Chapter 2

When Tsukiko woke up, she couldn’t help but wonder what had caused her to have such a strange dream. Certainly, she could understand the idea of why she would have had it. She had wanted someone to help her break free of her mother for years, so it made sense that her subconscious would absorb that desire, and possibly use it to bring her some comfort.

But what she couldn’t understand was, while she knew that it had all been a dream, and that she’s likely never be free of her mother’s machinations, she still felt so hopeful, as though something good would happen today. After a few moments, she decided to just let it be. There was so little to be happy about in her life, she felt that she might as well allow herself to enjoy the happiness for as long as it lasted.

With this thought in mind, Tsukiko began to get ready, though she still regretted that she’d been caught going against her mother’s plan, as it meant that one of the things that most interested her would be impossible for her to see. But she reasoned, things could be worse. Her mother could have found out that she’d run to cram school, or that she’d ignored the entire lesson once there.

Going about her day, Tsukiko didn’t quite start to smile, but she was more content, she supposed the word was, as though she thought that while things weren’t really good now, they’d get better soon, so she just had to wait. Thinking about it, she decided that that was exactly the kind of hopeful feeling that she was experiencing, almost as though she really believed that vow that she had heard in her dream.

Amused at her own thoughts, Tsukiko, while not wanting to destroy this feeling, forced herself to acknowledge that things probably wouldn’t get better so that when things stayed the same, she wouldn’t be too crushed. Despite her best efforts though, she couldn’t make herself believe her own words, as the hopeful feeling proved too persistent to be reigned in so easily. Still, Tsukiko couldn’t bring herself to dislike it, even though she knew that it would only hurt her later on.

While Tsukiko may have thought that this feeling wouldn’t change anything, the students in her class noticed that she had changed. Most of them had gotten used to ignoring the apparently antisocial gaijin, but even they couldn’t help but notice that she seemed more approachable today. None of them really wanted to get close to her considering how easily she had brushed them off in the past, but some of them began to think that if she kept up this slightly light hearted behaviour for a while, they may just give her a chance.

After cram school had finished, Tsukiko’s newfound hope was still in full effect, if anything it was even stronger than before, as though her subconscious knew something that the rest of her didn’t. The girl had long since given up trying to bring it down a few notches so as to prevent the disappointment that was sure to come, deciding that she’d enjoy the happiness while she had it.

Sadly, that happiness crashed and burned as she began to walk towards the train station that she took every night. The path that way went through a few of the seedier alleys in the city, but it was better than having to go along the path that led to the business section of the city. That way would be faster in theory, but in reality it would be so clogged with businessmen and shoppers that she’d probably miss her train if she went that way, and then she could be certain that the staff would inform her mother of her late arrival.

Unfortunately, tonight was the night that she would learn there was a reason that people would brave the crowded business sector before they went through the back alleys to get to the station. As she walked, she passed three men who, from the smell of them, had just been kicked out of a bar. Seeing them, Tsukiko immediately began to walk faster, not wanting to run, but also not wanting to spend longer in their presence than she had to.

Sadly, the men didn’t take the hint and began to follow her. For a moment, Tsukiko considered simply dropping her wallet on the street for them to pick up, but she was too scared that they would catch up to her while she fumbled for her wallet, not to mention that these men were so drunk she doubted they’d even be able to understand that she was giving it to them . . . if her wallet was even what these men wanted.

This suspicion was even further supported when the men began to call after her, asking her why she was leaving, and if she thought that she was too good for them. While privately Tsukiko did think that she was, in fact, too good for these men, she didn’t see anyway that informing them of that would help her get home safely and with all of her clothes on.

Next time I see Okaa-sama, I’m going to beg her to either hire me a driver, or to allow me to take a self defense class.

“Hey sugar, there’s no need to rush, we’ll take good care of you.”

Definitely the self defense class.

Tsukiko was so focused on getting away from the men that she didn’t realise that she was no longer walking in the direction of the train station. In fact, she didn’t know where she was to begin with. A fact that was cemented when she turned into another alley that was revealed to be a dead end.

Oh Kami-sama, no. I don’t want it to end this way. Not here, and not with these men.

As she closed her eyes from the fear, she heard a loud ‘oof’ noise.

What did they have a falling out over which of them was going to rape me first? Well, at least if they did, then maybe it won’t hurt as much as it would if they all shared me, Tsukiki thought bitterly.

However, when she looked up, she saw quite a different scene from the one she had expected. The men who been following her were indeed fighting, but they were . . . fighting with someone else.

Wha-I was sure there were only three of them. And wait, is that . . . a woman they’re fighting? Tsukiko slowly realised.

After another moment, all of the men were lying on the ground, either unconscious or dead, Tsukiko couldn’t tell which. And the woman who had put them there was slowly walking towards her. Unsure of whether this woman had only meant to help her, or if she had only stepped in in order to steal the men’s prey, Tsukiko slowly pressed against the wall behind her, knowing that even if she wanted to, she wouldn’t be able to outrun this woman, not from what Tsukiko had seen of her fight.

Oddly enough, the woman seemed almost hurt by Tsukiko’s reaction, her face falling in sadness before filling with determination. “Hey, I’m not gonna hurt you,” she said as she walked forward, invading Tsukiko’s personal space to the point that their chests almost touched.

Or they would have if the woman wasn’t quite so tall. As it stood, Tsukiko’s face was nearly touching the woman’s breasts. Looking down, Tsukiko realised that the woman’s odd lack of boundaries wasn’t the only thing that was strange about her. She seemed to be wearing a bikini top under a shawl of some kind, and some odd skirt.

Looking at her, Tsukiko also realised with a start that this woman probably wasn’t Japanese either, if her dark skin was anything to go by. So Tsukiko wondered what on earth this woman was doing in a back alley in Japan’s capital, despite not having much room to talk in that department.

She was jerked out of her musings when the woman said, “You know, as much as I appreciate knowing that you’re interested in what you see, my eyes are up here.”

“I-I’m sorry,” Tsukiko stammered out, and then panicked, remembering how much her mother hated it when she stammered, always saying that a real lady should keep her composure at all times. “Oh, Kami-sama, please don’t tell my mother I did that. She’d be furious.”

To her surprise, the woman laughed, “Well I suppose it’s good to know that you already consider me good enough to meet your parents. But tell me, do you always invite strangers over to your house like that?” she asked, sounding as though she were holding back more laughter.

Tsukiko couldn’t stop her blush, trying to insist that she did no such thing though this only incited more of a stammer. After a moment though, the woman stopped laughing and said, “I’m sorry, I suppose I shouldn’t have teased you like that during our first meeting, Tsukiko-sama.”

“H-How do you know my name?” Tsukiko tried once more to press herself against the bricks.

“Ah, damn, I’m definitely not doing this very well, am I? But first calm down, I already told you that I’m not going to hurt you, and I do keep my promises,” the stranger told her. “Well, there’s a lot of stuff that I need to tell you actually, but to start off with, you should know why I’m here.”

Smirking slightly, the woman pulled back enough that Tsukiko could see her face, though she had to crane her neck a bit and most of the woman’s face was shadowed. Still, there was no denying the amusement that the woman seemed to be feeling at this meeting, as she said, “I’m Sekirei No. 57, Yahan, and you are my Ashikabi.”

“Wait, what do you mean by that?”

But it was apparently too late for that, as the woman was already leaning towards her face as she murmured, “There’s no need to be scared. I promised you freedom with me, and I will give it to you, my dearest Ashikabi.”

At the mention of her promise, Tsukiko finally realised why the woman’s voice had put her at ease. It was the same voice that she had heard the night before in her dream. But Tsukiko didn’t have a lot of time to try to figure out how that could happen as Yahan kissed her, causing wings of black light to emerge from her back, only visible because of the pale moonlight that had been visible in the alley before. Leaning back from the kiss, Yahan recited, “Shadows of my pledge, conceal my Ashikabi from her foes forever more!” before saying, “Well, I guess it’s you and me from now on, Tsukiko-sama, I’ll protect you forever” to her red faced and shell shocked Ashikabi.

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