ARC 1: NOT YOUR TYPICAL MAGICAL GIRL
In an unremarkable Tokyo apartment, a young teenage girl was finishing her breakfast. Her hair was shoulder-length. Her clothes, the uniform of the local lower secondary school. Her face was neither particularly attractive nor ugly.
My name is Watanabe Eriko. I'm thirteen years old.
Once she finished eating, she put on her shoes and waved goodbye to her mother.
My dad is a journalist, and my mom is a housewife. I haven't decided exactly what I want to be when I grow up, but I'm thinking engineer - I love figuring out solutions to making things work, and I have a knack for science and technology.
She took the crowded subway.
I've never had many friends. I suppose I'm a bit of a loner; I tend to just hang by myself with my thoughts. I suppose I'm also a bit of an otaku - I'm more likely to spend my free time reading or surfing the Web than hanging out with other people or just going outside. I generally don't fit in, and I've never really felt like meddling with other people's lives.
Reaching her school, she met up with her classmates, exchanging a few quiet hellos. Then she smiled at the sight of another girl. "Hey! Good morning, Junko!"
"Good morning, Eriko!"
But that may change now that I've met Junko.
CHAPTER 1: BASIC COURAGE
"So, did you finish reading..."
"Sure sure! Here it is!" Junko retrieved a novel Eriko had loaned her a couple of weeks earlier. "It was great, but a bit depressing at times. I kept waiting for something to happen to fix the problems, and instead, it just kept getting worse."
"Well, that makes sense, no? Problems don't just solve themselves."
"In real life, no, but in stories, I usually expect things to work out, you know?"
"I see what you mean, but I thought the realism was a nice change of pace..."
I met Junko a few months ago. All right, that's not strictly true - we've been classmates for much longer than that, but we didn't interact much.
You'd think I'd actually be at least semi-popular. I'm a talented member of both the computer club (not the best they have, but certainly close) and the go club (in fact, I'm part of the girls' team, and got us a couple of tournament victories), as well as a high-scoring students, and in a place like this, that counts for something. But it's like I have this "outsider" aura that makes classmates unsure of how to relate to me. It's been that way ever since we got back to Japan.
Dad became a foreign correspondent in the USA when I was five. Mom and I followed, and I spent the next three years there. I like to think this gave me a broader perspective, but when I got back, it was like I was an alien being to the other kids... and it stuck. I didn't really care enough to try and change that.
Then, a few months ago, the English teacher noticed Junko was failing, badly, and suggested that I tutor her (yeah, for some reason, I'm the best in class in that subject. Can't imagine why). Now, I didn't want to refuse, and I figured it'd be a good thing to do, so I sucked it in and did my best to help out the hyperactive class clown. She often ended up studying at my house, and eventually, we actually became friends.
As I've discovered over time, Junko is a lot less genki than she seems at first. In public, she tends to act cheerful and hyper... the closer we got, though, the less she acted like that in private. I'm not really a people person, so it took me a while to realize the public persona was a front...
Classes began. Nothing that Eriko couldn't handle - she had always been a good student. Junko, not so much - though her friend's tutoring had certainly been helping.
English. Math. The go club.
"Oh, hey, Eriko." The club president. Respectful, but not a friend. She had beaten him with no handicaps, once. Once. "I was hoping you could play a didactic game with the new guy..."
"Sure." Not like I'm in the state of mind to enjoy a real game right now. Not with my mind so heavily on something else.
Like I said, I'm no people person. It took me months to figure out Junko's secret.
Now, Junko's mother died years ago. That is no secret. She lives with her father, Mister Takahashi.
And...every now and then, she shows up hurt. She always says it's from accidents, but that's implausible. I actually checked statistics, saw how many accidents my other classmates had, and tried to calculate the probabilities (yes, I'm a nerd. Live with it); I'm pretty sure they're beyond the realm of reasonable doubt, especially since she isn't particularly clumsy, absent-minded, or a daredevil.
And... I figured that alone didn't have to mean the obvious. Like dad says, one shouldn't jump to conclusions. So I tried to make sure. I asked her if there were any problems with her father, but she panicked and changed the subject. I tried to have some of our study sessions at her house. She didn't like it, but she relented. Her dad fit the profile (I found some articles, psychology and legal stuff), but if he raised his hand against his daughter, obviously it wasn't going to be in front of her friend.
So what to do? I considered discussing it with my parents, but for some reason, the idea terrified me. I considered talking to the police or her neighbors... but what if I was wrong? I might be convincing people that an innocent man was a child-beater. I considered spying on him, but... well, real life isn't a cartoon.
Having finished her club activities, Eriko left the school grounds and took the subway. She had told Junko she'd be busy that evening. Technically, that was true.
It occurred to me at one point that I could simply confront him, directly.
Obviously enough, the prospect terrified me. I was tempted to just drop the whole thing. If everyone else could just live with it, why not me?
That was a pretty ugly thought. I took the time to think it over.
Junko was my friend. But more important than that, she was a thirteen-year-old child who, more likely than not, was being abused by an adult. If I didn't stand up to something like that, what did that make me? If people in general didn't stand up to things like that, what did that make of the world?
They say that all that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.
I'm not going to let evil triumph.
The way to Junko's house was familiar. The increasing nervousness was a new touch, though.
The ground in the area was slightly uneven. As a result, there was a flight of stairs leading from the street to the front door of the Takahashi house.
All right... time to do this. Wait, what if... OK, there are still enough people around so that I have witnesses if something happens. Be brave, be brave...
She knocked. Junko's father answered.
"...Good evening, Mister Takahashi."
"You're here to see Junko." He began to turn, presumably to call his daughter.
"A-a-actually, I wanted to talk to you..."
He seemed surprised. "All right, come in."
No! "Actually... We can talk here just fine." Her nervousness wasn't improving.
"What is the matter?" His patience wasn't getting longer, either.
"As a matter of fact... It's about Junko." She could see her friend now inside the living room, watching quizzically the conversation between them.
"She... often comes to school injured." Junko suddenly looked frightened. "She says it's from accidents, but that makes no sense" Her father suddenly looked angry. "I've, I've made some calculations, and there's no way it's a coincidence. There's just no way." Junko was desperately shaking her head from way back.
"If my daughter has accidents, then she has accidents! That's all!"
"Wait! Listen, logically, it means... I mean... Well, obviously she's... getting beaten up!" Yes, keep your voice raised... If people in the street hear this, he can't do anything.
"Are you trying to say something?!" Mister Takahashi had never looked so scary. Or angry. And she'd never known him to have a good temper.
"I'm saying, somebody's hurting your daughter! Is it you?!" I asked it. I finally asked it.
He was fuming. "How I raise my daughter is none of your business!"
Is that a confession? Yes? No? "It... Yes, it is my business! Junko's my friend, and even if she wasn't, if someone gets hurt it is my business!" She was not exactly in the state of mind to deliver snappy dialog, but she wasn't in the state of mind to give in, either. "Besides, there are laws! Child abuse laws, and rules, and laws against abusive parents..."
That last part was delivered with a punch to the face. She was unconscious before the back of her head hit the stairs as she fell backward.
My name is Watanabe Eriko. And... I think I might be dead.
Seriously, it's looking pretty darn plausible. The last event I remember involved a head injury, and right now, I can see myself on a hospital bed. As in, I can see my body, from the outside.
I should probably be panicking, but it's... Ergh. I don't even know how to begin handling this. I can't really accept any of this as real right now.
To top it all, there's this tunnel of white light. I always thought that was just a myth.
Right now, though, this white light seems... safe. Calming. The only thing in sight that feels right.
So, I begin moving toward it. There's no walking, I just move. The light gets warmer and warmer. Beyond this tunnel, I can be happy and safe and loved and at peace...
...Hoooold it. I don't know that. All I have is feelings coming from this light. In fact, I know next to nothing about this whole thing; I can't even see the hospital anymore. Trying to approach the light, I've moved into some kind of featureless space.
OK, let's think this through. It's a bit... hard... to remember anything that happened before I found myself in the hospital room. I'm guessing I died, or at least was in a coma, whichever. That might be why the memories of everything before that are really, really fuzzy.
So what do I remember? I'm a human being, check. Girl? Yeah, a girl. My name is Eriko Watanabe, I remember that. Eriko... It means, literally, "child blessed with logic". I should probably try to live up to that.
Hm... Everything else is really, really fuzzy. I can remember general knowledge like math or History, but personal stuff eludes me. Let's see, what applies to my current situation...
NDEs. Near-Death Experiences. That's it. People who were dying, saw this sort of stuff, and came back to tell the tale. Usually, there are religious undertones.
I don't think I'm religious. In my memories, religions of all stripes are fitting in the same area as superstition. I didn't really believe in NDEs, either, but I don't think I really knew that much about them.
But that can change now. I'm in this... place... whatever it is, and I can study it.
After all, the pretty light doesn't look like it's moving away. I can find out what's at the end of the tunnel later, once I'm done with this place.
I'm spending all my time experimenting. This place is fascinating, really. It's completely empty, but it makes no difference - I don't really have a physical body here. And yet, despite the lack of a brain, my thought process is unhindered. It's like I'm pure information now.
I still have thoughts and emotions - my curiosity remains high - but some things seem... less present. I think it's due to an absence of hormones... The feelings that were entirely parts of my mind are still there, while what was dependent on my body (beside the brain) is just vague memories.
Gotta keep experimenting.
It's all information. At least, that's my hypothesis.
I can affect things here with my thoughts. If I focus on the light, I can tap into it, and then, I can will things to happen. I'm experimenting with that non-stop... Matter creation, energy control, it just needs a little focus.
Learning more about it is making me giddy all the time.
It's not just matter and energy.
I can bend space. At least, open wormholes. Gates that go directly from one spot to another.
When I left a portal open for a while, I think it moved. Was it moving along with the Earth's rotation, or was it just me drifting away from it? Hard to tell, there's no point of reference.
The portals can go through long distances in space, but not through time. Odd, that. Maybe I just haven't figured out how to open time-portals.
If I traveled through time, where would I want to go?
If I went to the past, when would I chose to?
The moment I got here? Before? What was before that?
Well, I seem to recall that I'm dead (probably dead?), and this is presumably the space between the Earth and the after-life... so there must have been a time before when I was alive. If I went to that point... well, I'd need to do it on Earth for the experiment to be of any value.
Where's Earth, anyway?
I have concluded that the reality manipulation I've managed to do here can be classified into two distinct categories:
First, there's basic manipulation (need to come up with names). I just think of a physical change, and it happens - "this much energy here", "a sphere of H2O molecules there", "A gate between this area and this area", this kind of stuff.
Second, there's abstract manipulation (again, need to come up with names). I think of something more abstract, and it happens. For instance, "let a computer appear here". I can't do that with basic manipulation, since I don't know the details of how every single part of a computer is built (not to mention the software); it's just too complex. But with abstract manipulation, so long as I provide clear enough directions and push hard enough, the light just "fills in the blanks" and makes it happen anyway.
Abstract manipulation takes more time and effort, but can do things you can't get with basic manipulation. Then again, basic manipulation is a quick, practical tool for most stuff.
Gotta keep experimenting.
My name is Watanabe Eriko. And I'm in front of my own body.
I'd practically forgotten about it. After God-knows-how-long spent experimenting in that place, I was doing things with portals, getting further away from the light... and I ended up in a different kind of place.
It didn't take me long to realize it was outer space. I was back in the, well, "material world" I guess.
Not sure why I wasn't on Earth. Maybe all those experimentations with portals had taken me away from it. Or maybe its own rotation around the Sun did. Not enough data.
Anyway, I could clearly sense what I assumed was the sun, but not any planet. Makes sense - the Solar System is mostly empty space, and as huge as planets are, they're small compared to the distances between them.
But, I had portals, and a lot of time. These portals can go thousands of kilometers.
It's hard for me to measure time these days (I made clocks back in the other space, but carrying them around was a hassle), but I think I spent several days searching. I'll admit that I actually got kind bored at some point. But eventually, I found the Earth.
Then Japan. Watanabe Eriko is a Japanese name.
Seeing it jogged my memory, and I remembered I was from Tokyo, so I went there.
And... I was either dead or in a coma, so I figured I ought to check hospitals. Took a few more hours.
And now, I'm in front of my own body.
I don't look good, but I'm... alive, I guess. Biologically speaking.
That raises a lot of questions. For starters, is my mind still supported by my brain after all? Would I really disappear if my body went from comatose to dead? Also, what would happen if my body recovered?
Not enough data.
But, aside from that... Seeing my body helped me remember some things more clearly.
My name is Watanabe Eriko. I'm thirteen years old. My dad is a journalist, and my mom is a housewife. I haven't decided exactly what I want to be when I grow up, but I'm thinking engineer - I love figuring out solutions to making things work, and I have a knack for science and technology. My best friend is Takahashi Junko. I got hurt trying to help her.
I want to live. I want to save my parents and Junko the grief that my death would cause. I want to report my discoveries - the world needs to know about what I found out.
I want to live.
I wonder if I still can.
Only one way to find out.
"Hello, Watanabe household speaking."
"Hello madam, this is the Juntendo hospital. Am I speaking to the mother of Watanabe Eriko?"
"Yes! Did anything happen?" The sudden anxiety was not exactly subtle.
"No problem, madam. I have the pleasure of announcing that your daughter has woken up from her coma."
"...and that is how you obtained your magical powers."
I look at my jailer through the transparent wall. No hate there - just cold, clinical focus.
Not me, though. I'm fuming. Caught here, with no way out and my magic nullified... Yeah, there's some resentment.
My name is Watanabe Eriko. I'm a magical girl, and I'm being held prisoner by a foe who seems interested in my past.
"Yes, that's the story, Captain Obvious. What of it?"
"This information may prove useful, but it's not the information I'm looking for. I do believe it can be found in your head, though... So I'm going to keep digging through the rest of your career as a magic-user, until I find what I need."
"You've gotta be kidding me. You're holding me prisoner, and now you're going to have us both trawling through my flashbacks?! Did you steal your ideas from Captain SNES?!"
"Never mind. Outside your frame of reference. But let the records say that I'm not enthusiastic about it. Or, you know, about the whole prisoner thing."
"A pity. You will be here for a long time, Soul. Or perhaps I should call you Miss Watanabe."
"You call me what you want, and I'll be calling you El Douchebaggio. Fair enough?"
"Sticks and stones, Soul."
My name is Watanabe Eriko. How I got here is a long story. How I'll get out here will probably be one, too.
To Be continued...