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Mouikkai Musume - Chapter 7 :iconrellawing:rellawing 0 0
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Mouikkai Musume - Chapter 6 :iconrellawing:rellawing 0 0
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Saving Face | Part Seven: Facelift :iconrellawing:rellawing 0 0
Literature
Saving Face | Part Six: Palefaced
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Saving Face
Part Six: Palefaced
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“Look… I’m beautifullll…” it slurs at me. “Why are you in my home? Get out, you are not… weeerrrrrrrrrrllllcommmeeeee…” it moans out.  Its voice is my voice!  It’s like I’m speaking to myself! I lift my phone and shine the flashlight on it, revealing my face on its dark form. It grimaces at me and flinches for a moment before darting forward with the crowbar held up. “Like me… get your own collection… out, </i>ouuuuutttttttt</i>!” it rages at me, and I roll back and forth to avoid its frantic strikes.  I roll up against the wall, seeing the faces above me.  They terrify me even more!  I climb to my feet as I prepare to run.  Nohface strikes at me again, and I have to weave, stumbling from side to side as I
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Literature
Saving Face | Part Five: Effacement
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Saving Face
Part Five: Effacement
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“You turn into a rude person when you freak out.  Have some faith in me. I’m looking out for you now, you know.  Shut up, idiot.” She lifts the umbrella and brings it down on my head gently. Afterwards she lowers it and strikes the wall before us low where it meets the ground.  Amazingly, there’s a poof; the wall disappears and a man takes its place. I stare at him. His build looks burly and he has a long semi-puffy tail, and he has fluffy oval shaped ears.  His eyes glow faintly.  He has black and brown hair that seems peculiarly spotted, possesses thick lips and classic African features, but not they’re not exaggerated the way they’re portrayed in anime and manga. Akuchi wears a tee shirt with a hoodie over it despite the warmth. He wears something with a pattern on it that
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Literature
Saving Face | Part Four: Multifaceted
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Saving Face
Part Four: Multifaceted
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I follow her quietly, looking to my own cell phone from time to time marking the time.  We reach the nearest Yamanote station via a bus ride.  She leads me down into the station and we swipe our passes to run in; as we reach the platform, we find something jarring. The station is crowded this time, but oddly, like me, everyone else is wearing germ masks.  Rui studies them all with an alarmed expression. “Is there an outbreak?” She looks at her cellphone, flipping through page to page and shakes her head. “I don’t see any major postings… what’s going on…? Was it just recently announced?” She blinks and looks at me.
“Did you somehow start a fashion statement in only a few hours?” she jokes.
“No! I don't think many have seen me today. Don’t be an idiot
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Literature
Saving Face | Part Three: Undersurface
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Saving Face
Part Three: Undersurface
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“Fine. That’s fair,” I respond. When the bus arrives, I follow her on board and swipe my magnetic card over the reader; we ride for four stops. She pulls the cord before the fourth stop and leads the way off. We swipe our cards again on our way out.  We walk through downtown through the streets.  She leads me into a building, and we take another elevator up to the fourth floor. This time she doesn’t force me to take a separate elevator.  I’d smile if I could. She takes me to a door that opens into a curious shop, full of antiques, strange decorations, and some particularly creepy things like fingers in sealed bags.  I gasp when I notice them and look at Rui with a blank expression. I mean it to be a questioning look, but she doesn’t respond, of course.
She walks up to a girl man
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Literature
Saving Face | Part Two: Facetious
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Saving Face
Part  Two: Facetious
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“Reiko-chan! Are you alive? Was your death a joke? W-wonderful!” I cry aloud, exulting. “What an amazing Halloween prank on me!”
A creepy voice answers. “You must find the noh face, Susumu.  Find it before the strike of the twenty fourth hour tonight or it will possess your face for eternity, and you will be a yokai, a noh face.  Do what you can to survive.  Surrender is not an option.”
I gasp as the voice speaks those words to me. I stare at the screen again, unable to believe that this is Reiko-chan’s phone. The voice is not Reiko-chan’s! The caller hangs up after completing its morbid message for me. “R-Reiko-chan!” I gasp out.  That voice sounded inhuman!  I rush to dial Reiko-chan’s number back, but no answer comes. I let it
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Susuuumuuuu-chaaan! by rellawing
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Saving Face | Part One: Effacing :iconrellawing:rellawing 2 1
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Mouikkai Musume - Chapter 5 :iconrellawing:rellawing 0 1
Mouikkai Musume Mohitotsu - Cover by rellawing
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Cuteness is Justice!
Artist | Hobbyist | Literature
United States
My DeviantArt Submission Writing Projects:
All my writing in a folder!Mouikkai MusumeSaving Face
Writing Projects Without Art Icons/Covers:My Art:
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About Me:
Ummms... I'm super positive usually! My friends think that is a little strange. I'm pretty much eternally an anime schoolgirl. No matter what trials I have faced, I'm still a smiling baka! I still feel sad sometimes, but I do my best to find the silver linings everywhere!

I haven't posted all my work on DeviantArt, but I sure will someday soonish! <3 As for what I have, I have submitted Mouikkai Musume, my very first novel. I wrote the first chapter about eleven years ago. It's not perfect, but it ignited my passion for writing when I finished it! When I came back to it, I decided it had possibilities!
  • Current Residence: It's a place to live. '^.^
  • Music: I liked positive 80's music, and happy J-pop best, but also songs that moved my heart (Gravity and Adieu)
  • My Idol: Oddly enough, Lina Inverse. She's a glutton and is kind of greedy, but she's a really strong feminine role model.
  • Operating System: Windows 10
  • What do I like to do?: I play FFXIV, I love writing, I like to doodle or do artsy things, I like making websites (coding is fun!!!), talking with friends!
  • Personal Quote?: I'm a smiling baka! <3
I'm Also On These:
BigCloset Topshelf!
TGStorytime!
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·:*¨¨*:·.** Chapter Seven **.·:*¨¨*:·.
           The Onus Of His Duties
  **.·:*¨¨*:·.**.·:*:·.**.·:*¨¨*:·.**

Aoi waves to the white van as it pulls away up the street from the front of her house.  She holds her book bag in her free hand and smiles warmly. Madoka doesn’t ride around in a limousine, but even so, Aoi is still amazed by how well off her new friend seems to be.

“This is like some kind of crazy dream.  My new friend is a beautiful rich girl.  Is this some type of manga plot?” Aoi laughs, turning towards the gate that leads into her yard. “Madoka even has a butler.  A handsome butler.”  She blushes as she toys with a strand of her hair and thinks.  There is something strange about Madoka.  There’s a quality about her that makes me want to protect her.  She is extremely adorable.  But what is it about her that feels so strange? She frowns, pushes open the aged wooden gate in front of her family home, and steps into her yard.

She walks up the path made up of a series of flat weathered stones of slightly differing colors.  There is well trimmed grass to either side of the path in front of the Japanese-style house and plants sitting both in pots and in designated planting areas about the yard.  A variety of wildflowers are planted in this mini garden as well, though it’s no longer the season for viewing them.  A few hold on here and there, but as it gets further into September, the trees will turn golden or red before their leaves drop in late November or December.  Even so, the tail of Summer seems to be holding on for the moment.

Aoi steps up the path and slides open the front door of her home.  The smell of cooking dinner immediately assails her and her stomach growls a little, making her blush.  She steps inside and closes the door behind her, turning to remove her shoes and then placing them neatly in the shoe rack that her family has had for ages.  They always keep their shoes in the same places out of habit.  She steps up out of the genkan and slips her feet into her house slippers.  She slides open the inner door and calls out the ritual phrase: “I’m home!”

A woman’s face pokes out from the nearby kitchen as Aoi walks inside across the dark stained wood floor.  “Welcome home, Aoi!  How was your first day of the new semester?” She smiles, walking out the kitchen.  Aoi’s mother is a woman in her mid-thirties with mid-length reddish-brown hair and the same light-blue eyes that Aoi has.

“It was fun, Mom.” Aoi smiles, stretching.  “I made a funny new friend today.” she says.  “A new girl who started the year a little late due to an accident,” she says.

“An accident?  What happened?” Aoi’s mother’s eyes widen slightly.

“I don’t know.” Aoi frowns.  “She didn’t want to talk about it.  But it was bad enough that she’s in a wheelchair,” she says.  Aoi’s mother gasps, putting a hand to her mouth.

“Oh dear… is she alright?  I suppose she must be if she’s going to school,” her mother comments.

Aoi nods and smiles.  “She’s alright.  She seems a little anemic though. She gets tired quickly.  Honestly, she’s the cutest little thing.” Aoi laughs.

Her mother smiles.  “Oh?  Are you taking in another stray, Aoi?” She chuckles.

“She’s a person, Mom,” Aoi chides her mother, frowning.

“I know, dear.  But you always had a habit of taking care of strays.  It doesn’t surprise me that this girl interests you.” Her mother smiles knowingly.

Aoi blushes.  “It’s not like that.  She’s a genuinely cute and interesting person.”

“I look forward to meeting her sometime.” Aoi’s mother smiles.  “Dinner is Cream Stew.” She winks and steps back into the kitchen.  Aoi smiles brightly.  She knew she recognized the rich chicken-y smells that are wafting from the kitchen.  She hums a little as she makes her way through the corridor towards the back of the house.  The corridor branches to the left or right and is open air from this point.  The storm panels are open as they are usually on warm days, affording a view of the back garden, which is really just a continuation of the small garden surrounding the house.  A stone lantern, a goldfish pond, shrubbery, artfully placed stepping stones in shades of gray and white, trees, and flowers are some of the main features of it.

Aoi walks past the door that opens into the garden, which is also left ajar this time of day.  She comes to her room at the end of this hall and slides the door open and closed behind her as she steps onto the softer tatami mat inside.  Aoi’s family home is a mixture of Western and traditional styles.  The overall style is traditional, but rooms like Aoi’s have beds, though the family keeps traditional futons for houseguests that are aired regularly.  Aoi has a bookcase full of manga, light novels, and study materials, and a desk with a small lamp.  There are pictures on the walls of cute characters, flowers, one poster of a bishounen wielding a sword from an anime series that Aoi enjoys.  By her bed, a wooden practice sword rests against the wall, between the bedstand and bed. Her bedding itself is a pastel green with cute characters on it.  In the corner is a low wooden table with assorted cute cushions in light colors around it.

Aoi sets her book bag down on her desk and pulls on the nearby cord to turn on her overhead light.  It flickers and turns on after a moment.  Aoi slides open her closet door and starts undressing.  She wriggles out of her plaid pink skirt, taking care to step out of it and set it on her desk.  She unties her krevat and pulls it free from the collar of her uniform jacket and sets that aside as well.  She unbuttons her uniform jacket and then her undershirt, smiling at the feel of cool air on her skin as she sets these aside.  She slips out of her slippers and pulls out her desk chair and pulls off her socks, crossing her legs easily as she works on each foot.  

Now nude except for her underwear, she stands again and crouches in front of the closet, pulling open a drawer inside to select some more comfortable clothes.  She selects a soft pair of shorts and a loose tee.  She feels the woven mat of the tatami under her toes as she balances.  She closes the drawer and straightens, lifting her legs one at a time to step into the shorts and then pull them up snugly.  She pulls the tee over her head.  She turns to a nearby mirror and lifts a brush that she keeps on her desk and runs it several times through her hair.

Her room isn’t enormous by Western standards, though there is room to sit at the desk, do exercise in the center of the room, and have a couple of guests sit with her at her table.  For the moment there isn’t anything to study or any homework, though that would change fairly soon.  Aoi still pulls out one of the schoolbooks she had taken home with her in her book bag as well as her notepad and starts paging through it, taking notes occasionally.  She loses track of time and soon her mother knocks on her door.

“Aoi-chan… it’s time to eat!” she calls out, not invading Aoi’s privacy by opening the door, thankfully.  “Okay, thanks!” Aoi calls out in return and finishes up for another two minutes, before finally sitting back and stretching.  Through a nearby window, Aoi can see that the sun is down already.  She puts her book and notepad away in her book bag and then stands, sliding the door open and walking out.  She leaves the door open as she walks barefoot down the hallway.  The storm panels have been closed for the night, though Aoi can still see the moonlit garden through the windows in them as she walks through the hallway, turns left and enters a room on the right.  

The table is already set.  Her father, a still young looking man with dark brown hair in his late thirties is already kneeling in seiza-style on a cushion at the head of the table, reading. He lowers his book and sets it aside as he hears Aoi enter and smiles at her when she seats herself at her usual place.

“Aoi.  Did you have a pleasant day?” he inquires.  Aoi smiles and nods as her mother comes in carrying a large container full of Cream Stew.  The aroma of the cooked meat and vegetables elicits another loud growl from Aoi’s stomach.

“I did, father.” Aoi says, distractedly as her mother sets the container down and takes her position by the rice cooker.  Her mother smiles.

“Aoi-chan made a new friend today, Toshiro.” Aoi’s mother beams at her husband.

“Oh?” he asks, looking at Aoi, who blushes and nods.

“Yes.  I’ll ask her over sometime.  But she’s in a wheelchair… so it might be a little hard for her to get through our house."  Aoi thinks of the narrow hallways and Madoka’s chair.  It might be a little too hard to manage.

“Oh… I can see the problem.” Toshiro rubs his chin thoughtfully.

“Oh, dear…” Aoi’s mother shakes her head with a sigh as she starts preparing bowls of rice for her family and distributing them.  Aoi accepts hers with a smile for her mother.

Their conversation is interrupted by the sound of the front door sliding open.  They all look at each other, and Aoi’s mother pauses while ladling a bowl full of Cream Stew. “Who could that be?”

<center>**.·:*¨¨*:·.**.·:*:·.**.·:*¨¨*:·.**.·:*¨¨*:·.**.·:*:·.**.·:*¨¨*:·.**</center>

Kozuke awakens with a start.  He blinks and rubs sleep out of his eyes and looks down at the canopy bed and its occupant.  He stands up, stretching, and works the kinks out of his neck and back.  “Old habits die hard I suppose, Sugar.”  He sighs.  

Well, those habits had seemed to be dead ever since the girl he seemed to spend every waking moment thinking of and caring for had finally awoken from her coma. He had oftentimes fallen asleep in this chair while keeping the girl company after the master had gone to sleep.  He had never slept very well doing it then and he hasn’t this time either, but that wasn’t, and still isn’t what matters.

After Midoriyama’s unanticipated and regrettable departure from the mansion the previous evening, Madoka had been oddly despondent.  Losing even someone she had been nominally attached to had hit her very hard.

“I can’t blame you.  Everyone you cared for had already disappeared,” he murmurs softly so as not to disturb her sleep, despite the fact that it is…  He glances at his watch and nods, confirming his sense of time.  It is a little over an hour before Madoka will have to wake up for school.  Kozuke considers the idea of not waking her up. Surely she will sleep in, given how much she seemed to be crying uncontrollably.  

It is hard to believe that the girl had actually been a boy in the past, particularly after he had comforted and held her until she finally fell asleep last night.  He is tempted by the idea of letting her sleep, but dismisses the idea, deciding that it would likely be better for her to spend time with her new friends that she has made.

It seems likely to him that they would have a major part to play in healing Madoka’s wounded heart… and not simply due to this most recent loss.  Kozuke gently pats her head and steps away, briskly.  His back twinges and he winces a little, but he has duties, and there is no one else to complete them.

He quietly exits the room and steps briskly down the hallway towards the far wing.  He tries the doorknob again and finds that it is still locked.  He contemplates knocking loudly to wake the master, but finally shrugs.  He probably hasn’t had a good night either.   The old man isn’t as heartless as he pretends to be, Kozuke is sure.  

Kozuke steps away briskly and down the hall again to the dining room.  He passes through it into the kitchen and flips the light switch.  This is not a normal part of his duties.  By now Midoriyama would be awake and the two might share a cup of morning tea before they each get on with their duties, but with Midoriyama gone, Kozuke must prioritize Midoriyama’s duties over his own.

The problem is, as he stated the previous night in jest to the master, his cooking is not good.  Most of what he can cook is essentially limited to what most young to middle aged bachelors can cook.  He sighs, rubbing his temples for a moment and then starts.  The first place to start was rice.  Any fool could use a rice maker.  They come with measuring cups and markers on their inner pots for water and rice levels.  

Kozuke pops open the rice maker lid and measures out several cups worth of rice.  He deposits that rice into the pot in the rice cooker, and then carries the pot over to the sink, where he briefly whisks the rice through water several times.  He drains the rice each time, and then when finished, fills the pot to the line indicating two cups worth of water, and then carries the pot over to the rice maker, depositing the pot inside, popping it closed, and finally pressing the start button, with aplomb.

“Well, there is breakfast.” Kozuke smiles wryly.  “Except that it isn’t.  The master should be aware of my limited capabilities where food is concerned, but even he will complain with only rice offered for breakfast.”  He frowns, puzzling over the problem.  

Finally, he smiles.  “Perhaps an omelette.  I’ve seen Midoriyama cook them, perhaps it won’t be so difficult.”

He steps to the refrigerator and chooses out four large eggs.  He carries them over to the counter and fetches a mixing bowl and a whisk.  He breaks the eggs a little clumsily, opening them and dropping their golden contents into the bowl one at a time.  A bit of shell drops in from one of the eggs, so he must fish it out with a fork, chasing it around the bowl with a frown until he’s able to pin it down and lift it out.  He almost loses that bit of shell to his frustration as the egg itself does not seem to want to let go of it.

Kozuke plucks the shell off with his fingers before it can fall, and flicks it into the sink, turning his attention to the bowl.  He studies it for a moment, trying to remember all the ingredients that Midoriyama had added.  Finally, he gathers up soy sauce, vinegar, sugar, salt, and sake from various shelves in the kitchen.  He pours small amounts of each of the liquids into the eggs, and then measures small spoons of the sugar and salt, and drops those in.  What were the ratios supposed to be for four eggs?  He frowns and sighs, and starts whipping the eggs with the whisk.

He removes an iron pan from a cabinet and begins heating it on the stove.  After a moment he pours a little cooking oil from the cabinet in and goes to the refrigerator, getting a stick of butter.  He slices a portion of the stick off and drops it into the pan, watching as it melts quickly and blends with the other cooking oil.  He pours the egg mixture into the pan and he distributes a layer into the pan as he has seen Midoriyama do it.  

He waits for the egg to cook, making sure there is egg to completely layer the bottom of the pan.  When it seems almost done, he attempts to flip the egg over to roll it with cooking chopsticks.  He frowns, finding that the texture of the egg seems to disintegrate when he applies pressure to it.  He tries several more times, worried that the egg with cook too much or even burn.  Finally, unable to lever the egg over he sighs and mixes the egg up.  Scrambled eggs would have to do for Madoka’s lunch.

He pours the remainder of the mixture in and stirs it with the chopsticks.  He was sad that he could not make a fluffy omelette for Madoka’s lunches.  He would have to either learn it, or the master would have to hire another helper.  The master might prove to be stubborn, however.  It took Kozuke a while to convince him that another helper was needed.  He expects that has many days of extra work ahead of him if he can’t manage to convince Midoriyama to return.

He blinks as the melody of the rice cooker goes off, indicating that his rice is complete.  He pops the lid on the rice maker and fetches Madoka’s bento box.  He opens it, and spoons rice into the center.  When he finishes spooning the steaming rice, he pauses and as Midoriyama had done, he uses the paddle to shape it into a heart.  Once that is done, he pours the eggs into the empty side to the left of the rice, leaving the right for other things.  

He closes the lid for the rice cooker and then grabs the teapot up and takes it to the sink to fill it up for tea.  He carries it back once full to the stove and turns on the burner.  He looks back to the bento, and frowns.  What else should I do?  He smiles suddenly, thinking of a visit to a maid cafe when he was younger.  He fetches a bottle of ketchup and carefully begins drawing on the scrambled egg.  It didn’t look at all like he had hoped.  He finds that his words, “Do Your Best” are barely legible, not so much due to his handwriting so much as the canvas that he had to work with.

Kozuke sets the ketchup aside and after further consideration, he heats a pan up again and fetches a salmon fillet from the refrigerator.  He unwraps it, oils it, drops it into the pan, and cooks it, managing this somewhat better than he had the omelette attempt.  He damages the meat as he turns it, and overcooks it a little bit, but he deposits the filet into the free side of the bento.

He finishes the lunch with assorted vegetables and slices of a Mikan orange. After consideration, he draws a smiley face onto the salmon fillet with the ketchup. Perhaps this would be easier to interpret.  He chuckles a little and closes the bento, setting it aside.  He measures tea leaves into a basket, closes it and drops it into the pot.  He waits for the appropriate length of time and removes the tea leaves.  Afterwards he fills Madoka’s thermos with tea, and saves the remainder for breakfast.

Kozuke wraps the bento box with one of his own handkerchiefs.  While not being cute, it at least would give it his personal touch.  With Madoka’s lunch taken care of he must consider breakfast still, and after what he had already produced, he finds that he is somewhat tapped out for ideas for breakfast.  He studies the stove for a moment and his eyes fall on the bowl in which he had whisked his eggs.  He looks at the rice and grins.  He knew what he would do, and what was more, it might just shock the stubborn old master into deciding to have Kozuke attempt to rehire Midoriyama… or at the very least a suitable replacement maid.

<center>**.·:*¨¨*:·.**.·:*:·.**.·:*¨¨*:·.**.·:*¨¨*:·.**.·:*:·.**.·:*¨¨*:·.**</center>

Madoka wakes up that morning shortly after Kozuke has left the room, though she is unaware of it.  She sighs.  Her eyes feel horrible. They burn and her head aches, and the ache in her stomach seems more pronounced than yesterday.  She sighs, realizing that this is just day two of her period.  She might have three to four more days, and it might get worse before it gets better.

Despite her extra weariness this morning, she has an easier time sitting up and levering herself to the edge of the bed.  She looks around and sees that the chair is in range of her foot.  She reaches out and levers it awkwardly, hooking it with her toes.

“I’m determined to do something by myself today at least,” she complains under her breath.  She finally manages to inch the chair closer and finally pull it.  She leans against it with a frustrated sigh, and then after a moment to regain her energy, she locks the brakes on it and then pulls herself up into it, her teeth gritted.  It takes a while and a supreme effort, but she feels her backside clear the edge of the seat and she is able to lever herself into it. She stops and pants as though she has run a mile uphill.  She is sweating already.  

She just sits for a moment and then with an exhalation, she starts wheeling herself into the bathroom, forgetting at first to disengage the brakes.  She grouches slightly at the lack of forward motion but then unclips them and moves forward.  It doesn’t take long to move into the bathroom.  She studies the bath, deciding that she really wants one.

She briefly considers trying to call Kozuke, but decides against it.  Kozuke has a lot more to worry about right now.  She can’t trouble him any more than is necessary.  She turns on the water faucet and checks the water temperature, somewhat awkwardly leaning forward out of her chair to do so.  When the temperature feels right she searches for the plug.  Not seeing a physical plug she spies a switch and flips it.  

Like magic the bathtub starts to fill.  She smiles an accomplished smile and starts to consider how she will lever herself into the tub.  She yawns and tugs her pajama top off easily, baring her breasts.  They are small but well developed.  She studies them for a moment as she has once in a while, still amazed at the fact that she has them.  She idly scratches an itchy spot on the right nipple before focusing on her pajama bottoms.

“I think I will wear a nightshirt next time.” she grunts as she wriggles them off.  Finally, she forces herself to her feet, leaning against the bathtub, and lets them fall down, baring her pantied bottom.  She wiggles out of those, too, letting them also fall down, and looks into the water.  It looks really nice and inviting.  She feels her legs tremble a little as she turns off the water faucet.  She takes a deep breath, studying the water. It doesn’t seem too deep to her.  It wouldn’t be a good idea to drop into a bath and drown because she doesn’t have the strength to avoid it.  

She feels confident, however, that she can definitely sit up under her own power. Her upper body strength is improving quite a bit even if her lower body strength is poor yet.  She wonders idly if the accident has done something to her to keep her from ever walking again.  She shakes her head, forcing those thoughts away as she drops into the tub with a squeal.  She splashes and makes a general mess of it, but she is able to position herself and, finally, lean back with a sigh.

The best part is that she is truly alone at the moment.  Kozy has been always so nervous about leaving her unattended in the bathtub, and it embarrasses her that she has no secrets from him.  He really has started to become like a father or mother… or maybe a doting older brother?  Being an only child she has never known what it would be like to have a sibling, but her mother had been doting for a while.  Kozy is like that.  It’s  touching and sweet.  Does familial love apply to people outside your family? she wonders.

She sighs and puts it out of her mind until she’s reminded by a nagging sensation between her legs.  She remembers that she must wear tampons now, and as annoying as that fact is, she must change them several times a day.  Otherwise, she will have problems, as Midoriyama told her.  Madoka feels her heart wrench as she thinks about Midoriyama again, so she shies away from those thoughts as she does what she must do.  She reaches down and tugs at the string and slowly levers it out.  It comes out easily, and she drops it over the edge of the bathtub.  Her nose wrinkles at the scent and her stomach seems to clench in response, but she puts it out of her mind forcibly and just soaks.

After a while, Kozuke enters the bathroom with his characteristic smile on his face.  Madoka studies him, noting with concern that he looks worn down.

“Good morning, Sugar.” He studies her for a moment, and shakes his head. “Congratulations on managing to finally take a bath on your own.”  He smiles wryly, reaching out to one of the canisters of scented bath salts and sprinkling some liberally into the bathwater.  “Do I need to tell you how foolish it was to do it?” he asks her, looking down at her.  Madoka blushes and smiles.

“No.  You know how I feel though, Kozy.  I need…” She trails off with a sigh.  Kozuke nods understandingly.

“I know, Sugar.  It is very hard not to be impatient in your situation.”  He studies her a moment and smiles.  “You seem to be doing well this morning?”

“Yes.  I feel a little better.” Madoka nods.  “I’m sorry for last night, Kozy.” She blushes and looks down at the bathwater, unable to maintain eye contact.

“It’s alright, Sugar.  I am here for you.  Never feel like you cannot talk to me or rely on me, please,” he murmurs, and Madoka nods in response, forcing a smile.

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Kozuke helps her to finish her bath quickly, dry off, and dress in her uniform.  He leaves the room while Madoka puts the finishing touches on her hair.  She then moves back into the bathroom to carefully insert a fresh tampon, not having wanted to do it in front of Kozuke.  She puts several spares into her book bag after wheeling back out and zips it closed, putting the bag in her lap.  

She wheels out of the room, turning the light off as she passes.  She heads down the hall and right into the dining room.  Madoka notices the master already seated at the table, looking a little worn like Kozuke had, but his body language communicates stubbornness to Madoka.  She studies him, but doesn’t say anything as she wheels up to the table.

Finally, he breaks the silence.  “Morning,” he grunts.

Madoka looks down.  “Morning,” she murmurs.

The silence stretches out unbroken until Kozuke brings in the service trolley.  He stops at the table and pours a cup of tea first for the Master, placing it in front of Master Yoshi.  He lifts the cup immediately and sips with a sigh.  He frowns but continues to not speak.  Kozuke pours another cup for Madoka and sets it before her.  Madoka smiles at Kozuke.  “Thank you,” she murmurs.

Kozuke nods and smiles at her before preparing two bowls of rice from the rice cooker sitting on the service tray.  He sets one in front of Master Yoshi and the other in front of Madoka.  Afterwards, Kozuke lifts something from the service tray and hits it against the table.  He holds the object over Master Yoshi’s rice and Madoka giggles when she sees the raw egg plop down on the top of Master Yoshi’s rice.  Master Yoshi goggles at it and looks at Kozuke.

“Bon Appetit.” Kozuke smiles at Master Yoshi.

“Egg Rice?  Are you serious?  What am I, a poor college student?” he complains.  Madoka covers her mouth and stifles further giggles as Kozuke does the same with her own bowl of rice.

“I know you’re bad at this Kozuke, but could you at least put a modicum of effort into it?” Master Yoshi growls, staring down at his egg, which was starting to cook very slightly from the contact with the steaming rice.

“You might want to stir it soon, Master.  It will get lumpy,” Kozuke suggests.  “You do know that I am bad at this as you say, and it is safe to say that you did not hire me for my cooking skills.  That is what we hired Midoriyama for, is it not?” He looks down at Master Yoshi as he grumbles and starts using his chopsticks to burst the yolk and stir the egg into the rice.  Kozuke sets a soy sauce dispenser down onto the table.  He places a dispenser of mirin down next to it.

Madoka eagerly follows Master Yoshi’s example, stirring hers with her chopsticks and watching as the glistening egg mixes with the rice and cooks in its heat.  The two pour soy sauce and mirin into their bowls to taste and start in on the food with differing levels of enthusiasm.

“Shall I allocate some time to tracking down Midoriyama today, Master?  Now that some time has passed and you’ve had a night to cool off, perhaps you’ve reconsidered your position on firing her?” Kozuke inquires, keeping his voice neutral.  Madoka listens carefully as she eats her rice.  She has had Egg Rice once in a while and looks at it as a treat.

“I…” Master Yoshi trails off, grumbling under his breath.  “I suppose we should think about hiring someone after all,” he grunts.  “Put out an ad for help wanted.  If you can convince that woman to come back and beg for her job back, I might consider re-hiring her, but not before the month is out.  She needs some time to consider her foolish actions,” he growls as he shovels food in.

Kozuke’s eyes widen slightly.  “A month, Master?  That is a little excessive.  Personality issues aside, how long do you think it will take a talented young woman such as she to find a replacement job?  Surely she will not wait that long without taking another job,” Kozuke murmurs, resisting the urge to groan.

“Let that woman enjoy working at a local fast food chain for a month.  Someone with her personality will end up either doing that or working as a hostess at a club in Tokyo.  It’s not that far as commutes go after all.” Master Yoshi shrugs.  “She’ll be fine.  And perhaps the experience will mellow her out.” He smirks, grinning broadly.

Madoka’s enjoyment of her meal is cut short by this line of conversation.  Half finished, Madoka turns her gaze to Master Yoshi, and her anger flares. “How can you be so cruel?  How can you let your family suffer so much?  For the last month all four of us have become something of a family.  How could you turn her out like that?  Family doesn’t treat each other like that!” Madoka protests, slapping her chopsticks down.

Master Yoshi blinks and then glares at the girl.  “She’s not my family.  She may have acted like it with her antics, but I recall legally adopting only one troublesome and big mouthed girl,” he harrumphs.

“Troublesome? If I’m so troublesome why did you bother?  If I defy you will you throw me out as well?” Madoka stands, glaring. Her knees wobble immediately but she locks them and ignores the weakness and discomfort.

“Why did I bother?” The master stands and glowers at Madoka.  “I explained it many times already.  You aren’t an idiot, girl,” he growls, seeming happy to have something to focus his dissatisfaction on.

Kozuke steps between the two, holding his hands up. “Master, I don’t think we need a repeat of last night’s debacle, do we?” he asks, his expression sharper than usual perhaps.

The Master looks into his eyes, his own eyes narrowing.  Finally, he nods.  “You have the right of it, Kozuke.  I won’t let my anger get the better of me.”  He looks at Madoka.

“I know that you don’t like the decision I made last night, and I don’t much care whether or not you do.  It is my house and my rules, and I keep whatever staff I feel is doing a good job, and fire those that I feel are not.  It is none of your business.  I understand that you have emotional needs, and I am sorry about that.  I will schedule a visit from your therapist.”  He looks down at his mostly finished breakfast and then exits the room.

Madoka watches him go, her eyes still angry.  Kozuke looks at her and reaches out and gently squeezes her shoulder.   Finally, Madoka lets herself collapse back into her chair.  Her knees and leg muscles burn.

“If you can stand for so long with support, perhaps we should get you to do so once in a while.  Consider doing it at school once in a while, but take care with it,” Kozuke says.

Madoka nods, unable to smile.  She is too frustrated and angry with the master.  Tears of frustration well up in the corners of her eyes.  Kozuke gently pats the girl’s hair soothingly.  “Do not worry.  I will do what I can to find Midoriyama. If I cannot, I cannot. I still firmly believe that all things aside, she has been a good influence on you.” He sighs and smiles. “Finish up your breakfast.  We are a little short on time now,” Kozuke says.

Madoka nods, forcing a smile.  Kozy always makes her feel at ease.  She turns her attention back to her egg rice and finishes it in perhaps not the most ladylike fashion, but certainly efficiently.

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The two make their way in the white van back down the twisty and narrow mountain road to the town.  In moments, Madoka is once again being loaded up in her wheelchair.  This time her friends are waiting for her at the gate, and run up to her with a smile.  Aoi and Kanna look just as immaculate as they had the first day of the semester, though Aoi seems a little tired around the eyes.

They grin at her and wave.  “Good morning!” Kanna says.

“Good morning, Kanna-chan!”  Madoka smiles, happy to see her new friends.  She would never have imagined that she would feel this way about two girls, especially after only knowing them for just one day.

“You look awful… no offense,” Aoi says, noticing the dark circles around Madoka’s eyes.  It is clear to her that something serious must have happened to her friend in the short period of time since she had last seen her.  “Are you alright, Madoka-chan?” Aoi asks.

Kanna blinks and nods, her eyes narrowing as though she had just noticed.  Madoka laughs a little anxiously.  The two stand aside while he finishes helping Madoka to transfer into the chair’s seat.

“Good morning, girls,” Kozuke says, smiling at the two girls as he straightens.  He winces slightly but covers the wince with a bigger smile.  “Please take care of Madoka again for me today,” he asks them politely.

They both nod, Aoi still blushing slightly as Kozuke looks into her eyes.  Kanna eyes her friend’s reaction and hides a grin behind her hand. “Of course, Kozuke-san!” Aoi smiles.  Kozuke nods in response and bows to the girls.

“Excellent.  I need to be on my way then, girls.  I shall see you later this evening.” He waves and turns to walk back around to the driver’s side of the van.  The girls watch him go as he pulls away, and Aoi smiles down at Madoka.

“I look bad?” Madoka says after a moment.  “You’re looking tired too, Aoi-chan,” Madoka comments, noticing the tiredness in her friend’s body language.

Aoi smiles and shakes her head.  “I’m fine.  I stayed up a little late last night.  A family member visited late and has decided to crash with us for a little while.” She shrugs.  “Anyhow, let’s hurry up,” she urges her friends as she starts pushing Madoka’s chair automatically for her.  Madoka looks back at her friend with a concerned expression, but decides to just let her friend wheel her. She feels so much more exhausted today than yesterday.  There is a lot on her mind.

“My tired isn’t important,” Aoi says as she wheels Madoka past the statue in the center of the schoolyard towards the front doors.  “You really do look exhausted.  What happened?” she presses.

“What?  Oh… I…” Madoka blinks, having allowed herself to slip into autopilot.  “Oh, last night was pretty bad for me.  The one who made my lunch yesterday… a maid that I really liked was fired by that crabby master.”  She scowls.  The two look at each other and Kanna whistles.  “First a hottie butler, and now a maid?  What are you, a rich young lady?” she asks experimentally.

Madoka blinks and laughs.  “Me?  Oh, no… I just live there,” Madoka says.  Kanna opens the door and Aoi wheels Madoka inside towards the ramp up to the shoe lockers.

“Just live there?  I would say that if you live there you must be the young lady of the house.” Kanna persists.  “What are you to this master?  Do you know?  Surely he isn’t thinking about marrying you?” Kanna says, suddenly sounding a little scandalized.  Aoi blinks in surprise as she looks at Kanna.

Madoka’s eyes widen and she shivers.  That old man?  That is impossible, she thinks.  “No… I seriously doubt it.  He said he had adopted me legally.  I don’t think that even he would do something that awful… and besides, I…” She trails off, managing to stop herself from completing that line of thought.   Besides, I’m a guy.  That would have sounded utterly ridiculous.  How much of a guy is she at this point?  Not very much anymore, that is for certain. She glares at the floor.  Aoi notices her glare and leans over to give Madoka a tight hug from behind that makes Madoka smile a little again.

Kanna notices her glare as well and smiles wryly.  “I’m sorry.  I didn’t mean to be gross.  I just wondered. Seriously, though… if you were adopted by him you are the young lady of the house.  What is the house like, by the way?”  Kanna asks.

“Kanna…”  Aoi had come to a stop in front of Madoka’s shoe locker after having woven through the crowd of students coming and going.  “You’re going too far.”

Kanna sticks her tongue out slightly, and Madoka opens her locker, fetching out her school shoes, and quickly changing her shoes.

“Well…” Madoka blushes.  “Um… it’s… it’s kind of a… mansion…” Madoka mumbles, feeling embarrassed.

“A mansion?”  Kanna’s ears seem to perk up.  “What kind of a mansion?” she asks, fascinated.  Aoi starts wheeling her away from the shoe lockers and the three make their way to the handicap elevator.

“Um… the Western kind.” She blushes.  “I don’t really want to talk about it.” She feels morbidly embarrassed, as though she is intentionally showing off or bragging by just talking about it. She does not want to seem that way and she still isn’t perfectly happy with her situation.  Kanna seems to pick up on her reluctance as they reach the elevator, and smiles.

“It sounds amazing.  I hope we can see it someday.” She winks at Madoka.

Madoka swipes her card on the electronic reader and looks at Kanna with a smile.  “Of course.  I can’t speak for how polite the master would be towards my guests, but I don’t really care as long as Kozy’s okay with the idea.” She smiles as Aoi wheels her into the elevator.  Madoka turns and presses the second floor button.

“Looking forward to it then, Madoka-chan.” Kanna grins.  As the door closes, Aoi punches Kanna in the arm.

“Ow!” Kanna complains.

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The three get to class just in time again.  Ren-sensei smiles wryly at the three, but this time doesn’t say anything as the homeroom chime goes off.  Aoi wheels Madoka to her seat and Kanna and Aoi sit down hurriedly as the class begins.  

“Alright, class.  We really need to pull together and make a decision about the fair today.  Start throwing ideas around, and I’d appreciate it if you would step up more this morning, Sugawara-kun,” Ren-sensei notes.  Half the class laugh.

“Of course, Sensei.”  Eiji stands and walks to the head of the class and turns towards everyone. “Alright, so let’s get started with this.  I’ve heard some ideas so far, let’s go over them again,” he says.

“Like, a fifties American-style diner!” a girl calls out.

“I think it should be a haunted house!” a boy speaks out..

“A Western saloon with cowboys, Indians, and sexy bar ladies!” another guy chimes in. That one receives more than a few laughs and shouts of agreement.

One of the more muscular boys stands up and grins.  “Let’s do a paintball thing.”

“How?”  Eiji asks, his eyebrows lifting and an incredulous expression on his face.

“Yeah… like, what if we just open fire on our customers with paint guns?  That like sounds like such a great way to get people to spend money at our stall.  Ruining their clothes and all,” the girl who had recommended a fifties diner scoffs.

“I didn’t mean that.” The guy looks at her with an annoyed expression.  “I mean us.  We do a betting thing where people put bets on whoever is going to win of everyone in the class that wants to participate.” The guy grins.

“You’re just a paintball addict,” the girl replies sourly.

“Where would we do it?  Any place on school grounds would end up a horrible mess after that.  Not to mention where would we get all the equipment?” Ippei speaks up, adjusting his glasses.

“It sounds like a fun idea… but how legal is that?  Betting?” Eiji chuckles.

“I think it’s not going to work out.” Ippei shakes his head.  “Let’s focus on a cafe type idea.  I’ll help out with the cooking,” he says.

“Ooh… Shadow Pres’ cooking.” One of the girls of the class grins.  “Can you really cook too?”

The classroom talks animatedly for a moment before Eiji lifts his hands.  “Let’s keep up this line of thought.  Any more ideas?  We have a Saloon and a fifties America cafe idea.” He nudges everyone.

“We also have a classic maid cafe.  What’s more popular than that?” another guy speaks up.  “I want to see the new girl in costume.” He grins.  Several of the other students cheer at that, and Madoka looks around, blushing, eyes wide.

“But I…” Madoka protests.

“Oh… you’d look totally adorable!” Kanna grins at Madoka, interrupting her protestations.  “If we’re all dressing up I don’t see why we shouldn’t take advantage of the assets of one of the prettiest girls in class.” Kanna winks.  There are several cheers in response to that.

“Cosplay cafe then!  Why not make it even more moe,” a guy shouts.  The class erupts into laughter, and even Eiji seems swept up in the excitement.

“Class!  Have we made a decision then?”  Ren-sensei finally steps up.  “We have ten minutes left to start serious planning.” He firmly attempts to redirect the conversation.

“Oh… yes… well… I think we agreed on a cafe.  Since everyone has their ideas about what type of cafe we should have, why don’t we just keep it simple and do a cosplay cafe?  Everyone serving can dress up.” Eiji smiles.  

Ippei stands up again.  “Let’s divide the class up into three teams.  Cooking, Waiting, and Costuming plus Promotion (these last two being combined into one team).  I will lead the cooking team.  You can lead the waiting team, useless pres, and I think Tsukimi-san should head the last group.  You were interested in costuming weren’t you?” He turns his attention to Kanna who blushes and grins.

“Yeah, I’ll do it, Shadow Pres.  No problem.” She smiles.  

The class breaks up into three groups. “I don’t see why I have to be on the waiting team!” Madoka protests.  “I can’t carry much!” she lies.  She can probably manage something with a tray across her lap, she has to admit to herself.

“You have to, Madoka-chan.  Those looks weren’t meant for hiding yourself away.  Can you sew?”  Kanna asks.

Madoka hesitates and droops a little. “Um… no… I can’t…” she says in a small voice.

“I thought so.  You’re too much of a cute lady.  You’re so adorable.”  She grins at Madoka.

“Stop picking on Madoka.” Aoi scowls at Kanna and Kanna just giggles.

“I want to go as an Oni,” Madoka hears the guy who had floated the Haunted House idea say.

“An Oni waiter?  That sounds interesting.” Someone laughs.  “I’ll be a witch then!”

“I think Wada-san should be Momotaro,” Eiji suggests, grinning at Aoi. “You like Kendo, right?”

“Oooh yeah! I could work that!” Kanna smiles, looking Aoi over, who blushes.

“Don’t pick on me either!” Aoi laughs. "You're going as a maid too.  You aren't getting off easy by getting to go as a butler." Aoi grins.

“Madoka simply must be a maid.  A French maid,” Kanna says, studying Madoka with a wicked grin.  "And I think a matching cute outfit for useless Pres.”

“Whaaa….” Madoka and Eiji both complain in unison, blushing.

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·:*¨¨*:·.** Chapter Six **.·:*¨¨*:·.
   The Weight of Her Convictions
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The three girls finish up in the locker room, Kanna and Aoi doing a great deal more than Madoka, who simply tidies up her hair.  They exit back into the gym.  The boys are already standing in groups, chatting, though some exit the gym, heading back to the classroom.  Madoka watches them go with a wry smile on her face.  My days of quickly cleaning up and heading back to class are over now. She sighs.  She feels exhausted after today’s events.  Thankfully Aoi is still pushing her chair, so that at least helps conserve some of her dwindling supply of energy.

Madoka can’t remember a school day that had ever been as exhausting as this one has been, and with the upcoming events, the days ahead promise to be more exhausting.  Madoka strangely looks forward to it, however.  For the first time in a long while, it feels as though she is moving forward with life, even if her life now is completely different from the life she has known.  Kanna notices her brooding expression as she holds the gymnasium door for the girl and her seeming self-appointed guardian, Aoi.

“Are you doing alright, Madoka-chan?” the cute green-eyed and blonde-haired girl whose hair is tied up in cute twin tails asks the cuter wheelchair-bound doll-like girl.

Madoka smiles, shaking her head.  “I’m alright… Kanna-chan.” Madoka hesitates a moment before returning the familiarity that Kanna is displaying towards her.  Kanna smiles a happy smile in return, placing her hand on Madoka’s while she walks alongside the chair.  “I am just tired.  I’m happy that I can attend school now, but it is still exhausting,” she says.

Kanno nods in response, smiling.  “You’ll get stronger, though, Madoka-chan.  You will, right?” Her positive expression becomes questioning.  “We don’t know very much about your condition… you aren’t paralyzed, I hope?” Kanna asks.

“You’re being nosy, Kanna-chan,” Aoi chastises Kanna, who looks at her and sticks her tongue out playfully in response.  Madoka laughs, and shakes her head.

“No… it’s alright, Aoi-chan… I am not paralyzed.  I’m just recovering from something.  The master says that I should be able to walk again if I work hard,” Madoka says, making an effort to smile and be positive.

“That’s great to hear!” Kanna exclaims, her tone enthusiastic.

“The master?” Aoi asks as they stop at a bank of vending machines.

“What do you like to drink, Madoka-chan?” Kanna asks as she looks over the various buttons on the face of the vending machine.

“I’ll have a milk-tea,” Madoka replies with a smile.  “Please let me pay for it… um…” Madoka trails off when she realizes she doesn’t have any money on her.  “Um… I’ll pay you back when we get back to class.” She blushes.  Kanna laughs in response to the girl’s awkwardness.

“Don’t worry about it.  It’s for my cute new friend.” She smiles and pushes a 100 yen coin into the coin slot in the machine, followed by a fifty yen coin with its doughnut shape.  She presses the button for a Georgia Milk Tea, and the machine dispenses it.

“You should save those lucky coins for a shrine to pray for good fortune in the upcoming achievement test!”  Madoka protests, too late as the girl squats down carefully to retrieve the milk-tea from the dispenser at the bottom of the vending machine.  The girl hands Madoka the milk tea with a wink and a smile.

“Don’t worry about that, Madoka-chan,” Kanna says dismissively.  “I’ll get more, and we can all go to the local shrine together before the day of testing.  Maybe we should study together too.” She looks up at Aoi, who smiles at her.  “Want a Pocari as usual, Aoi-chan?” she asks.

“Yes, thank you, Kanna-chan,” Aoi responds, smiling.  “Yes, let’s study together.  It will be a little harder for a transfer student to get caught up, but I promise that I’ll be a good tutor.” Aoi smiles confidently at Madoka who blushes, smiling.

“I would like that,” Madoka says happily.  She can’t imagine how she got so lucky  as to have two such lovely girls as her friends on her first day of school.  She was afraid that she would not make any friends due to the sure formation of cliques in the first semester that she missed. Madoka feels very fortunate.

Kanna finishes selecting drinks from the vending machine, always very careful not to flash her panties at any of the now more sparse groups of students passing by on their way to their own homerooms.  Kanna tosses a Pocari Sweat to Aoi, though Aoi hands it to Madoka immediately.

“Hold onto it for me until we get to class, okay?” she asks Madoka, and Madoka nods, smiling in reply.

Kanna selects a root beer for herself, an uncommon but increasingly popular selection in Japanese vending machines.  The three head not much further along with Madoka guiding them, and they come to the firmly closed door of the special elevator that Madoka had permission to use.  Madoka slides the magnetic card free from her skirt pocket, where she had kept it temporarily during gym.  She had taken Takahashi-sensei’s warning and decided not to take her cellphone out of her bag while at school any more often than she must.

The door slides open after a wait, revealing the small elevator interior.  Madoka wheels herself inside as the other two girls examine the interior.  Madoka looks at the other two apologetically.  “I’m sorry.  Takahashi-sensei said that no one else is allowed to ride it with me.  It’s cost-saving, he said.” Madoka smiles.

“It’s okay.  I was just curious,”  Aoi replies, while Kanna pouts a little.

“Who would know?  I bet I could sit in your lap.” Kanna laughs and winks, joking.  

“You would probably break her.” Aoi rolls her eyes as she waves to Madoka and heads away from the elevator.

“Hey! I don’t weigh that much!” Kanna protests, stamping a foot.  She looks back to Madoka with a blush. “See you upstairs, Madoka-chan.” She waves and chases after Aoi.

It takes a minute or so before the door on the second floor opens.  The elevator lurches a little, making Madoka’s already sensitive stomach twinge.  Madoka hurries out, hoping that the elevator doesn’t have any issues.  She wheels herself towards the classroom.  The halls are mostly empty of students at this point, though soon enough they will be full of students cleaning  it.  She sees her friends at the top of the staircase on the way, and the three walk together the rest of the way, Aoi once again taking up a position behind and pushing her.

“You don’t have to do that, Aoi-chan,” Madoka protests, feeling a little like a burden to her new friend.

Aoi smiles in reply.  “I want to do it.  If you don’t want me to do it, though…” she trails off, smiling.

Madoka shakes her head.  “No… I really appreciate it.  I want to do it myself sometimes because it’s the best way to keep building upper body strength, but at times like this when I’m exhausted, I’m just grateful for the help,” she says.

“I’m glad that’s the case,” Aoi replies.  “I hoped I wasn’t being too presumptuous.”

“You are a little pushy,” Kanna teases Aoi.  Aoi  blushes in embarrassment while Kanna and Madoka giggle.

“Really, it’s fine.” Madoka smiles brightly.  The three enter the classroom as the period chime goes off.

“Cutting it a little close, aren’t we, girls?” Takahashi-sensei smiles wryly at the three who blush.

“Sorry, Sensei!” the three say together, bowing, Madoka doing so in her chair, causing her to double herself over.  The class laughs and Ren-sensei smiles at the girls.  

“As long as you beat the chime I guess I have no complaints… but try to be a little faster for your own sakes in the future, okay?” He smiles and turns his attention to the rest of the class.  “Alright, so now we are going to take up where we left off this morning.  Let’s start brainstorming about the festival.”

**.·:*¨¨*:·.**.·:*:·.**.·:*¨¨*:·.**.·:*¨¨*:·.**.·:*:·.**.·:*¨¨*:·.**

The class throws ideas back and forth for a half an hour, and as before, are unable to come to a consensus.  When the final chime rings, Takahashi-sensei dismisses everyone in light of the fact that the class does not yet have a solid project.

“Please make an effort to decide soon; we don’t have very much time, and the longer everyone takes to decide on what to do, the harder it will be to make the deadline,” Ren-sensei admonishes everyone.

Everyone acknowledges his warning and begins tidying the classroom up as he exits the room.  Some students gravitate out into the corridor where they begin their cleanup duties.  Some students sneak away, which happens from time to time.  Those students would be singled out for cleaning duties if they repeatedly snuck out without helping clean up.  Madoka is unable to help with much but she does what she can, helping wipe down surfaces within her reach.  The students in the classroom and outside of it chat quietly as they work together to tidy up their classroom.  The three girls enjoy the drinks they had gotten in the vending machine downstairs, chatting together while they work.

When everything is tidy, everyone gathers up their bag and exits the room.  Some students go on to club rooms while others head home via public transit buses, walking, or rarely via rides from parents.  Students do not have cars, even in high school, and do not drive usually.  It is possible to get a license when you reach the right age, but the expense of having a car and maintaining it versus taking the very accessible and reasonably priced transit system makes having a car the less popular choice.

Aoi and Kanna walk with Madoka as they head back to the elevator that Madoka will use once again to go downstairs. “Do you have a club yet?” Aoi asks as she pushes Madoka’s chair.  “Kanna and I are in the girls’ Kendo Club.  I know you’re not on your feet yet, but when you are, would you be interested in joining us?” Aoi asks.

Kanna looks at Aoi and laughs.  “Ohhhh I see… nice job snagging the new girl, Aoi-chan,” Kanna teases.  Aoi blushes and swats Kanna.

“It’s not like that!” she protests.  “I just thought since we’re all friends now and all, maybe she’d like to join us!” She scowls at Kanna.

Kanna nods.  “Sure, sure… of course,”  she says, hiding her smile behind her hand.  Aoi stares at her for a long moment as the three come to a stop in front of the elevator, and Madoka swipes her card again on the electronic reader.  The door opens and Madoka wheels inside, turning her chair to face them.

“Are you two going to your club, then?” she asks.

“No.  We don’t have club activities until after the festival.  Some do, but we don’t,” Aoi says.  “We’ll walk you out.  See you downstairs.” She waves and heads over to the staircase, Kanna following.  The elevator door closes and Madoka rides it down.  When it comes to a stop, she disembarks and wheels herself towards the front of the school and the shoe lockers.  The other two catch up to her quickly and Aoi resumes pushing her.  They reach the shoe lockers quickly amid a crowd of other students getting their shoes before heading home.

Madoka directs Aoi to her locker and she opens it and fetches out her outdoor shoes.  She quickly, but tiredly slides her feet out of her school shoes, and after polishing them up a little, places them inside the locker, and slips on her outdoor shoes.  Neither are scuffed, really.  They’re both polished and new still.  A hand taps her on the shoulder and she looks up to see Eiji.  Madoka scowls immediately at him, making him wince a little.

“Hey… sorry about your croquette.  I didn’t know it was such a big deal.  I really want to make it up to you sometime,” Eiji says, sounding earnest.  Madoka notices Ippei standing behind Eiji.  He adjusts his glasses and swats Eiji in the back of the head.

“Don’t be pushy, stupid class president,” he says.  Eiji looks back at him, scowling.

“I’m not being pushy!  I just want to make it up to her!” he protests.

“Uh huh…” Kanna smiles with her skeptical expression, hand on her hip.  “She’s exhausted, so maybe you can confess to her another time, useless prez.”  Madoka and Eiji blush, though Madoka looks a little ill.  Aoi scowls at Eiji and Ippei tugs him backwards, giving Aoi room to wheel Madoka out.  The three girls leave the building amid crowds of other students, and the two boys follow them out through the yard of the school and towards the gate.

Madoka immediately notices Kozuke, anxiously waiting by the gate.  He notices her and smiles, seeming to want to walk towards her for a moment, but he stands there instead, waiting after noticing her friends walking with her.  An expression of pride crosses his face.  Madoka points to Kozuke and the two girls and two boys gasp as they change course to go directly to him.

“Kozy!” Madoka grins as Aoi stops her chair in front of him.

“Sugar!  Did you have a good day at school?” he asks, smiling.  “Are these your friends?”

“Yes… these are my friends.” Madoka smiles happily.  “The strong pretty girl behind me is Wada Aoi-chan.  The pretty blonde girl at my side is Tsukimi Kanna-chan.”  Kozuke nods, smiling, taking the girls’ hands, which makes them blush.  He leans down and kisses each of their hands.

“Thank you for taking care of Sugar.  I cannot express how happy I am to see that she has made such fine friends on her first day of school.  Please continue to look after her when I cannot,” he murmurs, smiling.

Kanna blushes and Aoi seems to have a meltdown, squirming a little in reaction.  “Yes. We will,” the girls say together.  Kozuke turns his attention to the two boys behind the girls.

“Are these two not your friends then, Sugar?” he inquires, eyeing them.  Madoka hesitates and looks at them.  

“I think so.  Sugawara-san is a jerk, but Fuyuki-san seems reliable,” Madoka says.  Eiji staggers as though a great blow has been delivered to him, while Ippei bows to Kozuke.

“We aren’t exactly her friends, sir.  Sugawara is just being a pest,” he apologizes for his friend.

“Traitor!” Eiji gasps, balling up a fist.  “You want me to kick your ass?” he whispers under his breath, and the two stare daggers at each other, locking eyes.  Aoi and Kanna step back from them.

“Try it, useless class president,” Ippei says calmly, and the two face each other down.

“I think it’s time to be on our way, Sugar,” Kozuke interrupts the byplay, smiling humorously.  “Can I offer you two ladies a ride to your homes?” he inquires solicitously.  Aoi nods eagerly, smiling.  Kanna shrugs and grins.

“Sure.” she says.

“What about us?” Eiji protests.  Ippei jams his elbow into Eiji’s side, making him grunt.

“I guess it’s not fair to leave them out,” Madoka suggests, finally, feeling bad for the two.  It wasn’t too long ago that she might have been in their position, and she empathizes with them.

Eiji grins brightly, seeming on the point of hugging Madoka.  A dark look from Kozuke, like that of a protective and doting father, causes him to freeze in place.  To Madoka, it’s like Eiji is literally frozen solid for a split second.

“Alright,” Kozuke allows.  “Everyone who is coming, come along, and behave yourselves,” he says sternly, leading the party of youths to the van he had used to take Madoka to school this morning.  He motions to help Madoka up into the passenger seat on the left side as he had this morning, but Madoka pauses.

“Um… can I sit in the back with my girlfriends, Kozy?” she asks.  Kozuke smiles warmly and nods.

“Yes, I think that would be a wonderful idea.”  His eyes fall on Eiji again, and he directs him to take the passenger seat wordlessly.  Eiji blinks and slides up into the seat.  Kozuke nods to himself and helps Madoka into the second row of seats.  The other two girls sit to either side of her.  He directs Ippei to seat himself in the back row of seats, which he does with a silent nod.

In minutes Kozuke has the chair loaded up on the back of the van and sets off.  He eyes Eiji occasionally, making it clear that the reason he is sitting up front is so that he can keep an eye on the muscular boy.  Eiji doesn’t protest, though he awkwardly tries to engage Madoka in conversation, finding to his dismay that the girls are happily chatting together and altogether ignoring his existence.  When Kozuke pulls up to his house first, which happens to be probably the house the farthest away of all the students’ except perhaps Madoka herself, he exits the van with a defeated expression on his face.

Kozuke next drops off Ippei, who rides quietly in the back.  Ippei bows to the van after disembarking. “Thank you for the ride!” he exclaims earnestly and loudly.

“Bye shadow-prez!” Kanna waves.  The three girls smile at him and he waves politely before walking to the apartment building that he lives in.  It is a somewhat old-looking building, but otherwise nice.  Next Kozuke drops off Kanna who lives in a similar apartment complex not too far away.  Kanna impulsively hugs Madoka who blushes in response and waves to her cute twin-tailed friend as she exits the van and trots over to her building.  They drop Aoi off last.  She lives in a well-kept traditional Japanese house on the outskirts of Tsukuba, close to where the city ends and farmlands begin.  Aoi takes Madoka’s hand and squeezes it, smiling at her, and Madoka smiles back, her heart beating quickly.  The contact with Aoi’s soft hand feels really nice, and she finds herself hoping that Aoi will hug her like Kanna had.  That was a great experience.  She thinks about how the girl’s chest had felt squishing up against hers as she had spontaneously hugged her.

Aoi doesn’t hug her, however, choosing to keep their contact more modest.  Madoka watches her go with a sigh of regret and a little loneliness.  She could never have imagined how fulfilling a relationship with girls could be.  She daydreams a little as Kozuke pulls forward, taking them back home to the mansion.

“You look really happy,” Kozuke remarks warmly after studying Madoka in the rear-view mirror for a time.

Madoka blinks and looks at Kozuke, smiling and nodding.  “I am happy,” she replies.

**.·:*¨¨*:·.**.·:*:·.**.·:*¨¨*:·.**.·:*¨¨*:·.**.·:*:·.**.·:*¨¨*:·.**

When they arrive home, Madoka is wheeled inside.  Midoriyama waits for her in the foyer, smiling warmly at her.  “Did you have fun?” she asks.  Madoka nods in reply, blushing and smiling.

“Oh… did you find a boyfriend already?” she grins broadly at the embarrassed girl.

“NO!” Madoka blushes, protesting vehemently.

Midoriyama blinks, taken aback by how forceful her reaction had been.  “What’s got you so embarrassed, then?” she asks.

“I… I made some friends…” Madoka squirms cutely, blushing still.

“That’s wonderful!”  Midoriyama smiles, taking the girl’s hand and squeezing it.  “Onee-chan is so happy for you, Sugar!” she exclaims, grinning.

Madoka nods happily, and a twinge in her stomach makes her remember that making friends wasn’t all that had happened to her today.  She touches her stomach, rubbing it a little with a little sigh.

“Are you alright?” Midoriyama notices, and Madoka hesitates but finally gestures with her index finger for Midoriyama to lean forward.

“I’m… having my period,” she says in a soft whisper, deliberately not looking at Kozuke who has been standing by with a smile, though he frowns a little when the two women look at him as though he’s too close.  Kozuke looks away, his brow wrinkling a little.

“I see,” Midoriyama says seriously.  “We’ll have to make sure you have pads and tampons,” she whispers to Madoka, who blushes profusely in response.

“Um… I don’t know how to use… the tampon things… don’t they go inside… you?” she asks.  Midoriyama looks at the girl, frowning slightly.

“You’ve never used them before?  Well, I suppose that’s not too out of the ordinary.”  She hesitates a moment and finally whispers: “I’ll show you how to put one in.”  She straightens and looks at Kozuke.

“I’m going to take Madoka to get into something more comfortable… Kozy, can you finish up dinner?” she asks Kozuke.

“What?  But I…” Kozuke protests.

“Everything is ready, more or less.  You won’t have to do any cooking… you just need to plate things,” Midoriyama adds quickly, reassuring the butler.

Kozuke nods, seeming relieved.  “Of course, Midoriyama.”  He nods and smiles at Madoka before stepping through the foyer, into the dining room, and towards the kitchen.

Meanwhile, Midoriyama escorts Madoka into her bedroom.  It is unusual for Midoriyama to help her undress, but the maid does it with all the grace that the butler does, though she acted more like an older sister.

“You’re really well developed so far,” Midoriyama comments when she helps Madoka out of her school uniform.  Madoka blushes brightly, looking away.  It’s not as though she grew  them naturally.  Why should she be proud of them?

Midoriyama smiles at the cute reaction and resumes aiding the girl in her disrobing.  When she is down to her underwear, Midoriyama carefully hangs up the girl’s uniform so that it won’t wrinkle, and then wheels the girl into the bathroom. She then quickly ducks out of her room, leaving her alone for ten minutes, with nothing else to do, really, except examine herself in the mirror. Madoka is curious.  She’s  had the opportunity to look at herself previously, but she ignored her reflection steadfastly, a part of her perhaps not wanting to accept the reality of her situation.

She examines herself, trailing her fingers over her skin.  Her hair is still up in its cute ribbon and the definition of the muscle she has been putting on lately makes her look a lot less like Sadako from The Ring and more like a traditional Japanese beauty.  She studies her reflection in its cute pink bra and panty set Kozuke had chosen out for her this morning, and feels her heart start to race. Her skin flushes prettily and she feels the already humid sensations between her legs that she has had to deal with all day intensify slightly.  She looks away, clearing her mind.  Her chest feels a little tighter and her nipples feel stiff in a way that she really isn’t at all familiar with.  Midoriyama saves her from these awkward feelings by re-entering the bathroom.  She studies the girl for a moment, but doesn’t say anything as she sets a box of tampons down on the nearby countertop.

For the next fifteen minutes, she shows Madoka how to use a tampon applicator.  It takes time, but Madoka is able to insert a tampon herself, with much blushing and some awkwardness.  When finished, Midoriyama hugs Madoka reassuringly, and Madoka smiles, feeling comforted by the embrace rather than aroused as when Kanna had hugged her.  Is this what it’s like when a mother teaches her daughter these things? Madoka thinks, wonderingly.

**.·:*¨¨*:·.**.·:*:·.**.·:*¨¨*:·.**.·:*¨¨*:·.**.·:*:·.**.·:*¨¨*:·.**

The four sit down for dinner that night.  Master Yoshi doesn’t say much, inquiring a time or two about her day at school, but otherwise seeming largely disinterested.  Madoka still talks about it and in her eagerness she lets slip about her visit to the nurses’ office.

Master Yoshi immediately starts paying attention at that point.  “Why did you go to the nurses' office on your first day?  Are you feeling sick?  You need to tell me about it when you’re not feeling well,” he says firmly.

Madoka blinks and blushes, hedging and evading at first, but finally she admits the truth in a small voice, ears burning.  “M-my period started today,” she says.

Kozuke’s eyes widen and he stares at the girl, his expression that of puzzled understanding.  Master Yoshi grins broadly, seeming extremely happy about Madoka’s admission.  Midoriyama studies the two men, equally puzzled, and embarrassed for Madoka.

Finally, overcome with feelings of humiliation, Madoka grits her teeth. “Why do I have to go through this, you old idiot?  I’m a boy!  I shouldn’t have to deal with things like this!” She starts sniffling, feeling tears leaking down her cheeks.  For some reason she feels so suddenly angry and emotional!

Master Yoshi stiffens and glares at the crying girl.  “I told you… I didn’t know!  Stop blaming me.  If I’m going to do a thing properly, however, I will do it as completely and properly as I can.  When I decided you were a girl, I went about fixing everything that would normally be in a girl’s body.  Do you have any idea the intricate and extensive work involved?  It took a year to make sure that your body wouldn’t reject the donor organs and would heal up properly.  The whole process was messy and entirely not worth it for such an ungrateful child.” He scowls at the girl.

“What?”  Midoriyama, who has only recently been joining them for their meals, mostly due to Madoka’s urging, blinks.  “What’s this?  I knew that Sugar was the victim in an accident, but you’re telling me she used to be a boy?” she gasps, staring at Madoka.

Kozuke sighs at the back and forth argument between the two, seeming worried.  Master Yoshi scowls at Midoriyama now.  “It was on a need to know basis… and I myself didn’t find out until half a year ago for sure. I had some doubts as I was performing surgery, but…” He scowls even more deeply.  “I don’t have to explain myself to you.  You forget your position, Midoriyama,” he growls sternly.  “Keep this up and I won’t allow you to join my daughter and I for dinner any longer.  You are the help, understand?” He glares at her.

Midoriyama blinks, taken aback.  She stands up quickly, her expression firey.  “I don’t do it for your sake.  I do it for hers.” She points to Madoka, who squirms and bites her lip.  

Oh no, what have I done?  She really didn’t know? Madoka wrings her hands in anxiety as she watches the two.

“She doesn't need you.  I’m her family.   You’re just a useless flirty maid who lives to make trouble for me,” Master Yoshi growls.

Midoriyama scowls back at Master Yoshi.  “What kind of trouble do you mean?  This kind?”  She stamps over to him and practically shoves her generous breasts in his face.  He holds his hands up to ward her away and looks away.

“Stop that!”  he growls.  Kozuke stands, seeming at a loss for what to do.

“Master, Midoriyama… please come to your senses,”  he protests.  Midoriyama chases Master Yoshi into a corner, shaking her breasts at the man, the two yelling back and forth.  Finally, Kozuke steps forward and puts a hand in between them.  After a moment’s hesitation, Midoriyama steps away.  The master immediately gets to his feet, pushing Kozuke’s hands away.

“You’re FIRED, Midoriyama!” he growls.  “I expect you to be out of my home this very night.” He glares, stomping out of the dining room.

Madoka watches, her expression awed.  “Master, please wait!”  Madoka calls after him, too late.  

Kozuke sighs, sinking down into a chair, stunned. “Midoriyama… you took it too far this time.” Kozuke shakes his head.

“I just can’t forgive him for what he did to Sugar.” Midoriyama wrings her hands, pacing in circles, and finally stops in front of Kozuke.  It is obvious to Madoka and Kozuke that she is regretting her actions a little, but is determined to stick to her guns.

“Can you?  How can you just placidly accept it?  She’s such a sweet child… I never even suspected it, even though you two had me teaching her things that she should have already known.  I had thought this situation was pretty strange, but I had no idea just how bizarre it really was!” She points a finger at Kozuke accusingly who sighs, head in hands.

Madoka sniffles and cries, feeling more helpless than ever in this situation.  It’s as though her small happy new family is breaking apart right before her eyes.

“Please don’t go, Midor--Onee-chan… please… I need you,” Madoka sniffles.  Midoriyama pauses in her poking of Kozuke’s chest, her attention immediately on Madoka.  It is clear that the girl’s forlorn cry wrings at her heart as much as being called Onee-chan by her does.

“Oh, Sugar…” she says softly, soothingly as she caresses the girl’s hair and pulls her against her chest.  “Oh, dear… I messed up badly.  I’m sorry,” she breathes.  “You’re such a good girl.” She squeezes Madoka.  Madoka feels hot tears land on her head as the older woman holds her tenderly.

Kozuke stands after a while, his expression resolute.  “I will do what I can.  Sugar needs you, I think.  She has no feminine role models, and while I don’t approve of your unprofessional attitude, I must do something,” he says.

“You just don’t want to have to cook when I leave,” Midoriyama says, her expression slightly teasing, and slightly deadpan.

Kozuke winces, the truth of her words expressed on his face far more eloquently than words could do.  “Thank you, Kozy… I don't think it will do much good at this point, but…” Midoriyama smiles gratefully at him, holding the still sniffling girl to her.

Kozuke nods and exits the room, seemingly preparing for battle.

**.·:*¨¨*:·.**.·:*:·.**.·:*¨¨*:·.**.·:*¨¨*:·.**.·:*:·.**.·:*¨¨*:·.**

“Master, we must have a discussion about Midoriyama.”  He knocks on the door to the master’s bedchambers, which annoyingly are locked tightly at the moment.  No reply is forthcoming when Kozuke waits a minute or two.

“Master.  Please be reasonable. I know that what Midoriyama did was unconscionable, but we knew how… unorthodox… she was when we hired her on.  Her actions notwithstanding, we still very much need her.  Madoka needs a mother figure,” Kozuke calls through the door.

“You seem to do a good job of mothering her, Kozuke,” the master finally replies, his tone crabby.  “Maybe I should give you a sex change too,”  he adds.

Kozuke blinks and laughs.  “Oh… your sense of humor is… quite sharp as usual, Master.” Kozuke laughs.  “Humor aside, we both know what my cooking is like.  I would venture to say that the inconvenience of finding another maid of Midoriyama’s expertise greatly outweighs the inconvenience of keeping her on.  The lunch she prepared for Sugar was positively adorable.  She put her heart into it,”  Kozuke says.  Midoriyama had meticulously shaped the rice into a heart shape, and all the other little touches she had added to the lunch had impressed Kozuke.  He was sure that he could not come anywhere near the level of mastery that she had displayed in making cute lunches.

“Eh… it’s edible,” Master Yoshi huffs through the door, indicating his unwillingness to cooperate.

“Ahaha… it seems that you have forgotten.  Shall I remind you by preparing you a special snack tonight?” Kozuke tries. He didn’t like threatening the Master, but he was getting desperate at this point.

“I’m not hungry anymore.  That woman killed my appetite!” Master Yoshi pouts through the door.

Kozuke continues to knock on the door, and attempts what are, in his mind, much weaker arguments for keeping Midoriyama on staff.  Finally, Kozuke sighs, head against the door.

**.·:*¨¨*:·.**.·:*:·.**.·:*¨¨*:·.**.·:*¨¨*:·.**.·:*:·.**.·:*¨¨*:·.**

Midoriyama, tears in her eyes, pulls a large suitcase through the foyer of the mansion.  Madoka watches from her bedroom at the end of the right wing of the house, and finally wheels forward.  Her arms and body are exhausted and tears are streaming down her cheeks, but she wheels herself hurriedly forward in a desperate bid to catch Midoriyama and keep her from leaving.  Midoriyama pauses a moment, her eyes emotional as she sees the girl frantically and clumsily wheeling towards her.  She bites her lip resolutely and exits through the front door, closing it firmly behind her.  She hurriedly rolls her suitcase down the path towards the road approaching the house, her expression forced and stiff, even while her heart breaks.

She is resolute, however.  She cannot agree with what Master Yoshi has done to Madoka.  She cannot support it.  In a way, staying at the mansion and aiding him would be like tacitly approving or accepting it.  She isn’t sure she can even forgive Kozuke, though she knows he means well and loves the girl dearly.  No one cared for her more tenderly while she was  comatose than he, and he still continues  to tenderly care for her.  She hears the door open behind her and the forlorn wail of the girl, but she hesitates only a moment before pressing on, almost in a run down the road leading up to the mansion, to the nearby highway, and the bus stop that awaits.  If she hurries, she can make it in time for the last bus of the evening.  Otherwise, it would be a long wait through the night… or asking Kozuke for a ride, which she does not want to do.

<center>**.·:*¨¨*:·.**.·:*:·.**.·:*¨¨*:·.**.·:*¨¨*:·.**.·:*:·.**.·:*¨¨*:·.**
</center>

Mature Content

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<center>/^(o.o)^\ /^(o.o)^\ /^(o.o)^\ /^(o.o)^\ /^(o.o)^\ /^(o.o)^\
Saving Face
Part Seven: Facelift
\ /^(o.o)^\ /^(o.o)^\ /^(o.o)^\ /^(o.o)^\ /</center>

I see another horrifying visage. The same officer is still on duty, and he’s watching the passageway. When my eyes meet his, he stares at me, stunned, and turns to look towards Rui.  “Father, my ass!” he barks loudly.

“Oh crap… that cover story isn’t going to fly anymore.  Oh, it’s a good thing I thought ahead…” Rui chuckles nervously as the policeman rushes forward, lifting his baton.

“Stand down! You have questions to answer! Your lies are unbelievable! Have you been tricking and pranking this station all day? I recognize your form, but not that face!  Do you get kicks preying on the fear of passengers here? The rumors of the noh face that has been spotted around here have fanned the flame of the passengers’ fear!  They’ve been hiding their faces routinely for the last week! Some days they don’t even come here! The level of fear has risen to ridiculous levels!” he barks as he stops before us. He removes two pairs of cuffs from his belt.  “Turn and assume a submission posture or I will subdue you!” he orders. I gasp and turn, putting my arms behind me, chewing my lip. I look to Rui and give her a Run! look.

“Oh, don’t worry.” Rui winks at me.  “Ume has our butts covered! Trust me!” she cackles cutely.  Suddenly, as the officer seizes my wrists to cuff them, a burst of smoke explodes around us.

The officer yells loudly, cursing as all around us forms dart about quickly. Capes flutter in the smoky air. I cough and gasp for breath as hands seize my arms and pull me away for a distance.  Then there’s a familiar face right in front of me.  Ume! She winks at me and flashes her fangs, twirling her hair around her finger, and she wields a brush liberally on my face, painting it with unnatural hyper-speed.  My clothes are ripped quickly from my body with unnatural strength.  I stand in a daze as new clothes are fitted on me.  When the smoke clears, I look towards Rui and immediately notice that she looks like a goth lolita vampire with complete fangs.  I can barely recognize her!

She grins at me and flashes her fake fangs, perhaps in imitation of Ume’s manner; unable to resist, I grin widely at her, flashing my own at her.  I barely noticed them slipping them into my mouth!  I look down at myself and turn red from head to toes. They’ve dressed me in a similar dress. It doesn’t suit me. I’m a man and I’m taller than Rui, but they actually put me in a dress! I have a flat chest!  I scream, and my voice actually sounds convincing.  Ume hushes me, putting a finger over her luscious lips as they spread with mirth. A large group of vampires gather around to mill around us and Ume pulls us after her through the platform. The policeman stares towards the crowd of vampires, gaping.  We blend in perfectly with the others! It’s like we’re a part of some Halloween party group bound somewhere. Other vampires I see dressed up like classic Dracula or Grandpa Munster.  Others are going as animesque vampire characters.  I cover my mouth to suppress uncontrollable laughter.

We’re escorted through the ticket stands. Another police officer watches us as we pass through and blinks, shaking his head. He sighs visibly about young people.

Ume sees us out of the station into the cool moonlight. As I gaze upwards, I notice that the moon is full, ironically.  She looks to us and suddenly I feel myself seized with Rui in a group hug by her.

“You’re looking so much better now.  I’m so happy for you!  Have a wonderful night!” she cheerily wishes me.  She leans towards my ear. “If you ever want to try the vampire life, since noh face doesn’t suit you, you can look me up. I’d love to have a nibble.” She punctuates it with a nibble of my ear. I blush and stare at her with wide eyes, but she doesn’t actually draw much blood.  She winks and blows a kiss at me as she walks over to the waiting group of vampires who rescued us in the station. They bow or curtsy towards us with flourish, and I can’t help laughing aloud, delighted as I return the bow with considerably less grace.  Rui tugs me along afterwards and she winks at Ume as she waves her goodnight. We hurry then many blocks towards my apartment.  Rui escorts me there the whole way for some peculiar reason that I am unable to fathom.

When we arrive outside my apartment building, I look at her, and honestly I can’t restrain tears of joy, floored by how kind and wonderful she really has been to me lately. No matter her earlier attitude, she stuck it out with me and in the end resolved the situation. Thanks to her I will not be a yokai, as far as I am aware. Because of her efforts, I am no longer a noh face!

“Thank you so much, Rui… I can’t thank you more for what you’ve done for me today. This has been a truly memorable day.” I smile warmly at her. “What do I owe you? Oh, a kiss from a girl.  I don’t know any anymore.  There was an amazingly beautiful girl that I grew up with and she won my heart and I adored her, but she didn’t love me back. She killed herself, and…” I cry softly, sniffling. Rui reaches out and comfortingly hugs me.

“Oh, no… you’ve been all alone dealing with that… and being the victim of a wayward yokai. I’m so sad to hear that someone you cared deeply for died,” she empathizes. An Oni? She’s a complete angel! How could I ever think poorly of Rui-chan… I love how amazing she is…

“Hmmmm… it’s sad that you don’t know someone who would be willing to pay for your services. That would normally be a dealbreaker here, but the way you’re looking tonight makes me feel silly. My brain goes fuzzy and my knees wobble… so let’s call it even now…” She pulls my face down and suddenly seizes my lips hungrily with hers. I stiffen, and then I melt, turning into jello when she kisses me so passionately out of the blue.  I have never been kissed in my whole life.  My first kiss is Rui’s? I blush, unable to think clearly.  It feels like an hour later when she finally breaks the kiss. Afterwards, I lose my strength entirely. I collapse to my knees right in the street before my apartment building.  I peer upwards to her face and gasp for breath for a few moments, feeling glad that the makeup Rui applied to my face hides my blush. Seeming to be aware despite it, Rui smiles warmly at me.

“I know you’re a man, but you trigger me like this… so I had a delightful idea.  I’ll be back by your place in the morning with a present for you.  I think you need something special to show you the way to move forward with your life. It’s not the end of your life, only the beginning, Susumu.  That is the meaning of your name, isn’t it? Progress! Moving forward step by step!” she says encouragingly. “You lost someone special to you, but you do have the strength to keep going. Believe in yourself!  I believe in you.  See you soon.” She winks at me and trots away, looking happier than I’ve ever seen her.  

She skips like a young girl, looking ridiculously happy to have kissed me even though I’m a man.  I blush and squirm in a very unmanly way as I watch her go.  When she’s gone, it occurs to me that I should walk her home. Oh, Kami… am I the girl in a relationship now?  But that’s getting way ahead of myself. Why would a lesbian ever care for a guy like me? Anyhow… I reach down and touch myself to reassure myself that nothing has changed. I sigh, comforted by the proof of existence of my manhood down under the dress. Surely the vampires must have seen it briefly. I was naked in a station for a moment, really? I scream in a very unmanly way as I realize that fact.  I’m relieved, but is it really a good thing? If Rui might be interested in me, she wouldn’t be happy to find a penis in my underwear. I laugh.

I climb to my feet and dust off the goth dress as I chew my lip. I quickly climb up the stairs to the second floor and my apartment door.  I fidget at my door when I realize that the vampires destroyed my clothes.  I now have a costume I never would have purchased, for sure!  Oh, but maybe I should return it to Ume. I’m certain that it is worth a lot!  

When it dawns on me that I’m missing something important, I scream aloud.“My keys!” I desperately paw at my body all over.. I find a hidden pocket in the skirt and discover my possessions tucked inside.

“My wallet, phone, and my keys!” I gasp aloud.  Wait… Rui doesn't have my number, but she has my address… I guess that’s fine?

I open my door to stumble inside, locking the door behind me, and sigh in relief as I finally relax, back in my home. The apartment is cramped, but I feel safe here. I wonder if I’ve developed a complex from my experiences recently? My world has become a unsteady and truly frightening place in a single day, but on a positive note, maybe I’ve also found… love?

I walk into my wash closet to clean off the makeup. I scrub the layers of black and white makeup they’d used to give me that classic ghastly pallor.  I use a towel to finish off cleaning my face. I finally spit out the fake fangs in my mouth, and set them down on the sink. I finally look at myself in the mirror; my face is red from scrubbing and cleaning, but I can see it clearly now and experience the worst shock of the entire day, believe it or not.

“R-Reiko-chan…” I gasp aloud as my eyes open widely.  Tears start flowing from my eyes, and I can’t stop them.  I touch my neck as I notice that my Adam’s apple is gone. This hairline is hers, the face is hers, everything from the neck up is hers, not counting my hair and my mind.  Unable to bear the irony of the situation, I fall to my knees, crying aloud. How can I work like this?  I’m strange now.  What can I do? What kind of a future do I have? Oh Reiko-chan, I’m so sorry for you.  Oh, Rui… What now?

<center>\ /^(o.o)^\ /^(o.o)^\ /^(o.o)^\ /^(o.o)^\ /
Susumu and Rui will return in the TGS Halloween mixed tape… for a short aftermath story... In additional, links will be provided to it on my page when I know where it is.
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Saving Face
Part Six: Palefaced
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“Look… I’m beautifullll…” it slurs at me. “Why are you in my home? Get out, you are not… weeerrrrrrrrrrllllcommmeeeee…” it moans out.  Its voice is my voice!  It’s like I’m speaking to myself! I lift my phone and shine the flashlight on it, revealing my face on its dark form. It grimaces at me and flinches for a moment before darting forward with the crowbar held up. “Like me… get your own collection… out, </i>ouuuuutttttttt</i>!” it rages at me, and I roll back and forth to avoid its frantic strikes.  I roll up against the wall, seeing the faces above me.  They terrify me even more!  I climb to my feet as I prepare to run.  Nohface strikes at me again, and I have to weave, stumbling from side to side as I back myself into a corner of the room.  I see the faces turn towards me in the darkness at that moment and I scream as Nohface brandishes the crowbar towards me.

As it lifts the crowbar to deal a probably lethal blow, it staggers as its own head is struck.  It screams and wails, turning towards Rui, who has blood dripping down the side of her face. She wields the umbrella like a sword, menacing the noh face with it with aplomb. She wobbles on her feet, and it capitalizes on the situation, retaliating.  Rui blocks its strikes with the umbrella hastily, but it buckles and bends under its repeated furious attacks.

I stare at them for a long moment. With a wail, I rush forward amidst the floating faces and tackle the noh face.  It snarls and moans piteously as we hit the ground. We roll violently across the floor as it starts struggling and striking at me.  I fight it like I haven’t fought anyone since my youth.  Hatred for this creature consumes me as we grapple. The crowbar falls to the floor clattering as we fight, rolling from one side to the other. It moans piteously with my voice as though I’m fighting myself. An insane version of myself!

“Be careful, Susumu!” Rui cries out loudly, sounding unbelievably worried for my wellbeing.  When did the oni come to care for me? Would she mind if I were to die, here? I wonder as I throw and fight the noh face. I grasp for the crowbar and suddenly the darkness starts diminishing.  I begin to feel strange. I can see suddenly as though it’s daylight.  I seize the crowbar and whale on it like it whaled on me with it; it flinches, dodges and flees.

“Noooo, nooooooo! Mine!!!” the noh face screams at me, trying to close on me, but I wildly wield the crowbar.

“No! Mine! My face! You’ve stolen it! It’s mine! Give my face back! Now!” I scream out loudly, and the words I babble out stun me. What now… is a change? What time… how much… I think, and all I can do is continue harassing the noh face with the crowbar. I chase it out of the room, shrieking and yelling incomprehensibly.  It yells back at me, equally unintelligible.  It desperately bolts forward, ignoring my wild flailing of the crowbar. With savage intent, it knocks the crowbar from my hands and I wail as it closes on me and grapples with me. It throws me fiercely; as I fly, I grab hold of it and my momentum wrenches it back to the pavement. We jostle and wrestle madly and shortly fall a short distance to a hard lumpy surface.  I groan and continue to wrestle with the noh face, ignorant of the situation.  I regain a measure of clarity when I hear a strange noise that is yet hauntingly familiar. What’s that sound? I try to remember it.

Susumu! Hurry! Get off of the tracks!  Look!  The train is going to hit you! Please come back to yourself! You’re losing your mind! Don’t let the transformation take your mind from you. You still have five minutes!” Rui cries out, her voice echoing loudly in the tunnel.  I gasp and cry out a response.  “Five minutes… only five minutes to be human!” I sob.

I see the train barreling down on me along the tunnel. I look towards the noh face, and as it moves to attack me, I score a heavy blow on its face. No, my face.  It wails annoyingly as I jump from the tracks and scramble to safety. The noh face scrabbles at the ground amidst the tracks as it mindlessly yells and shrieks. I look down towards it with satisfaction in my heart, knowing what will happen to it. Then I realize what will happen to its face. My ugly face! It finally notices its danger and an expression of terror comes across my face.  I gasp; reacting by instinct, I reach down towards it and madly gesture. “Take my HAND!” I scream at it.

It stares at me for a moment that seems to stretch out. I see my mouth open gape with an expression of idiocy that I could not have imagined my face to be capable of expressing.  In the last moment, it reaches out and takes my hand, and I haul it free from the tracks with a grunt and a grimace.  I moan with the effort.  The train roars past us a split second later, its horn blaring at us as we collapse to the ground beside it.

“Nearly DEADso a BAD… such a bad… to be the hunted… the feeling!  I KNOW it!  You terrrrrrrrfffffffyyyy meeeeee!” it wails.

I terrify YOU? Really? Who is the monster here? What a strange creature this noh face is! I wonder at its odd behavior, and rue the fact that I was reduced to that myself in my excitement. I look at it with a no-expression of terror myself. Will I succumb to it again? It’s almost… isn’t it?

“Susumu saved you, fool yokai!  Be grateful!  I’ve never seen such bizarre...  mindless... selfless... kindness.  I can’t believe you.” Rui bends down to pat my head and I gasp as sweat and blood leaks from my head.

“Noh face… give me my face… quickly… now… I don’t want to be… like you. Please,” I plead. The noh face climbs to its feet and stares at me blankly with my face. It nods and actually smiles as it dashes into its lair, making gleeful noises.  I find my cellphone on the ground as I cast my eyes around, still able to see everything clearly. I wince as the screen comes on and blinds me a moment, but I look at the clock and see that I only have one minute left to be human.  I hear its feet slap the pavement as it rushes back, screaming gleefully.

“I LIKE you… no fear now… I will not hunt anymore for faces… take my favorite pretty thing… is my thanksness to youuuuuu,” it moans, and makes a gesture to throw something at me. It flies at me and strikes me, bowling me over.  I gasp and nearly pass out due to the pain and shock. I open my mouth and lick my lips and I wonder that I have lips and a tongue again.  I reach up to touch my face and I exclaim finding simultaneously that the voice is not mine while the face feels subtly different.  The voice that I hear that issues from my throat doesn’t match up with the one in my mind.  It’s incredibly disturbing.  Rui closes the distance between us and places a hand on my shoulder as she shines her flashlight on me.

“Oh… Susumu! You were gorgeous!  You didn’t tell me!” Rui gushes as she crouches in front of me. She’s only faintly illuminated by her screen, but I think she’s actually blushing.  I stare at her, stunned by her words and manner.  She’s never looked at me like that before!  She hates me, she can’t stand me. Why has she warmed up to me suddenly? I cast my eyes around me as it finally dawns on me that everything is pitch dark around us again except for what the flashlight function illuminates. It occurs to me that at this point I don’t see the noh face.  Rui looks around with me and shines her flashlight around us.

“Where did the noh face go?” she asks as she stands again and paces around, searching. She checks the room and shines the light around it. “The faces are gone… what has it done with them?” she asks, pondering.

I watch her with a sigh, crying tears of joy that I’m alright, but I also cry for those people who lost their faces forever. I wonder what the other victims will do? Maybe they will do what I thought to do.  I was going to throw myself from just any building at hand, but ideally, I would have preferred that it be the same one Reiko-chan threw herself from. I climb to my feet as I rub my head where the noh face first hit me.  Rui rushes back to my side and smiles warmly.

“Well, we should get out of here to your home, Susumu.  It’s been overwhelming, I know!  But gosh, you’re so beautiful!” she giggles as she gushes. “I’m so happy for you. Come on!” She takes my hand and leads me away. I look down at her, watching her acting so cute and happy.  I can’t think of her as an oni anymore now that she’s showing me her kind side.  Maybe it’s karma? I muse.

“Yes… you’re amazing, Rui!  Oh.. sorry… you called me by my name, so I automatically… I’m so sorry.” I bow to her as we go back the way we came.  She looks towards at me in the darkness and giggles at me.

“It’s fine. Thank you for complimenting me!  I’m pleased that I was able to help you regain your face.  Don’t worry about my payment right away.  You need plenty of rest. I’ll come see you in the morning. Can you give me your address, and your phone number? I’m concerned for your wellbeing now, so I suppose we can be friends,” she says.  I smile, touched by her words, and laugh softly.

“I… I would like that. You helped me so much, Rui.  I hope I never see another yokai ever again for my entire life,” I assert and blink again, touching my cheek, wondering at how my voice sounds. Something hauntingly familiar about the voice catches my heart.  I wipe tears from my eyes as we break out into the light of the station and vault over the chained-off area again.

/^(o.o)^\ /^(o.o)^\ /^(o.o)^\ /^(o.o)^\ /^(o.o)^\ /^(o.o)^\
Saving Face | Part Six: Palefaced
Susumu faces his fate when it seems to be full only with darkness.

Good morning, everyone! :D  I'm getting the remainder of the seven pieces of my novelette up today and the final up on Wednesday! When I get the url for the mixtape project this month we're doing together, I will post a URL at the bottom of Chapter Seven, and I will put a post up on my DeviantArt page to direct people to the epilogue!
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<center>/^(o.o)^\ /^(o.o)^\ /^(o.o)^\ /^(o.o)^\ /^(o.o)^\ /^(o.o)^\
Saving Face
Part Five: Effacement
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“You turn into a rude person when you freak out.  Have some faith in me. I’m looking out for you now, you know.  Shut up, idiot.” She lifts the umbrella and brings it down on my head gently. Afterwards she lowers it and strikes the wall before us low where it meets the ground.  Amazingly, there’s a poof; the wall disappears and a man takes its place. I stare at him. His build looks burly and he has a long semi-puffy tail, and he has fluffy oval shaped ears.  His eyes glow faintly.  He has black and brown hair that seems peculiarly spotted, possesses thick lips and classic African features, but not they’re not exaggerated the way they’re portrayed in anime and manga. Akuchi wears a tee shirt with a hoodie over it despite the warmth. He wears something with a pattern on it that looks exotic and seems to be a skirt-like garment. I think about a name for it that is more manly. A kilt maybe? But is that what he calls it? I don’t want to ask. Or is it a real skirt?

He looks at Rui with a grin. “Nice to see you again, little one.  I didn’t fool you at all, it seems.” He laughs merilly. I examine him further and try to gape. Is he African? Is he black? What is he exactly? A bear? A cat? I don’t often see those of that race, could he be a tanuki?  I stare at Rui, who grins back at him.

“Akuchi, of course I’m wise to your tricks.  Don’t waste any time. I explained it by phone. I played your little game, so follow me.  You know the rules.” She waggles a finger at Akuchi.  He grins broadly at Rui.

“Of course, little one.  I’m always your steadfast companion.  Show the way, and I will help you, but I am concerned… I don’t have the skill to hide my appearance… I can become invisible, but it could be awkward. I might sneak away.” He grins.

“Don’t worry about it, Akuchi.  It’s Halloween; pretty soon you’ll fit in perfectly.” Rui winks at Akuchi and he chuckles.

“This western holiday. It has caught on here, I see?” He grins.

“With younger people, mostly,” Rui comments and pulls Akuchi. We follow Rui; passersby stare at Akuchi, of course, and myself as well. We look a strange group.

We walk for the mile again returning to the station, and I’m wilting at the end. Am I thirsty? Hungry? Do I need sleep? What kind of an existence do I have? Along the way, I notice that groups of young people walk together in cosplay or costumes, now that it’s late in the night.

We make our way down into the station again. We rest on the staircase and when the people around peter out a bit, Rui turns to Akuchi. “Do your magic for us. Like I said, we need to be invisible,” she says.

“Invisible?” I ask.

Akuchi nods and looks at me with a big grin. “It’s my trick.  But it doesn’t last long on mortals. You have fifteen minutes to get where you need, and don’t bump into anyone. Good luck!” He grins and digs into his skirt, or kilt.

Does that mean I’m mortal still?  Wait… where did he pull those leaves from? My thoughts are interrupted when he slaps them onto our foreheads.  Rui doesn’t bat an eyelash, but she becomes transparent to my eyes and pulls me quickly along. I scream mentally, wondering where those leaves have been. She rushes me down into the station and we vault over the ticket-taking stands.  I run after her, panting, and start sweating profusely again.  It makes me remember my desperate flight from this station. Ironic!

We make our way through the sparse crowd in the platform back to the chain-blocked passageway; she vaults over it as well, and I follow her, stunned at how fearless she is. She plunges into the darkness of the tunnel, only dimly lit once in a while.  I follow her, stumbling as we run through the darkness. I feel the leaf drop from my forehead after a short time in the passageway and scream as a train blows past.

I look into the lit train at the people on board. They stare at us, and some point at us.  We are dimly illuminated, as it passes by quickly.  Rui urges me along faster. I pull out my cell phone and check the time. ”Twenty-three-thirty!” I scream. It’s very nearly midnight! Oh, no! We wasted so much time! Nooo! Will I become a yokai down here in the darkness? Oh, Kami! I weep for my ruined life.

Some time later we come to a larger area along the walkway. Rui pulls out her phone and activates the flashlight function, shining it around; it bathes a nearby door with light.  “Yet another door in a scary dark passageway!” I gasp.

“Don’t be a baby,” Rui admonishes me as she reaches into her bag, propping her umbrella against her leg. She pulls out a strange-looking object from her bag and shines the flashlight on it; it’s some kind of strange compass with symbols and writing on it. It looks eldritch.  She studies it and nods to it, flashing a broad smile towards me, and points to the door. She pockets the compass and lifts the umbrella. “Break it down, idiot,” she orders.  

I gape at her, or try to. When I think about what time it is, desperation kicks in and I slam against the door repeatedly. I panic and whale on the door, pleased that I finally have something that I can lash out at, as I was unable to all day.  I slam and rail against the door that doesn’t budge, not that I’m the strongest.  Finally, I gasp and sigh as I reach down to try to simply turn the knob to open it.  Amazingly, yet frustratingly it’s unlocked!  I look back towards her with exasperation fuming from my frame. I grit my imaginary teeth and clench my fists as I have a fit.

Rui laughs in a silly and cute manner. “Oh… I thought for sure it would be locked.. but don’t you feel better now?  I know I would.” She grins at me.

I continue to face towards her and blink at her comment, or at least try to. After a moment I’m forced to nod to her. “I-I guess I do.” I no-facepalm.

Rui looks to me and chuckles gleefully. “Good. Therapy success! So let’s see if my theory pans out.  Let’s go.” Rui salutes me again.  I sigh and push in the door, opening it fully as I inspect the inside. As I do, I decide that I’m terrified of what I’ll see.  I walk inside and see nothing for a long moment. I remove my cell phone from my pocket again, activate the flashlight function, and shine the light around; I scream shrilly as I see something horrifying indeed. Faces float in the room, like a gallery.  I stare at them, and they gaze back at me emptilly.  They’re complete with ears, noses, eyes, mouths. It’s like someone has cut off the entire face with everything attached to it. Come to think of it, without a nose or a mouth how am I breathing? How? How do I cry? Is it a part of being a noh face? Is it magic? That defies biology unless these “tears” are actually sweat or something. I panic.

The faces seem to peer into my soul; I gaze at them, consumed by terror. I’d blink if I could, but after another moment, it seems as though they draw closer to me.  It seems like it might be an illusion caused by my stressed-out, nearly driven insane mind.  I can’t help staring at the disembodied faces as my stomach clenches. There is nothing specifically about them that connects them. They vary from ugly to beautiful, male to female to androgynous, old to young.  There are so many it terrifies me.  I see one in the corner of my eye that I think I recognize, someone I think I know, but suddenly a heavy cold metal object strikes me over my head. I collapse forward to my hands and blood drips down from my scalp. I look backwards over my shoulder, grateful that despite the pain in my head, at least my vision is somehow not impaired by the blow.  I stagger, feeling dizzy and unsteady. When I turn, expecting to see Rui standing over me with the weapon that assaulted me, I see her collapsed on the floor, her own hair bloodied.  I see another familiar face… I look at the figure of our attacker.

<center>/^(o.o)^\ /^(o.o)^\ /^(o.o)^\ /^(o.o)^\ /^(o.o)^\ /^(o.o)^\</center>

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:iconrellawing:
rellawing Featured By Owner May 6, 2016  Hobbyist Writer
Yay I'm back!  I have a bit of a project going on and figured I'd upload some of the so called art that I am working on for it.  Who knows, might find someone with some free time and a great deal more talent than I have to help ^_^  You never know.
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:iconrellawing:
rellawing Featured By Owner Mar 11, 2008  Hobbyist Writer
Hi everyone! I'm Rellawing!!! I used to be artistic... but I quit for a while. I wasn't that great at drawing at the time, so I focused mostly on CG. I was ok at that. Now I'm back though, and I'm trying to learn how to draw! If anyone has any advice or pointers, please let me know. At the moment, my art will be mostly lineart, unless I feel like cging something to mix things up. I will be focusing on anime style characters, because eventually, I think I would like to do a webcomic or something.

Things I need to work on:
1. Facial and body emotion.
2. Perspective
3. Body shape
4. Clothing

Please help me to improve my artistic abilities! ^-^
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