85 – My Most Precious Treasure
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Time passed in the blink of an eye.

The uproar over the two largest yakuza clans filled the news, broadcast on all the major networks and taking up all the headlines. Among the chaos, powerful political figures suddenly resigned without explanation before mysteriously vanishing. Adding onto that, the Seiryuu Alliance patriarch was sentenced to death row for his confessed actions while the head of the Torabu clan disappeared.

In that mess, a press article was quietly released about an upcoming tech company called Myth Inc. A well-known writer in the industry, Sakura Hibana, interviewed the mysterious John Smith about his company as well as the incredibly successful and astonishing Project MirAIs. Of course, due to all the other events, it went unnoticed.

But those in the know paid attention, and they saw the signs.

On Project MirAI's website, like for Hana Homura's debut, a countdown began. A mysterious timer, ticking away. Behind it, a static-filled image became clearer with every passing hour.

Rumors spread about what it could mean. But as the timer drew towards zero, it became clear what it was.

A young woman with silver hair stood atop a battlefield littered with broken swords.

Whereas Hana had been reaching towards the gray sky, the mysterious young woman had her back turned, staring longingly into the crimson horizon.

When asked about it in her streams, all Hana said was that a wonderful surprise was about to arrive. But she mentioned to stay tuned and keep an eye out on the timer.

When asked about it in his streams, John Titor smirked and stated that it was the choice of Stein's Gate... before promptly returning to demolishing speedrun world records in various retro games.

So the world turned.

The karmic powder keg that accumulated from Shin Seiryuu's ruthless actions and exploded from John's arrival was quelled. Like that, peace returned to Tokyo, Japan, and all of Earth. At least, peaceful enough.

And then Friday arrived.

-----AI|IA-----

Friday, November 15, 2024. 6 AM, two hours before Alfi Titor's debut as the second member of Project MirAIs.

Sitting in the recording room... or rather, her room considering that she had completely taken it over, Alpha sat down at the sofa in the lounge, flipping through her notes.

Her delicate pale fingers were pristine, but from the worn edges on the papers, it appeared that she had been going at it for a while.

Alpha flipped to the last page of her notes and then carefully straightened them again. "It's all in order. I shouldn't forget anything."

Right. She had gone through them for hours now, so it would be impossible to forget them.

But... What if she did? What if she let her father down? What if the people didn't like her? What if she couldn't bring out Alfi's full potential?

Alpha tensed and stared at her notes again. "...Maybe one more time."

Yes. One more time. It wouldn't hurt. Like her father said, repetition and continual accumulation was the key to success. So she just had to accumulate more attempts at recalling the information to be certain it would go well.

Alpha glanced at her notes, preparing to run through them again... and quietly ignoring the fact that she had gone through the exact same thought process a hundred times in the past couple of hours.

However, before she could settle back into her nervous loop, a phone rang. Hers.

Alpha flinched and almost dropped her notes. But her reactions managed to stop her in time. Letting out a sigh of relief, Alpha gingerly set the notes down beside her and then looked at her phone.

Since she was rehearsing, Alpha had placed the phone on the table to be out of the way. As a result, she could clearly see the caller id. And she could see that it wasn't her father, who she thought it was. Instead, it was Rin.

Confused, Alpha picked up her phone and answered. "H-Hello?"

"Alpha nee-chan! Good morning!" Rin's bright and cheery voice echoed on the other side of the line.

Alpha blinked and leaned back in the sofa, pulling up her knees to her chest. "Shouldn't you still be sleeping, Rin? Your stream isn't until later in the day, right? And didn't my father tell you to take the day off?"

Rin giggled and said, "You're silly, Alpha nee-chan! How could I sleep through my big sister's debut stream?"

Alpha mumbled and said, "It's not that special..."

If Rin heard Alpha's words, she didn't acknowledge them. Instead, she said, "Mom's still asleep right now, so it might be a while, but I promise I'll be there before you start streaming!"

Rin? Watching her stream? LIVE?!

Alpha kicked her legs down and leaned forward. "T-That's alright, Rin! I'll be fine-"

"Oh don't be like that, Alpha nee-chan! I want to support you in your stream like you did for me!"

"B-But..."

"Hm?"

Alpha flushed and then muttered, "I don't want to embarrass you by how bad I am..."

Rin gasped. "I would never be embarrassed by you, Nee-chan!"

"But if I mess up, then doesn't that make Hana and Project MirAIs look bad...?"

"Of course not- Oh! You're nervous!"

Alpha froze, instinctively wanting to deny Rin's words. But they were true, so instead she sighed and quietly said, "That's right. I'm... really nervous."

There was just so much that could go wrong, so many expectations that she could fail to meet... Not only that, but this was a field completely outside of her experiences. Something completely new.

"That's fine, Nee-chan! And I was super nervous during Hana's debut stream too, remember?"

Alpha frowned and shifted her phone to her other ear. "It didn't seem like it..."

"That's because you were all there to support me! But you wouldn't believe how worried I was on the way to the studio. I kept wondering if Mister John made a mistake or if I would disappoint Hana and everyone else. But you know what?"

"...What?"

"My mom said that it wasn't about me. My stream was about helping Hana fulfill her dreams. Thinking about it like that made it a lot easier. Not only that, but when I got to the studio and saw all of you ready to help and support, I got excited! All of you weren't just counting on me, but you were ready to catch me if I fell. So now, it's my turn to support you!"

Rin? Supporting her?

It was a ridiculous thought. To think that the Chaos Maiden once feared throughout the entire Three Realms was reduced to accepting help from a mere mortal girl not even two decades of age...

When Alpha realized her situation, she couldn't help but laugh.

"E-Eh? Did I say something funny?"

Alpha smiled. "No. I just never thought I would get cheered up by someone like you, Rin. It's really... special."

Right. Special.

Someone like Rin... someone so naive and bright. A person like that would have been cut down and exploited. A shining star that wasn't allowed in that place.

But here on Earth, in this relaxed and peaceful home world of her father... Rin could exist. People like her, mortals that supported each other instead of trampling on top of each other...

"I don't really get it, Nee-chan, but I'm glad to help! Are you feeling better?"

"I am. Thanks, Rin."

"You're welcome! Ah, and don't worry about the viewers! The Ohana turned out to be nice, and since Alpha nee-chan's even cuter than me and Hana, I'm sure you'll find even nicer people!"

"C-Cute? Me?!"

"Yes! Alpha nee-chan is cute! Suuuper cute!"

Alpha blushed. "I-I don't think... W-Well if you say so..."

"I do say so! So have confidence! I'll be there in person to cheer you up soon!"

*Sweetie? Did you want pancakes, or something traditional for breakfast today?*

"Oh! Mom's calling! Bye, Alpha nee-chan!"

The call ended.

Alpha quietly set her phone back down on the table.

It was a short conversation. Almost meaningless chatter. Even so, Alpha had calmed down. Her racing heart and mind were steady.

And so Alpha glanced again at her notes.

"...It'll be fine."

She still gathered them up, but instead of rehearsing again, she got to her feet.

"Enough stalling." Alpha muttered to herself and then brushed off her clothes before heading to the elevator.

There were only two hours left before the stream began. Not too little time, but not too much either. So it was important that she arrived at the streaming studio early to ensure nothing went wrong.

The elevator doors opened with a soft chime and Alpha walked in. Gently tapping the top floor button, Alpha stepped back and waited, cradling her notes against her chest.

Soft beeps echoed, the elevator going through each floor.

Seeing that, and since she didn't have much else to do, Alpha started reflecting on her current situation. Mostly on how things had changed.

And her recent dreams.

The vicious times where her father risked his life to save her. The unyielding days where he allowed his flesh and blood body to get harmed to protect her own lifeless shell. When he used the most valuable treasures he obtained to power her up first before himself.

She didn't realize it back then, but her father had always been working hard. Harder than anyone else, longer than anyone else.

And perhaps because of that, even back then she had wanted to protect the one who created her. To take care of the person who was stupid enough to risk his existence for just a lifeless puppet-

Alpha froze, suddenly coming to a realization. "No. Could it be...?"

Her father had said it himself, but now that she recalled those memories, she realized it. "Father... he always thought of me as his daughter..."

Right. He had said that, but Alpha had never realized it. The fact was just a bit of knowledge that she accepted.

But when reflecting on those distant days... How he always threw himself in harms way to get openings...

Alpha believed that it was just a strategic decision. That her father had always been a hopeless idiot. But-

A sudden flashback. The earliest memory that she could recall.

It was faint. Back then, she didn't have the capacity to think, let alone perceive her surroundings.

But it seemed like something had been left imprinted in her core- No, her very existence. Something that she didn't want to forget.

A faint voice. Her father's, but younger.

*This is it, Alphy. I won't take you with me because I don't want to risk you getting destroyed by the Tribulation Lightning if it senses that I set things up to let you inherit my path if I fail.*

'No. Take me with you!'

*It should be fine... but in case I don't come back, I've told my Little Zhaojun to take care of you until you become your own person. When you do, I hope... Well, I won't say that. Don't want to raise too many more flags, haha.*

'Then let me fight with you, Papa! You're too weak by yourself!'

*But... I love you, Alphy. My Magnum Opus- No. My precious and beautiful daughter. Live well, alright? I won't be able to rest easy if you don't.*

'Papa... Papa!'

"Alphy?"

A voice. Her father's.

Alpha blinked and realized where she was.

The elevator at the top floor. Her father was standing there looking at her with concern in his soft blue eyes. Frowning, he tilted his head and said, "Are you alright? You've been standing there a while... are you that nervous?"

Alpha didn't immediately respond, only staring at her father's face. As she did, she could faintly recall it.

A similar look. The expression back then had been similar, but different. A sorrowful yet gentle smile that he gave before walking off.

Suddenly, Alpha felt a pain in her heart. After that, her body felt faint and she started to fall over.

John's eyes widened and he quickly stepped forward, catching her. "Alphy!" He stared into her eyes and said, "Are you okay? Is something wrong with your core? I didn't even think about that... Is this world interfering? Do I need to-"

Alpha laughed.

"Huh?"

She regained strength in her limbs and gently pushed John away, smiling. "It's fine, Papa."

John's eyes widened.

...Papa. Right. It was 'Papa.'

The word she couldn't say back then. The feelings that she couldn't comprehend but still experienced as she watched him leave. And the title she could never give him because of the people constantly watching them.

But she could now. In this peaceful world, in the place where her father had become the gentle person from back then once more... She could finally be that person she couldn't be then.

"Gah!" John stepped back and clutched his chest. "Again with the attacks on my heart!"

Alpha raised her papers up to her mouth to hide her smile.

Seeing that, John smiled back and said, "Feeling better now?"

"Mmhm." Alpha nodded.

And she did. Better than she had ever felt before.

"Then let's get going, Alphy." With that, John turned around and started walking back to the streaming area.

Alpha made her way to his side, clutching her notes against her chest.

John glanced at her and said, "You ready for this, Alphy?"

"I am. And I'll definitely make you proud, Papa."

"Kuh." John flinched and clutched his chest.

It looked painful, but it was just her father's usual way of overreacting to embarrassment. Realizing that, Alpha put on an innocent expression and tilted her head. "What's wrong, Papa?"

"Gah." John flinched again and then stopped walking. He turned to look at Alpha and said, "That... You're seriously calling me Papa, Alphy?"

"But didn't you ask me to, Papa?"

John grumbled and started walking back towards the streaming area. "You and Betty really like messing with me now, huh? Just you wait. I'll get you two back good later."

Alpha laughed and followed after her father.

And then they arrived at the streaming area.

Beta sat in the corner where John usually did, tapping away at her laptop. When she saw Alpha walk in, Beta let out an encouraging smile.

Alpha smiled back.

At the opposite corner of the room, on a bed with a laptop of her own, was Asako. When she saw Alpha walk in, the Seiryuu Heiress gave Alpha an uncertain look. It seemed like she still didn't know how to react to Alpha after everything that happened. Even so, Asako gave Alpha a thumbs up.

Seeing that, Alpha's smile widened and she nodded.

Like Asako, Alpha still didn't really know where the two stood in regards to the past events... but since Asako was there to support her, Alpha couldn't hate her for that.

John cracked his neck and then sat down at the main streaming desktop. Turning on the monitor, he turned towards Alpha and said, "Well... Should we run through things once? Or...?"

Alpha walked to the streaming area near the wall monitors, cradling her papers against her chest. As she did, a young woman approached from the opposite side, doing the same as Alpha.

Alfi stared out from within a dusty warehouse, her burgundy eyes hesitant.

"Alphy?" John called out.

Alpha glanced back at him and then turned her gaze back to Alfi, smiling. "Let's practice a bit, Alfi. We can't let our Papa down, can we?"

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