117 – Aoko Ryuusei – [Just Chatting] Good morning… or something
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Sorry for the chat formatting and usernames. I'll go back and fix them up later as well as any grammar issues. Should be mostly done... At least, all the obvious ones should be gone. Let me know if there's any glaring errors.

A simple dark blue background with the words 'Just Chatting' written out in white alongside a picture of Aoko pursing her lips and looking to the side.

[Just Chatting] Good morning… or something
Aoko Ryuusei Ch.
Live in 5 minutes
Sun, November 24, 6:00 AM

[Overload - You said you like drifting, you should try Dirt or Need For Speed!]
[StepOnMeOneeSan - Scold us please!]
[AokoIsQueen - YAS QUEEN]
[Aoko Ryuusei Ch. - WTF is wrong with you guys.]

Live in 4 minutes

[admirableaardvark - yoohoo!]
[mischievousminx - Aoko! Step on me!]
[nightlybat - Yell at us more!]
[subtigress - *Can I call you mommy?*]

Live in 3 minutes

[Alfi Titor Ch. - Try not to be too cringey today, Aoko-chan.]
[Aoko Ryuusei Ch. - The hell are you even doing up so early!? Go back to sleep!]
[Alfi Titor Ch. - XD]
[A teasing Alfi?! Why is she cuter every day!?]

Live in 2 minutes

[wonderingturtle - Why is Superchat not available?]
[MOD: Beta - Aoko's channel is too new to qualify for Superchats. However, we have enabled donations in the description as well as streaminglab integration.]
[finalworm - OOOOH! YES!]
[Aoko Ryuusei Ch. - Yo, people want to throw money at me? But... why?]

Live in 1 minute

[crazybear - Think she'll still try to put on that act?]
[supplepenguin - John's dream is totally dead in the water]
[awfulaardvark - That's not true! Alfi and Hana are still idols!]
[purpleeagle - Yo. Did you even watch their collab stream?]

Waiting for Aoko Ryuusei Ch. to start...

[colorfultoucan - It's starting!]
[royaljellyfish - Break our leg, Aoko!]
[curiousraptor - Isn't it break 'a' leg...?]
[quaintfox - Yes! Break mine!]

[Play Aoko's BGM]

[crimsonwildebeest - Oh! It's different this time?]
[tastefulcur - Hiphop? Trance?]
[unlawfulpony - Did she give up the act?]
[reliablelark - 10k yen that she does a cringy intro.]

Static, like an old grainy television slowly tuning in. And then...

"A-Ao are you today? It's Aoko Ryuusei, MirAis Idol number three of Generation Zero, Prototype!"

A cool female voice, forced in a cutesy tone. With a stiff smile and a wave, Aoko appeared on screen. Next to her, on the left side of the screen, the live chat popped up in a pink box covered in hearts.

Like her debut stream, Aoko wore a white dress shirt. But perhaps because it was too indecent, she had covered the unbuttoned top with a black overcoat. Though, when she wore skin-tight black slacks that hugged her legs and black leather boots, it didn't really help much.

[virtuousmare - lol she's forcing it again. But damn, that outfit's hot.]
[trustyrobin - Cutesy doesn't suit you...]
[uglybuzzrd - *Ah! The cringe!*]
[firmimpala - *Did John put you up to this? Should we talk?*]

Aoko looked at the chat and then sighed. "Dammit. At least humor me... But whatever. Morning bitc- I mean, morning everyone. Sucks to say, but I don't have much planned today, so I'm counting on you guys to carry the stream."

[AokoIsQueen: 50 USD - YAS QUEEN]
[accidentaljaguar - She's so different from Hana and Alfi...]
[fallaciousdonkey - *No plan? I get that the MirAIs idols are different, but...*]
[tenaciouseagle - Why no gaming stream or karaoke stream?]

Aoko shook her head. "Yeah... I'm not really into that sort of thing. And karaoke... I mean, I *can* sing... but it's still kinda... eh..." She flushed and looked to the side. "It ain't good, alright?"

[unpopulargerbil - Nani? Kansai dialect?]
[curlylizard - Oho? So is it Aneki then instead of Onee-chan?]
[innatemole - Gah?! More gap moe?!]
[robustwhiting - As expected of the one Hana calls her Aneue...]

Aoko coughed. "Anyway..." She pulled a chair in from off to the side and sat down, crossing her legs in front of her. "What's up? Anything cool happening on your side?"

[whitewhale - I saw an ad with Mister Smith earlier!]
[sociableporcupine - Yeah, me too! It played just before this stream?]
[ethicalpintail - *Do you know anything about John's ad?*]
[smughawk - *Ooh, that super romantic one?*]

"Huh? That guy made an ad?" Aoko glanced back and said, "You know anything about this?"

Silence.

"Oh. Ooooh. So that guy's finally being responsible huh? Gotcha."

[prudentparrot - 'Finally' being responsible?]
[pluckymeadowlark - Wait, so is John not responsible normally?]
[trashybunny - I knew it! A guy with a face like that can't be up to any good!]
[littleminnow - You should watch the ad!]

"Yeah sure- Actually, why don't we just watch it together? I mean, we got time to kill... Let's see... How did I do this again?"

Aoko tapped something in front of her, and then the chat moved off-screen and a video appeared off in front of her.

"Alright. Let's see..."

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

A darkened room with warm lighting from glowing white orbs, like silver moons. Interspersed among those were emerald light, twinkling like jade stars.

Red velvet curtains were pulled back, revealing a raised stage. On that, there was a grand piano.

The screen cut to black, with white text in the center.

[A promise left unfulfilled]

The screen cut back to someone playing the piano, but showing a close-up of only their hands. The camera zoomed in, focused on the left hand. There, a ring sat on the ring finger. A golden dragon coiled around and holding a white jade orb with the character 'Yue' inscribed on it.

The screen cut to black again, showing more words.

[The words left unspoken]

Once more, the dark stage. But this time, the camera showed a man's silhouette. After, it slowly panned to show his face, half hidden in shadows.

John Smith.

But unlike the confident and slightly dorky man in the interview with Poppy Gloria, his atmosphere had completely changed.

A raw and vulnerable expression, with his emerald eyes half-lidded and staring off into the distance, as if recalling far-flung memories.

The screen dimmed again, showing another series of words.

[An oath left to fate]

Soft piano chords resounded and then a low and somber male voice began to sing.

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

The video slowly faded back in, showing John playing the piano with a tender expression, as if tracing out the past along the keys.

Lyrics asking how he lived in a kingdom of thieves with people who didn't say what they meant. About how there was only one person he ever dreamed about. A person who he could never say no to.

The song cut to a soaring section of John singing about wanting that person for a lifetime and then begging to not think twice.

The music faded out, along with the video. In its place, a single line of text was repeated across the screen in various languages.

[Without the moon, the stars hold no light and the world is dark.]
[Please, help my voice reach the moon that has fallen beyond my reach.]

For Yue.
November 24, 2024.
6:00 PM JST
10:00 AM CET
1:00 AM PST

After that, John's voice whispered. "Please, come home safe."

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

The video finished. When it did, Aoko kept staring at the screen in shock.

[sensiblerat - OMG.]
[twinviper - Holy crap! John can sing!?]
[giantrooster - I'm a straight man, but if a guy pulled out all the stops for me like that...]
[shrillstork - Argh... Why can't my name be Yue?!]

Aoko shook her head and said, "What the hell?" She frowned and said, "I know that guy's married, but pulling out all the stops like this... Did something happen?"

[glorioushart - Eh? You didn't know?]
[honestturtle - Wait, so this doesn't have to do with Project MirAIs?]
[abnormalbobcat - It's not a promotion video?]
[crabbymonkey - Is Mister John having marriage issues?]

"I dunno. Hell, I just saw the video... Ad? For the first time right now. But damn... John's wife is a lucky ass lady."

[crispmule - 100%]
[fivedeer - How much money did that guy spend anyway?]
[culturedllama - That ad's been everywhere! Not that I mind, but...]
[diligentmule - Is John why you joined Project MirAIs?]

Aoko flushed. "L-Like hell! John might be hot and cute and the perfect eye candy, but that's not why I joined Project MirAIs."

[gullibledolphin - Oho?!]
[frailmussel - Hot? Cute? ...Eye candy?]
[blueshad - Great taste, sister!]
[aspiringfrog - Hey, if Mrs. Smith is out of the house...]

"Argh, you bastards... Is this what I get for not being cutesy like the others? If you guys were here in person I'd punch your faces in."

[facelessmonkey: 20k yen - Admission fee for the handshake event]
[vividlemur: 20k yen - Me too.]
[coolbaboon: 5k yen - Same!]
.
.
.
[wickedoctopus: 5k yen - YES PLEASE!]

Aoko's eyes widened. "The hell you on?! How the fvck do you get a handshake event from me saying I'm gonna knock your lights out?!"

[thunderousflamingo - Myth Inc. is an idol company, huh...?]
[immatureyak - No wonder John's making a music video.]
[dapperdove - If you want something done right, you gotta do it yourself.]
[solidsnail - Well, it's not like Aoko's really an idol anyway, right?]

"Oi! I AM an idol! I'm just... in training, alright?!" Aoko huffed and tossed her hair to the side, shifting her gaze. "Gimme a year and I'll be just as good as the other girls... probably."

[abrasivetuna - A year?]
[curiousraptor - *Press X to doubt*]
[carefulgoose - Wouldn't the next generation be out by then?]
[ludicrouszebra - Yeah! You'll be competing with your cute kouhai!]

"...Dammit." Aoko crossed her arms and muttered, "You bastards have a point..."

[leadingpython - *I just got here. Why is that hot lady cursing at us in Japanese?*]
[longingwalrus - *Shhh. Just enjoy it.*]
[giantwoodpecker - That's not all we have... ;)]
[defenselessdonkey - Ooh, scold us more.]

Aoko glanced at the chat and then scowled. "Perverts, the lot of you. Tch. Well, I guess it's better than doing it to the other girls."

[hornyworm: 10k yen - So you're okay with us doing 'it' to you then?]

Aoko blinked, reading the donation method. And then she laughed. "You're a fvcking brave one. Sure, go ahead. But if I ever find out who you are, I'm going to knock your damn teeth out and rip 'that' off."

[urbanwolf - ...Yeah. John's dream of an idol company is definitely dead.]
[likelypanda - Best girl John debut stream when?]
[placidchicken - Screw John, Beta debut when?]
[unawaresalmon - 10000000 IQ play! Hire a crappy idol to be best girl, have her fail, and then become best girl yourself!]

"Crappy idol?" Aoko cracked her knuckles. "You a$$holes have some lip, don't you? If you were my subordinates, I would have beaten you fvckers black and blue by now for saying $h!t like that."

[bruisedalpaca: 50k yen - Where do I sign up?]

Aoko glanced at the chat and the groaned. "Argh! Nothing I say gets through to you fvckers! Dammit!"

[nervouspultry - *lol*]
[steadyclam - wwww]
[happycow - *kusa*]
[Alfi Titor Ch. - haha]

Aoko glared at the chat and said, "And why the hell are you laughing, Alfi?! Shouldn't you be backing me up?"

[Alfi Titor Ch. - I believe in your strength, 'Aneue.']

"The fvck you do. You're just happy that they're making a fool of me, aren't you?"

[habitualpony - You know, you're cursing a lot, but you're smiling a lot too.]
[eagerbeaver - Dragon waifu best waifu]
[devouttrout - I want to protect that smile!]
[darkferret - You look a lot better like that!]

"Eh?" Aoko glanced at the screen and then froze. "The hell? I really am smiling..."

A light and musical female voice echoed from the distance. "Maybe you really are an 'M' after all, Aoko-chan."

"And you're a damned 'S' for the hell you put me through! And ain't this my stream? Stay out!"

That voice chuckled, and then it was quiet again.

[tidyboa - Betty!]
[cherrykoala - The tease!]
[attractivegull - Wait. 'M'...?]
[hornysnake - Doujin artists. You know the rules!]

"That damned woman..." Aoko shook her head and ran her hand through her hair. "Ugh. What a mess..." She glanced at the chat and said, "Why the hell are so many of you still here anyway? What, you all like watching dumpster fires or something?"

[blindmice - This isn't a dumpster fire!]
[killerlion - Hey, you're doing your best.]
[entrancedquail - I love your authenticity... No, I love you!]
[rockingiguana - I'm having a blast!]

"Damn you guys are weird." Aoko frowned and rubbed the back of her neck. "Well, if you don't mind hanging out with me... N-Not like I care or anything. I'm getting paid either way, even if you guys are all just wasting your time..."

[uglygecko - Speedrun of breaking character?]
[proudtoad - lol]
[subant - I'd give all my time to you, Aoko!]
[pocketdog - It's not a waste if I don't think it is!]

"Anyway... Damn, what do I even talk about. Uh... How about that weather?"

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

*Oi! This is harder than it looks, you know? And it's weird being in this form...*

Shin smirked as he heard his daughter's voice. "Silly girl..."

A knock on the door. Shortly after, it swung open, revealing two armed guards and Officer Takashi Kimura.

Shin stood up, holding the phone in his right hand. "So it's time."

The two guards instantly trained their guns on Shin's face.

He laughed. "Those will do you no good even if you fired. But don't worry. I've no intention of running away from my end... Ah. But I'm taking this with me." He raised the phone, showing Aoko still chatting on it.

The two guards looked at each other, hesitant.

One of them turned to Takashi. "Officer Kimura-"

"It's fine. There isn't anything he can use on that phone anyway."

Shin laughed. "On the contrary, there is plenty. But enough stalling. Let's go." With those words, Shin headed towards the door.

"O-Oi!" One of the guards raised his gun. "You move when we tell-!"

A blur. Shin crossed the gap in an instant and disarmed both guards, holding their guns in his left hand while clutching his phone in the right.

Silence. The guards frozen in shock and fear.

But only them.

Shin glanced at Takashi and raised an eyebrow. "Again, you are shockingly courageous."

Takashi glanced back and said, "Who was the one talking about wasting time?"

"Heh." Shin tossed the guns aside and walked after Takashi.

"O-Officer Kimura!"

"It's fine. If this bastard decides to run away, I'll take responsibility."

"B-But-!"

Takashi didn't wait any longer and walked off.

Shin walked after him. As he did though, he glanced back at Aoko's stream.

*My father? Tch. Don't get me started on that heartless bastard. Just thinking about him...! Fvck. Now I'm pissed. Dammit. Oi, someone change the topic before I punch the screen.*

Takashi glanced back. "You're not going to send her a message?"

"And extend the karma between us? No." Shin shook his head. "This is enough."

"...How annoying." Takashi turned his head back and said, "A monster like you growing a conscience at the end..."

Shin laughed. "Even I am still just a man. Unlike 'that person'."

Takashi paused. "That person?"

"Yes, that... Hm. In hindsight, I suppose that he is even more of a man than I am."

An immortal desperately clinging to the mortal world and silly bonds.

Weak. Vulnerable.

And yet such a man was stronger than Shin had ever been or could be.

That weakness provided strength. The desperation to guard that weakness resulted in power beyond what one could achieve simply seeking the 'pinnacle'.

An epiphany that resolved the issue Shin had been seeking for the past twenty years. But...

"...It's too late for that."

Did Takashi not know how to respond? Or did he just not bother anymore?

Either way, he led the way down the halls before pushing through a pair of double doors that opened to an underground courtyard.

There, a gallows had been set up.

And seeing that, Shin laughed. "You seek to end my life, and this is all you prepare?"

Takashi narrowed his eyes and glared at the facility staff managing the gallows. "Hey! I told you that this sort of thing won't work for him!"

One of the staff members, an average man in officer uniform, shook his head and said, "Sorry, Officer Kimura! But even for him, we can't go against the law!"

"You idiots... Argh, whatever." Takashi spun around and started walking away.

Shin glanced at him. "Leaving already? I would have thought you of all people would stay to watch my death."

Takashi glared at him. "We both know you won't die from something like that." He shook his head and said, "I'm going to go get someone who can finish the job after those idiots give up."

"Heh."

Takashi left, and then Shin was alone with the facility staff members.

Weaklings. Trifling men that he could rip apart with a flick of his finger.

However, one of them was brave. That same man who responded to Takashi. "S-Sir. W-W-Will you c-c-cooperate?"

Shin smiled, an expression that almost caused the poor staff member's eyes to roll back in his head. "Worry not. I will cooperate."

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

An hour later, after various emergency executive orders were issued and exceptions were made to execute Shin Seiryuu, the most infamous criminal in Japan's history over the past twenty years.

The result of that was a courtyard littered in crumpled bullets, scorch marks, gas canisters, severed ropes, and broken blades.

Standing in the middle of it all, Shin sighed and continued to watch his daughter's stream.

*Alright, you bastards. We've been going for a couple hours now, so I'm calling it here. I'll read your donation messages or whatever next stream... Though I won't mind if you throw money at me when I'm gone. You've apparently got plenty to burn from how you bully Alfi and Hana.*

The double doors opened and Takashi walked in. The man looked around, seeing the destruction and cowering staff members, and then sighed. "Idiots. I told them it wouldn't work."

"Mm. It was amusing though." Shin gave a half-hearted answer, continuing to stare at the stream, as if waiting for a cue.

*See you ugly bastards tomorrow. Same time... if you can get your lazy butts out of bed. Ao see you next time.* Aoko froze, as if realizing what she just said, and then she groaned. *Goddammit. Whatever! Bye!*

With that, the stream shut off.

And the moment it did, Shin opened the donation page and typed a message.

Takashi noticed and said, "I thought you weren't going to send her anything?"

Shin stared at the screen, his thumb hovering over the send button. But then he shook his head. "A final moment of weakness." After that, he tossed the phone to the side and looked to Takashi. "I'll leave it to you to clean up the mess." Saying that, he slowly held out his right arm.

"Mess...?" Takashi's eyes widened. "Wait a minute-"

"Know this! I, Shin Seiryuu, offer my heart in exchange for my crimes! With this, let all my karma and deeds die with me!" Roaring those words, he thrust his right hand into his chest.

Blood splattered, gushing out of Shin's chest. Even so, he wasn't dead yet. Gritting his teeth, Shin tossed a bloody clump of flesh onto the ground in front of him. But as if he wasn't satisfied, he plunged his hand back into the newly formed hole in his chest and dug around.

Screams filled the courtyard and people ran around. Cries of 'demon' and 'monster'.

Shin's honed body continued to gush blood, the powerful vigor finally working against him as the absence of his heart caused all the blood to pour out from the gaping hole in his chest.

A gruesome sight.

Even so, Takashi stared with an impassive face... No, one that was slightly irritated. "Even to the end, you're causing trouble. Bastard."

Shin let out a raspy laugh, blood gurgling in his throat. "Bastard...?"

His daughter's words came back to him. The ones she spoke on the stream.

"Yeah... I'm a... heartless bastard... alright..."

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

Takashi stared at Shin's body for a while longer. Knowing that guy, he wouldn't be surprised to see him get up like a zombie and start moving.

But it seemed that Shin was really dead. No, with that last expression, the guy seemed to have lost the will to live. Or rather, he was resolved to die.

Takashi sighed. "At last, it's over."

The final worry resting on his mind, the weight that had been hanging heavy the past twenty years... it was finally gone.

Takashi walked over to check on Shin's body to confirm his death, but then he caught sight of the phone that Shin tossed aside.

"Hm?"

He remembered that the guy typed something to Aoko... Or rather, to Asako. Curious, he picked up the phone to read it.

When he did...

"...Dammit. Why couldn't you just be a heartless bastard to the bitter end?"

[Shin Seiryuu: 200k Yen]
Once a crybaby, once a coward.
Now you stand shakily on your own two feet.
In this ugly world stained with lies an evil wind is blowing.
But face it head-on.
Because you can do right by someone like I never could.

Takashi shook his head and moved to put the phone away in his pocket. But when he did, he accidentally pressed the send button without realizing it.

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

The streaming studio at Myth Inc. Just after Aoko's stream.

"Hm?" Asako glanced at her phone.

Beta looked over from her computer and said, "Something wrong?"

"No." Asako shook her head. "But it looks like some crazy bastard actually sent a donation after the stream. What kind of-" She froze.

"Asako?"

"...It's nothing." Asako slipped her phone back into her pocket.

"...Do you want to talk about it?"

"I said it's n-nothing, alright?!" Asako glared at Beta. Or she tried to, but her eyes were watery. Realizing that, she brushed them with her hand and then said, "Argh. N-Now I'm pissed. Dammit."

Beta stood up, smiling. "Then should I relieve your stress for you?"

"Go fuck yourself! I ain't in the mood for your damned jokes!"

Beta laughed. "If only I could... is what I would say if I were joking. So I will not. Instead..." She walked over to Asako and grabbed her hand. "Let us get some breakfast and coffee. Preferably sweets. They are always a good way to cheer up."

"F-Fuck that... And let go of me!"

Beta nodded. "Yes. I suppose some treats are delicious enough to elicit that emotion towards them... So let us be off."

"I said, let go! Let...!" The strength suddenly left Asako's body and she muttered, "Let go, dammit..."

"Unfortunately, I have grown rather fond of your presence, so I refuse. Now, some coffee and sweets." Saying that, Beta led Asako towards the elevator.

"...Asshole."

Beta pressed the elevator button and then looked back at Asako. "Well, if you are offering yours-"

"...I'm telling HR."

Beta smiled. "Sadly, I am HR. Now come... Ah, not in that regard. Though if you would like to..." She shifted her gaze towards Asako's chest.

Asako flinched and instinctively pulled her hand away.

Beta let her go and laughed.

The elevator doors opened.

Seeing that, Asako walked inside first and then glared at Beta. "You're lucky you're so damned beautiful- No, that you're a girl. A guy would never get away with half the crap you pull."

"I am well aware. Which is why I use it to the fullest to conduct my research."

"Yeah. Research into being a mega pervert."

Beta shrugged. "The world cannot comprehend my grand designs."

Asako scoffed and pressed the first floor button.

The elevator doors slid shut. As they did, Asako glanced at Beta.

She stared back, tilting her head. "Yes, Asako?"

"Thank- Never mind." Asako grumbled and turned her head to the side.

Beta smiled and then turned her gaze away as well.

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