Chapter 2 - Is the editor a bad guy? Zoisite Power, Transform!
That next morning had been strange, trying to figure out whether anything that had 'happened' had actually occurred. Falling out of high windows and landing unharmed, jumping stories in a single bound, and fighting using a sword that sprouted from a rose all seemed like something from a crazed dream, but the proof was clear and physical in the form of the golden pendant he awoke to find on his bedside table. He had decided to wear it, slipping the thin silver chain around his neck and tucking it under the collar of his school uniform. If it were real, he reasoned, it meant that he might be needed at any moment to protect the citizens of Tokyo from the machinations of the senshi who wanted their energy.
Once he was ready to leave for school, he flicked on the television as he prepared a quick breakfast, needing a burst of energy himself after staying out most of the night. As the water boiled and he poured a portion into some instant porridge, the news came back from commercial, and at hearing the day's current story he nearly drowned his breakfast entirely.
"And in district news, nearly fifty unarmed citizens were found trapped this morning the OSA-P Jewelry Store. While none seemed to have sustained any injuries, the store itself was disheveled. The only clues to the night's activities lie in a single rose that was left at the scene, and an eyewitness account by Night Janitor Iko Tasagura." the screen flashed to a middle-aged man standing in front of another store in the shopping district, "When I looked out the window," he said, "I saw the strangest thing: there was a caped young man wearing a mask accompanied by what appeared to be a white pegasus. He jumped from the second story window onto the street and then ran off!" the view returned to the news studio, "Who is this masked man? Why did he put people in OSA-P Jewelry store and then abandon them? Does Tokyo have a trickster on its hands? Police Chief Kage refuses to comment on the incident, but perhaps we will hear more about the mysterious man at a later date, along with whatever plan Chief Kage has to assure the safety of Tokyo citizens against such a threat."
He was able to save his breakfast, but the report had robbed him of his appetite. He sat at the counter with the television on mute as weather forecasts paraded across the screen and a discontented feeling moved through his chest. He had never minded before when good work of his had gone unnoticed – he wasn't one to seek out praise, content with the knowledge he had done his best and that his best was appreciated by his mentors – but to have the spotlight shining on him for doing something terrible when he had in fact done the opposite, did not sit well with him. For a few minutes, as his oatmeal cooled to a pasty consistency, Mamoru considered various options for clearing his alternate persona: a press conference, a public-service message, a multitude of good deeds… but in the end, he decided to do nothing. It didn't matter if people liked him or knew the full story; what mattered was that they were safe from those energy-stealing villains. He stood, grimaced at the congealed mass of glue in his cereal bowl, and put the offending meal in the sink to clean later. Taking his bag in hand, he left for school.
Two weeks after his first 'transformation', Mamoru started to wonder if the senshi had something even more sinister planned; he hadn't transformed once since the night at the jewelry store, but if they were real, surely they would not give up after one failed attempt. He suspected they might be strategizing for a larger operation and Helios cautiously agreed. The "unisus" had appeared in his apartment nearly every night; at first it was nothing more than to report on the energy fields around the city and discuss briefly any strategy they might strike up before the next battle, but before the end of the first week Helios was staying to share dinner with Mamoru. The size of a cat, the white horse ate very little and only vegetarian, so Mamoru didn't mind at all, and lately Helios had been leaving for wherever he usually went less and less, pretty much living at the apartment full-time.
The buzz about "Cardinal King" had died down considerably in the news, the anchors and editors writing him off as a one-time joker, but there were others that, for some reason or another, were certain he existed and wouldn't let the idea go. One of these, unfortunately for Mamoru, was his own school paper's editor-in-chief, Hanada Kaito. With all the random rumors about Cardinal King that Hanada aired in the school paper recently, Mamoru had stopped paying any attention whatsoever to the paper and was finding it harder and harder to take classmates seriously when he spied them in the possession of an editorial issue.
And whenever someone asked him about an article…
"Hey, Chiba! Have you read this?" Tairo asked, catching up with Mamoru as he left the soccer field for home and offering him the paper. The headline was titled "Cardinal King: Hiding in the Shadows?" and, this time, Mamoru couldn't catch the groan before it escaped his throat. Tairo looked at him with some confusion.
"Sorry," he apologized sincerely, not wanting to put his teammate off, "it just seems that this Cardinal King character is all that the new editor wants to talk about and there is no actual evidence for his existence; you'd think there would be more interesting topics more than two weeks after an initial 'sighting' of a masked man in the middle of the night."
Tairo scoffed, smiling, "Oh, I didn't mean to show you the headline – everyone knows Hanada's just trying to get an edge over real papers by ghost-hunting. I just wondered if you saw this announcement about the science club's upcoming Fighting Robot tournament next weekend!"
"Fighting Robot tournament?" he repeated, taking the paper from Tairo with amusement. Underneath the main article was a small picture of the senior physics teacher and a model of a popular robot style beside a title confirming Tairo's announcement. "I thought Fighting Robots was beneath Yoshiro-sensei?"
"Apparently an old rival of his has started teaching at another high school in this area and he's intent on crushing him in every way possible."
Mamoru smiled, indicating the paper, "Well, this will be a good start."
He tried to hand it back to his teammate, but Tairo put up his hand to block the pass. "You keep it; you'll have the time in case you wanted to go." He turned to walk in the opposite direction and they said their farewells.
Mamoru waited alone for the bus, scanning the newspaper below the fluff-story for the school's real news which, apparently, had made some kind of comeback. The stories were anything but extraordinary, but it was interesting to read what other clubs and associations were up to: the debate society had another win under their belts, the biology club was working with a local university to observe medical techniques, the host club was holding another co-ed dance with a neighboring all-girls school –
"Another article about you?" piped the voice of Helios. Mamoru nearly jumped, turning his head to see the white Pegasus floating just above his shoulder. Quickly he looked around – the street was nowhere near deserted! "It's been quite a while – I wonder if –"
"What are you doing?" Mamoru interrupted, his voice as quiet as possible, "Anyone can see you!"
"Pssh" the horse blew, "I know when people are looking at me."
"Tell that to Iko Tasagura!" Mamoru hissed back, trying to look around him inconspicuously as his hands moved up slowly towards the hovering hand-sized horse.
"Who?" Helios repeated with no small amount of confusion, eyeing the hand.
"The night janitor who reported us to the news!" Helios looked thoughtful, so Mamoru continued in hopes of making him disappear, "Did you feel him watching us then?"
"That was entirely—" Helio's voice froze mid-sentence, his entire body seeming to stop in time. Even his wings stopped mid-beat; had Mamoru's hand not been near, he might not have caught his guardian before the tiny Pegasus body fell to the ground. As it was, he held Helios awkwardly, feeling a heartbeat through skin that was cooling quickly.
Growing worried, he was about to ask what was wrong when out of the corner of his eye he spied none other than Hanada, the school newspaper editor. The blonde young man appeared at his shoulder, looking as though he had been there for quite some time, when in reality he hadn't been there just moments before. "Good evening, Chiba," he greeted with a sly smile, eyeing the Pegasus in Mamoru's hand.
He lowered it and tried to hold him less-awkwardly, only halfway succeeding. "Good evening, Hanada. What brings you around here?" he asked; it was well known that Hanada had a rather wealthy family who lived on the other side of the school from Mamoru, so it wasn't entirely a strange or unexpected question.
"Oh, not much," he replied. He wore an unbuttoned white collared shirt over a pale green top and jeans – all designer, from the shoes on his feet to the colored fashionable sunglasses and floppy hat on his head. His long wavy blonde hair was tied back in a ponytail but for the bangs; it was a wonder that the Principle didn't make him cut it, but his parents were very influential and had places on the school board, so it remained. Regardless, it appeared as though he were out on casual business, even though any sort of business Hanada was expected to casually attend to would be in the shopping district, not here. His green eyes fell upon Helios and a delicate eyebrow quirked, "Is that a toy?"
"Yeah," Mamoru agreed easily, "I picked it up for one of the girls back home."
The eyes turned on him, eyebrow still furrowed, "But aren't you an orphan?"
Mamoru stared at him coolly; everyone knew of his background, so there was no real reason to bring it up, unless Hanada was trying to put himself on some higher ground. Mamoru didn't enjoy such games, preferring to end them before they began. "I am; she is too. Even orphans like toys, Hanada."
He shrugged. "It's terribly lifelike…" he remarked, reaching a hand out as if to touch the Pegasus 'toy'.
"Yeah, if a winged unicorn is something you consider to be realistic," Mamoru countered with a light mocking tone, moving Helios slightly; he had noticed the horse twitching every now and again throughout the conversation, and would rather not have to figure out a way to explain why a toy felt real and reacted realistically. Luckily for him, the bus was pulling up beside them. Clutching his passenger lightly as he stepped aboard the bus, he swiped his card and nodded to his classmate, "See you tomorrow, Hanada."
Hanada nodded in return, "Have a good night, Chiba."
The second he took his seat Helios disappeared, but as soon as Mamoru opened his apartment door the white horse was back in full force. He dove right into Mamoru's face, hovering at eye-level with his long golden horn just inches away from Mamoru’s forehead. "There was definitely something strange about that guy!" Helios exclaimed, his bright red eyes even larger than usual, "I felt something in him – a strange energy!"
Mamoru stepped aside to close his door, Helios moving to stay in place before him, "Hanada? What kind of strange energy?" he asked, kicking off his shoes and sliding into his slippers, respectfully keeping his gaze on his guardian.
"I think he's being controlled by the Senshi!"
He froze, his bag dropping from his hand to the floor in a less-than-graceful manner. "You mean he could be working for them?"
"Why else would he continue to run a dead story about you?" he questioned, "He's trying to lure you out! To expose you! With you gone, the Dark Kingdom will be able to do as they please on their own time!"
It made sense enough, "So… what do we do?" he asked, "I can't just waltz right up to him and-"
Helios's neck craned around to stare suddenly out the window, his whole body tense, "An attack!" he warned, flying quickly to the living room's expansive windows, "Energy – large amounts of energy is being collected to a single source! Hurry!"
"Where?" Mamoru asked, throwing his feet back into his shoes – he wouldn't chance jumping out of his window before sunset.
"Near where we left our little friend."
Standing on the roof of his building, Mamoru as Cardinal King examined the drop and the distance to the next roof, taking a deep breath. While it was comforting to know that if he landed on his feet everything would turn out okay, he still had no idea what would happen if he, say, jumped for a rooftop, hit the side of the building instead and fell without control to the concrete so many stories below.
"Is it going to be like this every time? Hurry up!" Helios urged, hovering above the rooftop he was aiming for.
"Just give me a minute!" Mamoru yelled back. They had decided rooftops would be the easiest and fastest method of travel and would allow them some form of privacy, but that didn't mean he was recklessly fearless. One more deep breath and he started running, scenery rushing past him much faster than he was used to when running on the soccer field. He leapt, his black boots pushing off the corner of the rooftop and was suddenly airborne, a cape flying from his shoulders and giving him and extra push instead of causing him to drag. He landed at a run and kept going, following the anxious Helios as he flew to the next roof. The following jump was easier, and the one after even more so; while he never smiled, knowing what it was they were running towards, he couldn't deny the feeling of exhilaration that accompanied each flying leap.
Soon Helios dove down between buildings and Cardinal King dropped down beside him, falling past fire escapes to land easily in a crouched position in the alleyway below. He sprung back up and kept running around the side of the building, keeping to the shadows, until Helios disappeared. He reappeared in a split-second, "Youma, just inside this building. Twenty-two down, but someone's still moving. Twenty bucks says it's Hanada in there pulling the strings."
"Only one way to find out," Mamoru replied, "What's the plan? What's it like in there?"
"It's on the bottom floor; no high entrances. You'll just have to run in swinging. I'll find the gathered energy and release it as soon as the youma's down; wait for my signal, or it'll be transported to their kingdom if things aren't just right."
Mamoru nodded and Helios disappeared again, presumably to search out the gathered energy. He wondered momentarily if he should break the door down with his shoulder or kick it down, but first decided to try the handle. It was open. He slid in and closed the door quickly; finding himself in a long, bright hallway, he rushed down as quickly as possible, listening closely at each door along the way for signs of any kind of activity, not exactly expecting anything - unconscious people tend to stay quiet. So, instead, he planted his feet in a ready fashion, and called a challenge out to whatever monster was present. "Hey! I know you're there!" he yelled, grimacing slightly at the weak phrasing, "Come out and fight, you cowardly monster!"
A door flew across the hallway explosively; Mamoru flinched, but only marginally. A beast as tall as the ceiling stepped out into the hall, its large head with sharp teeth and blood-red eyes stared at him from under a bush of dark brown hair. It was a mixture of gorilla and feudal-age ogre, with horns poking out of its forehead and a strong, hairless chest supporting ham-sized biceps on floor-length arms. It growled menacingly, the noise like thunder. It was huge, stooping beneath the ceiling… and then was rushing him.
There was no way to escape the bull-rush, so Mamoru opened the door closest to him and stepped inside, letting the red beast barrel past him down the hall with mere moments to spare. Wondering what exactly he was to do to keep the beast occupied until Helios was ready, Mamoru stepped back into the hallway and yelled again. It was nothing intelligible, just something to draw the beast's attention, but it was too late. The door at the end of the hall was gone, along with a good deal of the building around it: the youma had escaped. "Great," Mamoru cursed, and quickly gave chase.
The beast was in the alleyway looking stunned beside a crumpled dumpster. He moved to cut off the beast's escape route. "Cardinal Rose—" he started, the rose summoned to his hand, but suddenly a cinderblock was flying towards his head, and he had to jump out of the way. The monster, roused and sinister looking, made as if to escape out into the street; Mamoru used what he had to stop him – he threw the rose.
Unlike any flora he had ever seen, the rose flew straight and true, slicing through the air like an arrow. It cut through the thick skin on the monster's face, green blood oozing from the wound impossibly. The monster stopped and rounded to face him, his eyes focused on nothing else. Mamoru jumped over the beast's head, landing in the doorway – if it were to chase him, he'd rather it go back inside the building.
"Watch out!" Helios warned as the beast charged, distracting Mamoru enough to make him fumble.
"Easier to do so without you warning me!" he yelled, reaching back to brace himself on the wall, but finding the surface his hand touched to be warm and cloth-covered. He jumped and whirled to find a camera in his face.
"Don't mind the camera!" Hanada exclaimed, "Watch out! It's coming back!"
"What are you doing?" Mamoru cried, opening the door beside them and pushing his classmate through just as the beast barreled past. Hanada fell back two steps, but the camera continued to click, taking pictures. Helios suddenly appeared between them, his golden horn forcing Hanada back, but the smile remained on his classmate’s face.
"Who are you and what are you doing in this plane?" Helios's voice boomed.
"It talks?" Hanada exclaimed, "This is excellent!" The door crashed in behind them, knocking Cardinal King to the side, against the wall. Helios teleported out of the way, and Hanada spun safely out of the path of the monster, giving it a kick in the rear as it passed to crash into the desk in the office. "Do the rose trick again!" he urged, camera to his eye yet again, focused on Cardinal King rather than the youma just feet away from him.
"Wait… could it be…?" Helios mused, staring at their blonde "guest" as Mamoru rolled his shoulders to loosen them. "Take this," the Pegasus offered with uncertainty, and suddenly a blue pendant was flying towards Hanada. He caught it, letting the camera drop around his neck, and looked at them with confusion. "Try yelling "Zoisite Power, Transform!""
Hanada stifled a laugh. Mamoru looked at Helios, wondering what the white horse was thinking, but suddenly he heard "Zoisite Power, Transform!" and a burst of light blue light shone in his periphery. Hanada had transformed. His attire was nearly identical to Mamoru's, from the blue-gray suit to the black belt and boots, but rather than golden accents around the coat and lining the mask on his face, his was lined in light green. His blue pendant held his jacket in place.
"King of the North," Helios greeted smugly, "help Cardinal King keep this beast distracted while I unbind the energy. Good luck, North King." He disappeared, leaving the two of them alone together.
Hanada – or, North King – looked at him with disbelief, his brows furrowing above his mask, "What?" he yelled incredulously, bound blond hair shaking as his head moved from where Helios was to where Mamoru stood.
Mamoru grinned at him, "You heard him, North King, help me with the monster! You wanted to know what this was all about, right? Well, your wish came true." The beast twitched awake, looking over his shoulder at North King. "Watch out!" He leapt forward, summoned his weapon, "Cardinal Rose Sword!" and brandished it threateningly to draw the creature's attention.
Hanada glanced behind him and quickly jumped out of the way, his motion carrying him higher than he apparently expected, clumsily landing in a chair off to the side. "The hell is going on?"
It charged at Mamoru and he stepped out of the way, letting the creature bash into the wall beside him, waiting on Helio's signal before he acted. Unlike the times before, however, the beast recovered immediately, throwing a hammy fist towards Mamoru's head. He ducked and rolled, coming up behind the monster just as it whipped around and yelled. The sound was so loud Mamoru had to cover his ears, stepping back uncertainly, only managing to hold onto his sword with a strong force of will. Its arm rose above his head, but it was as though the wave emitting from his throat were paralyzing; he was stuck where he was.
Fortunately for him, North King wasn't.
His blonde ally was suddenly on the monster's back, a rope of some sort around the beast's neck, pulling its head up and freeing Mamoru from sound-wave attack as the beast's throat closed. Its red arms scrabbled at its neck and reached back to try to knock North King away, but he was too quick, his legs moving his body left and right like a skier on a snowy mountain. "Stab it!" he cried.
"We have to wait for Helios!" Mamoru replied, leveling his sword and preparing to charge.
"What?" he yelled, "I've got it now! Kill it!"
"We can't yet!" he replied, "If we kill it before Helios frees the energy, those people will die!"
North King growled, "Fine!" still surfing as the monster careened around, trying to grab him.
"Got it!" Helios signaled, and Cardinal King rushed forward, throwing his sword into the beast's chest up to the hilt. It was hard work, rushing through the packed muscle, but his momentum carried him forward. He released the sword as the beast fell to its knees, North King landing beside him holding a blue whip made of ice. The youma dissolved into gray dust, the red rose buried in the pile. Helios appeared suddenly, hovering above the pile. "Time to go," he declared, preceding them out the door and down the hall. Mamoru followed with North King in tow, Hanada looking confused. Once they were out in the alleyway, the sun setting somewhere in the metropolis beyond, the white Pegasus flew upward, and Mamoru jumped after it.
"Are you kidding me?" Hanada yelled from below; Mamoru grasped the handrail of a fire escape level and paused, looking down at him.
"Just jump!" he plucked the corner of his cape, "The cape helps, somehow." The eyes in the green mask looked disbelieving; Cardinal King shrugged, "Or you could run up the fire escape, whatever you want to do." He turned and jumped across the alley to get some air, then ricocheted to the rooftop. "We'll wait a few rooftops down for you; the cops might show soon!" he called down to his incredulous new ally, then turned and ran.