!" the girl giggled before turning to the girl across from him. "And who might this be?"
"Her name is Blake," the other black-haired girl said coolly. Kyousuke noticed the mentioned girl flinch out of the corner of his eye.
"Ah," the green-haired girl gave her a nervous smile. "Well, anyway, tis a pleasure to meet thee, Kyousuke-shi, Blake-shi. I am Saori Bajeena."
"My handle is Kuroneko," the other girl drawled. "Pleasure." She turned to Saori, an eyebrow raised. "Now, is there any particular reason we came here, rather than back to the cafe, Moderator?"
"Ahaha!" Saori giggled. "Looks like you caught me. You see, I'd been planning on throwing an after-party for those of you who weren't able to really connect with the others..."
"Namely, the two of us," Kuroneko said plainly. The ponytailed girl nodded.
"Indeed, Kuroneko-shi," she smiled. "Let us not treat each other as strangers, but as friends. Please, feel free to simply call me 'Saori'. Let's not worry about formalities amongst ourselves."
"Saori? With your size?" the Faunus sniffed. "How can you go by that name? How impudent. Even if you're just trying to get a laugh when you introduce yourself, it's still poor. From now on, call yourself Psyco Gundam, Big Zam, or Dendrobium. Plus, the way you talk and dress..."
"It's just like a creepy otaku from the 90s," Kirino finished bluntly.
"Oi!" Kyousuke snapped. "Just because you've dropped formalities doesn't give you the right to insult her! Apologize, now!" The two blatantly ignored ignored him.
"Please, calm yourself, Kyousuke-shi," Saori spoke up, raising a hand. "To me, such a degree of insult is but a pleasant, gentle breeze." The girl got up and leaned forward until she was nearly face-to-face with him. "If you would like, please insult me as well!"
"...I can't tell if you're a nice person…"
"Or just crazy," Blake muttered under her breath.
"While we're on the topic of appearance," Kuroneko spoke up, raising an eyebrow at Kirino. "Just what possessed you to dress like that to an otaku meeting? It's little wonder everyone was intimidated by you."
"You're one to talk," his sister snapped. "Just what are you supposed to be? Suigintou?"
"Not even close," the black-haired girl frowned. "Are your eyes working correctly? It's the Queen of Nightmares from Maschera."
"Maschera?" Kyousuke questioned, a confused frown on his face.
"It's Ruri's favorite anime," Blake informed him.
"I would prefer if you did not refer to me by my mortal name before these denizens of light," Kuroneko said before turning to Kyousuke. "Its full title is Maschera: Lament of the Fallen Beasts. Its story and art-style make it the most popular anime of the season. It airs on Thursdays at 5:30, so please watch it."
"Oh, that one?" Kirino exclaimed. "That's the one that airs opposite of Meruru. That juvenile anime!"
Kuroneko twitched. "U-Ufufu…" she chuckled, bringing a hand to her mouth. "You've just said something I cannot overlook. By Meruru… You mean Stardust Witch Meruru? That absolute rubbish that only children and NEETs watch?"
"W-What did you just say…?" Kirino took a step back as though she'd just been struck.
"Don't you know that battling magical girls aren't in anymore?" the black-haired girl continued. "Besides, its blasphemy to air a magical girl anime outside of Saturday mornings. And ratings-wise, that is the one trying to compete. So, please cease your ignorant remarks."
"Let me teach that self-centered brain of yours how the real world works," Kirino growled. "The show I watch is the favorite and all others are competitors. Besides, from the sound of it, I bet you haven't even watched Meruru. How sad. You've missed out on some of the most fluid battle animation ever conceived last season, so don't look down on little kids' anime!"
"O-Oi…" Kyousuke murmured to the other two girls beside him. "Shouldn't we stop them?"
"But it seems they're just now hitting it off," Saori said, hiding a smile behind her WcFlurry.
"What are you looking at?" the boy exclaimed incredulously.
"Right at them," the green haired girl replied before gesturing towards the quarreling girls. "Look at how enthusiastically they're speaking to each other compared to earlier."
Kyousuke looked on as the two argued fiercely over which anime was better. "I… I guess so," he sighed. "Still, how can they get so serious, especially after only meeting once?"
"But of course!" Saori grinned. "Tis something they both earnestly love with all their hearts. They couldn't hide it, even if they tried."
Across from him, Blake smiled slightly. "She's always been like that," the girl said softly. "She'd never been afraid to speak her mind. Especially when it comes to something she cares about, even if it ended up getting her into trouble… Whereas I…"
"Blake?" Kyousuke turned to her curiously but she merely shook her head.
He opened his mouth to inquire further, but was drowned out by Kirino's voice. "Argh, everything you say is such a pain!" his sister growled. "You evil-eyed crazy woman!"
"E-Evil-eyed?" Kuroneko twitched. "C-Crazy woman?"
"How dare you insult Kuroneko-sama?" Mog — who'd been inactive during their conversation — suddenly came to life again and began flailing his staff at Kirino in a threatening manner.
"Ufufu…" the black-haired girl chuckled darkly. "You've finally said something you never should have uttered. Oh, how unfortunate for you. I can no longer control these negative thoughts. Do not blame me for what befalls you."
"Are you an idiot or something?" Kirino snapped. "Aren't you embarrassed to be alive? Go dig yourself a hole and bury yourself in it!"
"Okay," Kyousuke muttered, glancing around as the restaurant's occupants began to openly stare at them. "I think now would be a good time to stop them."
"Agreed," Saori giggled.
"Oh my god! Is that the limited edition Meruru swimsuit figurine?!"
"D-Do my eyes deceive me? Is that truly the fabled Lucifer x Amon doujin?!"
Kyousuke raised an eyebrow as the two girls grabbed their respective vices and made their way to the cashier, pushing and shoving each other out of the way as they did so. "They just won't quit, will they?" he murmured to Saori who was beside him, browsing a set of Gundam models.
The green-haired girl giggled. "Tis like I said, Kyousuke-shi. It is something they love with all their hearts. This is just how they express it to each other."
"If you say so…" the boy sighed before glancing around. "Hey… Where'd Blake go?"
"I dost believe she went to appraise the literature section over yonder," Saori gestured to the rows of bookshelves across the room.
His curiosity piqued, Kyousuke wandered over towards the indicated section. After a few seconds of looking through the aisles, he found the black-haired Faunus with her nose buried in a small book.
"...Ninjas of Love?" he read the title aloud, causing the girl to jump in surprise. "Wow… Wasn't expecting you to be into that kind of thing."
Blake turned to him in alarm, her face going flush. "N-No!" she exclaimed. "I wasn't… I was just curious!"
"I'm sure you were," Kyousuke laughed. "So, you're more of the novel type, huh?"
"...Yes…" the black-haired girl nodded, finally regaining her composure. "Reading is one of my favorite pastimes."
"I can tell," he remarked, glancing down at the small pile of books sitting at her feet. "You're buying all of those?" The boy reached down and picked them up. "Hmm. The Starvation Games… The Great Gats V… Animal Ranch… Celsius 154… Oh! King of the Rings! That's a good one."
"You read?" Blake asked in surprise.
"I dabble," he said. "I mostly just download eBooks on my scroll when I've little else to do. Have you read The Halfling?"
"...That's the one with the halfling, the dwarves, and the wizard who venture to slay a dragon, right?"
"Yup," the boy nodded. "King of the Rings is a sequel to that."
"Really, now?" she hummed. "I wasn't aware of that. I just heard it was a good read, so I decided to pick it up." The Faunus glanced at him curiously. "Is there anything you'd recommend?"
"Hmm," Kyousuke looked up at the endless rows of literature surrounding him. They were currently in the light novel section, so... "Ah… How about this one?"
Blake pulled out the book he'd gestured to. "The Garden of Sinners?" she murmured, looking over the cover-art depicting a black-haired man wearing a bright red jacket.
"I read it last month while I was grounded," he said before frowning and muttering under his breath. "For something that was entirely Yang's fault… Though I suppose I was the one that let her drive..."
"Ah," Kyousuke smiled sheepishly, shaking his head. "It's nothing. Anyway, it's about Riki Shiogi, a man with two souls — each fighting for control over his body. It's a good read. I heard they're even making an anime adaptation."
"Interesting…" she murmured. "I'll give it a read."
"Hah!" Kyousuke grinned. "Well, we'd better go find the others. They're probably wondering where we went."
Blake nodded and hefted the small pile into her arms. "I'll go pay for these." As she made her way towards the cash register, Kyousuke went in the opposite direction, towards the store entrance. There, he found Kirino and Saori waiting for them.
His little sister glared at him as he approached. "There you are," she said. "Where have you been?"
"I was talking with Blake," he replied, glaring right back at her. "Not that it's any of your business what I do." The boy glanced around. "Where's Kuroneko?"
"She went to the restroom," Saori said. "Where is Blake-shi?"
"She's paying for her stuff," Kyousuke said, glancing over his shoulder. He frowned, however, when he realized that she was no where to be found. "Huh? She was just there..."
"Maybe she went to the restroom as well?" the green-haired girl offered. With Kuroneko? Why did he have a bad feeling about that? Granted, the two Faunus' relationship seemed just as bad as his and Kirino's — perhaps even worse. So, that may have something to do with it. But then again, even if this was the case, their family issues were hardly his business.
"I'll go check," Kyousuke said.
"You can't go into the women's restroom, you pervert!" Kirino snapped.
"That's not what I meant!" he exclaimed, flushing slightly. Letting out a loud sigh, Kyousuke went back the way he came.
There was no one at the cash register other than a very bored-looking cashier reading a magazine. "Excuse me," the boy spoke up. "A while ago, a black-haired girl paid for some books. Did you see which way she went?"
"That way," the cashier said tonelessly, gesturing towards the rows of bookshelves. She didn't even bother glancing up at him.
"Thanks." Kyousuke nodded at the woman regardless of the fact that she couldn't see him. Turning on his heel, he strode over to the shelves. "Oi, Blake. Are you still looking for more—"
"—re you following me?" Kuroneko's cold voice actually caused him to flinch. He opened his mouth to reply, only to be cut off by another voice.
"I was worried." Blake's voice said defensively.
'Ah, shit,' Kyousuke flinched. It appeared that he was correct in his suspicions. 'I probably shouldn't be listening to this.' He turned and made to leave.
"I can take care of myself," Kuroneko said coolly.
"...I see. Alright then. I can tell I'm not wanted here."
"Running away again? Yes, go slink back to the shadows like a coward." Kyousuke's eyes widened as he froze in place. That had admittedly been a little harsh.
"A coward?" Blake's voice rose.
"Yes, a coward. Tell me, why are you ashamed of what you are?"
"I am not ashamed, Ruri!"
"Then why do you wear that bow?" Kuroneko spat. "You're the only member of our family that hides what you are!"
"I just want people to see me for who I am, not what I am."
"And being Faunus is part of who you are! To ignore it… to hide it… Not only are you lying to everyone around you; you're lying to yourself!" Blake didn't say anything. The two were silent for several tense moments. "Forget it," Kuroneko spat. "I don't care anymore."
"I'm not your sister!" the younger girl hissed. "To reject your heritage… is the same as rejecting yourself. And us."
Silence fell upon them once more. Finally, Kyousuke heard the sound of rapid footfalls and nearly jumped in shock as Blake ran past him. He watched her go, his brow furrowed. "You know, it's rude to eavesdrop on other people's conversations," Kuroneko's cool voice spoke up from behind him. The boy flinched and turned to her guiltily.
"Sorry," he murmured, scratching his cheek. "I just…"
"Save it," the girl sighed. The two stood in awkward silence for several moments.
"Hey," Kyousuke murmured after nearly a minute had passed. "You weren't… serious about that last bit… were you?"
"But you're family!" he exclaimed, his expression uncomprehending. Sure, Kirino put him through some annoying shit and he wasn't exactly best buds with his father, but he wasn't about to disown them.
"Ufufu…" the girl chuckled darkly. "Family…? I am a being of darkness. Petty things such as familial bonds mean nothing to me, mortal. I am sin incarnate, ascended from my dark throne to rule over this realm of light. I have little time or patience for your human emotions."
Kyousuke stared at her, his brow furrowed. Although she spoke in a clear tone, he saw the subtle signs in her posture that indicated distress. Her ears were drooping, nearly laying flat against her skull as her tail flicked in agitation. Her arms clenched tightly around her inactive doll.
And her eyes… They glinted in the overhanging lights, regret shining within their depths. He knew at this point, she was merely attempting to save face. "You know…" he said, a bemused smile making its way onto his face. "You little sister types can be a real pain in the ass. Why do you have to be so prideful? Ugh…"
Kyousuke shook his head as the girl refused to look him in the eye. "Alright. I guess I'll help you out." he said, causing her to glance at him in surprise. "You just hang out with Kirino and Saori. I'll go see if I can find your sister. Though, I suppose she could be anywhere at this point…"
He turned to go, but was halted by a hand grabbing his sleeve.
Kyousuke turned to see a shopping bag being thrust in his face. Peering into it, he saw a familiar pile of books. Kuroneko was still pointedly looking away from him. Chuckling slightly, he took the proffered bag and pat her on the head. With a small smile on his face, the black-haired boy made his way toward the exit.
'Now, if I was a distressed Faunus, where would I go?'
Kyousuke stepped onto the mulch flooring of a local park playground. He could feel a sense of nostalgia as he took in the sight. This is where he had first met Yang and…
He quickly shook his head. Now wasn't the time for that. He needed to focus on the figure currently huddled underneath the slide. 'Not the first place I would have gone, but at least I found her.'
"Blake?" Kyousuke called out. The girl didn't respond immediately. With a small sigh, he sat down next to her.
"So, you heard," she murmured.
"Yeah," he said quietly. "Sorry about that."
"Ha..." The girl chuckled to herself. "She was right. I am a coward." Blake shook her head, a bitter smile on her face. "I'm always running. From her. From myself. From the world. Even my semblance reflects my cowardice. I leave a clone to take the hit while I run away."
"Then maybe — just this once — you should stop running," Kyousuke said. "Go back to Kuroneko… to Ruri and tell her how you feel. I think you'd be surprised with her response." He handed her the bag filled with books. Blake glanced at the bag, a pensive expression taking shape. Slowly, she reached inside and pulled out the book on top of the pile.
It was the one he'd picked out for her. "The Garden of Sinners," she murmured, a wry smile forming on her face. "You know, the irony is truly remarkable…"
"How do you mean?" Blake didn't answer him. She merely gazed up at the setting sun. It was only after several minutes had passed did she speak up.
"I've committed more sins than I care to count," she said softly. "I've done things that can never be forgiven…" Kyousuke's eyes widened as he glanced at her. She paid him no heed, talking more to herself than to him at this point. "Whether it be on purpose or by accident," the girl continued. "It doesn't change the fact its peoples' lives that I'd ruined…" She shook her head fiercely. "I'm sorry. I don't know what came over me. This doesn't concern you at all…"
"You know," Kyousuke said softly. "I was thinking that perhaps we have more in common than I'd first thought."
Blake turned to him curiously. "How do you mean?"
The black-haired boy smiled sadly as he thought back to his earlier musing upon first setting foot on the playground. The image of three small children playing together surfaced in his mind. "Perhaps it would be easier if I just showed you…"
The two were silent as Kyousuke led them through the streets of the residential district. Behind them, the sun was setting. Blake judged that they would have about half an hour of daylight left.
"What exactly are you showing me?" the girl questioned, glancing down at the bouquet of daisies in her companion's hand. A few minutes ago, Kyousuke had stopped by a local florist and purchased them. He never explained why he'd done so.
"It'll make sense soon enough," the boy said quietly. "We're here…"
Blake glanced up as they finally came to a stop in front of their destination. "...The Vale Cemetery?" she murmured. Kyousuke didn't say anything, merely striding forward once more. Blake followed him, notably subdued. She clutched her bag of books awkwardly as they shuffled forward.
Finally, after several minutes, Kyousuke came to a stop once again. The girl watched as he took a deep breath before kneeling before one grave in particular.
"We're more alike than I'd first thought," Kyousuke said softly. "You said that you'd committed sins and ruined lives. This is my sin. This is the life I ruined."
Blake placed her shopping bag down and crouched beside him, reading the name engraved upon the headstone.
Beloved daughter and friend.
"...Who was she?" the girl asked quietly.
"She was…" he paused, his eyes glistening in pain. "The most innocent and loving person you could imagine. She was my best friend…. And I killed her."
Kyousuke let out a dark chuckle. "It happened three years ago," he said. "I was a cocky bastard back then. I thought I could take on the whole world and win. I wanted fame and glory. But Manami was different. She just wanted to live her life and be happy. But I wouldn't have any of that. I thought it was boring."
He nearly spat this word out. "So, I dragged her on adventure after foolhardy adventure."
The boy let out a heavy sigh. "Long story short: I got in over my head and Manami paid the price for my foolishness."
Blake didn't say anything for a while. She did, however, gently place her hand on his shoulder.
"In the end, I couldn't even bring back a body for her family to bury," Kyousuke muttered. "They never forgave me for taking her away from them. Not that I can blame them..."
'How can I?' he thought scathingly. 'When I can't even forgive myself.'
"It seems you were right," the Faunus said quietly. "We do have quite a bit in common." She reached down and gently took the flowers from him. "Let's put these in some water for her. Did she like daisies?"
"They were her favorite." The boy nodded.
"Then I'm sure she'd be happy you brought some for her," Blake said before glancing down at the flowers already lining the grave. "Seems someone was here before us, though."
"Yellow lilies?" Kyousuke murmured. "Yang must have been here recently."
The two began busying themselves with arranging the daisies and lilies in an acceptable fashion, neither of them speaking as they did so. After they'd finished, the two silently prayed for the spirit of the deceased girl before taking their leave. They made their way towards the entrance, still maintaining their silence. It was only after several minutes of this did Blake finally speak up.
"Kyousuke," she began. "Do you think… Manami would have forgiven you?"
"As much as I want to say no," he sighed, hefting Blake's bag over his shoulder. "I know she would. She was just that kind of person. That's why I take it upon myself to try and atone."
"Atone, huh?" Blake murmured.
Kyousuke shook his head wryly. "Yeah," he said before handing the shopping bag over to her. "Atone." The boy repeated, staring her in the eye meaningfully.
Blake stared back for several minutes before nodding. "I'll try and talk to her."
"Do or do not," Kyousuke said in a nasally voice. "There is no try." The two were silent for several moments before breaking into a fit of laughter, though it was more a soft chuckle on Blake's part.
"There you are," a cold, masculine voice called out. "I've been searching the entire city. You realize we have an assignment, right? What are you doing clowning around here?"
The two teenagers turned in surprise to see a tall, red-haired man glaring at them coolly. Or, at least, Kyousuke assumed he was glaring. He couldn't really tell with the mask the man had on. The boy noticed a pair of bull-like horns protruding from the man's hair.
"...Friend of yours?" Kyousuke asked, turning towards Blake, who had frozen the moment she'd laid eyes on the man.
"...Yes," she said softly. The girl turned back towards her companion. "Listen... With everything that's happened today, I completely forgot that I had… prior engagements." Blake held out her book bag. "I won't be able to take this with me. Could you… hold onto it for me?"
"...I suppose," Kyousuke said, glancing at the man before taking the proffered bag.
"Thank you," she said, smiling. "I'll come back for it one day. I promise."
"You'd better have made up with your sister when you do," he chuckled. Blake just nodded, smiling mysteriously before walking away. The red-haired man remained, staring at Kyousuke for several moments before nodding stiffly.
"Sorry," he said gruffly. "But we've got a train to catch."
"No problem," Kyousuke nodded in return. He watched as the two Faunus disappeared into the evening shadows before shaking his head. "What a day…" he murmured before slinging Blake's bag over his shoulder and setting off towards his house.
"So, what was that back there?" the red-haired Faunus asked his partner as they entered a sleek black car.
"What was what, Adam?" Blake asked, raising an eyebrow at him.
"You know what I'm talking about!" Adam snapped. "The human. You shouldn't be associating with them."
"Kind of hard, considering they make up more than eighty percent of the world's population," the girl said dryly.
"What's gotten into you?" the man complained. "You're not normally this mouthy, Blake."
"Maybe I've just had a change of perspective," she muttered, staring out the window and at the stars just beginning to appear in the sky.
"I'm home," Kyousuke called out, stepping into the strangely silent house. "Hello? Anyone here? Mom? Yang? Weiss? Anybody?" There was no answer. Which was odd, considering the house was fully lit and everyone's shoes were lined up at the doorway. Kyousuke kicked his boots off and made his way towards the living room.
"Hello?" he called out, throwing the door open. "Anyone h—"
"Welcome home, Master!" a chorus of voices chimed. Kyousuke froze in place as he took in the incredulous sight before him. Yang, Weiss, and Ruby were all lined up; each one sporting their own variation of a maid costume.
"Ah, Kyousuke!" Yoshino smiled from the couch. "The girls have been waiting all day for you!"
"Quick, Ice Queen!" Yang hissed. "Like we practiced."
"Why must I do something so degrading?" the white-haired girl complained. "To think. Me, Weiss Schnee — member of the distinguished Schnee family — wearing a servant's dress!"
"Just do it!" the blonde growled at her.
"Ugh…" Weiss grumbled before turning to Kyousuke, a furious blush on her face. "W-Welcome back, Master. Would you like some dinner…?"
"Or would you like a bath?" Ruby chimed in.
"Or…" Yang grinned. "Would you like…
"Us...?" the three finished in unison. Kyousuke merely stood frozen in the doorway, his mouth doing a very good impression of a fish.
"Oh, my," he vaguely heard his mother pipe in. "It looks like you broke him."