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The Shadow over Nishinomiya, chapter one By Henry J. Cobb

[My apologies to the obvious original authors, whose works should never be combined.]

"The Supernatural Phenomenon Research Club?" I read aloud the crude handwritten sign over the door, uncertain if I had deciphered it correctly.

"Well, not anymore!" Haruhi Suzumiya threw open the door. "See, there's nobody here!"

I tried to adjust my eyes to the gloom in the room. Other than the illumination from the hall, there was only a small glimmer from the far side, where the curtains did not quite meet. Under that far light hunched a figure that now looked up with enormous circular eyes. After a moment I realized that these must be glasses, worn by a diminutive figure, with distances so hard to judge in the darkness.

Haruhi stepped inside and felt along the wall. She flipped a switch, but the shadows remained unlit. "It's burned out?"

"Uh, excuse me," I said to the dweller in darkness, "do you know where the members of the Supernatural Phenomenon Research Club are?"

"They did not return," She whispered hoarsely, as if she had not been called on to use her voice for a long while.

"They must have all graduated or something." Haruhi made her way carefully into the gloom, until she reached the curtains on the far side, which she threw open.

The shadowy figure flinched away from the light, and covered her face with a book. She wore the proper uniform for a freshman girl at our North High School, but she was so slight that she could have easily have passed for a junior high school student of three years younger. Her short hair however was of a silver-gray hue to be expected from a woman many decades older.

I walked to within a few steps of the young/old girl and asked, "do you know when the club members will be back?"

"They did not return." She looked at me and blinked once. It was as if she expected that I had simply not heard what she considered to be a complete explanation the first time.

"So, you are the only remaining member of the club?" Haruhi asked her.

"Yes." The gray haired girl went back to reading her book.

"See, Kyon?" Haruhi turned to me. "The club will close if she doesn't get more members, so we're doing her a favor."

I took a moment to look around the room. Besides the huge fabric covered reading chair that the girl sat in, with her legs folded under her, there were four folding chairs around a table and bookshelves along one wall. These were filled with what seemed to be very old books. There were titles in East Asian, European, Russian, Arabic and Hebrew scripts. Some of the books had patterns on their spines that may have either been strange icons or perhaps scripts for languages I had never seen before.

Everything was covered in dust. The school janitorial staff must not have visited this room for months, perhaps years. I looked down at the floor. I saw my and Haruhi's footprints from the door to our current positions, but no footprints leading to the girl's chair. How long had she been sitting there?

"So what is your name?" Haruhi asked the girl.

"Yuki Nagato," The girl responded from behind her book.

"Well, I'm Haruhi Suzumiya and this is Kyon. We'll be using this room from now on and we'd like to welcome you to our club."

Wasn't that the other way around? I thought, shouldn't we be the ones asking to join her club?

Haruhi waited in vain for Miss Nagato to respond to her invitation, then looked around the room. "Well it's a bit of a fixer-upper, but it is the only available clubroom so let's get to work." She stopped and looked up, "Strange."

I followed Haruhi's gaze up to the ceiling, past the cobwebs. The light fixture was lacking not only a cover, but also the lights themselves.

"Well, no wonder the lights don't work." Haruhi grabbed my necktie. "Come along Kyon. We'll find everything you need in the janitorial supplies."

Thirty minutes later, after standing on the table to replace the lights, I was using the mop and bucket Haruhi had borrowed to clean the floor. I had considered telling her to have me start by dusting so that I wouldn't have to redo the mopping after the dust had settled, but I didn't want to suggest to her additional tasks I should do.

"So Miss Nagato, what's that book like?" I asked the girl who had continued to read through all this.

She held the book up towards the sting of the uncovered florescents. The title seemed to be in Arabic or something.

I found her shoes under her chair, in the dust and covered in dust. I used the handle of the mop to scoot these out of the way so I could mop under her chair. I carefully avoided looking up her skirt as I did so, but she seemed to take no notice of my actions.

When I returned home, my grade school sister looked me over then remarked, "What's with all the dust Kyon? Have you been exploring forgotten tombs again? Just kidding. I know you never do anything interesting." She ran off to her room laughing.

Just once, I'd like her to call me "big brother" again.

The next day after PE I was washing up with my old friend Taniguchi when he asked me, "so, are you still with Haruhi?"

"I suppose."

"That's a new record then."

"What?"

"Every boy at our junior high dumped her."

That was a bit harsh of joke, even for Taniguchi, so I decided to press the point. "Are you saying she's a slut?"

"As far as I know she's never been kissed. It'd be okay if she'd just close her eyes, but the look in them. It's no wonder half the boys ran away screaming. Then the next one would decide that the rest of us were wimps and ask her out, only to flee himself." Taniguchi shuddered with a classic look of mock horror.

"Yeah, yeah," I said. He'd always been such a joker, but it was unlike him to insult a girl he had acknowledged to be good looking.

"When you get burned, don't go crying to Miss Asakura. She's the real wonder at our school and I'm going to make her mine."

"Oh, what's that about me?"

I turned, our class president Ryoko Asakura was standing there in her PE outfit. I must not have heard her approach, over the distant noise of the other students. Taniguchi seemed flustered so I made an excuse for him. "My friend Taniguchi here was just commenting on your amazing running time, Miss Asakura. Perhaps he'll ask you out to tea sometime?"

"You are too kind, Mr. Taniguchi." She smiled and bowed, then turned to me. "But it's nice that you're getting along so well with Miss Suzumiya. She seemed so alienated from the class."

Well with an introduction speech that asked to meet with creatures from out of time, from other worlds, or with strange abilities, who wouldn't be?

"Excuse me please," I bowed and left them.

On my way back to the classrooms I considered the other strange story that Taniguchi had told me about Haruhi, that she had been found babbling deliriously one morning in the middle of a giant chalk drawing she had made in the quad at their junior high. I knew she was a little unusual, but it was unlike Taniguchi to slander somebody so. I suspected that he was the boy she had dumped, and that this had left him with a bitter feeling towards her. I just wished that our friendship had warranted some honesty from him.

After classes I sat in the slightly more livable clubroom and did my homework while I waited for Haruhi to show up. Miss Nagato had flinched again when I had turned on the lights and then ignored my greeting when I noticed she was there. She was reading another book. This time the cover title was in German. How many languages did she know? She must be one of those reclusive kid geniuses you read about from time to time. Perhaps she was junior school aged, of normal height for her age, and just a few grades advanced.

But one thing bothered me. Her shoes had not moved from the spot I had shoved them to the previous day. She still sat in the big chair with her legs folded under her. With the padding on the chair that looked to be a fairly comfortable position for one so small, but didn't she ever go home?

"What were you doing in here, before we came in yesterday?" I asked her.

"I was taking a nap."

For what, months, years? I didn't ask the questions whose answers I was unprepared to accept.

Haruhi arrived, dragging in a girl who was slighter than herself, even though she was wearing a sophomore uniform. "Our newest member, Mikuru Asahina!"

"Where did you kidnap her from?" I asked.

"I found her wandering around the school in a daze." Haruhi turned to her captive and asked, "what sort of after class activities do you have Mikuru?"

"I'm a miko in training."

"Well quit that and join our club!"

"I can't! It's our family shrine!"

"Very well, just bring your miko outfit tomorrow so you can save time by changing here."

"And why do you want her to do that?" I asked.

"It's these giant boobs!" Haruhi reached from behind to grab Mikuru's bosom. "Can you imagine what sort of evil spirits it must attract to have them spilling out of a miko outfit?"

"You are the only evil spirit here," I said as I pried Haruhi off Mikuru. "Now stop that. Sexually abusing a miko is bound to get you cursed."

I bent down to where Mikuru was sobbing on the ground and helped her to her feet. "Don't listen to Haruhi. You do not have to join, if you just don't have the time."

Mikuru sniffled and then looked around the room until her gaze settled wide eyed on Miss Nagato. "There's something I need to take care of here."

"See!" Haruhi patted Mikuru on the back. "She's fine with joining, fine."

Haruhi then announced that we would be called the SOS Brigade.

I recognized the international distress signal, and thought it quite fitting.

I had just taken my seat in the classroom the next morning when Haruhi said from behind me, "I found out why Yuki wasn't attending classes."

I turned towards her. "Yes?"

"The school had her records mixed up with another student of the same name who started here a decade ago. Can you imagine that, they're still working on the same records they had then, and they haven't even changed the school uniforms in all this time."

"Well, isn't this the sort of mystery you formed the SOS brigade to solve?"

"What mystery? It's just a bureaucratic mix up. They didn't even have a residence on file for her, so she's going home to your house tonight."

"What?"

"Don't worry, I've already cleared it with your mom. You're excused from Brigade activities today so you can get her settled in."

Miss Nagato followed me home silently that afternoon. I had to turn back a few times to make sure that she was there, because I didn't even hear her footsteps.

I opened the door and stood aside for her.

My little sister ran out. "Are you Yuki?"

Miss Nagato nodded.

"We're going to be roommates from now on! You can call me little sister, big sister Yuki."

"Understood." Miss Nagato blinked.

"Oh, you poor thing." My mother grabbed Miss Nagato and hugged her tightly. "To lose your entire family in a fire and be left with just the clothes on your back. Let's go shopping to get you a few things."

"Can I come along too?" My sister asked.

"You don't mind, Yuki?" My mother asked the creature she held.

"No."

I had seen Haruhi pull scams in person, but to make this sale over the phone? She had a brilliant career in telemarketing ahead of her.

At supper Miss Nagato ate very little and slowly while my sister talked to her about the random things she found of interest.

I slept poorly that night, waking to jump at shadows. In the morning I fell out of bed as my alarm clock rang. I looked to my door. My sister did not burst into my room, as was her habit, so I made my way silently to her room and carefully opened the door.

There was a sleeping bag laid out next to my sister's bed, but it had clearly been unused. I looked over to her bed where my sister was uncurling herself from Miss Nagato's arms.

"Morning, Kyon."

"Why didn't you come wake me?" I asked.

"Oh, sorry. We were up late last night while big sister Yuki told me stories."

"Why didn't I hear anything?"

"She whispered them, you dummy! She didn't want to bother anybody else."

As Miss Nagato rose, I saw that she was only in her bra and panties and quickly made my exit.

After breakfast we three walked together for a while, with my sister holding Miss Nagato's hand, which she reluctantly let go when we got to her school.

"Have a good time at school today, big sister Yuki, and you too Kyon."

I walked alongside Miss Nagato in silence for a while then decided to strike up a conversation. "My sister seems to really like you."

"She is interesting."

"Sorry about peeping in like that this morning, I just wanted to see how you two were getting along."

She said nothing so I stretched for something to say. "I only caught a glimpse, but have you ever considered how you might look without your glasses?"

"Poorly. The refractive indices of water and air differ."

Was that meant to be some explanation for how the eye worked?

In the clubroom after classes, Haruhi announced that our operations required a computer and so led us three to the nearby computer club room. She threw open the door and pointed to one of them, "You are the computer club president, correct?"

"Yes." He stood. "What is the meaning of this?"

"The SOS Brigade requires a computer." She grabbed his necktie and stared into his eyes in a manner to which I myself was all too well accustomed. "Provide us your newest one."

"What are you people?" His eyes passed over Mikuru, Miss Nagato and myself, before getting trapped in Haruhi's gaze. "We can't just give away the computers we've worked so hard for."

"You will." Haruhi leaned in closer and followed as he took a step back.

"No. No." He backed into a corner and slid down.

Haruhi bent down at the waist to follow him, and jerked on his necktie to get him to look up at her. "Well?"

"Take what you like! Just leave me alone!"

Haruhi released him and he dropped his head to his knees, with his arms crossed over his head. The rest of his club remained in their seats. They looked at him then flinched away as she scanned the room.

Haruhi pulled a list from her pocket and said, "let's see, which of these match to the newest PC models. Hmmm. Okay Kyon, detach this one and bring it to the clubroom."

"No, not the newest one!" The computer club president complained from his corner.

"Yes?" Haruhi looked over at him.

"Okay! Take it. It's our gift to you." He collapsed again and sobbed loudly until we left the room with our loot.

Later I pointed out that our clubroom did not have Internet access so Haruhi paid the computer club another visit and they were soon stringing wiring for our connection.

That evening as we were preparing for bed, I walked into the only bathroom in our house and stopped.

Miss Nagato was shampooing my sister's hair. Each of her fingers moved independently, twitching to unheard, unworldly music.

"Kyon, you pervert!" My sister screamed, "stop staring at me!"

"Oh, sorry." I left and closed the door.

That night I watched the shadows in my room as sleep eluded me. I think I finally nodded off for a bit then startled as I noticed my door was opening. There was a figure in the doorway that closed the door behind itself and then crept silently through the gloom. From the outline and size I assumed it must be Miss Nagato. The only sound was a slight creak from my chair as she turned it around to face me and then sat down in it.

"You are awake." She stated it as a comment, not a question.

"Yes." I turned my head towards her. From the small amount of light entering through the window I could see that she wore only her bra and presumably panties. I admit that I had entertained the possibility of sneaking a mostly naked girl into my room at night, but I swear that my fantasies had only been about human girls. "What do you think you're doing in a boy's room in the middle of the night? What if my parents find out?"

"What is your concern? Is it that? Do not worry. Our kinds are biologically compatible, and you seem to be suitable, but there is no time for that at the moment."

"Oh." Suddenly she had spoken more than she ever had before. What was this, was she coming on to me?

"What is your assessment of Haruhi Suzumiya?"

Was she trying to judge my feelings for the other girl to weigh her chances? I considered saying something along the lines that unlike Haruhi I'd only consider dating humans, but I didn't want to insult her into making a fuss in my room, so I said, "she was the strangest student I had ever met." I left the "until I met you" part unspoken.

"Acceptable." She stood next to my bed and put a hand to her glasses. "We do have a few hours until your sister awakes. If you like."

"No! I need to get some sleep. It's a school day tomorrow."

"Very well, over the weekend then." She walked to my door and closed it silently behind her.

I lay there watching that door for what seemed like a long time before I dozed off.

In the morning when the alarm clock awoke me, I considered the conversation of the previous night to be all a dream, until I looked over at my desk chair. It was exactly in the spot where Miss Nagato had left it.

-HJC


The Shadow over Nishinomiya, chapter two By Henry J. Cobb

[My apologies to the obvious original authors, whose works should never be combined.]

On Friday morning I briefly considered ditching Miss Yuki Nagato somehow, with either some sort of alternate route or by running uphill. I concluded that she might just keep up with me. The only thing worse than being seen walking to school with a monster girl, would of course being seen running to school with a monster girl running along after me. She even kept by my side as we went up the steps and at her classroom she whispered (far too loudly for my nerves), "Kyon, I will see you in the clubroom this afternoon, and then we can walk to our home together later."

As I entered my classroom I was at least comforted that this day couldn't get any worse, as her threat to seduce me would only apply tonight at the earliest.

I just taken my seat when Haruhi Suzumiya leaned over her desk to shout at me, "he's here!"

"Who is here?" I put my bag on my desk peg.

"The mysterious transfer student!"

"And what makes him so mysterious?" I turned towards her, but as usual avoided looking directly into her unsettling, insane gaze.

"He transferred from a Catholic school. Can you imagine what he'd have to do to get kicked out of a Catholic school?"

"Insult a nun?"

"Oh, be serious."

At least she kept quiet during classes and then ran off to meet with the new student at lunch. My friend Kunikida was brave enough to take Haruhi's seat and we ate on her desk.

Kunikida was as sharp as usual. "Who's the girl who walked to school with you today?"

"Yuki Nagato. She's an orphan we took in at my house."

"Is she your girlfriend?"

"She's in mourning." Keeping up Haruhi's lie seemed to be the only way to avoid the sorry truth.

"Oh. Well at least Taniguchi seems to have a new girlfriend."

I glanced over my shoulder and saw that our classroom president, Ryoko Asakura, was eating lunch with my old friend Taniguchi, instead of her usual girl cronies. Then I turned back to Kunikida, "He was being a little chicken, so I pushed him into it. I hope it works out for him."

"As long as it's not a repeat of what happened to you in middle school."

I glared at Kunikida and he pulled back then said, "Sorry."

We finished lunch in silence.

After classes I made my way to the Supernatural Phenomenon Research Club room, opened the door and stopped.

Mikuru Asahina was taking off her blouse and I could see her bra. She froze and looked at me.

"Excuse me!" I dashed outside, closed the clubroom door and stood next to it.

A minute later I heard her voice, "Kyon, it's okay for you to come inside now."

As I walked in I saw that Mikuru had changed to her miko uniform and that our resident monster, Miss Nagato, was curled up in her comfy chair again and was reading another of the old books from the club bookshelves. She was still in her school uniform, jacket and all, with her school shoes under her chair.

"Why the change of outfits?" I asked Mikuru.

"She insisted."

Mikuru didn't have to say which "She", and that "She" soon arrived with another student in tow. It was that Catholic school student, Itsuki Koizumi. In spite of this being his first day, he had our official school uniform on. The only difference between the way he wore it, and our often ignored regulations, was the silver chain and cross around his neck.

Itsuki's perfect smile only slipped for a moment, as his gaze fastened onto Miss Nagato. Then that plastic smile returned as he patiently listened to Haruhi's usual spiel about looking for creatures from out of time, from other worlds, or with strange abilities. In spite of her invitation, he agreed to join.

I resisted the temptation to point at the shortest occupant of the room, who was sitting in the largest chair in the room, and shout to Haruhi, "Look! There! That is the strange creature you are looking for!" It wasn't that Miss Nagato was a guest in my home, but more along the lines of my having tried and failed to get this point across to Haruhi before.

Haruhi then walked to the computer desk and stood on the office chair she had swiped, along with the other computer gear, from the terrorized computer club. She looked us over for a moment, then recited our minuscule successes and ordered that we meet at nine a.m. the next morning at the train station to go hunt for mysteries beyond human understanding.

For once I was relieved that somebody had forced an early weekend appointment on me. This meant that I at least had an excuse to sleep on Friday night, by myself.

After the meeting, Miss Nagato was as good as her word and walked alongside me. I couldn't complain too much. We were going to the same house after all. I felt the glances of the other students on us and then an especially strong feeling from behind. I glanced back and saw Miss Asakura, who suddenly turned away and started walking.

Miss Nagato had stopped at the same time I had and then continued alongside me for a few steps before whispering in her usual horse voice, "She knows."

Well of course Miss Asakura knew. The one and only person, outside my family, who couldn't tell at a glance that Miss Nagato was not human, was the one who was looking for monsters, our Miss Haruhi Suzumiya.

Miss Nagato continued to follow me inside my house. I turned to her and said, "this is my room. Why are you following me?"

"Your mother said that you needed help with your schoolwork."

I wondered if the problem would be more my inability to concentrate on my studies alone in my room with her, or her own agenda for activities to do. I shouted, "Sis, do you have homework this weekend?"

"I'll do it on Sunday." My sister didn't look away from the television.

"Miss Nagato has time to help you with it now."

"Oh!" My sister clicked the TV off with the remote and ran up to grab our guest by the hand, "Thank you, big sister Yuki!"

Alone for the moment at least, I made a silent prayer for my sister's soul, then started on my homework, lest it become a later excuse to invade my only sanctuary.

As I was washing up after dinner, Miss Nagato entered the bathroom. Neither of us made any move to cover ourselves. I didn't see anything on her that was clearly inhuman. Her silver-gray hair color matched top and bottom (if a bit sparse below) and her eyes where unusually large, even behind the only thing she wore, her glasses. But all the parts of her looked human, if a little young to be a high school girl. Her gaze seemed not to wander from my face.

"Well?" I asked her. "Didn't you just bathe with my sister?"

"I am still recovering from my nap, and need to soak some more please. I don't take much space in the tub, and I can help wash your back."

"You can soak all night after I am done here. Now leave me alone. I need to sleep tonight so I can make the brigade meeting in the morning."

"As you wish." She turned and left. Even her backside seemed perfectly normal for a junior high aged girl, not that I had ever seen one in anything less than a swimsuit of course. I found her exotic nature more frightening than stimulating and quickly rinsed off, then soaked myself only briefly.

In the morning I went to the bathroom to relieve myself and saw that the tub was still filled. I looked in it and saw Miss Nagato lying under the water. She opened her eyes, sat up out of the water and said, "good morning," in her usual hoarse whisper. She felt along the side of the tub for her glasses and put these on.

I said nothing and simply watched as she got out of the tub and picked up a towel. There were no wrinkles on her body, front or back, face, fingers or toes.

I decided to set out early, but Miss Nagato was already ready, in her school uniform. Was my mom too cheap to buy her anything else? By reflex I reached for my bicycle then stopped and looked at her.

"Go ahead," she said, "I am much refreshed now and can keep up."

Yeah, monster girl running along behind or beside my bicycle. "The station isn't that far. We can walk."

"As you wish." She walked alongside me, keeping to my pace by making more frequent steps with her shorter legs.

Because I was on foot, it took me longer than usual to reach the station, and we arrived only five minutes before nine.

"You're late, Kyon." Haruhi stood in front of Itsuki and Mikuru, her finger pointed at me like a gun.

"It's still five minutes before the time we were supposed to meet."

"The last one to arrive is always late. So you're treating the rest of us at the cafe."

"How about Miss Nagato? She came here at exactly the same time as I did."

"She got burned out of her home and so doesn't have any money. It's your treat Kyon."

Did Haruhi really believe her own lie?

At the cafe Haruhi revealed her plans to split into two groups to search around the train station. Mikuru and I drew the colored toothpicks, and after a warning from Haruhi that this was not a date, we set off.

Rather than go searching in dark places for secrets I was beginning to suspect might just exist, I led Mikuru to the nearby park.

"This is my first time." She said.

"Yes?"

"To be walking like this, alone with a boy."

"Don't worry, there's plenty of people around here. And don't worry about me. My mom would kill me if I shamed the family name by despoiling a miko."

"I have some information that you may find difficult to believe."

"There are plenty of things I see with my own eyes these days that I find very difficult to believe. What do you have?"

"Your friend, Yuki Nagato, is a kappa."

"Just because she lives with us, does not make her my girlfriend. But, yes I can believe that whatever it is that she is, has been called a kappa." I looked down into the creek. I saw plants and fish there, but no humanoid figures.

"We have detected a great evil at your high school."

"Who is this We?" I noted, but didn't comment on, her self-exclusion from the school.

"The Jinja Honchō."

"So the rumors of their having an undercover arm?"

"Are still only rumors of course. Since you are aware of Miss Nagato's non-human nature, will you help us?"

"Sure? What's the plan, lure her somewhere and burn her? Somehow she doesn't even look bulletproof."

"No!"

"What?"

"We want you to watch her and report back through me, please."

"Why not knock her off?" I had almost said up, but caught myself in time.

"Here." Mikuru sat on a bench and indicated the space next to herself.

"Yes?" I sat next to her.

She looked off into the distance for a minute then turned to me and said, "think of it this way. Suppose we knew of a street dealer of narcotics, but did not know the source of the drugs. What would you think might happen if we eliminated that dealer?"

"Another one would be setup and the organization would be warned. So you want me to help track Miss Nagato back to the source of her evil?"

"Yes. It would be helpful for you to gain her trust, but be careful that she does not seduce you into joining her evil."

"I was already on my guard, but thanks for the information."

"So you will consider our request?"

"Why me and not say Haruhi?"

"See seems to be a bit unstable. Please do not tell her any of this."

My phone rang as Haruhi summoned us back. We had nothing we cared to reveal to her or Miss Nagato and so I was again assessed the late penalty and had to pay for lunch.

We split up again and this time I was pared with Miss Nagato.

As we walked along I considered the situation and decided to call her thin bluff. "So you waited in the clubroom for a decade?"

"I was too dried up and so slept through the event I had waited for, after the others did not return."

"So what, you were stuck in the clubroom with nowhere to go, like a fish out of water?"

"A curious phrase Kyon, but accurate."

"Where did you get the school uniform then?"

"The others provided it."

"And why didn't anybody else intrude in that room for ten years?"

"Only unusual types would have been able to find that room."

A door in a well traveled corridor and nobody tried the knob for a decade? This wasn't making any sense at all. I decided to try to see if I could be a little more friendly to the monster. "It must be boring to read the same old books there, year after year."

"Yes, but they are all that I have."

"Why not go to the library?"

"The library?"

"Here," I took her hand in mine and led her a few blocks to the local public library.

She was stunned at the rows of books and so didn't resist as I pulled her along to the occult section. Then she let go of my hand, adjusted her glasses and stood on tiptoes to examine the top shelf. "Junk, trash, debunked, useless, interesting!" She took one book down from the shelf and went to a table to study it.

I went to the manga section and picked out a volume that was more relevant to my interests.

A while later, Haruhi called me and demanded we return instantly. I found that Miss Nagato had collected three books and couldn't be persuaded to leave them behind, so I helped her apply for a library card. At my address of course.

"So did you find anything?" Itsuki swatted me on the backside when we met again.

"What was that about?" Haruhi asked him.

"Just being friendly. We need to work together after all."

While Haruhi's glance was distracted I felt my backside. There was now a folded piece of paper in my pants pocket. I left it there.

Back in my room that evening I took out the note that Itsuki had planted on me. It said to come alone at one p.m. on Sunday to a certain address. Well, why not? Everybody else wants to talk to me, after all.

That night Miss Nagato once again crept into my room in her bra, panties and glasses. She looked down at me for a moment and then sat in my desk chair and waited.

"First you said that there was no time, so why are you so eager to do me now?" I asked her in a whisper.

"The calculation changed. You follow Haruhi Suzumiya on the basis of your own reasoning, rather than out of fear or ideology."

"So what does that have to do with hooking up with me?"

"You humans have strong emotional bonds towards your relatives. As long as I was carrying one of your offspring, you would feel obligated to protect me."

"So your plan is to blackmail me?"

"Blackmail?"

"Go to the cops, and say I forced you."

"That would be illogical. I am dependent on your protection and I have little recourse to the human authorities."

"So what makes you think I'm not gay?"

"Haruhi Suzumiya seems to be the cause of your depression."

"I mean, what if I were homosexual? Wouldn't that defeat your plan to seduce me?"

"The materials you have hidden in this room would suggest otherwise."

"Well forget it. I've no interest in having ugly kappa babies."

"Kappa is a prejudicial term. I can assure you that our offspring would pass as human at even close inspection. My own father was human, after all. You may touch and smell any part of my body to put your mind at ease about this."

"No thanks. Please leave my room and do not return without permission."

"As you wish." She stood up and bowed to me. "I look forwards to your reconsideration."

I studied her walk to my door in the gloom. There was something about the way she moved that was a little off, or was I just imaging that? Well I had to keep an eye on her anyway. So Haruhi had sent Miss Nagato to seduce me for some evil plan? If it were Haruhi herself I might be tempted, what with her looks and fuller figure. Miss Nagato appeared to be only a few years older than my sister, and so triggered in me only a general protective attitude towards children, even though she was probably much older than myself. Not that I knew much about kappa, of course.

On Sunday Miss Nagato followed me to our house door, but I said that she was not invited to the meeting I was going to and that she should stay and play with my sister and her friends.

"As you wish, and as you can see, I am at ease around human children. I will prove an acceptable mother."

I almost sighed. I took out my bicycle and on my way to the address Itsuki had given me I checked twice, but found nobody following me.

The address turned out to be a Catholic church. There was a middle-aged man in a priest outfit or something and I told him I was there to see Itsuki Koizumi.

"Ah yes my son, right this way." The priest led me to a room in the back on the upper floor and knocked at a door that had one of those one-way looking telescopes in it.

"Yes?" Itsuki asked from inside.

"You have a visitor, Sir." The priest said.

"Very good." There was a sound of a lock being undone and then the door opened. "Kyon, how nice of you to come here today. Thank you Father, that will be all for now."

"As you wish, Sir."

What was Itsuki doing, ordering around a priest of at least twice his age?

Itsuki closed and locked the door behind me then sat in a chair behind a desk and indicated the chair in front of the desk for myself. The other furnishings in the room included a bookcase behind the desk, a pair of filing cabinets and a sofa. The sofa seemed to be of the sort that would unfold into a bed. I judged that when it did so it would take up most of the space in the room. I glanced down at the hardwood floor and thought I saw a few bits of dust at the places the supports for the bed would unfold to.

"Where does that go?" I pointed at the only other door in the room.

"It's my bathroom, shower and closet. Do you need to use the facilities?"

"No thanks. So this is quite a comfortable spread you've got here, Itsuki."

"I can't complain. It is much more than my usual cot in a dorm. We go where we are needed."

"So why did you invite me to your room?" And why lock the door behind me?

"We have detected a great evil centered on your school."

"Yeah, I heard this yesterday."

"From that pagan girl? Did she tell you that your friend, Yuki Nagato, is not human?"

"Yes, and just because Miss Nagato is living at my house, does not make her my girlfriend."

"Oh?" Itsuki's plastic smile wavered for a moment as he raised an eyebrow. "You had best see to it that the sea sprite, siren or mermaid as these things have been called, does not seduce you to your doom."

"I've checked quite closely. She has no tail."

"Well, not while walking on land of course."

"So you want me to keep an eye on her, until she leads us to the greater evil?"

"Ah? So our interests do coincide with those of the pagans for the moment after all?"

"Why didn't you ask Mikuru about that yourself?"

"There are certain restrictions. As you may have learned in your history classes, there has been some unpleasantness between our faiths here in Japan."

"So, is the entire Catholic Church in on your little conspiracy?"

"Not really. Should I fall, please contact somebody else in the Opus Dei. The Father here can lead you to them if asked. Anything else I can set your mind at ease about today?"

"No, I've got quite a bit to chew over already."

"We look forwards to your cooperation." Itsuki rose, shook my hand, opened the door then turned to me. "Have you had lunch already Kyon?"

"I think I need to get back home."

"You left the monster there?"

"Yes."

"That might be best then. Be seeing you."

-HJC


The Shadow over Nishinomiya, chapter three By Henry J. Cobb

[My apologies to the obvious original authors, whose works should never be combined.]

On Sunday night I piled up a few books against my bedroom door, but they were still in place on Monday morning. It seemed that Yuki Nagato had obeyed my command to stay out of my room after all.

I also felt more rested, with the undisturbed sleep and so I was in better spirits than previously, until I reached my classroom.

The bane of my existence, Haruhi Suzumiya, was sitting at her desk with arms crossed. Her glare followed me as I walked to my desk and she remained ominously silent until I had taken my seat.

"You failed me Kyon."

"What?" I turned towards her, trying to think of what her problem might be.

"Yesterday, I checked the sectors you said you had covered on Saturday and I saw several interesting items that you failed to report."

"Such as?"

"Isolated houses, dark alleys, places where children played."

"What does any of that have to do with the strange creatures you say you want to find?"

"We're not going to find our targets walking down the street. So our best bet is to find the people that they target and monitor those."

I supposed that either "He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster" or perhaps its reverse applied here.

"So we're going to do it again next weekend, and this time we will do it right. Do you understand me, Kyon?"

At lunch Haruhi went off to look for more members for her club, or perhaps more likely some victims I thought.

As I was eating, our class president, Ryoko Asakura, came over and leaned over my desk. I wondered if she wanted me to feed her something from my bento.

"You failed her." Her whisper was a statement, not a question.

"Look, I don't think anybody knows what she wants."

"We shall discus this later." She grabbed my free hand, placed a note in my palm and folded my fingers over it.

The entire class watched Ryoko return to eating lunch with Taniguchi, and he seemed almost as confused as I myself was.

I took a moment to glance at the note she had surreptitiously passed to me. It read: "Return to this classroom at the end of the day, after all the other students have left."

At the Supernatural Phenomenon Research Club room that afternoon, Haruhi went over the results of our searches the previous weekend, along with her new potential victim finding routine.

When she saw that none of us were brave enough to offer any questions to her insanity, she came up with one of her own. "Yuki, I saw that you came to the hunt in your school uniform on Saturday. Don't you have anything else to wear?"

"No." Miss Nagato didn't look up from the book she was reading.

"Oh, it's because of that fire that killed your family. Well that outfit is just too easy to trace back to here, so I have to get you some new things. How about a catgirl maid outfit? Wouldn't that complement Mikuru's miko uniform nicely?" Haruhi pulled the book from Miss Nagato's hands, then lifted her out of her padded chair by her arms and pulled out a tape measure.

"We had best be going." Itsuki Koizumi grabbed my hand and pulled me from the clubroom.

Once we were outside I yanked my hand back and asked him. "What was that about?"

"Do you really want to know Yuki's measurements?"

"No."

"Good boy. Be seeing you." He waved and walked off.

I thought about it for a moment then decided to take up Ryoko on her invitation. Better to let her chew me out alone then have her assign me punishment duties in front of the entire class.

When I got to our classroom I found her standing there smiling and beckoning me over.

Perhaps this wouldn't be so bad after all, I thought as I walked over to her.

"You seem to be getting a little too close to Yuki Nagato."

"What?" I tried to ponder why Ryoko would make such a statement. "Is she a friend of yours?"

"No." Ryoko flipped up her skirt and unholsted a pair of sharp tipped scissors from the side of her panties.

My gaze was so focused on her unmarked thigh, as I wondered how she had managed to avoid scratching herself, that I didn't respond quickly enough to keep her from stabbing me in the abdomen.

"Now die!" She twisted the scissors in my wound.

"Ow!" I stumbled backwards with my hands clutched at my gut as blood gushed out and fell backwards onto the floor. My head hit hard and I was stunned.

Ryoko knelt down over me and pulled out the scissors. "Now to finish you off."

She was so intent on finding the next place to stab me that she never noticed the gloved pair of hands that reached from behind to twist her head to an unnatural angle. Her neck gave way with a loud crack and she collapsed on top of me.

I looked up at my savior. It was Itsuki.

"Suffer not a witch to live." He stood, turned away from me, kicked the open door three times loudly, then moved to the side of the classroom.

"What's going on in here?" Taniguchi entered the classroom and then stopped at the sight before him. "Kyon? Ryoko!" He ran in and grabbed her lifeless body. "Kyon you bastard! How dare you make a suicide pact with my girlfriend!"

Taniguchi was so intent on Ryoko that he didn't even notice Itsuki leave and then reenter the room.

"What's going on here?" Itsuki looked around the room, without his gloves. "Somebody call the emergency number!"

At that point everything faded to black.

"Ph'nglui mglw'nafh C'thulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn."

That was Miss Nagato's hoarse whisper, wasn't it? What on Earth was she saying? I opened my eyes and turned my head towards her.

She had been reading from a book to my sister, but now she looked up at me.

My sister followed her gaze and ran the two steps to my side. "Kyon! You're alive!"

"Apparently. Where are we?"

"At a private Catholic hospital!" Haruhi threw open the door to my hospital room with Itsuki and Mikuru behind her. "Thanks to deputy brigade leader Itsuki, who was able to get you a private room here rather than having you go to a public hospital. The local media is all over this story. Kyon, I warned you and then you had to go and do this."

"Uncover a great mystery for you?"

"What mystery? It's the typical story of how a jilted girl commits a murder/suicide. I've never gone that far, but I know how Ryoko must have felt when you turned her down. Kyon, you heartbreaker. I don't know if Yuki even feels safe in your house anymore."

"I am comfortable around Kyon." Miss Nagato stood.

Yeah, a bit too comfortable. Help yourself to the boy of the house, why don't you?

"Don't take away big sister Yuki!" My little sister complained to Haruhi.

"Don't worry. I won't take away your friend." Haruhi bent down to play with my sister's hair. The look she had in her eyes, it stirred fears in my mind that I dared not even put thoughts to.

"How long will I be here?"

Haruhi turned her unsettling gaze from my sister to me. "Just a few more days. It wasn't all that serious. But you will miss Asakura's funeral tomorrow. A pity, as I'm sure she would have wanted you next to her at this time."

Yeah, lying next to her in another casket.

"Now, let's all go and give Kyon a chance to rest up." Haruhi grabbed my sister's hand.

"I'll get Kyon a newspaper to read."

"Okay, Itsuki. We'll wait for you in the lobby."

Itsuki returned alone with a newspaper. The headline was "One student dead in suicide pact".

"As if my life wasn't crummy enough. Why did you do all this?" I asked Itsuki.

"You've been most helpful to us. You've already revealed one of the cultists. Do keep up the good work." He waved and left, with his smile intact.

A while later a nun-psychiatrist came to interview me. She concluded that I wouldn't be a danger to myself and so could be released.

Yeah, yeah. I was to be released out into a world that was suddenly filled with unknown dangers.

Two days later, on Thursday afternoon, my mother came to pick me up. We rode home in silence. My mother was thinking about something, but she waited until we were all seated at the dinner table before bringing it up.

"Well, Kyon."

"Yes?" Now even she was using that nickname?

"You know I'm not one to pry into your affairs, but this thing with Miss Asakura. It was a bit much."

"Sorry."

"After all, you've got a much nicer girl right here. Yuki, you don't have a boyfriend, do you?"

"No, Ma'am."

"And my boy here, has he ever been unkind to you?"

"No, he's been most helpful, Ma'am."

"Don't you think he'd be a fine husband?"

"Yes, Ma'am."

"Do you mind if we go shopping for engagement rings for you two on Saturday?"

"I have no other plans, Ma'am."

"Please, call me mother from now on, Yuki."

"Yes, Mother."

"You're getting engaged?" My little sister hopped out of her chair and jumped into Miss Nagato -- strike that -- It Yuki from now on, as my mother seemed intent on moving Nagato to a middle name at best. My little sister jumped into "my beloved monster fiancee" Yuki's lap and said, "Now we can be sisters forever!"

"We'll schedule the wedding for just after they graduate from high school, so you don't mind Yuki staying in your room for the next three years?"

"No, no. It's great to finally have a sister to talk to all the time!" My little sister beamed while Yuki patted her head.

Yuki seemed to be pleased with herself, with this victory, but she'd have to wait a few years before claiming her spoils.

That evening as I was washing up, Yuki once again entered the bathroom, naked.

"What are you doing in here?" I asked.

"Now we are a couple."

"Not yet. My mother has only decided that you will be part of her family in three years time. So get out."

"No."

"No?"

"I will wait until you are reconciled to the facts, and then I will brief you on the situation." She pulled up the second stool and sat cross-legged, with everything on display.

I decided to ignore her. I finished washing, rinsed off and got in the tub. As I was sitting there soaking, she was washing herself. As she started rinsing, I got out of the tub.

"You seem to be excited about something." Her gaze was level from where she sat to just below my waist.

"Just leave me alone." I picked up a towel and wrapped it around myself, not even looking back as I heard her lower herself into the tub.

On my desk I found handouts from class and in my desk drawer I found a pack of condoms, with a note from my mother explaining that while she was looking forwards to grandchildren, she wanted us to finish our educations first, please.

I thought I had been fortunate enough that at least my sister hadn't seen that note, until she pulled me aside the next morning.

"I know Mom doesn't want any grandkids yet, but it wouldn't bother me, Kyon."

On the way to school I hoped I imagined that Yuki was almost skipping alongside me.

We got to the shoe lockers at the same time as Kunikida. He looked at us for a moment then said. "It almost looks like you're a couple now."

"No."

"Yes."

I turned to Yuki and said. "Don't contradict me around other people."

"Yes, Dear."

"And call me Kyon, just like everybody else does."

"Yes, Kyon."

Fortunately Kunikida didn't comment about this to my face. It would be interesting to see how fast the news traveled, and a good test of his friendship.

In the classroom Taniguchi glared at me once, then looked away for the rest of classes. Haruhi seemed pleased with herself for some reason and then insisted that I eat lunch with her.

Yuki came to our classroom door with her bento, saw me and Haruhi together, then walked away.

In the clubroom that afternoon, Haruhi went over her plans to locate easy to abduct victims the next day. "So, any questions? Yes, Yuki?"

"Kyon and I can't go tomorrow."

"And why not?"

"Because we're getting engaged." Yuki leaned over and wrapped both of her arms around one of mine. As if her sitting at the table next to me instead of in her usual comfy chair wasn't a big enough clue.

"What!" The other three brigade members said in almost unison and with apparently equal amounts of outrage.

Haruhi got up, stormed around the table and pulled me away from Yuki's grasp by my necktie, "Cancel. Brigade business is more important."

For the first time I found the courage to look back directly into her eyes. "Sorry, but I can't do that. I owe my Mom after that mess with Miss Asakura. I don't like it, but an engagement is exactly the thing needed to throw off the rumors that have started swirling around my family." The rumors that started when you roped me into this, Haruhi.

Haruhi stared into my eyes for ten more seconds, lightly bit her lip, then released me and turned around. "It can't be helped then. We'll do the patrol on Sunday. We meet on Sunday at one p.m., to give Itsuki time to get there after church. Now, Yuki." Haruhi turned to her with an all too familiar gleam in her eyes.

"Yes?"

"I've got a gift for you!" Haruhi put a paper bag on the table and pulled out some black clothing. "Now strip!"

"As you wish," Yuki stood and started taking off her jacket.

Itsuki grabbed me by the arm and pulled me from the clubroom.

A few minutes later Mikuru invited us back in and we saw that Yuki was indeed dressed as a catgirl maid. In addition to a minimal black french maid dress with fishnet stockings and fur covered high heel boots, it had cat features such as a headband with cat ears, a black cat tail that dropped down below her knees and even tufts of black fur on the hand tops of her elbow length fingerless gloves. The apron and some of the trim was white, but otherwise it was an all-black outfit, a striking contrast against her pale skin.

"So what do you think?" Haruhi held Yuki's right hand over her head and spun her around.

"An amazing choice." Itsuki somehow managed to keep up his eternal smile. "You've got quite a future waiting for you as a fashion designer."

"Sorry Kyon, but I had to have her remove her bra. Should I get her a strapless bra? Do you really think she needs the support?"

"Don't bother." I sat down so I could look away.

"Now Yuki, show us how it works. Serve us all tea." Haruhi took the seat next to mine. "And Yuki."

"Yes, Ma'am?"

"You need to wear your official outfit to every SOS Brigade meeting from now on, just as Mikuru wears her miko uniform."

"As you say, Ma'am."

"So where is your outfit?" I asked Haruhi.

"On backorder, I'm afraid. Not many Japanese girls of my age can match my figure. It's so much easier shopping for Yuki. Don't worry, you'll see it soon."

On the walk back home I asked Yuki (once again back in her school uniform and usual shoes), "how did you keep your balance in those heels?"

"I have excellent reflexes Kyon. Shall I show you tonight?"

"No thanks."

That evening as we sat down for dinner, our doorbell rang. I opened the door and found Haruhi standing there.

"Hi Kyon, is your mother in?"

My mom looked out of the dinning room. "Yes, what is it?"

"Oh Mother!" Haruhi ran to and hugged my mom. "You simply must call off this engagement."

"Why?"

"I'm afraid that Miss Nagato is of ..." Haruhi paused artfully, then continued, "foreign blood."

"What, Korean or something? Can you prove this?"

"No, I'm afraid the records were all destroyed in the fire."

"Was Yuki at least born in Japan?"

"Why yes, sixty four years ago."

Yuki's eyebrows shot up at this, but she quickly recovered.

"I guess that explains her gray hairs then." My mom smiled and looked over at me. "Kyon, you've got some great friends to make such jokes. Can you stay for dinner, Miss?"

"Haruhi Suzumiya, and of course Mother. If it's no problem?"

Haruhi took the spot next to my Mom and continued to call her Mother for no damn good reason for the rest of the meal.

That night Yuki came to my room again, but at least this time she wore pajamas.

I waited for her to sit at desk chair and turn to face me before I whispered, "I told you to stay out of my room."

"I think these chats are most helpful. They let us keep each other up to date, since we are fiancees after all."

"So what was it about the sixty four years that got to you?"

"Miss Suzumiya miscounted. I'm only sixty three. My birthday isn't until March 1st of next year."

"So you are a Pisces?"

"Human astrologers have not kept track of the precession of the equinoxes. It's a part of the shortsightedness that comes from your limited lifespans. Don't worry, unlike a human woman of my age, I am just now entering my most fertile years which will extend a little past one hundred, then slowly decline down to almost nothing in the low thousands. By the standards of my race it would be a little unseemly for me to breed so young."

"So you are physically and socially the equivalent of a junior high school girl?"

"A crude analogy, but mostly correct."

"How does Haruhi know your approximate age so well?"

"She must have her sources. This raises the risks for us both."

My phone buzzed on my desk. Yuki picked it up and answered it. "Hello? Yes, he's right here." She handed the phone to me.

"Yeah?" I asked.

"You really aren't taking this seriously, are you?" Itsuki asked.

"Why are you calling me in the middle of the night?"

"Things that go bump in the dark tend to do so during nighttime hours. I'd like to show you some of them. I'm sorry to pull you away from the sticky tendrils of your fiancee, but please meet me in front of your house in ten minutes. And leave the Misses at home please. Some of my friends don't like her kind very much."

I looked up and saw that Yuki was already at my door.

"Stay safe, Dear." She closed the door after herself as silently as usual.

I turned on my light and got dressed.

I had just closed the house door behind me when a delivery van pulled up in front of my house. Itsuki opened the side door and gestured for me to get in. The van pulled away as soon as I was inside. I saw that a half dozen grown men were with Itsuki and they all had combat armor, night vision goggles and each carried one or more large weapons, assault rifles, recoilless rifles, grenade launchers and even flamethrowers.

"Don't I get any toys?" I asked.

"Here." Itsuki handed me a digital camera. "It's set for high resolution so save your shots for the enemy."

"What enemy?"

"Oh, you'll see." His smile was as fake and unrevealing as usual.

Thirty minutes later we arrived at the port and got out next to stacks of those huge cargo containers they load onto 18-wheeler trucks. Itsuki ordered the men to search and we were soon summoned to one container that stood by itself. As we approached, the door burst open and strange creatures emerged. They looked almost like starfish, except that they had six arms and each must have weighed at least 200 kg.

Itsuki's troops opened fire on the creatures with limited effect. I started taking pictures. Twenty minutes later my camera was full and the monsters were all dead.

Itsuki grabbed my shoulder and turned me back to the van.

"What about your men?" I asked.

"Oh, they'll be busy with the cleanup for a while. I thought it best to get you back home so you can be rested for your big day tomorrow. Got to be your best, when you set down for a lifetime with a monster."

"What were those things?"

"Illegal aliens. They get smuggled into the country from time to time."

"What do you expect me to do with these pictures?"

"I think you might know a certain brigade leader, who has an interest in such things."

"Won't that blow up all your careful plans?"

"Not particularly."

On Saturday, my newly enlarged family went down to the jewelers. Because of budget issues, and so as to not draw too much attention at school, we settled on identical plain gold bands for Yuki and myself. Then we went and registered the engagement.

When we met on Sunday, Haruhi frowned at the rings that Yuki and I wore.

I handed her the camera. "Look what I did on Friday night."

She clicked through the photos then handed the camera back to me. "Obviously photo edited. Don't waste my time with such nonsense again. And you even edited poor Itsuki's face into one of the photos. Shame on you Kyon."

Mikuru, who had seen the photos over Haruhi's shoulder, looked up at Itsuki with wide eyes.

He smiled.

-HJC

The Shadow over Nishinomiya, chapter four By Henry J. Cobb

[My apologies to the obvious original authors, whose works should never be combined.]

At the cafe on Sunday, Haruhi made me delete the photos of actual strange creatures from the camera that Itsuki had given me, in order to make room for our real work that day.

"Okay here are the two sectors we'll search this afternoon." Haruhi spread out two maps of the city that were identical, except that each had a different section outlined in pencil. "We'll split into two groups, one for each sector, and search these areas for the likely victims of the monsters."

"Yeah, yeah. So let's draw toothpicks again."

"No Kyon, you already messed up twice before. This time I'm putting you under Itsuki, so you can finally learn something. You've proven you know how to point a camera so you just take pictures, while Itsuki leads the way, interviews the future victims and takes notes."

So my supposedly faked photos are supposed to show that I'm good with a camera? Once again Haruhi's logic was so difficult to follow that it might as well have come from different people mixed together.

"That leaves you two girls with me. Yuki, how's your vision on land?"

Wait, did Haruhi just admit that she knew of Yuki's non-human nature?

"My glasses correct sufficiently."

"No need to take the risk of misfocus. All those decades reading should indicate some ability to write, so you'll be our note taker. Mikuru is too clumsy to be trusted with the camera so she'll be the face for our team to interview people. Well, any questions?" Haruhi looked around, but none were offered. "Okay Itsuki, pick your map."

"I'll take this one." He picked up the map with the marked region closer to his church.

"We'll meet back here at five." Haruhi set off with Mikuru and Yuki in tow.

We walked the other direction for a while, then I turned to Itsuki. "Do you think Mikuru will be safe with those two?"

"I doubt they'll reveal their true colors so early. The stars are not yet right."

"Haruhi knows everything, you know. She came storming over to my house on Friday night and guessed Yuki's age to within one year."

"It's Yuki now, instead of Miss Nagato?" Itsuki checked the map then turned right.

"Yeah, yeah. So she's a monster. She's also my fiancee."

"So what has your fiancee told you about her kind?"

"She's demonstrated a lot, but said very little. She's hinted that more information will be forthcoming once I put out for her."

"Actually a rather tempting offer, but it is your soul on the line. Before you accept, I should tell you that they are all half-human widows."

"Widows?"

"Only daughters are born to the sea-witches, and their tradition is to devour the fathers of their daughters, on the night of conception."

"Aren't I a little big for Yuki to wolf down in a single meal?"

"They invite their relatives to the party."

Itsuki led me to selected homes in the outlined area and he was welcomed at them by people who knew him and tended to also wear Christian crosses. His notes had little connection to the actual residents.

As we were heading back I asked him. "Do you feel okay about all this? What happens if one of your friends gets attacked?"

"Wouldn't that be an interesting coincidence?"

As I walked back home later with my "sea-witch" fiancee, I decided to test her against this latest fact. "So, what was your father like?"

"Papa was very kind to me. The first time I was ever told that I wasn't entirely human was when he sat down with me and my mother and they both carefully explained to me the things I had to do to keep from being noticed for what I was."

"So, whatever happened to him?"

"I don't know. My last memory of him was when I was ten. The two of them had been crying and then my mother took me and we traveled a very long way on a train. It's been fifty three years, so I suppose he must be dead by now, if he indeed survived the night."

"Your night vision is excellent. An adaption for living at the bottom of the ocean? What's it like down there?"

"I don't know. I've never been to the ocean. Once we are closer, I will burden you with the secret as to why that is."

I didn't know which way to respond at that point so I simply opened the door to our house and stood aside so she could enter first.

Inside, my little sister was playing a video game and she invited "Big-sister Yuki" to play with her. I had homework to do and so didn't dwell on the loss of the final bit of my big-brother status. At least I could take comfort in the fact that my sister wouldn't sever all ties to Yuki's husband. Assuming that I wasn't devoured by sea-witches on my honeymoon of course.

Monday afternoon in the clubroom, Itsuki was typing in the data we had "gathered" as I read it out. Yuki was wearing her cat maid outfit, sitting in her comfy chair (even Haruhi seemed loathe to take that away from her) and reading another book from the library, while Haruhi sat at the table and studied the maps. (Was she plotting quick getaway routes or what?)

The door opened and Mikuru said from outside, "This way please."

A girl in a sophomore uniform stepped into the room. She had green eyes and also green hair.

I glanced at Yuki and then back at this new girl. If it was a dye job then it was very good indeed. If it was natural, well at least she seemed to be able to see her way around without thick glasses like Yuki's.

Haruhi quickly folded up the maps and turned to the newcomer. "Hello, how can we help you, Miss?"

"Emiri Kimidori. And I hope you can help me, because everything else has failed."

"You've come to the right place then. I'm Haruhi Suzumiya and you will find that my SOS Brigade is very unusual. Please, have a seat." Haruhi clapped twice. "And Yuki, some tea for our guest please."

"As you wish, Ma'am." Yuki put aside her book and rose to her maid duties.

Miss Kimidori said that her boyfriend had been missing for several days and that nobody had taken her inquiries seriously.

"This is precisely the kind of case we've been preparing for." Haruhi turned to me. "You see, my dear Watson, the game is afoot."

So now she thinks she's Sherlock Holmes? I may have sighed, but I said nothing.

Haruhi turned back to our first client. "So Miss Kimidori, how did you find us?"

"It was my boyfriend himself. You see, he would mention you in his, er, sleep. He would suddenly shout things like 'the SOS Brigade', 'those eyes, those monstrous eyes', and such. I would appreciate it if those details were never released."

"Oh, we are the very souls of discretion. Still it seems a bit odd."

"But his computer club is just down the corridor. He's the president of that club."

Haruhi sent Miss Kimidori on her way and led the brigade to the address given us. We followed her up the stairs to the apartment in question and then Haruhi kicked the door in.

"Why didn't you knock first?"

"Oh, be sensible Kyon. The door was locked of course."

I stopped to look at the ruined door. It had indeed been locked, with even the deadbolt in place. How had Haruhi broken through with just one kick?

"Kyon, quick take a photo of this!"

I went inside and saw that Haruhi was pointing at a large roughly circular pattern. Was that drawn in blood with the outstretched fingers of one hand?

No sooner had I taken the photo than Haruhi grabbed the camera out of my hands.

"Good job Kyon. See how it spells out SOS? This is going to be so great on our homepage."

"What?" I assumed she must be kidding, or at least I silently prayed that she was.

"What are you kids doing?"

I turned to the door. There was a middle aged man looking aghast at the damage Haruhi had caused to the door.

"Are you the lazy, good for nothing, manager of this building?"

"Yeah, who are you lot?"

Had he even heard her question?

"One of your renters has been abducted! Just look at this message he left."

The manager wanted the police to arrest us all for breaking and entering, but Haruhi managed to shift the suspicion onto him for not reporting the abduction earlier.

The Tuesday morning paper's headline read: "Another North High School student missing!"

"Big-sister Yuki, I'm so worried for you."

"Don't worry little-sister. Kyon will protect me."

My little sister turned to me for the first time in days. "Promise me Kyon. Promise you won't let anything happen to Big-sister Yuki."

"I promise."

On the way to school, I reached for my little sister, but she took my offered hand and put it in Yuki's, before taking Yuki's other hand in hers.

When I got to the clubroom after classes I found a note on the door from Haruhi that she had a meeting with the school authorities and so the meeting for today was canceled. I turned away with Yuki following and saw fellow club member Mikuru Asahina standing there.

"You went to the search on Sunday in your school uniform. Did Haruhi only buy you that maid outfit?"

I turned to Yuki. I was so used to seeing her in her school uniform that I hadn't even noticed that she really didn't have anything else.

Yuki nodded.

"Come along then and we'll get you some outfits you can wear on dates. You are engaged after all." Mikuru reached for Yuki's hand.

"Sorry, but we're broke." I held up my hand to show my engagement ring.

"It's okay, I can pay. And Yuki, can we take Kyon along so that he can carry the bags?"

"Of course."

Mikuru led us down the hill to the train station and then two stops later we got off at the shopping district.

The sales lady noticed Yuki's ring, was about to ask about it, but then spotted my ring. She nodded and began to make suggestions, which Miruku joined in.

As Yuki was changing into the first selection that had been made for her, I sat down next to Mikuru. "If the kappa are all female, then why spread the rumor that they're all male?"

"Yuki won't look like that forever. Give her a few thousand years and she'll be all scaly, with webbed fingers and toes. It took us a few centuries to find out that young kappa could easily pass as human girls, and by that point the folklore had already been set."

"So why are you being helpful to Yuki? Is this just a ploy to get her to trust you, so you can destroy her?"

"It is the Western way to seek out and destroy all monsters. The way of Shinto is to find a common existence with the kami. We have to judge each case. Like men, not all kappa are evil. Yuki is an odd case. As far as we can determine she has never gone to sea and she has never tasted human flesh. But Kyon, there is one thing I'd thought you'd know by now. While the kappa have poor vision on land, they retain their excellent hearing. You finished changing a few minutes ago, so let's see what you look like, Yuki."

The latch of the changing stall slid open and Yuki stepped out in the new outfit, with a hurt look on her face.

"Oh poor thing. Did I just ruin one of the surprises you were keeping for your fiancee?" Mikuru made a point of not raising her voice above the whisper level I had initiated.

Yuki walked over and said in her usual hoarse whisper, "I am not a kappa."

"Then what does your kind call itself?"

I risked a glance over at Mikuru. She seemed really pleased about maneuvering things to this point.

"Your ears would need to be underwater and my throat would need to be filled with water, submerged together in a pond or something. And even then most of our name would be outside the range of human hearing. The closest translation in Japanese to our name would be The Deep Ones."

"We thought that only applied to the eldest of your race?"

"We make no such distinction."

"One final clarification, if you don't mind?"

"Go ahead." To anybody else, Yuki's huge eyes would seem as emotionless as a fish, but I could see the hint of anger behind them.

"The cause of your mother's death?"

"She was hunted down as a heretic to our race. I learned later that her sacrifice was to give me time to escape." Yuki turned to me. "And that Kyon, is the reason I must avoid the ocean."

"So you see Kyon, just like you, Yuki has lost a loved one."

"Miss Sasaki was no more my girlfriend than Miss Asakura was. I thought Sasaki was a close friend. I was the only student in our school who would entertain her so-called "logical" reasoning. Eventually she decided on her own, that love was a cancer, and that she'd have to cut out the source, that being myself. As far as I know she's still alive, if you call being locked up like that living. So Yuki, do you want to cry on my shoulder? That's what my Mom's hired me out for."

"No, I understand now. I will wait until you are ready. I was truly unaware of your circumstances. Perhaps if we both survive what is to come... So Miss Asahina, is this charade over?"

"What? No, cheer up! You look lovely in that outfit, doesn't she, Kyon? And you've got three more to try on. You can have them all if you like."

In the end Yuki did take all four outfits, and some advice from Mikuru about how to mix certain parts together for greater variety. As I carried the packages I went over them all in my head and still couldn't shake the impression they gave her of being a middle school student in casual clothes with unusual hair and eyes. I would have suggested adding a hat and sunglasses, but I didn't want that to be taken as a disparagement of her looks, rather than a disguise to throw her relatives off the trail that led to my house. So my "fiancee" was the blood enemy of human-eating monsters. Did that automatically make her my friend? It was a point I'd have to consider.

When we got home, my sister was overjoyed to be able to play fashion show with her supposed future sister-in-law.

Wednesday morning, Yuki and I dropped my sister off at her school and walked up the hill to North High then entered the courtyard.

"You monster!"

I turned to Taniguchi, but he walked past me to stand in front of Yuki.

"You're as cold blooded as a kappa. Getting engaged to Kyon right after he killed my poor Ryoko. Grave digger!"

I put my arm between the two of them. "You don't have a problem with my fiancee. You've got a problem with me, Taniguchi. So take it up with me."

"It's this fish eyed monster. She's the one who put you up to it. So I'm going to get some answers out of her, here and now."

Yuki backed up and I moved between the two.

Taniguchi turned to me. "Stay out of this, Kyon."

"I can't do that."

"Damn you!" He suddenly swung and hit me on the jaw.

Our Gym teacher grabbed him while I escorted Yuki inside.

"Does that hurt?" She asked.

"A bit. I'll go see the nurse."

I entered first period class ten minutes late, with a cold pack for my face. Taniguchi's seat was empty.

After the teacher left, Haruhi said from behind me. "You got into a fight over Yuki? I didn't know that there were all that many boys who went for her kind."

I turned to her and tried to deflect the subject. "What happened with the school authorities yesterday?"

"Oh, students shouldn't try to solve crimes. How are we supposed to change the world, if they won't let us do anything?"

"Has the computer club president been found?"

"Of course not."

And how would you know what was likely or not in this case, Miss Suzumiya?

At lunchtime Yuki came over to our classroom, dropped her bento on my desk and turned to look for an available chair.

"Here." Haruhi picked up Yuki's bento and placed it on her own desk. "No meeting of brigade members without the brigade commander."

Haruhi, if you follow us on our honeymoon, I'll ensure that you are the one who is thrown to the hungry kappas. Well fine, put this bee in your bonnet. "Yuki."

She brought a chair and set down next to us. "Yes, Kyon?"

"Do you have any plans for Friday night?"

"No."

"Then let's go out on a date. We'll set out from our house at seven p.m. sharp. Agreed?"

"Yes," both girls said in unison.

After classes I waited for the girls to change and then knocked before entering the clubroom.

Haruhi was sitting at the computer and pulled out a printed page. "You messed it up, Kyon." The printout was of my photo from the crime scene.

"What?"

"You got the angle and lighting all wrong. There's no way we can put this on our website."

"That's a relief."

"So I have to retrace the design in a graphics program. At least this way I'll be able to use the proper colors and include a box at the bottom for the brigade symbol."

I didn't ask her how she'd know what the proper colors might be.

-HJC

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