Gratia slammed her fists against the desk. “Look, I went to the Office of Transportation, Communication, and Security, and that ended up leading me here so I better get some answers.” The person behind the desk reorganized the few things there that were disturbed by the attack. “Why am I not allowed to go back to my family?”
“Gratia Edith right?” They asked unphased by the aggressive girl yelling at them. “Where would you like to visit?”
“I have an area cut off just for me. It should be in your records.” They looked through a few papers on the desk before giving an answer.
“You don’t currently have anything reserved.”
“Excuse me?! I came to this very building to reserve it not ten years ago! That’s nothing in celestial years!”
“We require all beings of certain authority to renew their contracts more often, ten years as a matter of fact.” Gratia could feel her brain starting to rebel against its cage to fight everything around her. Gratia clenched her fist as she did her best to avoid getting too angry.
“Ok, fine, I want to reserve that same area.”
“Give me a second to look up where you last reserved.” Gratia sighed as she straightened her back. She had calmed down, but felt the world was about to fix that incredibly quickly.
“Ah here it is. It’s currently under reserve by someone else.”
“Yeah, yeah yeah yeah.” Gratia imagined a world where she could just blow up every building she went through just to hear this. It was enough catharsis to continue without snapping. “Ok, no one uses this service, and I shouldn’t have missed the date to renew by much. That right?”
“And someone managed to not only use it, but reserve the very small part of the world I reserved in the time I didn’t renew it.”
“That’s the situation, yes.” Gratia slammed the desk again, messing it up once more.
“What the hell! Who?! And I should be able to get in anyway so what’s the deal with that?!” Gratia slammed the desks a few more times to vent her anger.
“Are you done?”
“Yeah. So what’s going on here?”
“Well I can’t tell you who reserved it. Client confidentiality. As for why you can’t go there, it was specifically requested that you not be able to.”
“You can just do that? My family is there.” Gratia had given up on getting angry. Instead she went for answers. “You know what, doesn’t matter. Is there any way to reverse this?”
“You can apply for an investigation into unlawful reservation of area. If all you want is to get in, you are probably best going for a void of the restriction.”
“Ok, that’s fine, what do I have to do?”
“Here is the paperwork for that.” They tapped the desk and a large pile of paper fell from the desk in a neat pile. “Including this, you need to provide proof that you need to be able to enter the area as well as a sponsor to back up the information.”
“You know, let me save you the trouble, I have to use some special tool to do the papers to make sure I don’t just auto-complete it.”
“Here is that writing utensil.” They placed what looked like a completely normal pen on the table. “Also, before you leave, you must agree to a background test-”
“Yeah whatever.” Gratia had given up on acting normal. At this point she needed to just get everything out of the way. “I know you can’t tell me who took my sh- I mean reserve but can you at least tell me if they own another area?”
“They do indeed.”
“Cool cool, alright bye.” Gratia took the stack of papers and the pen and left the building. Once outside, she took a deep breath. She let the air back out, and looked out into the glittering sea of gold and white. This fake display of extravagance and purity annoyed her to no end. “Guess I’ll have to stay with my in-laws. Anywhere to avoid going into another one of these ridiculous buildings. Every heaven is a scam, no matter where you go.”
The nearly empty classroom bellowed with the rhythmic swings of Rose’s feet. Every millimeter of the room had been looked at dozens of times over. In front of her were several white papers filled with crossed out equations or incorrect kanji. She had reached the limit of what she could do alone, and looking at it only made her more impatient to figure out what she was doing wrong. Today was yet another study day with Natsu but the student council called for an emergency meeting. Natsu had promised it wouldn’t take long but it had been twenty minutes since she left. “Sorry, sorry, they really didn’t want anyone to leave early.” Natsu slammed the door open as she tripped her way into the room. “I ran back as fast as I could.”
“Was it something serious?” Rose sat up in her chair as her body returned to life.
“Well, I’m not supposed to tell anyone, but you didn’t hear this from me ok?” Natsu sat down across from Rose as she spoke, taking out her study material as she continued. “There has been a serious problem with things getting stolen. Well it wasn’t serious at first. It started with small things like pencils and pens.”
“I knew I didn’t lose that pencil!”
“Yeah, it really went under the radar at first because things like that happen all the time.”
“Under the radar? What does that mean?”
“Oh right… umm… like you don’t notice something because it’s so common.”
“So they started stealing other things because they didn’t get caught?”
“Right. Also we don’t know if it’s one person or a group of people. Really we don’t know anything other than the fact that things are getting taken from lockers and desks.” Natsu sighed, sitting back in her chair. “Anyway that’s why I was late. One more thing actually.” Natsu reached down into her backpack and pulled out a folded paper bill. “Thanks to you, I aced my English exam. My parents gave me a little spending money but I got something else instead. They didn’t take it back, so here.”
“Oh no no no. I’m the one who keeps asking you to help me. What if they ask for it back?”
“I’ll tell them I spent it. You are trying to get a bike right? It’s not much but it’ll help.” Rose spent some time fighting the two parts of her being that existed on opposite sides of whether to take the money or not.
“Fine I’ll take it but I’m not happy about it.”
“You sure look happy about it. Like I said, it’s yours. Guess what I asked for instead.”
“I’m not very good at guessing.”
“Fair enough? I asked to start Kendo lessons.”
“Right! I remember now! That’s awesome!” Natsu almost jumped in her seat from the complete switch in energy radiating from Rose. “We better keep working hard to make sure you can do it!”
“Of course. Let’s try not to yell.”
“Sorry. Let’s do our best!” Rose picked up her pencil with exaggerated zeal. Natsu tried to follow her lead as the two began working through their questions with each other's help. This didn’t last long as a loud crashing noise scared both of them. “What was that?”
“I don’t know but it sounded really bad. What if it’s the thieves? A murderer?”
“I’ll go check. Maybe someone is hurt.”
“You are not leaving me here alone!” Rose nodded her head and ran out of the room. The halls were empty. All of the doors were closed down in all directions. “It was from that direction. I think. It was so quick.”
“You’re probably right. Let’s see. Think Rose. We didn’t hear any door close so whatever happened must still be inside one of these rooms. So we have to check each room one by one. Yeah that sounds right. Keep an eye out Natsu. I’ll protect you if something happens.”
“O-Okay.” Rose moved from her room to the one directly over. She slowly opened the door and scanned the inside to see if anything was immediately wrong before opening it fully.
“Not here.” Rose motioned for Natsu to move as Rose hopped to the next door.
“Wait. Do you hear that?” Natsu pressed her head against the door only to jump away once she heard something moving beyond it. “Don’t scream don’t scream.” She said to herself over and over as she grabbed her chest.
“Alright, here goes.” Rose opened the door with all the force she could manage and took a fighting stance. However Rose didn’t see anything out of the ordinary. “No, I definitely heard it too. Wait! The window?!” Rose ran over to the otherside of the room and leaned out the window. They were on the second floor and below them was pure concrete.
“There is no way you could jump down from here. The window must have been left open.”
“No, we aren’t wrong. Someone jumped out from here. It’s still hot enough that the teachers always close the windows when they leave. The window was opened, and we heard something moving. But…” Rose looked around the room once more. Nothing was sticking out, which worried her. “We moved pretty fast but there isn’t anything broken or in a mess.”
“Maybe we should just let this go.”
“No, this is our chance. Let’s get our stuff and head downstairs.”
“You know when I asked for more action in my life this isn’t what I had in mind.”
“Don’t worry, I’ll catch the thief. Assuming it is a thief.”
“Are you even listening to me?!”
“Not really!” Rose left the room and returned to the mostly empty room they started in. She quickly packed everything back into her bag and looked at Natsu, who found herself continuing to follow Rose, to do the same.
“Fine. Fine. I’ll go along with this. It’s better than being alone with all this weird stuff going on.”
“If nothing is going on, we can leave. I don’t feel safe here right now.”
“I’m surprised you even know what being safe even means.”
“Hey. That’s mean. Of course I know.”
“Right right. Alright, lead the way.” Natsu patted the straps she just moved into place. Rose gave her a thumbs up. She checked the hallway before moving out.
“Alright, from here we go to the staircase. We should stick to the side of the building we know the sound came from.”
“Aye aye.” The dup ran towards the stairs as fast as Rose could. Natsu almost passed her but fell back due to fear. She could also hear the student council members yelling at her for running in the halls. “When did I become such a delinquent?”
“In times like this, the rules have to be ignored. Just think of it like the police speeding to catch a criminal.”
“You know, for someone who says their Japanese is bad, you sure know some complicated things.” But her words were ignored as Rose jumped down the stairs as if to surprise anyone at the bottom.
“All clear.” Natsu went down the stairs normally. “Everything looks normal down here.”
“It’s strangely empty. There are a few clubs over here.”
“That is strange. They probably checked it out earlier but-”
“Natsu! Thank goodness someone else is here.” The two looked down the hallway in the opposite direction to where they were about to move out.
“Aoi? What are you still doing here?”
“I could ask you the same thing! Didn’t you hear that noise earlier? Someone made a mess in the library. No one saw who did it, but an entire bookshelf was knocked over. Look I know you are off duty but can you help clean up? You there, help as well.”
“Oh. That was less resistance than I expected. Alright, I’m getting everyone out of the school so we can try to catch who did it. Thanks!” Aoi left as she began yelling at whatever clubs remained to get out.
“So they messed up the library huh? Time to find evidence!”
“That’s one way of looking at it. Ahhh, this is going to be so boring. My heart is still going so fast from earlier.”
“So you do want some adventure. Don’t worry, I’ll do my best.” Rose and Natsu arrived at the library to see that it really was torn apart. Books littered the floor, paper was covering tables, chairs, and ground alike. One’s eyes however were drawn to the bookcase toppled over. It was leaning against the nearest wall, but getting it back up would take a lot of work. There were a few other people working to gather all of the books and return them to their place. Natsu and Rose took a corner for them to help. “Ok this is pretty boring.”
“Well, someone would have to do it. Luckily most of these books seem to be from the same shelf so we don’t have to move.”
“Hmmm… but why do this in the first place? Actually… this makes more sense the more I’m thinking about it.” Rose tapped her head with a book. Natsu could see the gears turning in her head. “I think we are dealing with someone with an agenda. They were looking for something specific.”
“I mean yeah. A book probably.”
“They must have searched everywhere, including the second floor. But why jump out of the window?”
“Maybe there is more than one person. They found it here, then to get out as fast as possible they jumped out.”
“But this doesn’t leave us any closer to figuring out who did it.” Rose continued to think, but couldn’t come up with anything. Natsu couldn’t stand the silence, so she tried to make some small talk.
“This will be boring if we just work in silence. Do you have any stories?”
“A story? Hmmm... “ Rose took a second to think before speaking. “There was once a child born to a world that rejected her.” Natsu meant a story from her life, but let Rose speak since her voice was surprisingly somber. “Her body was weak. In order to protect their child, both parents had to give up something really important to them. Their sacrifice was not in vain, as the child was protected from the world that once threatened her. However, due to the sacrifice, the child was brought into the world and forced into isolation.”
“Rose, you don’t have to continue. I’m sorry I brought up something sad.” She didn’t speak for long, but Natsu could hear how pained she was.
“You are my friend, right Natsu?”
“Yeah. You did save me from something that one time. Ah, but that’s not why we are friends.”
“Then it was worth saying it. I have a bad feeling about the future. I want you to trust me.”
“I already trust you, idiot. You think I would have followed you earlier if I didn’t?”
“That’s not a fair question.”
“Neither is asking if we are friends.” Rose laughed, seemingly returning to normal.
“Sorry, I’m not very good at this kinda thing. You are my friend, so I don’t want to leave you in the dark. Things might be strange so I wanted to prepare you.”
“It’s hard to explain.” Rose looked around to make sure no one else was looking. “Things like this.” Rose tossed a book in the air. She let it hit her head, but rather than any impact occurring, the book flew off of her and landed back on the ground with a thud.
“Huh?” Natsu couldn’t process what just happened. Rose knew this would happen, which was why she tried to prep her beforehand.
“I’m not gonna hide anything from you. But I’m not very good at explaining things.”
“So your parents gave up something so you can’t be hurt. Hard to accept but I trust you.” Rose almost teared up. She never expected Natsu to just accept things so quickly. “So is Ken like, not crazy?”
“I mean he’s a little crazy, but not completely.” Natsu took a deep breath.
“I believe you. I can’t imagine how hard it is to talk about something like this.”
“We aren’t supposed to tell anyone but I don’t want to hide this from you forever. Plus things are getting a bit scary.” Rose took the time to explain everything that they knew up to this point. Natsu listened patiently. Rose couldn’t be sure if she understood everything yet at the end Natsu just nodded her head.
“To think you two have been worrying about these things by yourself. Doing more than any adult is doing.”
“Hehe, well, we are the only ones who can solve these problems. Well… I can’t really do much anymore.”
“Don’t say that. Even if you did lose your powers, you are still willing to solve the problems. Even now you are looking for the thieves. Speaking of, do you think this has something to do with that animal store?”
“I don’t know. Normally I’d be able to detect a field. Ah, a field kinda feels like being surrounded by… how do I say this? When you rub your feet on a carpet.”
“Yeah that. It’s a weird feeling.”
“I wish… I could help. I’m just a normal person and I’m scared. You didn’t hear that last part.”
“It’s ok to be scared. That’s why I’m here. I’ll make sure you can keep moving forward. But enough getting serious.”
“I think I get what Hitomi said at the festival.” Natsu whispered to herself as she placed the last of the books around them back where they belonged. “So what’s next? Let’s say some kinda magic is being used. Is there anything we can do?”
“If we can find the person, I should be able to tell if something is causing them to steal. Without Hitomi I don’t think we can destroy the objects completely, so we’d have to capture them.”
“This really is a mess huh?”
“Yeah that’s why we are helping clean up.”
“No, um, I meant the whole stealing thing. Although you are right about the library too.” Even though the two have been working the whole time as they talked, it hardly looked like they did anything.
“At least we cleaned our little corner here. Now we can get back to our original goal.”
“This is such a rebound from your earlier mood. Well, I suppose it’s better now that I have an idea what we are dealing with.”
“Just a reminder they might also just be petty thugs.”
“Why are you scaring me like that!?” Natsu had forgotten just how scared she was. “Ok, it’s not a problem. There are other people here, so we aren’t alone.”
“Right, so we can always run away and get help. That’s why we should really get looking for the culprit.”
“You really don’t want to clean anymore do you?”
“Yeah me neither.” The two exitted the library only to remember they don’t have a starting point. “Where are we going?”
“Here is my thinking. Tell me if anything sounds weird. There are two places I think we can take off the list. It won’t be in any place used often, and it won’t be in anyone’s home.” Natsu nodded her head in agreement. “If i’ve learned anything thanks to my social studies project, it’s that we don’t really go to many places. That means it should be somewhere in the area, probably at school. And that’s where you come in!” Rose pointed at her, but Natsu had no idea where to go from there.
“You are in the student council right? You knew about the room we used to study, you gotta know what other places aren’t being used!”
“That’s a little hard to remember but…” Natsu ran through whatever she could remember. “Right, okay, there aren’t many empty classrooms. Those that are tend to have club activities.”
“I guess it won’t be easy then. Are there any clubs that don’t meet during the summer?”
“Just the winter sports. Ah! The basketball team! They take the summer off cause they can practice during the colder seasons.”
“We have a basketball team?”
“Pretty sure the school does. I don’t think we went to the same elementary school, but we had one there.”
“Good enough for me! Somewhere in the gym right?”
“Yeah. I’ll lead the way but don’t fall behind.” Natsu took it slowly so that Rose wouldn’t have trouble keeping up. Compared to earlier, the hallways were much more busy as people ran from room to room. The gym was separated by a small outdoors area that could only have happened due to failure of planning when building the school. As expected, the noises from the gym were loud even before opening the door.
“I feel like it’d be hard to sneak things in from this door. Are there other ones?”
“Both doors lead to the main… wait what’s the word for the main part of the gym?”
“I don’t know it in Japanese, but I think it’s called an auditorium in English.”
“Yeah that’s outta my English skills. Well they both lead to that.”
“Wait. Wait wait wait wait.” Rose began jumping up and down excitedly. “Natsu I figured it out! Thank you!”
“I think I’m getting what you're getting at but I think I’m missing something.”
“Remember how the window was open on the second floor? That wasn't because someone jumped, but because they threw something out of the window to the first floor. Or up to the second. That would let someone take stuff from inside without anyone from inside noticing.”
“They could also be using that to dispose of the stolen goods. Well the small ones anyway.”
“That’s what I’m thinking! Let’s look for open windows.”
“There is always the chance that they aren’t getting rid of things at the school but I like how this plan looks. You look around the gym, I’ll look around the school.”
“Are you sure? You could run into the thief.”
“I know, but it’s safer than you’d think with all the people looking for someone from earlier.”
“Good point! You are also faster than me, so it works out. Yell if you find something.”
“Okay. I’ll just return here so please don’t scream. I might freeze up if you do.”
“Will do. Move out!” The two separated to check for any open windows. As soon as Natsu was out of sight, Rose hit herself on the head. It was a symbolic gesture as there was no impact. “I’m such an idiot. Bring that up like that, what was I thinking?!” Rose spoke to herself in English just in case someone near her could eavesdrop. “I mean it’s good that she didn’t make a big deal out of that but I really messed that one up. Ahhhh, I must have looked so lame! Not only that but I keep forgetting what we are doing so I keep suggesting things in the middle of doing something else! I gotta calm down already!” Rose continued to hit her head as she walked around the gym building. “I can’t stop thinking about how lame I was. Come on Rose, you aren’t supposed to be like that. Maybe I should try again with more energy!” Rose pumped herself up to get herself out of the rut she was in since earlier. “Huh? There is an open window. But that’s way too high up to get to without a ladder.” Rose looked up, covering her eyes to stop the sun from messing with her. “I wish I could see inside. Wait, I could have Natsu stand on my shoulders and look into it. Wait, I’m getting caught up again! I should finish what I started.” However her search was in vain. No other windows were open. By the time she was back around, Natsu was waiting for her.
“Any luck? I thought I had found one but we never closed that window from before.”
“Just a tiny bit of luck, but we can manage with that! You wouldn’t happen to be scared of heights would you?”
“How high are we talking about?” Rose brought Natsu around the Gym building to where the open window was. They both looked up to it and continued their conversation. “Yeah I can manage. It’s more things like roller coasters and things like that.”
“We are gonna do it like those cheerleaders you see on TV! I can hold you up thanks to my ability.”
“Wait, that doesn’t make sense. I’ve seen you struggle to lift up heavy things.”
“Well, you know. I’m still very weak so I’m not good at those kinda things.”
“How about I carry you on my back? You are pretty tall so it should be fine right?”
“Alright let’s try it! Use the wall as support.” Rose used Natsu’s hands as support for her feet as she was raised up. Rose placed her hands on top of her head, stretching her body as much as she could to get a look.
“S-See anything? I can’t hold you up for very long.” Rose could barely peek over the bottom of the window.
“I’m gonna lift myself up on the window still. I can’t get a good angle from here.”
“Alright I’ll give you a boost and back away. Here we go.” Rose lifted herself up as much as she could but the boost from Natsu was more effective. Rose could only hold herself up for a moment before falling to the ground. “Are you ok?!”
“Yeah, I can’t be hurt remember?”
“That’s gonna take some getting used to! Geez, I thought you were gonna break your leg or something.”
“No problem!” Rose answered in English. “I honestly didn’t get a good look, but I did see one thing that stuck out. A bike!”
“That’s good. Yeah that’s good! I can’t believe we found something.”
“Determination in the face of hardship leads to positive results.”
“That’s a really complicated sentence you are spouting there.” The two of them laughed even though nothing funny was really said. “Is this how it went when you rescued me? Just stumbling your way through?”
“Mostly just trial and error. Hitomi usually handles the hard stuff. Now all we need to do is-”
‘Rose is that you? What are you still doing at school?’
‘Hitomi! Didn’t you have a track meet earlier?’
‘I finished my race so I’m back to change. You need me to check out the room near the back? I’ll meet you outside.’
‘Ok thank you!’ Rose clapped her hands once, looking over to Natsu who was confused by the sudden silence. “Hitomi is here, so she’s gonna check the gym for us.”
“I don’t know what that word means.”
“Like, talking directly with your mind.”
“I guess so? It’s complicated. I don’t really understand it myself.” Rose shrugged and began moving back to the entrance of the gym. By the time the two of them were at the entrance, Hitomi was waiting with a large bag in hand.
“Good afternoon.” Hitomi looked over at Natsu. This was the first time she noticed, but her eyes seemed to pierce right through her. “I see, so Rose decided to trust you. Thank you for helping her this far.”
“N-no problem.” Natsu stumbled on her words, suddenly feeling out of place.
“Allow me to show you what I found.” Hitomi reached into her bag and grabbed a small hairpin in the shape of a ladybug. “The room was locked, so I had someone unlock it. There was someone who tried to hide but I ran them down and took this off of them. Seems like they thought they were safe cause you two were talking from outside.”
“What is it?” Natsu asked, not seeing anything out of the ordinary with the pin.
“Seems to have some suggestion curse on it. Based on what I could tell, it just made you extremely jealous of various things to the point where you’d do something about it. In this case I guess they stole it. Can we move away from the gym? It’s loud.” The group moved to the entrance of the school where no one was around. “Rose, how can I get rid of this? I can’t let either of you touch it.” Rose scratched her head, growling under her breath. “I’ll just try to overload it. That should be fine.”
“There isn’t anything else we can do. Natsu uh, look away.”
“Eh? Why now?”
“It’s embarrassing.” Hitomi said as she turned away from the group. Rose turned Natsu around. She held her finger to her mouth. There was a flash of blue light and a loud bang behind them. Natsu tried to turn around instinctively but Rose stopped her. “It’s fine, we should get going before people show up.”
“You two go ahead, I need to get my scooter.” Rose into the school and grabbed the folded scooter from the side of her locker. By the time she made it back outside, there were a few people looking at the pieces of plastic on the ground. Rose unfolded the scooter and rode away as quickly as she could. It took a lot of energy to catch up with the two despite them being on foot. Rose could feel the awkward atmosphere even before she arrived. “Good work today everyone!”
“I only arrived at the end. I did rather well in my events today, thanks for asking.”
“That’s good. I'm sorry for keeping you at the school longer than we planned and we didn’t even get much done.”
“Ah.” Natsu stopped in her tracks. “My parents! They are going to kill me! I’ve never stayed later than I told them. What if they think I'm some hooligan?”
“I think you are getting a bit dramatic. Just tell them I needed some extra help. I would go with you but I’m pretty sure your parents think I’m weird.”
“That would be my bad.” Hitomi said, remembering the night of the festival.
“I’ll just tell them I was helping clean up the library. Yeah, that works. Wait this isn’t the way to my house. I’ll see you two later.” Natsu turned around and left the two to talk.
“Rose, are you sure this was the right decision? I can always erase her memory.”
“If you could erase just my terrible attempt at explaining it that would let me sleep better at night.” Hitomi sighed, searching Rose’s memory to see what exactly she was talking about.
“Wow that was bad. I’ll erase it, but you have to make sure you take responsibility.”
“I will! We should get together to tackle this! I’d like to get Ken involved too but I don’t think he’ll be able to keep it to himself.”
“I couldn’t agree more. With both statements but mostly the second one. We have exams coming up soon, so let’s get those out of the way before tackling this.”
“What if something happens in the meantime?!”
“The same thing we have been doing. Well I suppose I didn’t do much this time but you get the point. I’ll be studying in my down time if you want more help.”
“I’ll study like I’ve never studied before! Just you watch!”