111 – Back to Earth.
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Back in Japan. Myth Inc. HQ, the streaming studio. Just after Asako finished her debut stream as Aoko.

"Crap. Crap, crap, crap."

Asako crossed her arms and glared at John. "Why the hell are you panicking?!"

John ran his left hand through his hair, ignoring her and pacing the room.

How did Yue get access to the chat? No, where was she? And that had to have been Meg as well.

The others didn't seem to see it... No, Betty might have, but Alphy had been watching Aoko and the chat had been going too fast for the others to catch.

He didn't sense her anywhere nearby. That hadn't changed since Asako made that joke about them touching down in Japan. And even spreading his spiritual senses around the world, he couldn't detect them.

Were they still in the Three Realms? Did Yue reach a breakthrough in her cultivation to allow her to tap directly into the internet and find him?

Or were they here on Earth, and his beloved wife was simply pissed off enough to hide their presence while plotting on how to get the best revenge? No, or was it the worst case scenario where she was so heartbroken that she was purposefully hiding from him and bottling up her emotions? If she had advanced far enough in the path of Karma to get to Earth, it would be trivial for her to conceal her presence from John, since he wasn't as skilled, but if she was hurting...

The one bright side to the situation was that it seemed that Yue was ensuring their dear daughter Meg didn't go off the rails and blow up the world in anger. Even so, John had no idea what was going on with them. 

Were they safe? Did they make it here alright? Were they hurt, and was that why they were hiding? Or had they been weakened so much that he could no longer sense them because their powers had been that suppressed?

Wait! Was that why he couldn't sense them at all? Then...!

No, no. Calm down. It couldn't be like that. It wouldn't be like that. And if it was, then this entire world and plane of existence-

"Hello!" Asako snapped her fingers in front of John's face and said, "Earth to John!"

John blinked, breaking out of his thoughts. Shaking his head, he quickly swept his gaze around the surroundings to take inventory of the situation.

The stream had come to an end, and the wall monitors were once again reflecting the streaming studio itself... minus the one screen that Asako had punched out of embarrassment.

Since Asako insisted, the only people in the studio were her, Beta, and John himself. Something about wanting to limit the number of people who saw her cringe firsthand as much as possible.

At the moment, Asako was standing in front of the broken monitor... No, since she had walked up to John, she was standing in front of him. And John had been pacing in the middle of the room.

Beta was seated in the corner of the room with her laptop, but her eyes were wide and frozen in shock.

Glancing at her, John nodded. It definitely seemed like Betty had noticed them as well. The problem now was what to do...

"Answer me you asshole!" Asako flushed and stomped her foot. "A-At least tell me if I did good or not!"

John blinked and then slapped his face.

Asako flinched and stepped back.

With that, John nodded. "Sorry about that, Asako. I just... realized that my life is about to get very messy, very quickly. And that I suddenly have my entire schedule tossed out the window... as well as need to run a lot of errands."

"H-Huh?"

John smiled and stuck his thumb up. "You did great. A+ for effort. Definitely not standard idol material, but it should be good chemistry for the group." He glanced at the monitor and said, "Though I'm docking some points for the equipment damage."

Asako froze and then turned to look. When she saw the crackling screen, she paled and said, "T-That's not coming out of my paycheck, is it?"

John waved his hand. "Don't worry about it. We've got plenty of spares. Right Betty?" John turned to look at his second daughter.

It seemed that his voice broke her out of her daze. Beta blinked and then nodded. "Yes... I will be able to fix it shortly. But Father..." She frowned and then glanced at her laptop before looking out into the city.

"Yeah, I know."

Asako looked between John and Beta and said, "I feel like I'm missing out on something here..."

"Don't worry about it." John waved his hand and headed towards the elevator. "Family business. Now, I'm going to head out for the day to prepare a giant apology, so I'll be seeing you."

"Huh?" Asako blinked. "Wait, what apolo-"

John pressed the elevator button and said, "Tell Alphy and Rin good luck on their stream for me! Love you, Betty! And go celebrate a job well done, Asako!"

The elevator doors opened.

Without waiting for a reply from either Beta or Asako, John got in the elevator and then pressed the button to the first floor.

The doors shut and the elevator started to move. But after making sure that no one was around the first floor to see an empty elevator opening, John warped away to his apartment.

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

Beta closed her laptop with a sigh. "This is unexpected."

Asako walked over, frowning. "What's up with your dad? He seemed pretty worried... Is it really fine that I broke the monitor?"

Beta smiled. "It is fine. Eldest Sister did worse when she first experienced them. Like my father said, you should simply relax and celebrate a job well done."

Asako's frown deepened. "When both of you put it like that, I'm getting worried. It makes it seem like something important's about to go down..."

Beta set her laptop to the side and stood up. "Your instincts are correct... but it also does not concern you." She paused and said, "No, I suppose it technically does concern you in a way... but not to the extent that you should be involved." Tucking a strand of her crimson hair behind her ear, Beta looked at Asako and said, "If you are truly worried, then the best that you can do is stay out of the situation and simply support Rin and my Eldest Sister in their stream today."

"...You sure that's all you need from me?"

"It is the only thing you can do... and in actuality, what you *must* do." Beta sighed and shook her head. "Just how did the situation turn out in this manner of all ways? It is as if some malevolent being is arranging events in the worse sequence possible for Father... No, is it for Mistress?"

Beta had sensed that something was off for a while now. Not only with the situation, but with her father as well.

At first, she thought that it may have been simply because of him returning to his home world. After all, even a ruthless demonic cultivator would feel some nostalgia and revert a bit to their younger days upon arriving at their home village.

But now Beta wasn't sure.

It wasn't karma... or at least, Beta didn't sense any sort of karma trying to entrap her father. But at the same time, something about the aura surrounding him was off and too many events were lining up to be mere coincidence...

Asako sighed and then stretched. "Well... if that's really all, I'm going to head back to my room." She frowned and said, "After that trainwreck, I need to let off some steam."

"Ah." Beta looked over and said, "If you desire to let off some steam-"

"I-I'll pass." Asako quickly interjected and waved her arms. "I don't want anything to do with your hobbies."

Beta huffed. "What do you take me for? A lustful young woman?"

"Ye- *cough* I mean, of course not."

Beta rolled her eyes. "Honestly... you and Father both. I play those eroge and read those doujin for the art and plot, not for the usual purpose."

"Right." Asako nodded. "And guys watch porn for the voice acting and not to jack off."

Beta narrowed her eyes and then cracked her knuckles. "...Perhaps you are correct. I am in the mood to let off some steam as well... and I suppose you are due for a proper medical examination."

"Oh?" Asako rolled her shoulders and said, "And how do you plan on doing that?"

"I believe there should be an open space in the basement to spar... I may not be as skilled as Eldest Sister, but it should be more than enough to discipline a crude woman like yourself."

"Heh. Lead the way then, Betsy."

Beta's eye twitched.

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

Rin spun around on a comfy beanbag she had taken up to the recording studio and then looked over at Alpha. "How do you think Aneue did, Nee-chan?"

Alpha glanced over from her spot at the table and said, "She did well. Though that rude comment was uncalled for..."

Rin frowned and said, "Just why do you two fight so much anyway?"

Alpha paused and said, "...Habit. Our first encounter wasn't the greatest. But I'll try to get along with her better, Rin."

"I'm grateful, but you don't have to force yourself..."

Alpha shook her head. "No. It's fine." She smiled and said, "I have to at least be more mature than someone about to reach the peak of her life in any case."

"...Hah." Rin sighed. "Well, at least you two aren't actively fighting."

Alpha nodded. "Of course. If we were, Asako would need to spend more time recovering than she already has, and that wouldn't be good for Project MirAIs."

"Oh!" Rin dug around her bag nearby for her laptop and then walked over to take a seat beside Alpha. "Right, should we practice a bit for the collab?"

Alpha smiled and scooted over. "That might be for the best." She frowned and glared at her computer screen. "I can't figure out how to join the server that Betty set up. It keeps asking for a server address, but how am I supposed to know where in the heavenly expanse this phantasmal world exists?"

Rin blinked and then she laughed. "Nee-chan... Could it be that you aren't that good with technology?"

Alpha flushed. "I-I am! It's just that your people don't abide by common sense!"

"I guess that's true." Rin giggled and said, "This kind of stuff *can* be pretty foreign to people that aren't used to it. Here." She leaned over and typed in the ip address for the server before pressing join server.

Alpha huffed. "And what are some random numbers going to-" When she saw the loading bar start up, Alpha's eyes grew wide.

Rin smiled and said, "It's not some random numbers, Nee-chan! Didn't Eldest Sister give you the address along with the name?"

Alpha paused and said, "So *that* was what those numbers were for... I thought that it was an encoded message about Papa getting in trouble again."

Rin shook her head and then grabbed her laptop. "Here. It'll be embarrassing for Nee-chan if you die during the collab a lot, so let's gather some materials ahead of time."

"I-I won't die! Not this time! I've been reading a lot and watching a lot of tutorials, you know!"

"Sure, sure. Whatever you say, Nee-chan."

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

John reappeared in his apartment. The place was empty and a bit dusty, the result of him not having used it for a while, or even entering it.

But it was private. And privacy was what he needed at the moment.

"Alright, John. Think. What's going on, and what can you do to fix it?"

His plans had been completely thrown off. His calculations were all wrong... He had been certain that Yue wouldn't arrive until Christmas. The stars weren't set to align to allow a safe crossing until then. So how did she arrive so early? No, was she even here?

"Alright. Alright." John nodded and said, "Assume the worst case scenario."

Judging how calm everything had been, this was the storm that had been brewing.

He could worry about the 'how' later, right now he needed to know the 'what.'

"Yue should be here on Earth. Meg should be with her as well... The fact that they haven't showed up at my doorstep despite obviously being upset... Did they lose their powers? Were they somewhere on Earth and injured from the travel? No, did they miscalculate like I did and get wounded?"

John started pacing, running his left hand through his hair. "Gah! How could I have been so stupid? I should have thought about that! What if something went wrong in the transfer? Meg might be okay, but Yue..."

His youngest daughter had a physique that could withstand the void itself, but Yue didn't. If something went wrong, he could have lost her forever.

"Dammit. What's wrong with me? Have I really just been too relaxed here on Earth...?"

It wasn't like John to be so inconsiderate... actually, in hindsight it was odd at how much of a rush he was to leave the Three Realms too. It hadn't been like Earth was going anywhere...

"Whatever." John shook his head and said, "I need to finish prepping."

The honeymoon trip reservations were a lost cause. Well, not completely, since they would be great for later, but they weren't enough to show his sincerity right now... And even then, did Yue and Meg know where he was? They might have been able to see the stream, but that could have been by chance. Then, he needed to find them... but he couldn't sense them anywhere. Either something bad had happened, or they were actively hiding from him.

Either way, he needed to send them a message to tell them where he was and also show his feelings.

"But how the heck do I do that...?" John spun around his apartment to think.

It was a modern suite. The sort that was super expensive and sought out by rich people. A city skyline view, as well as enough for a few people...

But at the same time, it wasn't suited for a married couple.

"Dammit."

He should have bought a house. An office building, even if repurposed, was no place to hold a family...

"I should have asked Kai about the houses near where he lived."

A suburban area like that would have been perfect. But hindsight was 20/20. Going through the proper procedures now... unless he used his powers, it wouldn't be possible. Even if he did, it would raise all sorts of red flags and make things even more of a mess than they were.

"Should I just make a video and apologize? No, that's not enough... Should I just let them beat me up? I know Meg would be mad enough to do that, but Yue had gotten over that a long time ago and would just be disappointed... Argh!" John pulled his hair and then said, "I need fresh air."

Letting out a sigh, he opened the slide door leading to the balcony of his apartment. A gust of cold winter air hit his face... but to John it just felt like a fan.

Still, it was refreshing enough to sort out his thoughts a bit.

Words were cheap. Not only that, but his reputation made them worth less than dirt.

Even so, those were better than him just doing some meaningless action like throwing gifts at his wife. Yue never liked that sort of thing in the first place.

All she ever wanted was to be treated like normal. Just like how all John ever wanted was someone who wouldn't think he was some sort of philanderer who played with women left and right, Yue just wanted someone who saw her for her.

So he promised her. To make her happy, to show her how the world didn't have to be perfect in order to be beautiful, that she didn't have to be perfect to be loved.

And Yue believed in him. Even after all the crazy things that happened to him and the girls that kept chasing him, even after all the misunderstandings and mayhem, she believed in him.

But this time had been different. This was more than just a simple 'misunderstanding.' Even in the best light, it was wrong.

So he had to let her know. He had to reassure her that it wasn't because of her. That it wasn't because he was looking for someone else. That she was the only one for her, for now and always.

And there was Meg too. Come to think of it, he had broken his promise with her to take her with him across the void... Did she think that he had given up on her too? Or that he loved her older sisters more than her?

"Argh...!" John pulled his hair and said, "What do I do?"

The key was to convey his emotions to them. Words weren't enough. Actions had to do it. But gifts would just make it seem like he didn't care... it would help, but something like that would come off cold and insincere.

Then... to be sincere... To show that he really cared about them and that he still wanted to be with them. For Yue, that she was the only one who he would ever care for, the only woman he had eyes for... And for Meg, that he loved her just as she was and that he didn't leave because of her.

"Right. I got it." John straightened and nodded. "Since it's like this... there's only one path forward isn't there?"

A 'promise' wasn't enough. So then...

John held up his left hand and stared at the ring sitting there. Unlike the simple band he gave her, Yue had returned his gesture with an elaborate and ornate gift that she handcrafted. 

In that case...

A song came to mind.  The opening for the third game of Kingdom H- No, here it was Kingdom Stars. A song with lyrics that he could finally understand after all this time.

Well, it couldn't be addressed to Meg... but hopefully his youngest daughter would forgive him a bit if he focused on her mom first.

After humming the melody to make sure he remembered it, John nodded and made a conference call with Qing and Bai. "Hey. You two noticed her too, right? ...Yeah. I know I'm a damned bastard who doesn't deserve her. But I need your help. I don't care how much money it takes or what you need to do, but find a way for me to stream in every country on every major network. Make it front page on everything, everywhere. And at the same time, send people out to look for her. ...Alright. I'll leave it to you then. Let me know when it's finished."

John hung up and then quietly walked back inside, closing the door behind him. Afterwards, he conjured a grand piano and sat down. Running his fingers down the keys in a few arpeggios to warm up, he nodded and said, "Please, be safe, Yue. Meg. Please just be mad at me." He played a few more scales and said, "I've hurt you both a lot, but even so... If you two would still count me as family..." John closed his eyes, tracing out the melody along the keys before starting to sing.

[Play Don't Think Twice - Utada Hikaru (Caleb Hyles cover)]

Since April 1st is coming up, have an early consolation prize for the potential upcoming joke chapter in the form of some hints on how to [Open the Gate]. It's three characters, two letters and a number. It's also the first half of what's written on Titor's time machine. He also says it at the very his 'debut' chapter when addressing the audience before his sign off. If you manage to make it inside, leave your message and a username to get included in the pre-stream chat!

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