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PostPosted: Thu Jan 23, '14, 6:41 am
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(Three years. This has to be some kind of a record or something. Anyway.)

Chapter One- The Lash of Time

(May 28, AW 324, but not as we know it)

"This interview has started on the twenty-eighth of May, After War 324, at... 11:37 PM, Camineet Standard Time. This is Julius Landale, Acting Chief of Security for Baya Mahlay. For the benefit of the recording, I am accompanied by Security Officer Griff Salieri, and His Majesty Ares Ossale the Third."

The dark-haired bluenette cleared his throat before continuing. "This interview pertains to the manner of the murder of Reipard LaShiec, Chief of Security Detail for His Majesty Ares Ossale. Iria Ashleigh, you have been arrested for the murder of Reipard LaShiec. You do not have to say anything if you do not wish to, but it may harm your defense if you do not mention when questioned something which you later rely on in court. Anything you do say may be given in evidence. Do you understand?"

"Julius, is this really necessary?" Ares asked. "She might have saved my life, and we don't know what any of these things are." He gestured to the table between himself and Iria. "Look at her birthdate, man. If this is right, she won't be born for another 2700 years."

"That's a hell of a way to travel back in time," Julius conceded. He paused for a second to drink some water, then added, "This interview is officially concluded same date, 11:39 PM. Officer Salieri, if you would?"

Salieri nodded, leaving the interview room long enough to turn the recorder off. Once he returned, he said, "Sir, I've got the tape right here. Should we file it?"

"No, son. Give it to me."

Julius took the recording from Salieri, then promptly slammed it against the edge of the table, snapping it in half. "There. That takes care of things officially," he remarked.

"Sounds just like the grunts back home," Iria joked. "So... Lord Ares, everyone? Where should I begin?"

"I'm not so sure, myself. Somewhere between the pointed ears, or why LaShiec specifically, or any of these tools..." Julius gestured to Iria's property, scattered about the interrogation room's table. "They seem to be just like weapons and things from our time, but-"

"That's where the similarities end," Ares interrupted. "Even her ID card's unusual. Feel that."

".....Feels like metal, M'Lord."

Iria nodded. "It is," she said. "It's laminated in laconia."

"Laminated? You can really get laconia this thin, or this transparent?"

"Yes, Lord Ares. You can thank the Dezolians for that- they call it an improvement on their typical laconia refinement." Iria smiled. "Well, I suppose you could leave a note for the future."

Ares nodded. "I don't know about that, but... for all we know, killing Reipard LaShiec may have created an alternate universe. Now, whether this is how things truly were meant to go or not, that's not up to us to decide."

"I doubt she's here on a sightseeing expedition, Sire," Julius replied. "She killed Reipard. She admitted to it. I don't think we would have been having this conversation in the history she's from."

"Probably not. After all, you're both long dead from my perspective, and I won't even be conceived for another 2700 years from your point of view." Iria chuckled, then added, "Unless I changed something by killing LaShiec. I hope so."

"What do you mean?" Ares asked her. "There could be a whole slew of changes in history now that LaShiec's dead, Iria."

"I know. But the change I hope..." The blue-haired woman sighed. "I had a friend, back in my time. My best friend. Her name was Rico. She..." There was a long pause before Iria added, "She died. Because of me."

"Because of you?" Julius interrupted. "Did you kill her?"

".....Yes and no." A tear forced its way past Iria's eye, rolling down her cheek. "That's all I want to say about it. That's all I can say, anyway."

"All right. I won't pry, then." Ares rose from his seat, then motioned for Julius and Iria to do the same. "If you don't mind my asking, Miss Ashleigh... what are all these?"

"All these," based on how Area was motioning, happened to be the collection of Iria's equipment spread on the table. Iria sweatdropped, clearly unsure as to how to answer the king's question. After some thought, she said, "Well, to be honest, that's a sword. I know, it looks more like a curling iron, but that just channels the photon energy it uses."

"Photon energy?"

"I've heard of that, Sire," Julius replied. "It's the technology that helps laser swords keep their shape."

"Oh. Well, this is ultraviolet based. It's a denser EM wavelength, so you get a 'sharper' blade. Same principle, though!" Iria smiled. "I'm proud of that."

"And that harness you were wearing under your dress?" Julius asked.

"It's just a chestplate, with some photon screen emitters. When you deal with energy weapons, you need all the protection you can get. I'm sure you understand." Iria then gestured to the strange sleevelike object on the table. "That would be a barrier unit. That's a zero-point energy emitter-- it helps deflect energy weapons and Techniques."

"Techniques?" Ares asked her. "Like the Espers can use?"

"Sort of. We don't really have many people who know magic in my time, because everyone relies on psionic Techniques. Those little things sticking out of the barrier unit that look like clear circuit boards help stimulate your psionic cortex. It's... it's like magic, I guess." Iria decided.

Julius held up the final object on the table, a small round tube. "And this?"

Iria sighed, collecting her gear. "It's lipstick," she said. "It makes a woman's lips red and shiny. Makeup hasn't changed much over 2700 years, Mister Landale."

Julius sweatdropped as Ares laughed at the joke. "So, what happens next, Miss Ashleigh? Do you have a means to get home?"

"I think so. From what I remember, I had my barrier set to a certain frequency just before I left my time. I was using Foie when I got sent back..." Reaching for the barrier unit, Iria swapped out two of the colored circuit boards among the available slots; a red one and a dark blue one. She strapped the barrier to her arm, then finished, "So the opposite should be true. Barta should get me back home."

"Well, we can't exactly prosecute her," Ares said, noticing Julius starting to open his mouth in protest. "She won't even be born for three thousand years."

"But she still killed Reipard. She has to have some accountability, Sire."

"Maybe this was meant to happen, Julius. She saved my life. She saved Hera's, and possibly little Alisa's, too."

"And I'm glad she did, but..." Julius groaned. "Far be it from me to say so, but I don't think ending one life to save two is a good idea. Three if you count her friend's."

"And who knows how many others?" Ares replied. He heaved a sigh, then said, "Julius, you should let this one go."

"I wish I could."

"Julius Landale, you are my sworn aide, and a very good friend. Nero would do well to follow your example when he grows up. I know you're looking out for my best interests, but... sometimes you just have to realize things happen for a reason."

Julius nodded-- eventually. "I understand. Speaking of reason, our friend from the future's gone."

"Gone?" Ares looked at the chair where Iria had been sitting moments before, not noticing the barely audible pop that accompanied her vanishing. "I guess that Barta, whatever it was, sent her back home?"

"Perhaps. How carefully were you listening to her, Sire?"

Ares raised an eyebrow. "What do you mean?"

"About what she was saying about her stuff. Things we don't have. Things that could benefit Algo, Sire."

"Do you think we can replicate it, though?" Ares wondered. "Just looking at that sword of hers alone... you'd need to develop uvasers [he pronounced it to rhyme with "lasers"] and a new class of ceramics. The harmonic resonator for the photon field--"

"--Would make a nice challenge for the scientists. Besides..." Julius pointed at the table. A couple colored, nearly transparent circuit boards were left on the table, apparently forgotten by Iria in her departure. Julius picked one up at random, holding it between himself and the king of Algo, looking through it like a lens, before finishing, "It looks burned out, but even still, this... 'tech disk,' she called it... is years of research right here. Decades, even."

Holding his chin in thought, Ares finally nodded. "All right, all right. You've convinced me. Let the scientists know first thing in the morning. Mark my words, Julius. This will truly be the dawn of Algo's golden age."

-=-=-

(AW 3084, somewhere in Algo)

Algo was devastated.

She had rematerialized on the bridge of a starship, as far as she could tell, and from both the view out the bridge's viewscreen as well as the instruments before her, Iria could see scorch marks running across the central landmass on Palma's surface. Massive black-brown scars peppered the landscape over what had been every major city, and the once-blue waters had turned a sickly rust color. Motavia and Dezolis, according to the sensors, hadn't fared much better: The blue-haired Hunter could see the Motavian mainland had been shattered by what she guessed to be some kind of massive particle weapon, and a vast majority of the Motavian desert had been melted into blackened glass. As for Dezolis, very little of its frozen surface remained. Something- Iria couldn't begin to fathom a guess as to what- had melted almost all the snow and ice of the frozen world, leaving what could only be a massive makeshift city on the Altiplano Plateau, the sole remaining above-water land on Dezolis.

"What the hell happened?!" she asked, as if trying to fathom what she had missed in her temporal absence. "What in God's name did this?!"

"You've got to be kidding, right?"

No. It can't be. You can't be. It's impossible, Iria thought as she heard the female voice to her side. You're dead. I killed you. But... alternate future...

She was afraid to turn around, afraid to see if she really was there. Slowly, tentatively, Iria looked to her side, not knowing if she was experiencing temporal disorientation. She saw brown hair, one single lock dyed blue. A pair of slim glasses. A Palman naval uniform.

"Rico? Rico Tyrell?"

The brown-haired woman looked at Iria, confused. "Iria?" she asked. "I know we got the hell out of Camineet in a hurry, but, seriously, what's with the dress? You're not planning on seducing Ash again, are you?"

"Out of Camineet? Rico. Please, tell me. What happened?"

Rico blinked, giving Iria a strange stare. "First you show up on the bridge wearing a dress that says 'Please stare at my chest' instead of your uniform, now you're asking about what happened to Algo? You're sure you're all right, Iria? You didn't hit your head again?"

"I..." Iria sweatdropped, then decided that the truth would not be the best option. "Yeah. You know those, uh, samoflanges," she stammered. "They'll just spring up at you!"

"True enough. Iria, look out the window. See what happened to Algo and her planets?" Rico didn't wait for a response from the bluenette, instead pointing at moving gray flecks dotting the space between Palma and Dezolis. "They came about five or so years ago. They're called the Earthmen."

"Another species?" Iria asked. "Like numans or casts?"

"Not really- they look just like us, except no greens or blues in their hair. When they first showed up, they claimed to have come to Algo as refugees, seeking asylum. We welcomed them with open arms, but they started demanding more and more from us. They wanted all the laconia on Dezolis. Then the Earthmen demanded we ban space travel- something to do with how it affects their FTL drives. Silver, gold, platinum, titanium, silicon and quartz, precious gems... all manner of precious materials, strip-mined from Palma. The takeover of Zelan and Kuran Stations. And when our... guests... finally wore out their welcome, they decided we had to go." Rico sighed, unable to turn away from the sight of ruined Algo. "We tried our best to fight back, but they overwhelmed us. There's just so many of them. Some of us fought back, most were killed, some hopped some small ships and fled the system. The Motavians and Dezolians... the Earthmen killed about ninety percent of them. It was all we could do to build these ships and escape, looking for a new home. It's a damn shame..."

"So, this is the Pioneer II?"

"Yeah. One of two hundred ships seeking refuge about sixty light-years away- some star called Ragol. From nine billion people living on three planets to three hundred million running to one, all because of five years... I wish those Earthmen never-"

An alarm blared, drowning out Rico as red lights flickered to life. Iria could sense the source of the alarm just by looking at her friend's eyes- it could only be these mysterious Earthmen. Immediately, Iria looked to her left, to "her" captain. Her eyes widened- the last time she had seen the captain, he was being trounced into unconsciousness by rappies on the surface of Ragol.

"Ash?" she asked herself.

"Captain Ash!" one of the officers announced. "The Earthmen are scanning us!"

"Are they headed towards us?" Ash asked.

"Yes." A second's hesitation, then: "Captain, we're being hailed."

"Unusual. Normally they'd fire their particle guns by now. Put them on screen."

Nodding, the officer complied. To Iria's mercy, the hellish view of Algo had disappeared, replaced with a stern-looking, cruel male face; a face Iria could only guess was an Earthman's. "This is Captain Ash of the Pioneer II," Ash stated to the face on-screen. "So, to what do we owe the honor?"

"This is Commander Gimlak of the Third Squadron," the Earthman replied. "The issue of the illegal technology installed aboard your starship aside, there is a matter we must discuss. We have detected a temporal anomaly aboard your ship."

"Temporal?" Ash wondered. "Commander, some of the men and women aboard this ship have mastery over some temporal-based magics, but nothing very powerful-"

"This goes beyond your pathetic 'magic,' Palman. This temporal anomaly is centered aboard a life form whose exact life signs are duplicated within your vessel. Do not deny it-- you have been experimenting with flowen resonance."

Voices aboard the bridge started murmuring among each other, the very essence of rumors starting to form as crewmen started speculating and guessing about the alien's words. Ash dismissed the voices with a wave of his hand. "And you think we have something to do with it?" he asked.

"Yes. We know that the anomalous being is aboard your vessel. You will submit her to us, or we will destroy your ship. You have two minutes to comply."

"Captain, shall I raise shields?"

"No," Ash responded. "No shields, no missiles, no gravity bolts. We'll have to find this anomaly- fast."

"Sir." Iria rose from her chair, striding towards the center of the bridge. "Capt- Ash, I think I'm that anomaly Gimlak wants."

"Commander Ashleigh..." Ash could only sigh, getting as close to "Where do I begin?" as he could without actually saying it. After a second's pause, he continued, "I'm not sure the first-name basis is warranted at the moment, and I'm not quite sure how you appeared on my bridge without me noticing you, and out of uniform as well, but... continue."

"It's a very long story. One that I don't think we have the time for me to tell it." And none of you need to-- or probably want to-- hear about Dark Force, or Olga Flow, or Shambertin, she thought. "That's all I can say, As- Captain."

Ash looked at Iria, and for a second the bluenette swore his eyes were wandering up and down her figure. She tried not to blush-- when she had helped him fight off the rappies on Ragol, he had done the exact same thing. Except I was wearing a Guardian uniform and a shielded body frame back then, not my "center-of-attention" dress and "kiss me" lipstick.

Finally, as if breaking up the awkward moment, Ash nodded. "All right, Commander Ash... Iria. If you will."

Iria smirked in response, then turned to face the unsmiling alien. "Hello there, Commander Gimlak of Earth's Third Squadron!" she announced, laying on the cheer. "Submitted for the approval of the Earthmen as a species, me-- your temporal anomaly!"

A blue beam shot forth from the communication monitor, tracing across Iria's skin as Gimlak referred to a second screen. What seemed to be numbers, charts, and unknown writing appeared around Iria as the energy danced across her. The information disappeared after several seconds, and the beam with it. The Earthman muttered to himself, a low throaty sound, for some seconds as he seemed to consider the ponderous information gleaned from the scan before he spoke again.

"You are steeped in flowen resonance... You are not of this timeline." It was a blunt statement, bordering on accusation.

"Nope," Iria concurred. "I had some selfish reasons for it, but I put a lot of work into this timeline."

"Your reasons are not important, Iria Ashleigh. Are these worlds important to you?

Rico and Ash winced, noticing the offended expression on Iria's face as she spoke. "'Important?' What the hell is that supposed to mean?!" she demanded. "In my timeline, twelve billion people- six whole species!- live here! Is that 'important?!' Here's a better question for you, Gimlak- were these worlds ever a threat to the Earthmen?"

"Iria, calm down," Rico quietly pleaded. "We don't want to tick off the scary alien who can blow the ship up..."

"Commander, perhaps a more... diplomatic approach would be more useful."

Ash had a point: The Earthman hadn't responded, only staring down at Iria, contempt barely concealed on his face. "Well?" Iria continued. "You've been monitoring every visiphone, every communication everyone in Algo has ever put out over the past half-decade! You tell me, Commander Gimlak: Is. Algo. A. Threat?"

Gimlak gave a brief nod to the crew of the Pioneer as holographic images suddenly appeared before them. Iria recognized what she was seeing immediately: Palma, then Motavia and Dezolis as they appeared in Alisa Landale's time-- pristine; virginal; untouched by the Earthmen. The images seemed to have been pulled directly from either Iria's mind or the ship's general encyclopedium; she couldn't tell which.

"No," Gimlak replied.

"Are the people of Algo guilty of any crimes by the laws of the Earthmen?"

The images of the planets disappeared, replaced this time with images of the people of Algo as Iria had seen them- Palman families smiling, laughing, playing; Motavian kart gangs racing across the dunes of their desert world, taking potshots at sand worms; Dezolians shepherding their kin in religious rituals; even numans and casts appeared, the results of Algo's twenty-fourth century technological renaissance. Ash noticed an image of himself appear for a fraction of a second; to him, the image appeared as a slightly more heroic version of himself, but he chalked that up to how Iria perceived him.

Finally, the images disappeared, one by one, replaced with Gimlak's voice, almost resigned as he said "No."

"Good. One more question for you: Are these worlds protected?"

Once more, Gimlak projected images through the viewscreen. This time, the images definitely seemed to have been pulled from the Pioneer's encyclopedium, rather than Iria's mind: Reipard LaShiec, clad in his ceremonial armor, laughing menacingly; Dark Force breathing nova-like fire; Mother Brain in her four-armed radiance; a three-headed Dark Force...

"You wouldn't be the first threats Algo's ever seen, Gimlak of the Earthmen," Iria stated as the images appeared around her-- images of Zio, the goddess of death called the Profound Darkness, before moving on to the threats Iria had fought on Ragol: Dark Force, Olga Flow, and Shambertin.

"And all you have to ask, Earthman, is this: What happened to them?"

"Each of these threats have fallen. Valiant bands have stepped up, each one led by a hero, all of the same blood."

"And which bloodline would that be?" Iria asked, stepping aside as Gimlak transmitted one final set of images through the comm channel.

The images were like looking at a living history exhibit. Nobody felt the need to speak, as the image of a beautiful brown-haired woman appeared on the ship's bridge, a long sword and shield held ready for battle. The image then cycled, and Gimlak could see it display, one after the other, a veritable gallery of heroes, who fought the unimaginable forces of darkness itself over the course of three millennia, and lived to tell the tale, time and time again. After a few seconds, Iria stepped through the image of the green-haired man, dissipating it as a form of symbolism as she stared down the human commander on the viewscreen. "Hello. I'm Iria Ashleigh," she stated, matter-of-fact to Gimlak's image. "Basically... pray."

Immediately, the communication channel went dead. Ash and the bridge crew heaved a sigh of relief. "That was freaking awesome, Iria," Ash said. "I think we actually scared that damn human off!"

"Yeah, serves them right!" Rico added. "Now how about we give the same speech to the other three hundred or so ships the Earthmen brought with them?"

"Well, if we're lucky, they'll back off on us. Or they're sending the message along their fleet." Ash settled in his command chair, relaxing slightly. "Ashleigh, get to your post. Astrogation, set course for Ragol, top speed."

Iria nodded, then looked around the bridge. She had never had any need to ever set foot on Pioneer II's bridge before her involuntary time travel; she had only had a basic understanding of just where anything on the bridge was, to begin with. And if we're leaving because of Earthmen, instead of desertification, who knows what else is different? she thought.

"Psssst." Rico nudged Iria gently with her elbow, whispering in her ear. "You're on a science station today. Third station left from the turbolift." The tone in her voice implied that she could easily sense her friend's confusion and discomfort.

Iria gave Rico a nod, then walked over to the station Rico mentioned. The unfamiliar display on-screen didn't do much to clear her confusion. She could make out a vague outline of Pioneer II, then raised an eyebrow. She had seen the ship when she boarded it, but there were differences on the display.

Pioneer II looked, according to the diagnostic display, similar to, but not exactly like, the Pioneer II she remembered.

First Rico, then the Earthmen... even Pioneer's changed. What happened? I'm a scientist now? What's going--

The ship suddenly reeled, the force of an explosion cascading through the hull. Crew scattered as they were thrown around the bridge by the sudden motion. Iria suddenly found herself viewing the bridge from four inches off the floor as Ash shouted, "Shields! Shields! What the hell was that?!"

"Captain, that was one of the Earthmen ships! They're opening fire!"

"Damn... can we return fire?"

Iria picked herself up from the deck, trying to tune out the blaring alarms filling the deck. "Don't we just have basic weapons?" she asked. "We're just a colony ship!"

"Yeah, but we still pack a punch! Security, ready the photon cannons."

As she rose, Iria could see indigo-colored bursts launch forth into space. "Those must be the cannons," she said, half to herself. "Those look almost like... ours."

The ship rocked again. An officer called out, "Sir! Hull breach on the colony deck! Shields collapsing!"

"...Evacuate the ship. We can't go anywhere like this."

"Wait, Captain." Rico looked over to Ash. She nudged her glasses up her nose before she continued, "You know those damn Earthmen. They'll just fire on the escape pods."

"I know, but... I'm going to buy you some time. Commander Tyrell..." Ash sighed. "Get off my bridge. All of you. That's an order."

Most of the officers didn't need to be told twice-- they took off running as soon as Ash gave the general evacuation order. "Captain... Ash, I'm not going anywhere," Rico said. "It's safer up here. Besides, you need a good helmsman!"

Ash sighed. He spun in his chair and said, "I suppose so. Rico, take the helm. ...Iria, I don't suppose you want to leave?"

"I..." She wasn't sure what to say. Slowly, as if her legs were made of lead, she walked over to Ash's side at the command chair. "I think they're attacking because of me."

"You think so?" Ash asked. "Rico, open fire with all kinetic weapons."

"Yeah. I can't help but feel like they're attacking because I'm some kind of temporal anomaly."

"Like they want to fix time?" As Ash spoke, thousands of kinetic lances fired from the Pioneer's gun nodes, some striking the large gray ship rapidly filling the viewscreen. The opponent returned fire with its particle guns, the brilliant pink blasts striking and shaking the ship.

"Damn... Ash, we're out of lances! I need to reload them manually-- the gun crew's got off the ship!" Rico shouted. Ash replied with a nod, and Rico ran towards the turbolift as quickly as she could.

Iria was alone on the bridge with Ash. "I have to fix this," she said. "I don't know how... but I can fix this. Somehow."

"Go to it, then, Commander," Ash replied. Iria could tell from his voice that he was resigned to his fate, and they both knew it. "You were always good at fixing problems, Iria."

"I try." She looked down at her barrier unit, just long enough to tap in a command and move some Tech Disks around (Where are the rest of these? she thought), then back up to Ash. "Look, this... this may come out weird, but--"

"I know. I've seen the theories on flowen resonance," Ash told her. "If you do change the past... if you wipe out the Earthmen... if you save Algo..."

"Yes?"

"Remember us, all right? Remember our struggle. Remember what happened to Algo. And never forget."

Iria managed a weak, understanding nod. Then she reached for Ash, pulling him in close. Her lips found his immediately, and Iria felt him resisting for just a moment before embracing her. Iria's tongue gently tested Ash's lips, as if seeking permission, before he relented, allowing the kiss to deepen. After a few (too few, both thought) seconds, Iria pulled away, looking Ash in the eyes.

"I'll remember," she whispered, then pulled herself away from Ash. Her barrier unit was staring to emanate a faint aura, alternating red and blue. "...Goodbye."

Ash was about to say something to Iria, but as the words came to him, the aura surrounded Iria, consuming her, leaving only a barely audible pop as air rushed in to fill the space she occupied. All that he could say was "...Goodbye, Iria."

Seconds later, one of the Earthmen's particle shots perforated the bridge, compromising the hull. Some of the pink energy swirled and faded where Iria had stood, but that didn't matter to Ash.

In the end, he wasn't sure what killed him-- either the high-energy particle cannon fire that tore through Pioneer II, the ship's engines overloading and exploding in a massive photonic burst, or the lack of oxygen as the compromised hull gave way, the vacuum of space beckoning.

-=-=-

Nero Landale was gasping for breath. He held his sword high, pressed against his opponent's blade, struggling for quarter. The face behind the mask was emotionless, as far as he could tell, so he couldn't glean any possible advantage from his opponent's face.

"I won't lose," he said, pressing forward in the saber lock. "I can't lose. Not here."

His white-clad opponent said nothing. Nero at least knew that they were on even ground: No face to read, similar swords, similar clothes. The blue-haired man tried to force both swords to his right in an effort to free his blade and ready a swing, but his opponent was ready for him. With a grunt, Nero found his sword ripped from his hand. His opponent's sword pulled back, and with one swift thrust, it was over. The sword made contact with Nero's chest.

Bzzzzzzzzt. The electronic scoreboard signaled that Nero had lost a point, and the match. He sighed in resignation, removing his mask. "Damn it. I really thought I had it that time," he said. "You're getting better."

"Of course I am!" The voice behind his opponent's mask was female: Warm, full of energy, sweet. "I'm learning from the best, after all!"

"What can I say? You're a natural."

With a chuckle, Nero's opponent removed her own mask. Brown hair cascaded to her shoulders as it was freed from the mask, and a pair of blue eyes sparkled with delight at her victory. "That's what Father says, too." she replied. "I've never really known him to be much of a swordsman, though..."

"Don't worry about it, Princess. I'm sure he's full of surprises."

"*sigh* Nero, what have I told you?" the woman asked. "Win or lose, it's just 'Alisa.' Not 'Princess' or 'Princess Alisa,' just 'Alisa.'"

Nero's turn to chuckle. He didn't know why, but he always enjoyed it when Alisa scolded him for calling her the princess she was. "All right, all right, I got it," he said. "I'll see you after your magic lesson, all right?"

"Looking forward to it. Just let Miss Suelo know I'll be running late-- I left my spell unit in my bedroom."

Nero nodded, and the two parted ways-- fortunately for Alisa, just in time to conceal the blush spreading across her cheeks. She sighed as she walked through the palace, still excited over her fencing victory. Nero's getting better, too, she thought. I like that.

It was only a few minutes' walk to her bedroom. Once inside, she shed her fencing gear, then set a jeweled pink headband in her hair. Looking in a mirror, Alisa grabbed her hair, holding it up in twintails for a few seconds. She smiled, then released her hair. I wonder if Nero likes twintails?

Next to the mirror, a metal sleeve was resting, about the size of Alisa's forearm. She reached for the sleeve, struggling to lift it from the table. "...What the hell?" she wondered. "Why is this so heavy?"

She strained again, then without warning, easily hoisted the spellsleeve up and off the table. There was almost no weight to it, and Alisa could feel her headband starting to lift from her hair. Cautiously, she looked around the bedroom. Her sword, jewelry, even her Sega Master System-- everything made of metal and not fastened was starting to levitate.

Alisa approached her sword, plucking it from the air. As she pulled it from its scabbard, a red aura formed between her and the door. The aura shifted every second or so-- red, blue, red, blue-- and a vaguely human-shaped figure started to form.

Within seconds, the aura vanished, leaving only a woman whose blue hair was tied in an impossibly long ponytail, her blue dress cut to tastefully reveal her figure. Alisa looked at her, noticing a device similar to her own on the woman's left arm.

Then her ears. Aside from the slight pointed tips, they almost resembled a Palman's ears. Then her eyes. Blue, almost the same shade as her own.

The bluenette gave a pained groan, then sank to her knees. Only once she faceplanted did Alisa finally call for a guard.
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