Chapter 4-String Theory

Mai Asakura sat at a table outside a little café down the street from the reputable bakery her younger brother ran. Her outfit was a bit more casual than what she commonly wore, a form-fitting black blouse and tight dress pants that did wonders in showing off her figure, even unintentionally. Normally she'd be stuck at home grading papers, but this meeting was very important. Too important to put off any longer.

"Mai."

Takeo Asakura, her younger brother (by only a year, he insisted) walked up to her table with a big smile on his face. He was a broad shouldered man who looked a bit imposing, but he was a softy at heart. Mai was the one who inherited their mother's steely visage and temperament.

"Takeo, thanks for coming. I know how busy it can be at the bakery." Mai said.

"Shiho is capable of running things when I'm gone. She's my own resident apprentice, you know!" Takeo smiled. "So what did you want to talk about, sis?"

"It's the twins."

Her curt reply slowly wiped the smile from Takeo's face. Mai didn't like giving her brother bad news like this, but this was necessary for the children. Their lives were at stake.

"Takeo, they ran into three yokai in two weeks, and I was just informed that they've begun manifesting their powers. They're becoming bigger targets now." Mai said. "I'm not sure how long will it be before they put the pieces together, but the increasing yokai activity in Makura is putting them in danger."

Takeo said nothing, looking down at the table. Mai sighed and placed her hand atop hers.

"Takeo you should at least tell them about what they are. Keeping this a secret from them will only cause further pain down the line." "No, I will not uproot my children's lives like that." Takeo said firmly. "If they find out about their heritage—"

"They've already begun training with their powers. The yokai attacks that have been happening are focused on people with above-average mana levels. Some of them were even Nephilim. These attacks aren't at random, at least some of them aren't. Someone's behind their movements, and it's only going to get worse when they discover the truth behind the twins' power."

"I don't want to uproot their lives like that, Mai. If they're aware of their true nature, they'll only make themselves bigger targets. At least wait until they're older." He said. "And I know you don't want to tell Saya the truth about what happened to her in pre-school."

Mai frowned, not replying to that. "Won't you at least tell them about their mother?"

"You know why I can't do that." He replied, getting a slow nod from Mai. "What about your friends from STAF? I thought they'd be on top of things given that they like to flaunt their military muscle."

In the world there were three major magical organizations that were officially recognized by the world governments: the Magic Association, STAF, and the Hunter's Union. The Magic Association was an international organization that was the governing body of the magical world. They maintain international laws regarding the use of magic, deal with research into magical fields, and the apprehension and persecution of magical criminals.

STAF (Special Threat Apprehension Force) was the military branch of the Magic Association that dealt with magic-related crimes and incidents, as well as the arrest of magical criminals and the unlawful use of magic. STAF had branches all over the world in the member states of the Magic Association, and Nippon was one of them.

The Hunter's Union was a paramilitary organization staffed by people who took missions involving the apprehension or eradication of dangerous monsters and solving complex problems involving magic. They too had various bases around the world where hunters could take on commissions that paid in money or other rewards depending on the difficulty of the mission.

"Don't be daft. We have operatives handling yokai activity all over the country, most of them focused in Edo. We're spread thin enough as it is, and the MA's Nippon branch is relying on the hunters to handle any other cases in the country." Mai said. "I've promised Commander Ogura that I'd keep the peace in my territory, but if this continues more people will die. The twins will only become bigger targets the older they get. Eventually the situation will spiral out of control."

Takeo and Mai said nothing for several minutes, each sibling embroiled in their own thoughts. The world passed them by, unaware of their internal struggles. Takeo hated having these discussions, because they almost always ended up with him and Mai butting heads on the right course of action regarding the twins. What's worse was that she was right, eventually the situation will get too big to ignore and the twins will be dragged in anyway.

"If mom were alive, she could've taught them magic to defend themselves." Takeo muttered. "She always knew what was best when it came to fighting monsters."

"But mom's gone, and your children are still vulnerable." Mai replied. "I know you don't want your children coming under scrutiny from the government or the military, and I'm with you on that. But if things spiral out of control, I'll be forced to take action."

"Kira and Saya are still safe. They may have activated their powers, but mom's suppression seals are keeping their true power dormant." Takeo leaned forward. "Please, just let them have some more time before dragging them into this mess."

Mai glared at her brother for a moment before sighing. "Okay, I'll leave the issue alone…for now." Then she gave him hard look. "But keep this in mind, neither STAF nor the Union are invincible. Even we can't keep our targets safe all the time."

"I know, but have some faith in the twins. They'll make it through this." He smiled.

"That's a lot of faith to put into two children." She said skeptically.

"They're my children, and hers as well." He replied. "We Asakuras are a hardy bunch, Mai. We may stumble and fall, but you can't keep us down. Even in death."

XXXXXX

Takeo acknowledged that he could be a bit dense sometimes, but even he noticed that things looked a little…tense between Kira and Saya. Breakfast was unusually quiet and the twins hadn't said a word to each other since coming to eat. It didn't take a genius to notice that something was wrong.

"Did something happen between you two yesterday?" He asked. "Did you two fight?"

"We just had a little disagreement, dad. It's nothing serious." Kira said, not even giving Saya a dry look that he'd usually give.

Saya said nothing, just focusing on eating her food.

"Well…I hope you two can make up soon. Also, I want you two to come straight home afterschool, okay?" He told them. "After that incident at school, I don't want you hanging out any longer than you have to until this yokai business is settled."

"Sure thing, dad." Kira said.

The twins said goodbye to their father and walked to school in silence. They said nothing to each other, just lost in their own thoughts. A white cat fell in step behind them and they barely paid attention to it, though Saya felt something a bit familiar about that cat.

The sky was gray and the air felt murky and damp. It was going to rain soon, probably later in the day. They didn't have umbrellas, but considering their light powers, those would make a good substitute.

"How long are you going to give me the silent treatment?" Saya asked her brother. "I said I was sorry."

"You say it, but we both know you'll just run headfirst into danger again without a second thought. So what's the point?" Kira replied.

"I thought there was a girl in trouble! What, was I just supposed to say fuck it?" She growled. Kira glared at her.

"No, you were supposed to be cautious. In case you've forgotten, yokai can shapeshift and can easily blend in with humans to find people like us. You know, so they can eat us!" He yelled.

"I'm not trying to get anyone killed. I know the risks. I screwed up yesterday, I get that, but we made it out and we can learn from our mistakes. That's that, right?" She replied.

Kira sighed and rubbed his forehead. "Whatever. As long as you learn from it, we might survive long enough to graduate middle school."

Saya looked down, knowing that she probably really ticked him off if she's still this mad at her.

"Hey, guys!"

The twins saw Sai running down the street, looking a bit more tired than he should be at that time of day, but still a bit lively. They gave him a half-hearted greeting as he reached them, but he didn't notice their despondent attitudes.

"Sai, you doing okay there?" Saya asked, taking note of his haggard face and tired posture. She knew enough from her martial arts training to tell a tired person from a healthy and well-rested one. "You look really drained."

"Really? Sorry, had a rough night. My roommate, Amaru, was up late with his stupid country music playlist blaring in his room."

"Now you know how I feel when Saya decides to spend her weekend nights like a punk rocker chick." Kira said.

"Bite me." She snapped at him.

Sai chuckled, feeling slightly more energized just by standing near these two. His smile faded a bit as he wondered if it was just their usual banter lifting his spirits, or if it was something else.

"Come on, we need to get to school before it rains." Kira said, looking at the dark sky. "Huh, I never heard of any rain in the forecast."

The trio walked to school, with the twins walking ahead of Sai as he slugged behind them. Unseen by the twins was Sai's serious expression as he tried to figure out what about the twins made them so…unique in his eyes. It wasn't suspicion, but something told him that these two were one of those special individuals that trouble always went out of its way to find.

XXXXXX

Sai watched Saya watching him as he laid his head on his desk. She was twirling her shiny, black hair around her finger, her face contemplative. He knew she thought he was asleep and that she was considering waking him up.

He took a moment to admire how pretty she looked. Long black hair hanging down her back to the bangs framing her slender face. Her body was supple and athletic for her age, matched by her brother in height. She looked like a normal girl, but something about her was different. He could tell from the beginning just from being near her and Kira that they were not your average middle schoolers.

'What a pain.' He thought. It was frustrating, having to work all night and for most of the day. It was exciting at first, being given new responsibilities and all that, but long hours on unreasonably cold nights had taken their toll on his enthusiasm. Then having to "make it work" with his school schedule. He was fourteen for god's sake! What kind of unreasonable…

"Let him be, Kira." Ms. Asakura's voice cut into his thoughts. "If Huang thinks he doesn't need to pay attention in my class then there's no need to persuade him otherwise."

He risked a glance towards Kira. The tip of his pencil hovered centimeters away from his shoulder, but fell as Kira got back into his seat.

"S-sorry, auntie-I mean, Ms. Asakura."

"Eh? What's going on?" Sai asked and sat up, trying to look as tired as he felt. The rest of the class began to laugh. He gave a sour smile, waiting for the inevitable earful, but the bell rang as his homeroom and history teacher opened her mouth.

"Remember to read chapters 27 and 28 for tomorrow." Ms. Asakura as she collected her belongings. "And anyone who doesn't show their work receives half-credit for the entire assignment, no different from last semester."

"Dude, you really got to stop sleeping in class." Saya said, sitting on her desk.

"It's not my fault. I told you, it's my new job." Sai said.

"And what exactly is your new job?" Kira asked.

"It's a secret." Said replied with a grin. Saya rolled her eyes.

"Huang."

Sai froze and looked up into the cold gaze of Mai Asakura, who loomed over him like an angry Oni ready to strike.

"Really, Sai." Mai growled through gritted teeth. "Do we really need to go through this again today?"

"Ms. Asakura, please, I'm really sorry about class, but it's just that my job is running me ragged." Sai said, giving Mai a look Kira and Saya wasn't expecting. It was a challenging look. "My boss is an ass-"

"Respect your elders please."

"…who thinks I can operate in the day and night with little sleep. It's hard to balance everything." He continued unperturbed.

Mai narrowed her eyes but, to the surprise of her niece and nephew, didn't explode and smack Sai in the head with her teaching ruler like the twins expected. "I see. I recommend you get some sleep, and try to keep your priorities straight."

"Got it." Sai said dryly.

Mai nodded to the twins before leaving the room, allowing them to speak with Sai.

"What the hell was that all about?" Saya demanded.

"What do you mean?" Sai asked.

"That little exchange just now. It looked like you two were having a standoff." Kira said. "I could tell that you two were having a totally different conversation behind the scenes there."

"No we weren't."

"Yes, you were."

"No, we weren't. Now hush, the teacher's coming in." Sai turned away from the twins, ignoring the glares they shot into his back.

Sai internally groaned and rubbed his head. This was going to be a long day.

XXXXXX

It wasn't until lunch came that things took a turn for the worse.

Sai learned that an emergency had called Mai away from school, and judging from the expression she wore on her way out the door, he had a feeling she wouldn't be back for some time.

"I don't know how long I'll be gone, but look after the twins. Do not let them out of your sight, Huang, do you understand?"

"Whatever's happening must be pretty serious. Hope she can handle it." Sai muttered, lumbering down the hallway like a tired ghost. He was feeling a bit better now that his stomach was full, but he still felt tired.

"Sai." He looked over and saw Kira walking toward him.

"Kira, what's up? Sorry I had to bail on you. Ms. Asakura wanted to speak to me about something." Sai said.

"Sai, seriously, what's going on? I know you haven't been sleeping well, but what kind of job requires you to stay up so late at night? You're fourteen for heaven's sake!"

Sai sighed. "Look, Kira, it's…it's not something I feel comfortable sharing with you right now."

"Why not? My aunt clearly knows. Don't think I didn't notice the looks you two share whenever you two talk, or that little conversation she had with you before leaving." Kira crossed his arms. "I'm sorry for grilling you like this, but I don't like it when one of my friends is seemingly conspiring with my aunt for something that I'm pretty sure involves me and Saya."

Sai kept forgetting that Kira was the smarter one of the two. He really needed to be careful with what he said here or Kira will figure something's up. "Look, Kira, I-"

Then, as one, they felt it; an electricity in the air which left goosebumps on the skin and dread within the heart. Kira felt emotions he never experienced before-malice and bloodlust-echoing in his mind. Sai's scowl showed that he felt it too. As one they turned to the window.

At first, Kira didn't see anything. Just the courtyard and the bustle of traffic beyond the gate. Then he noticed them, two bright auras just beyond the gate. One was steel gray flecked with black, the other silver with crimson. Their owners were too far to make out, but a steady throbbing in his eyes suddenly magnified Kira's vision and he could actually see them.

The gray aura belonged to a young man, a teenager, blond and muscular and dressed in camouflage patterned military-style fatigues; the other was a young woman, tall with wavy auburn hair, a black trench coat hugging her shapely form.

Kira reeled backwards, disoriented from the telescoping effect, but when he rubbed his eyes, his vision returned to normal.

"Not now. Not now."

Kira turned to Sai, who was trembling beside him. It was anger.

"Sai?"

"Kira."

He froze at the intensity in Sai's voice.

"Go find Saya and stay with her, no matter what. I'll be back."

"Sai, what's going on?" Kira caught Sai's sleeve as he began to stride down the hall, pulling him up short. "Tell me."

Sai took a moment before saying, "I'll explain everything when I get back. Promise."

With that, he sprinted down the hallway, moving far faster than a normal human should be able to.

XXXXXX

"Sai Huang," The teenage boy, Henry Braun, said in a halting Europian accented voice. "It's been a while."

"Apparently not long enough, Henry." Sai said, slamming the gate behind him.

The girl, Anya Volsky, laughed daintily into her hand. "Careful, Henry, you're making him mad."

"That will be a first. Glad you could come out and play, Sai."

"You two have some balls showing up in the middle of town under STAF jurisdiction." Sai said. "Even you aren't that dumb, Henry."

The Europian boy growled, but his female companion placed a firm hand on his shoulder to calm him down.

"I don't suppose this is a social visit."

"I'm sorry, it's not." Anya said. "We are here for someone else. You don't need to get involved."

"The hell I don't!" Sai clenched his hands and water slid out from the water skin hidden under his school shirt, gathering around his hands and freezing into two ice blades over them. "I don't know how you two got into the country, but you aren't getting past me!"

"Is that so?" Henry's face hardened as he reached for his silver earring, a double-bladed axe of stainless steel.

Anya grabbed his hand, making him growl at her. "Not here." She said. "Is there some place more private, Sai?"

Sai nodded, sliding the ice up onto his forearms to free his hands. They were high B-class, same as him, a fire mage and an earth mage. Fighting either of them would be a hassle, both of them at the same time would be a death wish. No, he just had to stall them. Three mages throwing magic around was bond to attract attention.

"The park behind the school. Lots of trees and no one should bother us."

"Lead on."

XXXXXX

"Come on, Asakura! Put some pep into your step! My dead grandma can walk faster than you run!"

'Shut the hell up you musclebound meat-head!' Saya thought scowling.

Saya channeled the hatred of her physical education teacher, the shoddy state of the school's track field, and the class in general to keep herself moving even as she felt her legs start to burn.

"You doing okay, Saya?" Kira asked, looking slightly a bit worse than his sister, but only by a small margin. The twins were actually moving at an even pace while their classmates dropped in exhaustion one by one.

"Yeah, just trying not to shoot a hole through Mr. Karita's head." Saya grumbled.

"Please don't. You won't be able to cover that up, no matter how happy the other kids will be." He said.

"I don't care. That asshole is making my headache worse."

They were passing Karita again when his bulldog voice issued from behind and sent them both in the air.

"Pick up the pace, ladies! No slacking!"

"I swear on all that's holy…"

"No swearing, Saya." Kira gently scolded.

Saya grunted. "Where's Sai? Did he skip class or something?"

"I don't know. I spoke to him near the end of lunch period. We were just talking and suddenly there were these two people at the front gates." Kira said. "It was crazy, Saya, there was this really dark-"

"Presence? Yeah, I felt it too. It felt like that stupid killing intent thing you always see in Shonen anime, only it was really scary." Saya replied. "What happened next?"

"He just told me to stay close to you and ran off to the gates. I haven't seen him since."

"Yet another mystery for the Wonder Twins." She joked humorlessly.

Kira sighed and wandered just how the hell his life got so complicated.

Suddenly, they both felt a strong tugging in their mind. They slowed down, stopping at the far end of the back gate that let out into the woods of Shirosaki Park. Kira rubbed his forehead as that painful throbbing returned in full force.

"These headaches are getting on my nerves." Saya growled.

Kira continued glaring at the forest, sensing three presences beyond the gate. One of those presences felt familiar…it felt like Sai.

"Hey, you two! Did I say you could stop? Keep going!"

"Shut up!" Saya screamed.

XXXXXX

"My, my, Sai, such a gloomy place you've taken us to."

"Legend has it that students of Abe no Seimei, Nippon's greatest magician, used to come here to train." He said as they waded through the trees.

"Creepy enough for it."

Sai couldn't refute that. Shirosaki was a very old forest. The trees were tall and left little sunlight for other vegetation. Sai really didn't like this place, it was the perfect environment for fae.

They had been walking for almost twenty minutes in almost total silence. Now they stood in the middle of a wide clearing, one of a few places where the floor was open to the sky. Sai had both eyes focused on his opponents as he shifted his ice braces into two gauntlets again. As he had been feeding the ice moisture from the air, the ice never melted and remained cool on his arms.

"Haha, now you look like the proper warrior. Your dad must be proud." Henry laughed.

Sai scowled, but said nothing as he slipped his black gloves on. Henry was smiling as he tore his own coat off and tossed it aside.

"Anya, go get the twins. This will only take a certain."

"Bastard!" Sai yelled.

"But Henry, Margareta said to fight him together. Kill him faster, waste less time, she said."

"Screw what Margareta says. This boy is just going to keep getting in our way if we don't take care of him now!"

"You can try!" Sai roared and thrust his arms forward. The ice on his arms condensed into water and shot at Henry's head.

"Come on!" Henry snarled and reached up to snatch his earring. The minute he unclipped the earring, it glowed fiery red and grew in size, becoming a full sized axe almost as long as his arm. A single flaming swing destroyed the water blast in a burst of steam.

"I know you can do better than that, Sai!" Henry grinned. "Don't you have any new tricks?"

"What about this?"

This time he charged, drawing moisture from the grass and plants around him to engulf his fists in water. Henry met him head-on, swinging his axe with no more effort than if it were a twig. Sai dodged to the side to allow the axe to slam into the ground with an explosion of dirt and grass. He spun around and swung his water-coated fist as Henry, who blocked it with his axe's shaft. Henry punched at Sai's fist, forcing him to jump back to avoid the energy blast sent at him. Heat waves rose from the two glowing runes etched into the blades of Henry's axe and Sai could feel its heat as Henry swung it at his head, nearly catching his nose in that attack.

"Fight seriously, Huang! You're not stupid or weak!" Henry growled.

"No, I'm smart." Sai said. He rolled back and flicked two fingers upward, causing water to burst from the ground at Henry's feet, freezing it and trapping him in place.

Henry quickly broke free and threw a blazing kick at Sai, who grabbed his leg and shot a water blast into his face. Henry took the attack to the face like a punch and fell back, allowing Sai to sweep his leg out from under him.

Sai channeled mana into his legs and leapt back, moving a couple of feet every second to gain some distance from the flailing mage. Big mistake.

Anya's expression was neither regretful nor passionate as she threw off her coat and drew two giant pistols from the built-in shoulder holsters of her scarlet bodysuit and rapidly pulled the triggers. Instead of bullets, compressed blasts of mana was fired.

Thrusting out his fight hand, Sai shaped a bronze energy shield to block her mana bullets. Landing on his feet, he tore water from the trees around him and sent a large blast of compressed water straight at her.

Anya created an energy shield that easily blocked the water blast. A flick of her wrist shaped the shield into a long spear, which she sent shooting at Sai, who spun his body around and sharpened the water on his arm into a liquid blade that he used to cut the spear in half.

The tree next to him exploded as Henry charged at Sai with a savage war cry. Sai ducked under a mana blast and blocked an axe strike with his mana shield before catching Henry in the side with a water whip. He jumped back to avoid losing his arm from an attack from Anya, whose pistols now became two short swords.

He launched himself over Henry's horizontal swipe and up into a tree. He shot a mana bullet down at his opponent, but the Europian dodged it and spun his giant weapon, the red hot blade sinking into the trunk. Sai's perched swayed as the magically enhanced axe tore right through the trunk and he hopped onto a neighboring branch.

The ground shook with the crash of the giant pine. Sai looked around for a more defensible position, only to realize that Anya was nowhere to be found.

"Shit!" He felt a mana bullet him in the shoulder and spun around to slash at his attacker. Anya swiftly leapt from branch to branch, but Sai suddenly rammed into her, throwing them both off the tree. Anya landed on her feet while Sai kicked off one tree to grab another branch.

"Henry," Anya turned to her partner. "Drive him out."

Henry nodded and took a deep breath. He shot a large fire blast up at Sai, who leapt back to dodge it. Anya ran forward and assaulted Sai with a hail of gunfire. Sai put up a mana shield and jumped down from the tree, slamming a fist into the ground and sending a water wave at Anya that slammed into her. He shaped more water into a broadsword and parried Henry's next attack. A flick of his wrist and a blue mana blast tore apart the mana bullet sent at his face by Anya.

With a roar of defiance, he swung his sword around, changing it into an ice hammer as he smacked Anya into a tree with enough force to crack the trunk. He followed up with blocking Henry's energy ball, but the attack was too strong. Sai was hurled through the air, right into a hailstorm of mana bullets. Two of the bullets hit him in the leg before he dodged, but an fireball from behind hit him in the back, throwing him through a couple of branches before he took cover behind a tree.

"Ah, shit." He hissed, rubbing his tender thigh where the bullets hit. Anymore hits like that and his mana skin will start to fail, and then he'll take on some more serious wounds.

Melting the ice hammer back into water, Sai performed a series of hand gestures and clapped his hands. Energy circulated throughout the ground, gripping every bit of water from the trees and grass around him. The water took shape in the form of a massive dragon head that grew bigger as more moisture was poured into it.

Sai fought off the wave of exhaustion that came over him. Creating water constructs used a lot of mana and were difficult to maintain afterwards. His hope was to sweep them away in different directions. As skilled as she was with her pistols and mana control, Anya was frail and a poor opponent at close range. He would incapacitate her first. Henry was a strong physical fighter, but he was very protective of Anya and easy to agitate. And an enraged enemy left many openings. What he did afterwards depended on how much his plan worked. For now, he just had to win.

Swiping his arms to the left, he directed the water dragon around the tree and at Anya. Her eyes widened and she tried to summon an earth shield to protect herself, but the water dragon smashed through her barrier and slammed into her, sending her crashing through one tree and into another. Sai wasted no time in guiding the dragon over to Henry, putting all his power into making this spell last.

Henry was a statue. He stood tall and strong, his expression burning with indignant rage at what he saw as a pitiful spell. Though the water dragon was barreling towards him, he did not run or try to dodge. Instead, he threw his axe down and got into a stance, charging up a fire spell into his right hand and waited for the dragon to get closer.

"Die!" He roared. Then he thrust his hand forward and shot the spell into the dragon's mouth.

XXXXXX

The whole class was pressed against the chain-link fence. Excitement and anticipation ran through the class in equal measure. No one knew what was happening. The crash and toppling of trees could be heard for a kilometer or more, attracting the attention of every classroom with a westward facing window. Conversation and ponderings ran up and down the line of students, ignoring Karita and his shouting for them to get back to running. Everything from terrorists to idiot lumberjacks was suggested as the cause, mostly out of humor. Only two people knew this disturbance was connected to Sai Huang.

"Saya, you can feel it too, right?" Kira asked.

"Yeah, clear as day. Whatever it is, it's making my head hurt." Saya said.

"Sai's out there. I know it. We're sensing him somehow, and I think he's in trouble."

Another disturbance came from the forest. There was the faint sound of what sounded like a large amount of water in the distance, before there was a loud boom, and the forest exploded.

Kira and Saya looked to where the smoke was rising not too far away. Burning twigs and leaves fell onto the track field and the students began to panic.

"Whatever you're planning to do, Kira, it better be quick." Saya said eagerly.

Kira had a good guess at what Saya was planning. She wanted to get into the action, and for once, Kira was onboard with her. He turned to his sister and two pairs of green eyes shared a look of determination mirrored in each other's hearts.

"Let's go." They said together.

XXXXXX

Sai leapt clear of the flames, landing atop a fallen tree cleared of all its needles and pinecones. He had enough foresight to cover his body in water to negate the flames, but his mana skin had taken a serious hit.

"Stupid son of a bitch." He grunted, panting heavily. His vision swam and he blinked a bit to regain his focus. "Not a lick of damn common sense!"

"That's rude." Anya's voice said through the smoke before she appeared on an opposing branch. She looked a bit dirty, with some tears in her bodysuit, and it was clear that hit she took did some damage. "But still, it's good to see you again, circumstances aside."

"I don't think Henry agrees with you." He said, getting to his feet. "I see you're still picky about using your magic."

"You know why I don't use my magic so much. But you got to admit, I've gotten better." Anya giggled.

"Wait, hold up, why are we chatting like old friends now? We were just trying kill each other minutes ago!"

"Henry agreed to let us talk it out after that fireworks show. Even he think that was a bit much." She shrugged.

Sai just grunted.

"But you know, he does have a right to be angry at you." She added.

"Angry at me? For what? Does he think it's my fault that Margareta killed those people? My fault you three joined a terrorist group?"

"He's angry you refused to join us." She said, ignoring the question. "But I supposed we shouldn't have been surprised. You always were a daddy's boy."

"At least I know who my dad is." He growled. He sensed Henry's mana signature down below, but the smoke was still too thick to see through.

"That was low, Sai." Anya frowned.

"Then don't talk shit about my dad." He retorted.

"Okay then, let's talk about your new fiends. I'm sure you've noticed those twins are special, right? They're more special than you know." She said eagerly. "With their power, we'll finally have the strength to make this world right. We won't have to resort to using those "dirty methods" you hate so much. Not even fate can stop us. And," She added, like a siren trying to entice a sailor. "It'll make Margareta very happy-"

"Shut your mouth."

Anya blinked at the venom in Sai's voice.

"Their names are Kira and Saya Asakura. They're not weapons, they're not tools, they're people. Humans. My friends."

Anya's expression became distressed as she realized that Sai wasn't going to stand down.

"Don't do this, Sai. It'll only end badly for you." She pleaded.

"Tell Margareta I've made my decision. If she wants the twins," Sai tore water out from the tree next to him and shaped it into a lance. "She'll have to kill me first!"

"Tell her yourself!"

Sai jumped off the branch just as a large flaming pillar erupted from underneath him. Henry leapt up to attack, and Sai readied his lance. But he wasn't prepared for Anya to fire a mana bullet into his side, causing him to smash head first into a branch before crashing to the ground.

"Did you think Margareta sent us to kill you? Nah, she wants both you and the twins alive. Lucky for us, she made it clear that she wanted only you in one piece." Henry grinned.

"As if you could." Sai spat out a wad of blood. "She'll have to do better than send the White Wolf and Satan's Left Arm to do the deed!"

He said that out of anger and regretted it at once. Even Henry stepped back as he turned to Anya, who's eyes flared crimson.

"What did you call me?" Her hair whipped about her as her aura flared hot and turned a deep blood red. Her eyes bulged in hatred and her expression almost demonic in appearance as she began to tremble. "What the hell did you call me? Don't you ever use that name on me ever again!"

"Anya, don't lose control-"

"Shut up!" Anya spun around and pistol whipped Henry in the face. She didn't see the gray glow of his mana skin flicker from the blow as her eyes focused on Sai. Or so he thought. Her left arm shot up, pointing her pistol forward. "There's your new friends. Let's see how useful they are to you as bloody chunks of flesh!"

Sai whirled about in fear and surprise as he saw Kira and Saya running towards him. He pumped mana into his legs but Anya had already pulled the trigger, firing a much larger mana bullet from her pistol.

The forest shook from another explosion, and a tree was completely burned away as a single sneaker lay inside the smoking crater.