118 – What it means to be connected
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John stared out the window from his office, sweeping his spiritual sense throughout the city again.

Nothing. The only supernatural beings he detected were himself, Bai, Qing, Alphy, Betty, and Titor.

Not a single trace of either Yue or Meg.

"Where are you two...?" John muttered.

He would have thought that they would arrive nearby if they came to Earth. That they would be somewhere in Tokyo, or Japan at the least. But they weren't. And neither were they anywhere in the world... nor anywhere else in the nearby cosmos. 

And then there was the fact that tracking down the devices that sent those messages in the stream led to a dead end with nothing more than garbled data...

A cold chill in his heart. And as if in response to John's mood, snowflakes drifted past his window, covering everything in a pure white.

Like the moon.

Like Yue.

John let out a deep sigh and shook his head, walking back to sit at his desk.

It was noon.

Right now, Rin should be streaming upstairs and doing a karaoke stream for the Ohana. Alphy should be relaxing in her room playing some games. Betty was having a girl's day out with Asako. Meanwhile, Bai and Qing were setting things up for the stream, finalizing business negotiations and the other preparations required for John's stream later that evening.

John placed his elbows on his desk and then covered his face. "Did I upset you that much...? Or are you hurt?"

He couldn't detect them anywhere nearby. Neither Yue nor Meg. But if they were coming after him, then they should have arrived somewhere close. After all, it wasn't like he was hiding his powers.

Well, he was, but not to the extent that someone like them couldn't notice it.

So he was worried. Still worried.

Logically, he knew that they were probably fine. Meg wouldn't let anything happen to her dear mother, and Yue was too meticulous to have run into harm.

But what if? What if they did?

He couldn't sense them, but there was no mistaking those messages. Furthermore, his instincts were telling him that they were here. That Yue and Meg were somewhere on Earth.

But he couldn't sense them. His 'eyes' covered the whole world, but they were hidden from his gaze. As if some invisible force were blocking them from his view... Or was he just so worried that his senses were being distorted?

What if-

"Hah. Get a hold of yourself, John." He shook his head and then got out of his chair.

There wasn't any point to worrying. He just had to believe. Believe that the two were out there safe and sound. That they were just upset and hiding from him.

Staring out the window again, John found himself fiddling with his wedding ring. The golden dragon, holding the jade moon...

"You never really learn to appreciate something til it's missing, huh?"

John had gotten so used to Yue's presence that he didn't realize just how much he missed her until now.

And then there was Meg too.

Did she finish mastering the 64 hexagrams from the book of changes? Was she eating properly? Did she encounter any problems in her cultivation while he was gone? Did she cry after he broke his promise with her to take her along with him to explore the void?

John blinked and then let out a wry laugh. "Damn. My age is catching up with me, huh? Acting like my parents..." He shook his head and then pulled out his phone.

The stream was already scheduled, and it looked like there were already around a thousand people waiting.

John glanced at the chat, scrolling through the messages in the hopes that he could catch a glimpse of Yue or Meg. That either of them were in the chat with a message for him. But...

"Not that easy, huh?"

...There wasn't any sign of them. Not any real sign, that is.

John noted a few people pretending to be Yue and confessing their love.

To those, he immediately destroyed their routers and deleted their accounts.

Giving him false hope like that-!

A sudden notification and a ringtone.

[Play The Eye of the Tiger].

John glanced at the caller id and then swiped his phone, answering the call. "Yeah, Bai?"

"Alright Boss. I got it sorted out."

John walked back to his desk and sat on it. "Calling me, Boss now, huh? Well, I guess that's better than 'Master.' Fits your character better."

"And bas- Ahem. The copyrights are all sorted out. All the negotiations about streaming privileges and broadcast rights are sorted too. We're marketing this as a virtuoso performance so we managed to get on some television networks too."

"Oh?" John crossed his arms and said, "You did pretty good."

"Damned straight I did. I'm not about to have a pissed off Timeless Savant after me when I just got out of that damned cage."

"...Sorry about that."

Silence on the other side of the line. And then a sigh. "Damn. You really love her."

"I do."

Her smile, her laugh, her words. The way she scolded him for getting out of line. The exasperated but accepting expression when he came back after causing some trouble. How she waited on his words even though she could have found anyone else...

"...Tch. I can't talk with you when you're like this. Gives me the creeps."

John laughed. "Sorry."

"Stop that. Hearing an uncompromising and troublesome guy like you apologizing makes me think existence is going to turn upside down."

"Heh." John smiled. And then his face became somber and he stood up. "Have you found any signs of them?"

"Not yet. But I've gathered up some forces around the world already... And damn that was weird. How do you live in a place like this where just a single spatial jump turns night to day and day to night? And with everything so different in each country too?"

"You get used to it. Now, call me the moment that something else comes up."

"Yeah, yeah. Talk to you later." With that, Bai hung up.

John put his phone away and then frowned. Glancing back out the window at the snowy day, he shook his head and said, "I might as well keep practicing."

At least then he could keep his worries out of his head...

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

"...I still don't get why you're hanging out with me, Beta." Asako rubbed her hands together and glanced to the side. "Don't you have better things to do?"

Beta adjusted her scarf and nodded. "I do. But I rarely get the opportunity to get out, so better to take it while I can, right?"

"I mean, you're paying so I can't complain. Still weird though..." Saying that, Asako took a look around.

After grabbing breakfast, Beta had grabbed Asako and taken her on a whirlwind tour around Tokyo.

An aquarium, a manga museum, even a maid cafe. Though that last one ended quick when the owner started giving Beta some weird looks and she got a dangerous glint in her eyes looking at Asako.

At the moment, the two were wandering around the mall in Roppongi Hills, looking around for a place to grab some lunch before going out on a shopping spree.

Asako stuck her hands into her pants pockets and then glanced at Beta walking beside her.

As always, Beta was dressed like a model. Her crimson hair trailed behind her like red flames while her bright orange eyes... or were they red too? Anyway, they were covered by leopard print shades. With a cream-colored long coat and fluffy white scarf, she gave off the appearance of a nouveau riche foreigner out to see the sights... Which wasn't completely wrong.

As for Asako... After seeing Beta's outfit, she subconsciously examined her own.

A Nikeys sweatshirt. Nikeys sweatpants. Nikeys sneakers... Even though she bought some more clothes last time, Asako's outfit still primarily consisted of just sportswear.

Beta glanced over and said, "Worried about your clothes?"

"N-No!" Asako huffed and said, "I'm just a bit cold."

"Oh. Then here." Without hesitation, Beta took off her coat and handed it to Asako. "I was getting a bit too warm anyway."

Asako blinked, staring at the offered coat. At the same time, she noticed people looking at them, and more than a few older folks whispering to each other. Realizing that, Asako flushed and pushed the coat back. "Keep it to yourself! Let's just hurry and find a place to eat already." Saying that, she marched forward without looking back.

Beta laughed and quickly caught up, once again wearing her coat. "My. I did not realize that you were so reserved, Asako-chan."

"Shut it, Betsy."

Beta smiled. "Well, if you are so eager to eat..." She looked around and then pointed to an udon store off to the side. "How about there?"

"Hm?" Asako blinked and then read the sign. "Maji Toraki Udon?"

The name was written out in English letters, but the Japanese characters over the letters read 'Really Tiger Breath Udon'.

Asako frowned. "You think a place like that'll be any good?"

"I am certain it will be a pleasant surprise. Now." Beta took Asako's hand and said, "Let us be off."

"O-Oi! I told ya to stop pulling me along like that!"

"Your dialect is slipping again. And I will stop when you stop being cute."

"T-T-The hell are you saying?!"

Beta smiled and tapped Asako's nose. "Got you." The moment she did that, she let go and started dashing off ahead.

Asako blinked, shocked at the sudden turn of events. But then she cursed and ran after Beta. "Dammit! Betty! I told you to stop harassing me!"

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

Rin waved at the wall monitor and smiled. "Sorry everyone! Alfi was helping me out with some technical difficulties... Thanks for waiting!"

From her place at the stream control center, Alpha let out a sigh of relief. "Finally got it working..."

Rin glanced back and gave Alpha a thumbs up.

Alpha gave one back and then turned her attention to the monitor. "It's a good thing I asked Betty to show me how all of this worked the other day..."

The chat flowed by on one side of the screen and there was a panel open to moderate it. A portion of the screen displayed a bunch of numbers that Alpha didn't understand, but it seemed to be just data about the stream status. The numbers were green though, so it was... probably fine?

Most importantly though was the set list at the bottom part of the screen. Fortunately, it was the same as the one in her room, so she knew how to use it.

"Okay!" Rin smiled and said, "Now, for the first song today... I'll sing *A Thousand Words* It's from an old game, but I think it's pretty!" She glanced back. "Ready. Alfi?"

"One second... There!"

[Play A Thousand Words, FFX-2]

Rin nodded and then turned back forward, closing her eyes to get ready to sing.

After hearing the instrumental start, Alpha sighed and then huffed. "Those two... they could have at least told me they'd be busy today..."

Alpha shook her head and then went back to carefully monitoring the stream... and desperately praying that nothing broke.

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

Around 7 PM PST, California. A certain famous theme park with a mouse logo.

Tsuki ran ahead, pulling Omega along with her. "Come on, Meggie! Let's go through Galaxy Wars again!"

"H-Hmph. Such a trifling attraction could not-"

"I'll let you pilot the Millennium Raptor this time!"

"Really?" Omega's eyes widened and she quickly said, "You can't take back your word!"

"Promise!"

"Then what are waiting for! Let's go, go, go!" That time, Omega took the lead and started dashing off, pulling Tsuki behind her. But it seemed that Omega was conscious of the other girl, since Omega didn't run in a full sprint towards the attraction.

From a table nearby, shaded by a big mouse umbrella, Yue watched the two girls duck into the line for the Galaxy Wars Star Fighters attraction and let out a faint smile.

Kai walked over, carrying a tray of food, four wrapped burgers and boxes of fries, as well as a bag of soda bottles. His gaze followed Tsuki and Omega before he said, "Seems like the girls are having a good time."

Yue glanced back at Kai and nodded. "It would appear so. But I'm surprised. My daughter can be a bit... well, difficult to handle." She shifted her gaze back towards her daughter before saying, "I'm glad that she found a proper friend."

Kai sat down across from Yue and placed down the food. "I'm glad too. It's been hard for Tsuki to make some friends that she can play with." He paused. "Well, I suppose there's Rin, but she's a bit too old to play with Tsuki like Meggie."

"Mm." Yue gave a noncommittal response and then glanced towards the food. "That... may I?"

"Of course." Kai waved his hand and said, "Help yourself."

Yue nodded and then grabbed one of the burgers and a bottle of orange soda. After carefully unwrapping the burger, she glanced at it and said, "So this is the food of my husband's homeland..."

Kai glanced at her and frowned. "Did John never take you out to eat burgers?"

"No. My dear husband has served me this fare before. However, he mentioned that there was a certain flavor he couldn't replicate, and I'm fairly curious on what that may be."

What was it again? Something about trash food...? No, junk food. Yes, it was that he couldn't replicate junk food because his cooking skills were too high...

Yue took a bite... and then instantly grimaced, placing the rest of the burger to the side. She didn't spit out the bite, considering that it'd be rude. But still, she felt an instant repulsion towards the taste and had to force it down. "Urgh..." She took a napkin from the tray and wiped her mouth. "Disgusting."

Kai laughed and said, "That's American food for you."

Yue opened the bottle of soda and took a sip from that next. When she did, she winced and quickly closed that as well. "Such acrid taste and sweetness..."

Kai frowned and said, "Should I get something else?"

Yue wiped her mouth again and shook her head. "No. I suppose I can simply wait until afterwards to have a proper meal. More importantly..." She tilted her head and said, "You were telling me more about my dear husband's recent affairs?"

"John, huh?" Kai mumbled and then grabbed a soda from the bag. Mount Dew. Cracking it open, he took a swig and said, "Well. To start off with, I met your dear husband when-"

A soft pitter patter.

"Hm?" Kai paused and then looked off to the side. "Rain?"

Yue frowned. "...Were the skies not just clear?"

"They were. Huh." Kai shook his head. "Guess California's weather really is volatile. Must be all of that pollution."

The soft patter of rain slowly grew in frequency and intensity, turning into a steady shower.

Seeing that, Kai glanced at the line where Tsuki and Omega were standing. "...Maybe we should head get the kids and head back for the day. It'd be bad for them to catch a cold, and I've heard that this place is infamous for spreading germs."

Yue paused and stared at the sky.

Stormy gray clouds with the occasional flash of lightning.

Yue subconsciously brushed her abdomen and said, "...Yes. I believe that may be for the best."

Slight edit to add in a couple lines to elaborate on John's attempts to find Yue and Omega.

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