Magical Juggernaut Heather Crunch II

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Here we stand amidst a sea of fire, the Soul Temperer and I. Hills have crumbled in our clash. Trees have become ash and timber. CHASMS have opened, both by my blows and by her own power. The heat has grown so intense that bits of rubble have begun to -melt-. She has been battered, bruised, and bloodied, yet still she stands tall. Panting, perhaps, but still going. Meanwhile, I myself have not a SINGLE scratch to show for her efforts.

…So why am I so tired? It's just barely sunset, and already I am feeling fatigued from the fight. I’m leaning against my Eversword for support after a scant few hours of heated combat!

"Is this all that you are capable of, Truth-Seeker?" the Soul Temperer scoffs, sheathing her weapon. The flames around us die, and the Valley of Eight Million Gods grows dark. "A scuffle until the sun's rays die down? Need you the light of the heavens to guide your sword, rather than your own inner light?"

"HA!" I shout, breathing heavily and wiping the sweat from my brow. "I barely felt your attacks!"

"Then do you intend to simply stand there and weather my blows, o crumbling mountain?" the Soul Temperer sneers, not showing any trace of a smile. "You are in no shape to fight back."

Gritting my teeth, I pull my Eversword out and shakily approach my opponent. Even ignoring its weight doesn't make me feel any lighter, and I end up using it as a crutch. Still, I INSIST, "I can still fight!"

She refuses to believe me. "Walk toward me under your own power, Seeker of Enlightenment," she retorts, arms folded, "and I will believe you."

"Nngh..." I groan, pulling my blade out and immediately stumbling. The bitter taste of ash fills my mouth as I fall.

"It is said more can be learned from failure than victory," the Soul Temperer explains, pulling me up until we’re nose to nose. “Come; let us sift for knowledge in the sands of battle, back at the temple.”

…Get your hands off my butt.

There is something calming about this room. It’s not the large, deep fountain bubbling away at the center. It’s not the arrangement of sand, rocks, and plants in the corner. And it’s definitely not the ‘bed’ of spikes that the Soul Temperer is sitting on the edge of.

No, it’s the swords that line the walls. SWORDS! Blades from all over the world, each hung up as a trophy of BATTLE! Some in better shape than others, but ALL of them lovingly preserved! It reminds me of home, and makes me feel somewhat less anxious.

“Now then, Seeker of Truth,” begins the Soul Temperer, “let us unravel the thread of the quilt that smothers you. What do you believe is the problem?”

“…I’ve been having strange thoughts since I’ve arrived here,” I inform her, hands curling into fists and cheeks burning in shame. “They distract me, and LEECH away at my strength and conviction!”

“It sounds like an influence from a malevolent spirit,” the Soul Temperer observes.

“Yes, a curse,” I muse. “One that FILLS my mind with doubt and-“I shudder in displeasure, the word leaving a bitter taste in my mouth “-lust.”

The Soul Temperer leans forward, getting uncomfortably close. “And these thoughts of lust,” she inquires, “toward whom are they being directed?”

“A sadistic, sociopathic DEMON!” I snarl, roaring the accursed name: “NAKAJIMAAAA!”

“Oh.” The Soul Temperer falls back, disappointed. She takes a moment to speak again, asking, “Which one?”

“Er… The incessantly cheery one,” I clarify. “Amber.”

“The Child of Chaos,” she murmurs.

I nod in agreement, though the Soul Temperer says no more. I speak again, my voice quiet as my face grows hotter, “…things happened the other day and now she keeps invading my mind, making me wonder if I should have let her leave when she did.” I gaze imploringly at the Soul Temperer, beseeching her, “How do I lift this despicable curse?”

The Soul Temperer smiles, and patronizingly pats me on the head. “Seeker of Enlightenment, you are not cursed,” she declares. “You are merely ill.”’


The Soul Temperer …giggles, for some reason, and then explains my malady to me clearly: “You are lovesick.”

“…-WHAT-?” I scream, my body all but bursting into flames from a sudden rush of heat.

“What you are suffering from is infatuation,” she continues, folding her hands over her chest. “It is the budding flower that, if nurtured, blossoms into love.”

“WHY?!” I implore her. “HOW?!!” My hands instinctively fly to cover my face and hide my shame. No no no, this is not happening. This CANNOT be happening!

“Love finds a way,” the Soul Temperer insists. “It is, after all, the strongest force in the universe; a fundamental truth, more important than any science or magic!”

“I just…” I try to make words, but my tongue’s tied. I struggle against it, whispering, “ME? And HER?” There’s no way…

Yet it makes so much sense. It explains -everything-.

“Yes, Seeker of Wisdom!” the Soul Temperer cheers, adding, “And by the look on your face, you have reached your epiphany of love much sooner than most!”

…I can’t help but laugh at all of this.

The Soul Temperer is rightly confused at this. But before she can make any concerned inquiry, I issue my proclamation.

“I get it,” I tell her earnestly. “I finally get it!” My face splits into a wide grin. “Yes, it’s love!” I exclaim.

All the times that I’ve been drawn to admiring her form… The feelings of wanting to protect her… The giddiness her presence filled me with… That desire to continue holding her, if just to be near her…

I should have recognized something so familiar right away.

“So you accept it, then, Seeker of Enlightenment?” the Soul Temperer asks.

“HELL! NO!” I scream at her and stomp my foot, the heat of embarrassment fanning into flames of rage. Hated memories begin to boil at the back of my mind, invited by that DISGUSTING, CONTEMPTIBLE word!

The force of my words drives the Soul Temperer back! “I-I don’t understand,” she meekly replies – the GALL OF HER! She is, for reasons I JUST CANNOT FATHOM, actually -BAFFLED- by my response, when I’M the one who can’t believe this absurdity!

“Then LET ME explain it to you CLEARLY” I hiss, leaning in close enough that my breath makes her flinch with every vitriolic syllable uttered. “LOVE is not a FLOWER… It is a WEED!” I scream! “A PESTILENCE! A BLIGHT upon one’s soul!”

“Your emotions are as turbulent as the stormy seas!” exclaims the ASTONISHINGLY MISGUIDED SOUL TEMPERER! “What is it that-“ I silence her by covering her mouth. I can’t even bear to LOOK at such IGNORANCE! HOW CAN ANYBODY DEFEND IT?!

“LOVE is a WEAKNESS!” I proclaim, storming away towards her little zen garden, hands twitching. “LOVE BLINDS YOU to the truth! LOVE makes you see things that NEVER EVEN EXISTED!”

“Truth-Seeker, please,” that annoying girl screeches, “you must listen to your heart and-“


I toss the broken heap in front of me and think of THAT memory, where I saw ‘love’ for all that it was! And prepare to do to it what I did to that boy's most treasured possessions!


I pull my leg back!


And I kick!


When the mass bursts to kindling upon the ceiling, rattling the blades along the walls, it fills me with a small measure of satisfaction. It wasn’t as satisfying as the actual deed was, but it’s enough to calm me a little, and bury those memories again.

…I’d forgotten how tired I was, though. As the righteous indignation fades, weariness comes crashing back down on me once more.

Looking at the shocked expression of the Soul Temperer, I reiterate my position. “I did not come all the way out here to be strung along by some girl,” I tell her, adding, “A girl, who, I might add, has tried to humiliate, poison, and murder me.”

Finally finding her voice, the Soul Temperer queries, “questionable partners aside, is that really what you believe, Truth-Seeker?”

Striding back over, my words and movements the EPITOME of calmness, I -carefully- explain to her, “I came out here for self-betterment, and –not- to fall back into disgusting old habits.”

“Be that as it may,” she retorts, “why are you running away from love, rather than confronting it head on?”

…I don’t have an answer for that. Why –am- I running away from it?

Love gave birth to someone like you after all, a voice rings out in my mind. I ignore it.

“What you described is all true,” the Soul Temperer continues. “Love can be abused and exploited.” She heaves a heavy sigh and then smiles. “But when it isn’t-”

“No,” I interrupt, frowning again. “Keep your juvenile delusions of romance, but don’t ever drag me into them.”

“You only have your own experiences to fall back on,” the Soul Temperer chides me. “You won’t listen to the words of others, and yet you insist that your way is the only right way.”

“I’m NOT wrong, though!” I tell her, stamping my foot. “I know I’m not!”

The Soul Temperer frowns at me. “Isn’t that attitude why you’re here, o foolish Seeker of Wisdom?” she asks.


“The frog in the well knows nothing of the great ocean," she continues. "You should take in different perspectives on a subject."

"What, just... just go ask people what they think love is?" I inquire incredulously.

The Soul Temperer nods her head. "Yes. That is your assignment for tonight,” she informs me. “Gather the definition of 'love' from many different people, and challenge your own frame of reference." She smirks at me in an irritating manner. "Surely this isn't too much for you, is it?"

"...No. I'll do it," I say with a resigned sigh.

It seems good enough for her, and her smile softens. "Good," she says, pointing towards the hallway. "Now go, Seeker of Wisdom. You are not welcome back here until tomorrow."

"What? Why?"

"You have gained an oppressive aura, Truth-Seeker," she warns, moving in disgustingly close. "It is disrupting the-"

I shove her away. "Forget I asked,” I grumble, slouching forward from exhaustion. “I don’t even care anymore."

The Soul Temperer grabs me by the shoulder, pulling me upright. “Then at least let me take you to the gates myself,” she insists.

I lean against her and just nod vaguely as she guides me out of the room and through the hall. My footsteps are uneven and uncertain, a stark contrast to the sure strides of the Soul Temperer. Her hand is moving south again, but I just feel too worn down to even protest at this point, the voice in my head cackling at my weakness.

Before I know it, we’re standing outside the entrance, and the Soul Temperer releases me. I stumble a bit before regaining my footing, walking forward. Before I head out, she gives me a reminder: “Remember to draw on your own light to guide you, and not simply that of your soul gem.”

"Yeah, yeah…” I mumble, “I'll have my answers to this… conundrum by tomorrow."

“Farewell, Seeker of Enlightenment," calls the distant voice of the Soul Temperer, followed by the sound of the heavy gates slamming shut behind me.

…Well, THAT was a bit much, wasn’t it? Everybody here must be ill or something. Still, the Soul Temperer raised a good point: I need some outside perspective on things.

The light of the moon and the stars provides just enough illumination for me to not trip over my own feet on the slog back to town. There are storm clouds gathering on the horizon, though, so it’ll probably start raining later on. Hope there isn’t any lightning. I hate lightning.

Well, thunder, anyway. Hate thunder. Hate thunderstorms. I should have checked the weather when I left, but a certain someone made me forget to do so. Dammit, Nakajima.

…AAAAGH! ENOUGH MOPING AROUND! I am NOT going to let something as frivolous as THIS get the better of me! For though the sun may have called it quits for the day, I’M NOT GOING DOWN SO EASILY!

That’s one reason he cheated—OH, HUSH, YOU!

I continue the long trek back to my temporary residence, retrieving my cell phone from my inventory. Once I have it in my hand, my magical costume begins flaking away until only the finely tailored uniform I wore this morning remains. With the protection and stamina afforded by my costume gone, the pain and exhaustion attempt to overwhelm me again. BUT I AM STRONGER! SO! MUCH! STRONGER! Even if EVERYTHING conspires to stop me, I WILL OVERCOME IT!


HA! I’m so good I surprise myself!

NOW that I am once more properly FIRED UP, it’s time to deal with the task at hand! My meandering steps become a PURPOSEFUL gait, my bearing and expression of SUPREME CONFIDENCE! I POWER on the phone and UNdo the screen lock before I swipe my finger to bring up the voice commands. The INSTANT it indicates it is listening, I call out the FIRST and most RELIABLE NAME in my list of contacts!


The phone rings once. Twice. Three times. And soon enough I hear a pre-recorded message: “Yoooo! This is Kyoko Sakura; I'm probably asleep or eating right now! Leave a message after the beep, and have a MAXIMUM day!"


Well, I should have expected that.

BUT! It’s NOT ENOUGH to douse my BURNING RESOLVE! I take a deep breath and holler, “KYOKOOOO! THIS is HEATHER CRUNCH! HOW HAVE YOU BEEN? The reason I call is as part of the training I mentioned before. For the Soul Temperer has asked me to reach out and acquire OUTSIDE PERSPECTIVES on something!”

I sigh a little and lower my voice, scratching at the back of my head in embarrassment. “Which is love,” I state clearly. “She wants me to get a bunch of people to tell me what love is supposed to mean to them. It’s RIDICULOUS, isn’t it?” Saying it out loud, it actually –does- sound silly. I let out a hearty chuckle before wrapping up my call, “but your assistance and input is -still- greatly appreciated! CALL ME BACK WHEN YOU CAN!” I almost hang up, but FIRST A REMINDER: “AND STOP FORGETTING YOUR PHONE!”

And THEN I end the call.

Well, that wasn’t so bad. Who’s next? A name springs to mind, thanks to recent events, and I speak into my phone once more.


THIS time someone actually answers, a certain groggy girl grumbling, “Yeah?”

“COOLDOWWWN!” I bellow, eliciting a scream from the other end.

“OH MY FUCKING GOD-“ she shouts. HA! YOU shouldn’t be so surprised, Cooldown! Not even your MINIONS were able to keep me down!

“YES!” I interrupt – it feels GOOD to be able to do it for a change – and inform her, “I seek your OPINION on a GRAVE-“

“My opinion is you can fuck off into one and die,” she interrupts me and ends the call.

…Now that was just uncalled for.

They hate you, murmurs that annoying voice that should stuff it.

Other than those two, all my contacts are at the Sixth. Pretty much just the Rank Leaders and the Warmaster – the Equerry simply REFUSES to give me her number, in spite of possible EMERGENCIES! WELL FINE, MORKAI! It’s YOUR loss, NOT MINE!

How did Slam’s number end up here, though? Probably not very tactful to call so soon after what happened.

AT ANY RATE! “BLUEBELL!” I yell into my device, which pages the Vindicare Rank Leader.

“G’day, you’ve reached the one and only Bel Contra! Leave a message at the tone and I’ll get back to you whenever!” Voicemail again.

“BLUEBELL! THIS is HEATHER CRUNCH! I am calling as part of a task set upon me by the Soul Temperer of the Seventh: to inquire the meaning of love from you and others! Call me back by tomorrow!” Beep.

Call the next number…

“Ahoy! Kai Cress here! I’m a little busy right now, so leave yer message at th’ tone! AND DON’T DAWDLE ABOUT IT!” Voicemail AGAIN.

"CREEEESS!" “THIS IS HEATHER CRUNCH! I am inquiring on behalf of the Soul Temperer as to the meaning of love! Yes, it sounds silly, but I’m serious! Call me back soon!” Beep.

Next number…

“You’ve reached Madge, a.k.a. Miss Shine. You have probably called me while I’m in the middle of doing something important, so leave your name, number, and message at the tone, and I’ll respond when I can. Unless this is Crazy Crunch calling, in which case don’t bother wasting my time.” What was THAT about? Miss Shine?

“Er, MADGE! I need your definition of what ‘love’ is supposed to be! It’s an assignment and NOT a waste of your time! CALL ME SOON!” Beep.


“You’ve reached the Warmaster’s office. Leave your contact information after the tone.” I’m starting to wonder if something happened.

“WARMASTER! The Soul Temperer won’t allow me in until I have other peoples’ definitions of what love is supposed to be, and nobody else is answering! CALL ME!” Beep.

…What now?

A long nap back at my lodgings only brings more dreams of –her-. This is becoming a serious hindrance to my productivity. I can’t just keep sniffing her pillow for that strawberry smell and expect to get anything done! Also, it’s disgusting! What is –wrong- with me?

And why can’t I stop hugging it?

You’re alone, that horrid voice sneers. You’re completely and utterly alone, and you can’t stand it.

“I’m not alone,” I mumble aloud, clutching the pillow tighter. “I have friends and allies.”

They don’t want anything to do with you. Don’t you get it? After you showed your true colors, they wanted to get rid of you, and you gave them the perfect excuse to do so.

I take out my cell phone and power it back on. It says I have no new messages. And nothing I can find points to any sort of emergency back at the Ninth or the Sixth at this time.

They’re busy celebrating. Celebrating that you’re out of their hair for good.

I shake my head and go through my contacts again. Starting with Kyoko again, I get the same voicemail message as before. I try calling it again, and then a third time, just to make sure. On the fourth attempt, I decide to leave another message.

“KYOKO!” I holler into the mouthpiece, “I –NEED- YOU TO RETURN MY CALLS! THAT IS ALL!” Then I disconnect.

‘Sayakaaaaa, Hothead’s buggin’ me again!’ that irritating voice says, imitating my friend’s voice. ‘Think I should tell her to stop callin’ me?’

There’s no way. Kyoko isn’t like that at all. She’s my friend. I REFUSE to believe that she could be so callous.

You have no friends, it insists.

I try Cooldown again, and this time it informs me that my number is blocked. This causes that horrid voice to laugh. But I still have options. I still have friends. People I can talk to. People who acknowledge I exist and have worth.

Except you don’t.

…Except I don’t.

I drop the accursed pillow and go through the list again and again and again and again and again. I urge all my contacts to call me back about my inquiry. Or about what’s going on. Or anything at all.

“MADGE! This is GRAVELY important! CALL ME BACK!”

‘Look, Crazy Crunch tried calling me again. She may have trapped herself in another broom closet.’

“CRESS! As Rank Leader I ORDER you to answer this call!”

‘Fifty pieces of eight say she be blubberin’ about bein’ marooned right about now!’


‘Eh, give her a couple minutes to burn out first… Heh, I wish I could see her face when she does.’


‘It took longer than I would have liked, but she is no longer our problem.’


‘…Good riddance.’

NO! I can’t accept this! I WON’T accept this! I’m not alone here! Heather Crunch is not alone! I’ll prove it! I’ll prove that I’m not by myself!

I pocket the phone and force the door open. And I start running. Scrambling toward the far-off monastery gates and clawing at the air. That voice laughs incessantly during my dash, spurring me to move faster.

It takes far too long for me to reach my destination. Far, far too long. The gate remains closed, and looms over me like a giant.

I rattle the gates and push against them, urging them to open. They don’t give an inch. “SOUL TEMPERER! SPIRITUAL LIEGE!” I yell, “LET ME BACK IN!” My eyes sting as I wipe away the rain. It’s definitely the rain.

“SOMEBODY LET ME IN!” I wail, pounding on this damnable thing in my way, wishing it would just disappear. I keep hitting it and hitting it until my fists grow numb. And I get nothing for my efforts.

They don't want anything to do with you, the voice tells me. They ALL hate you.

“Say something…” I whimper, looking for somebody to refute that. Or even acknowledge that.

But nobody answers.

I turn back to go to my lodgings, and it begins to rain. For real this time. Just a light drizzle, but it feels too icy for a summer rain. Or maybe it's just me.

I trudge home, my enthusiasm and energy gone. It takes all my willpower just to put one foot in front of the other and not collapse on the ground. So I don't have the strength or resolve to fight back the tears streaming out of my eyes.

...Maybe those annoying maids came back. Yeah, I bet they were playing a prank on me. They made me dress up in clothes of their own choosing, and then hid somewhere under the pretense of leaving. The entire time, they've been intercepting my calls and... And created an illusion of the Seventh Officio. One that I couldn't get into. This whole time they've been watching me doubt myself, and giggling about it. It's excessive, but I can't put it past them.

I'm shivering by the time I get back, but I can't bring myself to care. My uniform has gotten heavy with rain, and my eyes still sting with tears. But I'm okay. It was a funny joke, and I'm in on it. I shouldn't be mad.

"Nakajima?" I call out, wringing out the maid dress she and her sister made. "I know you're here. I figured out your trick. It was..." I throw my hands up and chuckle, "well, you got me. You got me good."

"You can stop hiding now," I insist, trying to smooth out the wrinkles. Make it presentable so they see how good it looks. "It's okay, I'm not angry at you. Really."

"Nakajima?" I cry out. Still no answer.

"Come on out," I plead, forcing my mouth into a grin and choking out a laugh. "See? I'm smiling. I'm not upset. I'm not upset at all."

I plod over toward the room they were staying in and slowly slide the door open. "Hah! Found you!" I exclaim/grunt to the empty room.

So obviously she's back in my room. Maybe they even set an ambush. Hehehe. I'll humor them.

"Here I am!" I snivel, walking into my empty room.

...It can't be empty.

Yet I cannot deny the room is empty. No Nakajimas. No Soul Temperer. No Spiritual Liege. Nobody from the Sixth, the Seventh, the Eighth, or the Ninth. There's nobody here but me.

...It could be a Callidus illusion. It could be a hologram. It could be camouflage.

...Or it could be that they really did leave. And with that realization, the proverbial straw that broke the camel's back, all the fight goes out of me for good.

Nobody wants to be anywhere near a train that has no brakes, that awful voice taunts me. You're a disaster in motion, and everybody else has already bailed out.

...Stop it.

I pull off the drenched uniform and clumsily change into my nightgown. Even with that weight lifted off me, though, everything feels far too heavy. I fumble for the light switch, the room going dark. My legs finally give out on me and I fall onto the mattress. And slowly I crawl toward that pillow that still has her scent on it. And wrap myself around it, burying my face in it. The blankets are right there, but I lack the strength to pull them up. So I clutch the pillow tighter and try to keep warm. My whole body is trembling at this point, though I can't tell if it's from the cold, or from the sobs I can't hold down. The only other sound is the patter of raindrops. No giggling, no yelling, no anything to indicate somebody else is here.

It's just me.

...I hate love. I absolutely hate it. It's horrible and I wouldn't wish it on anybody.

...But I think I hate being hated by everything even more. I hate having people I thought were my friends suddenly ignore me. I hate the idea that I've been abandoned. I hate the idea that I'm all alone. I hate that I even consider these things possible.

...And yet, even a thing like that is possible for Heather Crunch.

...Somebody, anybody, tell me what you think of that.