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    "Chapter Seven: Gaining Strength"

    "When you devote yourself to getting stronger and more able to dothings ... don't forget to practice being careful with your new powers,too..."

    "Mirror, Mirror" - T.K.

    XXX

    Tsuruya was sipping tea quietly near her father in one of the sittingrooms in her house - the ancestral Tsuruya home. Koizumi sat at thesame table next to Mori, his phone sitting on the table near his teacup,not ringing. Tsuruya's father nodded thoughtfully at something on oneof the stacks of papers before him, then made a note and shuffled it toone side.

    Aida paced softly in the back of the room, quietly punching things intohis PDA and looking distracted - but he stopped and was the first oneto notice Kyon's return. The boy stepped in from the door leading tothe porch, and Tsuruya instantly perked up. She had every faith inKyon, but somehow, that didn't keep her from worrying.

    Her fiance was walking next to Shinobu, looking at her slightlyaskance, his shoes dangling from the fingertips of one hand. Tsuruya'smaid took Kyon's shoes before he could protest, then gently motioned

    him into the room properly.He shrugged and stepped over the threshold, bowing politely toTsuruya's father as the man turned to look. For her part, Tsuruyaeagerly bounced up from her seat on the floor to traipse to Kyon's sideand give him a kiss on the cheek. Though he colored, Kyon didn'tremark or complain, and Tsuruya made a note to herself to make surethat she got to spend at least a few minutes alone with Kyon somepoint soon.

    Well, maybe with Kanae, too... Hmm, that might end up being

    awkward, though. She filed that thought away for later consideration.

    "I'm back," he said, managing a nervously happy smile for Tsuruya,and a more neutral nod for everyone else.

    "Excellent!" the Tsuruya family patriarch crowed, grinning widely,gesturing Kyon to take a seat. "How did it go, then?"

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    "I would guess so," Aida agreed, looking up.

    "This was hand-painted," Tsuruya remarked, studying the characters.

    "No pen or printer," Mori agreed. "If it were printed, there might be a

    chance of tracking it to the source. If it were written with a pen, itmight have left an impression somewhere. While it's possible thatwhoever wrote this was trying to appeal to classical sensibilities, myspeculation is that the writer was merely trying to avoid being traced."

    "A caligraphy kit seems somehow more notable than a printer or apen," Aida opined, frowning thoughtfully. "But I suppose a brush,inkstone, and paper can be hidden easily enough... Well, what elsewould you guess?"

    "I think the writers is a woman," Tsuruya added, noting the incredibleneatness of the text - there were no stray drops of ink, and the brushwas meticulously groomed. No stray hairs had trailed extraneous tinymarks across any of the writing.

    "I think you're right," Kyon replied, producing his own PDA and flippingthrough some options before handing it to Tsuruya. She blinked,looking at a picture of a woman in a smart, if somewhat drab, brownbusiness coat and skirt combination, her hair neatly styled as sheturned, mid-word, to look towards the camera. "Her family name isAkasaka; I don't know her given name."

    "For some reasons, that sounds very familiar," Tsuruya's fathermurmured, as she handed the PDA to him to examine her picture.After a moment of study, he passed it to Aida, shaking his head. "Shedoesn't looks familiar, though."

    Aida studied the picture intently, until Kyon's PDA made a quiet,muted buzz, and changed images to a dark screen that Tsuruyacouldn't make out from across the table. Somewhat chagrined, theman passed it back, saying, "My apologies, Kyon-dono."

    Tsuruya realized with some amusement that the PDA had locked itself,until Kyon touched it and pressed a fingertip against the screen. "Itprobably just caught your fingerprint," Kyon explained, shrugging. "If it doesn't match... Did you want a copy of that picture?"

    "If you don't mind," Aida agreed, nodding, tapping some keys on hisown PDA. "By the way, what model is that...?"

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    "It's, uh ... custom," Kyon answered, shrugging. "Where should I sendthe picture?"

    After a brief minute of technical chatter, Aida had the picture andexcused himself with a bow, promising to return after he submitted a

    few queries.

    "Impressive, though," Tsuruya's father remarked after a minute,draining his teacup. "How did you manages to get that picture?"

    "Ah, well ... you know, if you do it right, people kind of just look rightthrough you," Kyon answered, somewhat evasive as he chucklednervously.

    "I've learned it's better not to ask," Mori said quietly, when Tsuruya'sfather looked intrigued. "Sir, may I see that picture?"

    Kyon nodded, handing the phone over for her to study. "She could bethe one who's pulling the strings, or she could just be an NPA agentworking on anything else," he warned apologetically.

    "She's not familiar to me in any case," Mori sighed, shaking her head."Well, at least I'll know who she is if I see her."

    Accepting the PDA as Mori handed it back, Kyon shrugged slightly."Anyway, back to Fujiya Masao-san - he mentioned that he was goingto need a new lawyer," he said, tucking the device into his coat pocketand turning to face Tsuruya's father.

    The green-haired man raised his eyebrows, his smile returning."Good," he decided. "We have many lawyers at our disposals; I will tryto arrange for the best ones!"

    Tsuruya looked for something to add, but couldn't find anything else atthe moment, so glanced at Mori - incidentally leaning against Kyon atiny bit. He maintained his posture, his eyes flicking briefly to hers ashe gave her a tiny a smile, otherwise still facing her father. Well, Kyon

    had just done the syndicate at large a huge favor, and helped fortifytheir positions.

    "Right," he continued, furrowing his brow and giving Kyon a calculatinglook, his smile fading slightly. "Kyon-kun, to be honests, I'm quiteamazed at your capabilities, here." He tapped the unfolded origamiwith a fingertip. "And it's thanks to you that our organizations has hadMori-chan's help in some recent matters."

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    Koizumi shifted slightly, putting on his implacable, smiling mask in theface of the man's speech. Mori looked uncertain, but Kyon remainedpolitely attentive.

    "That being said," the man said, lacing his fingers together on the

    table before him, completely enveloping his teacup in his hands. "Ihave every faith that you can works effectively as your own syndicatefor a while."

    Mori blinked in surprise, a pleased smile coming to her lips. Koizuminodded thoughtfully, while Kyon looked to Tsuruya, who tried to keepher laughter in check, but let a wide grin blossom. "Who's the boss?"she asked her father, expecting that it would be Mori, but wanting tobe certain.

    "You, of course, Haruka-chan," the man said mildly. "I'm going to bevery busy for a whiles with the Fujiya-tachi, especially with the newSumiyoshi-rengo still in towns. But don't worry! I'll take care of that,and Kasai will helps you out - I won't have my future son-in-lawsgetting attacked again!"

    Then he raised his hands and clapped them together, grinning fit tomatch his daughter. "So! Kyon-kun here should eat somethings afterhis mission! Why don't we have dinner?"

    Shinobu swept into the room, kneeling betwen Tsuruya and her father

    in a smooth, practiced motion. She bowed her head respectfully fromher kneeling position. "A...actually, Tsuruya-sama," Mori interruptedapologetically, "Itsuki-kun and I already had dinner. And there's somepaperwork I really have to take care of..."

    "Homework, myself," Koizumi said with a mournful smile, shrugginghis shoulders helplessly. The pair both rose and bowed politely toTsuruya's father.

    "Well, good luck, then," the man allowed. "I supposes it's just thethree of us then, eh? Why don't-"

    Shinobu coughed, very quietly, and Tsuruya thought she caught themost fleeting glimpse of the maid shooting her father a warning look.He sat up straighter at the table, patting his suit coat pockets beforepicking up the unfolded origami. "Uh, hum, actually, I need to discusssome business with Aida - you two will have to have dinner withoutme." He rose from the table and quickly strode away, pulling a phone

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    from his pocket as he did.

    "Take care, Tsuruya-sama," Kyon said politely, rising from his seat tobow to the patriarch.

    "Bye, Father!" she called, waving. "I'll see you on Saturdays fordinner, alright?"

    "Yes, yes," he agreed, looking back over his shoulder to shoot a smileat his daughter and her fiance. "And you two have a nice evening! Weshall have a meal together another times!" After that, he vanishedthrough the doorway, already pressing a button on his phone.

    "Hmm," Kyon mused, sinking to sit back at the table with a curiousglance to Shinobu.

    She returned an innocent look, and Tsuruya decided that warrantedinvestigation ... later. For the time being, she said, "I'd like dinner forKyon-kun and I, please!"

    "Understood," Shinobu agreed, bowing even lower before she rose andsmoothly began to glide away.

    "So!" Tsuruya exclaimed cheerfully, reaching beneath the edge of thetable and fishing out the remote. "Let's catch up on some Trope-tanbefore the movies tomorrow night!"

    "Sure," he agreed, giving her an almost concealed smile of amusementbefore turning to look at the wall partition that slid quietly away toreveal the television behind it. "I think I saw through the end of s