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of covens and magicians

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 Izumi sneezed into her handkerchief. She folded it over and wiped her weeping eyes next. Looked like there was no getting away from pollen even in the city. It was better than the countryside at least, although that was a very low bar to clear.

And it would take more than a runny nose to stop her from this errand.

 She checked the address on the back of the letter she held in hand, and then looked up at the building in front of her.

 24 Veludo Way. It was definitely the right place then, but the boarded up windows cast a shadow of doubt in her mind.

 She knocked on the door and waited. No one answered.

 “Hello?” she called loudly. “My name is Izumi Tachibana. I’m here to answer a letter addressed to my father?”

 Still, nothing. She tried the doorknob and froze for a split second when she realized it’d been left unlocked.

 “Helloooooo?” she called again as she took a tentative step inside. “Is anyone home?”

 The floor was clean but the walls were coated with a thick layer of dust. As though someone had cared just enough to clean up but not enough to do a good job at it. The lights further down the hall were left on. So someone must have been inside.

 It felt ominous. She squeezed the handles of her purse and took another step forward.

 “HELLO?” she called even louder.

 “Hi!

 Izumi let out a hysterical scream and whirled around, blindly swinging her purse as hard as she could in the direction of the mysterious voice.

 “Holy shit, what the hell! Fuck you too, damn!

 A pink blur shot away from her like a bullet.

 “Matsukawa, can you deal with this crazy woman? This is why you should be the one to answer the damn door, not me, asshole!

 She heard rushed footsteps from within coming towards the entryway where she stood. A man rounded the corner, socked feet skidding on the wooden floorboards, and stared at her incredulously. He was older than her—or maybe it was simply that his unshaven face added a few years to his appearance.

 “…You invited yourself in!” the man exclaimed in surprise. “Sure, why not. Don’t mind Kamekichi too much, he’s got a sharp tongue but he means well.”

In hindsight, maybe breaking in because she’d gotten impatient had been a bad idea. “I’m sorry! Nothing happened when I knocked the first few times and the door was unlocked so…” Whatever. The first impression had already been made. “Are you Mr. Matsukawa?”

 “Mr. Matsukawa would be my father. You can just call me Matsukawa,” the stranger chuckled, shaking his head. “Is there something you need?”

 “Is this a bad time?” Izumi asked, staring at the paint smudges all over his face. Matsukawa’s glasses looked like they were broken in the middle, held together poorly by only the power of Scotch tape.

 “Not at all! I was cleaning up in the back and it’s hard to hear from there. This building hasn’t been used in quite a long time and a monster of a clutter’s built up over the years.” He took his glasses off and wiped the lenses with the hem of his jacket. He put them back on, miraculously somehow more smudged than they’d been before.

 Izumi blinked and then opened her purse to take out the letter. “This recently got delivered to our house. It’s addressed to my father, Yukio Tachi—"

 “Oh! So you’re Yukio’s daughter!” Matsukawa visibly relaxed at this revelation. “I saw your name on the Purple Pages. Izumi, right? Now I’m starting to get the picture. I certainly didn’t expect him to send kin instead of showing up himself though. Is he doing okay?”

 Izumi cleared her throat. “That’s actually why I came out here to talk to you. I’m afraid there hasn’t been any news or sightings of my father for the past eight years. The envelope’s unopened, I didn’t want to intrude, but I figured this was information I’d pass along personally.”

 The man looked stunned by this.

Matsukawa quickly collected himself, fidgeting with the cuff of his battered suit that had definitely seen better days. “Ah… I see. I offer my condolences, I didn’t mean to bring up any bad memories by sending that letter."

 “No, no, it’s fine, it’s been years and we’ve all learned to accept it. He’ll show up when he’s ready to and not a moment before, as always.” She forced a laugh she didn’t feel in her gut. “We were surprised to be getting a letter from Mankai Coven though. We figured it was gone forever.”

 “It was certainly inactive for a very long time, I’ll give you that.” Matsukawa stood to the side and gestured towards what she guessed was a living room. "Please, come in. I should at least do the decency of explaining what’s going on over some tea."


 Matsukawa poured her a cup and sat across from her. “As you know, your father and his colleagues founded the Mankai Coven decades ago with the intent of educating magicians that had nowhere else to turn to. Mankai became renowned in the magical world, making a name for itself by churning out more and more powerful magicians with each passing year.”

 “But then there were less magicians in need of teaching as time went on,” Izumi finished. The tea tasted soapy. “Mankai didn’t have a purpose to exist anymore.”

 “Unfortunately, you’re correct. As the first generation of magicians left and every subsequent generation brought in fewer numbers than the last, Mankai eventually had no more students.” Matsukawa shrugged. “The Founders shut down the Coven and dispersed, leaving the building to my father’s name.”

The Matsukawa Bloodline, the caretakers of a school’s ruins.

 “Thank you for taking such good care of it for all of these years,” was all Izumi could think of to say.

 “Oh no, it was our pleasure. This building is a testament to good will in a world that badly needs it. Tending to it is a part of my family’s pride.” Matsukawa grinned and smacked his knee. “I wrote that letter to your father because he was the only Founder who’s address I could find in our archives.”

“And you needed him for…?” she pressed lightly.

Matsukawa’s smile faded.

He cleared his throat. “Last month, I came across a Firstborn Witch in desperate need of a teacher. I’ve been housing him here ever since. I’m not going to lie, I was really hoping your dad would be willing to come out of retirement to teach him properly.”

 Izumi’s eyes widened. “A Firstborn Witch? Are you serious? It’s been… years since one’s been discovered.”

 “He passed the affinity test and is a one hundred percent, bona fide Witchling,” Matsukawa said. “Neither of his parents have any reported magic so his being a Firstborn is the only plausible answer. Talent like his can’t go to waste and I absolutely can’t toss a kid onto the streets to fend for himself.”

 Izumi bit her lower lip. “Of course not. It can be a dangerous world for Witches.”

Especially a Firstborn Witch. No one could have seen that coming.

Sure, humans with magic popped up every now and then from outside of the established Bloodlines. But they were always Casters or Hunters—humans who could go their whole lives without ever realizing they had potential for the fantastical.

Witch though… Everyone had accepted that Firstborn Witches were by now things of the past.

 Firstborns were powerful, powerful beings, Izumi mused to herself. A mortal born with pure magic in their veins. The magic, like a hereditary condition, would become diluted through the generations (like herself, a fourth generation Witch who could just barely heat up a teapot by snapping her fingers), but Firstborns were pure magic. And throughout history, pure magic in Witches could be…

 Izumi winced. Explosive.

 “Can I meet him?” Izumi asked.

 Matsukawa cupped his hands around his mouth. “Sakuya! Come on out, there’s somebody I want you to meet.”

 A door down one of the twisting halls opened.

 A young boy with thick magenta locks and eyes like garnets popped his head out. “You called?”

 “This is Izumi Tachibana! The daughter of that man I was telling you about.”

 The boy (Sakuya, was it?) hesitated, eyes flicking back and forth between Izumi and Matsukawa like he didn’t know what to do.

 “Does… Does she know…?” he asked in a low voice.

 “Oh! Don’t worry about that, Fourthborn Witch here,” she said immediately. She snapped her fingers and sent a cookie flying until it bobbed right in front of the boy. “I know a thing or two.”

 He plucked it from the air, eyes wide. “Whoa… How did you do that?”

 “Trust me, you’re going to able to do so many more impressive things.” She stood up and walked closer, holding out her hand. “Nice to meet you, Sakuya. I don’t think I’ve ever met a Firstborn Witch before today.”

 He shook it tentatively, and Izumi almost laughed at how clammy his hands were. She hoped she wasn’t scaring him. “Sorry. I don’t really know what, uh, all of that Firstborn stuff is about.”

 “Firstborns are humans who are born with magic but don’t come from magician parents,” Izumi explained kindly. “My great-grandmother was a Firstborn Witch, my grandfather was a Secondborn, my father a Thirdborn, thus I am the Fourthborn. Magic tends to lose its punch after each kid so my abilities are limited, but you…”

 “Me?”

 Izumi grinned wide. “You’re going to be able to do so much more than I could’ve ever imagined for myself. It’s an honor to meet you, honestly.”

 Sakuya flushed. The tips of his ears turned as dark red as his hair. “I-I’m not really all that. I’ve got no idea what I’m doing, to be honest.”

 “None of us do when we start out.” Izumi glanced over her shoulder towards Matsukawa. “Why’d you ask for my father exactly? I would have thought you’d teach him yourself.”

Matsukawa snorted. “Please. I’m absolute garbage at magic and teaching. I’m out of the question.”

Hm. Izumi set her jaw and made a decision then and there.

“I may not be my father but I’d love to stick around and teach Sakuya what I can,” she said. “There should be a Caster somewhere in this city willing to pitch in as well. I’ll help you find one.”

 Matsukawa slumped over and released a weary, relieved sigh. “Thank God. I had no idea what I was going to do if you hadn’t offered."

 “I won’t be a bother, will I?” Sakuya asked nervously.

 “Nonsense!” Izumi put a fist on each hip and forced her confidence. “I might not be much but I’ll be better than nothing. Being a Witch and not knowing what’s going on must have been hard on you.”

 Sakuya offered a timid nod. “It’s definitely been… something. N-Not too bad though!”

 “Do you know how to do any magic? Or are we working with a blank slate?”

 Sakuya fidgeted. “Basically… a blank slate, yeah. All I can really do is this.”

He pressed his palms together and laced his fingers, looking like he was about to spout prayers. When he slowly parted his palms, he showed Izumi a floating ball of golden fire that twisted in on itself, happily dancing like candlelight. 

 She stared at the flame and inhaled slowly through her nose.

 “Oh, wow,” Izumi managed at last. 

 “I know it’s not much—”

 “No, no, Sakuya, don’t misunderstand me. I’m not unimpressed, I’m…” The complete opposite, really. She struggled to find a way to phrase her sentiments without freaking him out. “Stunned, I suppose is the right word. I’ve never seen someone summon golden fire before.”

 “Never? Is it—Is it bad?” Panic crept into his voice.

 “Creating fire in general is a very difficult form of magic, Sakuya,” Matsukawa said, nibbling on a rice cracker. “Heating things up is difficult as is but a fire is a reaction that requires constant feeding of magical energy.”

 “Oh.” He blinked and looked at the thing between his palms, before clapping right over it and extinguishing the flame. “Sorry.”

 “No need to apologize!” Izumi thought for a moment and began tying her hair up with a spare elastic on her wrist. “Looks like things are going to be interesting here. When do you want to start?”

 Sakuya’s eyes sparkled. “Can we—Can we start as soon as possible?”

 Before she could reply, his stomach growled. Sakuya turned an even darker red as Izumi laughed.

 “Maybe dinner first,” she said as she rolled her sleeves up. “Matsukawa, you mind if I put something together using whatever I can find in the fridge?”

 “Food? Go right on ahead. Any plans?” he asked.

 “Curry would be good for a day like this, don’t you think?”


 “So… So you said you were a Fourthborn, right?” Sakuya asked, staring at her with starry eyes as she brought over the giant pot. “Growing up with magic must have been incredible."

Growing up with magic was maybe stretching it but this wasn’t the time nor place to get into her upbringing.

 “Magic has always been fascinating to me,” Izumi said fondly, handing him a plateful of rice and curry. “Even though I’m, pfft, no good at it. Like I said, Fourthborns don’t have much latent ability. I couldn’t ever do half the things my father could, much less what you have the potential for. But that never mattered to me. Magic was—is still incredible and I love it a lot.”

 “Are there more people with magic? Or is it just us in the entire city?” Sakuya asked through a full mouth as he crammed in spoonful after spoonful of his dinner.

Izumi laughed. “Slow down, you’ll choke. There’s plenty more where that came from.”

 Sakuya turned pink again. “I’m sorry. It’s just been a while since we’ve had good food. Matsukawa and I, uh, neither of us are good at cooking so it’s been a month of microwave meals and some,” Sakuya winced here, “more… interesting concoctions.”

 Matsukawa was putting together a second plate for himself after having already inhaled the first. “There are a handful things I’m good at in this world and cooking isn’t one of ‘em! I’m not ashamed to admit it."

 Izumi laughed harder. “Going back to your first question; there are tons of magicians in this city, even right near Veludo Way. This is a historic monument to Covens in Japan, after all.”

 “Covens?” Sakuya asked, perking up. “It wasn’t just Mankai?”

 “No, Mankai was just one of the originals. One of the greatest! First to rise, last to…” Izumi’s voice pattered out. She sighed sadly and ignored the subtle ache in her chest. “Last to fall.”

 “Fall?”

 “There were no more Firstborns showing up,” she said simply. “Magic’s been dying out in recent years. Without Firstborns, there’s no need for Covens to exist. Bloodlines ended up having all the kids to teach, so there was nothing Covens could do except shut down one by one.”

 Sakuya’s eyes widened. “What are Bloodlines? How are they different from Covens?”

 “‘Bloodline’ is just a fancy name for a family with magic. I’m from the Takahashi, now Tachibana Bloodline,” she explained. “The Firstborn in my family was my great grandmother, Hina Takahashi. Magic’s hereditary but gets weaker with each generation that includes a magic-less parent. Every one of my magical ancestors married a magic-less, so magic doesn’t come naturally to me. My children or grandchildren probably won’t have even a drop if I marry the same.”

 “Oh…” Sakuya hesitated. “That sounds a little sad.”

 “It’s just how it is.” Izumi began rummaging through her purse to find a book. “Some Bloodlines go through any means necessary to preserve magical latency through the generations, whether it’s through marriage exclusive to other magicians or—” She cut herself off there, upper lip curling. “Or… through other measures. Nasty business. Anyways, Bloodlines usually homeschool their offspring and look down on adoption or teaching ‘outsiders.' Covens were established to provide for Firstborns who didn't have the resource of family."

 She found the damn thing in a side pocket filled with gum wrappers. She tossed the matchbox sized book onto the table and pressed the pad of her thumb against the cover. It grew in size to something more practical for reading.

 “How did you do that?” Sakuya asked in awe.

 Izumi smiled. It’d been a while since she’d seen such unhindered curiosity about magic, maybe the first time since she’d seen it in herself. As always, it was refreshing.

“It’s not that difficult. It’s a charmed book, so it only needs a little bit of magic energy to shrink or grow. This book is called the Purple Pages and lists the registered Bloodlines of each town or city in Japan.” She flipped open to a bookmarked page. "You can see there’s a handful of them in this very city. The Sumeragi Bloodline for one, those guys are real serious. Very famous, very powerful Hunters. Then there are the smaller, lesser known Bloodlines. Kind of like mine, fine with marrying magic-less but still keeping the culture alive. The Arisugawas—talented Casters. The Minagi Bloodline, that one stretches back for centuries. I was thinking of getting in contact with some of them to help with your education.”

 “Wow,” Sakuya whispered, looking down at the lavender sheets of paper with wonder in his eyes. “Wait, Caster? What’s a Caster?”

 Izumi shot Matsukawa a glare. “What in the world have you been teaching this kid for a full month?”

 “Cleaning up this place wasn’t easy, you know!” he mumbled, still gorging himself.

 “There are basically four kinds of affinities towards magic a magician can have,” Izumi said, now rummaging for a pen and paper in her purse to illustrate the concept. “Think of it as, er… Do you play RPGs?”

 “I know of some.”

 “You know how there are classes? Like, bard, or berserker. Same rule applies, there are four classes for magicians. We call those affinities.”

 She drew a spade on the back of a Starbucks receipt. “There are Witches, which is what you are; the rarest affinity. Your blood is almost pure magic. Insanely powerful and very latent. Firstborn Witches tend to make their names well known in history, which is why the Bloodlines that stem from them are so proud of their heritage.”

 Sakuya swallowed nervously and looked down at his hands before curling them into tight fists. Izumi raised her eyebrow at that but continued speaking. She drew a club and tapped it with the tip of her pen.

 “Then you have Casters. Not as much magical power as Witches, maybe, but incredible with control and delicate work. If your magic is like a fire, then their magic is like putting a thread through a needle hole. Masters of magical study and usually the ones to go past the limits. Creative, brilliant minds.”

 She drew a diamond. “Then you have your Hunters, they make up the majority of magicians nowadays. They’re magicians with capabilities meant specifically and exclusively for combat. Since magic’s kept under control now, there’s hardly been a need for them as of late. Very few Hunters register a Bloodline and most just exist among magic-less."

 “So… So they just give up on magic?” Sakuya asked, voice horrified like he couldn’t imagine doing such a thing.

 Izumi shrugged. “Their magic rarely flares up unintentionally so there's no need for them to learn control. That, along with the fact that there's no use for their magic anymore. It's easier for them to reject the existence of it.”

 Sakuya worked his lips. “That’s even sadder.”

 “I certainly think so, but you have to understand that pursuing magic is a right people can reject. Hunters rejecting their birthright just means less violence overall, which is a good thing.” Izumi drew a final heart and circled it. “And the final class are Seers, the second rarest. I don’t think I’ve ever met a Firstborn Seer either, and there aren’t many famous Seer Bloodlines in Japan.”

 “What can Seers do?”

 “See things,” Matsukawa interjected, and then laughed loudly while slapping his knee. “Hah!”

 Izumi rolled her eyes. “Well, yeah. He’s not wrong. They can see visions of the future, they have a small reserve of latent magical energy they can do spells with, and rumors say that the most powerful Seers can even see the thoughts in your mind.”

 “Psychics?” Sakuya asked. “Do you mean psychics?"

 “Sure, if you want to put it that way.” She shut the book and shrank it once more. “Don’t worry yourself about it. Seer magic isn’t something Witches can access, so there’s no need to keep it in mind.”

 Sakuya sat up straight. “I want to. I want to know everything there is to know about magic. If it’s not too much of a bother, I’d like you to teach me absolutely everything you can.”

 Izumi stared at him and felt something happy bubble in her stomach. There was a stubborn, unflinching look of want for knowledge in Sakuya’s eyes. It was almost like she was looking at a younger version of herself, except Sakuya would actually be able to accomplish all of the spells she’d jealously stared at on the pages of her father’s precious grimoires.

 It was ridiculously exciting to witness.

 “Magic is a draining thing, even for a Witch,” she said, reminding herself to calm down and pace herself. “I’ll do absolutely everything I can in my power to help you with the process, Sakuya. But I recommend you go to bed early tonight. I’m sure it’s been an exciting day.”

 He scratched the back of his head and laughed dryly. “I don’t think I’ll be able to sleep even if I tried, I’m already so excited.”

 “Alright then. You can have this.” She tossed him the Purple Pages which he caught in his left hand. “Start reading up on a few names since… who knows, a few of those Bloodlines might be peeking in soon to help out with your lessons. I’m going to start getting an agenda ready for you tonight and then we can see where it goes from there.”

 “Thank you, Miss Tachibana!” Sakuya said brightly.

 She gagged. “Oh God, that name makes me feel so old. Please don’t.”

 “What should I call you then?”

 Matsukawa snorted as he collected the plates. “Well, traditionally you would call the leader of a Coven the High Priestess.”

 “Absolutely not.”

 Sakuya thought for a moment and clapped his hands when a lightbulb went off. “Director!”

Izumi raised an eyebrow. “Director?”

 “I can call you the Director. Like, uh, I’m an actor, and you’re showing me how everything works.” He flushed pink. “Uh, I’m part of the drama club at my high school so it’s just a word I’m familiar with.”

 Izumi repeated, “Director,” like she was trying out the taste of it. She shrugged. “Alright, sure. Whatever you’d like, Sakuya.”

 “Thank you, Director!”

 And the bright smile he gave her made everything worth it.

 She had a phone call to the Minagi family she had to make, it seemed.


 “Someone’s at the door! Someone’s at the door!” Kamekichi squawked the next morning. “Do I answer it, ya lazy bums?

 “Nope, nope, I got it! That one’s probably for me,” Izumi said, sprinting through the kitchen and the living room to get to the entry hall.

The small cockatoo with the rude mouth, Matsukawa’s family familiar, had apparently been left in charge of answering the door while Matsukawa was putting the Coven dorms back in order. Luckily, the little creature forgave her poor introduction upon receiving a handful of birdseed and there were no hard feelings between them.

 “Director! Look what I can do now,” Sakuya called as she swept past him. She spared a glance over her shoulder to watch Sakuya repeatedly press his thumb against the covers of the Purple Pages, shrinking and growing it over and over again, hopelessly in love with the act.

 Izumi threw him two thumbs up. “Proud of you, Sakuya! Keep it up, you’re doing great.”

 Another knock at the door. She put on a big smile she hoped was inviting and threw it open.

 Not expecting to see the awkward teenaged boy who stood on the other side of it.

 The tall, lanky, probably-college-student offered her a very uncomfortable-looking wave. “Uh, hello. My name is Tsuzuru Minagi, third eldest son of the most recent generation of Minagi. Are you Izumi Tachibana?” 

 “Yes, I am!” she said brightly, seizing the hand that was waving and giving it a warm shake. “Thank you so much for coming over. Sorry if I looked surprised, I was expecting one of your parents to show up."

“They're currently out of the prefecture for a conference so they sent me to answer instead.” Tsuzuru leaned in closer and whispered, "Is it true? A Firstborn Witch right in this very city?”

 Izumi preened. So what if she’d only known Sakuya for a day? She was already proud of having him as a student and that meant she would brag about him. “Yep. And no prior teaching of magic. The kid needs a tutor to help him out and I was hoping that that was where your parents… or you, since you’re here now, could step in.”

 Tsuzuru chuckled sheepishly. “Listen, I should be frank before any agreements are made. I’m not very powerful. I hope your expectations aren’t high."

 “You’re speaking to a Fourthborn Witch from a very magic-less infused Bloodline. I won’t be able to give any examples of magic above the bare basics and Sakuya deserves more than that,” she replied. "Trust me, Tsuzuru, any and all help we can get for him is a blessing.”

 “His name is Sakuya then?”

 “The kid’s an angel, you’ll love him. Come on in, he’s right here,” and she opened the door wider, beckoning him inside.

 The Caster hesitated for just a moment more before he took the bait and went inside. He slipped his ratty sneakers off and left them on the shoe rack. “Please pardon the intrusion.”

 “Sakuya!” Izumi called, leading him towards the kitchen.

 The young boy was still sitting in the same chair, pushing the cover of Purple Pages with glee. He glanced up, smile radiant. “Yes, Director?”

 “This is Tsuzuru, from the Minagi family I told you about last night. Caster.” Izumi turned next to Tsuzuru and gestured to Sakuya. “And this is Sakuya, the Firstborn Witch who desperately needs help.”

 Sakuya craned his neck to make eye contact with Tsuzuru over her shoulder.

 “Are you here to teach me how to do magic?” he asked with a big smile, glowing like the sun.

 Hook, line, and sinker. No one would be able to say no to that face in a million years. Izumi raised both her eyebrows and smiled pleasantly.

“Yes, Tsuzuru, are you?” she prompted.

 Tsuzuru clenched his teeth but in the end could not resist. “Er, fine. I’ll teach you one thing today, Witchling. But I’ll have to speak to my parents before any real decisions are made."

 Izumi rolled her eyes and checked off “find a tutor” on her mental checklist.


 “Magic is pure energy that can be molded to become anything,” Tsuzuru lectured as they sat at the table in the “study." A bare room with minimal furniture and empty shelves that may have, yes, at one point been used as someone’s study. “That’s where spells come in. They’re what guide magic energy and transform it to accurately become what you need. Harnessing energy takes a lot of control and focus. I want you to watch what I do and copy it.”

 Sakuya didn’t say anything but if his eyes grew any wider, they’d surely pop right out of his skull. Tsuzuru touched the surface of the water in his cup and the tip of his finger glowed bright blue. He drew a swirling symbol on the water and took his hand away. The strange sign flashed with light and instantly the water in the cup turned to ice.

 There was a high pitched noise like a kettle singing. Tsuzuru blinked and realized that the sound was coming from Sakuya.

 “Uhh. You alright?”

 “That was so cool!” Sakuya blurted out with stars twinkling in his eyes. “What was that symbol? How did you draw only using your finger?”

 Tsuzuru took a mental picture of the pure worshipping in Sakuya’s eyes and decided to relish in pride when he was on his own later.

 “Casters use Runes most of the time to translate magic. We don’t have as much raw magical energy as you do, so we use Runes to amplify intent. It’s important for control as well.” Tsuzuru uncapped the Expo marker and drew the same swirling symbol in green on the whiteboard. “This is the Rune for Freeze. I want you to do the same thing to your own cup.”

 “I don’t know how to do the finger glow-y thing that you did,” Sakuya said, immediately growing nervous.

 “Doesn’t surprise me, I don’t think I’ve ever heard of a Witch who uses Runes before. But it’s the only form of magic I know, and you’re the sole Firstborn Witch in years from what I can tell, so you might as well try.” Tsuzuru shrugged. “If it doesn’t work out, then it’s fine. We’ll work to find a method that does.”

 Sakuya bobbed his head. “Okay, I’ll, uh, I’ll give it a shot.”

 He jabbed his finger into the cup and swirled it around.

 Nothing happened.

 Tsuzuru snapped his fingers three times to catch Sakuya’s attention. “Keep your wrist loose. Let the magic energy flow out. Remember, all the Rune does is act as a guide for that energy.”

 “Right, right, right, sorry.” The Witch took in a deep breath and closed his eyes. He repeated the little swirl.


 BANG.

 Izumi dropped her pen. Had a bomb gone off? She sprinted for the study room and threw the door open.

“Is everything alright—?!” The words caught in her throat as she stepped onto the layer of snow on the ground.

 “I’m sorry! I didn’t mean to!” Sakuya squeaked, tears already welling in his eyes. “H-How do I undo it?”

 Tsuzuru reached a hand up to wipe the layer of frost off his face. He blinked away the snowflakes that clung to his eyelashes, teeth chattering all the while. The table between them, cups included and all, was frozen in a solid block of ice.

 “Okay. So. We have learned that the use of Runes, or anything that amplifies your magic, is not a good idea,” Tsuzuru said finally.

 Sakuya wailed again as he brushed bits of ice off his shirt.

 Izumi ran her fingers through her hair and furrowed her brow. Teaching a Witch would be harder than she’d thought.

Chapter Text

Tsuzuru moved in the next day, which Izumi found hilarious considering how adamant the Caster had been about “not making any hasty decisions."

 “What the hell are in these things,” Matsukawa gasped as he helped carry in the boxes. “Bricks?!”

 “Close.” Tsuzuru opened one and took out a thick, leather-bound book. “The Holy Bible. A hundred and seventy copies of it, actually."

 “…Tsuzuru, you’re Christian?” Sakuya asked. “Like, devout?”

 Izumi leaned in close and whispered, “Why question his level of devoutness?”

 “I mean, why else would he own a hundred and seventy copies?”

 The corner of Tsuzuru’s lips twitched. “Well, my family is catholic, yes. But I’m also helping a friend of mine sell these since he bought five hundred by accident last month.”

 Sakuya squinted. “How—How do you buy five hundred bibles by accident?

 “I asked him the same question,” Tsuzuru said bitterly and dropped the bible back into the box. “The art department’s making him earn the money back so he asked a handful of his friends to be re-sellers. A handful of friends that included me, I’m afraid.”

 The young Witch looked pensive. “Are all magicians catholic?”

 “Kiddo, doing magic doesn’t mean we know what goes on up there,” Izumi said with a snort. “You can be any religion you want. Or none. Your choice.”

 Tsuzuru tore a long strip of duct tape off of one box. “A lot of Firstborn Casters tend to become very devoted worshippers though. I figure it’s them trying to find explanations for the weird abilities they have. Where do you think all those 'miracle working' priests pop up from?”

 Sakuya's jaw dropped. “You’re kidding.”

 The Caster chuckled. “We had a ‘miracle worker’ issue in this city last year actually. My dad thought we were looking at a Firstborn Caster for sure, but no, the guy was just that insanely good of a surgeon.”

 Matsukawa brought in the next box box, mop hair thick with sweat. “W-Where do I put this one?”

 “All the boxes marked with purple tape are for the lab,” Tsuzuru said, taking the box from the manager and heading to the room across the hall. "Thank you for your help, Matsukawa. There should be a couple more by the entrance."

 The manager moaned and went off to fetch them.

 Sakuya trotted after Tsuzuru like a baby duckling would its mother. “Lab? You have a lab? Why? Is it for science things or magic things?"

 “Magic things. Casters tend to need a dedicated space reserved for experiments,” he explained. “The lab at my family's house is a proper one, but I can make do with what I have here.”

 “What do you mean by ‘experiments?’ Magic experiments?”

 Tsuzuru tore the box open and pulled out a convenient whiteboard slate and a green Expo marker. He began drawing Runes.

 “So as you know, Runes are a binary form of magic Casters use,” he said, immediately adopting the tone of a tenured professor instead of an awkward college student. “But most Runes are just singular words and intentions. Casters knit Runes together in varying patterns to create new outcomes and possibilities. Here, let me give you an example.”

 He trotted to the open doorway and, with that glowing blue ink from his fingertip that stayed suspended in the air, drew a Rune. It flashed, and disappeared. “This is the most basic Rune for Barrier. Miss Tachibana, if you would?”

 Izumi cringed. “Oh, call me Director, Tsuzuru, I’m not that old yet.”

 Nevertheless, she pressed her fingers against the invisible wall, showing Sakuya that her hand was not able to cross the threshold of the room.

 “That’s so cool!” he gushed.

 “Yes, but hold your horses because it gets cooler. The Barrier Rune only lasts for a few minutes at best. But if you add the Rune for Extension, Electricity, Noise, Activation, and Silence—” Tsuzuru scribbled each Rune as he said it and the noise promptly cut out when he wrote Silence. Izumi clicked her tongue. Sound proofing a room was fine, but it was a little rude to do it right in front of her.

 Tsuzuru gestured for her to touch the invisible wall again.

 Two things happened when she reached a hand forward. A small spark shocked Izumi's fingers, tearing a shocked yelp right out of her, and Sakuya clapped his hands over his ears as a noise went off on the other side.

 Izumi was starting to get the feeling that Tsuzuru was showing off for the sake of showing off now. He had a slightly shit-eating grin plastered on his face he released the Rune barrier, exposing her to the obnoxious alarm reverberating through the lab.

 “And you look so smug over creating an overly glorified security system why?” Izumi asked sourly.

 Tsuzuru’s smile only grew. He waved his hand and silenced the alarm. “You’re mad because the wall shocked you. But to be fair, you were the one to willingly touch the thing after knowing I put an electricity Rune on it.”

 “I know where you sleep now, Tsuzuru, I’ll shave your eyebrows off if you cross me enough.”

 “Oh please, ‘Director,’ I grew up with seven younger brothers. These are my fifth pair, you'll have to do better than that.”

 She gritted her teeth. Damn Casters. Obnoxious bastards.


 Izumi realized that she adored teaching magic, actually, and was very upset that she hadn’t had the experience of doing so before.

 “Could I make spells like Tsuzuru one day?” Sakuya asked, eyes sparkling and pencil poised over his notebook to diligently take notes.

 “Well, technically, I suppose so. But it would be an unusual thing.” Izumi tried to find that Beginner’s Tome among her collection of spell books. “Leave spell-making to the Casters. Delicate work, remember? They can handle a few mistakes here and there but a Witch's mistake could mean burning down a building. So do not experiment with magic, Sakuya. Especially if Tsuzuru or I aren't there to keep an eye on you. Casters experiment, Witches carry out.”

 He frowned a little at that. “Is that why the entire room froze when I tried to use a Rune?”

 She laughed. “Kiddo, you really have no idea how much power you have, huh?”

 There it was. She slipped out the Beginner’s Tome, a dinky little pink booklet that looked more like a Driver’s Ed manual than a grimoire, and tossed it over.

 “It took me a year to learn all of these spells and figure out how to use them,” Izumi said. “For context on the difference between your capabilities and mine, I expect you to get through this in two weeks. Then we can move on to some bigger things, but, uh, mind you… That’s where I’ll be teaching from theory more than experience.”

 Sakuya held the tome to his chest like it was the most precious thing he’d ever touched. He had that look again, the one that made his cheeks go pink and his eyes shine.

 “Thank you,” he said softly. “I-I’ll do my best!”

 Izumi had to pat his head. “I know you will. C’mon, turn to page one. I’ll help you figure out how to levitate things.”

 And it was later, when she had to ask Matsukawa for help with removing forks embedded in the ceiling, that she realized they perhaps starting off learning levitation with silverware had not been the best idea.


 Tsuzuru accepted his plate of curry. “Should I ask about the holes in the ceiling?”

 “No,” she said cheerfully, ending the conversation before it began.


 The next day, Sakuya came home from school just as Izumi was finishing her second cup of coffee.

 “Director! Director, come say hi! This is my underclassman from drama club,” Sakuya called excitedly.

 She put the cup in the sink and walked over to the entry hall where Sakuya was showing his friend the shoe rack hidden behind a pile of old newspapers. Maybe it was because he was standing right next to Sakuya, the very personification of sunshine itself, but Izumi thought this friend looked extra moody and glum. Headphones, oddly dyed hair, colorful shirt with a black jacket.

Ahhhh. Grunge, she realized. Maybe a new take on scene fashion? Youth, how she missed it.

 “Nice to meet you! My name’s Izumi,” she said, holding out a hand.

 The kid took one look at her and went wide-eyed. He didn’t reach out to return the handshake, so she cleared her throat and let her arm drop.

 “Wow, your mom is really young,” the kid said at last.

 Despite the immediate torrent of horror, humor, and hysteria that seized Izumi’s soul, Sakuya was the first one to turn red and begin spluttering.

 “Izumi isn’t my mom!” he gasped. “How old do you think she is?! Say sorry right now!”

 “Don’t worry about it,” Izumi said kindly, despite knowing she would go to bed later that night and have a mid-life crisis paired with half a bottle of wine. “What’s your name, kiddo?”

 “…Masumi. Masumi Usui."

 The kid had a weird, intense sort of stare. Izumi stood in silence, not knowing what to say next, and then resigned herself to simply exiting the awkward situation. “Alright, well, thank you for being a friend to Sakuya. There are snacks in the fridge, you guys can help yourselves.”

 As she turned to leave, Masumi took a step forward.

 “You’re very beautiful,” he said flatly.

 “Masumi!” Sakuya said with a frown.

 Izumi didn’t know what to say to that. “…Thank you?"

 “I think. No… No, I know I’m in love with you. I think this is love at first sight.”

Sakuya’s jaw dropped in horror. “Masumi!

 Izumi forced a fake laugh and decided that that was definitely a sign to head towards her bedroom. “That’s very sweet. Anyways, just let me know if you two need anything. I’ll skedaddle to leave you alone now.”

 “You can stay,” Masumi replied, scooting even closer. “I want to get to know you. Are you single?”

 “Ohhhhh my God,” she muttered under her breath as she hurried down the hall. Nope. Nope. She was leaving.


 Later that afternoon, there was a knock on her bedroom door.

 “Yes?” she said as she answered.

 Matsukawa stood outside in the hallway with a small wooden box in hand. “Hey. Just got something in the mail I think you’d ought to know about. Mind if I come in?”

 She stood aside and gestured to the low-rise table. They each took a seat on either side of it.

 Matsukawa opened the box and showed her the vial of tar-like goo inside of it. “The city’s Council sent this to every Bloodline. A house spirit on the Sumeragi property allegedly attacked a maid—”

 “House spirits aren’t malevolent,” she interrupted.

 “This one was. I mean, allegedly. They said it wouldn’t calm down no matter what they tried to do and slaying it was the only option they had left. This stuff poured out of the carcass right afterwards. Direct quote from the note was ‘in copious quantitates.’ They’re spreading samples as a warning.”

Izumi took the vial and uncorked it. She raised it to her nose for a sniff.

 “Holy mother of God,” she yelped, slapping a hand over her mouth to stop the sudden rush of bile that came up. She rubbed her nose to banish the acrid scent clinging stubbornly to her sinuses.

 Matsukawa’s face was grim. “It’s a magic canceller.”

 “In slime form? This is essentially poison, how could it be inside a house spirit’s body?”

 “That’s why the Sumeragis and the Council are so concerned. It’s a singular case with no leads but you should definitely be kept informed on it."

 She stopped up the vial and placed it back in the box. “Should we hand this off to Tsuzuru? He’ll know what to do with it better than me.”

 “Then I’ll go drop this off in his lab.” Matsukawa got up. “Ah, on a second note. Thank you so much for cooking dinner again tonight. I have to ask though since it’s the third time we’ve had curry. Do you think there’s something else you could…?”

 Izumi jabbed him in his chest firmly. “Don’t. You. Dare. Curry is good always.”

“But—”

Always. We’re done with this.”

 “Noted! I’ll take my leave now."


 Tsuzuru stumbled out of his lab and slammed something onto the breakfast table. Sakuya and Izumi both started in surprise.

 “This is for you,” he said, staring point blank at Izumi.

 She picked up the knife with lips pursed tight. “Wow. Very romantic, Tsuzuru, I’m swooning. Is there a hidden meaning behind giving me this?”

 “I don’t know exactly what that disgusting goop Matsukawa gave me is, but at the very least I can tell it’s concentrated anti-magic. I don’t like the idea of you walking around defenseless until we learn more about where it came from.”

 Modern feminism demanded that Izumi felt insulted. “Excuse me, I’m not defenseless. I took Krav Maga for two years in university. Why give me a knife, why not Sakuya?”

 Tsuzuru raised an eyebrow. He crossed his arms. “Sakuya, can you please tell the Director what I told you to do if something ever tries to hurt you?”

 “Explosion, Flare, and Barrier Runes, in that order,” the high school boy repeated dutifully. “Then I wait for help.”

 “The Explosion Rune?” Izumi repeated in aghast. “Are you insane? He could destroy a small park with that kind of spell!”

Tsuzuru rolled his eyes. “Relax, I only taught him the version we’d use to pop balloons.”

 “He’s a Firstborn Witch! If he uses what you or I would to pop balloons, we’d be getting our door broken down by Homeland Security!”

 “Which would prove a point to whatever’s attacking him. At the very least, it’ll buy him the time he needs for us to track him down.” Tsuzuru pointed to the knife. “Sakuya and I are fine. You should carry around a knife. I’m not coddling or belittling you, I’m being pragmatic. Especially since you’re not familiar with the city yet.”

 Izumi scowled.

 Sakuya, ever the angel, gave her a supportive thumbs up. “It’s a really cool looking knife though, Director! I’m sure it’ll, uh, be easy to coordinate with outfits?”

 “You’re a paranoid one,” she still shot at the Caster, snapping the knife’s blade into the handle and shoving it into her belt loop.

 Tsuzuru finally let himself collapse onto a chair after a long night of work and reached for some toast. “No, this is a measured response. I tasted the slime—”

 “You what.”

 “Relax. I sampled a very diluted amount, just to see what the effects would be. Spent two hours hunched over the toilet emptying my stomach. No substance that strong is a good thing.”

 Izumi rubbed her temples. “You’re the reason why laundry detergent has child safety locks, huh.”

 He only snorted as he started scarfing down breakfast.


 She was so angry that Tsuzuru had been right to be paranoid.

 It was supposed to have been just a short, uncomplicated trip to a secondhand bookstore. All of Matsukawa’s missing books had to have gone somewhere. It happened sometimes—secondhand stores always put them in the For Hipsters and Aspiring Wiccans aisles even though magic-less wouldn’t be able to do squat with tomes. (Izumi hadn’t found any of the missing books but she had found a very trashy romance novel for fifty cents so, the journey had been worth it.)

 At least, it’d been worth it until she realized that she was being followed.

She twitched when she realized she could hear something. Steps that trailed right after her own and had been for a while now.

 It was nighttime.

 The street was deserted except for her and her follower.

 Izumi knew how this played out in movies and boy was she not a fan.

 “Excuse me, madam,” a voice from behind called.

 Nooooooo way, Izumi thought and sped up her pace. Nope. Nope. Nope.

 A hand grabbed her wrist. The subsequent wave of panic that swept over her left her mind in a condition that could only put together one coherent phrase. Oh, fuuuuuuuuuuuck.

 He was taller than her and had a swatch of black cloth covering most of his face. Steely blue eyes glinted, the only visible feature he had.

She was going to get murdered, wasn’t she? Izumi reached a fist back, getting ready to throw a punch. The stranger tore off the scarf and her arm stopped in its path.

Izumi stared, not having expected such a handsome face to have been underneath the covering. But it did little to appease her anxiety—hot people could be murderers too, right?

 “Please, you must help,” he said hurriedly, voice thick with an accent she couldn’t pin. “I do not know what to do about her.”

 “Sir, are you alright?” she asked, trying to shake the uncomfortable grip he had on her arm. “Can you—let go of me?”

 “You are magic!” the man cried, shaking her. “You can help me, yes?"

 She struggled harder. “Dude, get… off of me first!”

 The streetlights overhead flickered. Izumi felt more panic swirl in her stomach like freezing cold water. Every hair on her body stood on edge as adrenaline rushed through her veins.

 She spotted a dark figure standing a few meters away from them. Shadowy. Still. Silent. And, most importantly, radiating malevolent magical energy.

 With each flash of darkness and light from the lamps above, it seemed to draw closer and closer.

 Izumi's throat closed.

 “Y-You’re being haunted?” she stammered, choking down the reflexive urge to just kick this guy as hard as she could in the thigh and run for dear life.

 “You can help me!” the stranger repeated earnestly. “I do not know how to make her go on my own!”

 “TSUZURU!” Izumi screeched at the top of her lungs, hoping that maybe the Caster would be nearby. “SAKUYA!

 The thing was even closer now. Izumi saw hints of pale, rotting skin—the bits that were visible and not shrouded by black mist. That was not good.

 The stranger’s eyebrows drew together. “…She is right behind me, yes? Do not look at her. She will not hurt you, she will just... be loud. The ghost does not hurt if another person is here.”

 The “ghost" crept forward until it was right behind him. A skeletal appendage lifted from the shroud. Slowly, it inched forward until tips of clawed bone touched the skin of Izumi’s own hand.

 A thick, putrid chunk of purple meat reached out of its head as though tasting the air with a tongue that belonged to death.

 “Do not trustsss this man, Witch-borne,” the thing hissed.

 Izumi couldn't move. 

 “He reekssss of heartbreak.

 “Um! Incorrect! I am a gentleman, not a breaker of hearts!” the stranger protested. “You are being brave, ghost. You do not speak when someone else is here usually.”

“She’s speaking because we’re both magicians, you diot! Which means she’ll hurt us since we’re the only ones here!” Izumi bellowed.

She tore Tsuzuru's knife from her belt and flicked the blade out, driving it into the wraith’s head with a sickening shhhnk. The ghost emitted an unholy noise, half scream and half nails raking down chalkboard.

Izumi yanked the man towards her as she dashed down the street. “RUN.”

Tsuzuru would be one smug little bastard if she got back alive, wouldn’t he? Actually, he’d probably be smug even if she died. Would probably tell them to chisel I told you so right on her gravestone.

 Izumi cursed the way towards Veludo for being so deserted. It wasn't even 10 o'clock, why was nobody outside? Just one person, just one person…!

 There!

Someone, she couldn’t tell who, was standing outside their house collecting mail. The wraith wouldn’t do anything violent if there was a magic-less around. Then at least Izumi would be able to get a hold of her bearings and plan the best course of action to take next.

 Lord, please be a mortal, please be a mortal, please be a mortal, Izumi pleaded in her head to a god she did not believe in as she kept sprinting to the figure down the street. The vague shape turned recognizable as the distance closed. It was that weird kid Sakuya had brought home the other day.

 Izumi felt her knees nearly give out in relief. “Masumi! Thank Christ, I’m so happy to see you.”

The kid brightened visibly when he saw who was approaching. “Director? I was just thinking about you. I missed you so much. How did you know I lived here? Would you like to live here as well? Marry me.”

 She’d ignore everything that came out of his mouth granted the situation they were in. Suddenly, Masumi’s small smile dropped as he glared coldly at her—acquaintance? Hostage? Kidnapper? What did she call the stranger standing behind her? What was their relationship?

 “Who the hell are you?” Masumi spat.

 Izumi sucked in a well-deserved lungful of air. She shot the man behind her an ugly look. “I’d love to hear the answer to that one as well.”

 She shook him off at last. He seemed preoccupied, staring at Masumi with a furrowed brow—

 “No, no, no!” the stranger cried. “He is magic as well! He cannot help us!”

 “Excuse—?”

 “HEARTBREAK!” the wraith screamed as it flew towards them, jaw torn open to show its pointed teeth.

 Masumi, to his credit, did not immediately pee his pants at the sight of it. “Jesus Christ, what the hell is that thing?”

 “You can see it?!” Izumi wailed.

They were fucked. They were so fucked. What were the astronomical chances that Sakuya’s one acquaintance she’d met would turn out to also be a magician?

 (In that moment, as her life flashed before her eyes, Izumi realized that she’d forgotten to turn the stove off upon leaving the house that afternoon. An odd thing to recall when death was so near.)

 Masumi kept his gaze locked onto the fast-approaching wraith. “Is that thing bothering you?”

The ghost collided with the stranger's back, latching onto his flesh with its long talons. He let out a strangled yelp and pitched forward on impact. The spirit leaned forward, teeth bared and ready to sink them into his neck. Izumi didn’t know what she was going to do but her body lunged forward to help, even if it meant she would have to shove her hand into that gaping open mouth to stop it from tearing out a throat.

 Izumi could only describe the next second that passed as nothing but a blur.

 She spent the handful of seconds after that one trying to process what had happened.

 Masumi dropped the knife, the one that had been buried into the wraith’s head. The one that he’d torn out and used to stab the ghost in its neck, all in a flash of movement too quick to be normal.

They watched the wraith melt into nothingness with an anguished scream. The stranger underneath it remained motionless. He must have passed out.

 Masumi slowly turned to Izumi, expression flickering between one of uncertainty and fear. “Are… you okay?”

 She sank to her knees. “Oh. Oh. You’re a Hunter.”

 Tears pricked in her eyes. Izumi buried her face in her hands and let out a shuddering dry sob as relief washed over her like warm water.

 “Thank god,” she cried weakly. “I didn’t even know… you’re a Hunter. We totally lucked out, oh my—”

 Masumi fidgeted. “Uh… I don’t really know what I did. Might have just killed someone. Am I gonna go to jail?”

 Izumi brought him in for a big hug and made a noise somewhere on the spectrum between hysterical laugh and whimper. “No, no. You won’t go to jail. But I have a lot to explain to you, probably. Can you help me carry whoever this is back to the dorm? We can’t just leave him here.”

 “You don’t know this guy?” Masumi asked.

“I don’t but I better get some answers or else I’ll be really pissed off.”


 Matsukawa cleared his throat. “Director, I know we never formally discussed the business of bringing men to the dorms, but I’d ask that they be conscious at the very least.”

 “Shove it, mophead,” she huffed, tying a firm knot with the rope that bound the stranger to the chair. “You wouldn’t believe the day I had.”

“Mmm. Traffic?”

 Masumi thought this would be an appropriate moment to tug at her sleeve. “You could bring me in unconscious whenever you like. I promise.”

 Izumi felt a vein throb in her forehead as her blood pressure spiked. “Kid, one day we’re going to have to sit down and address your tendency towards creepy behavior in depth, but for now I’m going to give you the benefit of the doubt since we have a bigger problem on our hands.”

 “Anything you want.”

 Tsuzuru thankfully chose that moment to make an appearance. “What’s all the noise—?”

 He paused, taking a good look at the scenario. He turned his gaze to Izumi and raised an eyebrow. She could only give an exhausted shrug in response.

 “The sensical part of my brain is telling me not to get involved, but a bigger part of it is too curious to resist,” he admitted at last. “Mind if I ask for a debrief?”

 “Someone was being haunted by a wraith and pulled me into the mess. This guy,” she jabbed a thumb in Masumi’s direction, “is Sakuya’s friend from school who turned out to be a Hunter and managed to save us. And this one,” she gave the Stranger’s platinum blonde head a light smack, “was the aforementioned one being chased. He passed out but I refuse to go sleep until I figure out what’s going on. I’m tying him up as a precaution in case he turns out to be dangerous.”

Tsuzuru shook his head and sighed. “You come from a line of Witches and you used rope to keep him bound? Your ancestors are rolling in their graves.”

 “Not everything has to be solved with magic, you damn Caster.”

He rolled his eyes. “Looks like someone’s a little cranky.”

 Izumi felt like she was going to go insane. “I was attacked! I have a right to be a little cranky!”

 “Alright, I’ll let you use the ‘just got out of a life or death situation’ card. Good thing you had a knife to use, huh?” The college student came closer and scribbled a Rune on the stranger’s forehead.

 With a groan, he finally began to stir.

 Sakuya poked his head into the living room, dressed in his pajamas with a towel over his damp hair. “Masumi? What are you doing here?”

 “I’ll follow her wherever she goes,” Masumi said immediately, talking a step closer to Izumi. “I love her.”

 “He’s a Hunter,” Izumi deadpanned. “Congrats, Sakuya, you’re a senior to him in terms of drama club and magic."

 Sakuya’s mouth formed wide O before he flung himself open armed towards Masumi. “You’re kidding! You’re a magician too?! That’s amazing! I’m a Witch, I’m really sorry I couldn’t tell you until now!”

 “I don’t know what that means,” Masumi muttered, trying to wiggle out of Sakuya’s embrace.

 “I’ll tell you everything I know, I promise. You’re going to love magic, it’s so interesting.”

“…Whatever.”

 Izumi snapped her fingers, drawing the attention of the high schoolers. “Maybe tomorrow over your sandwiches and juice boxes, kiddo. We have a bigger issue to butt heads with right now."

 “Oh, right. I thought asking about the guy tied up would have been rude.”

 The stranger cracked open one eye and looked around, glaze bleary.

 “…Am I safe?” he asked with slightly muddled, slurred words.

 “From the wraith, yes. From us… that depends on how you answer our questions,” Izumi said coldly.

 Tsuzuru shot her a judgmental look. “Really? Bad cop? Is Sakuya supposed to be the good cop then?”

 “Shut it. What’s your name, haunted?"

 “My name is Citron,” the stranger said warmly, tilting his head to the side and giving them a charming smile. “Thank you so much for helping. I did not know what I would do to fix it by myself. I had to stay with magic-less nonstop for the past week.”

 “Yeah, yeah, you’re welcome. You really didn’t leave me much of a choice though, what with the arm grabbing and whatever. Where are you from, Citron?” Izumi asked.

 He wiggled a little in his ties. “May you please reverse-bondage me?"

Matsukawa slapped his hands over Sakuya’s ears with a horrified shriek. Tsuzuru choked on his tongue.

“Interesting choice of words,” the Caster muttered.

 “No,” Izumi seethed as her ears burned.

 “Oh, quite a shame!” Citron said and let out a sigh. “I am visiting from another country. Things at my home were getting unpleasant! A vision told me to come to Japan for comfort and a new lodging."

 “A vision?”

 Citron just smiled again mysteriously.

 Tsuzuru leaned in closer towards him and furrowed his brows. “You’re a Seer?”

 “Yes!” Citron cried. “The very best in my country!”

 Sakuya shrugged Matsukawa’s hands off the sides of his head. “You can see the future?”

 “Among other things, Witchling,” he said sweetly. “The future comes to my eyes, as does the truth and the lost.”

 “I get lost in your eyes, you know,” Masumi murmured to Izumi.

 “Oh my god, Masumi, not now, please. Not ever if you can help it but I’m setting my expectations very low.”

 “Okay.”

 Sakuya’s eyes had those stars again. “You know I’m a Witch?”

 “I can see the fire that flows in your spirit. You’re a powerful one, are you not? Seers see all.”

 Matsukawa chuckled. “Heh heh. That joke never gets old.”

 “Why were you being haunted for a whole week?” Izumi asked, probing for more information. “You didn’t—you didn’t kill her, did you?"

 Citron’s steel blue eyes turned sad. “I found the ghost girl alone when I was traveling to this city. I was the only one who could see her. I thought she would like someone to talk to, the ghosts in my home country can be very lonely. But she said she could not feel a crack in my heart, which means I must be the one to do the cracking. She was very angry with me and would not leave my side, saying she would take my heart out and break it herself. But physically, not as a joke.”

 Tsuzuru clicked his tongue. “Ahhh. Wraith then for sure.”

 “What’s a wraith?” Sakuya asked.

 “Ghosts are… interesting concepts in the magic world,” Tsuzuru murmured as he bit his thumb in thought. “Most of them can’t remember a thing from when they were alive but if they hold enough of a grudge upon death, they can turn into dangerous creatures. Wraiths are ghosts that hold such an anger that they turn twisted and hunt based on that grudge.”

 Sakuya made a noise of understanding and then turned to Citron with alarm “Oh… you’re a womanizer?”

 “No!” Citron whined. “I am a gentleman!”

 “Said every guy who’s left a trail of broken hearts behind in his path,” Matsukawa said sagely like he was all too familiar.

 “No!

 Tsuzuru tapped his chin. “Well, that would make sense. The wraith haunted you because she couldn't feel a broken heart in your chest. Then the only reason the wraith didn’t attack immediately when you spoke to the Director would be…”

 Silence as everyone connected the dots.

 Izumi went red in the face. She looked away from them all. “Hm. That was unnecessary to point out. Just saying.”

 Tsuzuru opened his mouth but shut it immediately. He clapped a fist over his lips to muffle a cough that sounded suspiciously like a laugh.

 “It’s not funny, Tsuzuru,” Izumi seethed.

 “Who broke your heart,” Masumi asked, standing up like he would personally crawl to the ends of the earth to hunt those individuals down. “I can heal it for you if you’d let me.”

 “Oh, poor Director,” Sakuya murmured. “That’s so sad…”

 “I am twenty-four years old! I have an ex! That is fine and not something to be giggling about, Tsuzuru!”

 He wiped a tear from his eye. “Oh, that is just… too funny. Is it because you fed him too much curry?”

 Izumi pursed her lips. “I’m not going to validate you by listing their reasons for ending our relationship.”

 “It was the curry, huh.”

 She moved as though she was going to smack him. “And so what if it was!”

 Everyone in the room laughed except for Masumi who said, “I would eat anything you made and never get tired of it.”

 Tsuzuru squinted at the high schooler. “What’s his deal? Did you curse him or something?”

 “I—No, we’re not even going to go anywhere near that right now,” Izumi said firmly. “Masumi, I think it’s about time you head home. Matsukawa, could you walk him?”

 “Can you walk me instead?” Masumi asked.

 “No.”

 Citron strained against the rope. “What about me?”

 Izumi squinted at him. “Well, I was thinking I’d kick you out and tell you to never come back again.”

 Oddly enough, Sakuya was the one to interject at this. “Director, I don’t think you should. What if something else comes after him?”

 “Psht. Okay. Not our problem.”

 Citron sniffed. “Oh… Must today be the first time I experience the breaking of heart?”

 There was a short list of people living in this city that Izumi wanted to strangle and it’d suddenly gotten one name longer.

 Sakuya didn’t relent. “But Director, you said Seers were really, really rare in Japan. And Citron said he was the best in his country. Why don’t we let him stay with the Coven for a while?”

 “The Coven isn’t a bed and breakfast for every magician that we happen to stumble across, Sakuya,” she said sharply. “It’s a place meant for educating Firstborns like you. And seeing as Witches can’t do Seer magic, I don’t really see the point in letting a stranger stay under our roof.”

 “Witches can do Seer magic,” Citron said in the ensuing silence, like an afterthought.

 Tsuzuru quirked an eyebrow. “Um. No. They can’t. It’s one of the Laws. Seer magic and Witch magic are almost direct opposites in terms of execution.”

 “Seer magic in Japan is outdated because you do not have many,” the stranger shot back. “In my country, Witches may learn some variations of Seer magic as long as they are taught by a professional.”

 It was like Citron had just smacked a gavel and reached a verdict. Sakuya turned to Izumi with pure pleading in his gaze.

 Izumi wondered if it would be appropriate to start crying in front of everyone.

 Tsuzuru put a hand on the Firstborn's shoulder. “You know, Director, it's late. We should just put this guy in one of the spare rooms and figure out where to go from there in the morning. I can help Sakuya figure out how to set up a few imprisonment Runes too. At least that way, this’ll end up as a lesson opportunity."

 “How very excellent!” Citron sang. “A room to my own. I had been sleeping in cafés filled with strange individuals until now!”

 Izumi pinched the bridge of her nose and sighed. “Alright. Fine. Citron can stay for one night. But only until we figure out what to do with him in the morning.”

 “Hooray!” The Seer nudged his elbow and the ropes around him fell to the floor. He stood up and stretched. “Thank you for the hospitality.”

 Sakuya clapped a hand over his mouth. “Did you untie yourself using magic just now? How? Can you teach me?”

 Citron only laughed jovially. “No! The lady is very charming and beautiful but she is very, very bad at bondage!”

 Izumi was going to slaughter this one.


 With Citron bordered into a spare dorm room and Masumi properly sent off, all Izumi wanted to do was go to her room, change into her pajamas, and sleep. Someone followed her down the hall.

 “Can I say something?” Tsuzuru asked before she could shut the door in his face.

 “I didn't curse Masumi, don’t ask me why he acts like that.”

 “No, no, not about that.” Tsuzuru paused for a second. “Actually, we should talk about that in the future, it’s a little concerning. But not now. It was about the broken heart thing actually.”

“If you mention my curry one more time—”

 “You changed pronouns very promptly in the middle of our conversation,” Tsuzuru interrupted.

 Izumi’s voice caught.  She cleared her throat. “Ah. Yeah. That.”

 He waved his hand. “No, no, I’m not asking for an explanation or anything like that. I just wanted to apologize for pushing a cisheteronormative agenda onto you, that was an error on my end and I promise it won’t happen again.”

 Izumi stared at him for a moment longer and then snorted. She reached up to pat him on his head. “You’re one of the good ones, Tsuzuru.”

 “Isn’t this just basic human decency?”

 “Ohhh, you’d be surprised how low the bar’s dropped.” She backed into her bedroom and began closing the door. “Talk to you tomorrow!”

 “Goodnight, Director.”

Chapter Text

 Citron, true to his word, started teaching Sakuya Seer magic the very next day.

Izumi discovered this at six in the morning when she woke to the sound of crystal smashing.

 “What happened?” she squawked, rushing half-blind towards the living room.

 Sakuya was already in tears. “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean to break it! I—I can pay for a new one, just give me some time to get a part time job and I’ll get the money together!”

 Citron hushed him as he swept the shards of crystal in a dustpan to throw away. “Do not worry, Sakuya, it is alright. We can get another crystal ball without losing an elbow and a knee.”

 “First of all, it’s ‘arm and a leg.’ Second, who let you out of your room?” Izumi asked, trying to calm her hammering heart with a hand over her chest.

 “Sakuya did. You said we could begin lessons, yes?” Citron gave her a smile that unquestionably had a history of breaking hearts no matter how ardently he protested the fact. Maybe she should have let that wraith kill him after all. Hindsight was 20/20.

 “I thought we said we would leave you in there until we decided what to do with you.”

 He laughed loudly. “Yes! And you decided to let me teach!”

 “No, we… Oh, whatever, it’s too early for this.” She felt around her wrists for an elastic and tied her hair up into a bun. “Sakuya, go get some more sleep. It’s too early for you to be up and you have school in a couple of hours."

 “Okay, Directer…" He ducked his head in a bow to Citron once more. “I’m sorry about your crystal ball, Citron, I’ll be more careful with the next one.”

With the promise made, the boy scurried to his room with eyes still red from tears.

 Citron lifted the dustpan and tossed the glass into the garbage bin. 

 “He’s a very, very powerful Witch,” he noted quietly, only for Izumi’s ears. “I have not seen anybody shatter a crystal ball in a very long time simply by gazing into it.”

 Izumi put a pot of water on the stove to boil. “Well, yeah. Firstborn and all that. We’re trying the best we can.”

 “Take care, Director. Power like his does not go unnoticed by the shadows.”

 Izumi opened her mouth, about to ask what Citron meant, when she heard the second explosion of that morning come from the direction of Tsuzuru’s lab.

 “I hate it here,” she muttered bitterly, wiping her hands dry.

 She knocked on his door. “Tsuzuru? You alright?”

 No answer. She poked her head inside and found the Caster collapsed on the floor, completely unconscious with the vial of anti-magic left open on the table. The scene was almost funny. She corked the slime back up and tucked it into a drawer, before calling over her shoulder for Citron to come help her move Tsuzuru’s body to his bedroom.


 Tsuzuru re-joined the world of the living when the clock hit three in the afternoon several hours later. Izumi and Citron were in the middle of lunch when the Caster finally emerged from his room, pale and shaky.

 “Why were you messing around with that slime again?” Izumi scolded, getting up to put together another plate.

 The rings around his eyes were dark and sunken, so she took a little pity on him and put an extra scoop of rice beside a fried egg.

“I’m trying to find a way to neutralize it but it’s a nightmare to work with. The more time I spend exposed, the more drained I feel. I didn’t think the side effects were that severe until I, uh, passed out.” He dragged a palm down his face. “Ugh. Also, I have an assignment due this week and finding the necessary citations for it is killing me.”

 Izumi smacked Tsuzuru on the back of his head before presenting him with a very late breakfast. “You’re a dumbass."

 “Slime?” Citron inquired.

 Tsuzuru, as though he’d been waiting for someone to ask for days now, whipped out a notebook from absolutely nowhere and tossed it onto the table. As he flipped through the several notes he’d taken with fervor, exposition poured out of his mouth at rapid speed. Even Izumi lost track of the exhausted garble and Citron most definitely wasn’t following.

 “So… black magic?” the Seer asked when Tsuzuru finally stopped his rant to take a breath.

 “Not exactly, but maybe a cousin of it. Bad news for sure.”

 “Black magic is outlawed in my home country,” Citron noted before popping half a boiled egg into his mouth.

 Tsuzuru snorted humorlessly. “It’s outlawed here too, you womanizer.”

 “No, it is not.”

 A slight pause. A turn of a page. “Uh, yes… Yes, it is.”

 “Hmmm. Well, that does not make sense.” Citron tilted his head back and squinted, like he was trying to read minuscule writing on the ceiling. “Someone is trying to summon a demon nearby. A Witch. Not Sakuya, I do not know who this one is.”

 Izumi lost her grip on a bowl she’d been washing but couldn’t bring herself to care as it shattered against the kitchen tiles. “Excuse me?”

 Citron nodded once. “A few blocks over, in an… I think it is called a whorehouse?”

“A. Huh?”

 Tsuzuru slammed his notebook shut and stood. “Warehouse. He means the abandoned warehouses near the port. Someone’s summoning a demon right now?”

 Citron looked a little offended. “Yes, Tsuzuru! I am a very talented Seer, why do you doubt me?”

 “And you didn’t say anything?!”

 “I did not know I was expected to.”

 Tsuzuru made a rude gesture. “Don’t tell me you saw someone summoning a demon in this city and went, ‘oh that’s fine and dandy’!”

 Citron pouted. “I am not accustomed to Japanese culture yet.”

 “Demon summoning is NOT Japanese culture!”

 Citron smiled. “And now I have learned this.” The smile fell. “Oh. We should—we should go do something about the summoning then.”

 Izumi was already running for the door, tearing her jacket from the entryway’s hooks on the way. “You think?!”

 Demon summoning was very, very not allowed. By both law and nature. Not only were demons unpredictable and terrifyingly strong, they always demanded outrageous prices for their services. Anyone willing to pay such a price would not ask for something lighthearted.

 Whoever was messing around with that kind of black magic was either stupid or evil or, worse, both.

 Sakuya and Masumi were right outside of the dorm building as Izumi threw the door open. Classes at Hanasaki high must have been let out.

 “Oh, hi, Director!” Sakuya said, surprised. “You seem to be in a hurry. Are you going out shopping?”

 “No time to talk, Sakuya, there are fruit snacks on the counter for you!” she yelled, running past them. “Love you, stay safe!"

 “Can I follow you?” Masumi called after her.

 “Absolutely not!”

 Citron and Tsuzuru were hot on her heels. Sakuya and Masumi watched all three of them run off. 

 When they turned a corner, Masumi turned to his friend. “Can I have half of your fruit snacks?"


 “That one!” Citron cried, pointing to the blue warehouse at the end of the harbor.

 Tsuzuru thrust his hand out and shot a Rune forward, shattering the iron padlock and chain completely. Izumi didn’t miss a beat, sprinting ahead and kicking the door open as hard as she could.

 “STOP!” she screamed at the top of her lungs.

 A figure swathed in black, the only figure standing inside, turned around with eyes blown wide open.

 No. Eye blown wide open. Singular. An eyepatch covered the left one, Izumi realized.

The figure catapulted their body towards a stack of boxes, cartwheeling and flying through the air like an acrobat. They escaped through the second story window in the time it took most people to do a sit up.

 Tsuzuru caught up to her side, panting heavily. “Where did they go?”

 She shook herself out of her stupor. “They... left.”

“Left? Where?”

She pointed. “The window.”

“The window?

Izumi glared at him. “We have bigger problems to deal with right now.”

 The only trace of existence the rogue Witch had left behind was the summoning circle in the center of the room. Painted messily on the concrete ground with what looked like ink and a paintbrush. It radiated black magic so strongly, it felt like someone was pushing needles underneath her fingernails. The Witch might have left but the spell had already been started.

 “Tsuzuru, you deal with the Runes,” she said, rushing forward to blow out each red candle and gather them in her arms “I don’t care how, just stop the summoning.

 He knelt down and licked the pad of his thumb, immediately getting to work on erasing them to be the best of his abilities.

 “All of these Runes have to be insanely illegal,” he murmured in horror under his breath. “I don’t recognize any of them.”

 “That’s because all black magic should be gone by now, those Runes shouldn’t even exist to be replicated.”

 “Well, it looks like someone did a crap job at wiping these from existence then,” Tsuzuru snapped, pounding his fist on the ground in frustration. “They aren’t erasing and I can’t even rewrite them because I don’t know what the hell they are!”

 The black ink turned red and began glowing. 

That wasn’t promising.

 The candles in Izumi’s hands sparked to life once more with black fire, bursting hot wax all over her. She dropped them with a shriek, trying to claw the molten goop off of her face as it started burning. Citron arrived just in time to catch and steady her as she fell over.

 “We are too late,” the Seer said gravely. “Too late, the future is already set in stone.”

 “I can’t get out,” she heard Tsuzuru choke out, voice rising in alarm. “Director. Director, please help. I—I can’t get out of the circle, there’s a… barrier in place?”

 Citron gently wiped away the already solidifying clumps of wax off of Izumi’s face. He only repeated, “The future is set in stone,” once more.

 The fire from the scattered candles grew unnaturally hot, turning the warehouse into an oven. She cracked open a sore eyelid to see Tsuzuru pounding his fists on an invisible wall. His face was panicked. The magic circle underneath his knees burnt brighter and gave off an even more scorching heat. There was a high pitched, wavering noise that bounced off of the metal walls and echoed back at them.

 Izumi realized after a moment that the sound was coming from her open mouth. She was screaming.

 “Let—go of me!” she yelled, trying to force Citron’s arms off of her. “He needs help!"

 He shook his head, staring with a hollow stare at the magic circle that held Tsuzuru.

“There’s nothing we can do, Director,” Citron said softly. “Wait.”

The smell of blood filled the room next as the Runes quite literally began bleeding thick red, drowning the markings and turning the magic circle into one large crimson stain. The Caster let out a horrified cry as he slipped and fell, drenching his clothes.

 Something, someone was starting to rise from the dark pool.

 He had horns.

Curled ones, like a ram’s, sprouted from each side of the demon’s head. Burning eyes, first red that then quelled to a hot pink; blond locks that curled slightly at the ends. He wore a red cloak the same color as the summoning circle had turned, long enough to hide the rest of his body except for the pair of cloven hooves he stood upon.

 The edges of the cloak flared and the hum of magic in the air died. The warehouse turned uncomfortably cool in the sudden absence of heat.

 No one spoke for a moment.

 The demon broke the silence by clearing his throat.

“You know,” he began in drawl. “The last instance I was brought to the mortal world, there had been an entire crowd of people who knelt and bowed before my sinful magnificence. I’m not saying you lot have to, I suppose I'm just a little miffed there’s no ceremony here.”

 His pink eyes surveyed the room in its entirety.

 “Is this… Is this an abandoned warehouse?” he asked, upper lip curling. “Okay, now it’s just insulting.”

 Izumi didn’t know what to say. Apparently, none of them did, including Tsuzuru who was soaking wet with the summoning circle’s blood and visibly trying not to cry. Or vomit. Or both. The demon sighed.

 “Will none of you speak?” he asked. He raised his nose into the air and took a sniff. “Where is my summoner? A Witch.”

 He locked eyes with Izumi and sneered.

 “Couldn’t have been you, halfblood. You barely have any magic in you.”

 Later, when she was recounting the story to Matsukawa, she would say sincerely that she didn’t know what came over her.

 “Yeah?” she said, shrugging Citron’s arms off of her. “I’ve got enough magic to kick your ass at least, goat boy."

 The demon stared at her for a moment longer and then chuckled dryly. “At least you aren’t mute.”

 He finally turned his gaze to the Caster cowering at his hooves.

 The demon did not look pleased. “Last time, I was sacrificed an entire chest of gold and diamonds. Not some measly boy.”

 “Sacrificed?” Izumi cried at the same time Tsuzuru gasped and repeated, “Measly?!”

 “Tsuzuru, please. Priorities,” she muttered.

 He pointed a trembling finger at the demon. “This thing just called me measly! I’m, like, one of the tallest boys in my year at uni. I am not measly. The basketball team tried to get me to sign up for tryouts even.”

 Izumi ground her teeth and ignored him. She directed her next question to the demon. “What do you mean by sacrifice?"

 “He was in the circle upon my summoning which means he is the price that will be paid for my services,” the demon said with scorn. “Or, to be more precise, his soul.”

 Tsuzuru’s jaw dropped. “So you’re going to take my soul even though I had nothing to do with your summoning? That’s not fair!”

 The demon clicked his tongue. “No, I will be taking your soul once the reason for my summoning has been accomplished. When I grant the summoner’s wish, I am allowed to glean the sacrifice; that has always been the rule.”

 “So what the hell was the reason for your summoning?” Tsuzuru cried.

 The demon’s tail, scaled like a snake’s, slithered around his hooves, betraying his frustration. “How am I supposed to know? My summoner is absent.”

Tsuzuru’s face went red with rage. “You don’t know?

 “Do you see anyone around us who I could ask? No? Shocking.”

 Izumi pounded her hand on the barrier for their attention, trying to diffuse the situation before something ugly happened.

 She shot the demon the best smile she could, the one she practiced in the mirror in case she got pulled over for speeding. “Well, Mister Demon, sir. Seeing as how none of us know the reason for your… existence, why don’t you go back to hell until we find the Witch who summoned you? That’ll be easier for all of us, don’t you think?”

 The demon had the audacity to roll his eyes at her. “Halfblood.”

“Yeah?”

“Look at the ground.”

 She looked at the ground. The blood from the summoning circle had drained away, leaving only the rusty stains on Tsuzuru’s clothes as evidence it’d ever even been there.

 “Do you see a portal of fire and blood?” The demon asked.

 “No.”

He gasped sarcastically. “Oh, a shame. Then I guess that means I can’t go back.

 Izumi felt a vein in her forehead throb. “You don’t have to be rude about it. You’re a condescending asshole, you know that?”

 “I am quite literal hell spawn. ‘Condescending asshole’ is a compliment.”

The demon flicked his finger and stepped out of the circle. Tsuzuru immediately scurried out as well, dragging himself to his feet as he returned to Izumi's side. She gave him a comforting pat on the back.

“Do you think I like being here? Surrounded by a worthless halfblood Witch and a Caster?” the demon snapped. “I’ve been summoned and sought after by hordes of followers, of kings and lords and rulers beyond your comprehension. This is the worst downgrade ever.”

 “I get it, your head’s far up your ass and you think you’re important,” Izumi shot right back at him, already feeling fed up with constantly being referred to as halfblood. She started doing the jazz hands as she presented Citron. “I mean, not to brag, but we also have the best Seer in… what country are you from again? What are you wearing?”

 Citron’s eyes were covered with a black scarf, the one he seemed to always carry tucked into a pocket. “Ignore my accessory, Madam Director. Alas, I cannot look at the demon straight.”

 “…Why’s that?”

 Citron grimaced. “I do not like what I see in his mind. Dark things. Bad demon is bad.”

 The demon didn’t look offended by this. “I’m a destroyer of good and hope. Go figure.”

 Citron jabbed a thumb over his shoulder. “Perhaps you would like to do the introducing of Sakuya and his Hunter friend as well?”

 “Sa—?"

 Izumi shoved Citron aside just in time to catch sight of two boys ducking behind the warehouse’s door.

 Ohh, she was about to misdirect the anger swirling in her gut, wasn’t she?

 “Sakuya, Masumi! In front of me, now!”

 They sheepishly came out of hiding.

 “You’re beautiful even if you’re mad,” Masumi offered in that oddly reverent but still monotone voice of his.

 “You followed us?!” Izumi barked, a migraine starting up in the back of her head. “That was very, very irresponsible of you two! It could have been insanely dangerous!”

 Sakuya, at least, looked crestfallen. “I’m… sorry. I thought this was going to be a field trip or something."

 Masumi, however, did not look apologetic. “I wanted to see you.”

 “We didn’t follow immediately! I ate the fruit snacks and then I wondered what you were up to so Masumi and I decided to go to the harbor and check things out but…” Sakuya swallowed. “I’m sorry. Next time I’ll stay home.”

 Izumi kept a furious glare on the two of them before relenting. She brought the Witch in for a hug.

“I just don’t want you getting hurt.” She glanced at Masumi. “Either of you. Ever. Both of you are very powerful, but you’re still kids. You shouldn’t go near situations like this.”

 “Can I have a hug?” Masumi asked, holding out his arms.

 “You’ve got a real one track mind,” Tsuzuru muttered.

Masumi frowned at him. “Ew. You’re covered in blood.”

“No, really? Thanks for letting me know, I had no idea!”

 The demon snapped his fingers and Sakuya yelped as he was dragged towards him. His horned head leaned in close, inspecting the younger boy’s face.

“My, my, my,” Itaru said softly. “Perhaps you bunch are more interesting than I gave credit for. A Firstborn? But not my summoner.”

 Izumi clapped her hands onto Sakuya’s shoulders, drawing him closer to her (and, more importantly, away from the demon). “Yep, this is our little rosebud. We’re very proud of him. Please don’t take his soul. Or Tsuzuru’s if you can help it, but seriously don’t take Sakuya’s, he is very important to us.”

 Tsuzuru unkindly rammed his elbow into Izumi’s ribcage. “If my self confidence were any lower than it already is, I’d probably have taken a lot of offense at that statement.”

 “You’re a big boy, you can handle a little soul sacrifice.”

 “Right. Of course. Except he called me measly.”

 “Are you still caught up on that?”

 Sakuya waved shyly at the demon. “Can I ask what you are? I don’t think I’ve ever met anybody who looks like you before.”

 A hand shook free of the red cloak’s fabric and, after a snap of fingers, held a ball of magenta fire. “I am a demon, Witchling. We are born from the flames of hell itself and are brought to the human world to grow our fortune. Whether it be with jewels, with sin, or with the souls of the living. My breed is powerful, destructive, and dark. I exist for no other purpose than to wreck havoc amongst you mortals.”

 “Ohhhhhh my god, you are so annoying,” Tsuzuru grumbled. “Can you start giving the shortened version of your résumé the next time someone asks?”

 “Envy is a sin, Caster, and you teem with it.”

 “I’m going to kill you, sir.”

The demon sneered. “Try it.”

 Sakuya interrupted them again. “A demon? From hell? So there is a hell? Is there God then? Did the Christians get it right?”

 The demon looked perplexed by this question. He cleared his throat. “You are a… curious one. We call our dwelling hell but I’m not aware of… whether this God you speak of truly exists or not. I doubt it, though.”

 Sakuya almost wilted. “Dang it. I thought I was going to figure out the secrets of the universe. Um… What’s your name?"

 “The summoner chooses the name in most circumstances,” he said, inspecting black fingernails. “Seeing as the summoner is not here, I suppose you all will have to bear the burden of choosing my title. I am not fond of the idea of being referred to as ’that thing’ every time someone finds the need to grab my attention."

 “We get to name you?” the Firstborn asked, eyes wide and sparkling in the way only Sakuya’s could.

 The demon shrugged listlessly. “Granted it is not degrading and you do not begin to treat me as a pet, I see no harm in it.”

 Sakuya thought for a moment. “Itaru.”

 “Pardon?”

 “Itaru. That’s your name. The kanji would be written as…” Sakuya carefully drew in the air with a finger that glowed pink. (Izumi figured this wasn’t the right time to gush over her pupil, but she made a note to herself to praise Sakuya later for figuring out how to Rune Write.) The single character kanji floated in-between the two of them. “Like this. It means to arrive… which you did.”

 “Itaru,” the demon repeated slowly. “Hm. Alright. I permit it. You may call me Itaru.”

 “So we can’t name you Pain In the Ass?” Tsuzuru asked flatly. 

 Itaru the demon chuckled. “Isn’t it human custom for you to ask me to dinner first at least?”

 Izumi was barely able to hold the Caster back from leaping at the demon with bare hands outstretched, as though he was going to strangle the creature and force him back from whence he came.

 “What are we going to do with Itaru now?” Citron asked.

 Sakuya bounced on the balls of his feet. “Can—Can we bring him back to the dorms?!”

 “No! No, we absolutely cannot!” Izumi snapped.


It was lucky Matsukawa was back at Mankai and could open the door for them, seeing as none of them had grabbed keys before leaving.

 “Who… is—?” he asked, staring at Itaru.

 Tsuzuru stormed past him. “Don’t ask.”

 “No, I genuinely want to know. W-Why are you covered in blood?"

 “Demon,” Izumi muttered as she followed in Tsuzuru’s footsteps.

 Matsukawa tossed his hands into the air. “Sure. Okay. Can anyone offer me a real explanation?”

 Itaru only leered at him. “I am a demon, born from the flames of hell itself—”

 “SHOVE IT!” Izumi yelled from within.

 Sakuya grabbed Itaru’s hand and tugged him into the entryway. “Come in! I have so many questions I want to ask if you’re okay with answering them!”

 Masumi took his shoes off and left them at the shoe rack. “Pardon the intrusion.”

 “Can we order pizza tonight?” Citron asked sweetly, blindfold still on tight. He held out an arm. “I would also appreciate it if you could help me to the room of living.”

 Matsukawa opened his mouth and closed it. He led Citron to the kitchen and the adjoined living room.

As he passed Izumi, who had slammed the Purple Pages onto the table angrily and was now rifling through it, he murmured, “I should let you know that before you came here, Mankai was fairly peaceful. That first month? All we did was watch TV and clean. Neither Sakuya nor I brought home a demon once.”

 “Don’t test me, Matsukawa. Not tonight,” was all Izumi could think of to say.

 “Are we really going to allow Sakuya to talk to a demon?”

 “I mean, we let him talk to Citron, didn’t we?”

 The Seer laughed. “I am only a little hurt by those words, Director.”

 “Do you want me to get rid of the demon for you?” Masumi asked her.

 Izumi took in a deep breath through her nose. “Masumi, shouldn’t you be going home? It’s late.”

 “I want to stay.”

 “Of course you do.” Well, if the kid insisted. Might as well put him to work. “There’s laundry that needs to be folded, want to help out?”

 “Okay.” He left to fetch the basket.

 Tsuzuru was understandably very upset as he waited for the kettle to boil. “I know that at the end of the day, it was my decision to come here. But man, I really wish I had Citron’s future vision. If I’d known the whole ‘you’ll meet a demon and lose your soul’ bit, I don’t think I would have agreed to work for you.”

 “We’re not going to lose your soul, Tsuzuru,” she said scornfully. “I don’t care if it kills me. We’re going to track down that Witch if it’s the last thing we do. Then we’ll figure out the purpose Itaru was summoned for and make sure it’s not met. I’m not going to let you die.”

 He stared at her and then bobbed his head once in a nod.

It felt good to have someone care about him and say they wouldn’t let him die. And when it came from Izumi Tachibana, well, he felt like he could believe it. There was something unflinching i the way she spoke.

Tsuzuru poured two cups of hot chocolate and set one in front of her, nursing the other for himself. The stench of blood still clung to his nose and he desperately needed a shower, but it could wait until this moment with the Director had passed.

 “There aren’t many active Witch families in the city,” he said offhandedly. “If that’s what you’re looking for. It’s probably a traveler.”

 Izumi showed him the book. “It says there’s one here though…?”

 “Ignore them. They have a son but he’s, like, twelve years old, I think? They also relocated their main house to Osaka five years ago. Any other Witches should be here exclusively for Council work.”

 She grunted and slammed the Purple Pages shut. “Do you think we can have Citron keep an eye out for Witches in the city?”

 “I can ask him. Dunno how well Seer magic works but maybe he’s got a trick up his sleeve.”

 “It’s the only real hope we’ve got.” She dragged her hands down her face and melted onto the table’s surface. “Black magic. Black magic. How does any of this make sense? A Firstborn Witch, that disgusting slime from the house spirit, someone summoning a demon… Feels like there’s something going on with this city.”

 The Caster exhaled through his nose. “It’s certainly… the most condensed series of events I’ve witnessed in the past eighteen years living here. It could all be a coincidence.”

 Izumi doubted it. As the goosebumps on her flesh refused to sink back down, she had to admit that there was something terrifying brewing behind the scenes and when it boiled over into her life, she would probably hate it.

 Citron finally took off his blindfold to read through the pizza menu Matsukawa had handed him.

 He waved it in the air. “Director! May you please order one of these? The sweet potato pizza looks very interesting!”

 That was the cue for Tsuzuru to finish off his hot chocolate and make his way to the bathroom, it seemed. Before he left, he paused.

 “You know what the worst thing about all of this is,” he said wistfully. “I think I’m so mad about it because Itaru’s… absurdly good looking.”

 Izumi slammed her palms onto the table. “Oh my god, you noticed too? It’s driving me nuts. Like, why is he HOT? What’s the point?”

 “Good looking people can burn in hell, I guess,” he muttered as he waved goodbye over his shoulder.

 Masumi took his place, setting down the basket of laundry and beginning to fold its contents. “…Do you think he’s hotter than me?”

 “Kid, where are your parents.”

 “France.”

 “Of… course they are.” Izumi weighed the pros and cons in her head before committing to it. With a demon around, they’d need to take as many precautionary actions as possible. “Masumi, would you like to stay—?”

 “Yes.”

 “…You didn’t let me finish.”

 “I want to stay here with you. Please let me.”

 Izumi gritted her teeth. “I’ll need your parents to fax me their signature on a permission slip.”

 “I can get that done by tonight,” he said without a moment’s pause.

 She would regret this, she really would. But that was a problem for future Izumi to deal with. And, logically, it would be a good thing to have as many Firstborns as possible in the Coven, right? Maybe it’d even get them a sizable bonus on their checks from the Council.

“Alright, then. Welcome to Mankai Coven. I’ll start getting your lessons in order too.”

Chapter Text

Someone knocked on Izumi’s door.

“Come in!” she called over her shoulder.

 Matsukawa poked his mop-like head inside, looking more somber than usual. “Do you mind if we, uh, talk in private?”

 “Of course. You can close the door behind you.”

 He did so, and then shifted his weight from foot to foot like he didn’t know what he was going to say next.

 Izumi rolled her eyes. “Get it out and over with, Matsukawa, I’m not going to kill you.”

 “Do you promise?”

 She stiffened.

“What did you do,” Izumi snarled.

 “You have to promise not to get upset with me,” he said, drawing a step away and pressing his back to the door.

 “What did you do.

 He was grasping for straws. “The good news, at the very least, is that you can trust that this mistake will never be repeated, in any way, ever again.”

Izumi stepped closer. “What. Did. You. Do.”

 “You know, Director, I don’t feel very inclined to tell you when you’re giving off such a threatening presence!”

 “Five. Four.”

 “Alright, alright!” Matsukawa said, holding up a hand to stop her. With the other, he reached into his jacket and pulled out an envelope. She recognized the fine, heavy creme paper as official Council stationery.

 “Oh my god,” she muttered, taking it from him and opening the flap. “Why in the world did they need to contact us?”

 Matsukawa coughed into his fist. There was already a sheen of nervous sweat on his forehead. “Um… they seem to have some concern over our housing and guidance of Sakuya. They said they would be sending over a representative for evaluation tomorrow.”

 “What? Why would that be?” Izumi said, more to herself than anybody else as she pulled out the folded notice. She began to read through the dense political jargon. “We’re a Coven. It’s what we do. Everything should be fine as long as we registered.”

 “Ah. Ahaha. Oh, jeez. About that…”


 Sakuya finished making his late-night snack (a sandwich, with a side of strawberry hard candies for dessert) and prepared to go to his room with it.

 Citron chuckled quietly from his seat in the living room. “I would not go down that hallway if I were you."

 Sakuya glanced over his shoulder at the Seer. “Hm? Why do you say that?”

 “Wait about five seconds and you will see.”

 Sakuya hesitated, then stepped aside from the hallway and began counting. Right on the dot, the entire building seemed to shake at its foundation.

 “WHAT DO YOU MEAN YOU DIDN’T REGISTER US?!

 Sakuya winced. He had never before, in his entire life, heard such a furious bellow. And considering his past living situations, that was saying something. He couldn’t help but pity the man who had to bear the blunt of such an explosion. In this case—Matsukawa.

 “I’m sorry! I really did mean to get on it as soon as possible, there were just so many household chores to get through!”

 “WE HAVE MINORS LIVING UNDER THIS ROOF, MATSUKAWA.”

 “I thought it would have been fine as long as we registered sooner or later—“

 “WE’RE GOING TO GET ARRESTED. THIS IS TECHNICALLY KIDNAPPING. LITERAL KID NAPPING. AS IN CHILDREN HAVE BEEN SLEEPING UNDER THIS ROOF WHEN WE HAD NO LEGAL AUTHORITY TO BE OFFERING SUCH ACCOMMODATIONS.

 “You’re getting ahead of yourself, Director! I’m sure the Council will understand as soon as we explain the reason why we’re a little late.”

 “YOU HAD. A. MONTH.”

 “I was… busy!”

 “WITH WHAT? PAINTING THE ROOF?

 “Director. DIRECTOR. P-PUT DOWN THE BOOK, YOU’RE NOT THINKING CLEARLY—”

 “I’m giving you to the count of three to get a head start.”

 “…Head start on what?"

 “RUN.”

 Citron had that smile still plastered and unchanged on his face as Matsukawa threw the door to Izumi’s bedroom open and sprinted out, screaming for his dear life. True to her word, three tense seconds passed before Izumi Tachibana was hot on his heels, thick leather bound tome hefted in hand as a weapon.

Obscenities poured from her mouth as she chased after him. Sakuya caught a few of the jumbled swears before politely tuning the rest out, knowing it would only horrify the Director to know she’d said such things while he was in ear’s reach.

 “That is why,” Citron said when the prey and hunter tore into the courtyard.

 Sakuya cleared his throat. “Thank you! Seer magic can be really convenient, huh?”

 Citron gave an uncharacteristic snort that was reminiscent of Tsuzuru. “In this place… yes.”

 “Masumi! Thank god you’re here, help me!” Matsukawa yelped.

“GET HIS ASS.”

 “No, no, no, NO, NO, PUT DOWN THE KNIFE—WHY ARE YOU HELPING HER?”

 “Because I love her. Duh.”

 “Is Matsukawa going to be okay?” Sakuya asked.

 Citron squinted his eyes. “His fate… What is the word? Wobbly. The future is not set in stone for that one yet.”

 Sakuya didn’t know if the Seer was kidding or not.


 “So… why such a late night trip?” Tsuzuru asked, glancing up from his notes.

 “Because if someone is coming by to evaluate this place, then we should at the very least hand in the registration forms as soon as possible,” Izumi spat out bitterly. “That means tonight."

 Tsuzuru fumbled with the test-tube in his hand. “We’re not registered?!

 “Why do you think I’m so upset?”

 “Director, there are children—!”

 “I know!” She screamed into her palms in frustration. “Listen. You're in charge of holding down the fort until Matsukawa and I are back. If we take the night train, drop these off at the Council building, and then take the earliest train back, we should be back by four in the morning. Can you promise me that nothing will be set on fire until then?”

 The Caster sighed. “Yes, you can trust me. Good lord, it’s only been a handful of days here and with all due respect, I feel like I already deserve a pay raise.”

 She made sure the papers were in order before slipping them into a folder and tucking it underneath her arm. “If we’re not arrested, I’m sure we can find the funds to give you a little bonus.”

 “…That does very little to reassure me.”

 “Oh, wah wah, Tsuzuru, sorry that reassuring you isn’t the highest thing on my list of priorities right now.” Izumi walked straight towards the kitchen, head held high. “HEY. Group meeting for everyone at the kitchen table, please!”

 A ring of fire appeared on the wooden floorboards and from it rose Itaru, regal and dramatic as always.

 “You were in the living room!” Izumi snapped, waving wildly towards the adjoined area. “I was ten feet away, you could have walked here. Why the ring of fire?”

 “Do you think it behooves me to walk like you silly mortals when I can simply go wherever I please with a simple willing?” the demon asked as he sneered at her.

 Sakuya giggled a little as he showed up next. He had a rag in one hand and a bottle of Windex in the other. Had he been wiping the windows? What a sweetheart. “Oh. I get it. That was funny. Behooves! Because—you know. His feet! They’re hooves. That was a really funny joke, Itaru.”

 “I hate that he can pull off awful quips solely because he’s hot,” Tsuzuru muttered bitterly.

 Izumi pointed accusingly at the demon. “Actually, can we discuss that? I feel like we should discuss that. Why are you hot.”

 “Hellfire,” Itaru offered, and summoned a ball of flame to illustrate.

 “No, I mean, why are you good looking. It’s annoying.”

 Itaru offered her a smile. “Should I be flattered?”

 “No. You should feel threatened.”

 “Ah. Well, it would make sense for my kind to appear physically attractive to mortals. We do feast upon your souls and sins, after all. A little charm on the face goes a long way in sealing a contract sometimes. It’s a survival mechanism.”

 “I want you to know,” Tsuzuru said flatly, “that nobody here likes you. No one.”

 Sakuya raised his hand. “I like Itaru! He’s cool.”

 Itaru ruffled the Witch’s hair. “When hell rises to engulf and destroy the entirety of the mortal realm one day, I’ll spare you, Witchling. You can become my court jester.”

 “Awww. Really? That’s very kind of you. Thanks, Itaru.”

 Izumi rubbed her temples, begging her headache to disappear. Masumi and Citron joined them soon enough, the former popping up from nowhere almost as magically as Itaru, the latter arriving with a small “eep!” before he tied a black scarf over his eyes.

 “I’m leaving the dorms for the night and I’ll be back by early morning,” she said simply. “Tsuzuru’s in charge until Matsukawa and I return. Tomorrow, an inspector is swinging around at eight to look around. Itaru, if you don’t shove your ass into a cookie jar and pretend like you don’t exist when that happens, I’ll throw you onto the streets myself. Understand?”

 He only gave a noncommittal snort.

 “Good.”

 Masumi stepped closer to her. “Can I go with you?”

 “No.”

 “…Please? I’ll carry your things.”

 “No.”

 “Okay.”

 She went around the circle and gave them all a firm pat on the head. Itaru snarled a little when she did so, and she made sure to give him a hair ruffle along with it.

“Don’t do anything stupid while I’m gone,” Izumi warned. “I will be taking away TV privileges if I hear any of you gave Tsuzuru more gray hairs than he’s already got.”

 The Caster’s hands rose to his hairline in offense. “What? I am not gray.”

 “You’re going… a little gray.” She held her thumb and forefinger a centimeter apart. “Just a little. Around the temples.”

 He moaned. “I’m eighteen, Director, I can’t afford to be going gray.”

 “Let’s hope you’re not bald by my age.” Izumi shot him a teasing grin and then made her way to the front door. “Oh, and Itaru?”

 “Yes?”

 She gave him the most withering glare she could summon. “No demon magic while I’m gone.”

 Itaru chuckled. “We shall see.”

 And with that, Izumi Tachibana left the dorms. Tsuzuru waited a minute, making sure she didn’t hop right back to fake them out, and then rolled his eyes.

 “Okay, let me make one thing super clear,” he said flatly to the group at large. “As long as I don’t have end up having to call the fire department or the hospital, you’re all free to do whatever you want. I grew up with seven younger brothers and my standards are low. I’ll be in the lab if you need me.”

 He disappeared in record time.

 “How can someone be so terribly boring, one has to wonder,” Itaru muttered, scowling as the Caster made his swift exit. “Such a tepid soul as sacrifice… Makes me wonder if it’s even worth it. You, Witchling.”

 “Yes?” Sakuya answered cheerfully.

 “Put down your servant duties and entertain me.”

 “Oh, I’m not a servant,” he said, but put the Windex and rag in the cupboard where they belonged. “But I think that cleaning is a good way to relieve stress. And it helps lessen the workload for the Director and Matsukawa. What would you like to do?”

 “Finding a way to keep me entertained is your responsibility,” Itaru answered snootily.

 “Hmm.” Sakuya patted his pockets. He took out a deck of cards and held it up. “Would you like to play a card game with me?”

 Itaru examined his cuticles. “It shall do. Everyone take a seat at the table.”

 Masumi made a face as he took a step back from the circle. “I wanna go to sleep instead.”

 “You don’t want to play with us?” Sakuya asked as he frowned.

 “No.”

 Citron laughed and tugged the Hunter over to the kitchen table, feeling around for a chair. “But Masumi, I cannot see! You must help me conquer this game by playing on my team and telling me what cards I have.”

 “Don’t wanna.”

 Sakuya looked at Masumi with sad eyes. “Please?”

 “...Fine.”

 “Yes!” Sakuya cheered. He handed the deck to the demon. “Take it away, Itaru!”

 The demon started to shuffle. “So, just to be clear, none of you have played demon poker before?”

 “Nope!”

 He grinned with all his sharp teeth. “Excellent.”


 Two hours later, Sakuya was, yet again, in tears. “No, I set the Queen of Hearts on fire! That means I launched the revolution and all of your royalty cards are useless!”

 “Perhaps, but I merged my Clubs and Spades into a commonwealth and then used the Joker to turn the whole country into a republic, so my King cards still retain their power,” Itaru shot right back at him. “Just not as kings. It’s merely a title that has been removed due to governmental corruption."

 Masumi reached for Citron’s card hand and removed a four of diamonds. “Then I sacrifice our bourgeoisie to the sea serpent to get a maximum power upgrade for our agriculture sector to spit on your Industrial Gods.”

 Citron cheered. “The Industrial Gods of Itaru have fallen! Your land has no source of commercial income!”

 Itaru clicked his tongue and wagged his finger back and forth. “Foolish mortals. You forgot about my trump card.”

 He put down a pair of sevens. “Go Fish."

 Masumi flipped the table over and sent the cards flying.

 “Oh, Masumi!” Sakuya wailed.

 “He was pissing me off.”

“That’s no excuse to ruin the fun for everybody else!”

 Tsuzuru poked his head in the living room, ash-streaked all around his eyes outlining where goggles had been prior. “Uh, everything alright in here? I heard yelling.”

 “We’re playing demon poker,” Itaru said smoothly, snapping his fingers and setting the table upright once more. “Nothing to be concerned about.”

 “…Right.” He grabbed a banana and disappeared back into his lab.

 “Another round, then?” Citron asked jovially.

 Itaru licked the tips of his fangs. “I’m hungry.”

 “I can go on a snack run, then,” Sakuya said immediately. “I’ve been saving money! I—I always wanted to have a game night with friends where we eat tons of junk food and have fun together. This is the perfect opportunity for that.”

 “I shall go with you,” Citron said, standing up. “Adult supervision, yes? We shall return briskly, demon and Hunter! Do not fear.”

 Masumi glared at Itaru. “Deal the cards again. I’m going to beat you while they’re gone.”

 “Your pyre, brat."


 “I like chocolate ice cream the most,” Sakuya was explaining to Citron as they checked out at the convenience store. “Director thinks that hot desserts are better than cold ones, which is why she likes brownies when they’re fresh out of the oven, but I think ice cream still beats brownies. Don’t tell her, though.”

 Citron didn’t respond.

 “Are you alright?” Sakuya asked, slipping the change into his wallet.

 The Seer furrowed his brow and grabbed Sakuya by his elbow. “Follow me. Quickly, now.”

“A-Ah? Okay.”

 They both started running down a dimly lit street.

 “What’s going on?” Sakuya asked, struggling not trip from the fast pace. “Did… Did you see something, Citron?”

 “Sense, more like it,” Citron muttered. They turned the corner and he called, “You!”

There was only one other person besides them on the street. A boy, younger than Sakuya. He turned around with a frightened screech, pink hair fluffing up like the fur of a startled cat.

It was late. Late enough for anyone walking the streets on their own to be on edge, but much too late for someone dressed in a school uniform to be roaming about. A St. Flora’s school uniform, Sakuya realized when he saw the lavender fabric and green tie.

 “M-Me?” the boy managed, already pale from fear. “Please don’t kill me! I—I don’t have any money on me right now! And my family’s not r-rich so I wouldn’t even be good for ransom, I swear, although we d-do have some money, so I would totally understand if you did, but please don’t! I’m just a, a wilted spinach bunch of a human!”

 “We’re not going to hurt you,” Sakuya reassured him. “Right, Citron? …Citron?"

 Citron put a hand on—nothing. Seemingly absolutely nothing. The man simply put his hand in thin air. “You have bothered this boy enough, I believe. Perhaps it is time for you to move on.”

 Excitement buzzed in Sakuya’s veins. “Is there a ghost there, Citron?”

 The Seer smiled sadly. “Yes, there is. A lonely soul, aren’t you?”

 Silence.

Citron sighed. “I know, I know. You are so young… I wish there is something I could do. But this boy does not know how to See you yet. You must leave him be. Offer help you may wish yet you are only hurting him now.”

The St. Flora’s student stared at Citron like he was witnessing the coming of Christ.

 “Y-You can see it too?” he whispered. The small tremor in his body turned to a full-blown shake. “I… you see it?

 He chuckled. “Perhaps clearer than you can right now, young man.”

 The boy’s azure eyes welled with tears. He hunched over and clasped his hands to his chest. “Oh, thank god. Thank god. I thought I was g-going crazy. Everyone thinks I’m crazy. My m-mom, she, she wanted to get me checked in somewhere. I thought I’ve been hallucinating this whole entire time.”

 Citron glanced at the empty space where there was apparently a spirit. “Leave for now and come back later. I will help this boy see and talk to you. I swear. But it will take some time.”

Sakuya couldn’t see a thing that was happening but the boy and Citron could. There was a pregnant pause before the boy threw himself at Citron, hugging him around the middle while bawling his eyes out.

“It’s finally gone,” he sobbed. “It’s gone. Thank you, thank you so much, thank you, thank you, thank you.

 Citron patted him on his head. “It must have been very scary!”

 “I had no idea,” he wailed. “I had no idea what it was or what to do. I kept ignoring it, but it was always there, watching me. This—shadow. I thought I was going crazy. No medication worked, no amount of therapy, absolutely nothing. What was that thing?!”

 “A ghost. A lonesome spirit who found refuge in being noticed by you, no matter how slightly.” Citron ruffled pink locks and sighed. “What is your name, young man?”

 “M-Muku, sir. Muku Sakisaka.” Muku pulled away and wiped his eyes. “I’m sorry. I was… This is the f-first time in months it’s finally gone away. You said it was a gh—” the word caught in his throat. “Ghost?

 Citron waved a hand towards Sakuya to grab his attention. “Sakuya, could you write the address of Mankai? I can’t seem to remember it. Please give it to this young man.”

 “Right!” He patted his pockets for a piece of paper but couldn’t find anything. He smiled at Muku. “Er, do you have a phone or something…?”

 Muku handed his smartphone over, fingers shaking so badly he nearly dropped it onto the asphalt. Sakuya jotted the address down in the Notes app and handed it back.

 “Come over and ask for Citron,” Citron advised and gave Muku a comforting squeeze on his shoulder. “I will help you understand.”

 Muku clutched his phone with whitened knuckles and ducked his head in a low bow. “Thank you so much. How do I make it go away if it comes back?”

 “He shall not. For some time, at least.”

 Muku nodded fiercely. “Right. Of course. I’ll trust you on that. Thank you so much for chasing it away."

And then he ran down the street, sprinting faster than Sakuya had ever before seen someone run.

 “Citron,” Sakuya asked in a soft boy once he was sure they were alone. “Is he…?”

 Citron sighed. “Yes, Sakuya. A Firstborn Seer. Who could have foreseen that? Certainly not I. And it is my job!”

 They turned and started to trek their way back to the dormitories.

 “The Director’s going to ask a lot of questions when she comes back,” Sakuya said in an attempt to ease the tense feeling in the air. “She told me there weren’t any Firstborn Seers in Japan either.”

 Citron finally chuckled, this time with genuine amusement. “Aha. If she comes back.”

 “What do you mean?”


 “Matsukawa,” Izumi said slowly, staring at the sign that said Shizuoka. “Did we get on the wrong train?”

 Matsukawa checked the tickets. “Oh, my. This was quite the mistake on my part.”

 “Ah. I see you’re continuing your trend of filling me with rage on a daily basis.”

“Haha! We’ll laugh about this together some day in the future.”

“I’m going to kill you.”


 The doorbell rang at seven in the morning.

 “Coming!” Sakuya called as he nearly tripped over himself in the rush to get to the entryway. He threw the door open, expecting to see the Director returned.

 He blinked at the tall blonde man who stood there instead. He was dressed in all black and, honestly, looked scarier than the hell spawn Sakuya lived with.

“Uh…” Sakuya cocked his head to the side. “Hello. Who are you?”

 “My name is Sakyo Furuichi,” the man said in an icy cold timbre. “I was sent on behalf of the Council to inspect the Mankai Coven and determine whether to not it is suitable to function as an establishment for education.”

“Hah?”

Sakyo sighed. “This is the evaluation.”

 “Oh! Of course! The Director and Matsukawa aren’t in at the moment but I can show you around if you’d like,” Sakuya said, shooting him a blinding smile. “We were expecting you at eight though."

 Sakyo pursed his lips. “It is standard to arrive earlier than the promised time. And you would be?”

 “Sakuya Sakuma, sir! The Firstborn Witch.” He held out his hand.

 Sakyo hesitated and then shook it. “A pleasure.”

 “Come in, come in!” Sakuya said, opening the door wider and bringing out the shoe rack. “This is the entryway, but you can probably tell already. I’ve never given anybody a house tour before, so tell me if I’m messing up. When you walk down here, we get to the kitchen and the living room. But the Director moved the television so we couldn’t see it from the table, which is kind of a disappointment, I think."

 “Who is… that?” Sakyo asked, gaze piercing through Itaru.

 The demon, spread on the couch as he lazily flicked through Sakuya’s Shounen Jump from that week, offered a wave. “Yo.”

 “That’s our demon friend Itaru, sir!” Sakura said, and then waved back at him. “Hi, Itaru!"

 “A demon,” Sakyo repeated, sounding oddly strangled.

 “Yep!”

 Sakyo clicked the end of his pen and began scribbling furiously on his clipboard. “I see. And did someone here summon him? You, perhaps?”

 “Oh, I wish!” Sakuya laughed. “I have no idea how summoning works yet. The Director said it’s stuff we won’t be covering in our lessons. But it would be really cool to meet more demons! Director said a stray Witch summoned Itaru. But because Tsuzuru’s the sacrifice, the demon's staying with us for now. I even got to give him a name. It was awesome.”

 “…I see. Who is this Director person? The only name of ownership I’d been provided for this building was an Isuke Matsukawa. And Tsuzuru?”

 “I’m sure we’ll meet Tsuzuru soon enough, although he might be sleeping. Director is the person who runs this entire place.” Sakuya’s eyes went half lidded and his gaze turned warm. “She’s incredible, you’ll see. She makes sure everything goes the way its supposed to and she cares about magic so much. I love it here.”

 “Is she registered as a teacher by the Council?”

 “Probably not! Maybe. I have no clue.”

 More furious scribbling. Sakuya pulled him down the corridor towards the dorm rooms.

 “This is where I sleep!” he said brightly. “I didn’t really have much before I came here, but the Director has been very kind with letting me borrow her books. I keep them in the corner and I read through them every night. Magic is such a fascinating thing, don’t you think?”

 Sakyo didn’t seem interested, only scribbling more and more furiously with every passing minute. “A demon… I’m appalled. And this Director person lets that thing live with you? A young, impressionable Firstborn?”

 “Itaru is fantastic. His stories about hell are really cool, you should ask him to tell some when you get the chance.”

 The pen refused to stop. “All of this is simply out of bounds of comprehension.”

 “You’re right, sir,” Sakuya said, blind to the furrow in Sakyo’s brow. “I honestly never would have thought I could have such an amazing place to call home.”

 They sat in a pocket of silence for a split second. Sakyo cleared his throat, breaking it. “You think of this place as your home?”

 “Of course!” Sakuya chuckled. “Mankai is amazing. New, incredible things to discover every day. But magic is only a small part of it.”

 Sakyo’s pen stood at attention. “Oh? Go on.”

 Sakuya closed his eyes and hummed to himself. “It’s the people here, I’d say? There’s a warm meal at the table every time I get hungry. Everyone laughs, and we have a lot of fun together. And the Director—she’s so great. She wakes up every day with this boatload of energy and excitement for what’s to come, and I can’t help but feel the same whenever I’m around her. There are a lot of reasons why Mankai’s already important to me. I’m really excited to be here.”

 He didn’t want to throw such a weight onto the Director’s shoulders by admitting it in front of her, but Mankai was more than just a place where he could learn about magic now. After being tossed around from home to home, relative to relative, being treated like a deadweight instead of a real person… the Coven had turned into something he’d always wanted. A place he could feel safe and wanted.

 Sakyo didn’t write a thing. He only stared at Sakuya and then sighed once again, heavy and dismissive. “Ah. What kind words you speak of this place.”

 “It’s my home!” Sakuya said firmly, opening his eyes and, for the first time that day, leveling a look of challenge at the councilman. “And I’ll stay here as long as I can.”

 His grip on the pen tightened. “We shall see about that.”

 “We will, won’t we?” Sakuya swept out of his room and knocked on the adjacent door. “Tsuzuru, are you awake? The inspector is here!”

 A noisy crash came from inside, and then hurried footsteps. Tsuzuru opened the door and nearly fell into the hallway, face still smeared with all sorts of colorful liquids and hair a mess. He’d very obviously just woken up from his desk.

 “…Sakyo Furuichi?” he rasped, eyes wide.

 “Hm. A Minagi, I take it?” Sakyo said pointedly to the flaxen and brown hair that was pointing every which way.

 Tsuzuru flushed and tried to pat the bird's nest down. “I didn’t think you’d be the one to be inspecting Mankai. Are you even an official councilman?”

 Sakyo bristled. “I fulfill the duties and have all the authority. I only lack the title, boy.”

 “Riiiiight, right. You’re not actually on the Council though, that must be so embarrassing for you.” Tsuzuru stretched and they were forced to listen to several of his joints popping. “Should have figured they’d send you. My father says you stick your nose into everything that isn’t your business.”

 Sakyo snorted. “Your father has had it out for me since I outlawed the usage of belladonna in potion study for this prefecture.”

 “Oh please, we all know you over-exaggerated the potential harms since it means less paperwork for you,” Tsuzuru snapped.

 That irritating clicking noise came from the pen again. Sakyo scribbled another note. “I’m sure the Council will be very interested in hearing all of this happening under their noses from an establishment that hasn’t even registered properly. Another strike upon the Minagi name—but you lot should be well accustomed to this, I suppose.”

 Sakuya had never seen a vein stand out in Tsuzuru’s head before.

 Citron took this moment to peek out of his own bedroom, an apple juice box in hand. “What is all the noisy for, I wonder?”

 Sakyo made a disgruntled noise. “Another person under this blasted roof? And who might you be?”

 “Citron!”

 “That. Answers nothing. Tsk, curse it all, I don’t care anymore. When will Matsukawa and this ‘Director’ individual show up?” The shine of his glasses looked oddly threatening. “I can say with full certainty that Mankai Coven has done very poorly on this evaluation so far. I simply cannot permit such an establishment to house an immature and overly powerful—”

 Citron interrupted Sakyo's rant with a loud slurp that signified the end of his juice box. He tossed the empty carton back into his room without looking. “Three.”

 “Three?”

 “Two.”

 Sakuya was already rushing towards the front door.


 “Finally home,” Izumi sobbed to herself as she rang the doorbell. She stood alone; Matsukawa had stopped by the pet store to fetch some bird seed for Kamekichi, telling her to go ahead and that he’d catch up.

 “E-Excuse me… Is this M-Mankai? I was told to come here,” a voice prompted tentatively from behind her.

 She turned around and could only gawk at the sweet little boy with soft pink hair who stood there. “Ah. Um. Hi.”

He flinched. “H-Hello.”

Who are you?”

 The door opened before he could give her an answer.

 “Director!” Sakuya yelled, throwing himself into her arms. “You’re back! I missed you!”

 Izumi ruffled his hair, more from reflex at this point than anything else. “Yo, kiddo. Glad to know the house isn’t on fire. I’m sorry I’m late, the inspector isn’t here though, right?”

 “No, he is.”

 “He IS?”

 Sakuya leaned away and pointed. “See? That’s Mister Sakyo, he’s here with a clipboard and everything."

 Sakyo’s pen fell to the floor. Izumi flinched at the sound and craned her neck to look inside. “The councilman’s already here? You said you’d get here by eight!”

 “Izumi Tachibana?” Sakyo whispered softly.

 “…Do I know you?” She held up a hand before he could reply. “Hold on.” She turned to the boy. “I’m gonna need an answer from you first.”

 He stiffened and held out his phone screen like the address would give her all the information she needed. “M-My name is Muku Sakisaka, miss! I, uh, I’m here because… because someone named Citron told me to come here?”

 “Yes, I am Citron!” Citron sang as he joined the small crowd in the entryway. “Hello, Muku. I am glad to know you arrived safely.”

 Izumi took in a deep breath. It was so early, she hadn’t had a wink of sleep the entire night, and now this whole mess was on her lap. “Should I even ask?”

 “You most definitely should,” Citron cheered. “This is cause for celebration!”

 “Okay, I’ll bite. Who’s the kid?”

 Citron danced the few feet outside and then draped an arm around Muku’s shoulder, bringing him closer. He presented the boy with flourish. “This is Muku. He is a Firstborn Seer I met yesterday through the will of Fate.”

 It sounded like someone had just punched Izumi in the throat. “A huh?

 “There are no Firstborn Seers in Japan,” Sakyo interrupted with a snarl.

 Citron only chuckled, eyes flashing steely. “There is now.”

 Muku held up a shaking hand. “C-Can… I please know what’s going on?"

Chapter Text

 “Kiddo, why don’t you go and buy us all some coffee?” Izumi said, rummaging through her purse and handing him the first bill she could find. “Take Masumi and Muku with you, you guys can all get to know each other. Citron, can you go with them to make sure they don’t get into any trouble?”

 “Alright!” Sakuya said, ducking his head in a quick bow. “I’ll bring you the receipt and the change.”

 She cupped her hands around her mouth to call, “It’s fine, you can keep it,” as the young Witch grabbed the other two kids and started heading to the convenience store. Citron followed them, humming a song and dancing a little as he walked.

 Izumi made sure they were all gone before turning to face this Furuichi guy who was still gaping at her like she’d grown another head.

 “I’m sorry for being on time for the inspection,” she said, a little more bite and snark to her voice than she’d planned, but she was exhausted. She deserved a bit of cut slack. “I hope it’s going well?”

 …Had Sakyo stopped breathing?

 Tsuzuru gave the councilman an unceremonious nudge to the ribcage with the heel of his palm.

 “Ah. Yes,” Sakyo finally managed, snapping out of it. “I… You’re Izumi Tachibana, aren’t you?”

 “Do you know me?” she asked, raising an eyebrow.

 Sakyo seemed a little at a loss for words. Finally, he brought a fist to his mouth and coughed into it. “I’m an acquaintance of your father’s. Let us take a seat, shall we?”

 Her stomach started sinking. “Taking a seat” was always official jargon for “I’m going to talk for four hours and you’ll listen to me whether you want to or not,” which she loathed. But some things simply had to be done.

First, she’d deal with the louse in the living room.

 “Move it,” she snapped, taking a pillow and smacking Itaru over the head.

 He rolled over with a groan. “Annoying. Go get your own seat.”

 “You are a monster.”

 Itaru opened one eye that flashed pink and sneered at her. “Literally? Yes.”

 “Get off or I’m sitting on you.”

 He stuck a tongue out and waggled it. “Maybe I’d like that.”

 Izumi locked eyes with Itaru and leaned in close until their faces were less than an inch apart.

 “Listen here, demon,” she said sweetly. “I’m sleep deprived, irritated, and I have very little patience left for your bullshit. If you start acting like a naughty little kitty cat, I’m going to have to start treating you like a naughty little kitty cat. And nobody would want that to happen, right?”

 “How do you plan on punishing me, vixen?” he crooned back, just as saccharine. “I could snap your spine with just a thought. You know this."

 Izumi booped his nose with the tip of her finger. “Alright. Wait here.” She slipped away down the dorm hall.

 “What is going on?” Sakyo hissed in Tsuzuru’s ear. 

 He shrugged. “You kind of get used to not questioning her once you live here.”

 Izumi came back with a spray bottle. No one in the room had even a moment to process things before she leveled it right at Itaru’s face and squeezed the handle.

 To everyone’s marvel, Itaru immediately bristled and hissed at her.

 “Quit it!” he snapped.

 “Get off the couch.”

 “I’m a soldier from hell and you dare—?”

 She sprayed him again.

 Itaru got off the couch and gave her the middle finger before disappearing in a ring of fire, probably to his room so he could mope in peace. Izumi set the spray bottle on the table and took a seat, gesturing for Sakyo to sit across from her.

 “Sorry about that,” she said, not sounding very sorry at all. “We’re still going through the house training phase with that one. How’s the inspection going so far? Any questions you’d need me to answer?”

 Sakyo hesitated. He looked down at his clipboard and then flipped it around so the writing lay face down on his lap. “No. Everything seems to be in order.”

 Her eyes widened. “Huh. Seriously? That’s fantastic!”

 “Will you be registering this Coven soon officially?”

 “Already dropped the papers off at the council building a few hours ago, that’s why I’m late.”

 Tsuzuru held up a hand, plopping right down next to Izumi. “Hold on. He’s lying. He was just going on and on just a few minutes ago about how this place is ‘incompetent’ and spewed so much crap about how working here would be another shame to my family.”

 Izumi glanced at Sakyo. “Is this true?”

 The councilman cleared his throat. “Some… recent discoveries have been made.”

 “Muku?” Izumi prodded.

 “Among others,” Sakyo said slowly.

 They sat, two staring at one and one staring right back. Tsuzuru broke the silence with a scandalized gasp. He slapped a hand over his mouth and stared at Sakyo with first stunned, unbelieving eyes that slowly melted into something that could only be described as maliciously gleeful.

 “Oh my lord,” he said quietly. “You… Oh my lord. I get it now.” He snorted, and then giggled before bursting out into full-chested cackles.

 Izumi put a hand on his knee. “Hey, uh… you wanna go take a nap or something, Tsuzuru? You sound a little tired.”

 “This is incredible,” Tsuzuru wheezed. “This is absolutely unbelievable.”

 “What are you going on about?” she muttered. “You’re making us look bad.”

 Tsuzuru put his face in his hands. “No, no. Give me a second. Talk to him for a bit while I get a grip on myself.”

 Izumi turned her attention to Sakyo and smiled apologetically. “I’m sorry about him, I promise he’s a lot more composed and collected most of the time.”

 “Dad’s going to fucking flip when I tell him,” the Caster muttered under his breath.

 Sakyo sighed. “The Firstborn seems perfectly happy with the accommodations being provided. Once the forms are registered, his stay here, along with any other magicians you deem fit, should be fine. There is the matter of ensuring he receives proper education so we’ll have to look through any plans you have for the coming weeks. This is all very new to all of us, as you know, but in tradition, the Firstborn will have to take a Council-officiated test soon to gauge both the level of teaching he’s received, and his latent abilities.”

 That sounded a little on the odd side to Izumi. Odd meaning, she’d never heard of this before. “I’m sorry, a test?”

 “Colloquially, they have been referred to as ‘quests.’”

 If she’d been holding a wineglass, it would have shattered in her grip. “Excuse me? A quest?

 “It’s simply tradition—“

 “Tradition?” Izumi snapped, standing up to look down on him. “You mean tradition like the olden days of magic when the average life expectancy was twenty-five? He is a seventeen year old boy! He needs more than just a few weeks of proper care and learning before he’s ready to gear up and go on a goddamned quest!”

 The scowl settled on Sakyo’s face was finally reminiscent of his usual demeanor. “Please calm yourself. The quests are nothing like they’d been centuries ago. He will not die. Your father taught several Firstborns, some Witches, some Casters, some Hunters, when Mankai Coven had been at its prime. While admittedly, yes, most of them do arrive and begin their schooling at a younger age than Sakuya Sakuma, they always go through the same trial when they turn eighteen. It’s simply how the system functions.”

 “It’s an outdated system by decades,” Izumi spat at him. “Sakuya is the first Firstborn Witch in, what, twenty years? Twenty years ago, Covens thought it was normal to only accept boys in their ranks because women magicians were deemed inferior. Yet you still think clutching to tradition is the best course of action?”

 Sakyo didn’t say anything.

 “And what if he fails the quest, huh? How do you even judge success and failure on this kind of thing?” she seethed.

 “When he gives up and returns without completing the objective,” Sakyo said quietly. “Or if the objective is not met within the timeframe set by the Council.”

 Izumi clenched her fists, trying to stop the odd shaking in them. “What happens if he fails?”

 Sakyo took off his glasses and began wiping the lens with a handkerchief tucked into a pocket. “Then we deem Mankai Coven to be unfit for educating magicians and we close the establishment. All of your enrolled students will re-do a curriculum overseen by the Council.”

 Tsuzuru finally raised his face from his palms. “Hold on, that’s not fair. The Council’s never intervened in Firstborn education before, they don’t even have a curriculum in place.”

 “They began to set one up immediately after becoming aware of Sakuya Sakuma’s existence,” Sakyo replied. “It was why this inspection was needed. If Mankai hadn’t proven to be passable, they would have relocated the Witch immediately. And, I suppose, the Seer as well.”

 Izumi swallowed. “What about Masumi then? What would have happened to him?”

 “Hunters have never seen much use nowadays, that much is common knowledge. He would have most likely been cut off from the Council’s course and instructed to integrate with magic-less society as best as possible.” Sakyo paused to think. “Perhaps some memory alterations would have taken place as well.”

 Tsuzuru bared his teeth, face having paled a few shades. “You heartless asshole.”

 “Pardon?”

 “You’re a Hunter. How would you feel if you were a kid and they took magic away from you?” Tsuzuru demanded. “That’s not something you get to choose for Masumi. That’s not—That’s not a choice you get to make for any magician!” 

 Sakyo only offered him a humorless smile. “I had extenuating circumstances. Your… student does not.”

 Izumi snapped her fingers to get both of their attention. “What was it you said about shutting this Coven down? Can you explain further?”

 Sakyo flipped the clipboard over and removed the last page from the pile, handing it over. “Obviously, we cannot tell you what the process would be in its entirety for fear of the risk to integrity that poses, but the test will be administered near the end of this season. Sakuya will have to complete an objective set by the Council—let me finish. An objective set with respect to his experience and abilities. Should he meet it, he will be returned to you to finish whatever lessons you have left or to simply stay in the dorms until he finds it fit to leave. Or until you evict him, whichever suits your fancy.”

 Izumi accepted the sheet of paper, eyes drawn immediately to the Mayor's signature at the very end, done in deep purple and swirly letters. Kamikizaka, Reni. Her upper lip twisted into a grimace. The end of this season? Spring was due to wrap up in two months. Did they have enough time?

 Even if they did, they’d be cutting it to the bone.

 “Fine,” she said with finality, folding the paper in half and tucking it away in her purse. She’d file it away properly once Sakyo left. “I accept these standards as long as the quest is fair. If it’s over the top, you can best believe that I’ll be tearing the Council building down brick by brick to strangle each and every one of you who had a hand in it. Do we understand each other, councilman?”

 Sakyo gave her a small quirk of his upper lip. “I’ll see to it the Mayor gets the message, although perhaps not in those exact words.”

 Izumi cleared her throat. “And… about Itaru—“

 “Would you prefer me to keep it under wraps?” he asked.

 She clasped her hands together. “Please. We’re trying to track down the stray Witch that summoned him on our free time but we really don’t need any more complications involved. Tsuzuru’s soul’s on the line here and we just want to get over this patch as smoothly as possible.”

 Sakyo’s smile grew imperceptibly. “It’s not orthodox, but I suppose I could ignore that one note. You seem to be able to keep the thing under control decently enough. I expect to hear many a great things about what you do with Mankai Coven, Miss Tachibana."

Tsuzuru opened his mouth and mimicked the sound of a whip cracking.

 “What are you doing?” Izumi asked him.

 Tsuzuru didn’t even look at her. Only continued to smile so ugly and smug in Sakyo’s direction. “Furuichi gets it. Don’t you, councilman?”

 Sakyo didn’t grace him with an answer although Izumi could have sworn his ears turned a little red.


 Muku nervously took the hem of Sakuya’s shirt to grab his attention. “Um… could I get something as well? I-I can pay with my own money though!”

 The Witch glanced at him with raised eyebrows. “Of course, you don’t have to ask me for permission. And don’t worry about it, I can cover for you.”

 “It’s fine!” Muku cried, holding up his hands. “I couldn’t ask that of you, we just met!”

 Sakuya laughed a little. “I mean, yeah. But we’ll be spending a lot of time together from now on, won’t we?”

 Muku hesitated. “I suppose we will. It’s nice to meet you. I’m Muku.”

 “Sakuya.” They shook hands. “So you’re a Seer, huh? That’s really cool!”

 “I don’t know what that means, I’m sorry,” he murmured. 

 Sakuya’s eyes sparkled. “You can see ghosts, right? And Citron, he’s a Seer too. He can see the future and stuff! And I think the Director mentioned something about being able to read minds too?”

 Muku glanced at the Seer in question, who was currently flirting with the woman manning the register. “Really?”

 “Mhm!” Sakuya grabbed a carton of pineapple flavored milk for himself, urging Muku to do the same. The Seer tentatively chose a box with little strawberries dotted all over it. “I’m a Witch. I do things a little differently than you guys do. I make things float, and uh, I can make in my hands. But I’m still trying to get the hang of it all. I’m learning from the Director, and a little bit from Tsuzuru. He’s a college student who lives in the dorms with us.”

 “That sounds really fun,” Muku said with a voice as soft as kitten fur. “So… it’s Hogwarts?”

 Sakuya laughed. “Kind of? I guess? No wands or Houses or anything like that. And I still have to go to school so… maybe it’s more like an after school tutoring program. Hey, Citron, we’re ready to check out.”

 The older Seer gently took the clerk’s hand and pressed his lips to her knuckles. Muku erupted with a scandalized squeak as he slapped his hands over his face (but could not resist staring through the gaps in his fingers).

 “Until we meet in our next strife, madam,” Citron murmured almost huskily.

 The receptionist sighed as she melted on the spot. “Oh, Citron, you truly are the only thing that makes these morning shifts bearable. I look forward to your next visit.”

 Sakuya shot Citron an unusually withering look. As he emptied his little shopping basket, he said sharply, “This is exactly what got you haunted last time, you know. Your womanizing.”

 Citron laughed and ruffled the Witch’s hair. “I do not know what you mean, Sakuya! The sweet lady and I are just friends.”

 Muku hid by Sakuya’s shoulder until Citron left to go bother Masumi instead, who stood outside the store in a brooding, quiet manner that only high school boys could accomplish. “That was so romantic! Citron is really like a prince sometimes, don’t you think?”

 Sakuya thought back to the time that Citron once tried to see how many blueberries he could fit in his mouth before nearly choking to death when one went down the wrong way. “Mhm. Sure.”

 Muku swooned. “I want to be just like him one day.”

 Sakuya silently handed over the money the Director had leant him. He would not shatter Muku’s fantasies, he promised himself. He would not.

 “I got you some gummy bears,” Sakuya said to Masumi as they left the store. He dug through the plastic bag and removed the cellophane package of treats.

 Masumi’s face didn’t change. “Thanks.”

 They all started walking back to the dorms.

 “M-Masumi, are you a Witch too?” Muku asked.

 Masumi didn’t say anything. Sakuya poked him in his cheek.

 “He’s talking to you. Be nice,” he chided.

 Masumi clicked his tongue. “I’m a Hunter.”

 “…What’s that?”

 “Don’t really know.”

 Sakuya hopped in, glad he could supply an answer where he could. “Hunters are magicians that excel in combat. Hand to hand, wielding weapons—they can use these bursts of magic to make themselves even strong and faster than normal people.”

 “That’s really cool!” Muku said, eyes wide.

 “Mhm! I haven’t really gotten a chance to see—CITRON. Citron! Get back here!

 The Seer had wandered off yet again to speak charmingly towards a passing woman. “Your beauty leaves the sun itself sad and jealous, miss.”

 “Oh, Citron, you,” she giggled, slapping him teasingly on his chest. “I’m an engaged woman, you really should start checking that silver tongue of yours around me.”

 “I’m only speaking the truth, aren’t I?” he purred.

 Sakuya seized him by the back of his clothes and pulled him away, apologizing profusely to the woman. “You make taking you out of the house so impossible sometimes! This is why you were being haunted, this is literally why!”

 “I leave nothing broken in my steps, Sakuya,” Citron sang. “Only sighs and sweeps!”

 Muku clapped in adoration. “He's so cool!”

 Masumi rolled his eyes and popped the entire gummy bear into his mouth (knowing fully well he’d feel guilty if he bit off only a part). “Annoying.”


 Izumi and Tsuzuru bid Sakyo off at the door.

“Well, that went easier than I’d thought it would,” Izumi said pleasantly.

Tsuzuru rolled his eyes. “It’s because he thinks you’re hot.”

 “What.”

 He raised an eyebrow. “That’s Sakyo Furuichi. He is notorious for being a cold and unfeeling son of a bitch. It’s well accepted in the magic community that the man is a dick to the third degree.”

Izumi pursed her lips. “I mean… he was kind of a dick towards me too.”

 Tsuzuru snorted as he shut the door. “If the weather dropped one degree for every time he was giving you googoo eyes, global warming wouldn’t be a problem anymore.”

 “You’re being silly,” she decided as they made way to the living room once more.

 “No, I’m being honest. You know what Sakyo does around here?”

 “I’d assume Council business,” Izumi mused, beginning to read over the Mayor’s letter in depth.

Tsuzuru had a stormy expression on his face. “He’s not even a part of the actual Council. He’s one of their dogs. He’s the leader of the underground police who terrorize the magicians in the city and force us to adhere to the laws and he is, I repeat, a dick about it.”

 Izumi glanced at him, utterly unamused. “He did something to your family, huh.”

 Tsuzuru didn’t even bother blushing. “My dad hates him. Most Bloodlines hate him. Madame Sumeragi? She nearly fried him like a trout when he came knocking on their door to restrict the amount of magical items they had on property. And then they made her pay a fine for it! When he’d been the one intruding in the first place!”

 “Bloodlines are always territorial about their power and influence,” Izumi said as she shrugged. “Honestly, it sounds like you’re mad at him for doing his job.”

“Why are you taking his side?” Tsuzuru whined.

 “Not taking any sides, Tsuzuru, I’m only a powerless halfblood,” she cooed, batting her eyelashes.

 Itaru took this moment to intrude. He shot a glare towards Izumi that would have made lesser men burst into tears. “You will never raise that atrocious item at me ever again.”

 “I will if you continue to ignore the house rules,” she said, not missing a beat. “I remember explicitly telling you to stuff your ass inside of a cooking jar when the inspection came around. And where were you when it came around? Inside a cookie jar? I think not.”

 He took a step closer, pink eyes glowing. “I should kill you where you stand.”

 Izumi dropped the letter and stood up, nearly a full foot shorter than the demon threatening her. She met him head on. “No. You won’t.”

 “Give me one good reason why,” he hissed.

 She grabbed him by the front of his cloak and dragged him towards her bedroom.

 “Oh, I’ve definitely seen this scene before in movies,” Tsuzuru called after them, who she ignored.

 She let go of Itaru’s cloak and kneeled in front of an Amazon Prime delivery box tucked away in the corner. “I was going to give this to you on your one week anniversary of coming to the mortal realm, but if you’re going to be a baby about it, I’ll give it to you now.”

 Izumi handed Itaru his present.

 He glared at it. “What is this.”

 “A Nintendo Switch with Animal Crossing New Horizons pre-downloaded.” She poked Itaru’s chest. “And you will not kill me because I gave this to you, so you will be grateful and listen to what I tell you to do. And maybe help out with the chores every now and then because there are now seven people living under this roof and the laundry room is becoming an actual war zone.”

 He took the little handheld gaming console out of the box and looked at it. He sniffed it. He frowned deeper. “This is not food.”

 “No. But for some people, it’s better.” She turned it on. “You’re going to love this.”


 By the time Sakuya was putting his keys into the lock and turning it, he figured Citron and Muku had become fairly good friends.

 “A-And then I saw a vision of myself falling down a pothole, so I was too scared to go home by myself and I had to call my mom to come pick me up,” the boy was sobbing as tears slid down his face. He wiped at them furiously with the back of his sleeve. “Was I actually going to die? Did I avoid death because of my paranoia?”

 Citron patted him on his back comfortingly. “We see any and all possibilities, Muku, even the unlikely ones. I will teach you how to tell which of your visions are more to be trusted, young one, do not be concerned.”

 “I never asked to be a Seer!” Muku wept. “All those creepy shadows hanging around me no matter where I went, or all those strange thoughts I’d have about the future… I w-wish they would all go away!”

 “You will learn,” Citron promised. “The shadows will become figures. The strange thoughts will help keep you safe. All is a gift under the mask of dangoes.”

 “Danger,” Sakuya corrected him. “We’re home!”

 “Welcome back!” Izumi called from the kitchen.

 He sniffed the air and cringed ever so slightly. “Um. Curry?”

 “You know it!”

 “For breakfast?

 “Curry is good always! It’s a little late so we’ll call it a Curry Brunch. Crunch!”

 Itaru had returned to lazing on the couch, although this time he was holding what seemed to be…

 “Is that a Nintendo Switch?” Sakuya asked, putting the groceries on the table.

 Muku shrieked, staggering back and nearly toppling over until Masumi grabbed him and set him upright. “WHAT IS THAT?”

 “Animal Crossing,” Itaru muttered. He paused. “Oh, you mean me? I’m a demon.”

 “A d-d-d—!”

 Izumi wiped her hands on a towel and joined them. “Don’t worry about him, he’s harmless. Mostly all he does is chill out in the living room and eat our food. Nice to meet you properly, Muku. My name is Izumi, I’m the head teacher here.”

 Muku couldn’t stop staring at Itaru. And then he started crying again.

 Izumi panicked. “What’s wrong?!”

 Citron quickly covered Muku’s eyes with his hand. “Bad demon has bad thoughts we can See, Director.”

 Her mouth formed a little O. She promptly balled up the towel she’d been using for drying her hands and chucked it at Itaru. “Go to your room!”

 “I’m playing,” he grunted, snapping his fingers and disintegrating the projectile mid air.

 “Now, Itaru! Please!”

 “No.”

Izumi closed her eyes and took in a deep breath. “Masumi, could you go get the spray bottle for me.”

 Itaru disappeared immediately into that annoying ring of fire of his. Izumi turned back to Muku, batting Citron’s hand away to wipe the young boy’s cheeks. “You okay, kiddo? I’m sorry, I still have no idea what Seers go through when Itaru’s in the room with them.”

 “S-Suffering,” Muku gasped. “It’s like… It’s like the s-shadows are pouring out of him. And the fire, and the…”

 Citron gently rubbed his back. “You will get used to it. Itaru really is not that bad a person deep down. He plays demon poker well.”

 “You wanna stay and have lunch with us?” Izumi said kindly. “I’m sure you have a lot of questions.”

 Muku nodded with a hiccup. “Yes, please."


 Later that night, when Muku had been returned home safely and everyone seemed to be off doing their own things, Sakuya knocked on Itaru’s door.

 “Sorry for bothering you,” he said when the door opened. “Can we talk a little more tonight?”

 Itaru sighed but turned his Switch off. “Sure.”

 The demon had a soft spot for the Witch. There was something about the smile and unmarred hope in his eyes that Itaru couldn’t really understand, but liked nevertheless. He opened the door wider and gestured Sakuya to come in.

 “Did you get new curtains?” he asked, eyeing the pitch-black room.

 “I dislike sunlight. Asked that weird old man with the messy hair to fetch them for me.” Itaru plopped onto the bed he’d been provided. “What do you want?”

 Sakuya squirmed. “It’s about… hell.”

 “It always is, isn’t it?” he said, amused.

 “You said… you said bad people go to hell.”

 Itaru chuckled. “You join hell in one of two ways. You either sell your soul to one of us, or you commit such atrocities that your sins mark your soul as ours either way. You don’t have to worry about that, Witchling.”

 “I don’t?”

 Was he genuinely afraid of that? “Your soul’s clean. Too clean, in my opinion, but I’m a demon so you’ll have to take my words with a grain of salt. Your halfblood would say I have... what's the term? 'Low standards.'”

 Sakuya let out a shaky breath. “Thank goodness.”

 “Why did you think you’d go to hell?” Itaru asked, eyebrows drawn in confusion.

 Silence.

 “I don’t know,” Sakuya said quietly, looking like the little boy he really was as he stared at the tips of his shoes. “I guess it’s always been a fear I had in the back of my mind. It’s not—It’s not that weird of a thing, though, right? Everyone’s afraid of going to hell at least a little bit at one point or another.”

 Itaru hummed.

 Mortals were such interesting things.

 “Show me your fire, Witchling,” he commanded.

 Sakuya started. “Director said I—“

 “Now.”

 He opened his palms to bring forth a bright, shining golden ball of flame. Itaru placed his palm next to Sakuya’s to bring forth the same, only magenta and crackling.

 “Do you see the difference?” Itaru asked.

 “In color? Yes.”

 Itaru brought his hand back, extinguishing it. “You needn’t worry about hell being your final resting place until your flame turns the same as mine. Understand?”

 Sakuya stared at the gold he held and finally seemed to relax at last. “…Yes, Itaru.”

 “Good. Now get out of here.”

 Sakuya paused at the door and looked back with a grin. “You’re not really as evil as you’d like us to believe you are, huh?”

 Itaru scoffed. “Do you want me to break all your limbs to prove it?”

 “No, thank you! Goodnight.”


 3 AM.

 A time well known to be the Witching Hour.

 Magic just worked better when it was three in the morning. For whatever odd reason.

Spirits and demons would rise from the earth to prowl the streets and feast upon whoever dared to venture out in such times. Reality and dream blended together into something confusing and unknown.

 It was also a time that Izumi really, really, really hated being woken up at.

 “I’m going to kill whoever’s on the other side of that door,” Izumi snarled under her breath as she staggered towards the dark entryway.

 “Yes?” she snapped as she threw the door open.

 “TSUZUROON, HELP ME!” the young man outside it bawled. “I TURNED MY HAIR GREEN AND I DON’T KNOW HOW TO—Oh, hiiiiii! You’re not Tsuzuroon!”

 Izumi didn’t even know what to think. “Who are you?”

 The young man threw up a peace sign with his fingers. “Heyyy! I dropped by Tsuzuruoon’s house a few minutes ago and his parents said I could find him here? He’s not answering his phone and I really need his help!”

 Izumi eyed the lamp nearby and wondered if it was a viable weapon. Just in case. “Who. Are. You.”

 Tsuzuru emerged from within his lab. “Why is there so much noise? Do you have any idea what time it is?”

 The young man at the door yelped as soon as Tsuzuru was spotted. “TSUZUROON, HELP ME! I TRIED TO DYE MY HAIR WITH MAGIC BUT IT TURNED GREEN AND I DUNNO HOW TO MAKE IT GO AWAY!”

 Tsuzuru took one look at the boy and immediately shot a Rune in his direction. The stranger let out a strangled cry as he went careening towards the ground, a snakelike red twine binding his body and leaving him utterly immobile.

 “MEAN!” he yelled, face pressed against the driveway.

 “Director, please shut the door and call the police,” Tsuzuru said with exhaustion already creasing his face.

 “What? Who the hell is this guy?” Izumi asked.

 To the guy’s credit, he didn’t seem too upset at being tied up on the floor. “My name’s Kazunari! Follow me on Instablam, okay? My bio says I’m the sexiest Caster at Veludo Arts University and its true!”

 Tsuzuru’s face held a promise of death and woe. “That would be Kazunari Miyoshi. My old upperclassman from high school.”


 But 3 AM was the Witching Hour, after all.

 A time for demons and spirits to prowl the streets.

 It was also around this time Banri Settsu usually returned home after sneaking out for a smoke by the abandoned skate park.

 He stopped and stared at the glistening figure that stood all by itself in the middle of the street.

 That… looked like…

 “Hyodo?” he whispered.

 The thing whipped its head towards him, eyes wide.

 “Settsu?” Juza Hyodo said in disbelief. He looked away, and then back at Banri. He hesitated. “…You can see me?”

 Banri blinked. He pinched himself hard to make sure he was awake. It hurt. Definitely awake, then.

Banri took a step back. “Uh, yeah. Yeah. Aren’t—aren’t you supposed to be, like, dead?”

 Juza winced. “I am.”

Banri took in a slow, deep breath through his nose. “Oh.”

Chapter Text

 “…Do you want some tea or something?” Banri asked, sitting cross legged on the bed. “I gotta be quiet because I don’t wanna wake up my parents but, uh. I could probably sneak some. If you want it.”

 Juza took a moment to respond like he hadn’t had a conversation in quite some time. “No. Don’t really feel thirsty anymore.”

 “Oh. Because you’re dead?”

 Silence. Banri raised an eyebrow. “Is being dead a sensitive topic for dead people?”

 Juza shook his head. “No. Shouldn’t be. ’S true.”

 He was starting to regret bringing Juza home. But—not every day you got to meet a ghost, right? It wasn’t like Banri was going to say ‘Okay, anyways, see you, spirit of the guy I wanted to fight all the time a few months ago, it was nice catching up.’

“Why were you hanging out on the street?” he asked instead.

 Juza shrugged.

 Irritation swirled in his stomach. The brick wall was wordless even when fucking dead. “Go home, dude. Or, like, move on. Whatever it is ghosts do.”

 “I can’t,” Juza said softly.

 “Go home or move on?”

 “Both.”

 “…Why?”

 Juza only shrugged again. Banri clenched his jaw and repressed the urge to clobber him.

 “So what, you’re gonna haunt me now?” he asked sarcastically. “Stick around to drive me insane?”

 “Probably not.” Juza's lips drew into a thin line. “Gotta go somewhere in a bit. I’m waiting until he’s ready.”

 “What, like heaven? Until who’s ready, Jesus?

 Juza’s face didn’t change, although his gaze slid towards the window. He started floating towards it with a strange turning of his feet. He looked like he was walking but he moved like he was treading water. “Maybe. Dunno why I’m here, actually. I’ll leave now.”

 “Wait!”

 The ghost paused. He looked over his shoulder. “What.”

 The cogs in Banri’s brain turned. What indeed? Why had he stopped the ghost?

“Where are you going?” he asked at last.

Juza’s gaze suddenly dropped to the floor and his brow furrowed. Banri got the feeling that the guy was lost beyond words. “I don’t know. I can't remember. Can't remember a lot.”

 “Oh, shit,” Banri said in response. He looked down at his calloused hands and wondered, for a moment, what being dead must feel like. But that was probably an existential crisis he could save for later. “Like… amnesia? Everything’s wiped out?”

 “I don’t remember my home address anymore,” Juza said softly. “Or what my parents look like. So I don’t think I’d make it home even if I wanted to.”

Oof. That sounded like a boatload of issues Banri was not equipped in any way to handle emotionally. Something clicked in his brain. “But—But you remember me?”

 Juza tilted his head to the side. “Guess I do.”

 Banri shoved his hands into his pockets, not knowing how to feel about that. “Cool.”

 “You were the most annoying asshole I’d ever met in my life,” Juza finished. “Makes sense you’d stick to my memories. Like some kind of fly.”

 “Hey,” Banri snapped and then slapped a hand over his mouth. He glanced at his bedroom door and listened for any possible footsteps, only relaxing when several heartbeats passed without a sound. “No need to be a dick about it. You’ve got a fuckin’ scary-ass face and I was the only one with the balls to pound you into dust.”

 Juza raised an eyebrow. “I always ended up beating you though.”

 “Irrelevant detail, shithead.”

 Juza chuckled and looked down at himself. He shrugged again. “I mean… you won in the long run. So. Congrats.”

 “What d’you mean?”

 “You’re alive. I’m…” Juza waved his arms and floated a little into the air. “Not. So you won.”

 Banri didn’t like that, for some reason. He really, really hated that. He rubbed his stomach. It was twisting uncomfortably. “Like hell I won, asshole. You can’t pussy out of a rematch by kicking the bucket. Fuck you.”

Juza seemed to mull something over in his head. “…Can I ask you.”

“What?”

"Do you know how I died?”

 A shiver ran down the length of Banri’s spine yet again. “Do you not?”

 “…I don’t.”

 Banri forced himself to swallow, even if his throat was so dry it ached. He suddenly wished he was alone. Actually alone. Not alone with a dead boy. “Car crash. Like. Six months ago or somethin’.”

“Oh.” Juza turned his gaze to the ceiling and looked glum, but not heartbroken. “Sucks.”

 “Yeah. Sucks.”

“Did anybody else get hurt?”

“No, just you.”

Juza nodded. “That’s good, at least.”

Banri hesitated. “Can anyone else see you?”

 Juza made a strange face. “…Sometimes. Kind of. During night time, a lil’. They jump, and I think people can see me, and then they look straight through me. I think I get a little more visible when the sun’s down but not by a lot.”

 “I can see you clearly.” Banri stuck a hand through Juza’s chest. “…Can’t feel a thing though.”

 The ghost grunted and took a step back. “Don’t do that. ’S weird.”

 “Whatever.”

 They stared at one another in silence. The clock on Banri’s bedroom wall ticked too loudly. Something itched underneath his skin. He wanted to go for another smoke. Leave. Walk around. This was a wretchedly uncomfortable situation to be stuck in.

 “You wanna watch TV?” Banri asked suddenly. “I’ve got Hulu.”

 Juza, as expected, shrugged. “Got nothin’ better to do.”

 “Dope.” Banri grabbed a remote and turned his television on. “I’m gonna keep the volume down because of my parents. By the way, I still fucking hate your guts. I’m not gonna get down on my knees and beg you to forgive me from beyond the grave or some shit like that.”

 “Same.”


 “Man, I thought I was gonna end up looking like the Grinch for a week!” Kazunari crowed as Tsuzuru charmed a bowl of hair gel with Runes to undo the bad dye job. “You’re a lifesaver, Tsuzuruoon, I really owe you one.”

 “At this point you owe me your first born child,” Tsuzuru snarled, dumping a glob onto his… friend’s(?) head and massaging it in with a pair of plastic gloves. “Do you know how many of your messes I’ve cleaned up by now? Do you remember your chemical fire last week? I had to go all the way to your campus to help you out.”

“I put excitement in your life, I know, I’m quite the specimen,” the green boy preened without a shred of humility.

 Izumi laughed as she put a bowl of cookies on the table for the two Casters to snack on. “Keep it down, you two. Masumi’s essentially in a coma every night but I don’t need you waking Sakuya up.”

 Kazunari winked at her (as best as he could with Tsuzuru rocking his head back and forth with his less-than-kind rubs) and stage-whispered, “Why didn’t you tell me you were living with such a hottie, Tsuzuroon?! Keeping all the good looking ladies in the neighborhood a secret, I see. The betrayal!”

 “Do you want to stay green?” Tsuzuru threatened.

 “Nooooo, have mercy!”

 Izumi offered their guest a cookie from the bowl, which he accepted with an over exuberant “thankies!”

“So, Kazunari was it?” she asked.

 “That’s my name! And you can wear it out all you like,” he said sweetly, cramming half the biscuit into his mouth.

 Izumi glanced at Tsuzuru. “He’s a character, isn’t he?”

 “If you want to put it kindly.”

 “He’s refreshing!” she protested.

 Tsuzuru smacked Kazunari on his head and clicked his tongue. “Trust me, Director. It gets old very quick.”

 “Owwww, be nice to me, Tsuzuroon! You’ll bruise my poor brain.”

 “Can’t bruise what’s not there.”

 Izumi thought they were sweet. They had the rough, trading-blows kind of friendship you could only have after spending a very long time as acquaintances. Tenure friendship, she called it.

“You’re a Caster, then?” Izumi pressed.

 “Yes, ma’am!” Kazunari chirped. “Best looking one around these parts. Barring Tsuzuroon and his undeniable sexiness, of course.”

 Izumi glanced at the boy in question, who looked like he hadn’t seen a bed since the fourth century. “Uh huh.”

 “I got my magic from my dad’s side,” Kazunari continued, finishing off his cookie and then shooting her puppy eyes until she handed over another. “He’s a traditionalist. Didn’t even tell me I had magic until I turned fourteen which was, like, totally not fair if you ask me.”

 She took a seat on the couch. “But you’re good at it?”

 “The best in the city!”

 Tsuzuru stuck a gel-slathered finger into Kazunari’s ear. “Hey.”

 “GROSS!” Kazunari yelped, batting the finger away. “Stop it! Okay, fine, one of the best. I wouldn’t want to hurt Tsuzuroon’s precious little ego. I like to think I put a more modern spin on magic compared to the boring geezers though.”

 Tsuzuru jammed a finger in Kazunari’s other ear. “Hey.”

 “I didn’t mean you!” Kazunari wailed, shirking away. “Stop sticking your wet fingers in my ears!”

 “Stop being an ass.”

Kazunari carried himself on the tips of his toes, bouncing everywhere like he had too much energy to spare. Izumi wondered if it was his cheery attitude that she was genuinely admiring, or whether it was because she was old now and found that kind of vibrancy unfathomable. Ah, the youth of college days. She missed it.

 Tsuzuru caught her eye and sneered a little.

 “Oh, Director. You’ve got a little something,” he said snidely, gesturing to his hairline, “gray right here.”

 She rolled her eyes. “Watch it. Your eyebrows are on the line.”

 “I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again. These are my fifth pair and you’ll have to do better than that to scare me,” he replied.

 Kazunari looked back and forth between the two of them like he was witnessing a ping pong match.

 “Are you guys dating?” he asked suddenly.

 Tsuzuru took his hands off of Kazunari’s head immediately. “Stay looking like chlorophyll forever.”

 “NO, I’M SORRY!” Kazunari turned back to Izumi once Tsuzuru resumed the rubbing. “So… Director. Are ya single?”

 Izumi upper lip curled with distaste. “If you’re the one asking, no.”

Kazunari smacked both of his hands over his chest like he’d been shot. “MEAN…! Is that why you and Tsuzuroon get along? Well, it’s fine as long as it’s coming from someone as good looking as you, Director.”

 Izumi wondered if it would be rude to just go back to her room and sleep. And then she remembered what he’d said.

 “A ‘modern’ spin on magic?” she asked. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

 Tsuzuru groaned. “Don’t. You’ll make his head bigger than it already is.”

 “Oh, you know,” Kazunari sighed, flapping his hand dismissively. “Most Casters learn from their parents or right from the books, yeah? But that’s totally not my speed, I’m a free thinker and a freer spirit! My dad was complete garbage at trying to teach magic, all this hoo-hah about discipline and asceticism. The old man wanted to drop me off at a buddhist monastery for a month to learn non indulgence, can you believe that? And I was like ’no, sir, no, thank you’ and booked it to my mom’s with the beginner’s manual he gave me.”

Izumi processed the ramble slowly. “So you’re self taught?”

 Kazunari flushed a pretty pink and gave her a dazzling smile. “I like the sound of that! Sure, yeah, I’m self taught! Let me show you. You’ve got some paper or something I can fold?” 

 She immediately went off to the office to fetch a sheet. Kazunari folded it into a crane quickly (“Stay still,” Tsuzuru muttered) and scribbled a long string of Runes on the wing using his fingertip.

 Izumi watched in fascination as he chucked it into the air and the origami bird began moving. It circled the air once, twice, let out a soft string of notes, and then plopped down onto her shoulder at rest.

 “You…” She stared at the bird, and then to Kazunari. “You… gave it life?”

 Tsuzuru pulled a lock of Kazunari’s hair.

 “OW!”

 “It’s not life,” Tsuzuru said tiredly. “It’s just a long Rune sequence. Zero gravity, movement, noise, a handful of others to just mimic animation. It’s performative and show off-y more than anything else.”

 Izumi felt like their guest deserved some credit, though. She held the bird in her hand as it went still and unmoving.

 “I’ve never seen a Caster do something like that though,” she mused.

 Kazunari threw his hands into the air. “That’s because I’m the best! Heck yeah, me!”

 “You are the worst,” Tsuzuru said scathingly.

 His friend grinned at him. “Are you jealous because I’m Mister Steal Your Girl?”

 Through sheer will power alone, Tsuzuru refrained from spitting on him.

From down the hall, they heard the sound of a bedroom door opening. Itaru stormed in, cloak splayed in all of its velvety glory.

“What is the reason for all this noise?” he demanded. “Have you no respect for my time of rest? I am trying to unlock the shovel for terraforming my town.”

 Itaru paused in the doorway as he caught an eyeful of Kazunari sitting in Tsuzuru’s makeshift barber chair. The room went quiet.

 The demon threw his hands into the air. “You guys are so weird. I don’t even want to ask or bother trying to wrap my head around this.”

 “Siiiiiick cosplay, dude,” Kazunari said, raising his hand in a Rock On sign.

 Itaru stared at him. “Sick what?”

 “Nah, nah, man, nah, no judgement on my end!” Kazunari said, shooting the demon a big smile. “A friend of a friend’s got a roommate who LARPs too. The guy goes everywhere wearing his wizard costume, it’s pretty cool. Not my road, but I can jive with it!”

 Tsuzuru winced. “You… are so stupid.”

 Itaru turned to Izumi and clicked his tongue. “You said no killing anybody in the Coven. That one’s not a part of the Coven, is he?”

 “He’s not, feel free,” Tsuzuru said immediately.

 Izumi gasped. “No! He’s kidding. Tsuzuru, apologize!

 “What?” he said sarcastically, patting Kazunari on his head. “He’s a big boy. He can ‘handle a little soul sacrifice.’”

 Izumi glared at him. “You love turning my words around on me, don’t you? You can’t kill him, Itaru, that’s final. Don’t you have a town to work on?”

 “I hate it here so much,” the demon growled and went back to his room.

 Kazunari laughed loudly. “Man. It looks like you guys have a ton of fun here!”

 The birds began singing outside.

Izumi groaned. “Is it already morning?”


 Juza stiffened at the sound of birds that filtered into Banri’s room.

 “Ignore them, it’s because of the fuckin’ big ass tree outside,” the boy grumbled, trying to keep his eyes open.

Banri glanced at his new ghost… not friend. Hyodo wasn’t a friend. The fuck was this, a Casper live action? Nah. He was more like a… ghost rival? That sounded badass, sure.

 The ghost rival who was starting to turn translucent.

 A shot of adrenaline flooded Banri’s system. He sat up sharply. “Hyodo.”

 “Shut up, I’m watching,” the spirit grunted.

 “Bitch, you’re turning fucking see through."

 Juza immediately went stricken. As stricken as a ghost could look anyways. “I thought you could see—”

 “Well, obviously that’s not the fucking case anymore,” Banri snapped. “Do something!”

 “Do what?

 “You’re the dead one! You should know better than I do!”

 “I don’t!” Shit, even his voice was starting to sound softer. More muffled. Like he was talking through a mouthful of cotton. “I should—go.”

 Juza’s details were blurring into nothing but an odd, grayish smudge in the air. The fog drifted to the window and passed right through it.

 “W-Wait—!” Banri forced the frame up and swore when he couldn’t see a goddamned thing outside. Hyodo, if he was even still there, had gone completely invisible. He looked over his shoulder at the empty bedroom.

 Had last night even happened? Or had he simply hallucinated the past few hours?

 Banri rubbed the goosebumps on his forearms and clenched his jaw. No. That wasn’t an option he was going to accept.

 “Hyodo!” Banri yelled into the morning street. “If you hear me, be here again tonight, asswipe. Otherwise, I swear to god I’ll shove your ghostly spirit or whatever back into your body so I can beat the ever loving shit out of you for literally ghosting me!”

 He took in a deep breath and waited. No response, as expected.

 “And don’t get lost on your way back, dipshit!” he added for good measure.

 Banri slammed the window shut and crashed onto his bed, burying his face into a pillow. Finally, finally he could go to sleep.

 Or he would have liked to, at least. Something in the back of his mind tugged at him, nagging him to wake up.

 Ah, fuck. School. Banri shot out of bed.

 Wait, he didn’t care about school.

 Thank god.

 He fell back in under the covers.

 He shot out of bed again. Fuck. It was an exam day.

 Wait. No, today was Sunday. Exams were tomorrow.

 He promptly passed out and started snoring.


 “Did it all come out?” Tsuzuru asked, knocking on the bathroom door with a towel in hand.

 It opened up and Kazunari leaned against the doorframe, posing as though he was in a music video. He winked and shot a little finger gun. “You betcha! I’m lookin’ smoking as usual thanks to you! Want a thank you kiss, Tsuzuroon?”

 Tsuzuru cringed. “I’ll pass infinitely.” He tossed the towel at him. “Go home now, you’ve bothered us long enough.”

 Kazunari stuck his tongue out as he began drying his hair. “Mean. You’re never gonna get a girlfriend at this rate, Tsuzuroon!”

 This statement was met with the most contemptuous glower Tsuzuru could muster.

 “Thanks for the cookies, Director!” Kazunari called as he started collecting his things (a wallet, a necklace, all scattered like a whirlwind had passed through the living room). Apparently, a lightbulb went off as he straightened with a gleam in his eyes. “Hey, how about I give you a cutesy nickname? I do it to all my friends!”

 Izumi chuckled midst preparing breakfast. “Yeah? Any you got in mind?”

 He tapped his chin. “Izumimi?”

 “No.”

 “Izumin!”

 “No.”

 “Tachibanyan?” Kazunari said, waving a little fist-turned-paw in the air.

 Izumi looked at him hollowly.

 He lowered the fist-turned-paw. “I take it that’s a no?”

 “Smart boy.”

 He sighed dramatically and feigned a swoon onto Tsuzuru’s shoulder. “Oh, well! Director it is. It’s alright though, it works! You make everything work with your stunningly good looks.”

 Izumi shook her head. “This one’s going to end up getting chased around by a wraith too, huh.”

 “Ohhhh, you betcha,” Tsuzuru said, slapping his hand on Kazunari’s back.

 “YEOWCH!” he yelped. He shrugged the hand off with a deep belly laugh and smacked his fedora back onto his head. “Alright, I’m outies. See ya!”

 Izumi dropped the scallion she’d been cutting. “Wait, wait, Kazunari, I need to ask you something.”

 “Yes,” he said immediately, taking out his phone. “Eight-one-three—“

 “Not your phone number,” she said, rolling her eyes. “But I was wondering if you’d be able to work on commission?”

 Kazunari blinked. “Uh… what?”

 She reached for the envelope she’d set aside while he’d been in the bathroom. “It’s not much, but I’d be willing to pay you for some help. I’m going to need some Runes for buffing up the spare room. The absolute strongest you can make it. We’ve got a Witch in training and not a single room where it’s safe enough to test out bigger spells.” She wrinkled her nose. “And the city is too densely populated to find a quiet spot outside. I’m not going to be taking the train to the countryside once a week just so my charge can make things explode. Do you think you’d be up for it?”

 The flashy college student crossed his arms and scrunched his face up. “I… might. You’ll have to give me a few days to come up with a good enough mix. Dunno how powerful a Firstborn Witch is but I’m guessing it’s a doozy if you’re asking for my help.”

 Izumi thought back to the entirely frozen room and shuddered.

 “Let me know if you’re willing!” she urged. “You can contact Tsuzuru or pop in whenever since you know where we are now.”

 Kazunari grinned and tapped two fingers to his temple in a small salute. “You got it, Izumimimomama.”

 All she could do was stare at him with a look filled with woe.

 “Still no good?”

 “Let’s stick to Director, shall we?”

 He snickered. “I’ll wear you down eventually! Okay, peace out.”

 Kazunari waved energetically like he hadn’t just pulled an all-nighter and strutted for the door.

 Tsuzuru kicked the ground. “You could have asked me for help.”

 Izumi stuck her lower lip out in a mock pout. “Awwww... Tsuzuroon feeling jealous?” 

 He made a retching noise. “Don’t call me that ever again.”

 “I just think we need a more ‘modern spin’ on things if its Sakuya we’re talking about,” she said. “You can pitch in as much as you want if Kazunari takes the deal.”

 Tsuzuru still sulked.


 Banri was… dreaming, probably.

He was running on a track. Dressed in the gym uniform.

He was jogging lightly. Hardly even breaking a sweat. Yet everybody trailed so far behind him.

 The clock in the gymnasium seemed to be going backwards.

 He was so bored.

 Banri dreamed.

 In the dream, by the corner of his eye, a flash of purple passed him.

 He picked up the pace.

 It didn’t matter. No matter how hard he ran, no matter how much his lungs ached, someone was still in front of him. Beating him by a margin but still beating him.

 In his dream, Banri gritted his teeth and kept running, trying to catch up.


 Not even forty minutes passed upon Kazunari’s departure when the doorbell rang once more. Izumi wanted to slam her head on the nearest surface. Was there not even a moment of peace to be found? She didn’t deserve even one hour of quiet, alone time to simply relax and flip through a magazine?

 “Yes?” she said, opening the door to complete darkness.

 Huh? Where was the sun?

 “Hello, Director,” Muku said warmly. “This is my father. He wanted to come speak to you about the Coven and my lessons.”

 Izumi didn’t really know how to process the near seven foot man that towered over her. He was, without doubt, the tallest meat wall of a human being she had ever seen in her entire life. He looked like the kind of guy who broke coconuts with his bare hands and chewed on rocks for breakfast. He looked like he could floss with solid bars of steel. She’d rather go toe to toe with Itaru in a boxing match than ever do something to offend this guy.

 …The pink hair and kind eyes helped him look a little less intimidating, she conceded eventually.

 She extended a hand. “Nice to meet you, I’m Izumi Tachibana. Director of Mankai.”

 Muku’s father’s eyes, identical to his son’s, went watery. He shook her hand (with a large, calloused one that looked like it could crush a pumpkin) heartily.

 “My name is Daisuke Sakisaka,” he said, voice cracking with emotion halfway. He bowed to her. Somewhat insulting, seeing as how he still managed to be taller. Seriously, how tall was this guy? “Thank you so, so much for extending help to my son. I’m not sure if I understand the details, but this is the first time in months he’s been able to go around without feeling anxious.”

 Izumi’s heart melted a little. “Of course. It’s our duty as a Coven. Why don’t you come in? I’ll get us some coffee.”

 “Director, who’s at the…” Tsuzuru’s voice pattered out as he stared at the behemoth of a man that stood in their entryway. He kept staring.

 Izumi cleared her throat. “This is Mr. Sakisaka, Muku’s father. Mr. Sakisaka, this is Tsuzuru Minagi, a… well, I guess you can call him a teacher’s aide of sorts. He helps me out with my lessons here.”

 Daisuke smiled gently and reached out a hand for Tsuzuru to shake. “Nice to meet you, young man. Wonderful establishment you’ve got running here, simply swell.”

 Tsuzuru kept staring. Izumi cleared her throat louder.

 “Oh, uh… thank you,” he squeaked, shaking the pumpkin destroyer. “Director, may I speak to you for a moment? In private?”

 She gestured to the hall. “Kitchen and living room is right there, make yourselves at home.”

 The man had to duck in the hallway to avoid the light fixtures.

 Tsuzuru seized her by her shoulders and pointed a shaking finger towards their guests. 

 “How is that,” he whispered, borderline hysterical, “and that related?!”

 “You think I know?” she hissed back. “Whatever you do, don’t piss him off. We have a demon in the house as a layer of defense, not a SWAT team!”

 Tsuzuru looked like he was going to start crying. “Do we have a beanstalk in the courtyard I don’t know about? Did he climb down because you stole a goose that lays golden eggs? If you did, tell me now!”

 “ZIP. ACT NATURAL,” she muttered harshly and then slapped on that happy, peace-loving smile to trot after the two.

 Mr. Sakisaka was sitting in the living room. The couch, which the man took up all of, looked like it was going to break under his massive frame. She could almost hear the springs crying in protest. Muku, on the other hand, was pouring three cups of coffee in the kitchen without having been prompted to do so.

What a sweet angel.

 She slid into the armchair opposite Mr. Sakisaka. “So you’re probably, and rightfully, curious about what’s going on.”

 Mr. Sakisaka gave a great, rumbling chortle. “A few questions here and there. My son mentioned something about magic and then I couldn’t follow the rest.”

 Izumi nodded and snapped her fingers. Muku squeaked as two of the cups of coffee rose from the table and began bobbing towards them. She plucked them from the air and offered one to Mr. Sakisaka. Impressively, he neither froze up or started screaming. He simply accepted his cup with wide eyes.

 “Ah,” he remarked. Just the one syllable.

 Izumi sipped. Man, she loved doing that. (It was the peak of her abilities but he didn’t need to know that.) She placed the cup down.

 “Magic,” she said, giving a small jazz-hands.

 Mr. Sakisaka blew on the coffee, which she found oddly cute. The big man couldn’t handle hot drinks, it seemed. “I certainly wasn’t expecting to see something like that when I woke up this morning.”

 “Your son Muku has an incredible gift,” Izumi said. “I’m understating it, honestly. He’s the only Firstborn Seer Japan has seen in several decades. I’d even wager a century or four, but I’d have to look through the records to make sure.”

 “A Firstborn Seer…?”

 She nodded. “I’m assuming neither you or your wife have magic?”

 “My wife only has the magic of being the love of my life,” he said, eyes going dreamy. “Oh, she’s sorry she couldn’t make it to this meeting, by the way. Had an early conference.”

 Izumi didn’t know whether to coo or gag at the sweet tone. She settled for neither. “No worries. That means Muku is a Firstborn. He possesses the ability to use magic simply from chance instead of genetics. Covens exist to educate young magicians like him who have nowhere else to turn to. Talented musicians go to music tutors. Magicians go to Covens.”

 “What is a Seer?” Mr. Sakisaka inquired.

 “A class of magician. He can see the future, among a few other Sight related things. Spirits. The truth. Lost things. Should he hone his abilities, even thoughts would become visible to Muku. It’s a spectacular ability.”

 Mr. Sakisaka quietly pondered on this. “So the things he said he’d been seeing…”

 “Citron, our resident Seer instructor, says he saw a ghost with your son the night he met him,” Izumi said. “I’d assume it was that.”

 Muku’s father let out a shaky breath. “Mr poor son… It must have been s-so terrifying for him. And we had no idea…!"

 Tears plump enough to fill water balloons began spilling from his eyes. Izumi winced and handed him a tissue. Then, after a moment’s consideration, the entire box.

 “If he learns in this… Coven,” Mr. Sakisaka sniffled. “He’ll learn how to control it? He won’t suffer anymore?”

 Izumi offered him a grin. “Well, we do have the best Seer in…” Fuck, what country was Citron from again? Had he even told her? “…ternationally teaching here.” Good save, Izumi. “I’m confident that we can help Muku learn how to control his Sight.”

 Mr. Sakisaka bowed to her again. “Thank you so much. How often should he come by in a week?”

 Izumi hesitated. “I’ll have to draw up a lesson plan but—“

 “Dad,” Muku interrupted, handing the silent Tsuzuru who stood in the corner the last cup of coffee. “I want to stay here. In the dorms.”

 The two adults chatting turned to gape at him.

 “You do?” Izumi said, a little stunned. “You can pop by for the lessons, Muku, you don’t live that far away.”

 “No, I want to stay in the dorms,” he said with an odd resoluteness. “I want to be here as often as possible and—and be around magic. Not just for lessons. I want to be a part of the Coven.”

 Mr. Sakisaka was silent. Izumi got nervous and threw a quick look at him, hoping the colossus wasn’t upset. But no, he was sobbing silently. Shoulders shaking. The springs on the couch went squeak squeak squeak in agony with each tremor that went through him.

 “Sir, are you quite alright?” Izumi asked, wondering if they had a towel. Kleenex wasn’t going to cut it, it looked like.

 He sniffled again and wiped at his face. “Yes, quite. They grow up so fast, don’t they? He’s never asked for something with all his heart before. You know, Muku’s not really one to ask for things, so this is a very big moment for both of us.”

 “Daaaaaad, you’re embarrassing me,” Muku whined.

 Mr. Sakisaka nodded. “Alright, Muku. You can stay. Ms. Tachibana, are there any forms I have to sign?”

 “Just a handful, I can go to my office and fetch them right now,” she said, standing. “I’ll send you off with them so you can read it in its entirety. All I ask is that you bring it back signed with Muku’s things.”

 He leaned forward and took her hands in his. “I truly cannot express how grateful I am, for this deed you’re doing for my family. Thank you. If there’s anything you need from us, let us know. The Sakisaka family is forever in your debt.”

 Her face flushed red. “N-No! No, no, it’s fine, it’s the reason the Coven exists at all. Come with me to my office and I’ll get you the documents.”

 They started down the hall. Sakuya’s bedroom door opened and he stumbled out, wiping the sleep from his eyes. “Director…? Why is it so noisy.”

 He walked directly into Mr. Sakisaka’s chest and nearly fell over. The man caught him.

 “Careful there, lad.”

 Sakuya squinted, still half-asleep. “…God?”

 Luckily, Mr. Sakisaka found this rather funny and laughed good-naturedly. Izumi shooed Sakuya back to his room, telling him to get another half hour of rest, and quickly grabbed the release forms. She handed them over and soon, father and son were leaving Mankai.

 “I’ll see you soon, Director!” Muku said, smile as bright as the spring sky above them as he waved. 

 Izumi and Tsuzuru both waved goodbye in return. They watched them walk off.

 “So. Breakfast?” Izumi said finally.

 Tsuzuru nodded, still silent.

 They sat at the table and began picking away at the meal.

 Tsuzuru put down his toast before biting into it and looked up at her.

 “We should probably be really, really, really nice to Muku,” he said. “You know. In case he gets a growth spurt.”

 She held up her coffee cup. “Cheers to that.”


“You have quite a lot of boxes, huh,” Matsukawa gasped as he hauled another into Muku’s dorm room. “Bricks?”

 “Books!” he cheered, kneeling at the bottom of his shelf to begin organizing.

 “Bibles?” Sakuya asked.

 Muku froze and looked puzzled. “P-Pardon?”

 “Oh! Oh, sorry, that probably sounds really weird without context! It’s just that Tsuzuru had a hundred and seventy bibles when he moved in.”

 Muku turned his wide-eyed gaze to the Caster. “Oh! I had no idea you were so devout.”

 “I’m not that devout,” Tsuzuru said immediately. “But to clarify, you don’t have any bibles on hand?”

 “N-No… Am I supposed to?”

 “Would you like to buy one?”

 Izumi swatted Tsuzuru on the back of his head with a rolled up newspaper. “Less selling, more box moving.”

 Muku opened one of the cardboard packages and showcased a meticulously packed collection of shoujo manga. “I love shoujo manga! They’re really fun to read and pass the time with.”

 Tsuzuru leaned in close. “You got a shoujo manga about, uhhhhhh, a man and a woman in a garden where they hang out with all sorts of animals?”

 The Seer in training immediately began rifling through the little booklets. “I might? Do you know the name of it?”

 “Yeah, the Holy Bible, which could be yours for the cheap price of—”

 “Tsuzuru!” Izumi yelled.


 And thus began Muku’s first official Seer lesson.

 Sipping tea.

 “I usually like to be starting with the crystal ball,” Citron explained, one-shotting his own cup, “but unfortunately my last one is broken! So tea leaves will do for now.”

 “I-It’s alright, I like tea!” Muku stammered, trying to drink as quickly as he could without scalding his tongue. “As long as it’s decaffeinated. I get all jittery and weird otherwise.”

 Citron put both of their empty cups on the table and positioned them so that both handles faced to the right. “This is a little old a method but still good training. What do you see, Muku?”

 He looked into the bottom of the cup and immediately began wringing his hands. What did he see? A blob of dark brown, that was what. Was he supposed to see something? Like shapes? The way one saw things in clouds? Would he get kicked out of the Coven if he messed up? Would he have to deal with seeing shadows forever without any help?

 “I, uh, I-I see… I see a f-flower?” he squeaked.

 Citron looked amused. “I see tea leaves.”

 Muku wilted. “I’m sorry.”

 “Do not be! This is where Seer magic comes in.” He gestured for Muku to hold the cup in his hands. “Close your eyes and try to imagine how the tea leaves looked.”

 Muku screwed his eyes shut and tried to picture the blob perfectly. The edges of the tea residue wavered, before forming into something else. He harrumphed and drew his eyebrows together in concentration, trying to force the rough image back to being a blob.

 “No, no,” Citron chided. “Do not fight it.”

 “I have an active imagination,” Muku mumbled.

 Citron felt oddly nostalgic. He’d been told the same as a child, hadn’t he? “Muku, I am sure you have an active imagination. But you also have Seer magic. Let your thoughts roam.”

 And so Muku let the tea blob in his head do what it wanted to.

 It shaped itself into… a bed. Someone lying in it. Muku was… sitting by the bed. The someone was… sick?

 He opened his eyes. “Someone was sick. I was comforting them.”

 Citron glowed. “A future. Albeit, one with higher likelihood than most. The definite future? Unlikely, tea leaves are not that good. My own cup…” Citron shut his eyes and hummed, tapping the porcelain handle. “Aha! Well, how odd! I am asleep in bed. Perhaps I will being come down with a cold?”

 Muku paled and nearly dropped the teacup. “C-Citron, sir! We have to stop it then! What if it’s influenza, or pneumonia, what if you DIE!”

 Citron didn’t seem even a bit phased. “Do not twist your heart. I will be okay. It will not be fatal, although perhaps it will take some time.” He glanced at the ceiling and narrowed his eyes. “Some time indeed.”

 Muku wondered if there was a prophecy on the ceiling. Nope. Only lightbulbs. “Mister Citron, what are you looking at?”

 He got to his feet. “Nothing very. Muku, you should go and tell the Director what you’ve seen. She should be prepared, after all. In case!”

 “R-Right!” he said, hurrying out of the room with teacup clutched like it was his final life line. 

 Citron quietly closed the door and locked it. He took in a deep breath and glanced at the ceiling again. This could either go very well or very badly. But he was never one to dwell on possibilities. Fate had a way of twisting no matter how hard you tried to wrangle it down.

 He opened the window and sat on the sill, leaning back to try to see the roof.

 “Hello!” he called jovially. “What are you doing up there?”

 Silence.

 “I know you are there,” Citron added.

 A shifting noise.

 “You do not have to leave. I only wish to chat.”

 Quiet again. And then, ever so softly, Citron heard…

 “I like it here.”

 “Perhaps I would like it up there as well then,” Citron replied. “May I join you?”

 “…Okay.”

 He smiled. “I might be needing some help.”

 Invisible hands grabbed him under his arms and lifted him through the air until he was comfortably seated on the rooftop of Mankai’s dorms. There was, as expected, someone else. Sitting with his knees drawn to his chin and face buried in them, hood drawn as well. As though he was trying to make himself as small and as unnoticeable as possible.

 “Thank you very much,” Citron said, spreading out. He gazed at the city. “The view here is very nice. I did not know it!”

 The boy didn’t speak.

 Citron closed his eyes. “You have been coming here quite often, have you not? Many nights. You sit here and do not say anything.”

 He stiffened and then crunched up even smaller. “I’m sorry. I thought nobody would notice.”

 “Do not be sorry, I have very good eyes. Mankai has open doors, young one. You should come inside next time.” Citron cracked one eye open to peek at him.

 The boy shook his head firmly.

 “Hmm. Then you may stay on the roof. You may do what you like.”

 They sat together and watched the sun start to set. The air smelled sweet, as it always did in spring. A breeze that promised flowers and rain. Citron lay down and wondered if it was wise to take a nap so high up.

 “I… like the magic here,” the boy whispered finally. “There’s a lot of magic coming from this place. So I sit on the roof sometimes. And the people inside are really loud.”

 Citron hummed. “Yes, they are very… what is the word? Energetic.”

 He saw the barest hint of a smile appear on the boy’s face. “I like listening to it. It feels warm. And happy. Sometimes you guys yell things that make me laugh.”

 Silence. The boy inhaled, speaking again.

 This time it was a question. “Are you guys a family?”

 “None of us are related,” Citron said. “But I would like us to all be family one day. Perhaps we are not there yet, but the future has no limits.”

 The boy raised his head finally and cocked his head to the side. Citron was reminded of a turtle poking out of its shell. “What do you mean?”

 “A family. Support and care for each other.”

 “But… you aren’t related.”

 Citron winked. “Blood is not so thick. Maple syrup is much thicker. And tastier!”

 The boy touched his fingertips to his eyepatch and bit his lower lip in thought.

 “You are the Witch we met last week, hm?” Citron asked. “You were summoning Itaru. The demon. With black magic. Impressive for someone your age.”

 The boy started, like the very question was enough to make him scamper away. Citron held up a soothing hand, waving at him to lower his hackles. 

 “I’m sorry,” the boy whispered. “I-I didn’t mean for anyone to get involved. I’m sorry. It was only supposed to be... me.”

 The Seer laughed. “It is the Tsuzuru’s fault! He is kind but very nosey! And Itaru is very good at playing card games.”

 “Are they mad at me?” the Witch asked fearfully. “The people who live here.”

 “They simply wish to understand. Which is why I think you would like it inside more than out here.” Citron held out his hand. “What do you say? It would be interesting to have another Witch in the house.”

 He fiddled with the eyepatch again. “W-Would the others let me?”

 In truth, that bit of the future was unclear. There was one future where Tsuzuru was so shocked at the Witch’s appearance, he dropped an entire bowl of chocolate sauce on himself. Or perhaps that was just wishful thinking on Citron’s part. Sometimes it was hard to distinguish between improbable futures and his own daydreams.

 “The Director will probably demand to cut your hair before you move in, but her arms will be open,” he said finally.

 And it was true. There was simply no way Izumi would let that long, grimy blue hair stay the way it was. Tied back haphazardly with a ribbon that had seen much better days. Perhaps she would gasp in horror at how skinny the young man was, and go full mother hen. Forcing him to take seconds of curry and spoiling the newcomer for a solid week. Pampering him until he was plump and cozy.

 Citron reached his hand out further. “A Witch needs a Coven, doesn’t he? It’s not fun being alone.”

 The boy sat there frozen before, imperceptibly, his arm rose from his side. A pale hand with long fingers inched towards Citron’s.

 Then someone hammered on his bedroom door.

 “CITRON, CAN YOU PLEASE TELL ME WHY MUKU IS CRYING ON THE FLOOR ABOUT YOU HAVING SCARLET FEVER?” Izumi bellowed.

 The Witch leapt to his feet and turned to disappear in a flash like last time.

 “Wait!” Citron cried, grabbing him by the back of his hoodie. “Do not run!”

 “Let go of me!” the boy yelled, struggling. “Please!”

 His sole eye was wide, pupil turned to pinpoint. Like he was a cornered animal.

 Citron tried to pull him in. “It is okay, I swear it!”

 “Let go,” the Witch yelled, “Let go, let go! LET GO OF ME!”

 He shoved his palm into Citron’s face as he cried and the Seer caught one dark blue spark before the world began spinning.

 Citron giggled to himself as his entire body went numb. The last thing he sensed was careening off the roof and plummeting to the ground. The Witch was already meters away, jumping from tree branch to tree branch like he was flying.

 That most definitely could have gone better, he thought to himself.

 The world went black. He heard the Director shriek, and then something… someone? Catch him, breaking his fall.

 That was all. Then Citron lost every sense and began, instead, to slumber.


 Banri checked outside his window every hour, starting from midnight. It was only at three, on the dot, when he spotted a soft, silver light on the street.

 “Took you long enough,” he called. “You got lost on the way?”

 Juza gave him the middle finger. “I’ve been here for a while. You couldn’t see me though. Your eyesight must be shit.”

 “Okay, Flying Dutchman, eat my ass.”

 He stuck a leg out the window, feeling for that one brick that stuck out. Got a firm lodging on it, and then leapt for the tree right outside. The branch bent just enough for him to drop the rest of the way to the ground comfortably.

 “You ready?” Banri asked, dusting himself off.

 “…For?”

 “You fucking stupid? We’re not watching Hulu again, I don’t care how bored you are.” He jerked his head down the road. “Graveyard. Let’s go.”

 If looks could kill, there would have been two ghosts standing there. Juza shoved his hands into his pockets. “Fuck you.”

 “No, I’m serious. I wanna try something out.” Banri began walking, hands laced behind his head. “I read a few articles online. Dunno how trustworthy they are, but one of ‘em said that I can touch a ghost if we’re in a graveyard. Something about it being the territory of the deceased.”

 After a moment, Juza trotted after him. “Why do you want to?”

 Why indeed?

 Banri let a comfortable sneer spread  on his face. “I spent a long time thinking about why I can see you. And why you’re even a ghost and shit. The second bit, no idea, but the first? Definitely know why.”

 “…Why?” Juza repeated.

 Banri stopped and spun on his heel to face him.

He drew a fist back and punched Juza as hard as he could. The ghost raised an arm to block, but both of their actions were ultimately meaningless. Banri’s fist passed clear through Juza’s body.

  He dropped the fist. “Because I fucking hate your guts, Hyodo. And your soul ain’t going to rest until I get to punch you so hard, you sink six feet under again. Can’t punch you if I can’t touch you.”

 Juza stared at him with an odd look. “You… are fucking stupid.”

 “Factually incorrect, I’ve got a clinically tested genius level IQ,” he replied coolly. “It’s the only explanation that makes sense to me, anyways. Kicking your ass is my destiny and I’m not going to rest until I figure out a way to punch a ghost. You in or not?”

 Juza glanced at the moon and the way it shone brightly. He flexed his fingers and formed a fist.

 …Admittedly, it would be really nice to punch Settsu again. Especially since he couldn’t remember most of their fights with clarity. But it sounded fun.

 “Fine,” he sighed. “Got nothin’ else to do."

 “Baller. Graveyard it is, then.”


 Citron was not waking up.

 It couldn’t have been the fall, Izumi knew. Masumi had caught him in the knick of time, sprinting across the entire courtyard to throw himself the final stretch and snatch Citron before he became a cement decoration.

 It was the spell. A malevolent energy that was keeping his eyes sealed.

 She didn’t know who cast it, what it was, or how to undo it. After a chaotic night of attempting every remedy she knew off the top of her head, each a failure, Tsuzuru finally urged her to sleep as well.

 “Maybe it’ll wear off by morning,” he’d said while not believing himself.

 It hadn’t.

 And it continued to not wear off the next day as well.

 By the third, Izumi could say that she was thoroughly distraught. The worry sat in her stomach like sludge, threatening to spill out of her like vomit every passing minute. How could this have happened? How could she have let it happen?

 “Director?” Sakuya murmured, shaking her gently.

 She snapped herself out of her melancholic daze. “Yeah, kiddo?”

 He held out a bowl of congee. “I… I thought Citron could eat. It’s been a while. Should I take it to him?”

 The only good luck they’d had was that, despite deep in sleep, Citron was capable of eating and drinking. As long as small puddles of food or water were placed in his mouth, he seemed to swallow. Honestly, the man looked healthy and fine. No one could have guessed he’d been unconscious for three days.

 Izumi shook her head and took the meal from his hands. “I’ve got it handled, Sakuya. You go… practice some more spells.”

 He hesitated.

 “You’re still young,” she said softly and ruffled his hair. “I know you’re capable of a lot. And that you could feed Citron on your own. But there are just some things a kid shouldn’t have to do. Trust me on this one?”

 Sakuya nodded. “Okay.”

 She walked to Citron’s room and was unsurprised to see Muku sitting there. He’d been nearly inseparable from his mentor’s bedside ever since Citron went lights out.

 However, she was surprised to find him giggling.

 “Oh, Director!” he said joyously as she came in. He patted Citron’s hand. “She’s here, Mister Citron! Aren’t you pleased?’

 Izumi didn’t know what to say to that. “You… uh, okay, Muku?”

 “…I was pretty upset the first day,” he confessed. “But I’m much better, now that I can finally hear him!”

 It felt like Izumi’s brain short-circuited.

“You can hear him,” she repeated.

 “It took a lot of trying,” the young Seer chattered. “I think I can only do it because Mister Citron’s another Seer. And a better one than me. When I look at you, it’s all weird colors and static. Mister Citron is really good at channeling thoughts, it’s kind of scary.”

 She sat down beside him and tried to run that through her head again. “Seer magic is certainly versatile.”

 “He said he’s proud of me for managing it.” At least Muku was smiling again. She’d thought the boy would be a withered shell by this point from how hard he’d been crying. “And…” Muku blinked profusely like he was hearing something. “He says—he says his end isn’t set in stone. So he’ll be completely fine, and you can stop worrying about him.”

 Izumi’s breath caught in her throat. She grasped the bowl harder, willing her hands to stop quivering. “Did he now?”

 “Yep!”

 Izumi glanced at Citron’s beautiful, resting face. Not even a twitch.

 “Muku,” she said tentatively, trying to test it to see if it was true. “Can you ask him why he breaks so many hearts?”

 “He can hear you just fine, Director,” he reassured her. Paused. Then said, “Mister Citron says he doesn’t break hearts. And says you’re very mean for bringing this up when he can’t even defend himself properly.”

 She covered her eyes with a hand and let out a half-laugh, half-whimper. “He certainly broke mine.” She smacked his arm. “Asshole. I was so worried about you.”

 Muku tugged her sleeve. “He says he’ll wake up tonight.”

 Further relief. Thank god she was sitting, Izumi might have keeled over by accident. She was actually going to start crying. “Good. About time. He’s slept enough for everybody under this roof.”

 “He says he’s going to come lift the spell,” Muku continued, still blinking owlishly. “Uh… uh… And that you shouldn’t get mad at him when he does, because it was a mistake. And to be gentle.”

 Ice. Cold ice gripped her lungs. “Who, Muku?”

 “The…” Muku paused and looked at Citron with confusion, like he hadn’t heard that right. “The One-Eyed Witch?”

 The bowl of congee clattered to the floor.

 Muku echoed "‘Noooooooo, my dinner!’” and had it been any other situation, Izumi might have laughed at how spot on his impression was.


 And then she found herself shaking Tsuzuru like he was an aerosol bottle. “THAT’S WHY YOU HAVE TO GO NOW.”

 “CAN YOU PLEASE EXPLAIN IT TO ME WITHOUT THE PHYSICAL ASSAULT!” he roared back.

 Izumi released him. “Citron said the Witch is coming here—”

 “He’s awake now?”

 “No, Muku read his mind—”

 “Muku can read minds?

 “No!” She felt like she would tear her hair out. “Can you please just shut up and listen! Now is not the time for in depth exposition, I’m doing the best I can! Citron said, through Muku, who can read his mind but only his mind and nobody else’s right now, that the Witch from the warehouse is coming to the Coven tonight to lift the spell on him. Oh, yeah, news flash, Citron was put in a coma by the One Eyed Witch, which I guess is what we’re calling him now."

 Tsuzuru held up a finger. “Did Citron come up with that name?”

 “Yes.”

 “Figures. It’s dramatic but works.” Tsuzuru took all this in stride but was still coming up blank. "Okay, and? I leave why?”

 She pointed down the hall where Itaru’s room was and lowered her voice. “In case you don’t remember, that thing is contracted to the warehouse Witch.”

 “One Eyed Witch sounds cooler.”

 She smacked his arm. “Can you please be serious? He’s been complacent for now because I’ve been giving him video games to keep busy with, but what do you think he’ll do if he gets a direct order to kill us!

 Tsuzuru went white. “Oh.”

 “He follows you around because you’re his sacrifice, so tell him you’re going home to your parents for the next two nights!” she pleaded. “You know he’s going to go with you.”

 Tsuzuru took a step back. “Nope.”

 “EXCUSE ME?”

 “Do you have any idea what my parents are going to do to me if they find out I got sacrificed to a demon?” the Caster cried. “My mother gave me one rule when I left home for university. Don’t get involved with anything that has to do with soul sacrifice. Which I understand is oddly specific to our current situation, but was honestly one of the ONLY rules she set! She will skin me alive if she finds out I’m demon food!”

 “WOULD YOU RATHER BE ACTUALLY SKINNED ALIVE BY A WITCH WHO USES BLACK MAGIC?” Izumi yelled.

 “HAVE YOU EVER SEEN MY MOTHER WHEN SHE GETS ANGRY? I’D PREFER THE BLACK MAGIC!

 Izumi slapped both her hands over her face and took in a deep breath, forcing herself to calm down. Suddenly she had an incredible idea.

 “Okay,” Izumi said as the thought knit together to something more coherent. She sucked in a deep breath and let it out slowly. “I got it. Can you promise me, on your honor as a Minagi Caster, that if I can find you comfortable accommodations for the night that is not your family’s house, you will go there with Itaru and stay away from the Coven until morning?”

 “Yes,” he said immediately.

 “Swear on it.”

 He held up his palm. “I swear on my honor as a Minagi Caster."

 Izumi took out her phone. “Perfect.”

 She selected the contact and brought the phone to her ear.

 ….Click.

 Hello?

 “Hi!” she said with false joy. “I’m so sorry to be asking for a favor already, Mr. Sakisaka, but would you happen to have a room available tonight for two members of the Coven to stay in?”

 Tsuzuru blanched.


 With Matsukawa taking Tsuzuru and Itaru to the Sakisaka household, the Mankai dorms were oddly quiet. Only four people under the roof… When had that been the case last? When Tsuzuru had joined them. It seemed such a long time ago, but it’d only been a few weeks, hadn’t it?

 Technically five people, Izumi reminded herself. Citron, after all. Well, four waking members. 

 She handed a plate of curry to Muku. “You wouldn’t happen to be able to predict when people are about to ring the doorbell, right?”

 Muku looked confused.

 Izumi sighed. “Sorry, ignore me. I guess it’s just a quirk of Citron’s I got used to.”

 “The curry’s delicious tonight as well, Director,” Masumi said, shoveling in another mouthful.

 She ruffled his hair. “Thanks. There’s plenty so eat up.”

 He started inhaling his food and Izumi immediately realized what she had done wrong.

 “Don’t choke on it!” she scolded, wrenching his face away from his plate. “Jeez. You’re so hard to keep an eye on.”

 Then the doorbell rang and someone might as well have just kicked her right in the spinal cord.

 “Oh, Jesus Christ,” she whispered, wiping sweaty palms on her pants.

 It would be fine, right? Citron said the Witch was just coming to lift the spell on him. And warned her to be gentle. 

 But what if that was just code so that he didn’t scare Muku? After all, this one did summon a demon. 

 “I’ll get it,” Sakuya offered, getting up.

 She forced him back down. “Nope. This one’s mine, Sakuya. Stay here and eat your dinner. Don’t move. Do you understand?”

 His eyes turned starry like they always did when he was curious.

 “Absolutely not,” Izumi said to the unasked request.

 She went to open the door, preparing herself for the worst.

 Only to see Kazunari standing there. He looked more tired than he had last time, but perky as ever.

 “Yo, Director!” he said, brandishing a sleek black folder. “I got your plans for the practice room finished up. Man, it took me like nonstop work to get the logistics in order but I think I’ve got a mix of Runes good enough to withstand an airstrike. That good enough for your Witch student?"

 No. There was no way.

 “Kazunari, you’re the One Eyed Witch?” she blurted. 

 “The One Who Whatsit?” He scratched the back of his head. “Oooh, you speaking in riddles now, Director? That’s cool. I’m not good at them though, so standard language would be nice. Or you can do whatever floats your boat, I guess! Free country, free speech, hell yeah, constitutional rights.”

 Izumi wished she could ask him to shut up in the nicest way possible. Her head hurt so badly. Man, she had no idea how much she had relied on Citron’s counsel before. Having someone who could see almost every route in the future had turned her soft, hadn’t it?

 “Kazunari, I don’t think this is a good time,” Izumi admitted. “I’m waiting for someone to turn up. Citron got a little… sick? And we’re waiting for the, uh, ‘doctor' to show up.”

 Someone’s head popped down from absolutely nowhere. “Oh… me?”

 Izumi Tachibana let out the most hysterical, blood curdling scream she had ever emitted in her entire life, before promptly falling on her ass.

 Kazunari seemed baffled by her reaction. “I was gonna ask why someone was chilling out on your roof but I figured you knew about it. You don’t know this guy? He’s been sitting there for a while now.”

 The One Eyed Witch dropped off the eave of the house, landing on his feet nimbly. “…Sorry. I didn’t mean to surprise you. I just thought you were talking about me so…” He squirmed. “I thought that was a good time to make my entrance.”

 “Director!” Sakuya yelled as the three boys inside raced towards her. “Are you okay? You yelled.”

 Masumi knelt down and gripped her by her forearms, helping her up. With a completely straight face, he asked, “Are they bothering you? Do you want me to beat them up?”

 “If this is a bad time, I can come back later,” the One Eyed Witch offered quietly. “I’m sorry for intruding."

 “Waaaaaaaait a second. I know that voice.” Kazunari took a step forward and peeked at the face under the hood. His eyebrows shot up to his hairline. “Sumi? Sumi, ’s that you?"

 The Witch gave a weak smile. “Kazu.”

 Izumi held out her hands. “Hold on. Stop. Everybody stop.”

 She pointed to the Witch. “How old are you?”

 “N-Nineteen,” he said, flinching away from her finger.

 “Good. How old are you?” she asked Kazunari.

 “Same.”

 Izumi nodded once. “Good.” She covered Masumi's ears. “Sakuya, Muku, both of you cover your own. I don’t want either of you hearing me talk like this until you turn eighteen.”

 They obeyed.

 “What the fuck is going on?” Izumi demanded angrily.

Chapter Text

 Kazunari threw an arm around threw an arm around the One Eyed Witch, laughing loudly. “Sumi, it’s been like forever! Haven’t seen you for the past three months, where’ve you been?”

 “You know each other?” Izumi asked in disbelief, taking her hands off of Masumi’s ears.

 “You kidding? Sumi’s a total bae!” Kazunari cheered. “We met each other last summer in jail, BFFs ever since.”

 “How…” His words actually processed. “JAIL? JAIL?

 Kazunari waved it off. “Don’t look like that, Director! It was a small run in with the Council and a twelve hour detainment period while they collected evidence. But Sumi and I totally bonded!”

 Sakuya shouldered his way to the front. His eyes glimmered. “There’s magic jail?”

 The Caster threw him a peace sign. “Well, not really. It was just Sakyo Furuichi’s house, he’s a Hunter who works for the Council. The dude's crazy scary but he had a suuuuper swanky apartment! Total bachelor pad, I want one just like it when I’m older.”

 “I liked the snacks he gave us,” the boy apparently named Sumi said, going dreamy-eyed. “The cookies were really good.”

 “Right?!”

 Izumi held up her hands again, reeling with the new load of information she’d been presented. Where was she supposed to begin?

 “Hey, but you’ve gotten skinnier. You eating alright?” Kazunari asked, taking Sumi’s arm and inspecting the bony limb.

 Sumi stiffened a little. “Here and there... when I get the chance.”

 “That’s no good, dude, you’re going twiggy!”

 Izumi should have known what was going to come out of Sakuya’s mouth before it did, really. It was in the way he jolted a little, like an idea had physically whacked him upside the head.

 “We’re having dinner!” he said ecstatically. “Why don’t you guys come join us? The Director made curry!”

 Kazunari fanned himself. “Well, don’t mind if I do! Always wanted to eat a meal made by a smoking hot girl.” He fluttered his eyelashes at her.

 Sumi took a step back like he’d stumbled on an invisible stone. “Ah, I—no, it’s okay, I can just lift the spell and go. I’m really sorry.”

 Izumi stilled for a moment and, for the first time, finally got to take a good look at him. 

 The Witch’s hair was an absolute mess and his clothes were holding on just barely by the stitches. His presence had little if any malevolence coming from it. And Kazunari was unfortunately right, he looked painfully thin. Nineteen years old, was he? Then still just a boy.

 She sighed and prayed to whatever might be up there that she wouldn’t regret this. “It’s better than just standing here, isn’t it? Both of you leave your shoes on the rack,  I don’t want dirt all over the floor. I’ll go get some more plates.”

 Masumi scowled. “You’re just gonna let them in?”

 “They’re hungry,” she said softly. “I made too much curry anyways.”

 He shifted his weight from foot to foot. “I could eat it all. I could eat anything you make."

 She rolled her eyes but gave him a pat on the back.

 “Sweeeeeeeet,” Kazunari said, not needing any more of an invite. He ruffled Sakuya’s hair and grabbed Sumi by the wrist, dragging him inside. “Pardon the intrusion!”

 Sumi dug his heels in by the threshold before taking a real step over it. He looked at Izumi with a strange, skittish look in his eye. “Is it really okay?”

 She pushed him over the line into the entryway. “I said it already, didn’t I?”

 “…Okay.”

 Izumi paused. “Could you lift the spell on Citron first?”

 “Y-Yes.”

 “Good.” Man, he standards were lowered. “I'd say that would warrant a plate of curry as a reward.”


 Izumi showed him to Citron’s room and watched as Sumi leaned over the Seer, muttering something. A strange blue spark flew from Citron’s eyelids and a tense minute passed where nothing happened. Then the Seer stirred a little, fingertips twitching and eyebrows drawing together.

 His eyes snapped open and soon he was grinning with a lucidity like the bastard had been pretending to sleep all this while. “Nice to see you again, young man.”

 Sumi ducked his head. “I’m sorry… for cursing you.”

 Citron stretched. “I had the bestest of dreams! It was nice. Just what a doctor would recommend."

 Izumi let out a soft sigh that sounded suspiciously like a sob even to herself. “About goddamn time, you lazy bum.”

 He had the nerve to smile at her, impish. “Thank you for taking care of me, Director. No fears when I was sleeping because I knew you were there, I am happy to report.”

 Citron struggled to get out of bed, knees wobbly from the few days of non-use. She gently shrugged his arm onto her shoulder and helped him with the first few steps. “You go unconscious again and I’ll draw a mustache on you.”

 “Are you mad because I broke your heart?” he teased.

 “Watch it.”

 Citron glanced at the Witch who’d awoken him and held his hand out. “What is your name, boy?”

 “Misumi,” he said quietly, finally putting his hand on the one offered to him and holding it gently. “Thank you. For talking to me.”

 “You’re hungry, aren’t you? Let’s go put some meat on your inside sticks!” Citron cried, giving Misumi a firm shake. “The Director’s curry is very good! …The first few times.”

 Izumi laughed and wiped a tear away with her thumb, hoping neither of them would see it. “I’ll drop you here and let you crawl the rest of the way, ass. And they’re called bones.”

 Citron opened the door and was immediately knocked down as Muku came launching from seemingly nowhere.

 “Citron!” he yelped, wrapping his arms around him. “You’re awake! Just like you said!”

 The Seer’s eyes went soft as he patted the top of Muku’s head. “Yes, yes. It was very good you were there to hear me, Muku. I am not sure how fate would have turned out had you not been there. You are turning to be more talented than I had foreseen!”

 The boy’s face went red from the praise. “I-I-It wasn’t anything, really."

 “Would you help me to the kitchen?” Citron asked with a serene smile. “I would like to avoid the future where Masumi attacks me for being so close to the Director.”

 She nudged him with her knee. “You’re being silly, he wouldn’t do that.”

 He shot her a grave look. “No. He would.”

 “…Fair enough.”

 Muku took her place as Citron’s human crutch and she walked ahead of them to get their food ready. Kazunari had already helped himself to a heaping pile of rice and curry, scarfing it down.

 “Ish great!” he declared with a full mouth.

 “Eat like a civilized human or starve,” she shot back, but was infinitely pleased he liked it.

 Sakuya smiled like the sun. “Citron, you’re awake!”

 Citron waved at him, taking small steps forward with Muku at his side.

 Izumi put two more helpings on the table, snapping her fingers and willing the arm chair towards them to compensate for the lack of places to sit. It didn’t budge. She sighed. Too heavy for her powers, eh?

 “Can I try?” Sakuya asked.

 A sudden vision, despite not being a Seer, came to mind where the arm chair shot into the table and sent everything flying. “Maybe when you get a little more control of your powers, kid.”

 “I got it!” Kazunari called, and scribbled a Rune sequence in the air.

 He sent it shooting towards the arm chair and then jerked his hand like pulling a string no one else could see. The arm chair came sliding across the floor before stopping right at the end of the table.

 If Sakuya vibrated any harder, he would turn into a blur. “What was that?”

 “Sticky Hands Rune!” Kazunari said and puffed his chest out. “My own invention.”

 “You’re a Caster? Like Tsuzuru?” Sakuya asked.

 Kazunari leaned closer and mock-whispered, “Don’t tell him I told you this, but I think I’m an even better Caster than Tsuzuruoon is."

 “Wow,” Sakuya gasped. “Can I learn that Sticky Hands Rune thing?”

 “Sure! You got pen and paper on you?”

 Citron took his seat. “It is good to know everyone is still lively. Thank you for saving me, Masumi.”

 The Hunter clicked his tongue and looked away. “Whatever.” Were his ears red? That was cute.

 There was one chair left empty. Izumi peeked down the hall. “Misumi, you coming? The food's gonna get cold.”

 Their guest seemed at a loss for what to do. “I’m allowed to sit at the table?”

 Izumi felt a few things from hearing those words. Confusion, discomfort, a rush of horror, concern. All in a rapid sequence, one after the other.

 Messy, uncut hair. Dirty clothes. Skinny wrists. An eye that kept stealing glances to make sure things were still safe and relaxed. Nervous energy, like he was ready to flee at a moment’s notice.

 He was only nineteen years old, wasn’t he?

 Maybe it wasn’t fair of her to jump to conclusions, or to assume. But she’d rather that than turn a blind eye.

 “Misumi,” she settled on saying softly. “What’s your last name?”

 He seemed caught off guard by the question. “I don’t know.”

 “You don’t know?”

 “I don’t remember... anything before five years ago.”

 She took a step towards him. “Where’s your family?”

 Misumi took a step away from her. “I don’t know.”

 “You don’t?”

 He shook his head.

 Five years ago. He’d been fourteen? Maybe thirteen? A surge of nausea nearly overwhelmed her. “Can I ask where you’ve been staying?”

 His eye immediately looked away to the ceiling and then the ground. “Ah. Around. Here and there. Where there’s room.”

 He was homeless.

 It didn’t matter if he was a Witch. It didn’t matter if she didn’t know who he was. Suddenly, none of it mattered. He was just a boy without a home who was too thin and looked too scared.

 “Curry isn’t nearly half as good when it’s cold,” Izumi said promptly, turning around and walking back to the kitchen. “I’ll be insulted if you don’t sit down with the rest of us and start eating, you know. Not to brag, but I’ve been told that I make the meanest roux on this side of the country.”

 She took two large strides and looked over her shoulder. “You coming or not, kiddo?”

 Misumi stared at her with wonder and then took a few small steps in her path. “Okay.”

 She and Citron shared one long, knowing look as Misumi sat next to Muku and stared at his meal like he couldn’t truly believe it was in front of him. Even now, Izumi wasn’t sure how much a Seer knew about someone just from staring into their souls but she figured it was at least as much as she knew by then.

 “Thank you for the meal,” Misumi said with a start like he had just barely remembered his manners, and then started shoveling in spoonful after spoonful as fast as he could. As though they would snatch the food away from him in the next second.

 She started running him a glass of water from the tap. “There’s plenty more where it came from.”

 “Not fair!” Kazunari shouted. “He can eat like that and I can’t?!”

 “My dorm, my rules,” Izumi replied, willfully ignoring the bit about the building being under Matsukawa’s name.

 Witch, Caster, Seer, Hunter. None of it mattered, really. When the sun went down and everyone gathered to eat, they were all the same. Just hungry stomachs that wanted a good meal, right?

 “Is it good?” she asked.

 Misumi nodded furiously. “Yes.”

 “We have a few rooms still free. If you’d like, you can stay the night. The showers are free and we can probably find something for you to sleep in.”

 Misumi clutched his spoon and swallowed something besides curry. He blinked rapidly. “...Thank you.”

  Citron snorted like he’d seen this coming. Izumi allowed the sound without comment. Maybe she was predictable. So what?

 “Slumber party!” Kazunari crowed.

 “You can go home.”

 “What? Why?! Sooooooo not fair!"


 “Misumi,” Izumi said quietly as she sat on the edge of the Witch’s bed later that night. “Tomorrow, I’m going to have to ask you some more questions. A friend of mine is going to be there to hear the answers too. But it’s because I need to know some things about you before letting you stay here. Will that be okay?”

 The room was too dark for her to see his face, but maybe that was a blessing for them both. “You’re going to let me stay?”

 “A Coven exists so that magicians have a place to call home.” She added, “Especially those who might not have a home otherwise. You’re welcome to be with us for as long as you’d like, really. But… you still summoned a demon. You still cast a spell on one of our own using black magic. You get why I have to be suspicious, don’t you?”

 “…Yes.”

 She indulged herself a little by leaning over and tucking him in properly. “I’m going to have to trim your hair soon. It’s like a rat’s nest.”

 His hand shot out and gripped her arm as she got up to leave. A wordless, silent plea for her to stay.

 So she did. She sat on the edge of his bed a little longer until his breathing turned slow and steady.

 Izumi wondered why tragedy seemed to cling to every Witch like glue. Why magic had such a cruel, ultimately meaningless price. 

 Not under her watch, she swore to herself. They would not suffer as long as she had something to say about it.


 The next afternoon, Tsuzuru and Itaru returned to the Coven.

 Izumi had prepared for a variety of reactions once she explained the occurrences of the night prior.

 She had not prepared, unfortunately, for Itaru to take one sniff of the air and then grab her around the throat.

 “Where are they,” the demon growled, pupils turned to slits.

 It was moments like these when she couldn’t breathe and was staring into pools of hot pink that she remembered, they really did have a demon living with them, didn’t they? Wild.

 Masumi, bless his strange heart, barreled into Itaru and forced the soldier of hell down to the ground, kitchen knife in hand as a weapon. “Don’t you dare fucking touch her.”

 Itaru sneered. “Try it, Hunter. My blood will sear your hands clean off."

 Izumi rubbed her neck and rested a hand on Masumi’s head. “Language, Masumi.”

 “He just tried to hurt you—

 “You can swear under this roof when you’re eighteen,” she said firmly. She crouched and looked at the demon point blank. “Itaru, I’ll say this once and once only. The next time you act out like that, I’ll make you pray you never crawled out of wherever you came from. Understand?”

 “Where is my summoner,” he snarled, fangs out.

 “Not anywhere you’ll have access to with that attitude."

 Tsuzuru dropped his duffel bag on the floor. Somehow, he looked healthier than he had in a long, long time. Maybe it was because he’d finally gotten a full night’s sleep at the Sakisaka household, maybe it was because he hadn’t been anywhere near that slime he toiled over obsessively. Maybe it just turned out that he was kind of allergic to Izumi and the Coven.

 “Should I even ask? I got back not even a minute ago and I’m already not following,” Tsuzuru said.

 Izumi got up and beckoned him over. “Citron’s already in the office. We have a lot to get through.”

 He sagged, suddenly looking tired again. “Clearly. You know, Mr. Sakisaka likes doing jigsaw puzzles. We all sat in his living room last night and worked on one with five hundred pieces. He gave us pretzel sticks and warm milk. Why don’t we ever do something like that here?”

 Izumi gave him a sorry rub on the back.

 “I’ll kill the Hunter should you turn your back, halfblood!” Itaru roared.

 She clapped her hands to her cheeks and gasped, eyes widening to a comical size. “WILL you now! Oh my, my, my. Simply shocking!” She bowed, mockery dripping from the action. “Does the visitor from hell needs our highest form of defense then? SAKUYA!”

 The Witchling appeared holding a Swiffer mop. “Ye—? MASUMI, GET OFF OF HIM!”

 “He tried to kill the Director,” Masumi snapped.

 “He WHAT? MISTER ITARU!

 The demon glared at her. “You play dirty.”

 “Bite me,” she said with a wave as she strolled down the hall, Tsuzuru trailing after her.

 “It’s always life or death dramatic bullshit around here, huh,” Tsuzuru sighed.

 “Not by choice!” Once in the office, she slammed the door behind them. “Charm it.”

 “Silencer or barrier?”

 “Both and then some.”

 Tsuzuru raised an eyebrow. “That bad?”

 “Just taking precautions.”

 As he doled out the Runes, she took the middle seat at the desk. To her left was Citron, who looked as detached and peaceful as always. Across from her was Misumi, looking much tidier than last night with a fresh undercut but so tense he was quivering.

 Izumi gave him a reassuring smile. “Misumi, this is Tsuzuru. He’s a Caster here at Mankai who helps me teach. Citron’s here to make sure you tell the truth. We trust you, but it’s necessary granted the circumstances.”

 Tsuzuru gave her a very exhausted glower, the kind that looked like he was growing gray hairs just from being in the same room as her. “We trust him now?"

 “Yes, we do.”

 “He summoned a demon.”

 She waved the concern off. “And I once got hammered in college and used a bottle of soy sauce for shampoo. We all make some poor decisions now and then, Tsuzuru.”

 The Caster took the last available chair and the questioning went under way.

 “What is your last name?” Izumi asked.

 Misumi shook his head. “I don’t know.”

 “Who is your family?”

 “I don’t know.”

 “Are you planning on hurting anybody in the Coven?”

 He shook his head again, this time much more firmly. “No. Never.”

 She glanced at the man sitting beside her for confirmation.

 Citron flashed her a thumbs up. “Nothing but honesty from the young man, Director.”

 She leaned towards him and murmured, “You seeing any memories Misumi might not have?”

 “No. Very blank past.”

 Izumi sighed. Unfortunate, but expected. She directed her next few words towards Misumi again.

 “Misumi, Tsuzuru got trapped in your magic circle and now his soul’s sold to Itaru. But he only gets his soul taken away if Itaru completes the objective you summoned him to do. We need to know why you summoned him to make sure it doesn’t happen.”

 Tsuzuru cried sarcastically, “You do care. I was beginning to think you were gonna feed me to the sharks and forget about it.”

 “Are you mad because I asked Kazunari for help with Runing the room?”

 “AND WHAT IF I AM? SPIT ON MY PRIDE NEXT TIME, WHY DON’T YOU."

 “I never meant for anybody to get scarified,” Misumi whispered, voice breaking in the middle. “I promise. It was just supposed to be me, only me. No one else was supposed to get hurt or involved.”

 “I believe you,” Izumi said, and not just because Citron was giving her a thumbs up again. The truth might as well have been written across Misumi’s face in sharpie with the destroyed expression he was making. “But we have to know the reason he’s here to avoid it from happening.”

 The Witch looked down at his lap.

 “Please?” Izumi begged.

 Misumi said softly, “I don’t want to say it.”

 “Not a word leaves this room, I swear on my honor as a Tachibana Witch.”

 Misumi hesitated and finally raised his head with red on his cheeks.

 He confessed.

 Izumi closed her eyes and let the reason sink in.

 “Alright,” she said frankly, opening them. “Got it. Misumi, I’m going to let you join the Coven under one condition. It’s the only insurance I’m going to hold you to. Tsuzuru is going to lock that memory away so you stay under this roof while not knowing why you summoned Itaru. And unless we’re in a dangerous situation, you will be kept far away from him.”

 “I’m going to what?” Tsuzuru hissed.

 “Oh please, like you can’t?” Izumi muttered right back.

 “Memory magic is illegal.”

 “Like you can’t?” she repeated with more heat in her words.

 “…It’s illegal.”

 Izumi seized him around his collar and forced his face closer. “Look me in the eyes and tell me you can’t do it, brat. Look me in the eyes and tell me you never experimented with shit you shouldn’t have. I’ve seen your lab.”

 Tsuzuru twisted his lips into an ugly lour. It was all the answer she needed. 

“I’ll do it!” Misumi said, standing up. “It’s okay.”

 Tsuzuru’s fingertip grew bright blue as he started drafting the curse in the air. “This is going to hurt like a bitch, just warning you.”

 Misumi set his jaw, determined. “If I can stay here, I’m alright with that.”

 Izumi screwed her eyes shut as Tsuzuru sent the Runes flying and Misumi let out a strangled scream. Citron held her hand throughout it all.


 “Could you call Itaru to the office next?” Izumi asked, leaning her forehead on laced fingers and staring at the surface of the desk.

 Misumi was a little disoriented by the gap in memory but nevertheless unharmed. Tsuzuru was helping lead him to his room for a nap. The Seer stayed, frowning heavily as he took a quick glance at the future’s routes. “Director, I do not think that is a good idea.”

 “What’re the chances he kills me?”

 “Ah. Twenty percent? I do not like it.”

 She snorted. “I’ve lived with worse odds. Call him in, please.”

 Citron winced but bowed. “As you wish.”

 And so the demon stood across from her, red and purple flames crackling on his shoulders and licking the sides of his head. He was definitely mad.

 “You know, I thought you liked it here at least a little bit,” Izumi remarked. “I had no idea you were so intent on going back. Or is Tsuzuru’s soul just that good?”

 “I could slap wet cement on baguette pieces and have a better meal compared to your Caster’s watery life force,” Itaru hissed.

 She physically cringed under the weight of the scathing remark. “Oof. Please don’t tell him that, it’d destroy his self confidence.”

 Itaru calmed down enough to take the seat opposite her and cross his legs. The fire on his body down to just barely glowing embers. “Let me make one thing clear, halfblood. I am not insulted because you are keeping my summoner from me. Truly, every miserable body on this plane of existence dies sooner or later. Upon the death of either my summoner or my sacrifice, the contract will be broken and I will return to hell. This ‘vacation’ of mine can last perhaps eighty years, or another hour. I do not care. Time is meaningless to an immortal.”

 “Tsuzuru’s not making it another eighty years,” Izumi interrupted, shaking her head. “I’ve seen him eat an entire can of condensed milk in one sitting for breakfast. I’m giving him, like, mid-seventies at best.”

 Itaru shrugged. “Apt. That does not concern me. I am continuously annoyed by the lack of respect I get under this roof. You thought you could trick me and deny my right to be by my summoner’s side? I’d rather be revered without having to make an example of my abilities but should push come to shove… well.” He grinned and showed off every razor sharp tooth. “I’m sure your imagination can conceive a few remedies I have in mind.”

 Izumi sighed and wished her headache would go away.

 “Itaru, we all know that you’re fearsome and capable, but worshipping the ground you walk on isn’t in our interest,” she said, slowly picking each and every word since she knew she had a one in five chance of dying. “We didn’t summon you. We didn’t want to get Tsuzuru’s soul sacrificed. It’s an inconvenience to all parties here. Not to mention, Tsuzuru and I… well, we both grew up with very strong anti-black magic rhetorics. Probably Citron as well, but not making any assumptions here.”

 He held up his finger and his thumb, forming an O with them. “Do you know what this is, Director?”

 “No.”

 “How much I care.”

 Izumi looked at the ceiling. “Ouch.”

 “I want respect and that’s that,” the demon drawled. “I detest the… let’s call it ridicule, of being presented a child’s game and being expected to remain docile like some kind of pet. So make me an offer that spares your life, why don’t you?”

 Izumi steepled her fingers and thought for a moment. “Okay. Number one, I want to make it explicitly clear that Animal Crossing New Horizons is for audiences of ages three and up. Three and up. It’s a popular game for a lot of adults. Number two… I think I have an idea that’ll make both of us happy, but you’re going to have to wait a week or two before it gets delivered.”

 “Demons do not wait,” Itaru seethed, flames erupting from his shoulders once more.

 She inched away from the heat. “You will for this. And you won’t kill me for the next week, that’s a guarantee.”

 He got up slowly, menacingly, and sat on the edge of the desk. One hand reached forward to press the tip of a long, black talon right underneath the soft of her jaw. Like he would spear it right through her skull with another word he didn’t like. “Why so confident, pray tell?”

 Izumi reached over to grab her calendar and show him the month.

 He stared at the little box with the red circle. “You play so, so dirty.”

 “That’s why I’m still alive,” she said sweetly.

 Itaru took away his finger. “We really should have talks like these more often, Director. They’re quite lovely.”

 Izumi figured she could have a mental breakdown over those words later. She shot him the biggest, fakest smile she could. “Totally."

Chapter Text

 “Director!” Matsukawa called from the entryway. “You’ve got a package!”

 She slammed her laptop shut and went running.

 “Oh, thank you, sweet baby Jesus,” Izumi just about sobbed as she got down on her knees and pressed a kiss onto the cardboard. Then she started tearing it open. “I would have been so screwed if this delivery was late.”

 “What did you order?” Matsukawa asked, crouching by her side.

 “Gaming computer.”

 “…Oh?”

 Izumi turned to the hall and yelled, “HEY, ITARU.”

 The demon poked his head in, holding a beer. “What.”

 “It’s like two in the afternoon, why are you already drinking?”

 He sipped it. “Down in hell, we have a type of whiskey fermented from the tears of sinners. The alcohol is so potent and concentrated, should a mortal even lick a drop they would collapse in on themselves and die.”

 Izumi cleared her throat. “Cool.”

 Itaru showed her his teeth. “I used to have a bowl every morning with my cornflakes. This beer might as well be water.”

 She raised her hands in a surrendering motion. “You do you. But I will say this, if it becomes a problem I WILL start forming an intervention to help you. Because I care. Anyways, help me bring this into your room.”

 He flicked his finger and the box rose into the air. 

 “Is this your incentive to keep me from killing you?” Itaru drawled, peering inside. “What is this?”

 “The rest of my savings account,” Izumi muttered. So much for saving up and trying to deal with college loans. Raising her voice, she said, “C’mon, I’ll help you go set it up. There should be a bundle of the top five bloodiest first person shooter games inside.”

 Itaru narrowed his eyes. “More games? Do you enjoy mocking me?”

 She slapped him on the back and had to laugh. “Sweetie, let me introduce you to Animal Crossing’s cousin: Doom Eternal."


 Sakuya loved magic.

 If someone asked him, he would say that he loved magic more than he’d ever loved anything else.

 But maybe, besides being able to do the impossible, he especially loved the things that magic had brought into his life.

 “Good morning, Director,” he said warmly, joining the group at the table.

 She slid a slightly burnt fried egg onto his plate. “Is Masumi awake yet?”

 Citron hummed and put two fingers to his temple. He closed his eyes and swayed back and forth. “I see it set in stone… that Masumi will not wake up until he is almost late for school!”

 “You didn’t really use foresight, did you?” Izumi asked flatly.

 Tsuzuru scoffed into the bacon. “There are some things you don’t need to be a Seer to know.”

 Sakuya laughed.

 He’d been laughing a lot recently. Laughing more than he could remember having done so in the past.

 “Triangle!” Misumi cried, showing off the mountain of rice on his plate arranged prettily into a perfect equilateral triangle. He cut it in the middle and arranged it into two smaller ones. “Two triangles!”

 Izumi flicked his forehead. “Stop playing with your food.”

 “Okay!” He inhaled the massive amount in what must have been record time and held his plate back out. “Seconds, please!”

 “You’re a bottomless pit, aren’t you?” Izumi asked.

Her voice was sharp but Sakuya knew that ever since Misumi had joined them, the Director had taken to waking up before the sun. All to make three batches of rice instead of two and make sure they were all eating enough to burst.

 It was the small things like that that made his chest squeeze.

 Sakuya loved magic and the Director more than he’d ever loved anything else.

 “I’m late!” Muku cried as he came running out of his room, hair going every which way. “I’m sorry, Director, I said I’d show up early to help with club decorations and I completely forgot! I’ll be back home on time though, I promise.”

 She tossed him a slice of toast and a box of strawberry milk. “Did you pack everything?”

 “I think so!” he said over his shoulder as he crammed the bread into his mouth and ran out the door.

 Tsuzuru glanced at the clock and finished off his own breakfast. “I should get going too, I’ve got an exam today.”

 Izumi sniffled and wiped away a fake tear. “Ah… birds leave the nest all at once, don’t they?”

 “Don’t be weird.”

 Sakuya stood up. “I’m going to go get Masumi for school!”

 “Your funeral, not mine,” Izumi said as she turned on the faucet. “Misumi, come help me with the dishes.”

 “Okay!"

 When Sakuya burst into Masumi’s dorm room, he was greeted with a similar sight as always. Masumi always slept rolled up in his blankets like a burrito. Which, objectively, was very cute but an absolute pain in the ass to get him out of. When one blanket was removed, Masumi simply rolled over and covered himself with another.

 Sakuya struggled. “C’mon, wake up already. You’re gonna be late! We don’t have to do this every single day, do we?”

 Masumi only let out a quiet groan and rolled up further.

 “MASUMI!”


    “You can’t sleep and walk at the same time!” Sakuya told Masumi as he just about carried his junior to their high school.

 “Mmm…” was the only response he got.


When Sakuya got back to the dorms, by himself this time since Masumi had left early for a dentist appointment, he saw that all the lights were off. Yet he still called “I’m home,” to the empty building through sheer habit.

 When was the last time he’d been alone in the dorms, he wondered? It had been a while, that was for sure. Before the Director had arrived and brought with her a whole storm of people. Now, there was always activity going on inside the Coven’s building.

Before, though, it had been a quiet month of eating convenience store meals in front of the TV. Alone when Matsukawa was out, which happened to be quite often. Buying this and that to help put the crumbling dorms back in order.

 What should I do before they come back? Sakuya asked himself. Maybe he could wipe down the floors. Do the laundry. He would cook, but clumsy hands unfortunately turned the outcome of an edible meal into a roulette.

He took two steps down the hall.

 The lights turned on.

  “SURPRISE!”

 Citron popped a party cracker. Little bits of confetti and streamer rained down on his head.

 Everyone was standing in the kitchen. The Director, Masumi, Citron, all of them. Matsukawa had on weird sunglasses with frames shaped like stars that had little multicolored LED lights. Even Kazunari who didn’t live with them was there, hands raised with a goofy grin on his face. They had all just been waiting in the dark around the table.

A table that had a cake on it, he realized.

 “W-What’s all this for?” Sakuya stammered.

 “Eighteen! Congrats, Saku, seriously,” Kazunari yelped as he leapt forward and slapped a little paper cone hat onto Sakuya’s head. “Only happens once, you know, so cherish it!”

 Sakuya stared at all of them. “I’m…”

 “It’s your birthday, isn’t it?” Izumi asked. “Your file said the ninth of March.”

 He stared at the birthday cake with a tall candle in the very center, surrounded by eight smaller ones. “It is, but—“

 Sakuya let out a shrill screech as Citron nearly toppled him over in a bear hug. “For he’s a holly good pillow, for he’s a holly good pillow!”

 “He’s a jolly good fellow, Citron,” Tsuzuru said exhaustedly. “Let go of him, you’re going to make him motion sick.”

 “The Director almost ordered you Napolitan cake until we talked her out of it,” Itaru informed him with crossed arms. “So you’re welcome. It’s vanilla buttercream. Which is normal. Seriously, what’s wrong with you?”

 “You’re such a killjoy!” she whined. “He could have liked it but now we’ll never know.”

 Kazunari thrust a box wrapped with pink paper into Sakuya’s hands. “Open mine first, you’re gonna love it. I’ve got a reputation for being the best gift-giver in this city.”

 Tsuzuru snatched it away and put the present on top a pile of others. “After the cake, idiot, we discussed this.”

 “Whaaaat? You’re just mad because Sakusaku’s totally gonna like mine more than yours!”

 Sakuya took a fistful of his sweater and squeezed. His chest… hurt. “I get presents? You got me presents?”

 Izumi poked his forehead. “Obviously. What’s with the slow uptake, kiddo? It’s your birthday.”

 Masumi steered him to the table and forced him to sit down. “Blow out the candles already. I wanna eat it.”

 “Stop manhandling him,” Itaru said.

“I got you a triangle for your birthday!” Misumi said.

“SUMI! It’s supposed to be a surprise!”

“Oh, oops.”

 “D-Do we sing the song now?” Muku asked hesitantly.

 Masumi frowned. “Do we? Dunno how to do this.”

 “You’re all so bad at partying,” Izumi said with no ill-will and clapped her hands. “Everyone start singing on the count of three, ready? Three, two…!” She stopped. “Sakuya?"

 Sakuya felt an odd tickle in his nose. He rubbed it and sniffled, but the itch refused to go away. His eyes hurt too.

 “Kiddo?” Izumi said softly, putting a hand on his shoulder. “Hey, hey. Look at me. You alright?”

 He opened his mouth to answer but found that no words could come out. He cleared his throat and tried to get his breathing under control. The room was turning blurry. His face felt hot. The chattering died down and the only noise left were his hiccuping gasps.

 “I…” Sakuya took in a shuddering breath and let a small, small whine escape. “I…”

 Warm. So warm. He could barely make out the candlelight, reduced to just orange blurs. He wiped his eyes but the tears refused to stop. Tsuzuru silently handed him a damp paper towel. He wiped his face.

 “Thank you,” Sakuya whispered. It wasn’t for the towel though. He gripped the Director’s hand and repeated it. “Thank you so much.”

 It was embarrassing, remarked the singular part of his mind that wasn’t overwhelmed. Embarrassing to cry in front of a room full of people as they all looked at him. But still he couldn’t stop. So he sat there, as the wax sticks atop the cake grew shorter and shorter, dripping color onto the frosting. Sat there and cried where they could all see.

 Soft, cool hands cupped his face and thumbs gently wiped the tears from his cheeks.

 He could just barely make out the Director’s face, smiling at him with sad eyes that looked like they knew.

 “Happy birthday, Sakuya,” she said. “C’mon. Blow out your candles.”

 And so he leaned over and did.


 Itaru opened the door and barked, “What? I am trying to get on the leaderboard.”

 “Is this a bad time?” Sakuya asked with a pillow hugged tightly to his chest. “I wanted to talk to you. I can come back some other time."

 Itaru blinked and held the door open further. “No. Come in.”

 Sakuya sat on the floor as Itaru went cross-legged on the bed. Neither of them spoke, the only light offered to the room coming from his PC.

 “What do you need, birthday boy?” the demon prompted finally when the silence stretched longer than he liked.

 Sakuya leaned his chin down onto his pillow. “I… I wanted to ask someone. But I didn’t know who else to talk to besides you.”

 So the kid chose a demon? Itaru chose not to comment on the decision right then and there. The Witchling looked at a loss. “Whatever. Ask away.”

 “Is this okay?” Sakuya asked quietly.

 Itaru wasn’t sure if it was a human custom he was missing out on, or whether the question was truly vague. “Is what okay?”

 “For me to be this happy?”

 Itaru furrowed his brow. “What are you talking about?”

 Sakuya finally raised his face and Itaru felt uncomfortable when he spotted the tear tracks upon the Witchling’s cheeks. The party had been awkward enough but now he was crying? In front of him? “Is it okay for me to be happy? Do I deserve to?"

 …Strange, Itaru thought. He glanced at the wall, unsure of what to feel granted the circumstances. It felt like Sakuya was confessing a sin he’d committed. To a demon, nonetheless. What an odd situation.

 Amusing. Almost.

 “Does one need to deserve happiness?” Itaru said finally.

 It was a peculiar concept; joy. Elation. A high that came with existence. Humans chased after it with the same starvation that dogs chased after thrown bones. Maybe it was their way to compensate for their short lifespans.

Their lives came to an end. So why live at all? For happiness, they would tell themselves. 

 To humans, Itaru knew, happiness was a means to an end. Ultimately worthless and without a point but could keep any person on the earth until their time ran out.

 Itaru wanted to laugh a little. Humans were so very, very stupid. Trapped in an ugly slot between denial and comprehension to accept that their lives were futile and without purpose. Deserve? Earn? Justify? 

 What did those words even mean, Itaru had to wonder.

 “I don’t—I can’t help but feel like this isn’t right.”

 Itaru pursed his lips. “Witchling, you claim to be happy yet all you have done is cry and cry.”

 “I can’t h-help it. I’m scared. What if I never feel this happy again? What if this is my limit?” The words started slowly before they devolved into panicked blubbers. “What did I do to feel happy? I didn’t do anything, I never—what if someone finds out that I didn’t do anything and takes the happiness away?"

 “Why would they do that?” Itaru asked right back.

 The Witchling was hiccuping and heaving for breath, forcing the words out of him like they were poison. “To give it to someone who does deserve it. I don’t want them to take it away from me, I know it's selfish but I can’t help myself.”

 Humans were so very, very stupid.

 Sakuya’s voice cracked. “Am I going to go to hell, Itaru?”

 Itaru raised an eyebrow. “We already discussed this.”

 “Tell me,” Sakuya begged, clasping his hands together as though in prayer. “Please... tell me I’m not going to go to hell. Promise me. Please.

 “You are not going to hell.”

  Sakuya wept like a newborn, fingers over his mouth like the bars of a cage to keep the noises in. And because existence was meaningless, Itaru told himself, he chose to let the boy cry.

He would never understand humans.


 Tsuzuru kicked the office door open.

 Quite literally rammed the heel of his foot against the wood when he could have very well opened the damn thing using his hands.

 “Say I’m a fucking genius,” he demanded.

 Izumi put down her book slowly. “Tsuzuru, when’s the last time you got some sleep?”

 “Monday. Say it right now.”

 She closed her eyes and sighed. “You’re a fucking genius.”

 Sometimes it was better to just go along with the whims of a madman. Especially when the rings under the madman's eyes were so prominent, it looked like he’d gotten punched in the face several times.

 “YOU’RE DAMN RIGHT I AM.” He slammed a stack of papers in front of her, stapled thrice on the left edges. “Read it and weep, Director. Kazunari wouldn’t be able to come close to something like this, modern magic my ass. It’s the classics that are golden. Always the classics.”

 She flicked past the first page labelled ROOM RUNE (roone? copyright at later date) SEQUENCE; DRAFT 26 in big, bold letters like a college essay. On the first page was an entire block of small, immaculate Runes written in pen. Which was more or less exactly what the other thirty pages on the pile had. Was this all just one ginormous sequence? Izumi shuddered. Tsuzuru was the quiet type but he could be a real monster when it came to spell casting. 

 Most of the Runes she wasn’t sure if she was reading properly, but she tried. Expand. Structure. Reinforce. Build. Compact. Hold.

 “Tsuzuru, is this…?” she asked tentatively after reading the first page.

 He grinned. “Yes. Yes it is.”

 Izumi took in a deep breath. “Alright. I can say it again, then. You’re a fucking genius.”

 “Thank you.” And then Tsuzuru collapsed in front of her. She peered at him over the edge of her desk, but supposed the boy could stay there and sleep a little longer while she read through the packet.


 “Hellos!” Kazunari sang as Izumi welcomed him in. “Show me where I gotta get crack-a-lackin’!”

 Izumi chuckled. “I like the enthusiasm, at least. You’ll be working with Tsuzuru today.”

 “He helping me out with the plans?” he asked.

 “He drew up a few of his own as well.”

 Kazunari blew a raspberry. “That Tsuzuroon… Always tryna steal my thunder. I let him slide with it every now and then because he’s a cutie but I wanted to look cool for you!”

 Izumi led him to the spare room they had, where Tsuzuru had already tacked each sheet from the packet onto the walls.

 “Kazu’s here?” Misumi asked, popping his head into the room.

 “SUMI!” Kazunari yelled, grabbing him around the middle and trying to spin them both around. He instead went toppling over. As he rubbed the newly rising lump on his head, he laughed loudly. "Jesus, dude, you got fatter than last time.”

 Misumi gave a big smile. “Yeah! They have so much rice here! I get to eat a lot every single day.”

 “Pound it, body positivity,” Kazunari said and help up a fist. “We love to see it.”

 Misumi bumped their fists together.

 “What are you here for?” he asked, getting up and helping the Caster to his feet as well.

 Kazunari winked and help up his folder. “Director asked me to help out with Runing the room.”

 “We’re calling it a Roone Sequence,” Tsuzuru said as he entered wearing an oversized gray t-shirt and basketball shorts. He looked like he was just about to hit up the gym for a workout. “No U, double O, and yes I’m copyrighting it.”

 Misumi “ooh”ed and sat cross-legged on the floor. “Can I help? Or watch?”

 Tsuzuru and Izumi immediately shot each other a look. They kept staring, making slightly different facial expressions and jerking their chins this way and that.

 Kazunari leaned over and whispered, “I think they’re communicating telephonically.”
“We should learn how to do that,” Misumi whispered back.

“Heeeeeeell yeah!”

 Finally Tsuzuru relented, heaving a great big sigh. “How good are you with Runes? I know you made that summoning circle but… can you handle the legal kind?”

 Misumi saluted. “Really good!”

 “Really well, you mean. Then sure. We could use some controlled Witch magic.”

 “We do?” Kazunari asked. He glanced at his folder. “Uh, mine doesn’t take that much magic energy.”

 Tsuzuru slammed his hand on the wall, gesturing wildly to his papers. “Read them.”

 So Kazunari and Misumi did.

 “I don’t get it,” Misumi said first, breaking the quiet.

 Kazunari, on the other hand, let out a low whistle as he took off his hat in respect. “Hoooooly shit, Tsuzuroon. You’re a fucking genius.”

 “What is it?” Misumi asked as he gave Kazunari’s sleeve a pull.

 “Dimension expansion. He drew up a Rune sequence to make the inside way bigger than the outside. Not that that should be possible, but here we are.” Kazunari squinted when the sequence got jumbled on page twelve. “You could make major bank off of this kinda thing if you sell it. Seriously, this is incredible.”

 Tsuzuru closed his eyes and just took a moment to himself, letting the well-deserved praise and respect wash over him. He lavished in it and then came back to reality. “Why do you think I want it copyrighted? I’ll work on the sequence some more later, draft twenty-six can only be applied to one room per building before the structure and stability is compromised.”

 Misumi frowned. “Huh?”

 Tsuzuru pursed his lips. “We do this to another room, the building goes boom.”

 “That rhymed!” the Witch said cheerfully. “That’s great. Oh, oh, wait. I get it. Not great.”

 “Yep.”

 Kazunari rolled up his sleeves and took out a long elastic headband from a pocket, pushing his bangs back. “This is… going to be a lot of work, huh?"

 Izumi waved over her shoulder as she left the room. “Good luck. I’ll call you guys when lunch is ready.”

 “Another meal from the Director? Heck, then I better be ready to put my best work into this thing!” Kazunari said loudly.

 And so the two Casters and one Witch began their task of transcribing near fifty thousand Runes into the air around them.

 While they did so, the Seers were going through another lesson in the courtyard.

 “Mister Citron?” Muku asked as the older scattered pebbles on the concrete. “How many ways are there to divine the future?”

 Citron blinked. “How many have we gone over?”

 Muku started counting off on his fingers. “Tea leaves, playing cards, dice, palm reading, water, alphabet soup, bird watching… And now pebbles. Are there a lot?”

 “Would you like to know a secret?” Citron prompted.

 His apprentice nodded fervently.

 “Seer magic is within you constantly.” He scattered another handful of pebbles. “It is just difficult to channel it. So I do this and that to get inspiration.”

 Muku seemed to think on this. “So… if I wanted to see the future in strawberry milk, I could?”

 “If strawberry milk inspires you, yes!”

 Citron sat on the ground and stared at the pebbles. Somewhere in the back of his mind, there came the image of a fluttering black jacket and the smell of baking apples. He hummed to himself. Where had he seen that jacket before?

 “The councilman, right?”

 Citron started, snapping his gaze to the boy who stood next to him. “Ah?”

 “The jacket. The councilman was wearing it. I met him when I first came to Mankai.” His blue eyes were wide and honest.

 He had not sent that thought to Muku, had he?

 Citron stood and dusted off his clothes, musing to himself. Coming from a long line of Seers himself, he’d forgotten just how monstrously quick Firstborns were to learn. Perhaps…?

 “Muku, come with me.”

 He swept off to inside the living room, where Izumi seemed to be outlining some more lesson plans.

 “Director, how are you doing today?” he asked jovially as Muku pitter-pattered after him like a duckling.

 She leaned back and pressed the bridge of her nose. “I’ve been better. I’m trying to figure out what Masumi’s lessons should be besides just… basic exercises, but there aren’t a lot of references in the archives.”

 “Did Mankai Coven not have many Hunters?”

 “Almost none. But he’s here, so I need to give him the best I can.” She put her pen down. “Enough about that, though. How are lessons going with you two?”

 Citron put a hand on Muku’s shoulders. “He is very bright! We may move on from foresight soon. I would like you to help us.”

 Izumi blinked and pointed to herself. “Me?”

 “Indeed!”

 She shrugged. “Alright. What do you need me to do?”

 He leaned down to Muku’s height and murmured, voice hushed, in his ear, “Ask her anything.”

 Muku looked alarmed by this. “W-What? But I don’t…”

 “Make her lie.

 And then Citron took two steps away from them both, letting a comfortable smile spread on his face.

 The Director had a very soft presence. One’s soul said plenty about the person it belonged to. Tsuzuru’s soul was green and soft, like the grass on a meadow. Sakuya’s was marvelously gold and brighter than anybody else’s. Warmth nearly radiated from every part of him, like the pink promise of a sunrise. And the Director—her’s was white and blue. Soft. Like a gingham blanket. Like the sky.

 When someone lied, their soul always darkened. If even for a second. Would Muku be able to see?

 The boy in question squirmed a little. “Uh… Ah. Um, Director? When is your birthday?”

 “September ninth,” she said immediately.

 “What… What is your favorite color?”

 “I like a lot. Maybe blue?”

 Muku’s face turned red as he got an idea. “Have you ever f-fallen in love?”

 Whenever this question was asked in manga, the heroine always blushed and looked away, before saying something adorable like, “No, d-dummy, of course I haven’t! Hmph, you’re being stupid! G-Go away!” That technically counted as a lie, right?

 Izumi cocked her head to the side. “Sure have, a couple of times. Seriously, what’s up with the questions?”

 “I can’t do it!” Muku wailed, covering his face and sprinting to his room. “She’s too old!”

 “I’m WHAT?” she bellowed. “I’M TWENTY-FOUR!"

 Citron winced. Okay, so perhaps that did not go as well as he had thought it would.


 It was a rare occurrence for Masumi to open the front door, but the bell had rung and he’d been closest.

 So that was how he and Sakyo Furuichi met eyes.

 “Is Miss Tachibana in?” Sakyo asked.

 Masumi slammed the door shut in his face.

 “Who was it?” Izumi asked as she finished cutting up an onion and added it to the pot.

 “No one,” Masumi said.

 The doorbell rang again and she rolled her eyes. “I’m so sure. I’ll get it this time.”

 “You’ve picked up a rude little mongrel, haven’t you,” Sakyo said flatly upon seeing her.

 She jabbed a finger to his chest. “Hey. He’s still a charge of mine so watch your mouth.”

 Sakyo offered her a tense smile. “Alright. I will apologize for my choice in words. May I come in?”

 “Care to join us for lunch?” she said, gesturing him to follow her. “Or it this a super serious talk? The office is open.”

 “Hardly. I’m just here to let you know that the Council has informed me of Sakuya Sakuma’s quest date. It is officially set for May tenth.”

 Izumi winced. “That’s only two months away.”

 “It is indeed. I should hope you will have him adequately taught and trained by then.”

 Masumi made a face when they rounded the corner and entered the kitchen. “You let him inside? Why?”

 “Brat,” Sakyo hissed under his breath but said no more upon receiving a glare from Izumi.

 Who, as it turned out, was a raging hypocrite, because she flicked a finger on the teenager’s forehead and said, “Don’t be a brat. You should have let him in in the first place.”

 “…Fine.” But the look he shot Sakyo was far from pleasant once Izumi turned her back.

 Two could play at that game. Was it immature? Maybe. Did he care? In that moment when he had a headache, absolutely not. So Sakyo gave him the middle finger and then went to Izumi’s side, asking her if her day’s been going well.

 “Hm? Fine, I guess, just—“ Her eyes shot open wide as she let out a dramatic gasp. She grabbed Sakyo’s hands and pulled him close.

 “Wh—“

 “Get off of her!” Masumi yelled as he stood up.

 “She grabbed me!

 Izumi leaned towards him. “Sakyo, you’re perfect! Everything I’ve been looking for! Everything I need!

 This was going much too fast. His ears went red. “Excuse me?”

 “You can be Masumi’s tutor!” she gushed.

 “Excuse me?

 “I’ve been trying to figure out how to teach a Hunter on my own but you’re an experienced one! That means you could come in every now and then to help him out, right?"

 Masumi pulled a face. “Don’t want to learn from him.”

 Sakyo gently took his hands from hers and readjusted his glasses. The frames felt cooler on his cheekbones than a moment ago. “I’m afraid that simply wouldn’t be possible, Miss Tachibana.”

 “Oh, call me Director,” she said, waving her hand. “Everyone does. And of course it is!”

 “No, it quite actually is not.” Sakyo disliked the look of betrayal she had on. “Unfortunately, the specifics are classified information due to my work with the council, but my magic is different from that of the average Hunter. While I do fall into the category and express affinity for it, there’s very little I would be able to teach a Firstborn besides basic theory that I’m sure you yourself are capable of.”

 Izumi wilted like she was a flower and Sakyo had just stomped on her. “Ah…”

 Sakyo very much disliked the disappointment that nearly dripped from her.

 …Urgh.

 He sighed very slowly. Would this come back and bite him in the rear? “Perhaps it would suit your purposes better to get in contact with the Sumeragi family.”

 “Sumeragi. That name’s been popping up a lot since I’ve gotten here. Do you know why they're so famous?”

 “A Hunter Bloodline. They teach within the family lineage but they may respond positively to any requests you make of them to take on…” He shot a distasteful look towards Masumi. What word should he use here that wouldn’t get him a verbal lashing? “An outsider."

 Izumi mulled this over. “Hunter Bloodlines are rare, I always wondered why their nameappeared. You don’t see many of those.”

 “The Sumeragi’s Firstborn slew a dragon a century or two ago. They’re very proud of their namesake and their heritage.”

 “A dragon. Well.” Izumi clapped her hands. “That sounds doable then. Thank you, Sakyo! I’ll be sure to check the Purple Pages for their address. This means a lot, please, you’ll have to stay for lunch now!”

 He gave her a small smile. “If you would not mind my intrusion, then yes. I’d be very happy to take you up on that offer.”

 “Don’t,” Masumi said coldly. “Go away."

 Izumi ignored him and handed Sakyo a plate. She waved to the rice cooker. “Take as much as you’d like, we make plenty every day. I swear, half of the people living under this roof eat like there’s no tomorrow.” Then she walked towards the hall. “BOYS, LUNCH TIME.”

 A door opened and… someone crawled out on his hands and knees.

 “I need a raise,” that Minagi boy spat before keeling over on the floor.

 A blond one, similar in age, hobbled out next, just barely supporting his weight on the wall. “Director, you’re lucky you’re so hot and I wanna impress you. This is a killer assignment, I feel like I lost ten pounds.”

 Wait, Sakyo unfortunately knew this one, didn’t he?

 “You?” he spat poisonously.

 Kazunari Miyoshi, aged 19, a halfblood Caster that always seemed to be near trouble the Council had to deal with but never explicitly involved. Annoying at best, a smear upon society at worst. Izumi Tachibana had allowed an errant little weasel like him into her home?

 “Yo, Sakyo, is that you?” Kazunari asked, eyes widening. “Duuuuuuude, it’s been forevsies! How you hanging? Is that a new wrinkle? Damn, man, you totally age like a fine wine. Up top!”

 He ignored the palm offered to him. “What are you doing here?”

 The abandoned hand turned into a finger gun. He grinned cheekily. “Helping out a sexy lady like the total hot cake I am, duh. Would totes eat bricks and brimstone if Director asked me to. What are you doing here?”

 Talking to Miyoshi was, just like last time, utterly impossible. While Sakyo understood most of the words that came from his mouth, it was difficult understanding the sentence’s meaning.

 “Sakyo? Sakyo’s here?”

 A blue head popped out. Sweat gleamed on his forehead but he looked much more composed compared to the other two. Hellfire, Sakyo knew this one as well.

 “YOU?” Sakyo blustered.

 Misumi gave him a toothy smile. “Sakyo! Do you have any more cookies right now?”

 “Oh, right… they mentioned something about being arrested by you, now that I think about it,” Izumi said. “Well, no introductions needed then, I guess?”

 He grabbed her by the arm before she could scurry off to get food ready.

 “Miss Tachibana, these two are delinquents,” he hissed. “The Minagi boy is a nuisance but relatively well-behaved, but them? I’m not sure what lies they’ve spun to gain your trust but I would heavily advise against letting them run amok inside these walls.”

 She slapped the back of her hand on his chest, silencing him. “Enough. They’re not delinquents, they’re boys. Boys who have been very sweet about helping me renovate a room, so be nice to them.”

 Sakyo's headache thundered. He had to wonder how many tickets he would have already written up for Mankai if Izumi Tachibana hadn’t been the one to be running things. There was still a part of him that wanted this hellish pit closed for good.

 Izumi straightened. “Alright, now that that’s settled. Who wants lunch?”

 “I do!” Misumi cried, bounding up to her. “Lots, please! What’s on the menu?”

 “Curry!”

 “Fuck,” Tsuzuru muttered into the floorboards. “Fuck you.

 “LANGUAGE."

Chapter Text

 “What are the Sumeragis like?” Izumi asked Tsuzuru as they got off the train and started heading for the manor.

 She’d sent them a formal letter requesting tutelage only to have been replied to with pretty stationery inviting them to the house. Unsure of what to expect, Izumi had decided to force Tsuzuru to come along with her. He came from a reputable, solid name Bloodline background. She did not.

 Tsuzuru shrugged. “They’re pretty chill. Keep to themselves. Have a lot of pride in their namesake. Our families know each other but we’re not that close. We both absolutely hate the Council if that’s anything. If you want their help, I recommend you really go on and on about how the alternative is Sakuya failing his quest and his teaching falling under Reni’s rule.”

 She smacked his arm. “Sakuya will not fail his test. And I’m his teacher, we’re looking for help with Masumi’s education right now.”

 “Yeah, but they don’t need to know that,” he shot back. “You want their help or not? You just need to bend the truth a little bit.”

 Izumi winced. “Isn’t that a little underhanded though?”

 They rounded the corner and came face to face with the massive homestead made of white brick and marble.

 “Hm,” Izumi said after a moment of just looking at it. “Suddenly I’m not that opposed to lying to them.”

 “They’re a little on the garish side,” Tsuzuru admitted. “That much you deserve to know.”

 She took a step closer and quivered as magic energy nearly over flooded her. “Holy crap, what do they keep in that place?”

 “No one knows except the Sumeragis. And I know that the head of the house would rather lose an arm and a leg than give up all their secrets to the Council.”

 “I’ve heard about some Bloodlines being wealthy but this is just…” She suddenly whipped her head towards Tsuzuru. “Oh my god, you’re not going to suddenly tell me you’re the heir to a major fortune?”

 “No, the Minagis are shockingly poor,” he said flatly.

 Izumi choked. “I’m—“

 Tsuzuru scowled. “My parents chose to have ten goddamn kids in this nightmare of an economy, you think we have any money left after food and tuition? Sure we might have been decently rich at some point but ten kids. My younger siblings are blessings on this earth and I love every one of them but I’m putting a cap on three kids maximum for myself in the future.”

 They stopped at the tall gates and Izumi rang the buzzer.

 The intercom buzzed to life. “Who is it?

 “I’m Izumi Tachibana from the Mankai Coven. I sent you a letter requesting possible aid with Hunter magic?” she said into it.

 “Oh, come right in! The door’s open.”

 The ironclad gates moaned as they started opening at the hinges of their own accord. Izumi couldn’t tell if it was by magic or by design but either way she disliked it. The dislike stemmed from jealousy, that much she could admit to herself, but if anyone else asked she would claim it was simply due to having “taste.”

 The walk from the gates to the two massive wooden front doors was almost tiring.

 “You know what, if they don’t help us out, let’s just rob them,” Izumi said suddenly before they walked up the steps.

 Tsuzuru immediately held out his hand for a low high-five. “Done. Absolutely. No questions asked.”

 Izumi opened the front door and pulled a face at the gorgeous foyer of cream walls and marble tile. There was a grand staircase, which someone was descending slowly like they did in soap operas and music videos.

 “Oh, please pardon the mess. We haven’t had a chance to tidy it just yet,” she apologized emptily, because everyone standing there knew damn well that the foyer was spotless and that they could eat off the floor without a care in the world.

 Madame Sumeragi was a beautiful woman with curls of fiery orange and red piled high on top of her head, held there by a string of pearls. Her billowing dress, hugged tight to her body, was shining blue silk. Izumi knew traditional Bloodlines were the type to dress up for any and all occasions, but she herself would wear a pair of sweats three days in a row so it was a shock to behold.

 “Nice to meet you, Miss Tachibana,” Madame said warmly, holding out a hand with a bent wrist.

 Izumi hesitated but took the hand and shook it. Was she supposed to kiss the knuckles? Ah, whatever.

 “Thank you for letting me speak to you,” she said, and then gestured to Tsuzuru. “This is—“

 “Tsuzuru Minagi! Oh, it’s been simply ages since your parents and I have had a talk, you simply must tell them to clear up their schedule soon.” The Madame cupped Tsuzuru’s face in her hands and pressed a kiss to each of his cheeks. “My, you were barely up to my waist the last time I’ve seen you. What grade are you in now, remind me?”

 “First year at university, Madame,” Tsuzuru said politely.

 “University? How time flies.” She pressed a palm to her cheek as smooth as glass. “I must look like a hag to you by now.”

 Tsuzuru chuckled. “Madame, you’re not giving yourself enough kindness. Time flies for the rest of us, not a breathtaking legend like you.”

 Izumi fought down the urge to stick a finger in her mouth and feign gagging. He was laying it on a little thick, wasn’t he?

 “Why don’t you go and help yourself to the kitchen while Miss Tachibana and I have a girls’ only chat?” Madame Sumeragi said with a wink as she rested her hand on Izumi’s back and gently started steering her to another room. “We won’t be long, I promise.”

 “Where are we going?” Izumi asked as her voice squeaked.

 “Oh, just the lounge. It’s where we keep our bar.”

 They had a bar in here? Was Madame Sumeragi single? Izumi had always promised herself she wouldn’t marry for money but…

 The lounge was lit dimly with soft purple mood-lighting. Dark wood and plush velvet comprised most of the aesthetic. She took a seat at the counter as Madame Sumeragi went behind it to fetch two glasses.

 “I could scarcely believe it when I heard the Mankai Coven would be opening again,” the Madame said as she began pouring from a little bottle of clear liquor. Vodka? It wasn’t even the afternoon yet. “It gives me a little hope for the future, if I’m allowed to be honest.”

 “Hope?” Izumi asked.

 “Magic is a dying craft. Less Firstborns come out of the woodworks nowadays, less Bloodline names appear on the Purple Pages every few years… it’s a sad truth but a truth nevertheless. A Coven is always a light that welcomes in a new era.” Madame Sumeragi speared two olives with toothpicks. "The Sumeragis are not one to teach outside of our last names but I’d rather die than hand over any magician to Reni."

 “I hope you don’t think I’m being rude,” Izumi spoke up, “but can I ask why you seem to hate the Council so much?”

 Madame Sumeragi trilled loudly with a borderline hysterical laugh.

  “Sweetheart, any man can put on a crown and claim he rules the world, but it’s all just a fantasy for him to live,” she said, wiping her eyes. “The power in this city has always belonged to the Bloodlines and that will never change. It’s a little rude of them to walk around thinking otherwise, don’t you think?”

 Ah, there it was. Unflinching pride in familial heritage. Izumi accepted the little martini glass handed to her even though she disliked olives in her drinks.

 Madame Sumeragi clinked their glasses together in a small cheers. “Remember this, young lady. No matter how stodgy the officials get, no matter how high they may hold their chins. They are nothing but nuisances. We are the real threats."

And the two women drank to that.

 Madame Sumeragi put the glass down on the counter. “Miss Tachibana, we have a sixteen-year-old son who we’ve been teaching since he could just about teeter around on his adorable little toddler legs. It would do him some good to get out and bear the responsibility of teaching another.”

 “Really? Oh, that’s such a relief, thank you so much."

 “Mmmm, yes. In return, would you be willing to house him in the Coven for the next few months?” Madame asked pleasantly.

 Izumi raised her eyebrows. “That—that would be fine, yes. I’d have to get some paperwork from you but if that’s what you would prefer.”

 Madame Sumeragi winked. “My husband and I have been desperately looking forward to a European vacation for a while now. It’s why I wanted to meet you first. You seem like a capable young woman we could trust Tenma with.”

 Things were going very quickly, but Izumi let herself have a moment to feel disappointed that Madame Sumeragi was, in fact, not single and that she could not marry the woman into the upper echelons. Then she decided to let herself be a little horrified at the fact that this woman seemed completely fine with entrusting her young son to Izumi who had, at this point, yet to still show any legitimate credentials.

 “I’m honored,” she settled to say very slowly. “If that’s what, uh, Tenma would be comfortable with, then I see no harm in it.”

 “Excellent!” Madame Sumeragi cried. “We already had him pack, just fax me the paperwork when you get the chance. Come, I’ll call him to the foyer."

 …Suddenly, Izumi realized that she was, in fact, very not fond of Madame Sumeragi.

 She found Tsuzuru standing back at the foyer eating from a giant box of chocolate truffles.

 “Are you kidding me,” she hissed.

 “They offer every person a box of these things when you leave the kitchen,” he whispered back.

 “Tsuzuru, they can’t buy your trust with candy. How cheap are you?”

 “I got you a box too.”

 She grabbed him by his elbow. “I don’t say this often enough, but I really love you sometimes.”

 “I know.”

 “Tenma!” Madame Sumeragi called pleasantly. “It’s time.”

 From the second floor, a boy appeared holding the handle of a large suitcase. He had the exact same hair as Madame Sumeragi did, only shorn short.

 “Are you from the Coven?” he asked in a very no-nonsense way as he descended.

 “I’m Izumi Tachibana,” she said, holding out her hand. “And you’re Tenma, I assume?”

 He shrugged. “Yeah.”

 Madame Sumeragi clicked her tongue. “Tenma, what have we said about introductions?”

 He grimaced and finally shook the offered hand. “Nice to meet you. I’m Tenma Sumeragi, next in line to take up the Sumeragi mantle. Sixthborn Hunter.”

 Madame handed Izumi a card. “That has both my and his father’s cell numbers and e-mail addresses. If we don’t respond, try the emergency contact. It should go straight to our secretary.”

 Madame gave her a son a pat on the head. “Don’t cause trouble for them.”

 “I won’t,” Tenma snapped, shrugging her hand off. He held his head up and carried the suitcase out the door. “Let’s get going already.”

 Tsuzuru and Izumi exchanged troubled looks.

 Madame Sumeragi handed Izumi a little golden card next. She winked. “Just use this if you ever need a little bonus. Nothing’s too good for my darling little sunflower.”

 Yeah, nothing was too good except for maybe her damn attention, Izumi thought sourly as she looked at the credit card. She slipped it into a pocket, promising herself then and there she would never use it. “Thank you, Madame. It won’t be necessary.”

 And, because she really disliked the Sumeragi Manor, she turned and followed Tenma, dragging Tsuzuru along with her before he could sell his soul again for a new box of chocolates.


 Tenma was quiet on the train ride back to the Coven. He answered any question asked, but in short and gruff phrases.

 “Will you be able to continue going to school? The dorms are s a little ways from your home after all.”

 “’S fine, my driver’s going to pick me up every morning,” he muttered.

 Tsuzuru snorted and rolled his eyes.

 “Do you have a problem with me?” Tenma snapped.

 “Just laughing a little at the wealth disparity,” the Caster said back with false pleasantries.

 Izumi clapped her hands. “Hey, how about everyone cools it a little? Hm?”

 “Tsk. Whatever,” Tenma said, looking away.

 And that was that until they got to the Coven.

 “I’m stuffed so I’m gonna go take a nap,” Tsuzuru said immediately upon taking his shoes off.

 Izumi almost laughed. “How much food did you eat at their house?”

 He genuinely looked disappointed as he said, “not enough” and disappeared into his lab rather than his bedroom.

 “Come with me,” she said to Tenma, walking down the dorm hall. “We’ll drop your suitcase off and head to the practice room. You can get settled in after dinner, how does that sound?”

 Tenma was quiet as he followed her. “Is this the whole dormitory?”

 “Yes, why?”

 He surveyed his room and frowned deeply. “It’s small.”

 Izumi felt like someone had just stabbed her in the ribs. Rich people were a plague on society.

 “Well, you’re just going to have to make do with it!” Izumi said with cheer she didn’t feel. “Come on, let me show you to the practice room. It’s at least a little impressive, Tsuzuru and his friend Runed it all on their own.”

 Tenma let out a low whistle when she proudly opened the door to show off the giant chamber. It had gone from being just a storage area to a full gymnasium sized monstrosity. It was fairly empty save for a few targets on the ground that Matsukawa had dug up.

 “Dimension manipulation? Is that even possible?” he asked, running his hands across the wall to try and feel the magic energy.

 “Something like that, I’m sure Tsuzuru would love to sell it off to your parents if they’d asked,” she said with a chuckle. 

 Someone was right behind her. “…You’re back. I missed you. Welcome home.”

 Izumi winced. That could only be one person, right?

 Masumi shouldered past her to stand between her and Tenma. “Who’re you.”

 “Who’re you,” Tenma asked back.

 Oh, this was not starting off as happily as she’d hoped it would.

 “Tenma, this is Masumi, our resident Hunter-in-learning,” Izumi said brightly, forcing both boys to shake hands. “Masumi, this is Tenma. He comes from a very well established Hunter family. You guys will be spending a lot of time together so I hope you get along!”

 Tenma snatched his hand back after shaking just twice. “So… you don’t really know much about how Hunter magic works?”

 “No,” Masumi said bluntly.

 They stared at each other in silence.

 “…You don’t talk much, do you?”

 Masumi shrugged.

 “Alright.” Tenma raked his fingers through his hair and sighed. “I can figure something out. Miss Tachibana, you’re a Witch, right?”

 She winced. “Call me Director, Tenma. Seriously, I’m never going to get used to the whole ‘Miss’ thing for as long as I live.”

 “Director? The hell’s that?”

 She shrugged. “Sakuya calls me it and everyone just kind of went with it. He’s another student here.”

 Tenma blinked like he was trying to wrap his head around that. “Sure, I guess. That’s fine. Can you enchant these for us?”

 He nudged a target with his shoe.

 “Uh…” She smiled apologetically. “That might be a little out of my park.”

 “What? You’re a Witch.”

 “I’m a Fourthborn and as close to magic-less as I can get, but…” Izumi took two steps out of the room and looked down the hell both ways. Someone seemed to be relaxing in the living room without much to do. “Misumi! Can you come in here and help us, please?”

 “Okay!” He vaulted off the back of the couch and scampered towards them. “What can I do?”

 “You know how to enchant things with basic levitation?”

 “Maybe!”

 Tenma took a step forward with an odd expression on his face. “Hey… do I know you?”

 “You might, but I don’t know you!” Misumi said cheerfully and held his hands out. “I’m Misumi.”

 Tenma hesitated but shook the hands offered to him. “Uh. Right. You look so familiar though.”

 “This rascal’s gotten himself into a lot of trouble until he came to live here,” Izumi said, ruffling Misumi's hair. “Sakyo thinks you’re a delinquent, you know that? But you’re really just a complete sweetheart, aren’t you.”

 Misumi luxuriated in the affection. “I like Sakyo, you should invite him to have lunch with us again. But only let him come inside if he brings snacks!”

 “What’s your last name?” Tenma asked, interrupting them. “I’ve seriously seen you before, I know I have."

 “I dunno it!” Misumi crouched on the floor and stared at the scattered targets. “You want me to make these float around and stuff?”

 “That’s the idea, kiddo.”

 Tenma frowned deeply. “I feel like I know you—“

 “Tenma.”

 He glanced up at the Director who was smiling faintly. She put a hand on his shoulder and gave it a firm squeeze.

 “Misumi’s a part of Mankai Coven and is currently learning more about how to control his own magic,” she said quietly. “And until he wants to know more about himself beyond that, then he doesn’t have to. Alright?”

 He hesitated. “But…”

 “The Coven’s his home for as long as he’d like it to be. Same to you. Same to Sakuya. Same to any magician that needs it.”

 Tenma raised his hands. “Fine, fine. Not like I’m that curious about it.”

 Misumi snapped his fingers and the targets started sparking like mad with little bolts of blue energy. But rather than float, they all…

 “Misumi, why?” Izumi asked flatly as she picked up a triangular target.

 “They look better that way!”

 She sighed. “It’s not what I asked you to do though.”

 “I’m sorryyyyy.”

 “Can you call Tsuzuru in then?”

 Misumi grinned. “He’s totally sleeping!”

 Of course he was. He always seemed to be asleep whenever she needed his help. Izumi suddenly got an idea. She turned around and gave a swift, hard kick to the wall.

 “Jesus!” Tenma yelped. “It’s not that big of a deal, you don’t have to get mad about it!”

 “No, no, I just. Remembered that Kazunari buffed these walls up.” She crouched to check the wall and found not even a single scuff from her foot. And Izumi put a decent amount of pride into her kicks. “Okay, Misumi, can you call Sakuya in?”

 “Okay!”

 Izumi really hoped this didn’t go badly.

 “Director, you called for me?” Sakuya asked as he poked his head in. He paused a bit at the newcomer. “Uh… who’s this?”

 “This is Tenma, he’ll be staying with us for a while." Izumi grinned. “How’d you like to practice a risky little bit of magic?”

 His eyes sparkled.


 Itaru typed a quick AFK into the chat before rising from his chair. He hoped the kitchen had some more Doritos. He hadn’t expected them to be so delightful but the little chips pleased him greatly.

 Rather than Doritos, unfortunately, what instead greeted him in the hall were five people all just standing there.

 Izumi had her back pressed against a door, whispering, “Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god, oh my god,” under her breath.

 “I’m sorry!” Sakuya cried, panicking. “I didn’t mean to, I promise!”

 Itaru groaned and snapped his fingers to nab their attention. “Do I even want to know?”

 “IS THAT A DEMON?” a new, orange little boy Itaru didn’t recognized screamed. “IS THAT AN ACTUAL DEMON—“

 “Misumi, ten foot rule,” the Director snapped.

 His summoner saluted. “Okay, bye! Good luck with the targets!” Before he began cartwheeling down the hall back to the living room.

 Itaru pursed his lips. “Targets?”

 “WHY DO YOU HAVE A DEMON HERE?” The little brat snapped before unstrapping a knife from seemingly nowhere. “Get back, I’ll take him!"

 Sakuya leapt in front of Itaru. “No, you can’t kill Itaru! He’s our friend."

 “YOUR FR—HE IS A DEMON, ARE YOU MAD? IS EVERYONE IN THIS COVEN INSANE?”

 Tsuzuru flung the door to his lab open. 

 “SHUT UP,” the exhausted man screamed at the top of his lungs.

 Everyone went quiet. He slammed it shut.

 Itaru on any other day of the week would have loved to smash this insolent little mortal Hunter into the ground but the next raid was in about three minutes. He had no time.

 “What’s in the room?” he asked Izumi who was trying to give a very quick explanation as to why they had a demon living in the Coven and why it was ‘totally fine, please don’t tell the Council.’

 “I asked Sakuya to enchant a few of the targets and it didn’t go well,” she blurted out.

 Itaru suddenly realized this was a very good chance to wheedle money out of the Director. He cracked his knuckles and let hellfire flood through his veins. “If I deal with them, will you buy me something?”

 “…What.”

 “I would like an offering of a substance called Red Bull. It’s been strongly recommended to me by a couple of people who play on my server.”

 She looked confused. “Red Bull? Whatever, done. If you can fix this mess, it’s yours.”

 “Stand aside, halfblood.”

 The Director slowly did as she was commanded to and Itaru opened the door to the practice room.

 A triangular target hurtled into the opposite wall with a CRASH and shook the room to its very foundation. There were 20 more just like it, crashing here and there and against each other like enraged cannonballs.

 He closed the door.

 “Nope,” Itaru said and chose to just go get his Doritos.

 “COWARD!” Izumi cried.

 He waved over his shoulder. “I merely pick and choose my battles.”

 Izumi put her back to the door again to pray it didn’t burst open and slowly slid down. She buried her face in her hands. The practice room had been finished yesterday and already it was out of use? That was just her luck.

 Masumi crouched down beside her, peering at her quietly. “Do you want me to fix it?”

 “No, everything’s okay," she said after a moment’s pause, forcing herself to smile. “I’m just a little frustrated. Don’t worry, Masumi, we’ll get the room fixed in no time. I just need a bit to think.”

 “I can fix it for you, if you want me to,” he said and leaned closer. “I’ll do anything you want.”

 “What I want,” she said firmly, standing up and giving him a firm part on the head, “is for you to stay away from this room and keep safe. Got it?”

 Itaru came back looking upset. “Are we out of Doritos? This is so disrespectful.”

 “I’m going to beat the ever loving crap out of you,” Izumi spat at him. She got off the ground. “Tenma, would you be alright with going through the first lesson in the courtyard? I’m really sorry about this, I’ll get the practice room sorted out by tomorrow latest.”

 He shrugged. “I’m fine with wherever as long as it's a wide open space.”

 “Great. Masumi, will you take him?”

 The boy made a face. “But I want you to teach me.”

 “Kiddo, I know almost nothing about Hunter magic. You’re gonna need Tenma’s pearls of wisdom more than mine.”

 “Don’t care. I want you.”

 Tenma flushed red, but Izumi couldn’t tell whether it was from second-hand embarrassment or anger. “Dude, what is your deal? Why is everyone in this Coven so freaking weird?

 “We have a lot of fun here though,” Sakuya promised. “Can I come with? I wanna know what Hunter magic is like.”

 “Nope,” Izumi said firmly. “You and I are going over meditation again.”

 Sakuya made a face. “But meditation’s so boring.”

 “Meditation until you learn how to get your magic under control, kiddo.” She knocked a knuckle on the door. “We still have a long ways to go, it seems."

 Sakuya sighed. “Fine."


 And so, after much urging from the Director, Masumi finally showed Tenma to the courtyard. It was relatively empty save for a boy who was lying on the grass, watching the clouds overhead.

 “Move it,” Masumi said bluntly.

 Muku shot up. “I’m sorry! Am I bothering you?”

 Masumi shrugged. “Practice.”

 His eyes flickered towards Tenma.

 “Oh my goodness! You’re so beautiful!” Muku gasped, covering his mouth with his hand. He got up quickly.

 Tenma went redder. “Hah?”

 “I’ve never seen such a vibrant aura!” Muku leaned in close. “It’s like, you’re like a campfire! Or the sun! Oh, this is so exciting, I have to go tell Mister Citron I can see souls now!”

 And then he went running off, calling for this Citron guy at the top of his lungs.

 Tenma watched him go and turned to Masumi. “The hell was that?”

 Masumi shrugged.

 Tenma shuddered. Mankai Coven was so, so weird. “Whatever. How much do you know about Hunter magic?”

 “I can stab things,” Masumi said in utter monotone.

 “And?”

 Masumi shrugged again.

 “Well, that’s a big yikes.” Tenma sighed and rubbed his forehead. “Okay. At its base, Hunters are weapons. Your entire body is built for combat. We heal faster than normal, our physical capabilities are fed more by our magic energy than biological. You following?”

 Masumi nodded once, looking utterly bored.

 “…Alright.” He walked towards a tree, jumping. His fingers just barely scraped the end of the bottom most branch. “You see how I can’t reach it?”

 “Yeah.” Masumi shuffled his feet. “Am I supposed to point and laugh at you?”

 “NO?” Tenma cracked his neck and let magic flood into his joints. He jumped up again, shooting into the air and landing on the branch with the balls of his feet. He grabbed onto the trunk to stabilize himself. “Hunter magic lets you do that.”

 Masumi stared at him. “…Climb trees?”

 “Dude, are you stupid?” Tenma jumped back down, letting magic break his fall. “You try it.”

 “I can just climb a tree the normal way.”

 “You’re missing the point by a mile.”

 Masumi suddenly jolted. “Wait. So we heal faster?”

 “Scrapes, bruises, some very light fractures, yes.”

 He furrowed his brow. “And magic lets us do physical things?”

 “Yes?”

 Masumi held out his hand. “Give me your knife.”

 “What? No!”

 “Gimme it.”

 Tenma took a step back. “What are you planning on doing?”

 Masumi cornered him against the tree. “I’m gonna fix the Director’s problem.”


 Tsuzuru grabbed a can of spray cheese from the fridge and began filling his mouth.

 Izumi gagged from the table where she was digging through a textbook. “You are disgusting.”

 He swallowed after a moment. “It’s one of the few joys I can offer myself after a long nap. Hey, why’s there a Do Not Enter sign on the practice room?”

 She winced. “Uh… Sakuya had a small accident. I was planning on asking you for help with that tomorrow.”

 Tsuzuru sprayed another mouthful down. He paused, chewing on the processed spread. 

 He swallowed again. “Masumi went in there.”

 Izumi dropped the textbook. “HE WHAT?"

 Citron looked up from where he and Muku sat in the living room, going through a deck of cards. “He seemed intent on fixing the problem.”

 “YOU KNEW ABOUT THIS?” she screeched, getting up and running.

 Citron chased after her. “Director, going inside is not a good—!”

 She threw the door open and let out a shrill scream as a target went hurtling right at her. Izumi threw herself to the ground. The target crashed into the wall behind her, digging into the wall, wiggling, and then shooting back out to continue its rampage towards the living room.

 “WHAT THE FUCK,” Tsuzuru bellowed as it nearly beheaded him. He shot off a Rune towards it but it refused to slow down.

 Muku let out a yelp and immediately cowered behind the couch.

 Misumi popped his head out of his room. “What’s happening?”

 The target swerved towards him and he shot off a bolt of lightning from his palm, more on reflex than anything else. The target instantly burned to smithereens and fell to the ground. 

 “Woooow. That was dangerous!” he said with a tilt to his head.

 “Director, please close the door,” Citron pleaded as he grabbed her around the waist and tried to force her back into the hallway.

 Izumi kept crawling forward. “MASUMI, YOU GET OUT OF THAT ROOM THIS INSTANT."

 “It’s okay, I can handle it,” the teen said simply as he dodged the targets this way and that.

 Masumi suddenly leapt into the air and grabbed the edge of one target as it went flying by him. He held on even as it started bucking wildly, going so far as to twist his body and crouch on the target’s face like it was some boogie board from hell.

 “Masumi, get down from there!” Izumi screamed.

 “I’m fine,” he only called back and removed Tenma's knife from his belt strap. He dug it into another target as it flew by him and jumped from the one he stood on to another before he crashed into a wall.

 “Wait, that looks really fun!” Misumi said as he ran in next.

 “MISUMI, NO!

 It was like speaking to a couple of brick walls. The Witch jumped onto another flying target and hung upside down by his knees, laughing gleefully as he flew this way and that.

 Citron forced her out, refusing to let go of her. “Director, perhaps it is best to leave this to them. They are more capable than you right now.”

 “They’re going to get themselves killed!” she shrieked, trying to shake him off.

 Citron smiled down at her. “Oh, only maybe.”

 “THAT DOESN’T MAKE ME FEEL BETTER?”

 Masumi slammed his elbow against a passing target and sent the splintering pieces to the ground. He chucked the knife and another one shattered.

 MIsumi giggled. “Is this a game?"

 He fired off another bolt of lightning towards a target, sending ashes cascading to the ground.

 “I’m going to kill BOTH of them when they get down,” she swore to herself, slapping hands over her eyes and praying that she wouldn’t hear the crunch of bone any time soon.

 But Masumi didn’t seem to be struggling too much, only taking a break every once in a while to wipe at the sweat that was gathering on his forehead. Soon the only flying targes were the one he and Misumi were on. He smashed his heel into his and went crashing towards the ground.

 “Masumi!” Izumi cried and gave Citron a firm jab to the ribs (that she would apologize for later) and rushed to his side. “Oh my god, oh my god, please don’t be dead, please don’t be dead.”

 Masumi sat up and rubbed his head. “‘M fine.”

 “Are you sure? No concussion?”

 “Nah."

 She started shaking him by the shoulders violently. “ARE YOU CRAZY? HOW MANY TIMES DID I TELL YOU TO STAY AWAY FROM THIS ROOM, HOW MANY TIMES—“

 “Director, look!” Misumi yelled. He had a hand on his flying target and it seemed, through sheer overflowing of magic, he could somewhat control where it hurtled to. “It’s like I’m driving a car!”

 “No, that’s definitely not how you drive a car,” Tsuzuru remarked.

 Izumi covered her face and tried to relax but suddenly, all she could do was want to cry.

 “Director, they were going to be fine,” Citron said gently.

 “They could have gotten hurt!” she snapped, slapping his hand away as he reached down to pat her back. She turned back to Masumi, wishing she could shake sense into him. “Why would you do that! WHY!”

 “Because I wanted to make you happy,” he said bluntly. “I fixed your problem for you.”

 Izumi’s stomach was sinking deeper and deeper towards the ground in despair. “That wasn’t your problem to fix! You are a child, Masumi, you could have gotten hurt. Do you have any idea how much trouble I would have been in if you’d gotten injured doing this?”

 Masumi cocked his head to the side. “Not much. My parents wouldn’t care.”

 “I…” She realized her hands were cold. She looked over her shoulder, where Tsuzuru and Citron were staring at them.

 This wasn’t a talk to have in front of them she realized.

 Izumi got to her feet and grabbed Masumi by his sleeve, forcing him up beside her.

 “My office, now,” she said tersely. “I’ll see you there in a minute while I figure out your punishment.”

 Misumi looked honest to god confused by her ire but did as she asked.

 “Director, that’s going too far. He did fix your problem,” Tsuzuru said quietly once the youth left.

 “Perhaps punishment is not fair,” Citron added.

 Izumi felt like she was going to break from the frustration. “Are you—“ she lowered her voice, “fucking kidding me? Are both of you just that dumb? He is a BOY. Those things could have killed him and he came in here against my orders, do you not understand how dangerous things were? AND YOU!”

 She pointed to Misumi. “GET DOWN FROM THERE!”

 He flinched and did as she commanded, setting the target on fire as he dropped to the ground.

 “I’m sorry,” he said quietly looking thoroughly admonished. “I thought it was fun.”

 “If I say no, then never again, got it?” she snapped. “Go to your room, I’ll figure out how to deal with you next.”

 Tsuzuru grabbed Misumi’s arm before he could run off. “Hold on, now you’re just being absolutely ridiculous. Misumi’s literally older than I am, he can do what he wants.”

 Izumi poked a finger to Tsuzuru’s chest. “If you put yourself in danger like that right in front of my eyes after I told you not to, I would have sent you packing back home.”

 “They’re magicians, Director,” he said, not giving an inch. “You’re coddling them. You’ve been coddling them. I didn’t think I’d have to point it out so soon but it’s true and you know it.”

 Misumi cleared his throat. “I, uh, I think I should go.”

 Tsuzuru let go of him.

 Citron smiled at Izumi like he was trying to calm her down. “The chances of them getting hurt were very minimal, Director, I swear it. Perhaps you are overreact—?”

 “DON’T,” she thundered, silencing him with a look. “I don’t care if the chance was one percent or half a percent or the most unlikely outcome. If they COULD have gotten hurt, then that’s what matters. Not the most likely outcome, Citron. They are children.”

 “Masumi’s sixteen and Misumi’s nineteen,” Tsuzuru said firmly. “They’re going to be facing bigger problems than a few targets and the more you try to spoil and spoon-feed them, the harder they’re going to be crushed by reality. You can’t protect them forever, Director. That’s not your role in the Coven.”

 Izumi took in a sharp breath, looking first at Tsuzuru and then Citron.

 “You think the same?” she asked.

 The Seer shrugged. “Well… I would say you are certainly more, ah, ghosted—“

 “Spirited,” Tsuzuru interrupted.

 “Yes, that. Spirited about teaching than I am used to.” Citron chuckled dryly. “It is not a bad thing, Director, but you treat them too baby.”

 She pursed her lips into a line, fighting the wave of fury that washed over her.

 “I don’t want to see either of you right now,” she said hotly, pushing past them. “I’m going to my room. Tell Masumi I’ll deal with him later.”

 “You’re mad because I’m right,” Tsuzuru drawled with that absolute shit eating smile.

 “SHOVE IT,” Izumi yelled and slammed the door to her bedroom shut.

Chapter Text

 “Where are we going this time,” Juza asked as Banri dropped from his window.

 The living boy stretched and started strolling down the street. “Graveyard again.”

 “It didn’t work last time.”

 “I’ve been doing some research,” was all he replied. “We’re trying something new but it’s gotta be at the graveyard.”

 They walked alongside each other. Well, Banri walked. Juza had settled for doing that odd floating thing once more.

 Banri rolled his eyes when the quiet stretched several minutes. “Are you just not going to ask what I’m carrying in the fuckin’ bucket?”

 Juza scowled. “What's the point? Your massive ego makes it impossible for you to not tell me.”

 “Fuck you! I’m not saying shit now, you asshole.”

 A few more steps.

 Banri relented. “Fine, I’ll tell you, but this doesn’t prove a thing.”

 Juza sneered.

 He took off the top of the bucket and showed the contents to the ghost.

 Juza stared at it. “What the fuck is that.”

 “Two goat livers.”

 “Oh.”

 Banri wanted to fucking kick him. “You can ask why.”

 Juza sighed. “Why.”

 “I found an article on Reddit. Said I could raise the dead if I did a magic circle bullshit with some goat liver.” Banri smacked the top back on and continued walking. “It took me all day to find a butcher shop that sold this shit. Did you know that it’s easier to find gunpowder in this city than goat meats?”

 “Gunpowder?”

 “Another part of the circle thing.”

 “Oh.” Juza frowned as they rounded the corner to the graveyard. “You don’t have to keep trying, you know. You can just drop it.”

 “Fuck you, I bet you’d like that, wouldn’t you? To just win because you’re a ghost now,” Banri snapped. “You can eat it, Hyodo. I’m bringing you back to life and kicking your ass whether you like it or not.”

 “Whatever.”

 They got to the graveyard and, as usual, Banri looked around to make sure no one was looking. Nine out of ten times, the graveyard was empty during this time of the day but you never knew. Sometimes there would be a goth kid sitting on a bench reading poetry to his slam group. But, luckily, the yard was clear of any people. Banri took out a spray can and began drawing what was more or less the picture he’d found online on the grass.

 “Right. You stand in the middle now,” Banri ordered. 

 Juza did as he was told and could only watch as Banri sprayed a large triangle inside of the first circle. He placed the goat livers on one corner, a small pile of gunpowder on another, and a whole head of garlic on the last.

 “I’m gonna be fuckin’ pissed off if this doesn’t work, gunpowder cost more than I wanted it to,” Banri muttered under his breath.

 Juza sat in the air, crossing his legs and bobbing up and down ever so slightly. “What now.”

 “Hold your fuckin’ horses.” Banri patted his pockets and took out a crumpled piece of paper. “Right. ‘M supposed to say a spell or some shit so just keep sitting there.”

 “This is so stupid.”

 “Shut up!” Banri cleared his throat and held a hand out. “Thank God I took Latin in middle school.”

 “They offered Latin at your school?”

 “It was either that or French.”

 Juza grunted and nodded his head. “That’s cool.”

 “Iubes me mortuorum priori. Est plus quam deus meus tuam.” Banri paused and put the note back in his pocket.

 Juza glanced down at himself, feeling nothing. He got back to his feet. “What a waste of time.”

 “Cool your jets, I still need to do one thing.” Banri took out a switchblade from his pocket and raised it to his fingertip.

 Juza grabbed him (as best as ghosts could grab, which meant not at all, but he made the motion at least). “Settsu. No.”

 “What, you a pussy at blood or something?” He pricked his finger and squeezed out a drop of blood, shaking his hand until it splattered on the ground beneath them. Juza pulled a face.

 They stood there and, still, nothing happened.

 “Bummer,” Banri muttered and scratched his head. “Back to the drawing board then.”

 Juza swung his arm like he meant to smack his companion on the back of his head. “You’re getting weirder about this.”

 Banri leaned down to pick the goat livers back up (if he washed and cooked it, his parents probably wouldn’t be able to tell what it was, right? Or maybe he could just fling it at his sister as a prank) when something sprung from the ground and nabbed him around his sleeve.

 “The fuck?” He snatched his hand back, the something coming up with it. “What is this?”

 Juza floated over and offered a palm that gave soft, silvery light.

 “…Huh.” Banri unlatched the skeletal hand from his sleeve and looked at it. “Huh.”

 “Settsu. You fucked up.” Juza slowly started drifting back and away from the summoning circle and Banri followed after him, still unsure of what was going on.

 The ground started giving odd, scratching noises. Packed dirt and grass gave way as bony limbs smashed through the surface and began clawing, trying to tug something bigger out.

 “Oh my god,” Banri moaned, smacking himself in the forehead. “Let’s bounce. My parents are going to fuckin’ kill me if they found out I started a zombie apocalypse.”

 “We can’t bounce, you started it,” Juza snapped. “Fix it.”

 “You think I know how to?”

 “What did the Reddit article say?”

 “You think I read the entire article?

 Banri and Juza backed away side by side until they could duck beneath a cluster of bushes. They watched seven, eight, nine re-animated corpses dig themselves back up and slowly get to their feet. Most of them were nothing but bone and ruined fabric, but a couple were still rotting. More and more seemed to be tearing at the earth to emerge.

 Banri let out a low whistle. “Hate to admit it but… that’s so fuckin’ dope, man."

 Juza didn’t say anything but had to somewhat agree. It was a scene right from the best horror movies.

 The zombies were walking. More like lurching and just barely keeping themselves from collapse with each small step they took, but still they were walking. And, oddly enough, they seemed to be walking in a group towards… somewhere. Just all in the same direction.

 Banri stood up. “Let’s follow them.”

 “Are you crazy? No,” Juza spat.

 “Are you crazy? Hold on, let’s think about that for a moment.” Banri clapped his hands together very firmly. “So you’re telling me, that we just did an incantation I found on r/Necromancy which worked. We just saw dead motherfuckers crawl out of the dirt. And we’re just not going to see where they’re going? Are you kidding me right now? Fuck off, we’re following them. If you wanna stay back, then whatever.”

 He dug his hands into his pockets and jauntily sauntered after the zombies as they continued their traipse.

 After a moment, Juza followed him, drifting close by. “You suck.”

 Banri grinned.


 It was never, ever good to wake up to someone screaming.

 Izumi shot awake and was out in the hallway before she could even process what was going on. As she tried to shake off the sleep that still clung to her mind, her movements were more from instinct than anything else. Someone was screaming in their room.

 She forced Muku’s door open to find the boy shaking, sitting up in his bed.

 “Zombies!” he screamed, choking on his own spit as he panicked. “Zombies!

 Izumi immediately turned his room’s lights on and kneeled by his bedside. “Kiddo, shh. Shhhhh. It’s fine. What happened?”

 “They’re coming!” Muku wailed and covered his face with his hands. “They’re coming to eat me!”

 “No, there aren’t any zombies,” Izumi said and reached forward to rub his back. “You had a bad dream. It’s okay.”

 Muku fell into her arms as he bawled. “Director, I saw them, I saw them coming here, they’re going to kill us!”

 “Muku, it was a nightmare. You’re okay. Nothing’s eating us.”

 He wiped his face, still struggling to breathe properly. “I… But I—I saw. I saw them! Droves of them, piles, so m-many, I—!”

 “Sweetie, it was a bad dream. Nothing else. You’re safe.” She rubbed a couple more circles into his back and stood up. “C’mon. Let’s get you some warm milk in the kitchen to calm you down.”

 And then Citron was in the doorway which made everything so, so, so much worse.

 The Seer wiped away the beads of cold sweat on his forehead. He had a grave look on his face. “Ah. How unfortunate. You saw them as well? I’d been hoping it was just me."

 Muku dissolved back into hysterical sobs. “THEY’RE GOING TO KILL US!"

 “What do you mean you had the same dream?” Izumi hissed.

 Citron winced. “Director…”

 “Zombies?

 “I am not sure if I know that word. Dead bodies that walk?”

 “ZOMBIES?

 “Then yes. I am afraid zombies.”

 Izumi sharply inhaled through her nose. “Oh. I see. That sure is… something to deal with.”

 She glanced at Muku who was rocking back and forth on the bed with his head between his knees.

 “Hey,” Izumi said as she ruffled his hair. “Everything’s going to be just fine. This changes nothing. You’re still safe. Can I leave you here on your own for a bit while I go take care of some matters?”

 “I’ll watch over him,” Citron said, taking her place by the bedside. “It was an alarming vision, Director. Give him a moment to collect himself.”

 “Alright, I’ll trust him with you, Citron.” She tied her hair up in an elastic. “How much time do we have?”

 “I would say ten minutes. Perhaps a little less.”

 “Suppose we don’t need anymore than five.” Izumi pulled out her phone and walked out into the hall. She pressed a number and held the receiver to her ear, simultaneously kicking Tsuzuru’s door open.

 As expected, he was passed out on the lab table with a notebook out, hand by a page half-filled with notes.

 She shook him awake.

 “Wuzz—?” Tsuzuru took one look at her and slapped a hand over his eyebrows. “You didn’t.”

 “I didn’t,” she reassured him. “We have bigger problems than your facial hair right now.”

 “…Which is?”

 The phone picked up.

 “…Miss Tachibana? With all due respect, do you have any idea what time it is?

 “Zombies, Sakyo,” she said.

 “Excuse me?” Tsuzuru and Sakyo said in unison.

 “Citron and Muku both saw them coming this way. We don’t know anything else besides that. They said we have about ten minutes but I’d peg it for less if I know our luck. We’re going to need reinforcements by the Coven as soon as possible, we’ll hold them off as best as we can until you get here.”

 “We’re going to what?” Tsuzuru asked.

 Izumi snapped her fingers in front of his face. “Please wake up, I don’t have enough time to explain it to the both of you.”

 “I’m on my way. Do you need me to be on the line should anything happen?

 “No, I think that’ll just complicate things. Please get here as fast as possible.”

 “Twenty minutes.

 Izumi winced. “I’ll see what we can do.”

 She hung up the call and stared at the Caster who was pinching himself on his arm.

 “So... not a dream?” he asked her, giving his arm one more firm pinch.

 Izumi laughed mirthlessly. “I wish it was. How long will it take you to Barrier the whole property?”

 Tsuzuru blanched, getting off his chair and nearly falling over until she caught and steadied him. “I’ll need Misumi and Sakuya’s help but probably less than five minutes.”

 “Good. Go get started outside, I’ll send them your way.”

 He was already heading out the door.

 There wasn’t time for hesitation or thinking things over, not if Citron said there wasn’t. Izumi threw open Misumi’s door and tugged his blanket off.

 “Mmm… sleepy,” he whined, rolling over and curling up.

 She shook his arm. “Misumi, we need you right now.”

 He sat up and wiped his eyes. “Whyyyyy?”

 “Zombies. Go outside, Tsuzuru will explain. You know the barrier Rune?”

 “Zombies? Tsuzuru? No, I don’t.” Misumi frowned and his arm dropped. “Director, is everything okay?”

 She gave a very large but empty smile. “It will be if you just do what I need you to do! I’m sure you’ll pick up what Tsuzuru’s doing, you’re a quick learner. Think you can do that for me, Misumi?”

 “I’ll try!" He hopped out of bed and headed for the entryway.

 Sakuya next.

 “What’s going on?” Tenma snapped as he opened his own door. “Can I not even sleep in this nightmare of a Coven?”

 “Zombies,” she said simply.

 “WHAT?”

 “Don’t know much more than that, sorry, kiddo. You might want to just hole up in your dorm, everything will be fine.” She hoped. She opened Sakuya’s door and flicked his lights on.

 Her charge moaned at the sudden intrusion. “What…? What time is it?”

 “A little past three in the morning. We need you outside now to Barrier the property.”

 “H-Huh?”

 Izumi gently helped him out of bed and pushed him towards his door. “Zombies.”

 “Zombies?

 “Just about.”

 Sakuya rubbed his eyes. “Alright, I guess. Sure. I guess… panic later?”

 “Please.”

 “Right. Later.” She almost wept when Sakuya started running to the door. Thank God most of them were light sleepers.

 What next, what next. There was more she could do. Ah, right. Demon in the building.

 She kicked down Itaru’s room to see him on the computer. Headphones snug over his head with the volume set so loudly, she could hear the bloodshed and violence from where she stood. Izumi tugged them off.

 “DO YOU MIND?” the demon bellowed, not looking up from his computer. “I’M TRYING TO RANK FOR THIS ROUND.”

 “Zombies.”

 “Zom—?” He glanced at her and then turned his attention back to the screen. “Did you have a nightmare?”

 Izumi leaned over and pressed the Power Off button on his computer. The monitor went black and a hand lashed out. Itaru grabbed her by the hair, smashing her head against the wall.

 “You shouldn’t have done that,” he growled. “Haven’t we discussed the matter of respect before, halfblood?"

 It was probably the hysteria and adrenaline that made her feel numb, Izumi thought to herself, but she’d definitely have a headache from the blow later. She glared at him, refusing to let the glowing pink eyes scare her.

 “Protect this Coven,” she said simply. “As long as nobody gets hurt and you help ensure that, I’ll give you anything you want in return.”

 Itaru showed his teeth in an unkind smile. “Hasn’t anyone ever told you not to make promises with a demon?”

 “You want my soul?” Izumi snapped. “Have it. I don’t care. Take anything from me that you want. I just need the kids to be safe.”

 His smile disappeared. They merely stared at each other for a moment.

 He let go of her and licked the tip of a fang.

 “Why do you care so much for them,” Itaru asked quietly. “They are not your kin."

 Izumi grabbed him by the front of his cloak and brought him in close. “I’m not here for you to probe my priorities, demon. Will you help or not? I don’t have time.”

 He pursed his lips. “Red Bull?”

 “Done.”

 Itaru sighed and rubbed his forehead. “Not even a moment’s peace with you lot, I swear it.”

 He pushed aside the curtains and opened the window to his room before jumping out.

 Izumi went into Masumi’s room next. He slept bundled in all of those blankets as usual, peaceful and completely oblivious to the world around him. Good. She traced the Barrier rune on his window. Her magic wasn’t strong and it probably wouldn’t hold for more than a few seconds under pressure but sometimes a few seconds could save a life.

 “Can I please know what’s actually going on?” someone from the doorway asked.

 She turned around to see Tenma there, brow furrowed and arms crossed.

 “How good of a Hunter are you, actually?” she asked.

 “What?”

 “How good, Tenma.”

 He flushed. “One of the damn best in this city, that’s how good.”

 “Fantastic. You have any weapons on you besides that knife?”

 Tenma stared at her before holding his palm out. The air right above it shimmered before the hilt of a sword appeared. She watched him grab it and give the hilt a few practice swings until the blade erupted forth, a shining and luminous thing.

 Izumi nodded once. “Stay in here. Hopefully, nothing happens, but if it does… Keep him safe, alright? Muku, too, I’m sending him in here next.”

 “You can trust me,” Tenma said seriously, perhaps finally getting a feel for how dire the situation was. “But I’d better know what the hell’s going on afterwards.”

 “I hope we all do, kiddo,” Izumi muttered and hurried past him. She pushed open Muku’s door. Citron looked at her. “Get him inside Masumi’s room and then you come with me.”

 Citron got up from his knees and helped ease his apprentice out of his bed. Muku let out another choked sob but at the very least looked more coherent than he had a few moments ago.

 “What will we do?” Citron asked her as they passed by.

 “Make sure nobody gets hurt.”

 Once Muku was in, Izumi closed the door and Runed it just like she had the window. She and Citron exchanged one look before hurrying outside. She grabbed Tsuzuru’s knife from her desk before they left the dorm building.

 “Everything going alright?” she asked as the cold night air hit her face.

 Tsuzuru wiped his brow and got up from where he’d been inscribing a Rune onto the driveway. “Just about. Fifteen points of Barrier around the perimeter, most if not all reinforced by now. Not like Sakuya’s Barriers need much reinforcement but… yeah.”

 She glanced at the Seer behind her. “How much time have we got?”

 “Two minutes.”

 “Motherfucker.” Izumi took in a deep breath and calmed herself down. This wasn’t a time to be swept by emotions, she had to keep a clear head. “Where’s Sakuya and Misumi?”

 “Going ‘round the border one more time with Silencers. Thought it’d be best to keep the noise down no matter what happens. You know… just incase neighbors wake up and get a little nosy."

 “They’re on their way,” someone called from overhead.

 Izumi looked up to see Itaru circling the building with bat-like wings. Of course he could fly, just another thing for him to rub in later.

 “How far?” Izumi asked.

 “Coming around the corner.”

 “How many?”

 Even from there she could see Itaru’s nostrils flare with annoyance. “Nasty amount.”

 Fuck. Fuck.

 “Tsuzuru, we’re done,” Sakuya panted as he ran towards them. “Director, are we going to be okay?”

 “Yes,” she said immediately, refusing to look at Citron and check if her prediction had any backing to it. “We’ll just have to wait and see how well the Barriers hold up.”

 The sound of it reached their ears before the actual appearances of the zombies did. Soft and eerie growls that were almost human but not quite. A cacophony of flesh slapping on asphalt that didn’t sound right. The click-clack of bones.

 Izumi couldn’t help herself. She covered Sakuya’s eyes with her hands.

 “Director, I want to see,” he whispered, trying to force them off.

 She gripped his head tighter. “Just… Just wait.”

 The first one came into view. An ugly, decrepit carcass that dragged itself forward. Empty sockets and a slack jaw that showed off a glistening, rancid slab of meat that remained of a tongue.

 Collectively, the entire group of magicians drew back a step.

 It paused at the Barrier as though it’d walked into a glass wall. Just for a moment though, before lunging towards them again. The Barrier sparked in defiance.

 “How long will it hold?” Misumi asked meekly.

 A crowd of the cadavers gathered at the Barrier, all slamming their heads against the Rune wall and hissing in displeasure as they were stopped in their paths.

 “Let’s pray decently long,” Tsuzuru managed.

 The first one paused and then—

 and then vomited.

 Thick, putrid black slime shot out of its mouth and splattered onto the Barrier. 

 “Tsuzuru,” Izumi whispered as her stomach plummeted. “That’s not... Is it?”

 The Caster closed his eyes. “Oh, fuck me."

 The Barrier let loose a handful of green sparks and then promptly shattered.

 To his credit, Misumi acted first out of all of them. He thrust a hand out and sent a bolt of lightning forth, frying the corpse before it could take a step forward. Tsuzuru threw out a new Barrier Rune but it was only prolonging the inevitable now. All of them knew that.

 “Director,” Citron said urgently, placing a hand on her back.

 “What?”

 He leaned down and pressed his lips to hers.

 Misumi gasped, jaw dropping. “Oh my gosh.”

 “What? What’s happening?” Sakuya asked, still blinded by Izumi’s fingers.

 “ARE YOU FOR REAL RIGHT NOW?” Tsuzuru bellowed. “THIS IS REALLY NOT THE FUCKING TIME, CITRON.”

 Citron drew back, staring intensely. “Do you understand?”

 Izumi blinked several times. She rubbed her eyes. “Yes. Got it. Oh, we’re so screwed. Tsuzuru, go inside and protect the boys. Use every single defense Rune you’ve got in your big brain, we’ll keep things covered outside. But if worst comes to worst, keep at least them safe.”

 “Was there a reason behind the sucking face?” he blustered.

 Citron took the Caster by his chin and smiled as he leaned in close. “I sent her the Sight of what is to come. Would you like the same?”

 Tsuzuru shoved his hand into Citron’s face and forced him back. “Major pass. I’ll go Rune the halls. Don’t die.” He ran inside.

 Izumi grabbed Misumi and Sakuya’s arms. “A few stragglers are going to be coming from the back. I need you two to do whatever you can to make sure they don’t get into the building. But don’t become martyrs, understand? If it’s too much for you, go inside and seek refuge with the others.”

 Misumi gave her a big smile. “Don’t worry, Director! I’ll keep Sakuya safe.”

 He flung an arm around the younger’s shoulders.

 “Um… Director… what about you?” Sakuya asked quietly, eyes flickering to the mob of undead beating on the walls. One leaned its head back, ready to spit black once more.

 Izumi hugged him close and tight, squeezing him until she couldn’t any more. “I’ll be fine, Sakuya, I promise. Go. Leave this to us.”

 He hesitated.

 “Misumi?” she ordered.

 He saluted. “Got it!”

 The older Witch grabbed Sakuya by his elbow and began pulling him around the building to the back. “C’mon, Sakuya! Let’s have some fun!”

 Izumi watched them go and let out a shaky breath. She turned around as the Barrier shattered and the zombies began to creep closer. She took out Tsuzuru’s knife from her belt and forced her stance lower. Citron reached for the abandoned hoe on the lawn and gave it a single twirl with a flick of his wrist, testing the weight.

 “How good are you with fighting?” Izumi asked.

 “Not very, but we have a ten percent chance of living,” he said simply.

 Izumi shuddered. “One in ten, Hm, not the worst odds."

 And then she jammed her shoulder into the first corpse’s torso, forcing it back enough to drive the blade of her knife into its skull. The monster dropped and she leapt for the next.


 “Hey, hey,” Misumi asked as he jumped around. “D’you see, like… mmmm… a triangle?”

 “A tri—excuse me?” Sakuya was trying very hard not to turn around and help the Director. “What?”

 Misumi leaned down and picked up a rake. “It’s not a triangle but it’ll work!”

 Blue sparks flew from his fingertips before sinking into the plastic. Misumi let go of it and Sakuya watched as the rake began floating higher and higher. Misumi swung one leg over it, then the other, then hung upside down like one would from a pull-up bar.

 “Sakuya!” Misumi said brightly, taking the other Witch’s hands in his. “Let’s have some fun!”

 “I—“ Sakuya’s eyes glowed. “Okay!"

 Misumi laughed wildly. “Up we go!”

 The stick he hung from shot into the air. Sakuya let out a screech as the two went flying.

 “You know how to do lightning?” Misumi asked pleasantly.

 “N-N-No!”

 “Just reach a hand out and let magic pile up around the wrist. Then shoot it out! If you want lightning, you’ll probably get lightning!” Misumi heaved, throwing the younger boy up further and letting go. “GOOD LUCK!”

 “MISUMI?” Sakuya screamed before he started falling. “MISUMI!”

 Someone grabbed his ankles. Sakuya looked up, trying not to vomit the heart that felt like it was stuck in his throat. Itaru looked back down at him, unimpressed, as the great, leathery black wings that protruded from his back flapped.

 “You doing lightning or not?” he asked flatly. “A few of them are coming now. I’m going to fly right over them."

 “R-Right!”

 Sakuya hung upside down completely and let magic gather like a pool of fire in his stomach. Warmth flooded down his veins into his hands. He stopped the flow right before it could drip out in fire like usual, letting that heat collect until his wrists felt like they were going to snap off.

 I really hope Misumi knows what he’s talking about, he thought to himself before letting it loose.

 BOOM.

 “Devil have mercy," Itaru muttered as a great bolt of golden lightning shot down and incinerated one of the cadavers throwing themselves against the back Rune barrier.

 Sakuya stared at his palms. “Oh my god.”

 Misumi went flying by, cackling. “You did it! You did it! Congratulations! My turn!”

 He snapped his fingers and a blue spear of light went thundering off.

 Sakuya squeaked as Itaru let go of one ankle. He was essentially dangling high in the air with nothing holding him up except for one of the demon’s hands.

 “You think you can do that again?” Itaru asked.

 Sakuya swallowed dryly. “I’ll try!”

 “I’m putting you on the rooftop to give you better scope and then I'm heading to help out at the front.” The demon let out a snarl. “That halfblood doesn’t know when to call it quits.”

 “Keep the Director safe, Itaru. Please,” Sakuya begged.

 He chuckled before dropping the Witchling on the rooftop and jetting off once more. “One day, you all need to learn to stop asking demons for things. GL, Sakuya.”

 Sakuya let the energy gather in his wrists once more, pointing at an intruder.

 He set it off.


 Keep your body in motion at all times, Izumi told herself. Deflect blows with forearms.

 A corpse lunged both hands forward for her neck.

 Grip strength and outstretched arms are used to maintain a choke. Back and shoulder muscles are greater than the force of the hold. She grabbed its wrists and leveled a swift kick to its inner thighs. Weight shifted and she flipped the thing right over her shoulder before diving at the zombie behind that one, sinking her knife into its skull with one harsh stab.

 Citron spun the hoe in his hands and leveled a crushing thwack to an undead’s knee, another to its shoulder, and then drove the end of the hoe right through its head.

 “Krav Maga, Director? How impressive!” he called, forcing another one back. “Didn’t take you as one for martial arts."

 “I do what I can!” she yelled back.

 Something dropped from the air into the thicket of shambling bodies and a giant plume of searing hot magenta flame exploded. Instantaneous ash pillars quickly blew into nothing.

 “Behind you,” Itaru drawled lazily.

 Izumi rammed an elbow back without looking, felt it connect with a rib, and threw her entire body weight next. Both she and the zombie went careening for the ground. Teeth latched onto her forearm and, refusing to let tearing skin break her concentration, she simply tossed her knife into the air, grabbed it with her other hand, and stabbed the thing in the skull.

 She wrenched the jaw open and removed her arm, getting back up.

 “Thanks!” she snapped.

 “Hm. You are welcome.” Itaru flicked a finger behind him and a wall of flame consumed a line of corpses. "Your little Witch learned lightning."

 "Did he now? Good for him." Izumi wiped her face, tasting sweat and blood. She clenched her jaw harder. Wasn’t the time to lose steam.

 A skeletal arm went swinging towards her. She ducked underneath it, hooked her elbow to catch the limb, and then spun. It popped right out of the socket and the corpse smashed to the ground. Knife in, knife out.

 Who was next?


 Barrier. Extension. Barrier. Barrier. Shock. Extension.

 Layer after layer. Tsuzuru ground his teeth, not knowing when enough would be enough. Magic flowed out of him, making his vision spin and his head feel too light for his shoulders. But keep them safe. She’d told them to keep them all safe.

 “T-Tsuzuru, where are they?” Muku stammered, still curled up in a corner of the room like he’d fall apart otherwise.

 He looked over his shoulder and smiled at Muku as best as he could. The smile he’d give one of his younger brothers if they'd told him that they had woken from a scary dream.

 “They’re taking care of things. Don’t worry about them. You know they’re all stubborn but…” he laughed. “Most of them are as strong as bulls too to back it up.”

 Muku shivered. “There’s so many of them, Tsuzuru. I-I don’t know where they’re coming from.”

 “What’s going on?”

 Tsuzuru froze. He shut his eyes.

 “No…” he said once quietly.

 “Uh, Tsuzuru? What’s happening?”

 The Caster slowly turned and stared at Matsukawa who stood outside the twenty layers of Barrier Runes. Kamekichi was on his shoulder, still sleeping.

 “Matsukawa,” Tsuzuru said in monotone. He touched the tips of his fingers together. “Hm. Where’ve you been?”

 The manager raised an eyebrow. “Sleeping…? Can I know what the noise is all about?”

 Tsuzuru wanted to cry.

 He wanted to cry so badly.

 They’d forgotten about Matsukawa. They’d forgotten him.

 He began to undo the Barriers, even as his body begged him to take a break.

 “When this is all over,” Tsuzuru said through gritted teeth, “I’m actually going to punch you and shave you bald as punishment.”

 Matsukawa paled. “What? Why?!”


 Misumi frowned in displeasure. There were so many of them. Too many, maybe? That was bad.

 “Upsy-daisy.” He spun on the rake and sat on it properly, giggling a little as the blood went rushing out of his head. “Sakuya, you should go inside.”

 “I—huh? Why?” The Witchling looked confused. “You can’t handle this on your own!”

 Misumi laughed and grabbed him by the scruff of his sweatshirt, taking him from the rooftop down to the ground. “I’ll be okay! I have a lot of tricks up my sleeves. Lots of triangles! Just wanna make sure you’re safe. The Director told me to do that, you know.”

 Sakuya struggled. “Misumi, I know the Director doesn’t trust me with a lot but I’m not a kid. I can help you.”

 “I know you can but I don’t need your help right now!” He stood on the rake with his two feet, balancing carefully. “They might need you inside though, ya know? Leave it to me. I know I might not look it, but I’m a little older than you so call it me pulling… um… what’s the word?” He cocked his head to the side. “Rank? Seniority? Seniority! I’m pulling seniority, so go inside.”

 “I can help,” Sakuya insisted.

 “You can help inside.” Misumi let his smile drop. “From one Witch to another, Tsuzuru is a really cool guy but Casters don’t have that much magical energy. They’re going to need you in there. Okay?”

 Sakuya swallowed. “Fine. But. Misumi…”

 “Uh-huh?”

 “Do you promise you’re going to be okay?”

 Misumi unclipped the little earring he had in his left cartilage. He dropped the triangular little loop of gold and Sakuya caught it before it could hit the ground.

 “That’s a promise charm!” Misumi said brightly. “As long as you have that, I promise I’ll be safe. Okays?”

 Sakuya wrapped his fingers around it and held the piece of jewelry tight in his palm. “Okay. Okay, Misumi. You promised.”

 “Yep!”

 Sakuya hesitated only one second more before running into the dorm building.

 Misumi twirled his finger and made the rake turn around. He sighed as he looked at all of those undead bodies shuffling across the lawn.

 “I’m really sorryyyyyy,” he apologized, drawing out the word. “But I don’t think the Coven is accepting visitors right now!”

 He swept his hand into a wide arc overhead. The ground began to rumble. The teetering corpses lost their balance.

 Large, obsidian spikes burst forth, spearing everything in sight. 

 Misumi looked down at the carnage and closed his eye.

 Ah. 

 It all felt so nostalgic in the worst, stomach-churning way.

 The space beneath his eyepatch hurt.


 Tsuzuru dropped the final Rune and collapsed onto his hands and knees, dry-heaving. Too much. And now it was all pointless. His tank was empty. No Barriers were in place anymore. Useless. He was so useless.

 “I hate you so damn much, you mop-headed idiot!” he yelled into the floorboards, trying to stop the world from spinning.

 “Can I please know what’s going on?” Matsukawa asked. “It's like I never know anymore!”

 “Zombies!"

 “HUH?

 Sakuya came running in, soles squeaking on the ground.

 “Sakuya, don’t wear your shoes inside—!”

 “Now isn’t the time, Matsukawa!” he said desperately, going to Tsuzuru’s side. “Are you okay? How can I help?”

 He moaned. “‘M fine. Barriers. Lots of ‘em. Got it?”

 “Got it!” The Witch got to work.

 Matsukawa helped Tsuzuru sit with his back to the hallway door.

 “Is Misumi okay?” Tsuzuru asked.

 Sakuya drew his lips into a thin line. “He promised he would be.”

 Masumi stirred. He opened a bleary eye and then sat up. “Why is everybody in my room?”

 “You wake up now?” Tenma asked disgustedly. “Dude. How hard do you sleep?”

 “Pretty hard.” Masumi narrowed his eyes and blinked a few times like he was trying to clear his vision. He rubbed the sleep away and squinted again at Tenma. He pointed at the window. “What the fuck is that?"

 Muku let out a screech as glass shattered right over his head.


 Banri felt glee bubble in his stomach and make every hair stand on end as he watched the boy on a floating rake send spikes through every corpse like it was nothing.

 “Holy shit, what a jackpot,” he whispered. “Hyodo, you seeing this? Hyodo?”

 He glanced at his ghost companion who looked incredibly upset.

 “They’re going through a lot of trouble,” he muttered. “It’s our fault.”

 “Oh, whatever. They’re handling it fine. What the fuck is this, do you think? Some kinda Hogwarts bullshit? Magic. Can you believe that?” Banri stretched and let the joints in his back pop. “Maybe they can help me make you physical again.”

 Juza scowled. “Do you not feel bad at all?”

 “Nah, not right now at least. They look fine to me and I’m too interested to be guilty.” He shrugged. 

 “AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!

 “Shit. Did that come from inside?” Banri squinted. “Hope those things didn’t go through a window. What d’you—Hyodo?”

 Juza was… shivering?

 “Dude, what’s your problem?” Banri asked. He waved a hand in front of Juza’s face. “Hello?”

 “Move,” Juza snarled, eyes glowing red. He slammed the hell of his palm against Banri’s chest and Banri—

 He’d expected it to pass right through as usual, really. So he hadn’t prepared for the heavy weight catching him point blank right in the solar plexus. He gagged as all the wind got knocked out of him and he went sprawling on the asphalt.

 Hyodo had just pushed him.

 As he tried to shake the spots from his vision, Banri could barely make out the silvery outline of Hyodo’s body go darker, nearly black, as the ghost sprinted towards the building.

 The fuck?


 Tsuzuru wouldn’t be able to explain it later.

 One second, he was on the floor just barely able to stay conscious.

 The next, he heard Muku scream and glass break. Or was it glass break and Muku scream? It didn't matter.

 Then right after, he had his forearm inside a corpse’s mouth.

 “TSUZURU!” Muku wailed.

 It was biting down, he realized, as teeth shredded through his jacket’s sleeve and started digging into his skin. Ah well. It was either the jacket or Muku, so. But—ouch, it was beginning to bite hard, wasn’t it?

 “Kazunari’s going to make fun of me if this leaves a scar,” Tsuzuru said out loud.

 “Move,” Masumi snarled and pushed a frozen Tenma aside, taking the sword from his hand. He slashed through the zombie’s midsection with a full swing. The corpse dropped, unmoving, right on top of Tsuzuru.

 The pressure from the bite lessened but the pain didn’t come. Tsuzuru looked down at the heavyily bleeding gash. “Hm. Huh. That is quite unfortunate.”

 Masumi leaned down and slapped the Caster across the face.

 Tsuzuru cleared his throat. “Masumi. That wasn’t nice.”

 Masumi slapped him again, harder.

 “OW. ENOUGH.”

 “Don’t go into shock,” Masumi said flatly.

 Tsuzuru lay flat on the dorm floor, cradling his arm to his chest. “I’ll try not to. A little difficult, actually, I think I’m already in shock. Can someone guard the window, please?”

 “Oh my god, oh my god, it’s all my fault,” Muku blubbered over and over again, each word higher pitched and more strained than the last as he struggled to calm down. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m so sorry.”

 “Get out from under the window,” Masumi snapped, pushing Muku to the side. “And don’t cut yourself on the broken glass.”

 “I can’t—I can’t—I don’t—“ Muku was going into full panic mode.

 Masumi glared at Tema. “You.”

 “I… I, uh…” Tenma twitched. “I’m…”

 “SNAP OUT OF IT.” He pointed to Tsuzuru and Muku. “Get them out of here.”

 “Okay,” Tenma managed. “What are you going to do?”

 Masumi stared at him like he was stupid. “I’m going to the Director.”

 Then he jumped out the window.

 Tenma swallowed, heart hammering in his throat, and leaned down to hook elbows under Tsuzuru’s armpits. He started dragging him across the floor towards the hallway. “Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ.”

 “He loves you always,” Tsuzuru sang. “Just let him into your heart. Jesus will always accept you."

 Another zombie was clawing itself into the room. Muku was still in there.

 “MUKU, MOVE,” Tenma roared.

 The young Seer wasn’t listening. He just sat there, curled in on himself, eyes screwed shut and hands over his ears as he kept muttering things under his breath. As though he was trying to tune the entire world out.

 Tenma felt his pockets for his knife. Where was it? Where

 The corpse hauled itself over the frame. It reached for Muku.

 That was when, Tenma would say later as he tried to knit together a coherent explanation for the Director, the wraith appeared.

 He’d only seen wraiths before in textbook pictures and lecture slides. Angry, malevolent things with black talons and red eyes. Pale, pale skin.  Shadowy and bloodthirsty aura.

 The wraith destroyed the zombie then and there, tearing it to pieces with furious snarls. Chunks of the skeleton went flying every which way. Then, the spirit knelt over Muku.

 “Don’t—“ Tenma choked out, dropping Tsuzuru to stop the monster before it did whatever it would do.

 But instead, the wraith merely carded razor sharp claws through pink fluffy hair and grunted, “You okay?”

 Muku slowly peeled open one eye and looked at the thing. His eyebrows drew together. “Ju-chan?”


 Izumi jammed her knife into one last monster before her knee buckled. Exhaustion claimed swift ownership of her body.

 Adrenlaine only carried you so far, huh?

 Itaru grabbed her shoulder before she hit the ground and tried to force her back up. “Not yet, halfblood. The battle isn’t done yet.”

 Izumi let out a dry laugh. She couldn’t move anymore. But, at least she’d bought enough time. The boys inside were probably safe, right?

 Citron let out a victorious cry. “Black jacket!”

 BANG.

 BANG. BANG. BANG.

 Izumi turned her head and watched as Sakyo and a few other men, all dressed in identical black overcoats, began to mow down the horde of undead with silver guns. She let out another half a laugh, half a sob.

 “Just in time, Sakyo,” she called out as her voice cracked.

 He readjusted his glasses. “Yes. Seems just about. Good work on holding things down, Miss Tachibana."

 Izumi let herself go limp completely. Itaru grunted as he slipped two arms under her, one by her knees and another around her upper body.

 “You didn’t do too bad out here,” he said after a moment of quiet between them.

 Izumi grinned. “Damn right."

"GG, halfblood."

Chapter Text

“I want to carry her.”

 “Piss off, Hunter brat,” Itaru retorted icily as he walked back inside with Izumi in his arms.

 He dropped her onto the couch the way one would drop a sack of potatoes and retreated to the kitchen, probably for a beer.

 Masumi knelt by her side on the carpet. “Are you okay?”

 “Just fine, kiddo,” she murmured and gave him a sloppy pat on the head. “Let’s hope things are quiet for a little bit after this.”

 “STOP, STOP, YOU CAN’T KILL HIM, YOU CAN’T!

 Izumi clenched her teeth. She'd spoken too soon.

 “GET AWAY FROM HIM, YOU DON’T KNOW ANYTHING!”

 “You're the one who doesn't know anything! That’s a wraith, it’ll kill you!”

 “JU-CHAN WON’T HURT ME! TAKE IT BACK!”

 Citron chuckled awkwardly and hurried down the hall. “This seems to call for my assistance.”

 “Handle it,” Izumi called tiredly. She leaned back and sighed. Her body was numb but thrumming with the promise of sore muscles soon. She’d be bedridden for at least a day for sure. “What a mess.”

 “DIRECTOR!”

 Sakuya came barreling towards her, sliding the last few feet on his knees. He peered at her with concern. “Are you okay? I—your arm’s bleeding, but are you, like, okay?

 “Just a bit of a bite, Sakuya, don’t worry about me.”

 Itaru walked over and smacked his knuckles down, first into Masumi’s skull then Sakuya’s. The latter more tenderly than the former, Izumi noticed. “Lay off her. She’s exhausted herself.”

 Sakuya took her hand and pressed his forehead to the back of it. “I’m glad you made it out. I’m so, so glad. I did everything you told me to, Director."

 Izumi’s heart melted. She wished she had the energy to do more than just give him a little nudge on the nose with her finger. “I know. I’m so proud of you.”

 His eyes shone.

 Misumi came in through the courtyard’s sliding glass door, hopping off a (was that a flying rake? She’d have to ask him about that later). His upper body collapsed over the back of the couch and the ends of his hair tickled her nose. “Director, you’re alive! That’s good.”

 “Takes more than an army of the undead to kill me off, I guess,” she said warmly. “You did good too, Misumi. Thank you for protecting the Coven.”

 “We gotta protect home!” he said with a huff like it was the most obvious thing in the world.

 Sakuya handed him a little piece of metal. “I’m glad you’re okay too, Misumi.”

 “I promised, after all!” Misumi replied cheerfully as he put his earring back in.

 Tenma stomped into the living room. “Is the madness over?”

 “Yes—“

 “CAN YOU PLEASE TELL THAT DAMN SEER THAT WRAITHS ARE NOT FRIENDS,” the boy roared, pointing behind him.

 Muku came out holding the sleeve of a—

 Izumi closed her eyes and took in a deep breath through her nose.

 “Why is there a wraith under my roof?” she asked, refusing to open them.

 “Director, t-this is Ju-chan! He’s my cousin who d-d—,” Muku choked on the word and promptly skipped right over it, “six months ago. He protected me when a zombie was about to bite, I swear! He’s good! I don’t care if T-Tenma says he’s a wraith or whatever!”

 Izumi cracked one eye open and stared the malevolent spirit down. “This true?”

 The wraith looked nervous. She felt a giggle bubble out of her. A nervous wraith… who'd have thought she would ever see such a thing? “Yes, ma’am.”

 Citron helped Tsuzuru stumble in, the Caster’s arm over his shoulder. He guided him to the arm chair and let the younger melt into the comfortable cushions.

 “You like look shit,” Tsuzuru said off-handedly.

 Izumi laughed loudly at that. “I’ll let you off with cussing in front of the kids just this once. Only because you got bit.”

 He held up a blood-soggy sleeve with exaggerated pomp. “Think I’ll look cool when this scars over?”

 She showed him her own. “We’ll be matching.”

 Tenma cleared his throat and gestured wildly to the wraith once more. “Do I need to mention THE GHOST WITH CLAWS AGAIN?”

 “Oh, whatever,” Izumi sang as she waved a hand dismissively. “He’s not killing anybody, is he? That immediately puts him above like… most of the moving forms I’ve interacted with since waking up.”

 “Are you serious?”

 “He really can’t be much worse than Itaru, can he?”

 The demon snorted. “Disrespectful.”

 “Bite me.”

 He looked pointedly at her arm. “Leftovers? No, thank you.”

 They all sat, stood, kneeled, whatever, in silence. Just an unthreatening moment where no one was screaming, no one was crying, and no one was in risk of dying anytime soon. It was nice, Izumi thought in the haze that befuddled her. Why didn’t they do this more often?

 Sakuya broke the quiet first. “I… Uh, school’s in a few hours. Should I go back to sleep or start getting ready?”

 For some reason, that was what broke the dam.

 She stared at this boy who’d just gone through a life-threatening ordeal, saw the undead try to break into his house, fought for his life and the lives of his friends… asking if he should get ready for school. Her throat hurt.

 “Director? Director, why are you crying?” Sakuya asked as he panicked. “I’m sorry! I didn’t think school was such a sensitive issue for you!”

 Masumi punched him in the shoulder. “Good going. You made her cry.”

 “I didn’t mean to, I swear!”

 “Misumi, help me up,” Izumi said tersely.

 The Witch took her arm and dragged her to a sitting position. Izumi wrapped her arms around Sakuya in the tightest hug her battered muscles could manage.

 “You don’t have to go to school today, kiddo.” She raised her eyes to everyone in the room. “None of you do. I’ll call your schools and call for an off-day. We’ll—rent a movie and just take it easy. I’m so proud of all of you for being so reliable during this time.”

 “Ah, sick. Does that apply to me too?”

 Everyone turned to stare at the boy sitting in the kitchen, tearing bits from a muffin and popping them into his mouth.

 “This muffin’s great,” the boy continued. “Where’d you buy it from?”

 Izumi squinted at the sandy locks and purple flannel. After running through the roster of people living in the Coven in her head a couple of times, just to make sure she hadn’t forgotten one of her students, she could say with 90% certainty that this kid didn’t go here.

 “Sorry, who are you?” she asked.

 The kid jerked his chin, the way kids did when they were too cool to give a proper greeting. “S’up. I’m Banri.”

 “Hm.” Izumi wondered if twenty-four was too early to go into retirement. “I’ll ask again. Who are you?”

 Ju-chan growled, “Settsu and I were the ones who raised the dead. He did the spell.”

 Retirement sounded great, actually.

 “Masumi,” she ordered.

 He stood up and lifted the sword. “Got it.”

 “The fuck?” This Banri kid frowned. “I’m just here eating my goddamn muffin, put the sword down.”

 Izumi closed her eyes. “So you’re telling me that you’re the one responsible for using black magic that almost got everyone in this room killed.”

 “Sorry ‘bout that, by the way.” He shrugged. “Reddit be wilding or whatever. So about that movie—“

 Tsuzuru sighed. “Sakuya, my tank’s empty. Bind him.”

 “R-Right!” Sakuya thrust his hand forward and the same red twine that bound Kazunari when he’d first appeared soon wrapped around Banri.

 “You couldn’t have let me finish a muffin?” he complained. “Totally bogus.”

 “Do we just hand him over to Furuichi?” Tsuzuru asked.

 Izumi pursed her lips. “Banri, how old are you?”

 He winked at her. “Sorry. Not really into older women.”

 “I’m going to kill him,” Masumi announced and took another step forward.

 “Masumi, no.” She looked to the wraith who, and this was something she could laugh at later, was proving to be the more reliable one when it came to supplying answers. “Do you know how old he is?”

 “Seventeen. The both of us are.” Ju-chan shuffled his feet. “Uh. I was, I mean.”

 Tsuzuru threw his head back and moaned. “God fucking damn it.”

 “Watch your language,” Izumi chided him. “I said I’d let you off with it once.”

 “I know exactly how this is going to go now,” Tsuzuru spat. “You’re going to be all ‘Oh my god, he’s just a little kid, let’s NOT hand him over to the police even though he’s a criminal, let’s instead accept him into our arms and the Coven and then we can all sing kumbaya while we hold hands in a big circle!’”

 Izumi’s jaw dropped. “I have never said that!”

 “Look at the guy behind you.”

 Izumi turned her head and saw Misumi. She turned back to Tsuzuru. “Okay, so I did that once. But I don’t sound like that!”

 “You might as well.” Tsuzuru looked like he was going to cry. “Director, I’m a poor college student and I can’t offer you much. But I will pay you the whole seventeen dollars in my wallet right now if you just let it go, and hand this kid over to Furuichi.”

 “Eat my dick, you nerd, fuck the police!” Banri snapped, struggling against the red bindings. “The only illegal thing I did was break into a graveyard and I guess technically rob graves but that’s not my fault!”

 “Nerd?” Tsuzuru gasped. “Why does every single cursed organism in this Coven live to insult me?”

 Izumi pointed. “Aha! You said he’s in the Coven! No backsies.”

 “Director, you have got to be kidding me.”

 “I’m not going to hand over someone seventeen to the cops, Tsuzuru.”

 “Oh!” Sakuya gasped as he slapped a hand over his mouth. “That’s why you look so familiar! You’re Banri Settsu!”

 “You know him?” Izumi and Tsuzuru asked in unison.

 Sakuya nodded. “Yeah! He’s in another class but he’s in my year.”

 “I am?” Banri asked.

 “I’m Sakuya Sakuma.” He gestured to Masumi. “That’s Masumi, he’s in the year below us. We both go to Hanasaki Academy. And this is the Director, she runs this whole place.”

 “What is this place by the way?” Banri looked around. “Saw y’all doing some magic shit or whatever.”

 Izumi bit her lip. “Well…”

 Someone knocked on the door. “Miss Tachibana? The perimeter sweep is finished. May I come in?

 Oh, fuck. She whipped her head towards Itaru. “Take Banri and Ju-chan—“

 “Juza,” the wraith interrupted.

 “WHATEVER. Take them to your room and then come right back out. Juza, I’m going to pray you’re a good egg despite appearances and tell you to not let Banri out of his bindings no matter what until we come get you, understand?”

 Itaru sighed. “That’s so bothersome.”

 “Itaru, as God as my witness, I will stop paying the electricity bills if you don’t listen to me!”

 He leaned in with a sneer. “Gimme a kiss and I’ll think about it.”

 Masumi leveled the sword to the demon’s head. “Back off.”

 Oh, she hated living here sometimes, she really did.

 Juza raised a shadowy hand. “It’s okay. I’ll do it.”

 Another knock. “Miss Tachibana?"

 “Hyodo, you backstabbing bastard son of a bitch!” Banri spat as the wraith leaned over and picked him up like a rolled carpet. “The second you become physical you’re going to lock me in a room tied up? Fight me!”

 Muku’s mouth worked as his eyes teared up. “S-Stop saying mean things to Ju-chan!”

 “Excuse us,” Juza said gruffly and went down the hall, opening and closing Masumi’s door.

 “I will go get the door,” Citron said, ever cheerful.

 He soon led in Sakyo Furuichi, who looked as composed as always despite the nightmarish hour.

 “You?” Sakyo snapped as soon as he saw Tenma. “Why are you here?”

 “I teach here now,” Tenma shot back, just as displeased. “Mom wanted me to tell you that she has the wards around our house up. If you visit again while they’re out, expect to get fried.”

 “Incorrigible,” Sakyo muttered under his breath. “This place is becoming a magnet for all the worst spawn."

 Izumi felt a little bad for the guy, honestly. He didn’t deserve all of the hate the Bloodlines seemed to have for him. He’d been nothing but pretty nice to her since's she'd arrived at the city.

 “All of the undead have been dispatched and my men are cleaning up the remains as we speak,” Sakyo reported. “We’ll be assigning a patrol each night for the next week so you may rest easy. Do you have any idea where they came from?”

 “Not at all,” Izumi said.

 Tsuzuru physically turned his head to look away while a vein stuck out in his neck.

 “There are two concerns I have before I’ll leave you to recuperate.” Sakyo looked at Misumi. “That one used black magic.”

 “Did he?” She turned around to give Misumi a light smack on his head. “Bad. I told you not to.”

 “I’m sorryyyyy,” he said, not sounding very sorry at all.

 “Miss Tachibana, need I remind you that black magic is illegal and punishable by years of incarceration?”

 Misumi pumped his fists into the air. “Yay! Sleepover at Sakyo’s again! Can Kazu come with?”

 “Down, boy.” Izumi gave the councilman her best smile despite still feeling like she’d been demolished by a steamroller. “Sakyo, Misumi acted in self defense. If it's either black magic or one of my charges dying, I’d take black magic any day of the week. He won’t use it for any other purpose, we’ve already decided that.”

 “Miss Tach—“

 She rolled her eyes. “Oh, enough of that. You know I prefer being called Director. Or even Izumi if you’d prefer!”

 Sakyo closed his mouth. After a moment, he said flatly, “I don’t think that would be proper at this current juncture in our… relationship.”

 Tsuzuru smirked and pantomimed waving a whip.

 “Director then, really.” She frowned. “Sakyo, a kitchen knife is used to cut potatoes for dinner. But a kitchen knife can turn into a weapon in times of danger. It’s the same with magic. I will never, ever teach any of my students how to use black magic but if a situation comes to life or death, they’re permitted to any and all actions in self defense. You can understand where I’m coming from, can’t you?”

 He sighed and ducked his head. “I concede… Director.”

 “Good! You said you’ve got a second point?”

 Sakyo clenched his jaw and glared at another person in the room. “The demon.”

 Itaru held up two fingers. “Yo.”

 “He incinerated an entire platoon of reanimated. I cannot permit such a dangerous presence to go unchecked without the Council’s knowledge. He is a living weapon."

 Itaru looked to the side and put a palm to his cheek, feigning shyness. “Oh my… blondes don’t do it for me usually but you just might make me change my mind if you keep the flattery up.”

 Izumi clasped her hands together. “Sakyo, please just look this over for a bit. Itaru really isn’t that bad, he just holes up in his room and plays video games like a geek! The only reason he listened to me was because I promised him Red Bull!”

 Yeah, he threatened to kill her every now and then, but he wasn’t outright evil. Plus, he was a good failsafe defense system when things got dangerous. She’d also just gotten kind of fond of having his personality around even if he was snippety and cold.

 Sakyo winced. “Have you found his summoner yet?”

 “No,” she said, refusing to look at Misumi.

 Sakyo pursed his lips. “I will permit it for a time being. But I will urge you to bring this to the Council’s opinion as soon as possible. Of your own volition.”

 “I promise.” (She crossed her fingers behind her back so it didn’t count.) “Uhhh… about the guys who saw him. I don’t suppose you could ask them to just, like, not mention it?”

 He chuckled dryly. “My men work for me, not the Council. They will turn a blind eye if I command it.”

 “You’re not cool,” Tsuzuru said sharply. “I want to make that clear for everyone impressionable here,” a thumb jab in Sakuya’s direction, “and yourself. You are not cool. Stop trying to say cool things.”

 “I’ll be sure to pay a surprise inspection of the Minagi Labs soon.”

 “I hope you choke on your breakfast.”

 Izumi clapped her hands. “Well! If that’s all, we really could use some time to freshen up.”

 Sakyo stared at her bloody sleeve. “May I?”

 “Um? Sure?”

 He walked closer and went down on one knee to inspect her arm. Masumi scowled.

 Sakyo looked at the deep gash in the flesh that still oozed blood gently. A strange look overcame him before he covered the mark with a gloved hand.

 “You should be more careful with yourself,” he said softly.

 Tsuzuru waved his arm. “I got bit too, Furuichi. You gonna propose to me next?”

 Izumi laughed and took her hand away. “I’ll be fine.”

 “At least let me call a medic,” Sakyo urged. “It’s deep. You’ll need stitches to repel infection and I’d rather you not go to a hospital. I can assure you that Taylor is the best in his craft.”

 “Well… okay.”

 Sakyo stood up and nodded. “Then good day, Miss Tach… Director. Expect the medic here within the hour. I’ll be off now. Call me if anything else arises.”

 “Crack,” Tsuzuru muttered, waving the invisible whip again.

 They both ignored him.

 Sakyo closed the front door and Izumi collapsed onto the couch, moaning into a cushion.

 “You kids are going to get me in jail,” she whimpered. “God. What am I even doing?”

 “That’s what I’ve been asking!” Tsuzuru snapped.

 Muku smiled gently. “Ahhh… Mister Furuichi is so cool, isn’t he? I’d like to be like that one day.”

 “No, he is not!” Tsuzuru yelled. “No, you don’t!"

 “Muku, can you ask your cousin to come back out with the little necromancer?” Izumi asked.

 He jumped, startled. “Right!”

 Misumi leaned his head back and yawned. “Director… Can I go get some more sleep?”

 “Of course you can. Itaru, Masumi, Sakuya, you all can go too.”

 Itaru snapped his fingers and summoned a garish purple throne made from what looked like silk and bone. “I’d much rather stay. A necromancer is interesting and I suppose my server can do without my presence for a little longer.”

 “I wanna stay too!” Sakuya insisted. “I know Banri from school, if he’s actually going to join the Coven then I wanna watch! We could become friends.”

 Masumi sat down beside her. “Don’t wanna leave you alone.”

 She rubbed her forehead. Troublesome, the lot of them. But she found it a little endearing, too.

 “Tenma?”

 The Hunter frowned and looked away. “…Whatever. I’m going back to sleep. I don’t get any of you.”

 “Back to sleep? You didn’t even do anything,” Masumi muttered.

 Tenma bloomed every shade of red imaginable. “S-SHUT UP!”

 Izumi suddenly had a very, very, very bad feeling. She loved (well, at the very least liked) all of the people in the Coven but… she’d have to be blind and then some to not realize that she shared a living space with a few dickheads.

 Tsuzuru let out a pfft into his palm. “Oh right. I almost forgot. When that zombie was on top of me trying to eat my insides, you were frozen, weren’t you, Tenma? Who would have thought, all that clout to the Sumeragi name and their heir is a coward.”

 “STOP TALKING, STOP TALKING RIGHT NOW.”

 “Ehhhh,” Itaru drawled, inspecting his fingernails. “A Hunter that dared challenge me, cowering when the chips are in play? Humiliating.”

 Tears pricked in the corner of Tenma’s eyes as the blush spread to his ears and his neck. “I HATE ALL OF YOU.

 Misumi jumped forward and grabbed Tenma’s hands in his. “It’s okay, Tenma, I still like you a lot!”

 “W-Witch…”

 “Even if you’re a total scaredy pants!”

 Tenma snatched his hands away and ran to his room. “SCREW ALL OF YOU! DIE! SEE IF I CARE! JUST DIE!”

 Citron smiled. “He is a fiery one, is he not?"


 Banri was unceremoniously dumped onto one of the kitchen chairs and pushed to be across from Izumi. Which wasn’t a show of strength to belittle him, in full honesty, she just wasn’t confident at all in her abilities to walk.

 “So!” she said, offering a smile. “Summoned the living dead, huh?”

 Banri shrugged, as best as he could while tied up. “If it helps, I didn’t mean to. I just wanted to bring Hyodo back to life.”

 “A friend of yours?”

 “Fuck no.”

 She clicked her tongue. “Banri, I don’t like it when kids use cuss words. I know it’s a little old fashioned but I’d really like it if you didn’t curse until you turn eighteen. Can you respect that rule?”

 He raised an eyebrow. “Are you kidding? Seriously?”

 “Oddy enough, she’s serious,” Tsuzuru called from his lounge in the arm chair.

 The teen looked away. “Whatever.”

 “Great! So have you ever done magic before?”

 Banri scoffed. “I mean, besides seeing Hyodo out on the streets in the middle of the night, no.”

 “Your parents magic?”

 Banri actually cringed. “My dad is an accountant. My mom is an actuary.”

 “Oh.” Izumi shivered. “The opposite of magic then. Well, Firstborn, like I’d assumed.” She glanced to Citron. “You know what affinity he is?”

 Citron shook his head though he squinted. “It is strange, but no.”

 “Ah, well. Time for the basic test. Sakuya, can you bring us a glass of water?”

 “Right!”

 Muku raised his hand. “Um… excuse me, sorry. Affinity? Test?”

 Izumi blinked. “Ah. Now that I think about it, you never took the test. The water test is something we use to determine a magician’s affinity. It’s old-fashioned but it works really well. Witches make the water bubble, Casters make the water glow. Seers make the water ripple, and Hunters repel water.”

“What do any of those words mean?” Banri asked.

 Izumi waved her hand. “Due time, due time.”

 Sakuya placed a glass of water on the table and snapped his fingers. The red twine around Banri disappeared. He stretched his arms, letting blood move freely once more.

 “Put your finger in the water and say adfinitas, please,” Izumi said politely.

 Banri stuck his middle finger in, which she chose to not comment on. “Adfinitas.”

 Nothing happened.

 Muku scratched his head. “So what affinity is he?”

 “Say it again,” Izumi commanded.

 “Adfinitas.”

 Nothing.

 “What,” Tsuzuru dead-panned.

 Izumi felt her headache spike. “Again!”

 “Nothing is happening!”

 “Just do it!”

 “Adfinitas!

 …Nothing.

 Izumi put her face in her palms and choked down another swelling urge to just cry. That didn’t make sense.

 “You sure he’s magic?” Tsuzuru asked.

 “He summoned an entire battalion of zombies! What other explanation is there?!”

 Banri threw his head back and groaned. “You’re all so weird. Why isn’t the test working? Y’all sure you aren’t just a bunch of frauds?”

 Itaru rose from his makeshift throne. “Excuse me. Can I take a look?”

 Izumi waved a hand. “Go ahead. Banri, this is Itaru, a demon friend of ours.”

 “A demon? Like hell?” 

 Itaru gave a sweeping, dramatic bow. “Pleased to make your acquaintance.”

 Banri nodded. “Cool, dude. If my parole officer’s any good at predictions, I’ll be seeing you in a few decades. They got any comfy beds down in hell?”

 “We have pools of fire for sinners."

 Their guest clicked his tongue. “Sucks. You got a king?”

 “Of sorts. Human rulership is difficult to apply to the realm of the underworld.”

 “Cool, I’ll just organize a revolution when I get down there or something.”

 Itaru leaned forward and took Banri’s chin in his claws. He peered deep into the boy’s eyes. They all waited. Then the demon stepped back and quite literally spat onto the carpet.

 “What is wrong with you!” Izumi wailed. “That’s expensive!”

 “He’s not a magician,” Itaru said with scorn. “He’s blessed.”

 Tsuzuru fell off his arm chair.

 Citron clapped his hands. “I see! It would explain your aura!"

 Sakuya stood up, his eyes glowing as they always did whenever he heard an unfamiliar term. “What does blessed mean?”

 “I’d love to know too,” Banri said.

 Itaru crossed his arms. His lips twisted into something so disgusted and upset, Izumi was surprised Banri didn’t just explode into pieces then and there. “Let me guess. Exceptionally good at anything you attempt? Never gotten sick before? Luck always seems to be on your side?”

 “You stalkin’ me, bro?”

 Itaru retched in the back of his throat. “Blessed.” He said it with the same tone someone would use to say syphilis.

 “I quit,” Tsuzuru said immediately. “I can’t do it anymore. I don’t want to stay in this Coven. I quit.”

 “What does blessed mean?” Sakuya pressed.

 Izumi took in a slow, deep breath to calm her nerves. “Sakuya, you know how Itaru is a demon from hell, and how he can kill just about anything he wants to?”

 “He’s also really good at Mario Kart!”

 “Demons have the ability to curse Bloodlines as well. It’s… ugly. Very, very evil and dark. It’s worse than just killing them off, it curses every generation to be born with deformities, illness, failure. Inescapable tragedy at every turn. It makes their birth a sin.” Izumi shuddered. “When people talk about a fate worse than death, a demon’s curse is a prime example.”

 “On the other hand,” Tsuzuru said as he struggled to sit up. “Angels can bless people.”

 Sakuya squeaked. “There are angels?”

 Itaru growled. “They wear white and they have wings but the resemblances end there. You think I’m an asshole? I’m downright fuzz off a peach compared to those self-righteous bastards.”

 Banri shrugged. “Sounds about right, though. Dunno if my whole family’s blessed but I’m definitely up there.”

 Izumi leaned back on the couch and wondered when things had started to become so complicated. A blessed child. She weighed the choices in her mind and came to a decision.

 “Join the Coven,” she said to the boy.

 Tsuzuru moaned. “There it is.”

 Banri shrugged. “Cool.”

 “That easily?” Izumi asked.

 “I dunno. Sounds interesting. Life gets boring when you can do anything you want.” He shrugged again. “Might as well join a group of people who know what’s up. Sounds better than crawling on Reddit for hours, anyway.”

 Sakuya blinked several times and then asked the room at large, “So what can blessed people do in terms of magic?”

 “Everything,” Tsuzuru said flatly.

 “OP hacks,” Itaru agreed.

 Izumi winced. “Well, they’re a jack of all trades. They can do all types of magic, just maybe not as skillfully as those born with affinity. Few blessed make their way into the magic world as is, most are fine with living among the magic-less and being the cream of the crop there. But if Banri’s got luck, we definitely need it. Maybe it’ll calm things down for us…?”

 “That’s wishful thinking, Director,” Tsuzuru muttered.

 “Maybe, but it’s what I’ve got.” She turned her gaze to the wraith. “You on the other hand…”

 Muku stepped in front of his cousin and clasped his hands together. “Please let him stay, Director. If Ju-chan causes trouble, I-I’ll take responsibility. He’s super, duper strong! Was when he was alive, and even now.” He threw a glowing smile over his shoulder. “He saved me.”

 Juza looked away. “…Wasn’t anythin’.”

 “Hold up.” Banri stood. “If Hyodo ain’t joining, neither am I.”

 Citron spun in a circle with the back of his hand to his forehead. “Ah, comrades. Such a beautiful thing to witness!”

 “I swore that I’d beat this fuckhead into the—stop looking at me like that. FINE. This jerk into the dirt, even if he was a ghost. That hasn’t changed.”

 Izumi tried to process that. “So… so you tried to, uh. Reincarnate this guy, because… because you wanted to fight him?”

 “Damn right, lady.”

 She threw a poisonous glare to Tsuzuru. “This is the problem with your generation. None of you make sense.”

 “The group you’ve been witness to is a terrible, terrible example of my age group,” the Caster said.

 Banri sneered. "I'll wipe the floor with you, Hyodo. You've got a physical form or whatever now so expect my fist in your face soon."

 Muku yelled, “STOP BULLYING HIM!” with tears welling up in his eyes.

 Izumi raised her hands to stop it all. “Enough.”

 They all went quiet.

 “Citron, what can you tell about Juza?”

 The Seer smiled softly. “He was the ghost I saw with Muku when fate led our paths to cross. Although he has knife fingers—“

 “Talons,” Tsuzuru interrupted.

 “Jimmy Fallons—“

 “What? That wasn’t even close, were you listening to me?”

 “—he bears no ill will to anybody in this Coven. I would even go so far as to say that Juza became this,” he gestured, “as a reaction to save Muku. A grudge against those who have cruel intentions for his family, perhaps. A hazard guess.”

 Muku slowly turned. “Ju-chan… you were the ghost following me around?”

 The wraith furrowed his brow, eyes trained to the ground. He shoved his clawed hands into his ephemeral pockets. “Sorry. Bothered you. Didn’t know where else to go, though.”

 “N-No! It’s okay.” Muku’s face scrunched up as his tears fell heavily. He wiped his eyes. “I’m s-s-sorry I didn’t see you before now. You must have been so lonely, Ju-chan.”

 Juza patted Muku’s head, gentle as foxtail with those razor sharp talons. “Nah.”

 Banri interrupted the moment with a rude retching sound. “Gross. You can’t pull off close to a fuckin’ heartwarming look with that ugly mug, Hyodo.”

 “Hah? Shut up, Settsu.”

 “Make me, Casper.”

 “Altar boy.”

 “ENOUGH!” Izumi snapped. God, she wouldn’t be able to keep up with these youngsters. She needed to find some older people in this city to hang out with. “I’ll trust Citron on this one. Juza, you can stay.”

 The wraith ducked his head. “…Thanks.”

 “Ju-chan!” Muku wailed, throwing his arms around his cousin.

 Tsuzuru gave her a look that said When can I hand in my resignation letter? She threw him one right back that said Over my dead body. You think I’m going to handle this on my own?

 Citron cleared his throat. “Director. Someone will be at the door soon.”

 “Ah? Oh, the medic. Can you let him in? His name was Taylor, right?”

 “Of course.”

 Banri got up. “I should get home soon. Sun’s gonna come up and my parents will get pissed if they found out I broke out again. I’ll swing by after my nap.”

 “You have school, Banri,” Izumi said sharply. “I’m not going to call you in sick. I don’t even have guardianship over you.”

 He scoffed. “I’ll skip. I’m tired as shit.”

 “Banri!

 “I’m tired as crap,” he remedied. “See ya. Hyodo, you better not go back to being air or I’ll seriously kill you.”

 The wraith made a sharp tsk sound and didn’t even reply.

 And so, the walking grace of God shambled out of the living room and Izumi let herself relax. Until a young girl walked in with Citron, dressed in the frilliest, girliest rose pink dress she’d ever seen.

 “I work on commission for that ugly council dog so I’m getting paid tons for the emerency hours,” she said in complete monotone, “but I hate being woken up this early. I hope you don’t get too upset if I stab you with a needle too hard.”

 Izumi could only summing a small grin. “Ah, Taylor, right? I’d been expecting a boy.”

 “I am a boy,” the newcomer retorted. “You’re so close-minded for assuming. Just because I’m wearing a dress? Boomer.”

 “Boom—“ Izumi actually choked. She’d never been called a boomer before. It was kind of a slap to the face. “Sorry. My bad. Um… so, Taylor, are you a healer?”

 “I’m Yuki,” he said sharply. “And my code name is Tailor, not Taylor. I’m here to stitch you up.” He reached into his little red purse and removed a small sewing kit. “Literally.”

 Oh, mother of Christ. Izumi could not remember a single day in her life she hated more than this one.

Chapter Text

 The Tailor looked around and clicked his tongue. “Am I going to do this with an audience?”

  "Yikes. I actually really dislike needles so I’ll be in my room, Director,” Sakuya said and hurriedly made his exit. 

 “Ah!” Muku exclaimed and clapped his hands. “I knew you were familiar. You’re Yuki Rurikawa!"

 “You guys know each other too?” Izumi asked. It was either through extreme coincidences that everyone seemed to know each other or Fate doing its thing again.

 Muku nodded. “He’s, um, he goes to school with me. We’re both Saint Flora students. I've seen him in the lunch room.”

 “Saint Flora?” Tsuzuru asked and screwed up his face. “Isn’t that a missionary school? Why would your parents send you somewhere like that.”

 “How can you judge them, aren’t you catholic?” Izumi whispered to him.

 "Just because I'm somewhat religious doesn't mean I'm fond of establishments formed from the word of God."

 Yuki’s eyes went half-lidded, gaze nearly dripping with disinterest. “Morning, Muku. I guess I won’t be seeing you in the halls today. You have a wraith standing behind you, in case you're unaware."

 “That’s Ju-chan! He’s my c-cousin.” Muku put a hand on Juza’s arm again. “I guess… I guess I can’t go to school. I’m a little too tired. And there’s so much I want to talk to Ju-chan about, I can’t—!"

 Citron placed a palm on both Muku and Juza’s backs, cutting the ramble off. “I think there is a conversation I must be having with these two. To my broom!”

 “Room,” Tsuzuru said.

 “To my room! Let us leave the director to get patched up.”

 Itaru vanished his chair and stood up. “I’ll be in my room as well. If you need me, simply don't. I expect my reward by tonight, the sooner the better.”

 Izumi winced. A trip to the grocery store was the last thing she needed today, but a promise was a promise. The demon walked off.

 Masumi didn’t say a word and didn’t make any move towards leaving.

 “Masumi, I’d rather you not watch,” Izumi said.

 He frowned. “I don’t want to leave your side.”

 “Kiddo, you are a real piece of work, you know that? Go to your room.”

 “There’s a dead body in my room.”

 “WHAT?”

 Tsuzuru shivered. “That must be the one that bit me. Masumi slew it, you know, give the kid a reward tonight for saving my life.”

 “I want you,” Masumi said immediately.

 “I meant like a slice of cake or something, cool your jets.”

 Izumi felt like all of this was just one of those things she would deal with when she wasn’t about to keel over. “Masumi, could you stay in Sakuya’s room then? I’ll call Sakyo right after about removing that… thing.”

 God, she hadn’t been in this Coven for even two months and already there was a dead body in one of her students’ rooms. How did it get like this?

 "…Fine.” He walked off with a yawn. Izumi hoped he would take a nap to make up for the lost hours of sleep.

 “Are there any magic-less in the building?” Yuki asked as soon as it was only him, Izumi, and Tsuzuru left.

 Izumi shook her head.

 “Good.”

 She watched the boy wave his hand and his entire body shimmer. Like a mirage, he disappeared. Where did he—?

 “Down here.”

 Izumi looked down and covered her mouth with her hand. “Oh my god.”

 Yuki scowled at his height of about a foot tall. He took off his hat and swept his hair behind his ears, showing off pointed tips. “What. You’ve never seen a brownie before?”

 “You’re so small.”

 “You’re really going to say that when I’m about to put a needle in you,” he said flatly. “I can forego the numbing medicine.”

 “But… But you’re so tiny!” she gushed. “Do all brownies do that? Walk around as humans?”

 Yuki shrugged and got to opening his sewing kit. “Most of us who live in cities do. Staying inside all the time is such a bummer. I’ve heard of some brownie clans in the countryside who walk around freely since there’s less risk of being seen.”

 “How do you do it?”

 “It’s just a basic glamour.” The needle was the size of a ruler in his tiny, tiny hand. “Original form just helps me with precision is all. Where’s the wound?”

 Izumi rolled up her sleeve and lay flat on the couch. She could barely hold back a coo as Yuki struggled to climb up the side for better access. He snapped his fingers and a syringe floated from his purse towards him.

 “This will sting for just a second,” the brownie told her before sinking the tip in near the bite and pressing down on the end.

 Izumi made a face at the pinch but, just as promised, the pain soon disappeared and numbness took over.

 “What potion is that?” she asked as Yuki threaded the needle with surgical thread.

 He scoffed. “It’s lidocaine. You magicians can’t go forty seconds without relying on magic, huh?”

 “How old are you, Yuki? Your human form doesn’t look any older than fifteen.”

 He rolled his eyes. “I’m fourteen.”

 “Muku’s age, then,” she mused. She paused. “Wait a second, fourteen?! Should you be doing this? You can’t have a license!”

 He jabbed the needle in a bit harder than necessary to silence her. “Show me a single human with a medical degree better at this than I am and maybe I’ll agree. You won’t be able to, so just shut up.”

 Izumi’s brow creased. “I guess I’m just a little concerned that Sakyo has you on payroll for these kinds of things? You’re a child.”

 “Well.” Yuki shrugged, not taking his eyes away from the job at hand. “Rough economy. We all find work where we can.”

 “Preach,” Tsuzuru said.

 The brownie finished sewing the flaps of her skin together and knotted the end of the thread, snipping with a pair of scissors. He bandaged Izumi up and pinned the dressing in place with a cute pink pin.

 “Keep it dry for a day. After, wash around the stitches with water twice a day until I come back to remove them. Understand?”

 Izumi sat up and moved her arm around. “Huh. You are absurdly good at this.”

 “Duh. Carry me over to Minagi.”

 Tsuzuru raised an eyebrow. “You know me?”

 Yuki’s glare was on the poisonous side as Izumi let him sit on her palm to make the transportation easier. “All the Bloodlines in this city are obnoxious and flamboyant and egotistical. You’re no different.”

 “My family's not that bad,” Tsuzuru said. His face went pale as Yuki waved over a second syringe and quickly looked away.

 Izumi combed through his hair with her fingers. “Not good with needles?”

 “I wouldn’t call myself the biggest fan of them, no.” He inhaled sharply at the prick and steadily let himself relax. He still refused to look at his arm when Yuki began stitching.

 “I suppose the Minagi Bloodline is… decently quiet.” Yuki shuddered. “At least you’re not like the Sumeragis.”

 Well, that was a surprise. Izumi knew that most Bloodlines were prideful and bordered on fanaticism no matter the city. Her family had been on the quiet side of Last Name Dignity but that may have been more in part to her father choosing to disappear when she turned 16. 

 Izumi didn't think there were magical creature Bloodlines in Japan, now that she thought about it. Only magicians.

 She walked to the kitchen. “Yuki, would you like to stay for breakfast? Would your parents be okay with that?”

 The brownie shrugged. “Whatever.”


 Muku refused to let go of his cousin’s arm. “I’m so glad you’re here again. You have no idea how much I m-missed you. All of us missed you.”

 Juza looked at a loss for words. He blinked and shifted his weight from foot to foot. “Uh. Sorry.”

 Citron closed the door behind him and took a seat on his bed, watching the two cousins speak to one another.

 “No! Don’t apologize, it’s not your fault.” Muku wiped his eyes again. “I’m a real mess, Ju-chan, I’m sorry. I just never, ever thought I would see you again. Gosh, I’m so nervous I can’t think right. Aunty’s going to be so happy to hear from you, Ku’s going to lose it—“

 “Muku,” Citron spoke up softly. “You cannot do that.”

 “I—“ The apprentice flinched and looked at his mentor. “Huh?”

 “You cannot act as a messenger between Juza and his family. Or anybody else, for that matter,” Citron said.

 Muku inched closer to the wraith. “Why not?”

 “It is not what we Seers do.”

 “What?”

 Citron shook his head. "You must not let them know that his spirit is here."

Muku curled his fingers into fists. “That’s not fair! I get to see him but his family can’t know he’s okay?"

 "Yes."

 "You don’t know how hard Aunty and Uncle and Kumon cried when Ju-chan d-d—“ He struggled. “Died. They were destroyed. You didn’t see that, you don't know how bad it g-got for them!”

 “But I do.” It was one of those rare moments where Citron didn’t have a smile on his face. “I see it everywhere, Muku. I see it all the time. But death is a part of living. Sometimes it is unfair but we cannot disrupt the process of closure.”

 “Ku missed school for a month because he couldn’t leave his house!” Muku yelled. “They sold their car because they don’t want to drive anymore, what are you saying! How can you be so cruel?”

 Citron closed his eyes. “Muku. When I was your age, a woman close to me lost her son. His ghost remained and I let her know that. She could not move on after she found out. Everywhere she went, she felt like she could see him. She could not let her son go and eventually spiraled into despair. That fate is crueler than letting them heal.”

 “BUT THAT’S NOT FAIR!” Muku repeated, louder this time. He wiped at his cheeks as the tears dripped down. “Why can I see him but not them? It’s not fair, it’s not fair, it’s not—“

 Citron held up a hand to silence him.

 He spoke, words firm. “Death is not fair, Muku. If you wish to bear the weight of putting Juza’s existence back into their life and tearing open the scar once more, that is your decision. But know it will only keep the hurt raw. It will fester.”

 “What’s the point of being able to See, then?” Muku asked.

 “We comfort lost souls. We guide those who cannot let go to the next land. We See the future and protect those we can. That is why we See, Muku. To help. Not to act as a bridge."

 Juza swallowed. “Muku. ’S fine. I don’t remember.”

 The younger whipped his head in his direction. “What?”

 “I don’t remember my parents.” Juza shoved his hands into his pockets. “I remember Kumon. I remember you. I don’t remember them. I don’t remember a lot. There’s no point if they’ve gotten over me.”

 “…No,” Muku whispered. “Ju-chan, you don’t have to lie. It’s okay.”

 “’S not a lie.”

 Muku’s lower lip quivered. His face scrunched up. He let out an angry sob and stormed out of Citron’s room, slamming his own shut upon reaching his dorm. Surely throwing himself upon his bed to cry in private.

 Citron dragged a hand over his face. “Thank you for your input.”

 “Nothing to thank.” Juza cleared his throat. “Thanks. For, uh, telling me to leave Muku alone back then. He needed it.”

 “Being able to See past the veil is a gift and a curse. Muku will learn that with time. He is young, the Sight is new to him.” Citron crossed his legs and let his lips curve into that more familiar, more comfortable smile. “Let us discuss you, Juza.”

 “Me?”

 “You are here, yes? Why not move on?”

 Juza hated this. He disliked talking in general but he hated answering probing questions more. “Dunno how.”

 Citron hummed. “Ah. Let me explain myself. Ghosts are here, usually, when they cannot accept their deaths because of regrets. Wraiths,” he pointed to Juza’s talons, “occur when there is a strong grudge. So what is your grudge, Juza?”

 “Can I just go,” he said in monotone.

 Citron laughed loudly. “Humor me, please!”

 He stood there in silence. The quiet stretched longer as neither spoke but at the same time refused to give in.

 Juza broke first. “I don’t remember a lot.”

 Citron tilted his head to the side, urging him to go on.

 “Muku. Kumon, too. He’s my, uh, younger brother. They got bullied sometimes.” Juza’s eyes would sear a hole through the floor if he stared any harder. “Guess… Don’t wanna leave ‘em to deal with shit on their own.”

 Citron put a hand on his chest and sighed. “It’s beautiful to witness! Familial love.”

 He rose from the mattress and stepped forward, planting both hands on the wraith’s shoulders. “Juza. You are not their keeper. You are allowed to move on.”

 “Not yet.” Juza inched away from the touch, weirded out by it after going so many months of feeling nothing. “They’re not ready.”

 “I suppose you are not doing harm. But you cannot be here forever, you know.”

 “I know.”

 More silence.

 “I’m gonna go check in on Muku,” Juza said and took his leave, phasing through the door rather than opening it.

 Citron fell back on the mattress and let out a long breath. Truly, he could not recall a time he’d felt so tired. His arms ached along with his head. Hoping that the Coven would remain peaceful when he woke up, he let himself drift off to sleep.


 Izumi sat at the kitchen table and, for the first time since college, tried to get breakfast ready using only magic. Rice was easy enough, she just flicked a finger and poured a few cups of grain and water into the rice cooker and turned it on. Her mother had taught her to always wash rice before cooking it but this was just one of those days she’d ignore that rule.

 Tsuzuru got off of the arm chair eventually and sat across from her. “Director, we need to talk about those corpses.”

 God, no. She didn’t want to. “Do we have to?”

 “You saw the slime they coughed up. Necromancy doesn’t do that. You know exactly what I do.”

 She did.

 “Someone’s been putting anti-magic into those dead bodies,” Tsuzuru hissed. “Someone’s been getting ready to do what that Banri kid did by accident. Someone has been manipulating dead bodies to become weapons.”

 “You’re jumping to conclusions.”

 “It’s the only conclusion to jump to. It can’t be a coincidence.”

 She refused to accept it. “It could be a side effect of Banri’s spell. We don’t know what he did exactly.”

 “If this was the only time we saw anti-magic tar I might believe you. But it’s not.” Tsuzuru’s voice was urgent and unrelenting. “Something is going on. Someone’s pulling strings and we don’t know what for but we do know it’s dangerous.”

 Izumi groaned. “Tsuzuru, we’re a Coven. There’s nothing we can do about it and there’s no reason we should. We’re here to protect our students and teach them magic, that’s all. If you have a problem, I recommend taking it up with your dad or the Council, not me.”

 “This goes beyond what we can or can’t do as a Coven, we’re talking about something that’s endangering every magician in this city.” Tsuzuru glanced at Yuki, who sat pleasantly on the couch scrolling through his phone. “And… I guess every magical creature too. The first sample was from a house spirit, after all.”

 She put her face in her hands. “What do you want from me. You wouldn’t be saying this if you didn’t need my stamp of approval for something.”

 “Don’t call Sakyo. I want access to that body in Masumi’s room. I want it moved to my lab.”

 “Tsuzuru, you can’t—“

 “Yes, I can.” The Caster folded his hands and refused to break eye contact. “And I can do it a hell of a lot better than anybody working for the Council. Director, please. You have to be on my side here, I’m begging you.”

 Her heart felt so heavy in her chest. “Tsuzuru, that’s a dead body. That’s a person.I can’t let you do that.”

 “It stopped being just a dead body when it spat on my Barrier and broke it in under ten seconds.”

 Izumi frowned deeply and rubbed her forehead.

 “Fine,” she relented. “Just… fine. I don’t care anymore.”

 Tsuzuru rose from the seat and tapped a knuckle onto the table. “Thank you very much. Now, I’m going to go to my room and sleep on a mattress for the next day. Can you be the one to move the cadaver?”

 “NO! I’M NOT GOING TO TOUCH A DEAD BODY!”

 Yuki looked up. “Dead body?”

 “STAY OUT OF THIS!”


 Banri dropped by that afternoon as promised. It took a while, but the first person to answer the door was that kid who said he went to school with him.

 “Banri!” Sakuya said warmly. “Come in! How was school?”

 “Dunno. Skipped like I said I would.” He kicked his sneakers off and strolled into the living room, where he found that Izumi woman passed out on the couch with a blanket drawn over her. “She still sleeping?”

 “Director had a really rough night. You want something to eat? We’ve got a few fruit snacks left but I need to make a run to the convenience store soon.”

 “Whatever. Where’s Hyodo?”

 Sakuya turned the kettle on. “Muku said his cousin left the Coven when the sun came up. I think he likes to walk around during the day since less people can see him. Matsukawa, ah, he’s the owner of the building, he went to pick up a pack of Red Bull because Director asked him to. I think everyone else is either in their rooms or sleeping, last night was crazy after all.”

 “Huh.” Banri sat down at the table and spread his legs. “So what do you do here?”

 “I learn magic. I’m a Firstborn Witch.”

 “The fuck’s a Firstborn Witch?”

 Sakuya cast an alarmed glance in Director’s way. She didn’t move.

 “Banri, you shouldn’t cuss like that, Director doesn’t like it,” Sakuya said gently. The kettle sang and he poured two cups of water. “Would you like tea or hot chocolate?”

 “Chocolate. You’re not answering my question.”

 “Well, I think it’s just a type of magician. I learn spells but I’m no good at getting a hang of most of them.” Sakuya opened a cabinet door. “Would you like marshmallows with yours?”

 “Thanks. You got a spell or something you can show me?”

 Sakuya hesitated. He rolled a marshmallow over in his fingers. If was small and very soft, so it would be fine, wouldn’t it? He turned around. With one hand, he started to write the Sticky Hands Rune that Kazunari had taught him, and with the other, he tossed the marshmallow high into the air. Sakuya shot the Rune forward and then tugged the marshmallow back into his palm, which it did with surprising strength.

 Banri leaned his chin on his hand. “So parlor tricks, basically.”

 Sakuya felt his cheeks grow hot. “M-Magic is usually lots cooler! I’m just no good, most of what I try out goes way too nuts.”

 He dropped the marshmallow into his cup and handed Banri the other.

 “So what’s she been teaching you here?” Banri asked as he sipped. He made a face. The cocoa was too sweet. How much powder had he put in?

 Sakuya ran through his past few lessons in his head. “Levitation, defensive magic, how to change some things to other things. Oh, we tried water summoning a while back but that…” He cleared his throat. He’d almost drowned poor Tsuzuru. “And Runes, too, but most of them are off limits to me since. You know. Nuts.”

 Banri placed the cup down. “So. Parlor tricks.”

 “No!”

 “You got any books or shit? Stop looking at me like that, I can say shit if I want to.”

 Sakuya squirmed. “Director doesn’t like it.”

 “Jesus, what’s wrong with you? Let me see what you’ve got.”

 “Um…!” Sakuya followed him down the hall. “My room’s the first one on the left, but I don’t have any more texts than what I’ve covered so far. The Director gives me a book on a lesson before we start it but not much else.”

 Banri’s hand froze on the doorknob. He didn’t bother going in. “Are you serious? Fuck, man, that’s so boring. Where are the other books kept then?”

 “The Director’s office, down that way—wait! Banri, stop it!”

 He ignored the Witch, opening the door and going in anyways. The office looked relatively bare. Just a desk, a computer, and bookshelves that lined the walls from the ceiling to the roof. It was more on instinct than anything else, but Banri went for the desk immediately. He rifled through the drawers’ contents.

 “Banri!” Sakuya hissed, not taking a step over the threshold. “Get out of there right now before I wake up the Director!”

 “Don’t be a wet blanket snitch,” he muttered, digging through a few folders that had nothing fun. He went for another drawer and found a pile of permission slips. “Cool. You guys can live here, then?”

 “Banri, I’m not kidding! Get out!”

 Banri took a form and folded it, slipping it into his back pocket. He rolled his eyes and shut the drawer with his knee. “Have you ever broken rules before in your life?”

 Sakuya glanced down the hall when the Director made some noise. But she was simply rolling over and burying her face into a cushion. “Not these rules. C’mon, I won’t tell on you if you just leave right now. I’ll teach you levitation, just…!”

 Banri grabbed Sakuya by his arm and forced him into the office, kicking the door close behind them. “There. Now you’re an accessory to the crime. If you want, just tell her I forced you to. Help me look through these books for something fun.”

 Sakuya’s brow furrowed and he bit his lower lip. The kid looked downright fretful. Banri ruffled his hair because he could, and then crouched down to begin reading through a few of the book spines.

 Sakuya huffed and tried to pat his hair back into order. “How old are you?”

 “Seventeen.”

 “Then I’m older than you, I just turned eighteen. So I have seniority and you should listen to me!”

 Banri gave him a withering look. “Do you think I give a shit about seniority? At all? C’mon, you know you want to.”

 Sakuya wavered. He looked at all of those leather-bound volumes that held so many secrets that he wanted to know, but that he wasn’t ready for yet. It wouldn’t… It wouldn’t hurt to just look, he figured. And it wasn’t like Banri was going to tell the Director what they were up to. He went to the opposite wall and nervously trailed his fingertips across a shelf.

 “Check it.” Banri waved a thick grimoire. “Spirit Imitation. That’s gotta be something.”

 “Banri… you’ve got this weird obsession with death, don’t you?” Sakuya asked.

 He scowled and started to flick through the pages, squinting to read the small print in the dying afternoon light. “Don’t think I get off to it or anything. I spent like two or three weeks trying to learn about ghosts because of Hyodo so I guess it’s just a conditioned reflex at this point.”

 Banri skimmed through a few of the chapter titles before stopping at one that really caught his eye. “Intangibility spell. C’mon, that sounds dope. You gonna try it out or should I?”

 “Neither of us!”

 “Cool, so me then.” Banri cleared his throat. “Nullum affectum.”

 A strange, buzzing sensation ran through his chest, then his legs, then his arms. Something like that numbness one felt before pins and needles. The book in his hands fell to the ground.

 “B-Banri?” Sakuya asked, reaching forward.

 The two boys watched Sakuya’s hand go clear through Banri’s arm. Banri felt nothing.

 “That is metal as fuck,” Banri commented. He took a step back and leaned on the desk, passing right through it. He stood there, just reveling in the absurdity of standing in the middle of something he shouldn’t be able to stand in. “Thaaaat is fucking metal.”

 “How long does it last?” Sakuya asked, bending down and picking up the book.

 “Ten minutes or whatever.” Banri poked his head through the window glass next. Passing through solid objects was oddly thrilling. His mind was already racing with all the misdemeanors he'd be able to accomplish with the spell. “You gonna try it or you gonna pussy out?”

 Sakuya stared down at the page. “If… If it’s only for ten minutes then… What’s the harm, right?”

 “There we go. Who knows, we might find a pair on you after all. Do it.”

 Sakuya put the book on the desk to make sure it wouldn’t fall through his palms like it had for Banri. After a moment of hesitation, he steeled his nerves and quickly repeated the enchantment.

 He looked down at himself.

 “Try walking through the desk,” Banri suggested.

 Sakuya did so and let out a small eep when he passed through the wood and metal embellishments. “Wow! This is amazing!”

 “When it wears off, we have to find a few more spells to try out.”

 “Oh… maybe.” Sakuya knew it wasn’t good to go behind the Director’s back but he was too swept up in the thrill of magic to care too much. “I never thought I could do something—hey, why are you getting taller?”

 Banri blinked. “I… dude, you’re falling.”

 “I’m huh?!”

 Sakuya stepped away from the desk and realized Banri was right. His feet were slowly falling through the wooden floorboards, making his whole body sink like quicksand.

 “Why am I falling?! Why not you?” Sakuya panicked. He struggled, trying to get out of the floor but failing.

 “The fuck? How am I supposed to know! You said your magic was stronger. Are you falling into a basement?”

 “There isn’t a basement!” Sakuya wailed. “Not that I know of!”

 Banri stretched out a hand to try to help him out but, unsurprisingly, his hands just passed through Sakuya entirely.

 “Crap, crap, crap, Banri, help!”

 “How the fuck am I supposed to help you?”

 Sakuya screamed, “GET THE DIRECTOR!”

 And, like the time Banri had accidentally set loose a deer inside of his middle school, he decided for the first time in a very long while to confess to his wrongdoings. Because the spell would wear off in a few minutes, and if Sakuya was in the dirt when that happened, well… Banri could say he was comfortable doing a long list of crimes but murder wasn’t one of them.

 “Director!” he yelled, passing through the wall land running for the living room. “DIRECTOR!”

 Izumi snorted and fell off the couch. “Huh? Huh? What? Banri? What are you doing here?”

 “Sakuya's, fucking headass, going through the floor! The intangibility spell, it’s doing somethin’ to him that isn’t for me, we need your help like now.

 “Language.” She rubbed her eyes and frowned deeply, like she was processing his words at the slowest pace imaginable. She stood up. “What?”

 Banri stuck his hand through her stomach. Izumi looked at it.

 “Hm.”

 She rubbed her eyes again. She stilled. Something must have clicked.

 “YOU BROKE INTO MY OFFICE?” she roared.

 “Now is not the time!”

 “YOU HAVE BEEN IN THIS COVEN FOR LESS THAN TWENTY-FOUR HOURS, ARE YOU KIDDING ME? ARE YOU ABSOLUTELY STUPID? DO YOU HAVE ANY IDEA HOW DANGEROUS THE SPELLS I HAVE STORED IN THERE CAN BE?”

 Banri took in a deep breath and yelled, “SAKUYA IS GOING THROUGH THE FLOOR!

 Izumi ran right through him. “I’LL DEAL WITH YOU LATER!”

 Banri hurried after her and could only stand aside when she threw the door open and hurled her body towards the boy who was up to his chest in the floorboards.

 “Sakuya, are you okay?” she asked. She spotted the open book on the desk and lunged for it, immediately flipped through for a reverse spell.

 Sakuya looked near tears but at the same time too scared to let them fall. “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry, I know I shouldn’t have done it, it’s my fault, I’m sorry, I’m so, so sorry, please don’t let me die!”

 “You’re not going to die,” Izumi spat. “But I am going to KILL you when I get you out of this mess, do you hear me?”

 “Yes, b-but—“ Sakuya screamed when he dropped a few more inches. He was to his neck now and clawing at the ground with no effect. “DIRECTOR!”

 “Don’t work yourself up, you are not going to die, not if I have anything to say about it.”

 But she was lying to herself, she was lying straight through her teeth. There wasn’t a reversal spell, and even if there had been, this book was well past her abilities. God, think, think… she had to think.

 “Director!” Sakuya screeched, holding his chin high as he sank further and further.

 “Get Itaru, now!” she yelled at Banri.

 “Who?”

 “THE FREELOADING GOAT BOY DOWN THE HALL!”

 “Right.” The boy disappeared. Izumi shut the book and tried to cup her hands around Sakuya’s face despite feeling nothing there. “Listen to me, kiddo, you’re going to be fine. This isn’t supposed to happen with intangibility spells, but just stay calm. We’re going to come get you.”

 The tears finally overflowed. “Director, I’m really, really scared of confined spaces. I don’t want to be buried alive.”

 “This isn’t the time for a clever pun but you dug your own grave on this one.” Izumi smiled gently as Sakuya let out a despairing chuckle at that. “You’re going to be okay, I swear on my life. On my honor as a Tachibana Witch, you understand?”

 “I believe you.” To his nose now and his words were muffled. His eyes shone wet with tears. “I’m sorry.”

 “It’s fine, I’m sure I did something just like this when I was a little younger than you.”

 Forehead. Only his hair was there now. Izumi clasped her hands together and shot up a quick prayer, despite not being religious to any extent but needing to cover every base to insure that Sakuya would be okay. 

 “I thought I told you not to bother me for the rest of the day,” Itaru said, leaning on the doorway. “What is it now?”

 She looked up at him. She pointed to the ground. “Sakuya.”

 “Have you lost it finally? I figured it would happen sooner or later but this seems early.”

 “Sakuya did an Intangibility spell and sank through the floor.”

 Itaru’s eyebrows raised and his shoulders lit on fire. Izumi was steadily beginning to learn that that happened whenever the demon got upset or surprised. He looked at the bit of floor she was pointing out.

 “We need to save him,” Itaru said finally. “He has too much talent to be left for dead.”

 “Good to know we're on the same page.”

 Itaru scowled. “Let me guess. You want me to destroy the flooring.”

 Izumi closed her eyes, already envisioning the massive carpenter bill. “Yes.”

 Itaru cracked his fingers and waved her aside. “Move. You don’t want to get caught in this.”

 She backed away and pressed against a shelf. A ring of fire appeared, much like the ones that did whenever Itaru summoned something from thin air. The demon let out a heavy grunt and made a fist. The ring of fire lowered and seared the floorboards, filling the air with the smell of burning wood. Lower and lower, the ring went, beginning to spin furiously.

 Itaru opened his fist and the flames burst.

 When the heat died out, Izumi peered down the newly created hole. Sakuya was not at the bottom, but something else was.

 “What is that,” she said flatly to the sheet of metal a foot beneath where she stood.

 Itaru walked forward and reached down to knock his knuckles against it. It rang hollow.

 “There’s a room underneath it,” he said. “Basement?”

 “We don’t have a basement.”

 Itaru crossed his arms. “Turns out you do. Surprise."


 It was pitch black underground. Sakuya drew his knees to his chest and buried his face in them. He might not have been able to feel the dirt and stone that surrounded him on all sides, but he could feel himself. He could feel his jeans which he rubbed his cheek against to try to calm down.

 He hated tight enclosures. Knowing he was, for all intents and purposes, buried made him want to vomit.

 So he thought instead of nice things. 

 He thought of a wide, grassy field with dandelion and flowers. Maybe a few trees to offer shade. By a river, where he could take his shoes off and sink his feet into. It would be nice if they could all take a day off soon and have a picnic.

 He could sit by the stream and Masumi would be there next to him, even if the younger boy was wearing that bored face. Banri would be on his other side. And Itaru… he didn’t seem to be the type to like the outdoors or the sun, but this was Sakuya’s imagination so he’d ignore that. Itaru would sit on the picnic blanket holding his Nintendo Switch and not paying mind to anyone. Juza would sit next to him, also in the shade. Matsukawa would man the barbecue despite burning all of the patties and hot dogs. The Director would stand behind him and lament about the char.

 Tsuzuru, Kazunari, Citron, and Misumi would play volleyball with a poorly set up net. Muku would be the referee.

 He wondered if anyone in the Coven knew how to play the guitar. Tenma looked like he could, maybe. Tenma would play the guitar and they would all sit around to listen and enjoy it.

 Like a family.

 Sakuya smiled to himself a little bit.

 Stupid. He was stupid. But it was his own thoughts so it was fine.

 His skin prickled like he was getting pricked everywhere with a million tiny needles. He groaned and curled up tighter. This wasn’t good. 

 Someone, please save me.

 Feeling was coming back. Sakuya took in a deep, deep breath and held it.

 A few seconds passed before he realized that he felt ground underneath his butt. He experimentally waved his hands. Open space? Not… dirt? He stood up for a moment and took a few steps forward, hands outstretched. He touched a cold wall.

 He was in a room.

 Sakuya swallowed nervously and brought his palms together to summon a ball of fire. It didn’t offer much light, but it was better than being in the dark. The wall he was at was completely made of gray stone. The room… looked relatively bare except for a few bookshelves and a wooden table. He touched it and made a face. The wood was soft with rot and age.

 What was this place? He leaned down and touched his fingers to the strange circle of Runes carved onto the floor. It looked kind of like Misumi’s. It was as big as two dorms combined; spacey but far from the training room in size. He couldn’t see any lightbulbs on the ceiling and the thick layer of dust made it clear that that it’d been some time since anyone else had been in there.

 He reached for the small leather book on the table. With his left hand, he kept the fire going. With the right, he opened the crisp, yellowing pages that were barely intact due to age and the unfortunate dank environment.

 Hakkaku Watanabe.

 A journal?

 More from a reflexive respect for privacy than anything else, Sakuya shut the book and put it back where he’d found it. Priorities. He had to find a door. There were stone stairs that led up to a trapdoor on the ceiling with an iron handle.

 Sakuya climbed up and tried it. Locked, of course. He took another step up and pressed his back and shoulder against it, straining against whatever rusted lock was holding it down. He wasn’t sure if it was his imagination or what, but he could have sworn he heard someone on the other side. 

 He took in a deep breath and extinguished his fire. With both hands against the trap door, along with a shoulder and the side of his head, he put strength into his legs and surged up.

 A part of the door splintered before the trapdoor opened with a BANG.

 Tenma let out a hysterical scream and covered himself with a towel. “WHAT THE FUCK!

 Sakuya looked around. Hot steam from the ready bath started making him sweat. He was in… the bathroom? 

 A trap door in the bathroom floor. It explained why it was so uncomfortably moist in the room. And it was probably hidden amongst the tiles.

 “Sorry, Tenma!” Sakuya said quickly as he climbed out. He threw the door to the bathroom open.

 “DO YOU MIND? I DON’T HAVE CLOTHES ON!” Tenma roared.

 “Put some on, then!” Sakuya yelled as he ran out. “Director! Director, there’s a hidden room! It’s in the bathroom! Come quick!”

 “WAIT, NO! DON’T!

Chapter Text

 Izumi hugged Sakuya so tightly, he had trouble breathing right. “I’m so glad you’re okay. I’m so glad. You must have been scared out of your wits, I’m sorry I couldn’t help you any sooner.”

 He closed his eyes and just enjoyed the comfort and physical contact.

 Then Izumi tore herself away and began shaking him. “You little BRAT, do you have any idea how dangerous what you did was? You could have gotten yourself killed! Why do you think I keep those books away from you, huh? Did you even think about what you were going to do! Did you have a singular thought running through your head? I’m so upset with you right now I don’t even know what to say!”

 He ducked his head. “Sorry.”

 She pressed her lips into a thin line. “You were already scared so I think that’s a portion of your punishment. Three days without magic, Sakuya. I better not see you practicing even a levitation for the next seventy-two hours, understand me?”

 He nodded. “Yes.”

 “Good.” Izumi took in a deep breath to calm herself down and then whirled to face Banri. “AND YOU!

 The boy raised an eyebrow. “Wow. Your tone changed fast. Favoritism much?”

 “This is the second time you’ve almost gotten Sakuya killed!”

 Banri shrugged. “My bad.”

 “Your b—?!” Izumi closed her eyes. “How do I punish you. I don’t know you well enough yet to know what would be a proper punishment.”

 Banri sneered. “Good luck trying.”

 Ah. He was one of those. The rebellious teen that didn’t listen to besmirches, couldn’t be put down by anything. That was a nuisance. Masumi could be punished by being sent to his room to be on his own for a while Sakuya could be punished by taking away his right to practice magic. Tenma would get a heaping pile of vegetables with his dinner and not be allowed to leave the table until he finished them all. Muku was a sweetheart who never needed punishing, but if it came to it, she knew all she had to do was take away his shelf of manga for a week.

 But Banri? Oh, she’d have to consult a few internet forums to find out a way to punish him.

 “Go home, Banri,” Izumi said finally. “I’ll deal with you tomorrow. I expect you here bright and early.”

 Banri let out a rude ugh sound. “I’m seventeen. I don’t do bright and early.”

 “You will if you want to learn magic properly. Expect a decent punishment delivered as well.” Izumi hugged Sakuya tightly one more time. “I’m still mad at you, I’m just happy you’re alive.”

 “It’s okay, I’m happy I’m alive too,” Sakuya said, hugging her back. “I’m sorry. I won’t go into your office again. It was a really bad lapse of judgement on my part.”

 Izumi sighed and just looked at him for a moment. With his bright eyes and soft, pudgy cheeks that still had a bit of baby fat to them. She pinched them. “How can you be such a dummy and so mature at the same time?”

 He chuckled awkwardly. “Uh, I guess I’m just heavily impacted by the peers I choose to surround myself with.”

 “Clearly.”

 Banri tapped his foot on the floor. “Am I just chopped liver? Hello, I’m here too.”

 “Are you? Go home,” Izumi said flatly and flicked a finger on his forehead.

 “Can I stay for dinner, at least? I’m starving.”

 Izumi told herself to say no. “Yes.” Damn it.


 “Curry again?” Tsuzuru complained as he dipped into the kitchen. “God, how can you expect us to eat this every night?”

 Masumi looked up. “I could eat your curry every day for the rest of my life.”

 Banri stared at the Hunter and jabbed a thumb in his direction as he turned to Tenma. “The fuck is his deal?”

 “Don’t ask,” Tenma muttered.

 Tsuzuru grabbed his plate and moved to go to the lab.

 “Hold on!” Izumi chided, smacking a ladle on the side of the pot to get his attention. “Eat your meals at the table, please, not in your lab.”

 “But I’m busy.”

 “And I don’t care. You will eat at the table or not at all.”

 Tsuzuru tilted his head back and groaned. Matsukawa entered the kitchen, sopping wet. He set down the wholesale pack of Red Bull cans and leaned back to straighten the cricks in his back.

 “Boy, oh boy, it’s really pouring out there!” he said cheerfully and wiped his glasses. He put them back on and stared at Banri. “Hm. You’re not familiar.”

 “I’m new,” Banri said simply, raising a spoonful of curry rice to his mouth.

 “That’s just dandy!” Matsukawa placed a slightly wet envelope on the table. “Director, you have a letter from the Council.”

 Tsuzuru immediately spat, “Motherf—“ He drowned the end of the word out in a cough.

 Tenma clicked his tongue and scowled. “Ugh.”

 Banri leaned over. “Council? What Council?”

 “A group of asshats—“ Izumi flicked his head. “OW. Jerks that think they own the entire city and every magician living in it. Talk about a complete circle jerk of—OW! CIRCLE JERK ISN’T EVEN A SWEAR!

 “What’s a circle jerk?” Muku asked with wide eyes.

 Izumi slammed a raw carrot on the table by Tenma’s hand. “Eat this as your punishment. This is why we don’t use coarse language under this roof, Tenma!”

 He bit on the carrot solemnly.

 Tsuzuru snatched the envelope. “Mind if I take a look?”

 Citron quietly placed a glass of water beside Tenma.

 Izumi snatched it back. “Not your name on the address field, Minagi. Keep your hands to your dinner and off my mail."

 She tore the flap open and removed the letter. Well, it wasn’t so much a letter as a card. Three cards, one addressed to her, one for Sakuya, and one for Muku. She looked puzzled as she started reading her own. “Uh… It says I’m cordially invited to Mayor Reni’s Bi-Annual Ball on the twentieth of March?”

 Tenma choked on his carrot and retched in an effort to clear his airway. Misumi and Banri both slapped his back. The Sumeragi heir reached for the glass of water Citron had prepared for him.

 Tsuzuru shot out of his chair and grabbed the card from Izumi’s hands. “Fuck you, no it doesn’t.”

 “DO I NEED TO ESTABLISH A SWEAR JAR?” Izumi reached for a mug and slammed it on the kitchen counter. “You know what? Any time someone under eighteen swears, or someone swears in front of minors, you’re dropping a coin in here. Everyone understand?”

 “I’m poor,” Tsuzuru said bitterly. He opened the card and stared at the words written in pretty cursive. He threw it at Tenma to see next. “Unbelievable. Absolutely unbelievable. I hate it here. I hate it here so, so much.” He picked up his dinner plate and stormed to his lab.

 “Hey! What did I just say about eating—?”

 “SHOVE IT!” Tsuzuru yelled and slammed the door shut.

 Izumi stared at it. She couldn’t remember a time Tsuzuru looked genuinely angry. Pissed off, tired, a little feather-ruffled, sure. But really angry? Never. She cleared her throat and turned back to the dinner table where everyone was looking at her.

 “Keep eating,” she said briskly.

 Tenma closed the card and put it down, staring into the distance. His lips were drawn into a thin white line. “May I please be excuse from the table?”

 “Uh… you didn’t finish your c—“

 He crammed the vegetable into his mouth and rose from his seat. He stomped towards his dorm room.

 “What the heeeeeee… heck was that,” Banri said flatly.

 Izumi sighed. “Not sure.” She glanced to Matsukawa. “You have any clue?”

 He smiled apologetically. “I do. Perhaps we need to discuss this in private?”

 “Right. My office. You guys keep eating. Banri, you can leave after you finish.”

 She and Matsukawa went to the office. He looked at the hole in the ground but thankfully didn’t question it. They sat on opposite sides of the desk. 

 “So what was that about?” Izumi asked.

 “You already know the issues the Council has regarding the Bloodlines.”

 “It’s just a matter of pride, isn’t it?”

 Matsukawa nodded. “Unfortunately. While most of the time, it’s a back and forth between the Council establishing laws and issuing search warrants of houses and Bloodlines refusing to comply or just flat-out ignoring their authority, there is one matter that gets under the skins of Bloodlines.”

 She held up the card. “This ball?”

 “It’s a party that Mayor Reni holds twice a year. Ignoring the fact that it’s exorbitant and fancy and allegedly a very fun party, it’s also the one event that draws in several prominent magicians across the entire country to our small city. It is THE social event for magicians here.”

 Izumi felt a laugh bubble in her stomach. “…And the, uh, rebellious Bloodlines aren’t invited?”

 “They are not.”

 She covered her face with her hands. Get a grip on yourself. “The Minagis and the Sumeragis aren’t invited?”

 “Along with a few others.”

 Izumi couldn’t help it. She started laughing so hard she was choking on her own spit. She pounded the desk’s surface with her fist and wheezed.

 Tsuzuru kicked the wall from the other side. “SHUT UP!”

 That only made her laugh harder.


 “Are you still mad?” Izumi asked as Tsuzuru swept into the kitchen and opened the fridge door. The clock had just hit 2 AM but after sleeping in for most of the day, it looked like neither of them could go to bed.

 He didn’t speak to her. He only took out a can of condensed milk (they needed to stop buying that, he was going to give himself a heart attack), popped open the top, and drank the syrupy cream like it was water.

 “You’re still mad at me,” she surmised. She giggled and tapped the end of her pen. “It’s not my fault I got invited. You know that, right? Like, you know I didn’t go behind your back and grovel at the feet of the Council for an invitation to spite you? Because you’re acting like I am.”

 To her, the party was kind of like being back in high school. Two cliques that disliked one another would try to out-do each other with the best, coolest house parties, and make it a point to invite nobody from the opposing group. It was so juvenile that it bordered on comedic. Upper society, high school… when you broke it down, there was hardly a difference between the two.

 Tsuzuru wiped his mouth of a drop of condensed milk and finally spoke. “There’s a Caster who lives in the Miyazaki prefecture. His name’s Zen Kuryu. He published more than fourteen grimoires filled with Rune sequences he made up by himself. He’s regarded as one, if not the, genius of this era and he comes to Mayor Reni’s party every time. Arrives day of and leaves right after for the airport. My father’s invited him to stay with us for a night five years in a row. And five years in a row, he got a rejection.”

 Izumi folded her hands together and let the boy finish his monologue.

 He rubbed his eye. Oh my god, was Tsuzuru crying? “You’ve lived in this city for less than two months. And now you get to meet a man I spent the majority of my developmental years idolizing when I can’t? That’s… That’s just shitty, Director. And pardon me for not caring if this is misdirected rage. I’m just really, really upset.”

 Izumi handed him the card. “When I planned this conversation in my head, I wanted to draw it out for a bit longer. But… I also really don’t want to see you cry since you’re a pretty swell kid. Flip to the back.”

 Tsuzuru winced. “Don’t rub it in. Don’t be that much of a sadist.”

 “Hello? Flip it, before I punch you.”

 Tsuzuru flipped the card and stared at the pretty script. He swallowed. “You’re kidding, right? If this is a joke, I’m not going to forgive you. Say psyche now.”

 “Not a joke.”

 Tsuzuru’s chin wrinkled. He traced the Plus One Permitted with his thumb.

 “For real?” he asked quietly, sounding for a moment very much like a teenager instead of the tired, turned-to-adult-too-quick man he usually was. “Are you serious?”

 Izumi gave a jazz-hands. “Can’t show up to a major shindig without a date, right? Wear something nice.”

 Tsuzuru took two strides forward and threw his arms arms around his Director. “Thank you. Thank you so much. God, mom’s going to lose her mind when I tell her.”


 The next morning, after getting nowhere close to as much sleep as she should have, Izumi, Citron, and Matsukawa were in the bathroom.

 She dug her hands into the tile painted red and heaved it open. The dark stairwell leading down gritted her.

 “Flashlight, please,” she said tersely. 

 Matsukawa handed it to her and she turned it on. According to Matsukawa, he hadn’t known about the dorm building’s hidden basement either. And they would have never found out about it if it hadn’t been for Sakuya’s accidental trip down under. But if there was a room with “shelves filled with books” like the boy had said, it was necessary for them to investigate. At the very least, before one of the boys went down there behind her back.

 Izumi shuddered as she descended the stone stairwell. The room smelled musty and rotten. Only expected, really, seeing as how it had an entrance located somewhere that would be consistently humid.

 “You got the inventory list?” she called over her shoulder to the manager.

 “Let’s hope some of the lost grimoires are here,” Matsukawa replied.

 The basement was exactly how Sakuya had described it to be. A small enclosure with a wooden desk and chair, lined with shelves. Really, with the walls of solid stone it was more of a panic room than a basement. She crouched down to inspect the carved circle of Runes as Citron placed and lit several candles around to offer light.

 Matsukawa crouched beside her. “Do you recognize any of them?”

 “Not one,” she said. The Runes were as foreign as another language. Tsuzuru would understand them better than she could, but Izumi didn’t want a single person besides the necessary down here. At least, not for now.

 She got up and walked towards the shelves.

 “Mark off Summoning for Beginners,” she told Matsukawa. “And A Study of Dragons, Entropy Explained, A Review of Motion With Runes, Potions For the Advanced Brewery.

 “Are all of the lost books in here?” Matsukawa asked.

 “Maybe.”

 Citron picked up the diary on the desk. “Who is Hakkaku?”

 “One of the Founders of Mankai Coven,” Matsukawa said.

 Citron hummed in reply. He opened the worn leather cover and  began reading.

 “Oh, no,” Izumi whispered and removed a purple bound grimoire. “A Review of Black Magic. God damn it all, this shouldn’t be here. Was this a hoarding ground for illegal tomes?”

 Matsukawa stiffened. “We need to hand that book into the Council.”

 “We’ll keep it locked for now.” She placed the book on the table and continued her cataloging. “Mark off Magician Textiles, Medicine Witch, and Imbuing of Guilt.”

 Matsukawa checked the list.

 Citron cleared his throat. “Director… Come look at these writings.”

 Izumi walked over and took the journal. She had to squint in the dim lighting but she could barely make out the kanji written with a shaky hand.

 January 12th

 Misumi visited again. His parents have been filling the child’s head with nothing but nonsense about power and supremacy. I told the boy to cast them aside and join the Coven instead, but he refused with a smile well beyond his years. I’m concerned for what my daughter and her husband has molded him to become. It breaks my heart to see him like this.

 The studies of the Crown have gotten to a point where I am in fear of it being a nuisance rather than a benefit. Yukio has not slept in days, only studying where to find the parts. The Coven has turned rather from a school to a front for our misdemeanors behind the backs of the Council. I only pray for our search to end soon.

 Today, the weather was cloudy. There was no new snow, but rather a gray sky that holds promise for sun soon.

 Izumi swallowed, throat dry.

 “Could it be our Misumi?” Citron murmured. “I could not read it all but I saw his name.”

 “I want to say no, Citron… but how many magicians with the name Misumi could there be?” she replied softly and shut the journal. The words were something she could pore over later. Now, in the basement, was not the time.

 Misumi had told them he could not remember a lick of his past prior to five years ago and that had been the truth. But his name was in this journal. If Izumi could track the lineage through the words used, he was the grandson of this Hakkaku person and relevant enough to be mentioned. Crown? What Crown? His mother and his father molding him to be something?

 The kid used black magic.

 Izumi shook her head of the thoughts and returned to the shelf. The journal was for later.

 “Mark it off,” she said quietly to Matsukawa. “A Review of Crystal Transfigurations. Fourteen Rune Sequences for the Beginning Caster. A Hunt for Legends.


 “Yo,” Banri said when Izumi opened the door. “So what’s the punishment. Do your worst. Well, not your worst because if it’s caning I’m gonna call the police but anything besides that.”

 Izumi handed him a hoe.

 The boy stared at it. “Huh?”

 “Follow me to the backyard,” she said brightly.

 The holes in the ground from Misumi’s spell had been re-filled with dirt. But the flowerbeds had all been dug up, leaving the enclosure looking very barren. Izumi picked up a second hoe and put her fists on her hips.

 “We’re going to start a vegetable garden,” she said.

 “Huh?

 “I looked on a few websites about how to discipline teenaged boys who don’t really get affected by consequences.” She put a finger to his chest. “That would be you. There was this fantastic article posted by a man who lives in Switzerland about how whenever his son acts up, they work together in the fields to strengthen their bond. And something something about physical labor being a reward for a bored soul.”

 Banri rolled his eyes. “What, you took a semester of psychology in college too? This is stupid.”

 “We either work on this field together to make some delicious vegetables, or you’re banned from entering the Coven from now on,” Izumi said.

 Banri made a face and started tilling the earth. “This proves nothing.”

 “Put your back into it, I’m not paying you to be a lazy bum.”

 “You’re not paying me at all!”

 Misumi peered around the sliding glass door. “Ooh, Banri’s here! What are you guys doing?”

 “Farming!” Izumi called.

 “Fun! Can I help?”

 “Sure, kiddo. Grab a hoe and get to work.”

 Banri snickered. “That’s what she said."

 “Yaaaaay!” Misumi sang. “I get to work with a hoe!”

 “That’s what she said.”

 “Shut up, Banri.”

 “Kazu was telling me about gardening with his brothers,” Misumi said conversationally as he began plowing.

 Izumi wiped her forehead. “Oh? Kazunari farms? He doesn’t look the type.”

 “Yeah! Something about bros before hoes. I didn’t really get it, he talks a lot and most of it goes over my head but Kazu’s still cool!”

 Banri choked on his tongue. “He wasn’t talking about gardening, dude."

 Izumi shushed him and ruffled Misumi’s hair. “You wanna invite Kazunari to come over tomorrow night? I think I’m gonna try out a new curry recipe. Tell him he can sleep over as long as the two of you keep quiet.”

 Misumi grinned. “Really? That’s awesome!”

 She hesitated. “In return… could you help us out with a favor, Misumi?”

 “Hm? What is it?”

 Izumi pressed her lips together. “You know that room Sakuya found yesterday?”

 “Uh huh!”

 “Matsukawa and I…” She was suddenly aware that Banri had stopped digging and was listening in on the conversation. “Well, we figured you should take a look down there. You’re a bright kid, maybe you’ll see something we don’t.”

 Misumi glowed at the praise. “Sure!”

 Izumi dropped her hoe and wiped her hands on her jeans. “I”m going to go get us some lemonade. You two keep working, alright?” She disappeared into the dorms.

 Banri leaned forward. “Yo. You’re the guy who made those spikes come out of the ground, right? When the zombies attacked?”

 Misumi grinned. “I think so. Were the spikes in the shape of triangles?”

 “Teach me how to do that.”

 “Nope!”

 Banri frowned. “The fuck? Why?”

 “That’s a hundred yen for the swear jar!” Misumi said in sing-song and continued tilling, humming a ditty under his breath.

 “Dude, teach me how to do the spike shit, it looks cool.”

 “Another hundred!”

 “Dude.”

 Misumi stopped his work and looked at Banri. He sighed and smiled, albeit smaller. “Director says I’m not allowed to use black magic unless things are dangerous and I have no other choices. So I don’t think she’d be happy with me teaching you! I hope that doesn’t make you mad.”

 Banri raised an eyebrow. “Why?”

 “Because black magic is bad.”

 “Why?”

 Misumi stilled. He furrowed his brow. “I’m not sure. We can probably ask her! Or Tsuzuru, he’s teaches me a lot of things.”


 The fieldwork lasted for two hours before Izumi finally told them they were finished for the day. They’d made a few rows soon to be planted on.

 “Can I trust you not to set anything on fire for a few hours while I go grocery shopping?” Izumi asked.

 “You don’t trust me?”

 She gave Banri a very long and pointed look.

 “Valid. I’ll be chill and keep my hands off magic.”

 “Okay.” She gave him a punch on his shoulder. “I’m going out on a limb and trusting you with this, Banri. No unsupervised magic, you got it? You can either go home or sit in on Citron and Muku’s lessons since… I guess you’ll be able to do Seer magic too eventually.”

 “You got it.”

 Banri waited for her to shut the front door behind her before he split down the hall. He knocked on the door Misumi had told him was Tsuzuru’s lab “which he’s in most of the day, so he should definitely be there!”

 “DON’T COME IN!” someone inside yelled.

 There was shuffling, panicked muttering, and rustling.

 Tsuzuru opened the door, looking like a flat mess. His hair was facing every which way and his eyes were bloodshot.

 “Can I help you?” he asked. “You’re the guy who summoned the undead, huh.”

 “That would be me. Can I come in?”

 Tsuzuru stiffened. “I’d prefer not. You wanna talk in the kitchen or something?”

 Banri shrugged. “Nah. Not that big of a deal. The, uh, Misumi guy. He told me to ask you why black magic is bad.”

 Tsuzuru wrinkled his nose. “Listen. The Director’s giving you a pass for that first stunt because she thinks you were uneducated and spitting your talent without knowing how to channel it properly. I’m willing to ignore my overwhelming desire to throw you onto the streets and never talk to you again because she’s willing to be your advocate. Keep your hands off of black magic.”

 “Why?”

 “Are you stupid? It’s black magic.”

 Banri rolled his eyes. “Okay, but can someone explain to me why black magic is bad? What’s the difference between regular magic and black magic?”

 Tsuzuru shuddered and stepped aside. “Maybe you should come in. Don’t touch anything but I need my whiteboard to explain.”

 “Cool.”

 Banri walked inside the lab. It was just an empty dorm room but without the bed. Instead, there were just several long tables inside, every surface piled high with test tubes and scattered sheets of paper. It smelled like formaldehyde.

 “Whatever you do, don’t touch the white sheet,” Tsuzuru said firmly.

 Banri looked at the white sheet on the table against the wall that hid something box-shaped from view. He wanted to touch it.

 “Don’t.”

 “Fuck you, whatever. Just tell me, Christ.”

 Tsuzuru uncapped an Expo marker and began drawing. “Let me ask you this. Why do you think we’re allowed to own knives and baseball bats even though they can be used as weapons?”

 “…Because they serve other purposes?”

 “Bingo. That's normal magic.” He drew a cartoonish bomb. “And why are we as civilians not allowed to own incendiary devices or weapons of mass destruction?”

 “Speak for yourself. Your flat ass might not be a weapon of mass destruction but mine sure is. Uh. Because they’re dangerous?”

 Tsuzuru nodded. “And because they serve no other purpose than to hurt other people. Black magic is separated into three categories. Non-autonomous, violent, sacrificial. Anything that threatens a person’s ability to function of their own accord—memory magic, mind control magic, even influence magic. Or spells that are for violent purposes, like,” here he gave Banri a poisonous glower, “dead raising, assault spells.”

 Banri leaned against a table and let the words sink in. “Sacrificial?”

 “Higher level summoning, higher level alchemy, higher level transfiguration.” Tsuzuru shuddered. “Human lives were sacrificed tons to demons before stricter laws were put in place. Some magicians would trade in body parts for alchemic or transfigurative reasons. Basically… all of that nasty business had people dying in the droves for sought out parts. Banned, for good reason.”

 “Huh.” Banri inspected his nails. “So the only reason why black magic is illegal is because people are afraid it’s going to be used for the wrong reasons?”

 Tsuzuru winced. “Banri, black magic can only be used for the wrong reasons ninety-percent of the time. I’d say a hundred, but Director thinks assault spells used in defense are excusable. We agree to disagree on those terms.”

 “So black magic’s illegal. Why do they still teach it?”

 “We don’t. Black magic grimoires and papers were collected en masse a century or two ago and destroyed. Sure, maybe a bad egg has a few collected and stored somewhere but you won’t be learning any here. It's kind of how there are bad eggs in the world who make homemade explosives.” Tsuzuru capped his marker. “Now go away, I’m working.”

 Banri sighed and stood up straight. “Alright. I’m out.”

 He walked out of the lab and put his hands in his pockets, slowing his gait down to just a stroll.

 Banri had work to do, it seemed.


“Do you recognize this room, Misumi?” Izumi asked.

 The young Witch turned around slowly in the dim light of the basement. He tilted his head to the side. “Um. I don’t think so.”

 She held up Hakkaku’s journal. “Do you… do you know who Hakkaku is?”

 Misumi shook his head. “No. I’m sorry.”

 Izumi nodded. He didn’t remember. Maybe it was a little presumptuous to think that he would know anything about this room. She hadn’t had a chance to read all of the entries, but in the handful she had read over, Misumi’s name had come up quite a bit. But in that doting way a grandfather talked about his grandchild. “He’s gotten taller,” “I wonder if he’s eating enough,” “I look forward to seeing the young man he’ll turn into.” Misumi must have been very young. Hakkaku never mentioned his parents by name, just “my daughter” or “my daughter’s husband” tossed around there.

 Every so often, a mention of Misumi learning black magic and Hakkaku’s displeasure at that came up.

 A lot of his journal entries, the earlier ones, talked solely about the weather. The “Crown” also made an appearance each few pages but it was still vague. From what Izumi had read, it was something that the Coven founders had been looking into for some reason and trying to locate.

 Misumi kneeled on the stone floor and traced the summoning circle with his finger.

 “This looks a little familiar,” the boy said softly. “I don’t know where I’ve seen it before, though. It’s different from what I used to summon Itaru.”

 She patted his head. “It’s okay, kiddo. Don’t beat yourself up over it, I just wanted you to take a look around.”

 Misumi was quiet, staring at the Runes. He looked up. “Director, am I in trouble?”

 “No, no, of course not.”

 “Do you wanna know what some of these Runes are?” he asked, and gestured for her to crouch beside him.

 Misumi pointed to one on the outer edge. “This one is for Transport. I think that’s the purpose. This isn’t a summoning circle, um… I think it’s a teleport circle?”

 “A teleport circle?” She’d never heard of such a thing.

 “Uh huh. Old Witch families have these in their homes a lot of the time. So that they can have easy access to one another even if they live far away.” Misumi’s voice had gone a little scratchier, a little hesitant and. And scared. 

 “Misumi, how do you know that?” she asked.

 He shocked his head. “I don’t know. I think you should… I dunno. It’s like a door. I don’t know where it goes, but I think you should scratch it out.” He laughed but it sounded forced. “We don’t want a stranger coming!”

 Izumi put a hand on his arm and felt her stomach fall when he inched away from her touch. “Hey, hey. It’s okay. No one’s going to come in. I doubt this room’s been touched for a decade or two.”

 Misumi nodded and stood up. He wouldn’t look at her. “I don’t like it here. Can we leave?”

 “Are you sure you don’t recognize anything?”

 His actions were giving her some doubt.

 Misumi shuffled his feet.

 Izumi pressed harder. “Misumi. I need you to tell me the truth.”

 “I don’t know this room,” he said finally, voice small. He nudged the center of the summoning circle, where a triangle was etched into the stone. “That’s…”

 “What Rune?” Izumi asked. She didn’t know any Rune that was just a singular triangle.

 Misumi rubbed his eye with his knuckle. “It’s not a Rune. But I like it.”

 Izumi smiled. “You like triangles, don’t you?”

 “My name’s Misumi,” the Witch told her. He turned back to the stairs. “It means triangle.”

 Izumi sat in the dark room by herself. It did, didn’t it?

 She couldn’t help but feel incredibly guilty upon climbing out of the basement and seeing that Misumi looked… out of it. He exuded that skittish energy again, inexplicable anxiety coming off of him in waves.

 “You don’t have to go back down there,” she said. “I’m sorry, Misumi. I shouldn’t have made you do that.”

 “It’s okay, Director! I know you didn't wanna make me feel bad,” he told her. He tilted his head back and squinted at the bathroom’s lights. “I think it’s good I don’t remember a lot. I dunno how to explain it but I think I’m happier now than I have been in a long time.”

 “Why don’t you go grab a snack and head to bed?” she told him.

 Misumi nodded. “Okay."


 Izumi slammed open Tsuzuru’s door.

 The Caster let out a shriek, nearly dropping the Erlenmeyer flask in hand. “HAVE YOU EVER HEARD OF KNOCKING?”

 “Promise you’re not going to get mad at me,” she said immediately. “Right now. Promise.”

 Tsuzuru placed the flask down. “I’m not going to promise that. What did you do.”

 “It’s not what I did, exactly, it’s more like what we’re going to do.”

 Tsuzuru groaned. “Just tell me.”

 “I think we need to find out who Misumi’s parents are. He’s not a Firstborn, we already know that much.”

 His eyebrows raised. “Weren’t you the one preaching about how that’s his truth to accept, and if he doesn’t want to, then it’s not our right to pry?”

 Izumi thought about every red flag raised in the journal entries. “Let’s call it a matter of being prepared for the worst. Hakkaku Watanabe shows up in older versions of the Purple Pages but his daughter’s name is unlisted.”

 “Well, unsurprising. The names of offspring aren’t included in there unless they take over as the family head or have kids of their own.” Tsuzuru picked up a stack of paper and tried to straighten it. “If she married into another name, we won’t know it.”

 “The Purple Pages don’t have children names but the Council’s files should.”

 He let out a laugh. “Ha! Good luck trying to ask Reni for access to those.”

 Izumi took a step closer and whispered, “Who said I’m going to ask?”

 The Caster stared at her. He rubbed his forehead and put the papers back down. He reached for his wallet and took out some money, putting it in her hand.

 “What are you doing?”

 “Trying to bribe you not to do what you’re thinking of doing.”

 Izumi shoved the cash back into his palm. “We’re breaking into the Council’s files.”

 “That’s impossible, the entire building is under massive guard, are you insane?”

 She reached for her back pocket and removed the party invite. “I have a feeling it’s going to be much more accessible on March twentieth.”

  Tsuzuru put his face in his hands and tried not to start crying.

Chapter Text

 “Hide your wives, Kazunari Miyoshi has arrived,” the art student said boldly, throwing the front door open. He snapped his fingers and shot both a finger gun and a wink at his reflection in the entryway’s mirror. “Yeah, hot stuff, keep it going.”

 Izumi snorted. “Do you do that all the time when you enter somewhere?”

 “Just the somewheres that have a pretty lady, pretty lady,” he said sweetly, taking his hat off and giving her a sweeping bow. “Now, where’s the sexiest Witch in the whole city?"

 “Here I am!” Misumi said, bounding towards the Caster like an excited golden retriever. He threw his arms around Kazunari. “Thanks for coming over! We’re gonna have so much fun, I learned how to play demon poker from Sakuya last night and—“

 Tsuzuru’s door banged open. His left eye was twitching.

 “You,” he said briskly, striding forward and grabbing Kazunari’s wrist. “Misumi, can I borrow him for a bit?"

 The Witch wilted a little. “But—“

 “Fantastic, thank you so much.” He dragged a spluttering Kazunari back into the lab and slammed the door shut. The lock made a clean click noise.

 Misumi looked at a loss for words, looking very much like a child who’d had candy taken from him. Izumi patted his back.

 “Sorry about that,” she said gently. “You wanna, uh, watch some TV while they wrap up whatever they’re doing?”

 He looked at her with sad eyes.

 “I’ll get you a Toblerone to snack on.”

 Misumi nodded, still looking very kicked-puppy-like. “Okay.”


 “Dude, not cool! When I told you I’d always wanted someone to pull me away to be alone in a room together, I meant a hot girl with red lipstick, not you!” Kazunari said, tearing his arm free and smoothing out the wrinkles on his sleeve. He fluttered his eyelashes. “Tsuzuroon, did you miss my touch that much? Darling, you could have just said so, you know I’d give you my attention whenever.”

 Tsuzuru put his hands on Kazunari’s shoulders. “I’m about to show you something and you cannot freak out and you cannot tell anybody else.”

 His friend blinked. “Um.”

 “You CANNOT. GOT IT?”

 “Yes, yes, got it! Jeez, you’ve gotten even more tightly wound since you’ve started living here, you know that?”

 Tsuzuru gently pulled away. “I’m trusting you right now with this, Miyoshi. Because, as much as I hate to admit it, sometimes you have half a brain and you’re good at solving some problems. And I need all the braincells I can scavenge around here that won’t turn me into the authorities.”

 Kazunari swallowed. “T-Tsuzuru… you didn’t. You didn’t get involved in, like, the mafia, did you?”

 “What?”

 “Are they making you be a drug mule? Or a drug cooker like in Breaking Bad? Are we going to do Breaking Bad together? Am I gonna be Jesse Pinkman? I can’t make drugs, dude, the chemicals would be murder on my skin. Shiseido moisturizer is expensive.”

 Tsuzuru held up a hand. “Please stop talking. You’re already making me regret this.”

 Kazunari pantomimed zipping his mouth shut and throwing away the key. Tsuzuru set up a quick Soundproof Rune just in case and approached the white cloth on the table furthest from the door. He wiped his upper lip of the nervous sweat and decided to just rip the bandaid off. He tore the white sheet away, revealing the body in the glass box beneath it.

 “AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!” Kazunari screamed.

 “STOP SCREAMING!”

 “AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!”

 “KAZUNARI, I SWEAR TO GOD.”

 “AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!”

 “BREATHE, YOU’RE TURNING BLUE!”

 “THAT’S A DEAD BODY, THAT’S A FUCKING DEAD BODY, WHY DO YOU HAVE A DEAD BODY HERE!"

 “SOMEONE SUMMONED THE DEAD AND THEY ATTACKED US LIKE TWO OR THREE DAYS AGO, I KEPT THIS ONE.”

 “WHY DID YOU KEEP ONE, WHAT THE FUCK IS WRONG WITH YOU, ARE YOU GOING TO KILL ME NEXT, OH MY GOD, THAT’S A DEAD BODY, THAT’S LITERALLY A DEAD BODY, HOLY SHIT, OH MY GOD, THAT IS A DEAD BODY!”

 “WE GET IT!”

 “FUCK YOU, TSUZUROON, SERIOUSLY, FUCK YOU, FUCK YOU, FUCK YOU, THIS IS SO BAD, FUCK YOU, FUCK YOU!"

 Tsuzuru was so grateful he’d had the foresight to set up the Soundproof. Maybe it would be best if he just let Kazunari get it all out of his system.

 “FUCK YOU, THIS IS ACTUALLY ONE OF THE WORST THINGS YOU’VE SHOWN ME, FUCK YOU, YOU FUCKING JACKASS, FUCK.” Kazunari slapped a hand over his eyes and took two large steps back until his back hit the wall. “MOTHER OF FUCK, GOD, YOU ARE SUCH A NIGHTMARE, I HATE YOU, I HATE YOU SO MUCH!”

 A tense moment passed with quiet.

 Kazunari took his palms off of his face, looking decidedly much older than he had when putting them on. “Okay. What do you need me to do.”

 “You got that sample of anti-magic from the Sumeragis, right?”

 Kazunari hesitated. “Uh, the black goop?”

 “Yes.”

 “My dad did. He took one sniff and locked the entire vial up in the safe. Told me, and I’m quoting him verbatim here, ‘we’ll have nothing to do with this.’”

 Tsuzuru nodded gravely. “Your father is a smart man. I tasted it—“

 “HELLO?”

 “Relax, I threw it up. It's concentrated anti-magic. Like… pure poison.” Tsuzuru put his hand on the glass tank. “When this corpse was reanimated and sent to attack us, it spewed up the same substance and completely destroyed my Barrier.”

 Kazunari raised an eyebrow. “Did you add Extension?”

 “What am I, four? Of course I added Extension. It didn’t matter. The second that tar touched it, it shattered completely.”

 Kazunari shuddered. “Is everyone okay?”

 Tsuzuru rolled up his sleeve and showed the stitched wound. “The Director and I got bitten but otherwise we all came out fine.”

 “Dude, that’s gonna leave a sick scar. You could get so many ladies if you show that thing off.”

 “…Focus?”

 “Right, sorry.” Kazunari took his hat off and threw it on a table, grabbing a stool to take a seat. “So… You kept the corpse to do some study on.”

 Tsuzuru knocked the glass container with his knuckle. “I don’t think the anti-magic was created in them. After a brief dissection and preliminary study, there’s nothing in the cadaver that would hint towards manufacturing. Which, of course, means that someone was adding the anti-magic in them manually.”

 “They were creating weapons,” Kazunari said softly. He looked positively sick. “Tsuzuroon, maybe we shouldn’t mess with this kind of stuff. It’s really dark.”

 “Who else is going to do it?” he hissed, leaning closer. “The only person who knows about this corpse being in my lab is the Director and you now.  And the only reason I told you is because I want you to help me study it and run my tests.”

 Kazunari hesitated.

 “Please. I can’t do this on my own. I’ve been trying, but I just can’t.” Tsuzuru rubbed his forehead. “You’re the only one I can trust with this, Kazunari.”

 His friend pursed his lips and then let out a weak sigh. He took out his headband and used it to push his bangs back. “What do you need me to do?”


 The two boys entered the kitchen four hours later when everyone was eating dinner.

 Misumi perked up. “Kazu!”

 “Sorry, hot thang, we’re busy right now.” Kazunari pressed a kiss to the top of Misumi’s head and immediately grabbed a plate to load with curry. “Thanks for the food, other hot thang.”

 “Please don’t ever call me that ever again,” Izumi said flatly.

 “You got it, Director.” He shot her his signature finger gun and went back to the lab.

 Tsuzuru grabbed two cans of condensed milk, wished everyone a good night, and followed his friend.

 Misumi pressed his cheek to the table and sighed in anguish.


 Kazunari pulled at his eyelids and let out a frustrated groan. “I’m going to pass out. I’m going to pass out, Tsuzuroon, I can’t do this.”

 Tsuzuru tossed him a can of coffee. “Man up. It’s not even five in the morning yet. We’re not even close to done with the tests.”

 Kazunari screamed into his palms. “Five minute break, dude, I’m actually begging you.”

 The Minagi son hesitated and then relented. The two dropped their notebooks to sit back for a minute.

 “You know, maybe if you stopped messing around with dead bodies, you would finally get a girlfriend,” Kazunari said after just a moment of quiet.

 “I don’t want a girlfriend right now. We discussed this.”

 “A boyfriend then! I’m totally okay with that, I accept you for who you are.”

 Tsuzuru closed his eyes and told himself not to lose it. “Kazunari, I don’t want to date anybody.”

 “What? Why?”

 He ground his teeth and pinched the bridge of his nose. “I’ve told you multiple times. I’m eighteen, poor, and constantly tired. The only thing I want to be in a relationship with right now is my research, money, and a peaceful life.”

 “I want to date someone,” Kazunari announced.

 “I know.”

 “I want to date the hottest girl ever. Like. Ever. I want her to be a supermodel.”

 Tsuzuru double checked the can of coffee to make sure it didn’t have any alcohol. “I know.”

 “The Director is so hot, Tsuzuru. Have you seen her? She has hair like chocolate curls.” Kazunari sighed and practically melted. “Is she single? She’s single, isn’t she? D’you think I’ve got a chance with her if I just keep on trying?”

 “Have you met her?” Tsuzuru wondered if the nausea was from caffeine overdose or thinking about the Director in a relationship with someone. How would that even work, he wondered? “Of course she’s single.”

 “That’s so mean! This is why you don’t have a girlfriend.”

 “No, I don’t have a girlfriend because I choose—“ Tsuzuru shook his head and didn’t even bother finishing the sentence. He knocked back the can, and opened a new one to sip on while the work continued. “Break’s over. Get up. We still have to figure out when and how many times the corpse was touched by another person after burial.”

 Kazunari sniffled. “Sometimes I think you just use me because my brain is so big. I feel like you don’t even love me.”

 “Glad we’re finally on the same page, now shut up and get to work.”

 His friend sighed and fanned himself. “You’re so hot when you get all aggressive and dominant.”

 “I’m going to end you."


 It was finally Monday.

 After a full weekend of crying, refusing to speak to Citron, speaking tons to Juza at ungodly hours of the night, and planning for this specific interaction, he was ready. Muku swallowed thickly and tried to calm his wildly thrumming heart.

 He approached the boy. “C-Can I eat lunch with you?”

 Yuki looked up from his sandwich and said, frankly, “No.”

 “Oh, okay.” Muku instantly turned around. “I’m really sorry, of course you wouldn’t want to eat lunch with me, I’m just a bag of garbage in terms of personality walking around in a body, I completely understand.”

 Yuki sighed. “Wait.”

 Muku stopped.

 The brownie rolled his eyes. “Whatever. You asked nicely so… I guess you can eat lunch with me or something. You’re a Firstborn, aren’t you?”

 “Yes! F-Firstborn Seer!” Muku took a seat next to the other boy on the bench. He opened his bento box and offered the first compartment. “Um… I made this this morning. I wanted to share with you.”

 Yuki raised his eyebrows as he gazed at the prettily arranged octopi sausages and egg rolls. He closed his eyes. “Um. Thanks, or something.”

 Muku practically glowed. “You’re welcome! I’ve never made a bento before, it was actually a really fun experience. I hope you like it.”

 Yuki accepted one sausage. “…Sorry for being rude a second ago. I’m not really fond of magicians. But you’re a Firstborn so it’s fine, I guess."

 “You’re not?” Muku furrowed his brow. “But we’re both magical. I thought we all liked each other.”

 Yuki’s upper lip twisted. “No, not really. I hate most magicians, to be honest with you.”

 “Do you have a reason w-why?”

 Yuki popped the sausage into his mouth and chewed. “This tastes pretty good.”

 “Thank you!”

 The brownie sighed and looked down at his sandwich. “Magicians are awful people, Muku. Most of them. I mean, you’re a Firstborn. But those Bloodlines?” If Yuki’s upper lip pinched up any harder, he would sprain it. “Just dreadful.”

 “…Why?”

 “You know about the Council?” Yuki asked.

 “A little. I know Sakyo Furuichi works for them!”

 “Sakyo’s the only good one. And I say that flexibly because Furuichi is a gigantic ass.” Yuki clenched his fingers into a fist. “Muku, I’m a brownie.”

 “I know!”

 Yuki put his sandwich down and turned to face the Seer eye-to-eye. “I look like a person, don’t I? I look just like you, I can talk just like you, even if my real form is smaller.”

 Muku’s eyes glittered. “Yeah! That’s why I wanted to eat lunch with you today.”

 “Bloodlines… The traditional magicians… They don’t see me as a person,” Yuki said.

 “What?”

 “Magicians look down on mythics,” Yuki said scornfully. “Sakyo Furuichi is just about the only person you’ll find employing us fairly. Most magicians expect us to serve them hand and foot. They see us as objects to act as servants and nothing else. House spirits, brownies, domovois, all of us.”

 Muku’s eyes widened. “Isn’t that… Isn’t that racist?”

 “Yes!” Yuki snapped, nostrils flaring. “It is! It’s really racist. Traditional magicians are racist, Muku. Don’t fall for their flowery language and their kindness. If you were anything besides a Seer, they wouldn’t be giving you the time of day.”

 “The Council is racist?”

 “It’s not like they’re going to make a public statement banning mythics, but you’ll notice that they pass no laws that benefit us in any way. No minimum wage laws, no basic standard of treatment besides ‘don’t kill them loudly.’” Yuki nostrils flared. “God. I was lucky enough to get work from Sakyo. The rest of us just… find ways to function amongst the magic-less since we have no other options.”

 Muku’s chin wrinkled. “That’s, that’s awful, Yuki. I’m sorry, I had no idea it could get that bad. Granted, I haven’t had much, um, interaction with that Council besides Sakyo and the invite to the ball.”

 Yuki spat his tea out over the lawn. He coughed wildly and wiped his mouth. “Your invite to WHAT?”

 “The… the ball? Bi-annual, mayor ball or something?” Muku handed the brownie a handkerchief. “Are you okay?”

 “You got invited to the ball?” Yuki clenched his teeth, dabbing at his streaming eyes. “Typical. Of course you got invited. You’re a Firstborn Seer. Everybody must fawn over you.”

 He gripped the handkerchief in his hand like he wanted to tear it to pieces.

 “You didn’t get an invite?” Muku asked, feeling as though he already knew the answer.

 “Of course I didn’t. Mythics never get invited to that thing.” Yuki looked so jealous, his eyes were boring holes into the ground. His cheeks were turning a very dark maroon.

 Muku leapt at the opportunity. “I—I have a plus one. And no one’s taken the offer. Do you want to go with me?”

 Yuki dropped the handkerchief. “Are you serious?”

 “Completely! I don’t really have anyone else I’d invite.” Muku paused and thought. “I mean, I’d probably go with Ju-chan, but I don’t think bringing a wraith to this event would be a good idea. Go with me, Yuki.”

 Yuki pressed his palms to his flaming cheeks. They were red, but for a completely new reason. “Oh, lord. What even am I going to wear? I have nothing. I’ll have to make a completely new dress, and find matching shoes, and accessories.” He laughed loudly. “Can you imagine what their faces are going to look like if I show up? A lowly brownie, at the ball. Those Bloodline snobs are going to lose it. Sumeragi—not even the Sumeragis get invited to that!”

 Muku smiled. “Not all magician Bloodlines are bad, you know.”

 “Yes they are, Muku. You just haven’t seen how evil they can get."

 “The Director isn’t like that,” Muku said. He cleared his throat. “Yuki, do… do you want to come over to the dorms with me after school? I promise the people at Mankai won’t treat you like that, really. And, and you’re the first magical person I’ve met on my own—“

 “Mythic. I’m a mythic.”

 “Right, sorry, mythic.” Muku flushed. “Yuki, I want to be your friend.”

 Yuki sipped from his pink thermos and seemed to think about that for a moment.

 “Perhaps I will be open to the opportunity, granted you turn out to not be a dick,” the boy said finally. He reached out a hand. “Nice to meet you, Muku. Tell me about yourself."

 Muku shook the hand and smiled like the sun. “I like reading shoujo manga! And, um, sometimes I like to take long walks and just daydream a little.”

 “That’s cool. I like sewing my own clothes. I sew wounds for money. Fabric can be so expensive, it’s ridiculous.”

 “Really? Tell me about that, I’ve never tried sewing before.”

 And so the two boys ate lunch together and chatted until the bell rang.


 Banri came to the dorms after class that day. Directly after class.

 “You’re here early,” Izumi said as she opened the door for him. “Sakuya and Masumi don’t usually come back for another hour or two.”

 “They’re probably a part of some club or something.” Banri took his shoes off. “Clubs are fuckin’ stupid in my opinion.”

 Izumi held out her hand. Banri high-fived it.

 “No, kid, I want money. I told you, you can cuss when you’re eighteen in front of me and not a minute before.”

 Banri clicked his tongue and handed her a 100 yen coin. “This is extortion. You like extorting money from kids? I can have you arrested for this.”

 She snapped her fingers and sent the coin zooming off to the swear cup. “Who're you going to call? You have your parole officer on speed dial?”

 “Yes, but irrelevant.” Banri took a seat at the kitchen table.

 Izumi opened up a textbook and turned it around for him to read. “I want you to try out basic levitation.”

 “Lame.” Banri snapped his fingers and sent the book rising to the ceiling. “Already got it.”

 “What? How!”

 “I broke into your room when I stayed for dinner and took the lesson sheet.”

 “BANRI!”

 He shrugged and leaned back, lacing fingers behind his head. “You snooze, you lose.”

 “That’s where it went?! Can you please stop breaking into my personal property!”

 He only shrugged again.

 Izumi sucked in a deep breath to calm herself. This brat was proving to be one of the biggest nuisances she’d ever laid eyes on. Maybe teaching a sweetheart like Sakuya had made her soft.

 “Teach me the good stuff,” Banri said flatly. “None of this kiddy bullshit. It’s insulting.”

 Izumi held out her palm and he handed her another coin.

 “I’m going to regret asking this but… what do you have in mind?”

 “Black magic.”

 Izumi stood up and pointed to the entryway hallway. “Get out of my sight.”

 He huffed. “Come on. I talked to that nerd with the flat ass and ugly hair—“

 “Please don’t say that in front of Tsuzuru, you’re going to hurt his self image.”

 “The reasoning he gave me about why black magic is bad was complete horse shit. I want to learn how to do the cool shit, not any of this tutorial beginner crap. I know that you know I’m capable of more than that.”

 Izumi could feel her face gaining a new wrinkle as she held out her hand again for more money, which he coughed up without flinching. “Banri, black magic is illegal. If I taught it to you, both of us could get arrested by the Council before the sun is up.”

 “How would they find out?”

 “I don’t know how to do black magic,” she supplemented.

 “You got books, don’t you?”

 She wrung her hands. “Kiddo, you’re really making me regret letting you learn here.”

 Banri leaned over the table. “I’d owe you a favor. Just sayin’. You know I’m capable of a lot. You need something’ done? I’ll do it. But I want to know what I want to know.”

 The angel on Izumi’s shoulder begged her not to do it. To shut this down before she dug a grave she’d lie in forever. Even the devil on her other shoulder was warning her against trusting this kid who almost reeked of delinquency.

 And yet, she ignored them both.

 “How good are you with sneaking around and ne’er-do-well activity?” she asked.

 “Fuckin’ best.”

 “...Money, please.”

 “Right.”

 An exchange of cash occurred.

 Izumi drummed her fingers on the table. “I might have a job for you. If you pull it off, I’ll consider teaching you one thing from a book of black magic. Just one. And I get to choose the spell you learn.”

 “I get to choose,” Banri interrupted immediately. “But you can veto it.”

 Izumi sighed. “Fine. And under no circumstances are you to tell anybody that I agreed to this.”

 “What’s the job?”

 She glanced at the lab door. Tsuzuru was going to slaughter her senseless if he found out. Thank the lord that he was sleeping and would probably stay asleep for the next few hours if not days.

 “There’s… there’s a building I need you to break into next week on the twentieth,” Izumi said, voice low. “It’s the Council building. Six of us are going to be at an event that’ll keep security and workers there busy and away from the property. I need a secondary team to go to the Council’s main hall and find a few files for me on past magicians.”

 “Done.” Banri slapped his hand on the table. “If I can break into a school and look through a few transcripts, this’ll be a piece of cake.”

 “You did what.”

 “I was trying to find Hyodo’s records so I could tease that fuckin’ bitch about his GPA. Thought for sure it was gonna be shit, but did you know that the guy’s actually pretty decent at History? What a disappointment.”

 Izumi collected two hundred yen from Banri. At this rate, she’d be able to fund the entire grocery budget just from his filthy mouth.

 “Where is Hyodo anyway?” Banri complained, standing up. “I want to beat him into the dirt. He’s physical now, isn’t he?”

 Izumi steepled her fingers. “Kiddo, I know it’s useless to even ask, but do you really think it’s a good idea to fight the monster that has knives for hands?”

 Someone unlocked the front door.

 “I’m home,” Muku called. “I brought a friend, I hope that’s okay."

 Izumi turned around in the chair. “We’re in the kitchen!”

 The pink Seer appeared and immediately ducked his head in a quick bow to Banri.

 “Where’s your friend, Muku?”

 “Right!” He took off his backpack and opened the big flap. A foot-tall little boy climbed out.

 “Thanks for having me over,” Yuki said.

 Banri gaped. “Jesus Christ, you’re small. What the hell are you?”

 “And you dress like it’s the last decade and you’re a pre-teen that discovered Hot Topic while also going through a difficult time,” Yuki shot back immediately. “The suburban mom desperately trying to hold onto her youth and feel cool called, she wants her hairstyle back. I’ve seen better fashion choices from a colorblind chimpanzee that selected pattern samples from an electronic screen to get an orange slice as a reward. Sit down.”

 Banri sat and looked thoroughly stunned from the verbal lashing the twelve-inch boy had given him. “Wow. That was impressive.”

 Izumi leaned down and offered a finger for Yuki to shake. “This is a surprise! Nice to see you again, Yuki. You come to take off my stitches already?”

 “No. Muku invited me.” The brownie didn’t accept the finger-shake, instead inspecting his cuticles. “Expect to keep the stitches for another week.”

 Izumi straightened. “Would you like a fruit snack?”

 “Yes, please.” Yuki snapped his fingers. “Muku, could you put me on the table?”

 “Of course!”

 Izumi got up to fetch the bag of candy and some strawberry milk for the Seer. Banri asked her if she had any soda, and she tossed him a bottle of diet Pepsi.

 “Muku invited me to the ball today,” Yuki said without looking at her. “You okay with me going with him?”

 “Er… Muku’s the one who invited you, isn’t he?” Izumi asked with a furrowed brow. “You don’t have to ask me. If anything, you should ask his parents.”

 Yuki swallowed. “Whatever.” He picked up a fruit snack which was the size of a frisbee in his small hands.

 “Do you… do you want to put up a glamour for the food? It’s a bit big for you when you’re like this, isn’t it?”

 “No.” Yuki wrinkled his nose in distaste. “The glamour is kind of like a pair of heels. I can ignore it if I have it on but I’d much rather have it off if I can help it.”

 “Huh."

 Matsukawa entered the dorms and waved a tube. “I got what you asked for, Director!”

 “Oh, Matsukawa, sometimes you make me tired but god bless you for being able to do what I ask without asking too many questions,” Izumi said briskly and took the tube from him. She uncapped the tube and took out a large, rolled up sheet of paper.

 She spread it out on the table.

 “What is that?” Yuki asked.

 “A blueprint of the Council building.”

 Yuki dropped his fruit snack. “Why...?”

 “Can I trust you? You won’t rat me out to Sakyo?” she asked sweetly.

 Yuki rolled his eyes. “Do I look even remotely like a snitch to you?”

 “Mmmm, nope! We’re breaking in on the night of the ball.”

 Yuki glanced to Muku who looked like he was having trouble following the conversation. “You’re living with some really weird people, Muku.”

 Muku nodded. “I’ve accepted it. I like most of them!”

 “Hm.” Yuki crossed his legs. “Okay, I wanna know what’s going on."


 “Your magic ban is lifted,” Izumi said when Sakuya returned home from school. She beckoned him to the training room. “C’mon. I’ve got a spell waiting for you that you’re going to love. It’s a tad more advanced than the last few lessons.”

 Sakuya threw his bag to the side and rushed to follow her.

 Izumi leaned down with a stick of red chalk and drew a circle on one end of the room. She jogged all the way to the other side and drew an identical circle.

 “We’re going to be reviewing teleportation today,” she told him as she returned. She handed him a page. “Here’s the spell.”

 Sakuya hesitated. “Am I going to lose body parts?”

 “Excuse me?”

 “It’s what happens in Harry Potter.”

 She rolled her eyes. Harry Potter. The bane of her existence.

 “No, you won’t lose any body parts,” she said briskly and pushed him towards the first circle. “Stand here. I want you to stare at the other circle. Envision it in your head. Then recite the spell and imagine your body being pushed through space towards that area. Got it?”

 Sakuya nodded and licked his chapped lips. “I’ll try my best!”

 He did exactly what she told him to do. Tried to imagine that red circle in his head. Imagined appearing there instantly.

 “Me vectatio!

 Sakuya disappeared in a flash of light. Izumi waited a second for him to show up on the other side of the room. She waited a second. Then another. Then a couple more.

 Then she tore out of the room and hammered on Citron’s bedroom door.

 “Yes?” he said pleasantly as he opened up. 

 She didn’t question the pink hat he had on. “SAKUYA’S GONE!”

 “Where did he go?” the Seer asked.

 “I DON’T KNOW, WE WERE PRACTICING TELEPORTATION!”

 Citron grimaced and took his hat off, throwing it over his shoulder into somewhere in his room. “Show me to where he was last.”

 She grabbed his hand and dragged him to the red circle. Citron crouched down and touched it his fingertips, slowly tracing around the outside. He closed his eyes and strained to see where the boy had gone.

 An image flashed into his head.

 That couldn’t be right, could it?

 Citron checked again.

 He stood up and let out a slow breath. “Oh, Director…”

 “Well?!” she demanded frantically.


 Sakuya looked around at the crowded cobblestoned street. The sun was brighter than it’d been, like it was early afternoon. Where was he? Maybe it wasn’t the right thing to notice but everything smelled different.

 “Um, excuse me?” Sakuya asked the closest person. “Do you know where I am?”

 The stranger immediately drew away and gave him a bitter look of resentment. “Désolé, je ne parle pas bette langue.”

 Oh. 

 Oh, no.


 Matsukawa nearly fumbled a glass of milk when the building shook to its core.

 “PARIS? WHAT DO YOU MEAN, PARIS?

 When Izumi Tachibana wanted to scream, she could scream to hell and back.

Chapter Text

 Itaru stretched back his shoulders and groaned when his spine clicked back into place. Gaming was hard work. He deserved something to drink.

 He regretted opening the door to his bedroom immediately. As per usual.

 Oh, how he loathed existing under this roof.

 “What are you doing now?” he asked scornfully as Izumi ran by him with a pile of clothes in her arms.

 She didn’t reply properly, only letting out an anguished stream of half-screams, half-groans. She threw her burden into an open suitcase on the living room floor.

 “CITRON, HOW'S AIRFARE LOOKING?” she yelled.

 “I just found two tickets on sale!” the Seer called back from the office, squinting at the computer screen. “It will take two transfers and twenty hours overall of travel, do I buy them?”

 Itaru grabbed Izumi by her arm. “Hold on, tickets? Where are you going? Why wasn’t I informed about this?”

 “I was informed about the impromptu search party like ten minutes ago, Itaru, so I don’t think you’re missing out on much,” she seethed, tugging free from his grip. “Sakuya’s lost in Paris so now we have to go find him.”

 “Paris? How do you lose a child in another country?”

 She covered her face with her hands. “…We were practicing a teleportation spell.”

 Of course. That might as well be the answer. Because to Itaru, it felt like the majority of people living within the walls of this Coven could not go even half a minute without getting involved in shenanigans.

 Half of them were in desperate need of a hobby besides magic. He was a being birthed by the fires of hell and consisted more of raw magical power than flesh, but at least he ate up most of his hours playing video games.

 Itaru sighed and weighed his options. If they left, it would be quiet. But the Director was much easier to convince to buy things he wanted than that blasted sacrifice. He could always bully the awkward man that wore glasses but he wasn’t at the dorms often. And, honestly, Itaru didn’t trust either the Seer or the Director to act intelligently. Their search could last weeks.

 For his own benefit, perhaps a little action was required.

 “Do you know where in Paris he is?” Itaru asked.

 Izumi hesitated. “Nearby some bakery? Alexine, I dunno what Citron—“

 “Right.” He clapped his palms together and a ring of fire opened up over the floorboards. “Give me half an hour tops.”

 He stepped over the line and dropped straight down.

 “ITARU—?”

 He closed his eyes and free-fell in the pitch black of intangible concepts, bending through space and time and darkness. Freezing cold air rushed over his cheeks before he felt a notion of Paris nearby. He snapped his fingers.

 Itaru rose from his ring of fire and stepped onto the cracked street of a Parisian alleyway. Face to face with a thoroughly stunned looking youth who had a cigarette dangling from his lips.

 The demon cleared his throat. “Où est la… uh, boulangerie Alexine?

 The youth, he couldn’t have been older than sixteen, just took another drag from the cigarette and pointed down the street. Itaru ducked his head.  Merci.”

 This was why he loved Europe. None of that fussy “Oh my god, is that a demon, let's throw beans at it” business you found in Asia. He’d always been jealous of the devils that were stationed here.

 ...No, Itaru took it back. He’d heard office rumors of Europeans being very heavy on exorcism. Maybe every continent was difficult for demons, just in different ways.

 He shook himself out of the thoughts as he approached the bakery and found the pinkish head he’d come for.

 “Sakuya,” Itaru said in monotone. “I’m here to bring you back home.”

 The boy whirled around, eyes lighting up at the sight of who'd called his name. “Itaru! How did you find me?”

 “Citron.”

 “You can teleport?”

 He shrugged. “Probably not in the same kind you humans do. Let’s go. You’ve got the Director in all sorts of knots.”

 “I probably do, huh… one second!” He waved a coin. “I asked for someone to help and he gave me two euros. I want to buy some bread to bring back to the dorms! D’you think the Director likes bread?”

 Itaru blinked. “Uh. Sure.”

 Sakuya gave a blinding smile. “I sure hope so. Do you want to come in with me? It looks really nice in there and I’m a little scared to go on my own.”

 The window display was small but crammed with all sorts of colorful cakes and tarts and pastries. The store itself looked empty of patrons but in fairness, it was still morning in France. Itaru followed after the Witch and gazed at the array of baked goods, suddenly a little sore at not having money on hand. The cakes looked tasty.

 “Where did you get two euros?” Itaru asked.

 He himself had a little collection of gold coins and diamonds tucked away from his past contracts but he doubted the bakery would accept doubloons as a method of payment.

 Sakuya handed over the coin to the baker and gestured emphatically for a long loaf of french bread. It was given to him after being tucked into a paper bag. He gave the loaf a sniff, hummed with poorly suppressed joy, and accepted the change.

 “I was trying to ask a man for directions but he just gave me money and pointed me in this direction,” Sakuya said, closing the bag. “I think he thought I was homeless. It was really nice of him to offer me money, don’t you think? Even if I was just trying to figure out where the police station was. Have you ever been to France before, Itaru?”

 Itaru tilted his chin back and tried to remember. He must have, even if just for an hour or two.

 “Probably,” he said at last, finding two thousand years of memories difficult to sift through in just a moment. “I usually respond to summons in Japan. Sometimes Korea, but it’s been at least a century since I was dispatched there."

 “I’ve never been out of the city before, much less the country,” Sakuya rambled. “This was a really fun experience. I mean, except for that first ten minutes when I was really scared. It makes me really happy that I can just… zap! Appear here again whenever I want to.”

 Itaru snorted. “I can’t help but doubt your ability to do so at the level you're at now. Wasn't your appearance here a mistake?”

 “Yeah. But one day I could do it because I wanted to!” Sakuya leaned closer and whispered, “by the way, is it okay for you to be out in broad daylight? You don’t look very normal, you know.”

 Itaru looked down at himself. He’d ditched the cloak a few days ago for something Izumi had called “sweatpants” and a yellow zip-up jersey from the storage closet. Sakuya cleared his throat and gestured, first at Itaru’s horns and then his hooves.

 “Oh.” Itaru rolled his eyes. “It’s Europe. The people here mellow out after a plague or two, it’s fine.”

 “Okay! If you say so. Is the Director worried? We should probably go back soon.”

 Itaru hesitated. He had an idea. “You got change from that baker, didn’t you?”

 “Just a euro.”

 Would it be enough? “Let us walk around in search of a tourist shop.”

 “Why?”

 “It’d be a shame to come back with solely a loaf of bread, no?"

 They found a little kitschy stand two streets down. It sold magnets and t-shirts with I HEART PARIS, the kind of garbage obviously meant for American scum. They paid for what they desired.

 The old woman running the pop-up shop seemed confused by Itaru’s horns but, like he’d predicated, chose to not comment on them.

 Itaru clapped his palms to summon a portal and jerked his head towards it. “Get in. I’m not holding your hand.”

 Sakuya peered at the endless darkness at his feet and pulled a face. “Will it be safe?”

 “…Sure.”

 The Witch took in a deep breath, hugged the baguette to his chest, and jumped in. He began screaming immediately. Itaru let himself chuckle a little and then followed suit.


 Sakuya kneeled on the kitchen floor right outside of the burning ring and promptly emptied the contents of his stomach.

 “Kiddo?!” Izumi yelped, rubbing his back as he retched.

 He flapped his hand, motioning her to get away. She refused, still running her hand up and down his back until he stopped shaking. He wiped his mouth and sat on his knees, pale.

 “That was awful,” he informed Itaru as the demon appeared next. Citron, standing by the doorway, let out a soft squeak and turned away to tie his scarf over his eyes.

 He simply shrugged. “You’re weak.”

 Izumi went to dampen a paper towel and clean up the sick. “Thank God you got him so quickly, Itaru. What do you want?”

 Itaru poked at a sharp fang with his tongue. “Twenty thousand yen store credit for Steam.”

 “Done.” Izumi tossed the paper towel into the trash can and hugged Sakuya tight. “I’m glad you’re back safe.”

 Then she began shaking him by his shoulders until Citron forced her off.

 “Director, please, you will make him vomit again,” the Seer scolded.

 Izumi's rage refused to subside. “What am I always telling you?!”

 “R-Respect women?”

 “And!”

 Sakuya sighed and closed his eyes. “Always focus on spells otherwise they’ll go overboard. Do I… have to go back to meditation?”

 “Of course! You obviously haven't been meditating enough if you landed in France. That spell should have taken you fifty yards max!” Izumi flicked his forehead. “You had a rough day, though so I'll let that be punishment enough. Go to bed early tonight and take it easy.”

 Sakuya thrust the baguette into her arms. “I brought back bread.”

 Izumi stared at it, not sure what to say. 

 “He also got you something else,” Itaru drawled.

 Sakuya patted his sweatshirt’s pocket and removed two postcards. They were identical pictures of the Eiffel Tower, Sending Love From Paris! written with shiny golden ink in the corner. He handed one to Izumi and another to Citron.

 “What does it say?” Citron asked.

 Izumi pressed her lips together. She glanced at Itaru.

 “This was your idea of a joke, wasn’t it,” she said flatly.

 The demon just smirked, sliding his hands into his pockets. “Figured you would need a little consolation since Sakuya got to go on a vacation and you didn't.”

 Izumi grabbed the spray bottle. “I’m indebted to you so I’m giving a five second head start. Run.”

 Itaru not only locked the door to his dorm, he also flicked his finger and dragged his bed frame in front of it as a blockade. Just to stay on the safe side.


 “Everyone done with dinner?” Izumi asked as she accepted the final plate from Banri and put it in the sink. “Good. Let’s get started.”

 She spread out the blueprint of the Council’s building onto the kitchen table. Everyone crowded around.

 “Citron, Tsuzuru, Muku, Sakuya, Yuki, and I are going to be at the ball. That leaves the rest of you, the Break In Team, to get into the building and find any file you can on Hakkaku Watanabe.” Izumi circled one of the rooms with red pen. “This is the archives. I recommend you start looking through there first. If it’s not,” she circled a room on the other side of the building, “then this is Mayor Reni’s office where you’ll find more sensitive information.”

 The Break In Team (Banri, Kazunari, Masumi, Misumi, and Tenma) all nodded.

 Tsuzuru tapped the blueprint with a long pointer. She’d asked if it was necessary to bring to the debriefing, to which he’d only glowered at her, not even gracing the question with a response. 

 “We’re not sure how many guards are going to be stationed there during the ball. Most of them should be at the ball since working for the Council is an automatic invite but I’d expect at least some patrols,” he said.

 Tenma tagged in with a knock to the table with his knuckles. He gave a quick run down of how the Council worked for anybody who didn't know. Casters, usually either Firstborns or Second Generation, worked within the Council’s departments. A select few even helped Reni pass bills. Hunters of all sorts worked on the underground police force with Sakyo and would likely be responsible for the guarding.

 Misumi raised his hand. “What do we do if we see a guard while snooping?”

 “Run,” Tsuzuru replied simply. “Mission abort. The entire purpose of this,” he made a disgusted noise, “mission, for lack of better term, is to get information without putting the Coven in danger. If anyone on the Council thinks we played a hand in this, we’re done for and shut down by sunrise. That’s why Kazunari is going with you guys.”

 The Caster in question tipped his hat. “I’m the scapegoat!”

 Izumi pressed her fingertips together. “If you get caught and anybody asks, Kazunari wanted to get into the building and reclaim a box of enchanted fireworks Sakyo confiscated from him.”

 “Enchanted fireworks,” Tenma repeated indcredulously.

 Kazunari threw his arms into the air. “They were sooooo sick! They were supposed to go off in the sky and make pictures that moved! Dunno why they got taken away. I think it’s because the Council was jealous."

 Sakuya looked confused. “You’re… okay with being our excuse?”

 “Ah, I’m already on the Council’s hate list,” he said glibly. “It’s why Dad and I don’t get invited to the ball anymore. On the bright side, I’m technically not a part of the Coven so you guys won't get hurt if I take the blame! Worst case scenario—“

 Kazunari and Misumi high-fived. In unison, they cried, “Sleepover at Sakyo’s!”

 “The demon and Hyodo can’t go with us?” Banri asked. “I feel like havin' a demon that can teleport anywhere and a ghost that can go through walls would be a little helpful.”

 Izumi cleared her throat. “Itaru said, and I quote, ’No,’ when I asked him. And Juza… well, it’s just for his safety. When Hunters see a wraith, it’s stab first, ask later. The worst for you guys would just getting apprehended.

 "We're not putting Ju-chan in danger," Muku said very firmly.

 Banri clicked his tongue. “Whatever. What security we talkin’ about here?”

 “I had Matsukawa scope it out this afternoon. There are a few cameras set up around the halls and we can expect an alarm system by the archive room and the same, if not more, at Reni’s office.” Izumi took in a deep breath and put her palms flat on the table. “You will not have to worry about that.”

 “Because I am a genius,” Kazunari interrupted.

 She rolled her eyes. “Yes, because Kazunari is a genius.”

 He slapped a packet of paper onto the table. “I am, and I repeat, a completely smoking hot, incredible genius.” He batted his eyelashes at Misumi. “What am I?”

 “A genius,” Misumi said and took Kazunari’s hat off to pat his head.

 “Yes, I am!”

 Sakuya reached. “May I?”

 “‘Course.”

 He flipped through the packet and nodded. “Wow.” He put the packet down. “I can’t read any of it.”

 Izumi laughed and ruffled his hair. “They’re advanced Runes, kiddo, I can hardly read them myself. Kazunari, can you explain?”

 “Right!” The Caster leapt to his feet because apparently he found it physically impossible to describe the process without extravagant hand gestures. “This, my friends, is a four-thousand Rune sequence meant to shut off both electricity and radio waves within a specific area. The Runes stop the flow of electrons in any circuit within the perimeter of the casting and act as cell towers to absorb all frequencies meant to go outwards.”

 Silence.

 Misumi prodded Kazunari’s calf with his toe. “Kazu, you need to explain better.”

 “Right, right. Uh, makes electricity not work, also cell phones can’t text or call.” Kazunari paused and pouted. “Okay, that doesn’t sound as cool but you guys have to understand that this Rune sequence was really freaking hard to make! So I would like some applause!”

 Sakuya clapped politely.

 Tenma, on the other hand, cleared his throat. “You know that’s illegal, right? Like… a super illegal Rune sequence? It’s basically a theft kit in magic form."

 “Kid, you’re about to break into what is technically a government building, I think we’re way over the line of ‘you know that’s illegal, right’,” Izumi said.

 The Hunter shrugged. “Just saying.”

 The Director slapped her hand onto Citron’s shoulder. “Citron here will be at the ball and keeping his eyes on Mayor Reni’s thoughts at all times. The second the guy catches wind of something going wrong under his nose, we’ll let you know.”

 “How? Didn’t you just say cells would be off?” Banri asked.

 Masumi closed his eyes and put a hand on his chest. “If the Director wants me to know something, I’ll know… it’s how soulmates work.”

 “Holy crap, you are so creepy,” Tsuzuru said. “No. We’re actually going to be using…”

 Izumi stuck two fingers into her mouth and whistled.

 “You can just call my name, you know!

 A pink bird perched on her shoulder and began to peck at strands of Izumi’s hair.

 Sakuya’s brow furrowed. “Kamekichi?”

 Izumi scratched the bird gently on his head and straightened his little bowtie. “Kamekichi is Matsukawa’s familiar. They’re linked telepathically, which works outside of radio waves. I’ll text the information to Matsukawa and he’ll relay the information to our pink little friend here. He’ll be going with you guys.”

 “Will you pay me? You’re gonna pay me, right?

 “All the bird seed your chubby little aviary stomach could desire for a whole week, Kamekichi, I promise.”

 He flapped his wings and preened.

 “Remember, boys,” Izumi said firmly. “The goal is to get in and out with what we want and without being discovered. They'll think a simple power outage happened and nothing else. Ideally, by the time Reni gets news of the blackout, you all will be on the train back home."


 “Tenma, wait!”

 The Hunter gnashed his teeth but barely restrained himself from disappearing into his bedroom. He turned around and faced the Witch. “What do you want.”

 Sakuya fiddled his thumbs. “I’m really sorry. For… you know. Taking back the invite. I really wanted you to be my plus one and I feel really, really bad for screwing up. I didn't know that the Director needed Citron to go with us when I promised you."

 Tenma huffed and didn’t say anything for a while. As the awkward silence stretched, he felt his cheeks heat up. He poked Sakuya’s forehead with his finger, pushing his face back. Anything to stop those puppy dog eyes.

 “It’s fine, it’s not like I wanted to go that bad,” Tenma said.

 Sakuya grabbed his hand and held it in both of his. He leaned forward and drew his eyebrows together. “The next one. I promise! Even if the Director has a new heist in mind, I’ll fight her on it!”

 Tenma jerked his hand away. “Dude, seriously, forget about it. It’s fine. My parents throw better parties, I just kind of wanted to show up so I could piss Reni and Sakyo off. You don't even know whether or not you’ll get another invite in the fall."

 Sakuya looked a little placated by that statement but still very guilty. “I just feel so bad. I don’t like breaking promises.”

 “You know how to act at these things?” Tenma asked.

 “…Act?”

 “You know how to dance? What to wear?”

 Sakuya froze. “I’m supposed to dance?

 “Sakuma, it’s a ball. What do you think people do."

 “I—I don’t know! I’ve never been to a party before. The only ball I know is the one in Cinderella where they—“ The Witch went white in the face. “Oh, god, they do dance at those things, don’t they? Tenma, what am I going to do?”

 The Hunter worked his mouth and then decided to just go for it.

 He opened his bedroom door and gestured for Sakuya to follow him. “C’mon, I’ll teach you an easy box step. It’ll take like fifteen minutes.”

 “Really?! Thank you, that’s so nice! You’re a really nice guy, Tenma, you know?”

 “Stop talking, you’re so embarrassing.” Tenma felt like his face was going to light on fire. “Christ.”

 He took his phone from his back pocket and turned on the first song on his Classicals playlist. Shostakovich, good, that would be perfect.

 “So you’re probably going to want to know how to do the guy part,” he said, scratching his head. “Uh… You just…”

 He grabbed Sakuya’s hands and placed them where they belonged, taking the women's position himself. Tenma felt, to be frank, a little foolish since Sakuya was a full ten centimeters shorter. But it would have to do.

 “Imagine there’s a small square on the floor,” he instructed, eyes trained on the wooden floorboards so he wouldn’t have to process how close he was standing to the Witch. “When you’re doing the men’s part, you have to take the first step forward. Left foot.”

 Sakuya did as told.

 “Put your right foot beside it. Then step to the right—just a little, not that big! Jesus, Sakuma, how much of a klutz are you.”

 Sakuya laughed. “Pretty awful.”

 “Yeah, I can see that. SHIT!” Tenma leapt away as Sakuya’s heel ground down on his toes. “FUCK! Sakuma!”

 “Sorry, sorry! I didn’t mean to!”

 Tenma knocked his knuckles on the Witch’s head, forcing him to look down at their feet. “Focus. Just because you’re leading doesn’t mean your dance partner’s going to be able to read your mind and avoid your dinosaur feet.”

 “R-Right…”

 The waltz continued. They stepped back and forth, side to side, in that small square for a few minutes until Sakuya finally seemed to get a hang of the rhythm. Tenma stepped away as soon as he figured he’d taught the concept.

 “If any girl asks you to dance, just do that and… I dunno. Make up an excuse about having to go to the bathroom when you start freaking out.” Tenma chuckled to himself. “That’s what I did at my first ball.”

 Sakuya grinned. “Thanks! I owe you one.”

 The Sumeragi heir gave a big snort. “You owe me more than just one after inviting me and then un-inviting me. What are you wearing?"

 “I have a really nice sweater vest—“

 Tenma’s expression interrupted him better than a shout could have. “No. Sakuma, you are such a goddamn mess. Thank god you’re a Firstborn, you hardly have any other excuse. It’s a white tie event, you’re supposed to wear a tux.”

 The Witch swallowed dryly. “I, uh. I don’t own one.”

 “So? Get your parents to buy one.”

 Sakuya didn’t say anything. His lips twisted into a tight smile that looked like it could shatter. “Maybe! I don’t think it’ll get here in time.”

 Tenma felt frustration bubble up in his stomach and nearly pop out of his ears in steam form. This guy was lucky he hadn’t been eaten by the upper echelons’ vultures already. He threw open his closet and took out the garment bag hanging at the end of the rack.

 “Just wear mine,” Tenma said flatly. “It’ll be better than you showing up in a sweater vest and embarrassing yourself.”

 Sakuya clutched the garment bag, eyebrows all the way up to his hairline. “I couldn’t! I already owe you way too much—“

 “Even if I hate to admit it,” Tenma continued a little louder, “I’m a part of this Coven now. If you humiliate yourself at the ball in front of all of those distinguished magicians, you’re going to be humiliating all of the people in Mankai, me included. So just wear the thing, okay?”

 Sakuya still seemed unsure.

 Tenma crossed his arms.

 “Remember, you owe me,” he said sharply.

 Sakuya’s face slowly softened to a small smile. “Yeah. I guess I do."


MAY 20th, EVENING:

 Tsuzuru knocked on the door.

 “Hey, Director, do you—“ He paused and raised an eyebrow. “You’re going to wear that?”

 Izumi looked down at her black and white pantsuit. It was a few years old and a bit on the rattier side, yes, but there’d been no tears when she had given it a look over. “What’s wrong with it?”

 “Women generally wear dresses to these things.”

 “I don’t own a dress, Tsuzuru.” She looked him up and down and gave a fond pat on his cheek. “You look snazzy though! D’awwww. All dressed up.”

 “Thanks, it’s the tuxedo my older brother wore for his cello recitals.” Tsuzuru handed her his white tie. “Do you know how to put these things on? I have a feeling you do.”

 “You assumed correctly, young sir." Izumi helped him loop it around his neck and knotted it properly.

 She nodded upon deciding it was neat and straight.

 “Let’s get going then,” she said brightly and picked up her clutch from the bedside table.

 “You know there’s going to be dancing at these things,” Tsuzuru said. “And that men are probably going to approach you asking to dance. Do you know how to ballroom?”

 Izumi grinned and showed all her teeth. “Will you be surprised if I say yes?”

 “You do?”

 “…You don’t have to look that beside yourself, you know. My ex really liked going to Renaissance Fairs so she forced me to take a few lessons with her.” Izumi paused. “Although now that I think about it, I think I only learned the lead part.”

 Tsuzuru looked scandalized. “Director!”

 She waved off his concerns and instead took to cooing over Muku who’d just made his entrance to the living room.

 “Look at you!” she said, wiping her eye of a mock tear. “You look like a whole little man!"

 The boy went pink and messed with his stiff white collar. “T-Thank you, Director! I don’t think I’ve really worn a black tuxedo before. It feels really fancy and special! I can't believe we're going to a ball, just like in the fairy tales.”

 Someone knocked at the door. Izumi went to go answer, bidding Tsuzuru to fetch Sakuya and Citron from their rooms.

 “Yuki!” she cried on sight. “You look incredible!

 “I know,” the brownie said like it was an obvious fact.

 And he did, really. He had a floor length red gown with matching ruby earrings. A white, puffy shawl covered his shoulders. And he looked—taller than usual. Izumi crouched down and raised the hem of his dress to double check. Yep, he was rocking heels.

 “That’s what you’re supposed to be wearing,” Tsuzuru said flatly as he approached them. “The fourteen year old boy just adhered to the dress-code better than you. Congratulations.”

 “A pantsuit is fine!”

 “You're not even wearing a white tie. This is a white tie event. And no, the white laces of your disgusting sneakers do not count!”

 “I’m not going to wear my Converse to the ball, Tsuzuru. What am I, uncultured?”

 Tsuzuru looked skeptical. “What are you going to wear then?"

Izumi leaned down and brandished her scuffed pair of Timberland hiking boots.

 Yuki was the one to walk forward and quite literally slap them out of her hands. “No. Absolutely not. Are you insane? Show me what shoes you own.”

 “I—what’s wrong with my Tims? They’ve been nothing but loyal to me, you’re being rude to them!”

 Tsuzuru looked at the ceiling. “Lord, we are not to question your mysterious ways. But must you make me deal with so much?”

 Muku stood up when Yuki dragged the Director to her bedroom. “Yuki, you look so good! You were right, red really is your color!”

 “Of course it is,” Yuki snapped. “Fix your tie, Muku, your back-strip is longer than the front.”

 “Oops!"

 Yuki threw Izumi's closet open and looked horrified at the contents. He turned to her. “Why do you have to own so many flannels and striped shirts?”

 “Because I stick to an aesthetic, kid. They’re the easiest to just throw on in the mornings and make match without too much effort!”

 “Fashion is supposed to be effort. You taking the lazy way out is nothing but shameful, not pragmatic." He handed her a pair of low-heeled black pumps. “You’re going to wear these. Not those…” Yuki shuddered, and Izumi couldn’t tell if it was performative or legitimate. “Boots."

 “What? I hate these heels, they dig into my ankles.”

 Yuki stuck his foot out to show her his stilettos. He narrowed his eyes, as though daring her to challenge him. “These are five inches. The ones you’re holding are one and a half at most. Beauty is pain, Director. Suck it up.”

 Izumi sighed gustily and put on the pumps.

 “Whoa. That’s a very nice suit. Where’d you get that from?”

 “Ten let me borrow it!”

 Izumi and Yuki left her bedroom to find the boys crowded around Sakuya. Muku shifted to the side and let them catch a glimpse.

 For some reason, Izumi felt overcome with a sharp wave of unfamiliar emotion. A mix of sadness and pride swelled in her chest.

 Sakuya was wearing a a sleek, handsome tuxedo that was a size or two too big on him form the way the sleeves had to be cuffed. Whenever he moved, the fabric of the suit caught light and blazed with subtle oranges and reds like candle's flame. It was the first time, Izumi realized, that she was not seeing him in street clothes or pajamas. 

 “Are you actually crying,” Tsuzuru murmured exasperatedly.

 Izumi dabbed her eye again, only this time with a little more sincereity than she cared to admit. “He’s eighteen, Tsuzuru. They really do grow up so fast.”

 “You met him a month and a half ago.”

 “And what a month and a half it’s been.” Izumi cleared her throat and stepped forward, fixing Sakuya’s tie despite it being immaculate. “You look great, kiddo. You’ll knock ‘em dead at the ball and make Reni feel like hell for putting such a hard time on you.”

 Sakuya smiled at her as warm as the undertones of his jacket. “Thank you, Director. I like your pantsuit.”

 “So do I, but nobody else seems impressed by it.”

 Yuki nudged the Director aside, eyes narrowed. “Hold on. That tuxedo looks… so familiar. Where did you say you got it from?”

 “A friend loaned it to me! You haven’t met everybody here, right? Your name was Yuki?”

 Yuki leaned down and couldn’t seem to tear his gaze away from the fine, shimmering wool. “I know this suit. I’ve seen one just like it before…”

 “It’s really nice, isn’t it?” Sakuya said excitedly. “It was really nice of him to let me borrow it.”

 "Hold on. This—? This is a Bloodline suit. Who—?”

 A door opened. Tenma came out holding a few golden buttons in his palm. “Dumbass, you forgot your cufflinks. The suit isn't complete without the cufflinks!”

 Yuki dropped Sakuya’s sleeve along with his jaw. The air suddenly turned cold.

 “Tenma Sumeragi,” Yuki whispered, each syllable like a needle coated in poison.

 Tenma blinked and raised an eyebrow. “Do I know you?”

 The Coven had already born witness to many explosive moments within its walls, but Izumi couldn’t recall the last time there’d been a legitimate explosion. At least, that’s what it felt like. Every cabinet, every drawer, every door, all slammed open and banged so hard against the wall that the plaster would never recover. The rug under their feet swept out and everyone toppled with a shriek. She heard shattering in the kitchen—the dishes?

 And then the lightbulbs burst. She grabbed the nearest person she could, probably Muku, and forced the boy to duck his head and avoid the shards of glass that rained down on them in the darkness.

 “What the fuck!” Tsuzuru yelled, which she would excuse given the circumstances.

 “Sakuya,” she snapped. “Reficio, now!”

 “I—huh? I don’t know that spell!”

 “Now!”

 “R-Reficio!

 A gust of wind that smelled of pine swept through the Coven’s living room and kitchen. After sparking fiercely, the lightbulb shards lifted back into their sockets and repaired themselves. The lights came back on.

 Yuki had not moved in the chaos, still staring down at Tenma like he was looking at a cockroach. “What is he doing here?”

 “Tenma is a teacher here, Yuki,” Izumi said sharply. “I’m going to give you the benefit of the doubt and assume that was just a loss of control. Don’t make me regret giving you this pass.”

 The brownie jabbed a perfectly manicured fingernail that was the same shade of his dress, and now his face. Actually, his complexion was nearing purple at this point. “You have a Sumeragi working for you?”

 He whirled to face Muku who seemed like he was struggling for breath on the floor. “AND YOU DIDN’T TELL ME?”

 Izumi grabbed the young boy by his shoulders and brought her face in close. “Listen to me right now. Do you understand what you just did? You just put three kids currently under my supervision in the way of broken glass. Whatever issue you may have with Tenma or his family is irrelevant right now if you continue in this fashion. Do I have a reason to be concerned, Yuki?”

 Yuki opened and shut his mouth. He pursed his lips and gave a curt nod.

 “Good.” She straightened up and checked her watch. They were already running late. They had to get the BI Team out of the dorms now. “Tenma, get up. Misumi and Masumi and the bird should already be in the backyard. Kazunari and Banri will meet you three at the Council building’s station. Keep us updated through Kamekichi, will you?”

 The Hunter slowly got up and cast a concerned (scared?) look towards Yuki. He licked his lips and nodded. “Right. Okay.”

 “But—!”

 “We don’t have time, Yuki,” Izumi said sharply. “I will be so, so glad to moderate whatever issue you have with Tenma but I can only handle one major event on my plate at a time. Please?”

 The brownie clenched his jaw. “Whatever.”

 She leaned down and rubbed Muku’s back. “Sweetie, you good?”

 The Seer nodded, blinking like his eyes were having trouble coming back into focus. “I t-think so? What happened?”

 “Who knows, but that sounds like a problem for Future Us.” She glanced at Yuki who had his eyes trained on the ceiling. He was breathing heavily. “What are you doing?”

 He spoke through gritted teeth. “I didn’t wear waterproof mascara and I’m trying really hard not to tear up right now because none of you are worth my smudged makeup.”

 Sakuya nodded. “I cry when I get overwhelmed sometimes too.”

 Muku reached towards his friend. “Yuki, I—“

 He drew away. “Don’t talk to me right now. I’m mad at you.”

 “What?! But—!”

 “I gave you an hour long rant about how much the Bloodlines in this city have screwed mythics over and you didn’t tell me that you were living with the worst of the lot? You might as well have lied to me!”

 Tsuzuru raised his hand. “Not all Bloodlines.”

 “Take the hashtag to Twitter, you background character,” Yuki shot back.

 Tsuzuru lowered his hand. “Ow.”

 Izumi clapped her hands. “HEY. Drop it! One event at a time.”

 Yuki crossed his arms and looked away from them all. Citron poked his head into the living room and smiled.

 “Is the storm passed?” he asked pleasantly.

 Izumi pointed an accusing finger. “That was why you were taking so long to get dressed.”

 The Seer just laughed.


“Holy crap,” Muku whispered.

 Izumi let out a low whistle. “Holy crap is right. Thin ice, but… it’s right.”

 Tsuzuru had informed her prior that the Council rented the city’s cathedral for the event, seeing as how it was the largest building available, but she could have never expected this. Each and every marble wall within draped with rich tapestries. Bustling waiters and waitresses holding trays piled high with champagne glasses, filled with bubbling drink of every shade. Tables covered in white linens on one half of the room, a dance floor stationed on the other with several people milling around and socializing. The dresses were large and flamboyant and, up until that point, things that had only existed for Izumi on the television screen when they were announcing Oscar winners.

 Yuki gripped Muku’s arm. “I’m still really, really mad at you but I think I might fall over otherwise."

 Citron clapped. “Wonderful! This is just like back home."

 “Home?  Where did you live again” Tsuzuru surveyed the small group. “The rest of us are poor gang, I hope.”

 “Um… I'm middle class,” Muku offered.

 “Same.” Izumi said.

 Sakuya smiled awkwardly. “Technically? I mean, maybe. My relatives do alright but I’m kind of cut off at the moment.”

 Yuki didn’t answer, just rolled his eyes.

 Izumi’s phone beeped. She glanced at the message. It was Kazunari reporting having arrived at the site and starting to set the perimeter. They had to track down Reni.

 “What does the mayor look like?” she muttered at Tsuzuru.

 He shook his head. “He doesn’t make an appearance at the party until thirty minutes later to give a speech.”

 “They give speeches?

 “Formalities to get the party into full swing. He’ll start talking in front of a lectern once everyone takes a seat, you won’t miss him.”

 She nudged Citron. “You think you’ll be able to keep an eye on his thoughts the whole night?”

 He laughed like she was silly for even asking. Sakuya pulled at her arm.

 “Director, Director, let’s go get a table!” he said, nearly buzzing with excitement by being surrounded by such glamor.

 Sakuya picked a table at random and was immediately besmirched by Yuki who forced them all to sit near the front and side instead.

 “Centers are for chumps who can’t get attention in any other way besides throwing themselves into the spotlight,” he said snidely, pulling a chair out for Izumi to sit at. “The real stars sit at the side and draw eyes no matter what.”

 “Yuki, they have a chocolate fountain,” Muku whispered, pointing to the table set up near the chamber orchestra. 

 The brownie reacted like someone had just shocked him with a cattle prod. “Where.”

 The two boys swept over towards the appetizers like moths to a flame. Sakuya fidgeted a little.

 Izumi rolled her eyes and slapped him on the back. “Go. I know you want to.”

 “Thank you!”

 The three remaining took their seats at the table. A waiter passed by and handed them all champagne glasses.

 “Nope,” Izumi said immediately, taking Tsuzuru’s away and one-shooting it.

 He looked thoroughly exasperated. “Are you serious?”

 “You cuss when you’re eighteen, you drink when you’re twenty.” She made a face. Champagne was like drinking sparkling water but worse. It was alcohol that lied about being alcohol.

 Citron leaned over and whispered sensually in her ear. “I know your secret, Director.”

 Izumi blushed and looked away. “I-I have no idea what you mean.”

 Citron put a hand on her hip and murmured, “Show me what you are hiding under your clothes.”

 “What the hell are you two doing,” Tsuzuru asked, interrupting the weird energy.

 Izumi slowly reached into her pants and pulled out the hip flask she’d crammed in before leaving.

 “Are you kidding me?” Tsuzuru snatched the flask away. He unscrewed the top and took a sniff. He gagged. “Is—Is that brandy? You smuggled brandy into the most high-end party of the season?”

 She dropped her jaw and took the flask back. “No! It’s vodka.”

 “That’s supposed to make me feel better?!”

 She added a dribble to her champagne glass and handed it to Citron. “Lighten up, kiddo. Fancy parties never have good drink, that’s just a well-known fact. Thus, I came prepared.”

 “You exhaust me. You’re the worst.”

 She and Citron clinked their glasses before both drank.

 “You’re just upset you can’t drink yet,” Izumi said once coming back up and gestured a waiter over to re-fill. 

 Tsuzuru got up from the table. “I’m done. I’m going to the hors d'oeuvres table with Sakuya and the kids.”

 “Get me anything you think looks expensive,” she called.


 The food offered at the ball were all light appetizers and pretty desserts. Something to grab and nibble on when you were feeling peckish, but nothing so heavy that it could impede one’s ability to dance the night away.

 Tsuzuru took one look at the small dish handed to him and quickly drew a Rune on the bottom, turning it to the size of a hubcap.

 “You are such a heathen,” Yuki said with a scoff as Tsuzuru began to pile up plate-turned-tray.

 The Caster shrugged. “There’s a reason why every all-you-can-eat buffet in this city has college students banned.”

 Muku took a bite from his chocolate cake and sighed. “Everyone’s dressed so nicely. The music is so elegant. I feel like I’m really living in a Disney movie.”

 “Where’s Sakuya?”

 Muku pointed to across the room. “He’s helping a few of the elderly magicians find comfortable seats.”

 “That kid…"

 Yuki let out a horrified shriek, barely muffling it with a palm slapped over his mouth.

 “What’s wrong?” Muku asked.

 He pointed a shaking finger towards someone. “What is that?

 Tsuzuru looked up from the arrangement of asparagus wrapped in bacon.

 “Oh…" He sighed. "That, kids, would be Homare, the esteemed head of the Arisugawa Bloodline. I recommend you don’t make eye contact with him. The Arisugawas and the Council get along decently well but everyone knows the guy is a total whacko. Interaction would be social suicide.”

 “I know who he is! What is he wearing!

 And indeed, Homare Arisugawa stood out like a sore thumb in an emerald green suit paired with a tall top hat. He wasn’t the only man to be wearing a top hat at the event, but his was certainly the only one that was a foot tall and decorated with a large purple bow.

 “He looks like a lime Willy Wonka,” Yuki was sobbing, leaning on Muku’s shoulder for emotional support. “He looks like that Onceler guy from the Lorax. Who let him leave the house like that? I can’t do this, I don’t have any faith in the general public anymore. When did fashion die, Muku? When! And wherefore!”

 “He’s walking towards our table,” Muku whispered.

 “He’s what?!”


 The stranger gave a flourishing bow and then dropped to one knee in front of Izumi. “Hello, fair lady. My name is Homare. Would you care to dance?”

 Izumi looked at him over the rim of her glass. She knocked it back with a flick of her wrist and placed it back onto the table. “Hi. Nice to meet you. Uh, I only know the men's part. That okay with you?”

 Homare smiled and flipped the one lock of hair that was left peculiarly longer than the rest. “How can I expect myself to beguile others with my endless charm if I don’t know both parts to a waltz?”

 “Cool.” Izumi got up and handed her clutch to Citron. She leaned over and hissed into his ear, “If I come back and find all my vodka gone, I will wax strip your legs tonight. Got it, Seer?”

 “I am afraid my Japanese is not good enough to understand what you're saying,” Citron replied sweetly, unscrewing her flask to add another hit to his champagne.

 “Watch it.” Izumi straightened and offered Homare her arm. “Shall we?”

 “We shall!” he cried and swept her off to the dance floor.

 He placed his hand on her shoulder and she placed hers on his back. The two slowly began dancing along with the other couples, stepping on the sides of an imaginary box.

 “So you’re the new High Priestess of the Coven, I take it?” Homare asked as he took a step forward.

 “Yep, just started teaching a little over a month ago.” She raised her arm high for him to twirl under. For a guy who looked like fourteen evergreen saplings tied together with duct tape, he was surprisingly graceful. “And you would be?”

 “Homare Arisugawa! I’m shocked you have not heard of me, the name stretches far and wide over the hills of—“

 “Ahhh, Arisugawa Bloodline. Got it.” They spun in a big circle. Izumi snorted as Homare’s hat smacked an older gentleman in the process. “Is this the whole party? Just, uh, dancing and speeches?”

 Homare didn’t get a chance to answer as someone seized her around her middle and swept her away.

 “Jesus—! Tsuzuru, what’s wrong with you?” she complained. “That was very rude.”

 He marched her back to the table and forced her to sit down. “Do not let her get up from this seat, Citron.”

 The Seer smiled airily as he folded his napkin into a paper crane. Tsuzuru sat down beside her, slamming his plate on the table.

 “Can I ask what that was about?”

 “Homare Arisugawa is the weirdest Caster on this side of the ocean and avoided by every magician like the pox. I left you alone for ten minutes and you were dancing with him?”

 Izumi picked up her champagne glass and took a pointed sip. “Hm. And yet, he was invited. And you are my plus one. Interesting."

 Tsuzuru flushed. “T-That means nothing! The Council’s had it out for my family for generations!”

 “Hmmmm.”

 Sakuya returned, looking thoroughly spent already. His arms were piled high with several oddities.

 “A lot of people just gave me things when I was helping them around,” he explained. “I don’t really get it but it was really nice! This guy gave me a signed book of Runes.”

 Tsuzuru took one look at the leather-bound grimoire and spewed tomato sauce all over the tablecloth.

 “TSUZURU, WERE YOU RAISED BY WOLVES!” Izumi yelled.

 The Caster grabbed the volume and checked the signature, wiping his mouth furiously with his sleeve. “Kuryu. It’s Kuryu’s. Where was he?!”

 “Ah? Um, uh, I think he’s sitting over—“

 He was gone. Izumi crossed her arms and sighed. The ball was not as fun as people had amped it up to be. She hoped the Break In Team was having a better time than she was.


 Tenma dragged his palm down his face. “Misumi, I said no.”

 “But Teeeeenma, pleeeeeease?”

 “I said no. Let the cat go.”

 Misumi pulled the animal closer to his chest and pouted. “But Carol said she wanted to come with us!”

 “Misumi, no. We are not bringing a cat to a break in of a government building.”

 “But—!”

 Masumi grabbed the cat from Misumi’s arms and placed it down on the street. “Shoo.”

 The cat mewed at him but skedaddled once he shot it a poisonous glare. Misumi wilted.

 Banri stared at them and chose to keep walking. “Man, you guys are all super fuckin’ weird. C’mon, that annoying blond guy’s waiting.”

 “Kazu!” 

 Misumi raced ahead of them.

 Banri whistled. “Christ, that guy can run fast.”

 When the three that chose to walk at a normal pace rounded the corner, they were gifted with the sight of Misumi spinning Kazunari around in a big embrace.

 “Have you been working out, Sumi?” Kazunari asked, laughing. “I was the one picking you up last summer.”

 “I eat a lot of triangles!”

 “Yes, king, get those edges! We love that here.” Kazunari glanced at the latecomers and tapped Misumi’s shoulder. “Alright, we gotta put our serious faces on now. Big job, you know how it is.”

 Misumi dropped his friend back to the pavement. “Okaaaay. Serious face… on!” He scrunched his eyebrows together and pouted. “This is how Tsuzuru looks when people don’t refill the toilet paper stand and leave the cardboard roll.”

 “Ah, man, you got it right on the nose! You totally look just like him.”

 Tenma cleared his throat. “Guys. Focus?”

 “Oh, yeah!” Kazunari pointed to the large office building across the street from them. “You guys see that?”

 “Yeah,” they all chorused except for Masumi who only scowled harder.

 “Dope. Watch this.” Kazunari leaned down and ran his thumb on the ground, activating the Runes.

 Each and every character in the long, stretching sequence glowed bright green and flashed. Every light visible through the building’s windows went off. As did the streetlamp, turning the entire area eerily dark.

 Tenma shuddered. “You’re going to get arrested one day. For real.”

 “I’ll go with you, though, so it’ll be okay!” Misumi said and threw his arms around Kazunari’s shoulders. “Let’s go inside, we should probably do this as fast as we can.”

 “Sqwuaaaaaak!” Kamekichi landed on Masumi’s head and flapped his wings. “We’re supposed to wait for the signal!

 He swatted the bird away and glared harder. It was late and he wanted to go to sleep already but… it was for her, after all. So he’d push his bedtime back a little longer.


 Tsuzuru came back to the table looking thoroughly starstruck.

 “You got what you came for?” Izumi asked.

 He tilted his head back and let out a dreamy sigh. “He’s so cool. He… he signed my arm.” He rolled up his sleeve to show off the signature done in sharpie. “I’m never going to wash this arm again.”

 “Please do. One of the few redeeming qualities you possess is your astuteness on physical hygiene.”

 Tsuzuru melted onto the table. “If he asked me to marry him, I’d decline sharply but then propose being friends with benefits.”

 “Oh my god, Tsuzuru, he’s like thirty years older than you.”

 “And? I’d have free access to his library afterwards, that’s enough."

 "You'd sell out for a library?"

 "What of it."

 Citron poured from the flask and made a face when it came up empty. “The speech will be starting soon.”

 Izumi looked around. “Oh? Where are the kids?"

 “They’re dancing!” Sakuya said through a mouthful of cake.

 “Wipe your mouth, kiddo, you’ve got frosting all over your chin.”

 “Oops.”

 Someone somewhere in the room tapped the edge of their glass with a fork. Like wolves to a howl, everyone else followed suit until the entire cathedral-turned-ballroom was filled with the sound of clinking crystal. The floating lights near the ceiling dimmed to a moody ale-gold and Muku and Yuki returned from their small stint on the dance floor, out of breath and cheeks flushed.

 “Gimme a shrimp,” Yuki demanded, leaning over to snatch one from Tsuzuru’s hoard.

 “Hey, get your own!”

 Sakyo walked to the center of the dance floor with the spotlight trained on him and set up the small platform and lectern. He leaned into the mic and cleared his throat.

 “Attention please,” he said, ever so formally. “Mayor Reni Kamikizaka will now come to stage to share a few words.”

 A smattering of applause as the head of the Council’s underground police retreated. Izumi held her breath. There was a light pause before someone new appeared in the spotlight.

 Reni Kamikizaka was… not what she’d been expecting, in full honesty. She wasn’t sure what she’d expected, maybe a bald rotund man with a cigar between his fore and middle fingers, but it hadn’t been piercing eyes and long, thick plum hair. Reni certainly looked the part of a Council Mayor, at least.

 “I would like to share my appreciation for everyone who made time to make it to this event,” he began, voice a low timbre. “It’s good to once again meet so many familiar faces. And,” here it felt like he was looking straight at their table, “also make acquaintance with some new ones who I’m sure will pave their path soon.”

 Applause again. Izumi joined slowly, feeling like she had to.

 “The city continues to be as we always hope it is. Magic may lie in secrecy to the wide world but we refuse to let it die. We let our pride and our birthright flourish and live on whilst not disturbing the rest of society. This is in large thanks to the hard work of Sakyo Furuichi and our police force.”

 More applause. A second spotlight trained on Sakyo, who just gave a small nod of his head, lips drawn into a tight line.

 Reni spared the tables a smile. “I have a few statements of recognition to share with you this evening. But not to fret, I am not blind to the reason you have all joined us. It will not last very long and soon you may all partake in dancing once again. Personally, I recommend that everyone keep very hydrated with the poison of their choice.”

 The audience tittered.

 As the mayor rambled on and on about all the acclaimed families that had joined them for the evening from all over Japan, Izumi leaned over towards Citron.

 “How is it?” she hissed.

 It was hard to make out in the dark but she felt like Citron had on an expression she’d never witnessed before.

 “I cannot see,” he said softly.

 “…What?”

 “I cannot read him at all.” Citron folded his hands on the table. “He has a shield up.”

 “A what.

 “A shield. It is either a charm, or a spell, or an artifact that makes it impossible for me to read his thoughts.”

 Izumi sat back in her chair, stunned. Why? Why would he need something like that in place? There were no Seers in Japan, let alone this city, up until now. She suddenly had an idea and knocked her elbow into Citron’s side.

 “What about Sakyo,” she hissed. “He’s head of police, he’ll be getting the same updates on the Council’s Main Hall as Reni. Maybe even before."

 The Seer flicked his eyes towards the Hunter in question and suddenly smiled.

 “Oh my,” he mused. “You have quite the admiral in your midst, don’t you, Director?”

 God, sometimes Izumi wished Citron would stop speaking in riddles. “Huh?”

 “No, no, not my secret to share, I think. I can read him just fine. He is unaware.”

 Izumi hesitated and reached for her phone in her clutch. She ducked under the table to text Matsukawa to get the ball rolling.


 “It’s a go!” Kamekichi chirped. He spread his wings and flew up. “I’ll keep a lookout!

 Kazunari pressed a hand to the Council Hall’s door and frowned.

 “Oh, this is a conundrum,” he muttered and squinted. The Caster swiped his hand over the door and a long string of Runes lit up. “Buttcheeks."

 Misumi squinted at them, trying to make sense of the squiggles. “What is it?” 

 “Complete barricade and lock sequence. It’s going to take me like an hour to undo these.”

 The Witch frowned. “That’s a lot of time.”

 “There’s no other choice, I can’t use an Unlock Rune when these are in place. I have to find a way to collapse ‘em otherwise I can’t use magic to get us inside."

 “Hold on, hold on, let me get something straight.” Banri tied his hair back into a little ponytail and went down on one knee in front of the door. “There are Runes and shit to stop you from breaking in with magic, but nothing on the door besides a normal lock?”

 “Yeah, just about.”

 The teen rolled his eyes and removed a little cloth roll from his jean pocket. He undid the velcro and spread the strip to show a collection of oddly shaped wires. Before anybody could ask dumbly what they were, the potential asker was a toss up between Misumi and Tenma, he selected the main strand and stuck it inside the keyhole. He clicked his tongue, stuck the wire in his mouth to hold it, and tried another.

 “Dude, you know how to pick locks?!” Kazunari marveled.

 “Stupid of anybody to rely on just magic as defense. There’s not much difference between lock puzzles and lock picking, it was easy enough to pick up,” Banri muttered through a mouthful of metal as he stuck another pin inside. He guided it slowly into the sole empty barrel and shimmied them all around. The lock clicked and he grinned. “Bingo.”

 Tenma made a face. “I’ve never been surrounded by so many delinquents before.”

 “Ah, Tenten! You’re an accessory to the crime now! Don’t feel left out,” Kazunari cooed as he slapped his palm onto the Hunter’s back. “Okay, uh, Sumi and I’ll head towards Reni’s office. You three make it to the archives room. If anything happens, leave the area and we’ll catch up sooner or later, got it? Remember, my ass on the line.”

 Misumi leaned his chin on Kazunari’s shoulder. “It’s a good ass, Kazu!”

 The Caster shut his eyes and sniffed. “Gosh, you’re the only person in this world I can still trust.”

 Masumi made a disgusted noise in the back of his throat. He turned on the flashlight of his phone and started walking down the hall. “Let’s just get going.”


 The lights had just turned up back to their usual brightness.

 "Goddamn it," Tsuzuru whispered under his breath as Reni immediately headed towards their table.

 “Miss Tachibana, may I presume?” the Mayor asked in that honey-thick tone of his.

 Izumi didn’t really know how to respond so she chose to settle for a simple, “Haha, yeah.” And, unfortunately, received a swift kick in the shin beneath the tablecloth from Tsuzuru.

 The mayor glanced at Tsuzuru and, oh, that moment of clear annoyance and loathing was incredible to see. “Mister Minagi.”

 “Wonderful party, Mayor, I’m so glad I finally got to witness it,” Tsuzuru said with a smile faker than Izumi's clutch that read Gucki instead of Gucci. “My mother sends her regards.”

 “Hm.” His eyes travelled to the others at the table. It stopped at Sakuya. “Ah, the Firstborn Witch. Wonderful to meet you finally, lad.”

 Sakuya waved. “Thank you so much for the invite!”

 Mayor Reni held his palm out to Izumi. “May I be so bold as to whisk Mankai’s High Priestess away for a waltz?”

 "She'll pass," Tsuzuru said snarkily.

 "Actually, I think—" She tried not to let the tears escape her eyes from the pain at another very pointed kick from the Caster sitting beside her. “KNOCK IT OFF, MINAGI. A dance sounds lovely, Mayor Reni.”

 Christ, if she didn’t known any better she’d think Tsuzuru had worn knives instead of leather loafers.

 The mayor brought her to the dance floor as the small chamber orchestra began playing once more. She bit her lip, trying desperately to remember the little details of the female part of the dance.

 “You’ll have to excuse my choice on secrecy,” Reni said, giving her a charming little quirk to the corner of his lips. “I’m sure your Seer acquaintance has noticed. However, privacy is a big principle for the Council and seeing as your Coven has recently gotten two individuals capable of reading minds… You understand why some precautions were taken.”

 “Citron might have said something or other." She did a small, unenthusiastic spin when he raised his arm. “And Muku, that’s our new Seer student, he’s a delight but I think he’s only just gotten a hang of aura sight. Or whatever it’s called, I really don’t know much on how Seer magic works.”

 “How altruistic of you to open the Coven once more. And for the sole sake of a few young boys.” They turned, did a bit of fancy footwork where she definitely stepped on his toes, and promptly resumed the box step. “Should you ever find that you need assistance in teaching the Seer and the Witch, know that the Council is just a step away.”

 Oh, Lord. He was... so full of shit, Izumi thought to herself. “More like sharks in the water, right? Since you want to shut us down if Sakuya doesn’t pass the test?”

 “It’s a formality, Miss Tachibana. A necessary one as well, seeing as how the young Mister Sakuma is the only Firstborn Witch this country has seen in a very long time. A mess-up on your behalf in his education could be detrimental for us all."

 Izumi sent up a small Thank You to God despite not believing in Him. For giving her the foresight to sneak alcohol in. No amount of champagne flat would have given her the level of inebriation needed to suffer through a conversation with this guy.

 “I was an acquaintance of your father’s,” Reni noted. “A swell man. Perhaps we may not have seen eye to eye on everything, but I always admired the dedication he had towards teaching."

 Izumi smiled. “You don’t say? That’s nice. He was basically an absent father for the majority of my childhood before completely disappearing eight years ago and my mom raised me as a single parent, but it’s kind of you to think he’s a swell man."

 She did another spin but didn’t miss the little grimace on Reni’s mouth. Good.

 “Let’s not talk too much about my dear old dad,” she said. “Do you have another conversation topic in mind, Mayor Reni?”

 The man hesitated. He cleared his throat as his hand on her back went slack. “Perhaps we—“

 Izumi clutched Reni’s hand in an iron grip and pulled him closer. “No? That’s fine, I’ve got a great one and I hope you'll humor me. First opportunity I’ve had so far to talk to the guy who thinks he can shut down my Coven."

 “Pardon me?”

 She laughed cheerily. “There’s this really interesting history book my father had in his study. I read it a long time ago when I was a little girl. The word ‘quest’ came up once or twice.

 "They used to be tests for Firstborns, you know, whole centuries back. A way Firstborns could prove their power and be accepted into magic society that shunned them otherwise out of distrust for outsiders.”

 They’d stopped dancing entirely and were just chest to chest in the middle of the dance floor, standing there. Getting dirty looks from the other couples swaying back and forth and twirling around, but Izumi didn't care.

 “It is a formality, Miss Tachibana,” Reni said calmly although he looked annoyed. “I’m sure Sakyo Furuichi has told you. The quests we administered for the students of your father’s Coven, and the one we have in mind for Mister Sakuma, are nothing like the ones you've read about in your little history book. I assure you ours are much safer.”

 Izumi put a finger to her chin like she was thinking. “You know, I did hear that from him. But that’s just the strangest thing.”

 “...I’m afraid I am not following.”

 Izumi’s eyes were wide with false wonder. “I was going through the Coven’s archives for information on what quests had been like twenty or thirty years ago. You get it, right? Just trying to get a sense of what I should teach Sakuya. But the records we had were all so vague. Just notes of ‘this kid passed’ or ’this kid failed.’”

 “Anonymity and secrecy are important for the integrity—“

 “The Coven’s archives were open for anybody to access,” Izumi continued, cutting Reni off. “I mean, the building was closed for so long. Anyone could have gone inside and done what they’d liked to the files."

 "Miss—"

 Izumi held up her hand to stop him. "Sorry, I'm still talking. Please let me finish. Recently, we managed to find the diary of a Founder in a hidden room. There were entries about goodbye parties for some students. Most of them moved away from the city after graduating. Yet, in the whole entire journal, there was not a single mention of a quest. Isn’t that weird?”

 Reni’s face was void of any emotion.

 She shrugged. “I’ve been fortunate enough to get in contact with some Bloodlines even if I’ve only lived in this city for a month or so. I called Madame Sumeragi two days ago, asking if she knows anything about the Council administering quests in the past. She told me she'd never heard of such a thing. Sakyo seems to believe it thoroughly, but he was never part of a Coven since he had, in his own words, 'extenuating circumstances.' So I should think that he gets all that information about Covens from you.”

 “Miss Tachibana, are you accusing me of something?” Reni asked coldly.

 She smiled sweetly. “Oh, I'm sorry. Was I being unclear about it?"

 His nostrils flared.

 "I don’t think the Council has ever administered quests for the students of Covens. Not even during my father’s generation." Izumi kissed her teeth. "So, I guess I’m just very curious as to why you’ve lied about it being a ‘formality' and why you’re making Sakuya go through one.”

 Reni and Izumi stared at each other.

 She took a single step away and crossed her arms. “Well?"


 Banri decided then and there that magicians were all absolutely useless and stupid. Thank God he’d been forced into this world because as a blessed, he was technically part of magic society. And if he was technically part of magic society, then he could run for Mayor and start making some changes.

 Changes that included get new locks for the Main Hall because the ones they had in place currently might as well have been bought from Toys R Us.

 He picked the second lock that evening under sixty seconds and bowed deeply.

 “Gentlemen,” he announced sarcastically, “the treasure trove awaits.”

 Masumi shoved Banri aside with his shoulder. The archive room was less of a... well, room, and more of a tiny enclosure that adjoined three hallways. Each hall had endless file cabinets instead of walls and stretched further than the flashlight's beam could reach.

 “I’m searching the W section first,” Masumi said bluntly. “You try to steal my thunder and the Director away and I’ll kill you without a second thought.”

 Banri shoved his hands into his pockets and sneered. “Why do I have a feeling that you’d be really popular on TikTok?”

 “There’s no point in social media if she’s not on there,” he growled back and went through the first door.

 Tenma walked and stopped by Banri’s side. “Does he not realize that W is in the middle of the alphabet?”

 The more experienced Hunter shook his head and went down the second long hall.

 Banri hummed to himself. Yep, magicians were stupid. W was the 23rd letter of the alphabet out of 26, and would be along the middle of the third hall. Although, the lack of X and Z last names would make sense for the Council to lead room for more files and place W earlier on.

 He strolled down the hall at leisure for a minute or two and stopped in front of one. Just one at random, from a mix of common sense and a gut feeling.

 Banri laughed at the W marked manila folders that greeted his eyes. He was too good at a game he didn’t even play. He began rifling around for Watanabe.

 Things were going great.

 That was when a fucking cannon of a human body barreled into his side and sent him sprawling across the floor. Banri's temple smashed onto the linoleum tile and a good moment was spent trying to clear the spots from his vision. His phone clattered out of his hand and skidded away.

 “Jesus, the fuck!” he spat.

 “Don’t move. You are guilty of trespassing onto Council property with the intent of theft.”

 He hadn’t even heard this guy coming up behind him. Banri gritted his teeth and tried to get his eyes to focus properly, but the goddamn flashlight in his face wasn't making it easy.

If he got a concussion, he didn’t care who this bullshit magic government thought it was, he was going to go to court and sue them for enough money to get a new Playstation. He reached for his phone and shone his own light at the mysterious dark figure.

 Banri admitted that his initial instinct was to pummel the motherfucker that trucked him down but shelved the idea quickly upon seeing his attacker. The aforementioned motherfucker was a six foot tall, musclebound behemoth that looked like he chopped wood as a hobby.

 “Was the WWE body slam necessary,” Banri snapped. He squinted at the lumberjack's name tag. Fushimi. Fuckin’ Fushimi. Who did this guy think he was? Man, Banri hated cops with a burning passion second only to his hatred of statism.

 “You’re too young to be a libertarian, Banri,” his sister had told him. Well, she was wrong and one day when he took over the whole country and privatized bureaucracy, he’d laugh at her.

 Fuck. He was rambling in his own mind. The knock to the head had been a bit harder than was good for him.

 Fushimi chuckled awkwardly and offered Banri a hand to help him to his feet. “Sorry about that. You’re... not who I’m looking for, are you?”

 “You lookin' for someone?”

 Fushimi nodded. "We got a tip a few days ago that a break-in might be happening today. Usually, Mayor Reni would have heightened security measures in response but he gave unorthodox instructions this time.”

 Banri massaged his forehead and begged his brain to turn properly, concussion be damned. “Hold up. Someone told you?”

 “Anonymously, yes. I’ve been told to not let anybody take anything off the perimeter but to let everyone go after being caught. Everyone except, uh…" He pulled out a scrap of paper from his pocket. “Tenma Sumeragi? We’re supposed to detain that one until the ball is finished and Reni’s back. You wanna tell me where he is and spare me the search?”

 “I’ve never heard of that guy in my life,” Banri said flatly.

 Fushimi sighed and scratched his head. “There’s no use in lying, you know. Who even are you? You’re not on the Mankai Coven register."

 Banri fought the urge to stiffen up. They knew everything. How did they find out? Who’d snitched?

 “What’s a Coven?” Banri asked, tilting his head to the side. “Dude, like… didn’t know this was so serious of a place or anything. Thought it was a law firm. Sorry to burst your bubble but I’m really not following.”

 “Uh huh, sure, kid.”

 Banri’s thoughts raced. He was blessed, not a magician. If he could just somehow get this Fushimi guy to make him do that water glass test, or anything else, he might be able to convince him he didn't know anything about magic. That this was truly just a coincidence. Hell, maybe if he stalled him long enough, the others would be able to leave. Then the Coven wouldn’t be incriminated at all.

 But how was he supposed to pretend not to know that magic existed without bringing it up?

 “My home boy told me to just come in and find some fireworks, officer,” Banri said with all the sincerity of the Virgin Mary, although he let himself sneak a little bitterness into that last word. “Dunno why anybody would try to tip you off about a seventeen year old kid breaking into your whatever-the-hell this place is.”

 Fushimi just smiled. “Call me Omi. I only really wear the security outfit when it’s my shift to guard. Who would this alleged friend of yours be?”

 Banri was so damn grateful he lacked empathy as he proceeded to shove Kazunari under the bus like there was no tomorrow. “Miyoshi, I owe him a favor after he helped me find my dog.”

 Note: Banri did not own a dog.

 He wanted to, though, one day. A big, golden fluffy little pooch that he could go running with.

 Fuck, FOCUS, Banri, fuck your concussion.

 Omi blinked. He looked around at the pitch black hallway. “Huh. Kazunari Miyoshi. And the blackout would be because…”

 “Blackout's on me though. You fucks seriously just left the circuit box outside? Weak, man.”

 Banri didn’t know circuitry. Or even if the circuit box was outside. But there was a decent chance the security officer wouldn’t know either.

 Omi hesitated. “What about the Coven?”

 “Dude, are you deaf? I told you, I don’t know what a fuckin’ Coven is.” Banri inched to the side.

 “What’s your name, kid?”

 “I’ll tell you when my fuckin’ lawyer’s present. Miyoshi roped me into this mess, that’s the only name you’re getting.” He looked down the seemingly endless hall and called, “Yo, Miyoshi, there’s a goddamn security officer here, you complete jackass.”

 Omi turned his head to look and that was the only split second Banri needed. The floor was still shifting a little and there was a high pitched buzz in his ears, but Banri took off through the door and sprinted out of the archives as fast as he could. Not even a heartbeat passed until Fushimi was hot on his heels and even though the grizzly bear of a man was fast for his size, Banri could beat the entire track team at his school blindfolded.

 So, very reminiscent of just a month or two ago, Banri ran from a cop like his life depended on it.


 “This blows,” Kazunari mumbled as he wiped the sweat from his brow.

 If the Runes protecting the building had been a nuisance, the Runes on Mayor Reni’s office door were a nightmare brought to reality.

 Misumi nudged Kazunari’s shoulder. “Kazu, didn’t Banri say that the Runes stop, um, magic but not much else?”

 “You know how to lock pick?”

 “No, but I can do this!” The Witch gently eased his friend to the side and then took a deep breath. His foot flashed forward in a high kick.

 The knob of the door fell to the ground.

 Kazunari grabbed fistfuls of Misumi’s sweatshirt and shook him back and forth. “Mister. You. Are. A. Sexy. Beast. Can you teach me how to do that?!”

 “Thanks!” Misumi pushed the door open. “Let’s get looking. I’ll take the left wall.”

 He flicked on the flashlight on his phone. “I’ve got the right then.”

 They both proceeded to rifle through several file cabinets. Mayor Reni didn’t have a lot going for him in the first place so it was a shame the guy was also crap at organization. Seriously, at this day and age, he didn’t bother sorting by the alphabet? Totally bogus.

 Kazunari decided to try the desk drawers of the ostentatious escritoire. Yes, he liked traditional art, but seriously? Carved angels and winged lions? God, Reni needed a class on good taste more than he needed a position in office. The Caster knelt down to open the bottom compartment. Rather than folders like the cabinets, there was only a thick four inch binder nestled inside. He flipped the cover open to take a quick look, couldn’t find the word Watanabe after a quick skim, and shut it. He closed the drawer.

 Kazunari paused.

 He opened the drawer again and took out the binder. He placed it on the desk’s surface and began reading properly. He flipped to the next page.

 What the fuck?

 Kazunari tried desperately to rub the gooseflesh that had risen away but the chill in his bones refused to go. This felt wrong. This felt very, very wrong.

 “Sumi,” he said softly. “I need you to come look at this.”

 “Hm? What—“ Misumi stopped. His brows crease. “That’s…”

 It wasn’t about Hakkaku Watanabe. It wasn’t throwaway notes. It wasn’t a portfolio of magicians.

 The entire binder, every single page inside, was about Izumi Tachibana.

 Copies of her school records, medical files, credit information, bank statements. Perhaps even more disturbingly, photographs of Izumi. Some where she looked the exact same as she did now, some where she looked a year or two younger, some where she was just barely a toddler, and everything in-between. Notes about where she lived, not even in the city. It was too much to sort through right then and there. Kazunari’s stomach clenched. 

 The girl wasn’t looking at the camera in any of these pictures. She didn’t know they were being taken.

 Everything. Every piece of information on an identity that one could write on a document, Kazunari thought, was in his hands.

 He felt like even holding the binder was dirtying him somehow. No one deserved to have this much info about someone else on hand.

 “What the fuck,” Kazunari said quietly and slammed the binder shut. He shot Misumi a look. “This… she needs to know about this. The fuck?

 Misumi nodded, a grave look in eye. “That’s not right. Why does the mayor have that?"

 “I don’t know, Sumi. You, uh.” Kazunari cleared his throat. “Did you find anything about Watanabe?”

 “Yeah,” Misumi said. He showed Kazunari the manila folder. “But… it’s just his page.”

 “Shouldn’t the whole family record be in there?"

 Misumi pulled out, as he’d said, the sole sheet of paper there was inside. “There’s a mention of a daughter. M Watanabe. No name, and her page isn’t here either. It was either gone in the first place or someone took it before we did.”

 Kazunari shivered. He reached forward to hold Misumi’s arm in his hand, more for the comfort of another person being close by than any other purpose. “Sumi, we need to go. Now. I have a really bad feeling.”

Chapter Text

Reni finally broke the tension with a small chuckle. He shook his head.

 “Miss Tachibana, perhaps you’ve had a little too much to drink this evening,” he mused. “Such a pretty young woman like you can’t hold champagne well. I will let this… brazen accusation pass forgotten but I really would prefer you to mind your words prior to speaking next time we have a lovely encounter.”

 “Z, Y, X,” Izumi replied. “W, V, U, T, S, R, Q.”

 The mayor looked baffled. “What are you doing?”

 “Saying the alphabet backwards. It was one of the older field tests policemen asked drivers to do to gauge their level of clear thinking even if they smelled like booze.” Izumi raised her eyebrows. “I can do it as many times as you’d like. I would love an answer to my question in return, though.”

 Reni had the audacity to check his cufflinks the way Yuki checked his cuticles. “I’m afraid I have other, more grounded inquiries to attend to tonight, Miss Tachibana. I shall see you again.”

 She shrugged. “I’m just being courteous. I figured you would like to hear my case before I bring it to the whole Council’s attention.”

 Reni reached forward and gently took Izumi's hand, pressing a chaste kiss to her knuckles.

 He leaned in close and whispered into her ear, “And who would they believe, Miss Tachibana? The Secondborn Witch with a spotless lineage who dedicated his life to the wellbeing of this city’s residents? Or the hysterical ramblings of a dirty, halfblooded Fourthborn stranger who arrived only fortnights ago?”

 She clenched her jaw and stared right into those steely, amethyst eyes.

 Someone put a hand on her shoulder. She glanced at Citron who was smiling wide at the both of them.

 “Mayor, good sir, you will be making me the jealous if you take Director’s attention more!” he cried, voice loud and words slurred. “Director, please do the dance with me next or I may cry!"

 Mayor Reni looked at a loss for words as Citron quite actually yanked Izumi away and sent them both spinning wildly across the dance floor, shoving several other pairs aside.

 “How much did you drink?” Izumi yelped, trying not to twist an ankle. “The flask was empty when I checked!"

 Citron beamed at her. “Director, just because I cannot see the Mayor’s thoughts does not mean I cannot see yours. I do not think punching him in the middle of his own party would put you in the good graces of the Council.”

 Her cheeks went hot. “I wasn’t going to. I was just thinking about it.”

 Citron shook his head. “No, no. You were going to. It might as well have been set in stone.”

 She let out a heavy sigh and pressed her forehead to Citron’s chest. “I get why Madame Sumeragi hates him so much. What a fucking asshole. He can’t just do that, Citron, he can’t force a bullshit test on Sakuya because he wants to shut Mankai down. If he was going to, I’d at least want him to admit that he’s a petty shithead instead of twisting the truth.”

 “Ah. Politics. The same all around the globe.”

 Izumi had to laugh a little. Citron was always refreshing to talk to.

 “I’m afraid I don’t know how to dance a waltz,” he confessed. “My country had much more fun dances.”

 “I figured. We’ve kind of just been turning in circles for the past minute.”

 The Seer hummed. “Yes, yes… And I would not like to be making enemies tonight. Excuse me.”

 “Huh?”

 Citron gave an exaggerated stumble and pulled himself away from Izumi. 

 “Oh nooooooo!” he whined. “It is appears I am too drunken! You there, sir, please amusing Director until I return from the bathroom.”

 Izumi’s eyes widened at the stranger Citron grabbed from the side and forced closer to her. “Huh. Hey, Sakyo.”

 Sakyo looked constipated. Damn, did he hate her pantsuit that much? “Miss Ta—“

 Izumi gave him a look.

 “…Director.”

 She grinned at him. “You wanna dance?”

 “I’m afraid I don’t know how,” he said stiffly. “Perhaps it’d be better if you relied on another?”

 She took his hand with a chuckle and began slowly turning him around as they stepped back and forth on the dance floor. “It’s easy enough, let me lead.” She only knew how to lead, but he didn’t have to know that. “Just kinda do what I do. I think everyone here’s taken to ignoring me for the sake of their own wellbeing so no one’s going to demand you pay a fine if you mess up.”

 Sakyo sighed like he wasn’t getting paid enough for this event but finally gave in a little and humored her.

 They danced back and forth and Izumi could only assume that Citron was somewhere in the shadows, watching them to keep an eye on both her and Sakyo’s thoughts.

 How were the boys doing, she wondered?


 Banri took a running leap for a window.

 It turned out that a minor concussion fucked with depth perception and spatial awareness more than he’d thought it could. So although the plan had been the execution of a super cool, flawless shattering of glass and an escape to the outside, Banri instead slammed face first into a wall and broke his nose.

 “Motherfucker,” he groaned as he rolled on the carpet, clutching his face. He could already taste the blood.

 Please, please don’t bruise too badly, Banri begged his face as if pleading enough would ensure no black-and-blue.

 The Omi guy, honestly Banri wanted to just call him Paul Bunyan at this point because it was getting ridiculous, grabbed him by the back of his shirt and hauled him into the air.

 “You could have made things a lot easier for yourself if you’d just did what you were told,” Omi said sharply.

 “Eat my entire fucking asshole, you cocksucking dipshit,” Banri managed through the pain. “You fucking pussy, I’m going to—“

 Omi took Banri’s left arm and wrenched it back, shutting the boy up very effectively with a strangled scream.

 He seemed sorry but not enough to ease up on the pressure. “If you can’t control yourself, this is what happens.”

 “Let him go.”

 Omi (and by proxy, Banri) turned around.

 Tenma was standing there, clutching his sword with both hands and feet spread apart. What a fucking idiot, Banri thought to himself bitterly. He’d been supposed to run away, the fuck was he doing there, standing there and trying to play the hero?

 Omi smiled. “Ah. There you are. Tenma Sumeragi, aren’t you? If you’d just come with me—“

 “Stay back!” Tenma yelled. “Don’t move.”

 “I think you’re in the wrong place to be making orders, kid,” Omi said and took another step forward. “I’ll let your friend go just fine but I’m afraid I have orders not to let you off the premises.”

 “Orders from who? The eggplant jerk wagon that signs your goddamn paychecks?” Tenma snarled.

 The guard raised his eyebrows. “If you mean Mayor Reni, yes. But you should know that Mr. Furuichi is the one who pays me.”

 “Both suck so I don’t really care.” A vein stuck out in Tenma’s neck as he clenched his teeth. A bead of sweat was making its way down the side of his face. “I said not to move. You should know just as well as I do I’ve gotten better Hunter training than you have, whoever the fuck taught you.”

 Omi sighed. “Bloodlines. They never really are different.”

 Banri felt his mouth fill with the taste of iron as the blood from his nose dripped down. He gathered it and let out a pained gurgle. Omi shot him a quick look of alarm and he didn’t miss a beat. He spat out the entire disgusting mess right into the guard’s eyes.

 “Fuck,” Omi muttered, flinching and reaching up to wipe his face.

 The little loosening of his grip was all Banri needed. He jerked himself free and landed on his feet, leaping a few meters back. His face hurt, his head felt like it was going to kill him, and he was exhausted. Just another weekend, then.

 “Two against one, you ugly motherfucker,” he jeered.

 Omi flicked away the last speck of blood from his face. He did not look pleased in the least.

 “I really don’t want to hurt either of you,” he warned. “You’re making this much more complicated than it has to be.”

 It got unnecessarily “complicated” when it turned out that someone in the Coven couldn’t be trusted, Banri thought to himself bitterly. He didn’t know any of them but if he had to throw a guess out, just from his gut feeling, it was that tall nerd college student. Never trust nerds. Smart people would sell you out for a spotless GPA. It was the people failing their courses that were the real homies.

 “Do you know how to fight?” Banri asked loudly, directing this towards Tenma.

 “Better than you.”

 “Doubtful but whatever.”

 Tenma retracted the blade of his sword with a simple swing and the hilt disappeared into nothingness. Which, Banri admitted to himself, was actually really fucking dope and he’d have to ask how to do it later. Swords were geek shit but maybe he’d vibe with a knife he could pull out whenever he wanted.

 He hurled himself towards Fushimi, fist drawn back.

 Back when he’d been 15, Banri had gotten in major trouble for setting someone’s garden shed on fire. He was loathe to admit it to anyone, but it’d been one of the few times his parents had had enough and thus, the first and only summer he’d spent at boot camp meant for troubled youths. Clearly, he had not been reformed but he had learned something very valuable from those three months.

 Street fighting was throwing punches and duking it out to see who could come out on top. It was why every Big Bad across the school districts was usually just the biggest, heaviest fucker. 

 Boot camp had had a one week self-defense regiment but the theory had sunk in. The biggest difference was that specialized, legitimate hand-to-hand combat was meant specifically so that bigger, stronger, heavier didn’t matter. It was about who was faster and more effective.

 Unfortunately, Fushimi also evidently knew this.

 A forearm shoved his fist aside and a foot swept his legs from under him. Banri rolled back onto his feet and kept low.

 A kick aimed at Fushimi’s face. He grabbed his ankle and sank a heavy fist into Banri’s stomach.

 “You’re not a Hunter,” Omi realized, staring down at the boy gasping for breath on the floor.

 “But I am.”

 Tenma rammed an elbow into Omi’s ribs with an ugly snarl on his lips. The guard crumpled to his knees, instantly wrapping his arms around his middle and groaning.

 “Get up,” Tenma growled at Banri.

 He staggered to his feet. “Fuck you, you goddamn carrot looking ass.”

 “I hate carrots.”

 “And I give such a massive shit about your dietary preferences!”

 Omi sighed. “You shouldn’t be getting back up. I told you, I don’t want to hurt either of you. You’re just drawing out the inevitable. You can hardly move in the state you’re in, how do you expect to beat me? Even if it is two on one.”

 It hurt to laugh. Banri settled on a sole chuckle and then just a sneer.

 “There’s this kid I knew,” he bit out. He paused. “Know. There’s this kid I know. The most pathetic bitch you’ve ever met. But you’d best believe he can pack a hell of a better punch than you can. You think this,” he gestured at his face, “is the worst I've been through? Not even close.”

 Omi pursed his lips and parted his feet. “I warned you.”


 Tsuzuru held up a strange vegetable speared by his fork. “Do you have any idea what this might be?”

 “No,” Izumi said.

 He sighed. “Rich people eat the weirdest things. I’ve never even seen this before.”

 She drummed her fingers on the tabletop and glanced at Citron who was standing by the potted plant, eyes trained on Sakyo. In any other situation, it might have been suspicious, but his long dress robes were emerald green and he blended in like a chameleon. Not a movement, which meant they were still in the clear. He would give her a signal if any alert graced the Hunter’s mind.

 The boys shouldn’t be taking this long, why wasn’t Matsukawa sending her a text yet?

 “I’m going to get some more prawns,” Tsuzuru announced as he stood up. “Did you know that prawns are just giant shrimp? Wild. Didn’t even know they came in that size. Can I trust you to stay still and not get in trouble for the forty-five seconds it’ll take for me to get to the refreshments table and back?”

 Izumi huffed. “I’m six years older than you, kid, don’t get such a fat head.”

 “I really… don't have that much respect for your seniority anymore. Not ever since watching you try to pick up the TV remote with your toes for thirty minutes,” Tsuzuru said quite seriously.

 “I’D JUST GOTTEN COMFORTABLE ON THE COUCH. I WASN’T GOING TO GET NOT-COMFORTABLE FOR A REMOTE WHEN IT WAS RIGHT THERE.”

 “It was for an entire half hour, Director, get some dignity,” he said shortly but left nonetheless.

 Izumi made sure he had his eyes trained on the prawns before getting out of her seat and scurrying through the dancing masses.

 “Hey,” she said breathlessly when she found the frankly horrifying green hat. “Homare, right? Really sorry about my friend from earlier, he can be a little rude sometimes. A lot of the time. Most of the time, but generally towards me and we have a mutual thing going on in that regard, not usually towards other people. Sorry, rambling, basically wanted to ask, do you want to finish the dance? I feel really bad.”

 Homare looked surprised. He put down his pink drink (was that Strawberry Calpis? Where had they been serving that at the ball?) on the table and cleared his throat.

 “Madam, are you drunk?” he asked politely.

 Izumi nodded. “Oh, for sure, champagne is awful but mix like two bottles with half a flask of vodka and even an elephant would stumble a bit.”

 Homare gasped as he placed a hand on his chest, very Southern-Belle style. “A flask to the ball? I’m appalled the thought never occurred to me. They never have good drink at fancy events.”

 “Right? At least you get it.”

 He bowed deeply. “I would be honored to finish the dance.”

 “Amazing, but could you take that hat off? It’s really easy to find you when you have it on.”

 “It completes my look.”

 Izumi coughed into her fist. “Yeah, I know.”

 Homare sighed but placed his hat delicately on his seat. At his table. Which was empty except for him. The high school analogy for upper society was continuing to prove itself.

 “Shall we?” he asked, holding out his hand delicately.

 “Absolutely.” Izumi took his hand and led him to the dance floor.


 This Omi guy was built like a fucking brick wall, Banri thought to himself as he skidded a small distance on his side from a well-placed kick. Also, there was a good chance one of his ribs was fractured because breathing was starting to hurt. Every hit from him felt like getting slammed by a miniature freight train. He didn’t care if Hunter magic was supposed to be an explanation, a person shouldn’t be able to punch that hard.

 “Kid, you have to stop getting up,” Omi pleaded. “You’re not a Hunter, your healing speed isn’t going to be the same as ours.”

 Tenma went for a tackle and promptly got grabbed, then thrown over Omi’s shoulder like a bag of flour. He hit the floor with a sickeningly mushy thud and retched as the air flew from his lungs.

 “Both of you just need to learn when to quit it. I’m a professional, the two of you won’t be able to beat me. Please, we can stop the violence now.”

 Banri hated cops, Banri hated cops, Banri hated cops.

 But he hated condescending language even more.

 “I’m going to fucking kill you,” he snarled, spittle flying from his lips as he dragged his body off of the floor and onto his knees. “I’m going to fucking murder you, do you hear me?”

Omi’s eyebrows drew together like he was sad to hear this. “I was like you, you know. How old are you?”

 “Eat my dick.”

 “Seventeen, I’d guess. It’s not good to work with bad people like these just because you’re bored, or you’re confused. There’s always another—“

 “You talk too much.”

 Omi whirled around but it was too late. Masumi swung something hard and heavy into the back of Omi’s skull and watched, bored, as the man slammed against the floor. Out cold.

 “Took you enough fucking time,” Tenma snapped. “Were you taking a stroll when I told you to find Misumi and Kazunari?”

 Masumi shrugged. “A good song came up. You’re supposed to appreciate music."

 “I’M GOING TO CLOBBER YOU.”

 Misumi ran forward and kneeled in front of the security officer. He checked to make sure that Omi was still breathing and then placed his hand over his face. He shot a few blue sparks forward and nodded.

 “He’ll be sleeping until I wake him back up,” he said, looking up. “Uh. What do we do now? Does anyone know?”

 Kazunari helped Banri to his feet. “Jesus, dude, what happened to your face? Did that guard put his knee into your nose or something, crap, you’re totally bleeding.”

 Banri hesitated. Saying he’d gotten hit was a lot less humiliating than admitting that he’d been a little off his mark and face-planted into the wall. “Yeah, it was the asshole’s fault. You know a healing spell or shit?”

 Kazunari grimaced. “I’m really sorry, no. I’ve got a Bandage Rune but that’s for like minor cuts and bruises. You’re going to have to wait until we get back to the dorms. Will you be alright?”

 He’d live. He directed Kazunari to help him stand over the guard. The back of his head was already matted with a little blood.

 “What the fuck did you hit him with?” he grunted.

 Masumi tossed the weapon into the air and caught it. “Doorknob.”

 “A doorknob.”

 “My doorknob!” Misumi cheered. “I kicked it out. Yay! I helped!”

 Kazunari swallowed. “If… Okay, he only saw you and Ten, right? He probably doesn’t know who you are, so we could probably just leave. Convince him he only hallucinated Tenten. Then the Sumeragis can accuse the Council of lying because of their bias against their family. It’s okay, we can still all get out of this just fine. LEt’s split, we got all the information we needed.”

 Banri almost agreed. Trying to fish coherent thoughts from his stream of consciousness was like trying to scoop marbles out of a vat of melted chocolate. “No, we can’t. We have to bring him with us.”

 “What? Banny—“

 “Don’t call me that.” Banri rubbed his eye and winced when his finger touched his nose. “There’s… something he said. That the Director needs to know. Can’t leave him here. Just fucking listen to me, alright!”

 Kazunari gave him a little comforting jostle. “Whoa, there. Okay, okay, you can calm down. We’ll… we’ll bring him with us. Sumi, are you strong enough to hold him?”

 “I can if Tenma helps!” Misumi said sweetly. He took one of Omi’s arms and strained to lift him.

 Tenma sighed and let magic flood into his muscles once again to assist.

So it was just like that all five, now technically six, left the Council’s Main Hall. Kazunari essentially carrying half of Banri’s body weight. Tenma and Misumi carrying all of Omi’s body weight. And Masumi tossing-and-catching that doorknob like he was bored. The bitch even had his headphones in. As soon as they cleared the threshold, Kazunari waved his hands to release the Runes. The lights of the building flickered back on behind them.

 “That doesn’t look good!” Kamekichi screamed as he flew down. “Why do you have a body! Did you kill someone?

 Banri grabbed the bird by his bowtie. “Do I look like I’m in the mood?”

 “Let go, asshole!

 He chucked the bird back into the sky above them, where Kamekichi circled while crowing obscenities at the “bird abuse.”

 “Just tell the Director we’re going back home,” Banri spat.

 Misumi, at least, laughed a little at the sheer absurdity of the situation. “I really hope no one asks about the guard on the train!”

 …Right. They had an hour long train ride ahead of them.

 Fuck.


 Izumi’s phone buzzed in her pantsuit pocket.

 “Sorry, I have to go take this,” she said to the Thirdborn Witch she’d been dancing with, some pinkhaired guy named Naruto or Harold or something.

 Her dance partner stiffened and then awkwardly shuffled away. “I—okay. Whatever. Rude.”

 She accepted the call. “News?”

 “Kamekichi told me they just left the building. He was rambling pretty heavily but I don’t think they’re doing too hot.

 “They got hurt?” Izumi whispered in horror. “Oh, god, no. Okay, okay, tell them I’ll be there as soon as possible, I’m leaving now. I’ll make it in like an hour and twenty minutes.”

 “You got it, Director.

 Izumi quickly paced towards the table where Tsuzuru was lying on, overstuffed but outrageously pleased by the evening thus far.

 “It’s done. We’re heading back,” she whispered. “C’mon, help me find the others.”

 He slowly heaved himself off the chair and patted his stomach. “Free food is good by default of being free, but… today was amazing. Thank you for the invitation again, Director, it meant a lot to me.”

 “You’re such a sweetheart sometimes but we’re going to have to rush it. Matsukawa said the boys got hurt.”

 “H—” Tsuzuru’s lips clamped shut like he’d barely stopped himself from yelling the word. He nodded once. “I’ll go grab Citron, you go find the kids. They’re still probably on the dance floor, I’m not sure how they have so much energy but good for them.”

 “See you at the door in five minutes.”

 Izumi excused herself through the hoard of swaying bodies to find Yuki, Muku, and Sakuya near the very center. They all looked like they were having such fun, cheeks rosy and eyes lit. They’d completely abandoned trying to copy the pairs around them and had instead discovered an interesting waltz that incorporated three people instead of two.

 “Job’s over, guys, it’s time to head back,” she said, feeling a little bad for ending the party.

 “What? But it’s not even that late yet,” Yuki protested.

 Izumi sighed. She didn’t have time for this. “The boys are back but things might be an emergency. We need to head back now, I need Citron and Tsuzuru as backups and I don’t feel comfortable leaving you here without an adult.”

 “But—!”

 “No buts, Muku.”

 Sakuya cleared his throat nervously and raised his hand. “Um. I… I’m technically an adult, Director.”

 She looked at him. “Come again?”

 His face burned red, matching both his hair and his suit. “N-Not like really, of course! But… I’m eighteen. So—so it’s okay if you head back without us. I’ll keep an eye on Muku and Yuki and head back to the dorms when the party actually finishes up.”

 Izumi felt like the world had frozen. Or at the very least, her own time had frozen but the world around her was still turning. She felt that weird wave of emotion again, sadness and pride. 

 “I guess you are,” she said slowly. Alright, then. She slapped a hand on Sakuya’s shoulders. “No later than midnight. If the train looks unsafe, take a taxi and I’ll pay once you get back.”

 Sakuya brightened. “Yes! Of course!”

 Izumi put a hand on both Muku and Yuki’s heads (the latter of which slapped her hand away because “Do you know how much product I have in there right now, you’re going to mess it up!”). “You two listen to Sakuya. If I hear even the possibility of early-onset teenage rebellion, I’ll have you plant an entire barrel of potato seedlings. Are we clear?”

 The two boys nodded enthusiastically.

 She drew away. “Okay. I’m trusting all three of you.”

 Man… they really do grow up so fast when you’re not looking.


 When Banri unlocked the door to the dorms, the first thing he noticed was that, despite being pitch black, the dorm was not empty. There was a snuffling, eating sound coming from inside.

 That would really be the cherry on top of the so-far-fantastic evening, wouldn’t it? Walking into their dorms and finding that a homeless man had broken in only to help himself to the goddamn kitchen. Banri slammed his hand on the light switch, telling himself that he would not hesitate to beat the shit out of whoever was there.

 Instead of a vagrant, Banri instead was greeted with the sight of a man sitting cross legged on the floor hunched over what looked like a bowl. Blond hair, a (pretty fuckin’ sweet) yellow jersey, baggy sweat pants and. Goat horns. And hooves.

 “Dude, what the fuck are you doing?” Banri asked. 

 Itaru looked up, mouth smeared in green goop. He held up the open Tupperware of guacamole he’d been caressing more intimately than a lover. “Wanted some food before I head back in for a new round. You’re that blessed, aren’t you? I don’t care to polish my memory on human faces. Don’t remember you being purple thought."

 Banri covered his nose and refused to get embarrassed about it. “Are you eating guacamole straight with a spoon? Bro, you’ve never heard of fucking tortilla chips?”

 “There’s no time for chips, the game's in like two min. Is your whole heist over?”

 “Baaaanri! Where are we supposed to drop him off?” Misumi asked as he and Tenma hobbled in with Omi on their shoulders.

 Itaru popped the spoon out of his mouth. “Were you supposed to bring back a human? I don’t remember that ever coming up.”

 “No,” Banri said flatly. “Just put him somewhere fuckin’ private and not out in the open”

 “Okaaaaay! Basement it is. Let’s go, Tenma!”

 Tenma’s knees were shaking. “God, how much does this guy weigh?”

 “You’re not going to ask for an explanation, are you?” Banri asked.

 Itaru seemed to consider it for a moment. He finally settled on, “You’re going to tell the Director, right?”

 “Pretty sure I have to.”

 “Cool, I’ll just ask her to summarize it all in the morning. Gonna go play. Don’t make too much noise or I’ll fucking no scope you.”

 Banri rubbed his eyes. Was this really the terrifying demon he’d seen flying above the corpses and setting them on fire a few weeks ago? Man, maybe his parole officer had been right about video games rotting brains and ruining inherent potential.

 He walked to living room and crashed down on the arm chair. His face hurt like a bitch and so did his entire midsection. Fuckin’ blowed. And yet, somehow, this was admittedly not the worst weekend he’d had. 

Izumi dropped her clutch and let out a heartbroken whimper when she walked in a few minutes later.

 “Oh, Banri,” she whispered. She leaned in to get a better look at the black and blue that had completely overtaken his complexion. “How did you get like this?”

 He got up and gestured to her room. “Private talk. Please tell me you know a way to fix this.”

 “I know a few healing spells, it’ll fix most of it.”

 Thank God because if Banri went home later that night on a new color spectrum, his parents were going to sell his TV.

 The healing took five minutes and left Izumi feeling nauseous afterwards. But at least Banri would finally be in a state to talk without aching. “What happened to you all?"

 “We ran into a guard,” Banri said simply.

 Izumi flinched. “The guard hurt you?”

 “Uh. Sure.” He rubbed the repaired bridge of his nose.

“Did… he catch a look at your face?”

 “Sure did. But I wouldn’t worry if I were you, we knocked him out.”

 Izumi took in a sharp breath. Oh no. “Banri, how in the world does that solve our problem? They’re just going to question him when he wakes up.”

 “We brought him with us,” he said.

 “HUH?” She blinked a few times. “Where is he?!”

 Banri shot a quick look at the ground.

 “YOU KILLED AND BURIED HIM?

 “Holy sh—crap, what? No, Jesus Christ. He’s sleeping in the basement. That nut job with the blue hair said it would be the best place to hide him.”

 She rubbed her forehead as a strange mesh of panic and dread began stirring in her stomach. “Misumi is not a nut job, don’t be rude to him."

 Suddenly, Banri’s words actually processed. Izumi seized him by the front of his shirt and began shaking him back and forth violently.

“YOU KIDNAPPED A GUARD?” Izumi bellowed.

 “IT WAS THE ONLY CHOICE WE HAD!” Banri bellowed back. “YOU’RE TALKING TO A CONCUSSION PATIENT, STOP SHAKING ME."

 “YOU WERE SUPPOSED TO RUN, BANRI! RUN! NOT KNOCK HIM OUT!”

 “LIKE A FUCKING PUSSY?” Banri shoved her off of him.

 Izumi gaped at him and seemed to struggle to find the words. She stomped out of the room.

 “What’s going—?”

 “Do not ask, Tsuzuru. That is not the best of the good idea right now.”

 Izumi came back, slamming a mug on her desk so hard it nearly shattered.

 “PUT A HUNDRED YEN IN THE SWEAR JAR, BANRI,” she screamed, near tears in frustration.

 Fuck this. He hadn’t gone through that amount of bullshit to get talked down to like a criminal. Banri dug into his pocket and took out his wallet and handed her 1000 yen instead. Izumi looked at the bill and then sighed, the fight draining out of her.

 “You’re going to rant, aren’t you,” she said softly.

 “FUCK YOU,” he snapped. “AND YOU KNOW WHAT? FUCK THIS COVEN, FUCK MAGIC SOCIETY, FUCK THAT BITCH WHO CONCUSSED ME FOR LOOKING LIKE HE SNORTS FUCKING PROTEIN POWDER, I HOPE EVERY MOTHERFUCKING ASSCLOWN I MADE EYE CONTACT WITH IN THE PAST THREE HOURS BURNS IN HELL.

 She hesitated. He’d had a rough night, after all, maybe she would give him a discount for Bitch just this one time. “Okay, so do I give you a hundred yen back as change or…?”

 Banri threw his wallet on the floor like it was a game-ending Draw 4 card. “AND WHERE THE EVERLOVING FUCKHOLE IS HYODO, I’M GOING TO PUNCH HIM!”

 She took a seat on the edge of her bed and crossed her legs. She could wait until Banri had worn himself out. His chest heaved like each breath was too warm for comfort but steadily, slowly, began to wind down.

 He sat right there on her floor, crossing his legs. “I went through a lot tonight.”

 “I can tell. I’m sorry, I didn’t think it would have gotten…” She gestured vaguely. “So out of hand. I’m glad you made it out safe, I should have known you guys are too young and that a mistake might come up.”

 Right. He’d almost forgotten. “We didn’t make a mistake and it wasn’t a fluke. He knew.”

 “Huh?”

 “The Fushimi guy. He knew we were going to be there. He said the mayor had told him, and that they got an anonymous tip.”

 She hesitated. “He knew someone was going to break in?”

 “Even more. He knew we were going to break in. The fucking…” Banri dragged a hand over his face. “Sorry. It slipped out. I don’t have money so I’ll write you an IOU later. Fushimi took one look at me and exclaimed all about how I ‘wasn’t in the Coven.’ And how he was told to keep Sumeragi on the site until the Mayor came back.”

 Izumi’s face paled.

 “Does the Council have a list of all the people who live here?” he asked suddenly.

 “N-Not all. Sakuya, Muku, Masumi… they’re students so they have to be registered. Tenma’s a minor as well as a teacher, so he’s registered too.” She racked her brain. “They know that Citron is teaching here but I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t have a file on him. I hardly know anything about that guy myself. Um… They don’t know about Misumi, Juza, or you.”

 “Because I’d be arrested if they knew the whole story,” Banri guessed. “And you wouldn’t look good if you admitted to have a wraith here."

 “You betcha. They should know about Matsukawa and me. Not Kazunari, since he doesn’t live or teach here.” She laughed quietly to herself. “Even though he might as well by this point, he pops by enough.”

 Banri sighed slowly, exhaustion settling heavy on his bones. “They knew the Coven was going to break in but they didn’t know who was in the Coven. Director, someone must have told—“

 “No,” she said immediately.

 “Listen to me. You can’t ignore a knife in your back just because it’s an ugly truth. Someone told the Council what we were going to do, there’s no other answer.”

 Izumi silenced him with a dangerous glare. “I know everybody here and I trust them all. No one would do such a thing.”

 “You’re being willfully blind.”

 “And you’re claiming guilty until proven innocent.” She stood up and opened her door. “Get out. I need to think.”

 He scowled and got up. He shoved his hands into his pockets and plodded out.

 “You better think fast,” Banri spat over his shoulder. “Before the snitch gets another word out and the Council’s breaking down the front door to get Fushimi back.”

 Izumi bit her lip until it started to hurt.


 She stepped out of her room ten minutes later with a lantern in hand. Pantsuit off, baggy sweats on. Business time.

 “Tsuzuru, Misumi, Citron,” she said curtly, jerking her head towards the bathroom. “Basement. Now.”

 “Okaaaay,” Misumi sang, hopping off of the couch.

 Tsuzuru frowned mid-pour of orange juice. “Why?”

 “Apparently they brought back a hostage.”

 He fumbled with the carton as he let out a horrified shriek. “A HOSTAGE? HELLO?”

 Tsuzuru whipped his head towards Kazunari, eyes half furious and half pleading. Like he was begging God to let a denial come from Kazunari’s mouth.

 The other Caster just laughed sheepishly. “Boys’ Night gets wild, Tsuzuroon. Your bad for missing out, you know!”

 Tsuzuru raised his hands and they froze in the air, his fingers twitching wildly. Like he was just barely holding back from strangling his friend. He opened and closed his mouth. Citron chuckled and commented something or other about how he wished he could join this elusive “Boys’ Night” next time.

 “You can have your mental breakdown later, Minagi,” Izumi snapped. “Come on.”

 He turned towards her and let his arms flop to his side. She sounded as tired as he felt but her jaw was set in a way that made it clear Izumi would have to collapse before she gave up.

 Tsuzuru nodded. “Yeah. Okay.”

 Izumi forced open the trapdoor and began making her descent.

 Someone had lit and left the multiple candles on, giving the room a small bit of light. There, slumped over and tied to the rotting chair with a Rune’s red twine, was a burly young man with brown hair cut short. Izumi gently took him by the chin and raised his face to inspect it. He didn’t have any visible marks, just a little nick by his jawline that was old and already scarred over. He didn’t look very old—definitely not older than her.

 Tsuzuru sighed gloomily and closed his eyes. “This Coven has not been good for my self image. Another buff, good looking guy? Maybe I should start drinking protein shakes.”

 She rolled her eyes. “Not the best time to make that self-criticism. Just saying.”

 “I think you’re great the way you are, Tsuzuru!” Misumi said, giving him a firm pat on the back. “Kazu always says you’re the sexiest Caster in the city.”

 “That’s…” He went quiet for a moment. “You know what, Misumi, that did make me feel a little better. Thank you.”

 “No problem!”

 Izumi wondered when the Coven dorms had turned into a large tent and all of its inhabitants had turned into clowns. “Misumi, can you lift the spell?”

 “Yep, yep, let me do it now.”

 As Misumi covered the guard’s eyes with his palms and focused his magic, Izumi put the lantern on the table. She flicked it on and went around the room to blow out the candles. Even if the room was stone, she couldn’t shake the concern that they were a fire hazard.

 “Wh… ugh…”

 Citron had woken up much faster when the spell had been cast on him, but then again, the Seer had been oddly conscious throughout the ordeal. It only made sense this stranger was struggling to get his bearings.

 “Easy does it,” Izumi chided as he began struggling against his bindings. “It’s alright, don’t, uh, don’t work yourself into knots there.”

 “Man, you’re a pro at talking down nervous prisoners, aren’t you,” Tsuzuru said sarcastically.

 Izumi reached up her hands and gently stroked his eyebrows with the pads of her thumbs. “I’m gonna miss these two fuzzy little caterpillars.”

 “Every one of your eyebrow threats have been empty. I’m not scared of them anymore.”

 “Oh, you will be,” she said softly. “You will be very scared.”

 “She means it,” Citron offered.

 “What’s… where am I?” the guard slurred, eyes still dilated.

 Misumi grinned. “This is home!”

 “Hhhhhhhome?”

 Izumi cleared her throat and put a hand on the Witch’s shoulder. “Thanks for lifting the spell, Misumi. Maybe you should head on up.”

 “Okay! Can I have the last bag of fruit snacks?”

 “Ask Banri if he wants it, the kid broke his nose and he deserves first pick. If he says no, it’s all yours.”

 “Yay!”

 The guard blinked a few times until he finally could focus his vision. He frowned deeply.

 “You’re Izumi Tachibana,” he muttered. “Did those two kids actually do me in? I’m losing my touch.”

 “Three,” she said as though that would console him. “What’s your name?”

 The guard sealed his mouth. Izumi clicked her tongue and looked at Citron.

 The Seer leaned in close to the guard and pressed his finger to his chin, tilting his head up.

 “What is your name?” Citron repeated with a kind whisper. “…Omi Fushimi? How nice. I like that name."

 The guard’s eyes widened. He tore his face out of Citron’s grip.

 “You’re the Seer they brought in from overseas,” Omi said darkly. “What? You’re going to take all the information you can out of me? And then cut off parts of my body to either use or sell?”

 Izumi’s eyebrows shot straight up into her hairline. “Oh my god, what? Huh? Holy crap, you really went right to ten and skipped one through nine, didn’t you? What kind of monsters do you think we are!”

 Omi narrowed his eyes. “The kind to use kids as weapons.”

 Izumi held up her palm. “I swear with God as my witness, Banri was like that when we found him.”

 “You do not believe in God, Director,” Citron murmured.

 “NOT the time to make that statement, Citron! It’s really not!”

 “The tip was right,” Omi whispered. “The Mayor was right. All of you can’t be trusted at all.”

 Izumi held up her hand again. “I swear with, uh, Jeanne D’Arc as my witness, we weren’t planning on doing anything evil. We just wanted to collect a file on Hakkaku Watanabe to fortify properly against future potential risks.”

 “Jeanne D’Arc?” Tsuzuru repeated judgmentally.

 She sighed. “You know, Tsuzuru, Citron. Usually, in the movies, when the head leader is questioning the guy in the chair, the two people standing behind her are quiet, respectful, and stick to just appearing menacing. You guys think you could do that for me?”

 “Ooh, you’re in for a disappointment.”

 “I do not think so, no!”

 Izumi shut her eyes. “Thought so. Can’t sue a girl for hoping.”

 Omi cleared his throat.

 “Right, right, sorry.” Izumi clicked her tongue as she thought. “So Reni knew that we were going to break in?”

 He narrowed his eyes and remained silent.

 “Citron.”

 The Seer nodded. “Yes. The Mayor did.”

 “But Sakyo didn’t know a thing at the ball,” she suddenly remembered.

 “That is also true.”

 She bit her thumb. “Hm. Wow. There are a lot of questions and I’m not even sure where to begin asking, much less guess the answers. You loyal to the Council?”

 “Yes,” Omi said without a hesitation.

 “Cool.” Izumi waved her hand. “Tsuzuru, wipe his memory.”

 Tsuzuroon cleared his throat and put his hand on Izumi’s back, pushing her towards the stairwell. “Director, actually, can I talk to you in private for a minute?”

 “What now?” she hissed, voice low.

 He sucked in a breath. “I don’t think erasing his memories is the best course of action here. And, yes, I do say that out of an interest that stems from self-preservational instincts. There’s just no way the Council hasn’t found out by now that Officer Fushimi is gone and if Reni knew about the break in… then we’re going to be the prime suspects for his disappearance. Memory wiping isn’t going to change that. Honestly, if anything, we’re, and I mean I’m, going to get charged additionally for practicing illegal Runes.”

 She gritted her teeth. “But what—?”

 “I’m going to propose something just… absolutely wild but I am begging you on my knees to just consider it.” Tsuzuru wrung his hands nervously. “What if… what if we just… you know. Keep… him.”

 Izumi opened her mouth and shut it. She looked away silently.

 “Wow, not even a reaction,” Tsuzuru mused.

 “Give me a second, I’m just a little shocked. It’s incredible how you turned your nose up at memory wiping but you’re just super on board with kidnapping and imprisonment,” she said flatly.

 He looked a little ashamed but not nearly enough as the situation called for. “I’m just saying. They don’t have a Seer on the Council, they won’t be able to find Officer Fushimi if we hide him somewhere. They might be the magic government but they don’t have much power in magic-less environments, so… so Muku’s parents’ house would be a great place to hide him. I’m just saying.”

 “I don’t think the Council’s going to be accusing you any time soon.”

 The two of them glanced at the trapdoor as Kazunari’s face popped out. He waved, although with a little less cheer than he would have usually. “Hi hi. Miyoshi reporting in.”

 “Kazunari, we’re a little busy right now,” Izumi muttered.

 “Yeahhhh… I think you’re going to wanna know about this.” He opened the flap to his messenger bag and held out a binder. “I swear I didn’t look into it that much. Just enough to find out it was super, duper wrong.”

 Well, that didn’t sound promising. Izumi flipped open the cover and Tsuzuru craned his neck to get a look as well.

 “Mary and Jacob,” Tsuzuru whispered immediately. He rubbed his arms like he’d just caught a chill. “That's not something a good christian would do.”

 Izumi’s fingers tightened on the page that so proudly showed her most recent medical form. She flipped the page to find a few pictures. The next to show receipts and school forms.

 “What the fuck?” she blustered. She looked up. “Where in the world did you get this?”

 Kazunari looked like she would hate the answer to that question more than the binder itself.

Chapter Text

“You called for me?” Masumi asked, appearing not even ten seconds after Kazunari had left to go fetch him.

 “Did you tell anybody about the break in plan?” she demanded. “Is there any way someone could have found out from you?”

 Masumi shook his head, eyes immediately burning with fire. “I’d rather eat broken glass than betray you like that. I love you.”

 Izumi held up her hands and winced. “Wow, a simple no would have worked. Didn’t think so, but…” She glanced at Citron who shot her a thumbs up. “Right. You’re in the clear. Masumi, I’m leaving you in charge for a few minutes. Make sure Omi doesn’t move."

 He looked a little off put by her tone. “What’s wrong? What happened, do you need my help? I’ll do anything you need me to do to make you feel better.”

 “The best help I can get from you right now is a watchful eye,” she said flatly. She turned to Tsuzuru. “Did you tell Mayor Reni we were going to break in?”

 Tsuzuru actually let out a single, borderline hysterical, “HA.”

 “Answer the question. I know you didn’t but I need to make sure.”

 “Director, you know the term, ‘I’m in too deep’? I think both of us know that if anything the Coven’s shoved under the rug comes out, I’m the one who’d face the most repercussions out of any of us.” Tsuzuru ran his fingers through his hair as his eyes unfocused and he tried to imagine the hypothetical future. “I’d be arrested and disowned from my family. And that’s the best case scenario, the worst is that my mother would just flat out murder me in cold blood. I’d become a cautionary tale for my younger brothers!"

 She glanced at Citron who gave her another thumbs up.

 “Cool, glad to know we’re in a Mutually Assured Destruction agreement,” Izumi said with little amusement and began ascending the stairs. “Citron, I’m going to need you to double-check all the answers.”

 “Of course, Director.”

 Kazunari was sitting between Misumi’s legs in the living room as he showed him something on his phone. Banri was splayed out on the couch, dozing off. Tenma was on the armchair, looking equally exhausted but charged with a nervous energy that had yet to die out.

 “All of you,” she barked.

 They glanced at her.

 “Did any of you tell anybody outside of this Coven about the plan tonight?”

 All four of them immediately began protesting.

 “ONE BY ONE.” She pointed to Misumi. 

“No! Never, not anyone,” he swore.

 Kazunari. “C’mon, Director, you know I’m not a snake. I wouldn’t do you dirty like that.”

 Banri. Who just gave her a dirty look and pointed at his (fixed) face. Right, it wouldn’t make sense for Banri to be the snitch if he’d been the one who told her in the first place.

 Tenma. “Absolutely not. They were planning on keeping me there, why would they do that if I was the one who told?”

“None of them have lied,” Citron murmured.

 She pursed her lips. “Didn’t think they would. We’ll ask the others when they get back. I can’t imagine any of them being guilty but you can never be too safe. Did Juza know about the plan?”

 Citron shook his head. “No. Not unless Muku told him.”

 Izumi clicked her tongue. “We’ll still ask him when he's back at three. Just to be sure. Citron, Tsuzuru, follow me to the office. We’ll have to question Citron separately since I can’t have him putting himself in the clear.”

 “Yes, Director.”

 She closed the door behind them and flicked the lights on. Citron held up his hands in a clear surrender.

 “I can answer any test you give me,” he said softly. “Anything to prove my innocence.”

 Izumi rolled her eyes and slammed the binder on the desk. She collapsed onto her chair and buried her face in her arms.

 Citron cleared his throat. “…Director?”

 She couldn’t bring herself to raise her head.

 “Director, are you okay?” Tsuzuru asked. “I don’t, um, I don’t have a Truth Rune. If that’s what you’re going to ask me to do. I don’t think that exists."

 Izumi let out a shuddering breath and finally sat up again. Maybe drinking had been a bad idea after all. She was frazzled and couldn’t make heads or tails of the entire night. Maybe she wouldn’t be so frenzied if she was sober, she thought bitterly.

 “I lied, I’m not going to question Citron,” Izumi confessed in a low voice. “I just need the boys to think I did.”

 Citron’s brow furrowed and he tilted his head to the side.

 “You will not?” he asked.

 Tsuzuru skipped being surprised and went straight for exasperated. “You do realize he’d the most suspicious out of all of us, right? Strange magician from a new country that we know nothing about?”

 Izumi smiled sadly.

 “Tsuzuru, if you can look me in the eyes and tell me. Tell me honestly that you doubt Citron’s loyalty to our Coven, I’ll cut him from the staff,” she said simply. “No questions asked. He’s out. Do you think Citron did it?”

 The Caster opened and shut his mouth. He glanced at the door as though to make sure it was shut and then let himself fall into one of the chairs opposite her.

 “No,” he said with a weak shrug. “I don’t.”

 Citron blinked a few times in surprise and then beamed.

 “So why did you question me?” Tsuzuru muttered, a bit sore.

 “Can’t hurt to check the ones I can. If I didn’t have Citron there, I would have trusted you just as much.” Izumi rested her forehead back on her hand. She sniffled.

 Citron rubbed her back. “Do not cry, Director.”

 “I didn’t want any of this,” she whispered. “I just wanted to… teach magic and make sure Sakuya grew up well, and if a few more students joined, then good for me. Good for them. Good for magic society! Magicians need teachers but I didn’t want any of this,” she gestured wildly, “bullshit to deal with. I mean, come on, what the fuck!”

 Izumi slammed her hand on the binder.

 “Who would do something like this?” she spat angrily. “Forget 'invasion of privacy,' this is unreal levels of fucking creepy I’ve never even imagined. What kind of business does Reni have owning any information on me? Let alone all of… I've never even lived in this goddamn city!"

 “You didn’t?”

 “No. I was born in Akita and I’ve lived there ever since with my mom.” Izumi rubbed her eyes and fought the urge to just scream until her throat gave in. “My dad stayed here for the Coven. He visited Akita for holidays, I came down here sometimes, but we never spent much time together. What is going on?”

 Tsuzuru sighed. “Kazunari is right, though. Reni can’t touch us anymore if we have this. I’m sorry to say it but… this is leverage. He’s already on thin ice amongst the Bloodlines in this city, if you showed everyone what he had on you, he’d be ruined.”

 “No,” Izumi said quietly. “You’re wrong.”

 “Um?”

 Her lips twisted as she recalled Reni’s scathing words. “There’s no credibility. He’d deny having anything to do with this binder and claim we’re just trying to frame him. Confessing how we found it already puts us in a poor light. Then, with our friend Omi down in the basement, there’s no way we can look like anything but the bad guys. We’re not going to tell people about the binder. We’re not going to tell people about Omi.”

 “Director—“

 “It’s just me, Tsuzuru,” she snapped. “If it were anybody else in the Coven, or, Christ, one of the students he was being creepy about, you know I’d be dragging his ass into the main square for public humiliation. But it’s just me. Just… me. And I can take it if I’m the only one. We’re not going to rock the boat anymore than we have already.”

 Tsuzuru looked too tired to argue. “Fine. Fine. I’m so sorry for having the audacity to worry about you.”

 Izumi ruffled his hair and chuckled. “Listen, kid. Don’t think I’m ungrateful, I just know how to take care of myself. We have more important things to worry about right now.”

 “Like?”

 “Omi.”

 He groaned. “God, I keep forgetting about that. There’s so much going on. You got any ideas what we do with him?”

 Izumi cleared her throat. “He seems to have a, uh… less than glowing opinion of us?”

 “I’d think we were pretty terrible too if three minors beat the shit out of me and I woke up in someone's basement.” Tsuzuru made a strange neck-rolling motion like someone had blown into his face. “Wow, my Lord, it’s just now hitting me how much crap we’ve put Omi through in the past two hours. I almost feel bad. He was just doing his job after all."

 “I say we hold him down here for two or three days, explain the whole situation, get him to see we’re not too bad.” Izumi glanced at her the other two staff members. “We’re… we’re not, right? I really don’t want this to be one of those situations where in the end, it’s revealed that we’re actually the ones in the wrong."

 “I think we’re fine.”

 “Dilf love!”

 Izumi choked. “CITRON?”

 He frowned thoughtfully. “Hm… Oh! I see where I went wrong. Self love!”

 “That swing and miss was almost impressive,” Tsuzuru said. He shook his head, trying to get back on topic. “And what if he still hates us at the end of his stay? What then?”

 She’d honestly have to think about that when it came to it. Worst case scenario, she’d just have Tsuzuru erase his memories from tonight and on and return him back to the Council, praying for the best. Maybe help him research memory Runes to make sure it wouldn’t be broken too easily. But if there was one thing she had confidence in, it was her ability to be hospitable.

 “I’m going to get curry cooking!” she announced.

 Tsuzuru rolled his eyes and left her office swiftly like he refused to be there any longer. “You’re impossible."

 Izumi laughed. Citron got up as well, but rather than leaving, he closed the door so that it was just the two of them. Kept facing the door. Didn’t say a word.

 “Citron?”

 His shoulders sagged a little with a silent sigh. “Director, could you come here?”

 Citron turned around and he looked… somber? Thoughtful? It was hard to read his facial expressions sometimes when he wasn’t smiling wide. She got up as asked and approached him.

 “What’s up?” Izumi asked.

 He drew her closer and smiled sadly. “Thank you. For trusting me. It… It is nice. To be trusted.”

 “Well, yeah, we kind of fought an entire hoard of Banri’s zombies together and you had my back.” Izumi smiled weakly. “I think I’d be an asshole for not trusting you at this point.”

 She could never really tell what he was thinking. For all he liked to parade around like a goofball, it were the moments of contemplative silence like this that assured her he had a lot going on up there. Citron raised his hand to cradle the side of her face in his palm.

 “May I?” he asked quietly.

 Izumi raised an eyebrow. “Uh, is this a confession? I’m… flattered, really, but I’d say I'm, uh, married to my job right now, I hope you get it?”

 The Seer chuckled and shook his head. “No, no, nothing like that.”

 He leaned in and kissed her gently. Just like last time, her eyes began stinging like they’d gone suddenly dry. Izumi rubbed the light ache away and reopened them to see a soft green light shining around Citron’s form. Almost like what she thought an aurora would look like from the pictures she’d seen. A colored, dancing glint all along his outline.

 “Oh, wow,” Izumi said quietly. “Aura sight?”

 “Indeed.” Citron stepped away and spread his arms. “I am planning on betraying this Coven.”

 The light around him darkened, nearly disappearing, before it glowed once more.

 Izumi put her hands in her pockets and rocked back and forth on the balls of her feet, barely holding back a giggle.  “A lie, I’m guessing. Is this how you can tell if people are telling the truth?"

 “Yes. And I can also tell you this: I did not tell the Mayor our very secret plan.”

 Not even a flicker. Izumi let herself laugh finally and slapped his shoulder in a rough pat.

 “Don’t be a dumbass, Citron. I told you I trusted you, you didn’t have to do this,” she said.

 “I know.” The light around him began to ebb away as the temporary magic wore off. “But I wished to show you I trust you as well.”

 And the dying light did not change.


 “Where is your teacher, Mister Sakuma?”

 Sakuya turned around to find Sakyo towering over him.

 He offered a smile that the Hunter did not return. “She left early! Had a bit of an emergency.”

 “And you did not go with her?”

 “We kind of wanted to stay until the end,” he said, pointing to Muku and Yuki who were at that moment trying to see how many things from the sweets table they could force into the chocolate fountain without creating a god forsaken monstrosity. “Director said I could take the train with them back to the Coven at midnight.”

 Sakyo pursed his lips disapprovingly. “That seems like a dangerous attempt for three children who are without an adult.”

 “Well, I—! Um.” He cleared his throat and forced the words out. “I’m technically an adult! I turned eighteen a couple of weeks ago.”

 “Oh. Belated birthday wishes, then.”

 “Thank you!”

 Silence settled over them like a blanket. Sakuya wondered why the man wasn’t leaving.

 “Would you like a ride back?” Sakyo said suddenly. “I do not feel comfortable abandoning you. The trains get dangerous this late.”

 Sakuya’s hands were sweating. He didn’t know how to explain it but Sakyo Furuichi was kind of just a scary-looking man. “I-I’ll go ask, uh, the guys.”

 Muku tugged Yuki’s arm. “Yuki, no! It’s too dangerous! It’ll fall apart!”

 “I’m going to do it anyways,” the brownie announced as he picked up the slice of cheesecake and brought it towards the cascading waterfall of chocolate.

 “Hey, Sakyo offered us a ride back to the dorms. Are you guys okay with that?”

 Yuki paused in the middle of his dessert experimentation. “That money grubbing Council dog did?”

 “I thought you said Sakyo was one of the good ones,” Muku whispered.

 “You do not understand how low that bar is.” Yuki shrugged. “Whatever, I guess. Director told me I could sleep over tonight, I’ll just text my parents to let them know.”

 “Okay!” He gave Sakyo a thumbs up from where he stood to signal it was fine.

 The lights of the cathedral dimmed once more. The chattering quickly died down as a spotlight turned on to focus on Mayor Reni.

 “I am sorry to say that our night together is drawing to a close,” Reni said, giving a small bow. “Thank you for joining us and I hope you all will come once more for the autumnal ball as well. But before we all leave, I would like to present a reward.”

 A boy scurried to Reni’s side. He had a shocking head of bright red hair and wore the white dress shirt, black bowtie combination that marked a waiter for the event. In his hands, he held a pretty little glass trophy.

 Reni smiled at the audience. “As you all know, our city has once again opened doors to a new Coven.”

 A pause for a smattering of light applause.

 “Although the permanence of the establishment is yet to be confirmed, we are always proud of the initiative it takes to open doors and teach the poor magicians who do not have the luxury of a Bloodline.” The people all around them chuckled but in a strange, snide way that sounded like they’d just heard a good inside joke. “Thus, I am honored to present the Citizen’s Extol to the newcomer with us tonight, Miss Izumi Tachibana who continues her father’s charity.”

 Sakuya heard Muku whisper, “Ohhhhhh no,” and felt like that was a very apt reaction. The silence that filled the entire ballroom was, to put it mildly, mortifying. Reni stood there in the spotlight for a second, another, a few more moments, and then repeated himself.

 “Miss Izumi Tachibana? If you’d please come up.”

 More silence. 

 Sakyo was suddenly there, on Reni’s other side, leaning in to whisper in his ear.

 Reni blinked. 

 “This is singlehandedly the best and worst incident I could have seen,” Yuki muttered gleefully as he, without shame, took out his cellphone and snapped a quick picture. “God, tonight just keeps getting better and better. How humiliating this must be for the Mayor. My dad might just decide to pop open a nice bottle of wine to celebrate."

 Reni’s lips thinned. He leaned back into the microphone. “It seems that Miss Tachibana retired from our gathering tonight due to fatigue. Is there anybody else from the Mankai Coven still with us here to collect this award on her behalf?”

 The three boys all froze.

 “Sakuya, you were the first student, you should do it,” Muku said hurriedly under his breath.

 “I—but I don’t really do good in front of crowds,” Sakuya whispered back. “Muku, you’re the youngest student and, uh, something something about representing our generation? You do it!”

 “I promise you, on my entire life, no matter how bad you are in crowds, I am much worse.” The Seer turned to Yuki. “Do you—?”

 Yuki snorted. “If I go up there, the Coven turns into the laughingstock of the entire city. Don’t even think about it.”

 Sakuya and Muku made eye contact again, exchanging a single thought. They both nodded in agreement.

 “Rock, paper, scissors, shoot!” they both whispered. 

 Sakuya held out scissors, Muku held out rock.

 Sakuya shot the Seer an accusing look. “Did you use your future sight?”

 Muku only smiled, an apologetic crease in his brow that confessed the truth, and gestured towards the stage. “The Mayor’s waiting, Sakuya.”

 “Gosh darn it.” He straightened his spine, took in a deep breath, and walked through the crowd. “Sorry. Excuse me, please. I’m so sorry. Excuse me."

 Reni smiled at him once he approached but was very obviously running out of patience. “Ah, wonderful. Mister Sakuma, would you care to introduce himself?”

 Frankly, no, Sakuya really did not care to. But he leaned into the mic and said, “Hello. I’m Sakuya Sakuma, a Firstborn Witch from Mankai Coven. It’s nice to meet you all.”

 Light applause. He was sweating horribly under his collar. He accepted the small glass statue from the waiter.

 “Congrats,” the boy said quietly, shooting Sakuya a big grin. He stuck his hand out, which Sakuya shook politely.

 “Thanks,” Sakuya replied and scurried back to Muku and Yuki. “Jeez, I hope I didn’t make a fool out of myself.”

 “You did great, king,” Yuki said sarcastically. “Accepting an award in front of a crowd that’s probably already making plans to have you marry their daughters in a few years is just so difficult.”

 Sakuya cringed. “What?”

 “Bloodlines will do anything to preserve the magical power in their next generations. You fit that criteria.”

 He shuddered. “I don’t really like that.”

 “Tough.”

 “I bid you all to have a wonderful night and a safe journey back home,” Reni said grandly and the lights turned back to normal.

 Muku and Sakuya let out identical sighs of relief. Yuki slipped his phone into his little purse and walked towards Sakyo.

 “Please tell me you did not bring that disgusting minivan to this party,” he said sharply.

 Sakyo clicked his tongue. “Tailor. I’m surprised to see you here tonight."

 “Why? You don’t think mythics are good enough for soirées, you stingy, money-loving elder?"

 “…Walk home.”

 “In these heels?

 Sakuya slowly pushed himself between the bickering pair. “Thank you so much for offering, Mister Furuichi, we really appreciate it.”

 The Hunter just turned and began walking for the door. “Don’t dawdle. It’s late, your Director will worry.”

 “Ass,” Yuki muttered.


  Izumi opened the door and that was when Sakuya knew something was wrong. Because she was laughing loudly, in that awkward way she did whenever she wanted to convince others that there was nothing wrong.

 “Thank you so much for dropping the kids off, Sakyo! I owe you again, looks like,” she rushed out. “It’s really late though, you should probably start heading home, huh? Come in quick, kids.”

 Director seized him by his shoulders and gently pulled him over the threshold. Sakuya squeaked at the force.

 Sakyo raised an eyebrow. “Is everything alright?”

 “Perfect! Everything’s perfect! Why do you ask? Pretty weird for you to be asking, haha!”

 “Slick,” Yuki said flatly as he walked past her and took his heels off. He snapped his fingers and shrank down to his normal size. “If Sumeragi’s in here, I’m going to hit him.”

 Izumi leaned down and tweaked one of his pointed ears. “No, you will not. Muku, take him to your room and lock the door.”

 “Okay!”

 “I am not a misbehaving cat!” Yuki protested, struggling to no avail as Muku gently picked his friend up and began carrying him inside. “Let me walk at least! This is so demeaning!”

 “Let’s just do what the Director says for now, Yuki,” Muku whispered.

 “DON’T MAKE ME MAD AT YOU AGAIN!”

 Sakyo crossed his arms. “Mister Sakuma mentioned something about an emergency?”

 “EMERGENCY? Well, ha! Haha! That’s a bit of a, uhhhhhhhh, DRAMATIC word to be using!” Izumi blustered. “Golly gee, I wouldn’t call it an emergency, you know? Just something to be taken care of back at the dorms. Sakuya turned eighteen so figured leaving him at the party would be a good way to test his responsibility. He passed the test! Yay! Only the quest now, right? Good!”

 Sakuya was getting embarrassed on her behalf.

 “Director, breathe,” he urged, tugging the back of her pajama top.

 Tsuzuru appeared in a flash and shouldered past the Director. “Sorry, Furuichi, she’s a little drunk. Everything’s fine, you can go along and keep licking Reni’s boots now.”

 Sakyo scowled darkly. “Do I need to go in there and do an impromptu investigation, Minagi? Do not test me, I have the authority. It’s still within the statutes of that first evaluation warrant.”

 “NO!” Izumi shrieked. “YOU DON’T HAVE TO DO THAT, SAKYO, PLEASE GO HOME.”

 Silence. Tsuzuru slowly closed his eyes and although Sakuya wasn’t a Seer, he had the sense that Tsuzuru was thinking some not nice thoughts.

 Sakyo locked eyes with Izumi. “Director, I’m afraid your behavior is leaving me a tad concerned. May I please ask why you left the ball so early?”

 Half a heartbeat passed.

 “I had my period,” Izumi said suddenly.

 Tsuzuru let out the same noise that would come out of a stepped-on mouse.

 “Cramps hit me like a tornado. Really wanted to get back to the dorms as soon as possible. Citron helped me walk through the pain and I sent Tsuzuru out to get pads since we’re out,” she said, straight faced and with unquestionable candor. “I didn’t want to admit it like this but… if you insist.”

 Sakyo opened and closed his mouth several times like he didn’t know where to begin. He turned his attention back to Tsuzuru. “Is this true?”

 “Yep,” Tsuzuru choked out.

 “I’m sorry for intruding on your privacy then,” Sakyo said, face stony. He bowed his head. “Have a good night, Director. I wish the best of luck with…” He paused and fixed his glasses. Coughed into his fist. “Have a good night.”

 He turned and ran back to his silver minivan faster than, Sakuya couldn’t help but notice, he’d ever seen the seasoned Hunter move before. Tsuzuru slowly shut the front door.

 The Director collapsed to the floor on her knees and moaned. “Oh my god, I’m so glad that worked. The period excuse always works. Christ, I thought we were going to get arrested. Oh my GOD.”

 “Was it worth it,” Tsuzuru asked bitterly. “Was. It. Worth. It.”

 “Than getting arrested?! YES!”

 “Are you feeling alright, Director?” Sakuya asked, leaning down. “Would you like me to, um, get you a hot water bottle?”

 Izumi laughed and sounded nearing unstable. “No, Sakuya, it’s fine. This Coven makes me feel like I’m aging a decade every day. Go to the living room, Citron and I have to ask all you boys some questions.”

 “Okay.”

 He started walking to the living room.

 “OW! WHAT WAS THAT FOR?”

 “I HATE YOU SO MUCH, DIRECTOR. I LOATHE YOU.”

 Tenma was snoring on the armchair. Banri was also asleep on the couch. Sakuya reached for the blanket and spread it over Banri’s form, then took off his jacket to put it over Tenma’s. He hoped they wouldn’t sleep there all night, it couldn’t have been very comfortable.

 “What now?” Yuki huffed as Citron gently corralled him and Muku towards the living room. “I’m stuffed and my feet hurt, I’d love to get some sleep soon.”

 “Soon, Yuki,” Citron promised.

 The Director came back rubbing her shoulder, followed by Tsuzuru who looked like he was two jibes away from committing a minor felony. What had happened since they’d left the ball?

 “Kids, I’m going to ask a question and I want you all to answer one by one,” Izumi said. “Did any of you tell anybody outside of the Coven about the plan to break into the Council building tonight? Yuki?”

 “No,” he said in monotone. “I love every inconvenience the government in this city goes through. I thrive off of it.”

 “…Good to know. Muku?”

 The young Seer shook his head. “N-No! I didn’t even tell my mom and dad! I mean, I talked to Yuki about it and I guess he’s not in the Coven, but he knew about it. That’s okay, right? Did I do something wrong? I did something wrong, didn’t I? I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean to, I’m just a shriveled bean at the bottom of a—“

 Izumi held up her hand to stop him. “No is all I needed. Sakuya?”

 He frowned. “No, not anybody. I didn’t even talk about it outside of this building except to Tenma when we walked back from school. I couldn’t even really mention it to Banri since he doesn’t show up to school that much."

 Yuki scowled at the Sumeragi Heir’s name but thankfully didn’t say anything. Although he did shoot a glare to the sleeping boy.

 Citron gave her a small nod. “All of them are telling the truth.”

 Izumi licked her lips pensively. “Thought so. But how…?”

 “What happened, Director? Why were you so nervous in front of Sakyo?” Sakuya asked.

 She stiffened. “I… well… it’s a long story, kiddo.” She and Tsuzuru exchanged expressions. Several expressions, in fact. Doing that odd thing they did sometimes where they had a conversation without words.

 “How do they do that?” Yuki asked.

 Muku shrugged. “Nobody knows.”

 “Hm. Probably because they’re cut from the same cloth.”

 “It’s really late,” Izumi said finally. “Tomorrow’s Sunday but it’s back to school for you lot afterwards. Why don’t you all head to bed? Yuki, would you like me to wake you up in the morning so you can head back home?”

 He groaned. “I’d rather sleep in, if you don’t mind.”

 “I suppose you deserve it.” She gave all three of them a pat on the head, minding Yuki’s size and using only one finger for him. “I’ve got some wrapping up to do here. Dorms and lights out, got it?”

 “Got it,” all three of them said in unison.

 And that was that.


 Sakuya woke up when he heard noises from the hallway. He rolled out of bed and cracked the door open.

 “You’ll be back in the afternoon then?” Izumi asked as she handed Tsuzuru a cup of coffee.

 The Caster was dressed in khakis and a nice sweater. Not as fancy as the tuxedo from last night but still fairly better than the jeans and baggy tees he usually stuck to.

 “Mom wants me to go to church service and have brunch with them,” he said with a sigh. “She’s right when she says I haven’t visited them in a while, but yeah. I’ll be back as soon as possible.”

 “I really need you to if we’re going to relocate Fushimi to one of the empty rooms. We can’t keep him down there forever.”

 “I know, I know. This afternoon, I promise.”

 Sakuya frowned. Fushimi? Down where? The basement? Or… or was that a codename for another mythic that rested in underground dens? He almost opened the door wider to ask but stopped. He’d listen a little longer.

 “I suppose the Coven has been pretty busy,” Izumi remarked as she drank from her own cup. “Man, it’s been months since I’ve seen my mom last. I should pop a visit in some time during the summer.”

 “What’s your mom like?”

 “She’s, uh, a force of nature. Love her to pieces, but…”

 Tsuzuru snorted. “Sounds like someone else I know.”

 “Hey!”

 “Apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.”

 Izumi smacked him on the back of his head. “Get going already, then. Give the Big G a hi from me.”

 “That’s… not in the least bit a catholic statement.”

 “Whoops!”

 The pair disappeared around the corner towards the entryway, the Director sending Tsuzuru off. Sakuya finally left his dorm and stood in the kitchen.

 “Oh! Morning, kiddo. You’re up earlier than I’d thought you’d be,” Izumi said with surprise when she returned.

 He nodded. “I slept well, though. How about you, Director?”

 “Like a baby. Feeling a bit hungover though. You okay with cereal for breakfast? Take a seat, I’ll pour you a bowl.”

 “Thank you!”

 She reached for the Cheerios box. “Tsuzuru just left for church service with his family. Said his mother’s been bugging him to go with them for weeks now and finally refused to take no for an answer. I don’t know about you, but Mrs. Minagi sounds a little scary.”

 Sakuya laughed at that. “A lot of religious moms can be, I guess.”

 “Mm. How about your parents? You haven’t seen them in a while, I bet. How are they?”

 Sakuya froze. His fingers twitched on the table’s surface.

 Izumi turned to face him. “Sakuya?”

 “My, um. My parents, uh…” Just say it. Don’t make it weird. He forced a smile. “They passed away a long time ago. I lived with my relatives until I came here!”

 The Director’s face softened. “Ah… I thought Matsukawa mentioned something about your parents not being magicians…?”

 “Yeah. He asked my aunt to confirm.” Sakuya laughed with a humor he didn’t feel. “She knew more about it than I could, after all! I was really young. Car… crash.”

 She placed the bowl of cereal and milk in front of him but suddenly he didn’t feel hungry. “I’m sorry for bringing it up, Sakuya.”

 “It’s okay.” The Director hadn’t meant to, after all, he told himself.

 “You said your relatives cut you off?”

 A part of him wished he’d lied. Told her his parents had just gone over seas, like Tenma’s had. But he couldn’t lie to her.

 Sakuya forced a spoonful into his mouth. Maybe if he started eating, the questions would stop. “I don’t have a really good relationship with them. Not too bad, though, I don’t want to worry you. I think we all wanted me to find my own place in the world!”

 He beamed at the milk in his bowl. And he had. He was proud to say it, Sakuya had found his place, after all those years of worrying that he wouldn’t.

 “I left so quickly, I left a lot of things behind,” he added with humor. “It’s why I had to wear the same outfit for a few days until Matsukawa scrounged up enough to bring me to a thrift shop.”

 “You left things behind?” Izumi asked.

 “A few things. Nothing I miss too much.” Sakuya paused. “Ah, except this one thing. I had a picture frame of my parents at their wedding. I wonder if Auntie still has it.”

 Izumi sipped her coffee again. “My afternoon’s free. Why don’t we go check?”

 His spoon clacked against the side of his bowl. “I—no, no, that’s not necessary, really! I mean, it’s just a picture! I don’t want to ruin your Sunday, you said you were hungover and everything.”

 “Sakuya,” she said.

 The Witch cautioned a glance at his teacher. She had a gentle but firm air around her. “We don’t leave important things behind. This applies to a lot of things, but especially to objects that are important to us. Although, it is your choice. Do you want that picture back?”

 Sakuya hesitated. He nibbled on his upper lip but the answer was clear.

 “Yes,” he admitted. “I really do.”

 The Director knocked her knuckles on the table the way a judge clapped a gavel. “That seals it! Get dressed after you eat and we’ll head out. You remember the address, I hope?”

 Sakuya kind of wished he didn’t. “I do.”


Izumi should have expected it once they turned the corner to the neighborhood.

 Large houses with picket fences and wide gardens. Some with stone walls rather than fences, even. She shuddered a little. Suburbia. She’d personally grown up in a tiny little cottage meant for only two people in the countryside. This? This was the kind of thing you’d find on the cover of a real estate magazine. Sakuya had mentioned his relatives were well off, though, so it was completely on her for being surprised.

 “That one,” Sakuya murmured as he pointed to a tall, redbrick edifice. “I… Director, my aunt can be, how do I say this…”

 “Don’t worry, kiddo, I know all about dealing with annoying old people,” she reassured him as they neared the front door. There was a metal lion on it with a knocker ring held in its mouth.

 What, too good for a doorbell? she thought sourly.

 Izumi banged the knocker a few times and waited.

 A woman in her mid-forties opened the door, mousy hair pulled back tight into a bun on the back of her head.

 “Yes?” she asked.

 Sakuya peeked out from behind Izumi. “Hi, Auntie.”

 The woman’s face fell. She slammed the door shut swiftly.

 Almost.

 Izumi tried not to tear up from the pain of sticking her foot in there. Thank god she’d worn her Tims, because she might have fractured her foot in any other shoe. Yuki could shove it, her Tims were her most loyal companions.

 “Hi, are you Sakuya’s aunt?” she asked. “I’m his teacher back at Mankai Coven, I’m sure Matsukawa told—“

 “He was never supposed to come back,” Sara Kojima hissed. “That man from your, your cult and I agreed. He would never come back!”

 Sakuya shrank back behind her.

 Izumi blinked a few times and gestured to her foot. “Can you open the door please? I think my blood circulation is cutting off.”

 Sara opened the door with a frankly uncivilized growl. “I thought I made it clear. When you took him away, I wanted nothing to do with him anymore. Do none of you wretched heathens respect promises?”

 “Wow!” Izumi said with a clap. “Wretched heathen. Haven’t heard that one in a long time.”

 “GET OFF OF MY PROPERTY!” Sara shrieked. “I’ll call the police if you don’t, I promise you. And I actually adhere to my words.”

 Sakuya gripped the back of Izumi’s shirt. “S-She does, Director. It’s fine. It was stupid. We can go.”

 “Hold your horses, Sakuya. Mrs. Kojima, I really, really, really would appreciate it if my student could retrieve some of his things he said he left behind. You understand, don’t you?” she asked glibly. “We’ll be out of your hair soon enough.”

 A vein stuck out in Sara’s neck as she raised her head. She turned on her heel and stormed back into her large house, returning swiftly with a cardboard box sealed shut with duct tape. She thrust it into Izumi’s arms.

 “Goodbye,” she spat and tried to shut the door again.

 Izumi shoved her shoulder against it and forced it open further. “I really wish you’d not do that. Sakuya, open the box. Check if it’s in there.”

 “If what’s in there?!”

 Sakuya’s hands were shaking a little bit as he accepted the box from her. Izumi noticed it. Something icy was dragging its hand over her spine. She could hear Sara Kojima seething as the Firstborn kneeled on the ground and tore off a strip of duct tape. He struggled a bit, lacking fine motor skills usually but even moreso now. The box was eventually open. Sakuya dug through the folded shirts, the underwear, the little knick knacks he’d collected through the years to call his own.

 He sagged in disappointment. “…It’s not.”

 “What do you want?!” Sara exploded. “Leave! Leave! I don’t want you anywhere near me, not now, not for the rest of your miserable life!”

 Izumi flicked her finger. Sakuya’s aunt let out a shriek as her hair tie was pulled, yanking her hair along with it.

 “Don’t do that to anyone,” she told Sakuya, unashamed in her hypocrisy. She rubbed her forehead. “Mrs. Kojima, Sakuya told me he wanted a picture frame of his parents. Would you know where that is?”

 Sara was suddenly dangerously close. Nearly nose to nose. She had a few inches on Izumi so it was a little alarming to have her shoved so close.

 “He doesn’t deserve it,” Sara spat.

 Literally spat. As in, she finished talking, and then hacked onto Izumi’s face.

 She slowly wiped off the spit from under her eye. The icy hand grabbed her spine tight and shook it back and forth, rattling her entire body.

 Izumi held out her hand. “I would like it if you’d hand it over, please.”

 “HE KILLED THEM!” she bellowed so loudly, Izumi’s ears rang. “HE KILLED MY SISTER AND HER HUSBAND. HE IS DEMON SPAWN. YOU THINK I WILL HAND OVER THEIR MEMENTO THAT EASILY?”

 “I think you should stop speaking down to me like I’m some child,” Izumi corrected very slowly. “And, you know, maybe you'll surprise me but I really don't think Sakuya stabbed his parents in their sleep."

 "He is unnatural. The lot of you are all, all UNNATURAL. The things you all do, it's demented and evil. He was responsible for it, I know he is and SO DOES HE!" She jabbed a finger over Izumi's shoulder.

 Izumi held out an arm to block Sara's path. "Don't. Do not speak or look at him. I'm going to warn you just this once." With the other arm, she held out her hand again. "He told me it’s something important of his and I would like it back. I'm not really in the mood to leave otherwise. I recommend you either humor me or be willing to wait a long time."

 Sara was gone again. Back too soon. She smashed the photo frame on the stepping stones outside of her house, shattering the glass and the porcelain stand.

 “YOU WILL ALL BURN IN HELL!” Sara Kojima screamed before shoving the heel of her hand into Izumi’s chest, forcing her to stumble back a few steps. She slammed the door shut so hard, the lion knocker rattled.

 Izumi stared at the door.

 She kneeled down and fished the photo from the shards of glass, taking care as to not cut herself.

 She turned and handed it to Sakuya. “Is this it?”

 Sakuya took the photo. Trembling. His face twitched. “Yes.”

 “That’s good.” She picked up the rummaged-through box and began walking off of the property.


 She wasn’t talking.

 Sakuya’s stomach twisted. Was it his fault? Was she worried? He didn’t want the Director to feel bad because of him.

 “It’s okay, Director,” he said to her back as they kept walking on. “I don’t—believe my aunt, or anything like that, I promise. She says the ‘you’ll go to hell’ thing a lot and it loses its impact after awhile. I-If anything, she helped me realize that, um, I shouldn’t be mean like her. So it was… I mean, it wasn’t great, but a good thing came out of it. Living there.”

 Izumi stopped walking. Sakuya slammed the brakes so he didn’t crash into her back.

 She turned around and Sakuya could not recall having ever seen that kind of expression before. Not on her face, not ever in his life. Nothing. Not even Auntie could have in a million years replicated such a look of undiluted rage.

 “Sakuya,” Director began lowly. She took in a deep breath, nostrils flaring, and snapped her head towards the park. “Let’s take a seat at that bench. I think we need to have a small chat.”

 That didn’t sound good. Dread filled him but he did as he was told. The cereal he’d had that morning was like a stone in his gut.

 The Director placed the cardboard box beside him, and rather than taking a seat as well, she kneeled down in front of feet and took his hands in hers.

 “Director, I’m okay,” he began but she cut him off swiftly.

 “Sakuya Sakuma, I want you to listen to me very carefully. As someone older than you. Got it?” Izumi said.

  He clamped his lips shut and nodded.

 “There is no good lesson in this world that you could have learned from getting hurt that you couldn’t have learned from someone being kind to you. Not a single one.”

 Each and every one of Izumi’s words were hot and harsh and painful, like she was branding them onto his skin rather than saying them out loud.  His chest was starting to hurt again. “Director—“

 “Listen to me. Good people are not made from hurting,” she continued. “People are hurt for no good reason. They choose to be good but they are not made good by bad things happening to them."

 The Director wasn’t yelling but he wished she was. Anything besides the low, quivering, agonizing tilt her voice had taken.

 Sakuya opened his mouth and closed it again. He lowered his head as he felt something like a fever stir in his face.

 Izumi let out a tired sounding sigh and ran her thumbs across his knuckles. Her voice went softer, much, much softer. “Kiddo. When you’re stuck in a bad place… You tell yourself anything you can to make it through it. You tell yourself that there are good things that happened because of it, or that you deserve it, or that it’s fine and not that big of a deal. But you’re not in that place anymore and you won’t ever have to be again. So you can stop telling yourself things that aren’t true. Do you understand?”

 “But…”

 “No buts,” she commanded. “Absolutely none.”

 He couldn’t breathe right.

 “But then what was it all for?” Sakuya asked, voice cracking. He gasped for air as tears welled in his eyes. “Why did… I have to live with them? If I didn’t learn how to be good, what was it all FOR?”

 Izumi didn’t say anything.

 “Why? Why did they hate me? They didn’t tell me what I was doing wrong, I was wrong, and I didn’t know how to f-f-fix it.” He was crying now. Hot and stuffy as his nose clogged. He let the tears drip onto his jeans as he kept staring at his lap, refusing to look the Director in her eyes. “At least I learned how to be nice, at least I knew how bad it feels to be treated like that. At least I made good from being…”

 Izumi shushed him with small, comforting clicks of her tongue. Like he was a fussy kitten. She reached up and wiped his cheeks.

 “Bad things don’t happen to good people, Sakuya,” she told him sadly. “Bad things happen. There’s no rhyme or reason to them happening, even if we wished there was or think there are. Any way your relatives hurt you, they hurt you because just because. I know how comforting it can be to think otherwise, but it’s not true. And it’s hard to feel better, really better, when you lie to yourself.”

 “I didn’t want to be a bad kid,” he wept, words slurred through the unstopping tears. “I swear, I n-never wanted to.”

 “I know, sweetheart. You’re not a bad kid, Sakuya. You came out of a terrible place still wanting to be loved and that means you’re a strong one.” She wrapped her arms around him in a hug, slowly shifting to his side and resting her chin on the top of his head. Izumi carded her fingers through his hair as he cried harder onto her chest.

 “It’s hard to get angry because it can feel like you’re admitting to something you wish wasn’t true,” she said softly. “But you’re allowed to, you know. You’re allowed to feel sad. Promise me you won’t ever let anybody hurt you again the way they did.”

 And Sakuya…

 Sakuya bawled harder.


 “Hey, welcome b—oh my god, did you walk into a beehive?” Tsuzuru asked.

 Sakuya would have laughed if he hadn’t been so tired. It was like his feet were bricks and he was already half-asleep. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d cried like that. He hadn’t cried that hard even on his birthday. It’d taken its toll.

 And his eyes were red and swollen to the point where he couldn’t see out of them properly anymore.

 “Go to bed, kiddo,” Director said, ruffling his hair the way she always did. “I’ll wake you up when it’s dinner time.”

 “‘Kay,” he murmured and made his exit.

 Tsuzuru waited until the Witchling was out of sight to toss a questioning look in Izumi’s way.

 She just shook her head. “He’ll be fine, if that’s what you’re worried about.”

 “No details?”

 “Not mine to give, I’m afraid. Where’s goat boy?”

 “Where do you think?”

 She went to Itaru’s room, knocking twice before opening the door. The demon just held up a hand, message clear. Almost done with this, just give me a few more minutes. So Izumi sat on his hardly-touched, dusty bed. Still made, which convinced her Itaru had never slept on the bed before, probably spending every hour glued to the computer.

 All of a sudden, he leapt from his chair.

 “EAT MY FUCKING DICK, NOOB, THAT’S WHAT I’M TALKING ABOUT,” Itaru bellowed. “WOO! LEADERBOARD, WHAT’S GOOD!”

 Izumi cleared her throat.

 Itaru glanced at her and sat back down. “Oh. You. What do you want.”

 “I’m… what are you doing?”

 “Teabagging this dumb scrub’s ava,” Itaru said as he repeatedly tapped the crouch command.

 “Wow.” Izumi pursed her lips. “Just… wow. This is a lot to take in.”

 He shot her a dirty look. “Do you need something? I’m kind of busy. Unless you brought me snacks, but I’m not seeing any on you, so.”

 Izumi had no idea what kind of critique could be gleaned from this. A critique on video games for being so enthralling and addictive that even an immortal from hell was trapped in their clutches? A critique on demons for being weak-willed and easily giving into vices? Or maybe it instead said something about her for shoving Itaru into the gaming world to save her neck.

 Whatever.

 “I need you to promise me something,” she said.

 Itaru stilled. He turned around slowly in his swivel chair, pink eyes burning.

 “Halfblood, need I remind you how dangerous it is to strike a deal with a devil?” he asked softly.

 Izumi shivered. She forgot how menacing Itaru could be when he put in that extra bit of effort. Then again, she’d also seen him get visibly upset because they didn’t have dinosaur-shaped chicken nuggets in the freezer, so…

 “It’s not… not a contract. I’m asking you as a…” Oh, this was most definitely not the correct term to be using, but she’d have to go for it. “As a friend.”

 Itaru stared at her, a small flame bursting from his left shoulder. Then he threw his head back and began howling.

 “That is RICH,” he crowed. “Friend? HA!”

 “You know, I will admit, that actually hurts my feelings a little but I’ll ignore it for now.” She took a deep breath. “I want you to promise me that you’ll look after Sakuya.”

 He stopped laughing very suddenly, instead narrowing his eyes. “What. Are you dying?”

 “No.”

 “Good, you are currently my only form of income.”

 She rolled her eyes. “Itaru, please. I want you to promise me that you’ll protect Sakuya if there’s even a moment I can’t.”

 The demon didn’t react to her words. Just reached up to unclip the little barrette holding his bangs back, run his fingers through his hair, and then put it back in. Izumi curled her fingers into a fist.

 “If there is ever a chance that he might be in trouble, or he needs help, and I can’t be there… I want you to make sure he’s okay. Under any means necessary.”

 “What’s in it for me?” Itaru asked.

 Izumi chuckled. “Honestly, not much. But if we’re being honest here, you’re still the strongest person under this roof. I’d do anything I could but. Well.”

 She snapped her fingers and a crumpled, discarded energy drink can on the floor rose into the air. She twirled her finger and watched solemnly as it flew around before clattering back down.

 “There’s only so much I can do.” Izumi lowered her head. “Please. Just let me know that you’ll keep an eye out for the kid.”

 Itaru clicked his tongue and turned back to his computer. “Leave.”

 “Itaru.”

 He was oddly silent. The fire travelled to his hair, licking at the strands. Izumi felt like it was a sign she was treading on dangerous ground.

 “Demons collect sin. We thrive on what you humans consider morally evil, yet continue to commit. It is through that dissonance we feed,” Itaru said. He unzipped his jersey’s neck and stretched. “However, we loathe waste more than anything else. The Witchling’s death, where he is now, would be a massive waste.”

 Izumi squinted. “Is that your really cryptic, demon-y answer for yes?”

 “Out. Now.”

 “Right, right.” She slipped out of his room, closing the door behind her. When she was sure he wouldn’t be able to hear her, she smiled a bit and muttered, “what an asshole.”

 “For sure,” Tsuzuru said as he passed by. “He gets away with it because he’s hot and that’s literally it.”

 Izumi laughed. “Still jealous?”

 “It’s not fair. Good looking people get to be mean, and what are we forced to do? Have personalities to compensate.”

 “…We?”

 “Director, I say this with as much respect as possible… you are a six at best.”


 Citron sipped his tea. What a peaceful afternoon. It was moments like these he enjoyed just relaxing amongst the flowers in the courtyard.

 Someone slammed the sliding glass door open. Tsuzuru sprinted past him.

 “IT WAS A JOKE, IT WAS A JOKE, STOP CHASING ME!” he yelled at the top of his lungs.

 “I AM GOING TO STRANGLE YOU,” Izumi shrieked in return, hot on his heels.

 Tsuzuru tried to hop the courtyard wall but failed as the Director seized him by a pant leg and dragged him down to the dirt. The Caster let out a scream as Izumi began pulling his hair by the fistfuls.

 Citron sipped his tea again. This was, he supposed, why it was important to savor the peace when it was possible. It never lasted long here.

Chapter Text

 Izumi checked around the dorms to make sure everybody was busy and wouldn’t pop up randomly to cause problems.

 Muku was spending the day with his parents and wouldn’t be back until dinner. Yuki had gone home that morning. Masumi and Tenma were going through a lesson in the training room, Misumi said something about going "triangle hunting," and Sakuya was still fast asleep in his dorm. The poor kid had really tuckered himself after having a good, well-deserved cry, it seemed.

 But as it were, everybody who needed to be kept busy was busy. It was now or never.

 “Finished,” Tsuzuru said as he undid the Rune on the bathroom’s trapdoor.

 “Keep an eye out, Citron,” Izumi asked as she began descending the stone stairwell. “Tsuzuru, you come down when I call for you.”

 Tsuzuru nodded in the affirmative while Citron gave a little salute.

 Izumi sucked in a deep breath to try and calm herself down. There was nothing she had to feel defensive about, right? They weren’t monsters, after all. Kidnappers, maybe, but not… monsters!

 Yeah, no. There wasn’t really a great way to spin this.

 Omi looked up from the book of crossword puzzles Tsuzuru had provided last night. He looked like he had accepted his status as… prisoner(?) for now and rightfully was still wary. The lantern on the table lit every crease in his face.

 Izumi just stood there awkwardly, trying to think of what to say.

 “I hope you liked the curry last night!” Izumi said.

 Omi didn’t smile.

 Right.

 “I’m sorry about all of this,” she said finally and cringed at how nonsensical that sounded. “I’m going to be as frank as possible. This… wasn’t supposed to happen. Really. I just wanted a file on Hakkaku Watanabe and—it was supposed to be covert. A few of the kids, in and out, no one hurt and definitely no one brought back against their will. I guess when Banri heard that you and the mayor knew about the plan, he panicked.”

 Omi closed his booklet and placed it on the table. “So his name is Banri then?”

 “The one you…” Izumi pantomimed punching in the face.

 Omi stiffened. “I did not punch that boy.”

 “Huh?”

 “He was a little disoriented from a tackle earlier. It was a precautionary, immobilizing measure but he insisted on trying to run anyways and hit a wall face-first.”

 Izumi covered her mouth with her hand. That was… No, no. Don’t laugh. Be professional. But man, next time Banri decided to break into her things, this was going to become very public knowledge.

 “He’s a good kid, I think. Deep down inside. Somewhere. Maybe.” Izumi shook her head. “Or at least I sure am hoping for it.”

 Omi frowned deeper. “He’s seventeen. He’s too young to be anything but good. Children aren’t evil, Miss Tachibana, at worst they’re misled and lost.”

 “Call me Director.”

 The guard looked around the basement-makeshift-cell. “I’d rather not.”

 “Fair,” she said with a shrug. “Izumi, then.”

 “If you’re putting together a band of strong, young, impressionable, magicians to carry out your every whim under the guise of being an educator, I believe Mankai Coven deserves to be shut down,” Omi said. “It’s evil. I’d rather entrust their schooling to be overseen by the council.”

 “I—“ Izumi froze and tried to understand what he’d just said. “What?”

 Silence.

 “No, no, I’m serious, what did you just say?”

 Omi squared his shoulders. “If you’re putting together some kind of army—“

 “What?!

 They stared at each other in the dim, flicking light.

 Izumi pressed a hand to her forehead. Army? A band of strong magicians? WHAT strong magicians? Yeah, they had Sakuya, a Firstborn Witch, but—oh, and also Muku, a Firstborn Seer, but—

 And Citron, a Seer from another country who seemed ridiculously capable… and also Itaru, an actual demon, although no one knew about him. And, and Misumi, a Witch well-versed in black magic. Banri, a blessed delinquent with minimal respect for authority of any kind; Juza, perhaps the only “docile” wraith (an honest oxymoron) in the world. Tenma, the polished heir to the entire Sumeragi line.

 Izumi could practically feel the blood draining from her face as the realization hit her full force.

 In a very unfortunate and unwilling manner, she kind of… totally understood where Omi was coming from. It was hard to remember that she was under the roof with quite a few “heavy hitters” when she spent half her time laughing at their silly antics.

 “We’re not—I’m not trying to do anything like that. I’m a teacher, Omi, not a revolutionary,” Izumi swore. “It’s not like I’m going out of my way to collect powerful magicians.”

 He raised a skeptical eyebrow. “What, they just all happened to stumble under this roof through sheer coincidence?"

 “…YES!” she cried. “That is literally what happened for some of them! Half of the boys up there we met through sheer chance, I really think the only person I went out of my way to hire was Tsuzuru and Tenma!”

 The guard’s face didn’t change. “Listen, I’m really not in a mood to talk if you’re not going to be honest.”

 “B-But…” She wanted to scream into her hands but told herself to get a grip. “Okay. Okay, I got it. I’m going to tell you what I’ve got planned for you.” Izumi took in a deep breath. “We’re going to keep you here for two or three days. And in that time, I’m going to let you know what kind of operation we run here. If you want to go and tell Reni the truth and have us shut down, I’ll let you. Just give us the chance to convince you we’re not…”

 What was the word?

 “Evil?” Omi prompted.

 Izumi winced. “Yeah. Evil.”

 “No.”

 She almost stomped her foot on the ground out of frustration. “Why not?”

 “I’m not going to compromise with the likes of you. I’m not going to betray the Council just because you weave a web of lies for three days.” Apparently his jawline wasn’t the only impressive thing about him, he was as stubborn as Tsuzuru, Izumi thought bitterly.

 “Omi,” she began very slowly. “I want you to tell me the truth. Do you want to shut us down because you think the Coven is manipulating its students? Or because you’re loyal to the Council.”

 He didn’t hesitate. “Both.”

 “But if you had to choose. Which is more important to you? The wellbeing of the boys upstairs or doing what Reni tells you to do.”

 Omi went silent. She waited for his answer and prayed this guy was independent enough to make ethical choices on his own. Otherwise, she’d have to help Tsuzuru come up with that new memory Rune faster than intended.

 “I’d suppose the wellbeing of the magicians under your care,” Omi admitted finally.

 Oh, thank Christ.

 “Let’s get you out of this basement,” Izumi said cheerfully. “Sorry you had to spend the night here.”

 “No, it’s fine. A firm surface is good for the spine.” He got up and Izumi had to spend a minute just realizing how massive this guy was. Maybe not on par with Muku’s father but still something to keep on edge about.

 Izumi craned her neck back and called, “Tsuzuru! We’re gonna need you now.”

 The Caster dipped in and bowed. “Sorry about this.”

 “It’s what I expected,” Omi muttered as he held out his arms. 

 Tsuzuru cast a quick Bind Rune on his wrists to keep them bound, and it was like that the three of them walked up out of the basement into the pre-prepared dorm that Omi would spend the next few days of imprisonment within.

 “I’m going to want to interview each and every person you have staying with you under this roof,” Omi told her as Tsuzuru released the bindings. “At least I need to confirm that you’re providing for them properly."

 Izumi and Tsuzuru locked eyes immediately.

 I TOLD you we should have told Sakuya about him from the beginning! But nooooo, you were all ’the less they know the better,’ she said through a very angry purse of her lips that turned them into one thin white line.

 He shrugged. I refuse to take blame for that. If I’d known that you were planning on trying to butter Fushimi up and beat Reni on his hierarchy of loyalty, then sure I would have told you to tell them!

 What do we do?!

 Tsuzuru made a disgusted noise in the back of his throat and waved a hand flippantly. I suppose we HAVE to tell them now, don’t we?

 God damn you.

 “What are you two doing?” Omi asked blankly.

 They snapped themselves out of it.

 “Of course,” Izumi said. “Um, maybe starting from… From tomorrow? Please?”

 “Can I ask why?”

 She ran her tongue over her suddenly dry lips. “Well. Um. I really don’t know how to say this…”

 “Some of them don’t know you’re here,” Tsuzuru said bluntly.

 Omi looked at a loss for words. “They… don’t?”

 “I told you that Banri knocking you out and bringing you back was never part of the plan,” Izumi said as she wrung her hands nervously. “Just give us today to tell them all that you’re here and why you’re here.”

 Omi crossed his arms. “And I’ll know you’re not telling them to lie how?”

 “Oh my god, Omi, I can’t tend to each and every one of your suspicions!” she snapped. “Can you please just go easy on the paranoia for a second?!”

 Silence. Tsuzuru sighed and put his hand on her shoulder.

 “Director…”

 Izumi shrugged him off bitterly. “Yeah, yeah, I know. We kidnapped him. Testing whether or not we’re evil. God. Join us for dinner, why don’t you.”

 “Okay,” Omi said.

 “I—Come again?”

 “I’ll join you for dinner. Seems like a good way to get to know everybody. Introduce myself properly.”

 Izumi shot a look towards Tsuzuru who could only shrug again.

 “There’s really no reason to say no, is there?” he said.


  “Director, will there be a day you don’t bring home a strange man?” Matsukawa said with a sigh as he took a seat at the dinner table.

 She choked a little and smacked him on the back of his head. “Did you have to phrase it like that?!”

 “Who is he, Director?” Muku asked curiously, blinking owlishly up at Omi.

 “We’ll wait until we’re all seated for introductions." Izumi handed the ladle to Tsuzuru. “Start handing out servings. I’m going to grab Sakuya from his room, I think he’s still sleeping."

 She disappeared down the hall.

 They sat in awkward silence. Tenma reached for a glass of water and sipped. He placed it back down.

 “Just say it, Tenma,” Citron urged him.

 “Stop reading my mind!” Tenma snapped in return.

 “I cannot help it! You are practically doing the scream in your brain.”

 Tenma slumped over on the table and moped a little. He let out a quiet sigh. Muku rubbed his back a little.

 “You can do it, Tenma,” he urged. “I mean, I’m not sure what’s going on, but… you have a lot of guilt inside.”

 “I’m not guilty of anything!” the Hunter yelled, standing up from the table. “Screw this, I’m not hungry.”

 His stomach betrayed him with a loud growl. Tsuzuru sighed as he handed him the first plate of rice and curry.

 “You don’t have to always put up such a front, you know,” he remarked. “If the Seers tell you to just come out and say whatever you’ve got in there, I’d recommend you just do what they say.”

 Tenma looked a little conflicted as he slowly lowered himself back into the seat.

 “I’m sorry,” he muttered finally, slumping like he was mortified by his own words. “For, um… fighting you, I guess. It’s a little awkward eating dinner in front of you after that.”

 Omi smiled and accepted the apology. “Thank you for saying so. I don’t hold it against you, you know. You just did what you were told to do, weren’t you? Where’s the other young man… Banri, I think his name was?”

 “Banri doesn’t stay with us,” Tsuzuru said, handing Muku and Masumi their own dinners. “He still lives with his parents."

 “He’s not registered either,” Omi noted sharply. “Why is that?”

 “Because the kid isn’t a magician. He’s a blessed.” Tsuzuru hesitated. “And… I mean—don’t tell the Director I told you this because she’ll have my head, but I think maybe just getting this piece of truth out there is the better thing to do. I’m sure Furuichi told you what he needed to about the, uh… little undead incident a few weeks ago?”

 The guard raised an eyebrow. “The necromancer was never caught. But Sakyo said he had reasonable suspicion to believe that there was a Witch who used black magic loose in the city.”

 Tsuzuru pursed his lips, waiting for the dots to connect. It took a little longer than expected, but soon enough, Omi’s eyes were as wide as saucers.

 “You’re kidding,” he whispered. “That KID rose the dead? Were you people teaching him how to do that?!”

 “No, no, Director was telling the truth when she swore on the Maid of Orléans, Banri really was just like that when we found him. It’s how we found him, actually.”

 “…So that’s why he’s not registered.”

 “Ding ding ding.”

 Izumi returned to the kitchen with Sakuya waddling after her like a sleepy duckling. His eyes were still a little puffy and pink, but much better than before. “Spilling all of our secrets, Minagi? Thought you’d need at least a thousand bucks, not just a cute face.”

 The Caster rolled his eyes and fanned himself dramatically. “Oh, you know me, Director. Can hardly resist a man working for the underground police. Would sell out myself for a library, would sell out you to get in the good graces of a six-foot meat titan. We both know what kind of person I am by now."

“Meat titan?” Omi repeated, incredulous.

 Izumi snorted in response. As Sakuya settled into the last chair, she took in a deep breath and gestured to their guest.

 “This is Omi Fushimi,” she said with a vigor she did not genuinely feel. “Think of this as, um, something like Sakyo’s inspection, I guess? He’ll be staying with us for a couple of days. Interviewing you all, sitting in on a few lessons, poking around. You know how it is.”

 Omi took a quick count of the people around the kitchen. The Director, Matsukawa and himself included, there were ten people. “Is this everybody who lives with the Coven?”

 “We’re missing Itaru,” Sakuya mumbled, still out of it.

 Omi didn’t miss the way Izumi and Tsuzuru both shut their eyes and grimaced.

 “Who is Itaru?” Omi asked. “That’s another name I don’t recognize.”

 “Itaru is… I mean…” Izumi wrung her hands. “He’s, um.”

 “Okay, before you get mad at us and start slinging around accusations, I find it important to make it clear that Sakyo Furuichi knows he’s staying with us, he just agreed to keep it quiet for now,” Tsuzuru said.

 “Don’t throw Sakyo under the bus!”

 “I'd throw him under the bus every Monday! Nobody likes that guy.”

 Omi leveled a warning look in Tsuzuru’s direction. “Sakyo Furuichi has gone out of his way to save the lives of several magicians in need of help in this city. You’d do well to be at least a little respectful.”

 Tsuzuru went red like he was about to start spilling an entire dissertation about why exactly Sakyo Furuichi was a menace when Izumi cut him off by grabbing Omi by his wrist.

 “It is imperative that you keep this a secret,” she said, hushed, as she led him down the hall. “Misumi summoned him but before you ask, Itaru is not a danger. We have him completely under control more or less and Misumi doesn’t even remember why he summoned Itaru in the first place. Yes, Sakyo knows about him. No, Sakyo does not know that Misumi is his summoner.”

 Izumi came to a stop at one of the dormitory doors. She whirled around and jabbed a finger at Omi’s chest.

 “I will say this once, Fushimi,” she growled. “I told you that because I think you have morals. Whether or not you think the Coven should be shut down by the time your stay with us comes to an end, if you do anything to get Misumi in trouble, I will make you wish Banri and the boys did more than just knock you out. Do you understand?”

 Omi couldn’t remember the last time he’d been threatened by someone so much shorter than him. Actually, he couldn’t remember the last time someone had threatened him and he’d actually been a little scared. He could only nod dumbly.

 Her hand dropped. “Okay. Okay, good. Don’t freak out.”

 She knocked on the door twice and opened it.

 “FUCK OFF, I’M BUSY HERE,” Itaru bellowed, not looking away from the screen as the hand on the mouse whizzed to-and-fro on the mousepad. “EAT HELLFIRE, YOU FUUUUCKING SCRUB.”

 Izumi closed the door and turned to face the guard once more.

 “Was that a…” Omi cleared his throat. “Was that a demon? Playing a video game?”

 “That’s Itaru. You know, say what you will, but I think video games have been an excellent way for him to get all of his bloodlust and rage out nonviolently. I mean, it was either that or therapy but no one in the Coven is licensed so…” Izumi was rambling.

 Omi held up a hand to stop her. He seemed oddly exhausted by the turn of events. “I will admit, this is not something I expected. But… if Sakyo gave him a green light then I don’t really think I’m one to be going against that. I hope you understand that this does very little to help your case.”

 “I do,” she said sadly. “I really do.”

 The two of them went back to the kitchen where most of the kids had started eating already.

 “Which one of you is Misumi?” Omi asked. Tsuzuru handed him his own platter. “Ah, thank you.”

 Misumi waved a spoon in the air as he grinned. “That’s me! Hi, I’m Misumi!”

 Omi stared at the lanky teenager with the big smile that looked as though it carried not a burden in the world. “So… he was the one who—?”

 “Yeah,” Izumi said. She started digging into her own dinner. Not to toot her own horn but it was delicious as always. Mmm, curry. She could feel the stress melting off of her as she ate more. “Did you guys know that spicy foods are supposed to be really good for helping stress management?”

 Tsuzuru stared at the food resentfully. “Am I supposed to assume the way you’ve been sneaking more and more spice into your curry lately is your passive aggressive way of asking for a vacation?”

 “We don’t have money for a vacation on the budget, Director,” Matsukawa said apologetically.

 Izumi ate more curry. Feel the stress melt away, Izumi. Just keep eating your curry.

 “Director really likes curry,” Muku explained to Omi in a soft voice. “I hope you like it as well. We’ve been eating it every dinner so far.”

 “…Surely not every—“

 “Yes,” Tsuzuru snapped angrily. “Every single dinner. Every single one. The Director has a problem but she refuses to get help for it because she’s still neck-deep in denial that this much curry is not normal!”

 “IT’S ALL I HAVE LEFT, TSUZURU!” Izumi yelled. “TAKE MY PRIDE, TAKE MY JOY, YOU WILL NOT TAKE MY CURRY."

 Masumi held out his empty plate. “I love it. Can I have seconds? Can you feed it to me?”

 “See! Some people appreciate my curry!” she said, pointing to the young Hunter.

 “MASUMI DOES NOT COUNT, YOU COULD FEED HIM NOTHING BUT APPLE SEEDS AND ORANGE PEELS AND HE’D STILL SAY HE LOVED IT.”

 Masumi nodded. “It’s true. You could give me orange peels for dinner every day and I’d still want to marry you.”

 Tsuzuru gestured wildly, point proven. “Creepy, but exactly what I’m saying."

 “I hate it when they fight at the table,” Tenma grumbled. “Why can’t they just be like my parents and eat in different dining rooms?”

 “Dining rooms… like, plural? How rich is your family, Ten?” Sakuya asked as he nudged his seat closer.

 Omi’s head was spinning. He chose to not say anything and continue eating.

 …The curry really was quite delicious, to be fair.


 The rules in place were very clear. Omi had free reign of the entire dormitory during the day but would not be able to leave the property. Unless he was in his dorm or using the bathroom, he would not be permitted to be on his own and had to be with a teacher or Matsukawa. And, of course, he would not be allowed to leave his dorm for any reason during nighttime.

 He pressed his hand against the Rune wall. “Is this really necessary?”

 “Yes,” Tsuzuru said firmly, putting the last one in place. “It’s the only way we’ll be able to make sure you won’t break out the window and scamper back to Reni to tell him everything.”

 Yeah, that was pretty fair. “I would stay on alert. They’re probably already looking for me, it’s only a matter of time before they check here as well."

 “…We’ll deal with that when they come knocking. Will your job be alright once you get back?”

 “Is this assuming I don’t inform Mayor Reni about the break-in he specifically warned me about?”

 Tsuzuru nodded.

 Omi sighed. He’d actually thought about that. “I am employed under Sakyo and not the council directly. I may see a cut in work hours or no bonus in the next quarter, but Sakyo isn’t the type to fire people casually. As long as he considers his men loyal and hard working, he stands by them.”

 Tsuzuru hummed noncommittally. “Goodnight, Fushimi. I’ll be back in the morning to let you out.”

 “Goodnight.”

And that was what he resigned himself to until a few hours later. He was roused from his sleep (admittedly, Omi had always been a light sleeper) from a noise outside in the hallway. Someone was talking. He crept to the door and pressed his ear against the wood.

 “Where did you go today?”

 “…Park.”

 “Really? That must have been nice. The whole day? Did you see anything interesting?”

 “Not really. Just like standing under a tree and, uh… watching people sometimes.”

 That voice wasn’t familiar. Omi opened the door. He couldn’t see who was talking, nor could he crane his neck outside to get a glimpse.

 “Muku?” he called, having recognized that first person. “Is that you?”

 “M-Mister Fushimi!”

 The nervous middle schooler appeared in front of him. “I’m sorry, I didn’t think anybody would be able to hear me. I really hope I didn’t wake you up.”

 “Don’t worry yourself. I’ve been told I have good hearing. Who are you talking to?”

 Muku looked to the side and furrowed his brow like he didn’t know whether or not he was to tell the truth.

 “The, um… The Director told me it might not be a good idea to tell other people. E-Especially, you know, the police.”

 Omi raised an eyebrow. “I… would really urge you to tell me the truth in that case, Muku. Is it something dangerous?”

 He swore to God, if these people had another demon with them…

 Muku stretched forward his pinky finger, expression turning into something much more determined. “You have to promise not to tell this to tell anybody else then, Mister Fushimi. Pinky swear.”

 He linked fingers with Muku. “As long as this isn’t something that could put you or anybody else in harm’s way, I promise it will stay between us.”

 Muku let out a relieved breath. “Good! Ju-chan, come here, let me introduce you.”

 Locking eyes with a tall, downright angry looking ghost of a teenaged boy was the second time that day Omi was stricken unsure of what to say.

 “This is my cousin Ju-chan!” Muku said happily, holding onto the ghost’s (was that possible?) arm. “He saved me from Banri’s zombies and he’s been helping to look after me ever since. He’s out most of the morning but he always comes back to the Coven during nighttime!”

 If Omi had to be honest, it broke his heart to see this “Ju-chan.” He looked very young. And… oddly familiar of someone he knew personally in the past. To have died at such a young age was nothing but a tragedy.

 “Nice to meet you, young man,” Omi said kindly. “My name is Omi Fushimi. I work for Sakyo Furuichi as a part of the Council’s underground police force.”

 Juza nodded once awkwardly. “…Hi. ‘M Juza Hyodo.”

 He flicked his gaze back to Muku. “How did a ghost help you?”

 Muku went quiet.

 “You can tell me the truth.”

 The young Seer tossed a look at his cousin who only shrugged listlessly.

 “When, ah, when Ju-chan saw me getting hurt, he grew these really crazy claws! And he was tangible for a bit. Citron said he was a wraith.” Omi tried desperately to control the growl that threatened to slip out at that word. Wraiths were only bad news. “But… but then the claws went away after a day or two! Ju-chan protected me, I promise, Mister Fushimi. He would never do anything to hurt anyone.”

 He’d never in his life heard of such a thing before. Not a wraith helping someone living, and certainly not a ghost that could turn into a wraith, then back again. But Muku looked like he didn’t even know how to lie, let alone bring himself to.

 “And your Director knows about this?” Omi asked. “Knows he was a, uh, wraith?"

 “Uh huh! That’s how they met, actually. And she’s the one who let Ju-chan stay!”

 Omi hesitated and then offered a tentative smile. “Alright, then. I’ll leave you to to your conversations. Have a good night, Muku. Go to sleep when you can, I believe you have school tomorrow.”

 “Y-Yes, of course, sir!”

 Omi shut the door and dragged a hand down his face as a sigh escaped him.

 This Coven was only getting more and more complicated.


 He struggled more to get a firm opinion of the Coven the next morning.

 “Cell’s unlocked, inmate,” Tsuzuru said with a deep yawn as he undid the Runes.

 Omi chuckled. “Sorry for making you get up this early.”

 “No, I pulled an all-nighter. I’m actually going to go to sleep now, so you’ll be with the Director.” The Caster waved lazily over his shoulder. “I’ll be up in a few hours, ask her if she can put coffee in the fridge for me.”

 “Will do.”

 It was just before six in the morning. The sun hadn’t come up all the way but the sky had turned a softer, lighter blue than night. And Izumi Tachibana stood in the kitchen, bags under her eyes and hair in such a sloppy ponytail, it hardly constituted as such.

 “Morning, Omi,” she managed as she washed rice in a pot. “If you wanna go back to sleep, feel free to.”

 “Is waking up this early necessary?” he asked.

 “To feed the bottomless pits that live here? You betcha. Half the checks we get from the Council go into the food budget. These guys eat like they’re trying to bankrupt me.” Her words were scornful but her chuckle was fond.

 Omi didn’t feel alright with just abandoning her to make breakfast all on her own. “Is there anything I could do to help? I’m decent when it comes to cooking.”

 “That’s a relief. I’m pretty sure most of the people here only know how to put something in a microwave.” She tossed him two onions and showed him where to find the knives and cutting board. “Tsuzuru’s actually not too bad at cooking. He’s just the type to throw everything into a wok and fry it. It’s always edible which puts him leagues above Matsukawa, but the kids aren’t fond of eating stir-fry two nights in a row.”

 “And they’re okay with curry?” he asked.

 Izumi pointed a spatula in his direction like she was challenging him to a duel. “Curry is good. Always. Do not test me on this, Fushimi, I have enough traitorous naysayers to deal with.”

 He backed off immediately. Some eyes invited debate, some eyes did not. And Izumi’s glare most certaintly did not.

 “Good morning!” Misumi cried, bounding out of his room. “Is food ready?”

 Izumi shook her head. “Morning. Just got the rice cooking, Misumi, why don’t you help yourself to some fruit first?"

“Okay! Do we have any of the strawberries still?”

 And it was like that for about half an hour. Just the three of them in the kitchen, not speaking, just cooking. Misumi sang to himself quietly a nonsense song as he ate. Omi wondered if this was how it was normally here. A part of him was suspicious that perhaps this had all been planned, that this relaxed, casual air was constructed to make him comfortable. But a bigger part of him, an instinct that had saved his life countless times, knew that no amount of planning could counterfeit the feeling of home.

 How curious.

 But what if it is a lie? that first part hissed. You are an outsider. You do not know the facts. Do not get soft when the fates of children could be on your shoulders.

 That was when Misumi dropped his cup of water.

 The tinkle of shattering glass was soft but attention-grabbing, as all broken things did.

 “I’m sorry,” Misumi said immediately, voice panicked. The boy had shrunken in on himself through reflex, one eye going wide but pupil going small. He looked like he’d just committed a war crime, not dropped something. “I, I didn’t mean to, it slipped, I'm sorry, I’ll clean it up right—“

 “STOP!” Izumi yelled.

 Misumi flinched at her shout. Omi would have as well if he’d been anyone less. There was a demand in the Witch's voice that honestly sounded kind of like Sakyo’s when he was giving out orders. She stormed forward and Misumi curled up even more on his chair.

 Omi reached forward to seize her arm. “He said it was a mis—“

 Izumi took Misumi’s hand in hers, the one that had reached down. “That’s broken glass, Misumi. You’ll cut yourself if you’re not careful. It’s fine, just go grab the broom and make sure not to step on it or anything.”

 Misumi swallowed. “You’re not mad?”

 “Mistakes happen. I’m pretty sure I’ve broken at least three plates since I moved here.”

 Misumi looked so disappointed in himself. Eyebrows drawn into a depressing tent, lips crumpled into a pout. Even his eyepatch looked sad somehow. “But I broke it…”

 Izumi sighed. Tousled his hair with her fingers. “Listen. When we make a mistake, we just need to clean up afterwards and try not to repeat it. That’s all. You got it?”

 “…I got it.” Misumi stood up, still a little shaken. “I’ll go get the broom. I’m sorry, Director.”

 “You’re fine, I promise,” she said.

 Izumi returned to the kitchen counter and began cracking eggs into a large bowl, beating them for an omelette.

 And Omi—

 Omi didn’t know what to make of that.


 The first interview would obviously start with the first student.

 “Tell me, Sakuya,” Omi began. “Has this Coven been treating you… properly, would you say? Has Izumi Tachibana been fulfilling her duties as a teacher?”

 The young man opened and closed his mouth. He shivered a little.

 “Yeah,” Sakuya said with a firm nod. “Very much so, Mister Fushimi.”

 “You can just call me Omi. I don’t think I’m much older than you,” he said. “Why don’t you just tell me what a normal day looks like for you?”

 Sakuya launched into a very detailed description.

 On weekdays, he’d have breakfast and head to school. Stay for drama club, then head back for a smaller lesson. Low-risk spells, like levitation or repair spells. Recently he’d learn how to do a light spell, but couldn’t use it because it was “too bright.” Sakuya hesitated here and admitted, “Actually, blinding. Director said we probably shouldn’t work on it until our order of extra-strength sunglasses come from Amazon.”

 Weekends were reserved for the bigger spells. Teleportation (Sakuya flushed here but Omi didn’t ask why), or spells that speeded up time. “I tried to use the spell on a sapling once. The Director said it was supposed to grow a few inches, but we accidentally got a new tree in the backyard. Banri was really mad at me for messing up the vegetable garden and it took us all day to put it back in order.”

 Sometimes Sakuya would join Citron and Muku for Seer lessons but could hardly follow along, especially with the rate that Muku was going. 

 Omi nodded. This all sounded in order. “And outside of magic lessons?”

 “Chores. I like to help the Director out with cleaning. I tried to do the laundry, but I ended up turning all of Tenma’s shirts pink and I was really embarrassed. We play demon poker after dinner on the weekends, and Fridays are our movie nights.”

 Omi’s eyebrows raised. “Movie nights?”

 “Yeah! It turns out Banri has Hulu so now we all just kind of pile up in the living room and watch whatever’s good.” Sakuya went quiet all of a sudden.

 “Is there anything you want to say?”

 The Witchling worked his lips, like tasting the words he was going to say to make sure they were just right. “Omi, um… The last time someone from the Council came to look into things, it was because—Sakyo said something about how the Coven wasn’t good enough, and it was pretty nerve-wracking. Everything was fine when he met the Director, but still. You’re not, this isn’t something like that, is it? Is it just a check-in?"

Omi didn’t know what to say to that.

 So he asked a question instead. “Would you be sad if the Coven was shut down, Sakuya?”

 Sakuya’s twitching fingers went still like the question had devastated the movement out of him. “It’s home.”

 Omi let that statement sit in the air.

 He nodded. “Could you let Muku in next?”

 Sakuya rose, bowed slightly, and left the room.


 “It was scary,” Muku began. “I was seeing things everywhere. I mean, I always saw stuff kind of ever since last year. But my therapist told me that it was just trauma from Ju-chan’s d—” He choked on the word and refused to say it. The boy took half a minute to collect himself before going on. “I saw these shadowy figures following me around. I was so paranoid about everything. No matter what I did, I’d always see myself dying next. Or my f-family? And it was scary. I got a few antipsychotics prescribed but they made me so, so, so miserable. I was sick, and tired, and I couldn’t do anything. I had to drop out of track because running made me nauseous.”

 “It must have been difficult for you,” Omi said softly.

 Muku’s hands raised like he was batting the sympathies away nervously. “No, no, no! I was fine, sorry, I’m sorry, I was just rambling and unloading onto you, that wasn’t fair of me. It wasn’t that bad, really! Just me being me, I’m not very brave and I’m not strong, so it’s just a habit—“

 Omi cleared his throat to cut the boy off. 

 “Sorry,” Muku said desperately, calming down.

 “So how did you find the Coven?” Omi asked.

 “Ah! Mister Citron found me on the street. He, um, he told Ju-chan to leave me alone because it wasn’t good for him to be around if I could see him but not really see him.” He smiled softly. “Then Sakuya gave me the address to the Coven and I’ve been learning and living here ever since. I—I don’t know if this is too much of a burden on them, so please don’t tell them I said this, but they really saved my life. I don’t know how bad I’d be if they weren’t around!”

 Omi nodded once. “That’s good to hear. Could you send Masumi in, Muku?”

 “Yes! Right away!”


 “If you shut us down, I’ll kill you,” Masumi said.

 Omi stared at him. He gestured to the chair. “Why don’t, uh, why don’t you take a seat first?”

 Masumi took a seat. “If you shut us down, I’ll kill you.”

 Omi almost laughed. “You were the one who hit me over the head that night, weren’t you? Can I ask what you used?”

 “A doorknob,” he said flatly.

 Omi pressed two fingers to his forehead and told himself firmly to choke the laugh down. It was very unprofessional. But this kid’s blunt way of speaking was just undeniably amusing. 

 “Do you like staying here, Masumi?” Omi asked.

 “Yes.”

 “…Why? Care to elaborate?”

 “Because she’s here,” he said with a disgusted little crimp of his upper lip, like Omi was stupid for even asking such a thing.

 “The Director? Are you fond of her?”

 “I love her. Don’t make a move on her, I’ll kill you if you do that too.”

 Omi closed his eyes and let himself grin. “Right. Okay, you’re free to go. Thanks for listening.”

 “I’m serious,” Masumi warned as he exited.

 What a weird kid.


 “Was texting me ‘come to the lab’ necessary when I was literally right in the other room?” Izumi asked.

 Instead of answering, Tsuzuru simply grabbed her by her shoulders and forced her onto a chair. He slammed the door shut and cast a quick Rune on it.

 “Tsuzuru! We can’t leave Omi—“

 “I told Matsukawa to look after him for now,” the Caster said and slid the white blanket off of one table.

 Izumi cringed at the corpse in the glass case. “God… this can’t be healthy for you. Have you thought of picking up another hobby? Like, I don’t know, crocheting?”

 “I work on a manuscript when I have time to spare. Not the point.” Tsuzuru spread his arms wide. “I think I am genuinely one of the smartest Casters to have walked this city’s streets.”

 Izumi crossed her legs and sighed, bidding him to continue.

 He handed her a new knife.

 “Dude, have you considered giving me, like, flowers? Or chocolate? Why knives? Why is it always a knife?” Izumi complained.

 She unsheathed the blade from it’s simple leather casing and frowned. The metal was inky black but she couldn’t feel any magic from Runes emanating from it. Tsuzuru was staring at her in an expectant way, like any version of herself that was smarter would drop to the ground and start praising his mental prowess.

 “I give up, tell me what you did,” she said.

 Tsuzuru drew a quick Barrier Rune instead.

 He pressed his hand to it, to show that it was solid and there. “I want you to stab the wall.”

 “St—?”

 “Just do it.”

 So she did. She gave the Rune a quick slash, completely expecting the knife to bounce off of it like it should have usually.

 Instead, Izumi’s eyes blew wide open when the blade sank into the wall and the Barrier began sparking. She gave the knife’s handle an experimental twist. Her jaw hit the floor when the Barrier completely shattered.

 “You… is…” Izumi sheathed the knife and put it on the table, stepping away from it. That was not natural. That was the opposite of normal. “Tsuzuru, what the hell?!”

 “I figured out how to replicate the anti-magic,” he told her. If he was younger, he might have started jumping up and down in his glee. “It took me so long. So, so damn long. I had ask myself why the corpse wasn’t being affected by it when it should have been. If it was reanimated with magic, then—then the slime should have made it unable to move. I asked myself why it made me sick. The slime doesn’t just cancel magic, it rejects the living, Director.”

 Izumi kissed her teeth.

 “Okay, I want you to explain it to me like I’m an elementary schooler that struggles with school,” she said tentatively.

 Tsuzuru rolled his eyes and reached for his whiteboard to draw it out for her.

 “The slime is anti-magic. It cancels magic, but I was wrongfully assuming that it made me sick because of that. It’s anti-magic, yes, but not necessarily poison. It’s just incompatible with living organisms.” He drew a stick figure with X’s for eyes, his experimental corpse. “But it’s completely fine inside of the corpse because it’s surrounded by a layer of rot, death, decomposing tissue… you get the idea. That’s what keeps it contained. Rot.”

 Izumi made a note to herself to force this boy to sleep a full night tonight. He looked borderline mad.

 “It took me so many test combinations, so many runs, so many failures. But I did it, I DID IT. With Miyoshi’s help, yeah, but that’s a footnote.” Tsuzuru reached under the table and waved a tiny flask. “I replicated it perfectly. Every property. I can only make small batches, and it takes like a week, but when you tweak, develop the composition a little to adapt to nonorganic materials, you get…”

 He waved to the knife on the table.

 Izumi shuddered.

 “I guess… if you stab someone with that—“

 “If they’re magic in any way, they would die,” he said simply. “Without question and much, much faster than the first knife I gave you. I think if you nicked your finger on it, you would be hospitalized.”

 “Tsuzuru, that’s—“

 “Listen to me. That knife would kill you, but that’s because that’s a trial-run weapon. If I wanted to cut the dosage and make a diluted version, I probably could. Something that just leaves you sick. But, um, I’d rather not think of it in a ’stab’ way at all.” Tsuzuru mimicked drawing a Rune in the air. "I’d rather think of it as a skeleton key. Not a single Rune can stand in that way. In the future, we could use it against just about any rogue Caster.”

 She still had her doubts.

 Tsuzuru gripped her by her shoulders again.

 “Think of it at least like this, Director,” he pleaded. “This is just the first step. If you keep letting me work on this project, I’ll be able to find a Rune that can withstand the anti-magic. If a danger like last time pops up—“

 “It won’t.”

 “But if it does! If it does, we’d have a Barrier that wouldn’t break in seconds. Doesn’t that count for something? Especially since we don’t know who was putting this crap inside of the buried bodies.”

 Izumi sighed deeply. “You really, really want me to continue funding this, don’t you?”

 “If you don’t pay me while I work on this, I’m going to have to start working part-time again,” he admitted.

 “…You probably would make more. Just saying. I don’t pay you that much.”

 “You really don’t, but this is really fun for me.”

 Izumi gently pried his hands off of her. “Okay, Tsuzuru. But you have to promise me you’ll give it a rest for today. You made your breakthrough, you need to sleep tonight.”

 He gasped. “What?! I can’t sleep now! I have so much work—“

 “NO ARGUMENTS.”

 They stared at each other, raging a silent war.

 Tsuzuru gave first. “Fine.”

 Izumi gave him a fond noogie as she stood up. “Let’s go get some food in you. You’re so skinny, you look like you’d lose a fight against Muku.”

 “That’s very rude. And possibly true. I wouldn’t want to fight him anyways, the kid has a fucking guard wraith. And we’ve both met his dad.”

 Izumi was moving to tie her hair up to make dinner when the two were surprised by an odd sight in the kitchen. Omi was at the stovetop, putting the finishing touches on what looked like fried rice. There were already a few platters on the table, like the sweet-and-sour sausages, a light salad.

 “I hope you don’t mind,” Omi said, turning around. “I just used what I could find in the fridge. I figured if I had nothing better to do, I might as well make dinner tonight.”

 Tsuzuru sighed. "Matsukawa was supposed to watch you."

 "Ah. He let me off the hook so he could go organize some of his vinyls."

 "Of course he did."

 “You cook?” Izumi asked, and she would be lying to herself if she said she wasn't charmed by this.

 “I’d call it more of a casual pastime.”

 Tsuzuru raised his hand. “Second question. Are you single?”

 “Ah?”

 “Just saying, the Director’s single too, I think—"

 Izumi gave him a little kick to his thigh and couldn’t find it in herself to feel bad when Tsuzuru went toppling down. “Ignore him, he’s a little stressed out.”

 Omi slowly turned back to the stovetop. “Alright.”

 “Was the physical attack necessary,” Tsuzuru moaned from the floor.

 “When you were about to choose a potential boyfriend for me? Yes!”

Chapter Text

 Izumi stretched until she could hear her spine crack in a few tense spots. The kids were all out to school, Citron had left earlier to woo some women, Itaru was busy doing a “D&D campaign” with a few friends he’d made on Discord, Matsukawa and Kamekichi were on a three-day-two-night trip to secure some more grimoires.

 And Omi was making her a sandwich. Life was good.

 “Can you put extra hot sauce on it?” she asked him pleasantly.

 He chuckled but did as the Director asked. “I’m not sure whether the amount of spice you consume is good for your intestine.”

 “My insides are made of steel! It’s not a problem.”

 He slid her the plate and took a seat across the table.

 “I suppose it’s time to interview you know, isn’t it?” he asked.

 Izumi took a big bite. “How’d interviewing Itaru go?”

 The Hunter winced.

 She laughed. “Thought as much.”

 “In a way, he is… tame. Or kept preoccupied. Sakyo was right, he’s not too big of a concern.” Omi laced his fingers together. “And your students seem satisfied with the care you’re providing them.” To put it mildly, he thought to himself.

 “So can we put the whole Revolutionary Army theory to rest now?” she asked.

 “I really can’t bring myself to blame the Mayor for having those concerns. Perhaps his level of certainty could do with some revision but he truly has only the best intentions for the community in mind."

 Izumi huffed but didn’t say anything. She chose instead to continue eating her lunch.

 “Why are you so dedicated to this Coven, Miss Tachibana?” Omi asked.

 She raised an eyebrow at him.

 He sighed. “Izumi.”

 Good. “I like teaching. This is my first time giving it a shot and I had no idea it could be so much fun. There’s something about helping students realize their full potential that makes me happy. Plus… I don’t know. I never had a teacher so I know how hard it can be to navigate magic on your own.”

 Omi looked surprised at this. “Wasn’t your father one of the Founders?”

 “Yeah, that’s why he stayed here all the time,” she said

 “You didn’t attend?”

 “Nope.” She flicked her finger and the plate rose into the air. She caught it as it began falling. “Wasn’t allowed to since my magic levels are too low. Fourthborn. And no other magic in my lineage besides whatever came from my great-grandma, bless her soul.”

 “That is… profound. So who taught you?"

 She wiped the corner of her mouth free of hot sauce. The sandwich had been delicious but too small. “I did, from my father’s books. He kept a few older lesson plans and texts in his study back in Akita. I wasn’t allowed in there but how was he going to ever find out, right?”

 Omi chuckled.

 “How’d you learn how to be a Hunter?” Izumi probed.

 And she didn’t miss the way Omi hesitated a little.

 “Are you a Firstborn?”

 “No, my family are all Hunters.” He shrugged. “Hunters aren’t commonly a part of magic society anymore unless they happen to find work for a Council’s force. I was fortunate enough to have been employed by Sakyo Furuichi. Most of what I learned was from my father or on the streets, although Mister Furuichi did insist on a proper regiment my first year.”

 Izumi snorted. “Sounds like him. Is he as rigid as he looks?"

 “I’d rather use the term disciplined.”

 “How long have you worked for him?”

 Omi gave her a small smile. “And here I thought I was the one to be asking questions.”

 “Oh, c’mon, Omi, we kidnapped you. You made me food twice now. I think we’ve experienced enough to call ourselves friends!”

 Thank God he found that funny enough to laugh at. “This would be my fifth year working under him. I started when I’d just turned fifteen, I think?”

 Izumi choked on her own spit. “What?! Wait, hold it, how old are you! Sakyo lets kids join the force?!”

 “I’m twenty,” Omi said kindly. “He doesn’t give any dangerous positions to minors. My family was struggling to make ends meet, I was… in a situation where I couldn’t apply for work among the magic-less. And Sakyo Furuichi always prefers to pay less if he can help it, it worked out for everyone in the end.”

 “Huh…” She leaned back in her chair and mulled that over. “You’re younger than I’d thought you’d be, I was guessing twenty-two at least.”

 “I hear that often.”

 Izumi batted her eyelashes. “Then can I call seniority and ask you to make me another sandwich?”

 Omi rose from the table, shaking his head “Alright, Izumi.”


 “I’m back from school,” Muku greeted, entering the kitchen. “I brought Yuki today as well, I hope that’s okay.”

 The flap of his backpack opened up and the brownie crawled out, hopping down to the floor.

 “Thought Fushimi would be here,” he remarked. “Muku, help me onto the table.”

 Muku did as he was told. The brownie grabbed a fresh-out-of-the-oven cookie from the pile on a plate.

 Omi’s eyebrows rose. “Tailor. I didn’t know you were associated with the Coven.”

 “Eh. Muku’s a friend.”

 “I am?” Muku asked, flushing.

 Yuki’s upper lip curled with scorn. “Don’t be dumb. I let you carry me around in your backpack.”

 The Seer clapped his hands and smiled like he was happy to hear such words. 

 “Sakyo’s going crazy trying to find out where you’ve gone,” Yuki continued in a monotone drawl. “No one knows the details but we’re all pretty sure Reni’s putting major heat on him to track you down. Tragic. For him, not me. I bought myself a new roll of crêpe to celebrate the havoc that greeted bureaucracy once more.”

 “They sell crêpes in roll form now?” Izumi asked.

 Yuki’s expression grew somehow even more disgusted. “…Crêpe the fabric, not the french dessert, if that’s what you’re thinking of.”

 “Oh. I knew that.” She hadn’t but she didn’t have to admit it. “Omi decided to give us a little inspection.”

 Yuki rolled his eyes. “Suuuuuure. Who brought him back?”

 “Banri.”

 “Called it.”

 “You knew about the break in and you didn’t report it?” Omi asked, pained.

 Yuki only shrugged. “It’s not like they were going to burn the main hall down, they just wanted a file. Plus, I hate the council and that’s never been a secret so whatever slips down Mayor Reni’s pants and gives him a rash? That’s a win in my book.”

 “You are a terrible medic.”

 “Actually? I'm a fantastic medic, I just happen to hate the people who sign my paychecks.”

 Omi winced. “So just to be clear, you would sew the Mayor back up if he needed it?”

 “As long as he pays me,” Yuki said flatly, biting down on the cookie. “We live in a capitalistic society, Fushimi. Beggars can’t be choosers.”

 “…I always do love the small conversations we have, Tailor.” Omi wiped his hands and glanced at Izumi. “For someone who claims she’s not putting together an army, you certainly do have a collection of opinionated individuals.”

 “It’s always good to be engaged in politics from a young age!” she said brightly.

 “Are you going to tell Reni?” Yuki asked. “If you do, keep my name out of it. My hobby is expensive and I’d rather not lose my job.”

 Omi hesitated. Izumi just grinned. She knew exactly what the answer would be.

 “While it’s against protocol… I don’t think the Coven is an inherently dangerous place,” Omi admitted, choosing his words carefully. “There’s a good chance that Mayor Reni would overreact to hearing the truth so I’ll probably just give him a vague description."

 Yuki accepted the glass of milk that was half his size, and then the thimble that was more suited for drinking in his true form. He sipped his drink. “Like?”

 Omi chuckled dryly. “I was knocked out by an unfamiliar, undocumented individual and kept hostage somewhere dark and underground. Then released to find my way back to the Council. None of which is a lie.”

 “You’re going to lose your job,” Yuki replied. “Reni’s a complete jerk. You know this.”

 “I have faith that Mister Furuichi will help me however he can,” Omi said with a finality that opened no room for arguing. “Either way, I’d rather take a decrease in hours than play a part in kids losing their homes."

 Yuki shrugged and thus the afternoon progressed.


 “Thank you for being so hospitable,” Omi said as he put the final plate back into the sink. “I think I’m done here. I’ll be returning back to the Main Hall tonight if you don’t mind.”

 Tsuzuru’s arm flashed forward, gripping the back of Omi’s shirt.

 “Don’t leave us, Omi,” he pleaded. “My body can’t survive without you anymore.”

 “MY CURRY IS NOT THAT BAD, TSUZURU.”

 He glared at her. “My lower intestine has never suffered this many nights in a row before.”

 “That sounds like something you blame your lower intestine on, not my delicious cooking!”

 “Omi really is good at cooking though,” Sakuya said with a sigh, wiping his mouth with his napkin. “Everything was so delicious, thank you so much.”

 The Hunter smiled gently, cheeks almost going pink. “It was a pleasure. I’m sorry, Minagi, but duty calls.”

 “If you stay here and keep cooking for us, I swear I’ll do anything, even things that Jesus might dislike me for,” Tsuzuru said and no one could tell if he was kidding or not.

 Izumi rubbed her forehead. “I am begging you to stop selling yourself. It’s embarrassing.”

 “I would just like to come back home to something besides the smell of curry, Director. Is that truly so much to ask for?”

 She gave him a kick under the table. “Yes.”

 “I love your curry,” Masumi piped up, scooting his chair closer.

 “I like the Director’s curry too,” Sakuya added in a soothing tone like he was trying to calm everybody down. “But the variety in food choices is really great to have, so I appreciate that Omi chose to cook for us. I think we’re all on the same page, haha, we’re just going in different ways of expressing it!”

 Izumi ruffed Sakuya’s hair. This child was too kind for his own good, honestly.

 “What about you, Tenma?” she asked. “My curry’s good, right?”

 The heir hesitated.

 Don’t let me down, Sumeragi. I’m counting on you.

 Tenma squirmed in his seat. “You… put too many vegetables into your curries. If you cut them out and went with more meat, then I’d like it more. Omi’s cooking wins as it is now.”

 Izumi looked away from them all. “I can’t trust any of you.”

 “You can trust me,” Masumi said immediately. 

 Omi laughed again, gently easing Tsuzuru’s hand off of his shirt. “I’m honored you all have such high opinions of my cooking. If the Director’ll have me, I’ll drop by every now and then.”

 Yuki got up from his own little corner and jumped down, waving his hand as he went. He straightened his spine, back up to five feet, five inches, and gave his uniform a light dusting.

 “I’ll be heading home too, then,” he said. “My sister’s supposed to bring back some pudding.”

 “I want pudding,” Tenma muttered.

 Yuki bristled. “You can choke."

 “Can I ask a question about the glamour?” Sakuya asked, diverting the conversation as Tenma tensed up. “How does it, um, grow and shrink your clothes too?”

 Yuki tucked a lock of hair behind his ear. “I charm most of my clothes with textile flexibility. It’s just more convenient that way.”

 Sakuya’s eyes glimmered. “That’s really awesome, Yuki! Can you teach me how to do that next time?”

 Yuki stared at the Witchling and then to Muku. “Is he always that peppy? Where does he get the energy from?"

 “Sakuya’s a really nice guy,” Muku could only offer.

 “Hm. Whatever.” Yuki gave Omi a nod. “I’ll see you on pay day then.”

 “Wait, it’s late,” Omi said. “I’ll walk you home before I get on the train.”

 The young boy clicked his tongue. “I’m not a child, Fushimi, I think I can walk home on my own without getting murdered.”

 “First of all,” Izumi interjected, “You’re fourteen which means you are literally a child. If Omi’s willing to walk you back, I really think you should take him up on that offer. I’d make Muku walk around with him too at this hour.”

 “Tsk. Fine.” Yuki walked towards the entryway.

 “Snippety brat,” Tenma said under his breath.

 Yuki’s head poked back into the kitchen. He snapped his fingers and Tenma’s dirty plate slid off the table onto his lap.

 “I heard that,” he said sharply as the Hunter immediately began protesting the tomato sauce that seeped through his pants. “Get moving, Fushimi, I don’t have all day.”

 Omi shook Izumi’s hand, giving it a reassuring squeeze, and followed after the younger boy. Tsuzuru let out a dry sob as he left.

 “You’re not going to make friends in the Coven if you’re that bitter towards them, you know,” Omi said as they both slipped on their shoes. 

 He held the door open for Yuki who strode past him, head held high. “Who the hell said I wanted to be friends with any of them? I have Muku and I think that’s just about enough, thanks. ”

 “…Sakuya sounded like he wanted to get to know you better.”

 “Well, that’s Sakuya’s problem.”

 They continued their walk in silence.

 Omi froze suddenly. An arm thrust out, halting Yuki in his steps.

 “Who’s there?” he called out into the dark street, looking over his shoulder and then forward again.

 Quiet.

 “Are you losing it?” Yuki snapped. “Did they drug you while they kept you in that building?”

 Omi didn’t reply. His eyes narrowed.

 “I know you’re there,” he said louder. “Show yourself.”

 Nothing.

 And then four darts sank into Omi’s chest, piercing through his shirt.

 He slumped to his knee as his vision began spinning, turning different colors, and then nothingness. His face hit the concrete.

 “Shit,” Yuki whispered. He dropped down to the guard. “Fushimi? Fushimi!”

 “Lucky us,” someone said as they took steps out of the shadows. 

 “Knew you would be stepping out by now but two mythics? Score,” another crowed from right behind Yuki.

 The brownie whipped around. Two men he couldn’t recognize. The first tall and muscled, tattoos printed all along his bared forearms. A nose with a dent in the middle from having been broken. The second skinny, lanky, and sneering fox-faced. He had a thin rifle in hand, probably filled with even more of the things that had knocked Omi out cold.

 Poachers.

 There was no time to hesitate. Yuki bolted down the alley and began sprinting as fast as he could.

 “Get him!”

 Speed could be sacrificed. Yuki shrank down just as a dart whizzed overhead. He quickly turned a corner.

 If he could find a gutter, or anything to crawl into, he’d be able to get away from them. But it was late, and the streetlamps overhead offered nowhere near enough light to navigate. His chest burned.

 “Don’t make it worse for yourself, brownie boy!” Fox Face laughed, much too close for comfort.

 The sound of the poacher’s footsteps were light but fast. Too fast to come from magic-less. 

 Fuck. They were Hunters. Yuki would have laughed a little. So he was the Hunted then? The street’s walls disappeared and he changed course for the bit of woodland available. He dove under the first bush he could find, pushing a