324 – A small piece of normal happiness
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Alphy idly swirled the cherry slushy she ordered and then glanced over to the side.

Asako caught her gaze and then shook her head, sipping on a hot cocoa. "You two are crazy. It's this cold and you're drinking frozen stuff?"

Rin happily sipped on a caramel frappe and said, "Who says you can't have cold stuff when it's cold? Besides, if you're cold on the inside, the cold outside isn't that bad. It's a lot worse if you drink something warm."

Asako gave Rin a blank stare and then said, "...Are you just messing with me, Sis? Because you've been saying these dark things out of the blue more often..."

Rin looked away, idly licking a bit of the whipped cream away from her straw. "I don't know what you mean, Aneue. I mean, it's just common sense, right?"

"...You're totally fucking with me."

Alphy smiled at the banter and sipped her slushy...

"Isn't that Onee-chan?"

...And then quickly pulled it away, trying her best not to cough from Rin's comment.

She also was suddenly grateful that she picked something cold since her face was definitely heating up.

Alphy sneaked a peek over at Asako to see that she was blushing.

"S-Shut up, Sis! Alphy and I aren't... I mean, not right..." Asako's eyes started darting all over the place before she let out a huff and said, "W-We haven't even gone a proper date yet, so shut up with that."

Rin's eyes lit up and she said, "So you ARE interested in Onee-chan!"

"..." Asako pointedly looked away from Rin and focused on drinking her hot cocoa.

Rin giggled and sipped on her frappe.

As for Alphy...

'This is fun.'

...She let out a warm smile and just enjoyed the bright atmosphere.

After the Prodigy girls finished their first collab stream, Asako took Rin and Alphy out to free up the Project MirAIs lounge and give their kouhais some space to relax.

At least, that was what Asako said.

Alphy thought that it was mostly for Asako to stop herself from tearing into Chihiro.

Whatever the reason, it led to the three Prototype girls out by themselves walking around Roppongi.

It was fairly crowded. Despite... or maybe because of the fact that the year was ending, a lot of people were around. And as Alphy looked around, she noticed that there were also a good number watching clips from Project MirAIs streams.

Seeing that, Alphy frowned and subtly fiddled with the bracelet that her father gave her, feeling the faint pulse of spiritual energy coursing through it.

Rin noticed and tilted her head. "What's the matter, Onee-chan? Is something wrong with your bracelet?"

Alphy glanced at the ruby and white jade bracelet around her left wrist before shaking her head. "No. I'm just..." She looked at the people around them and said, "It's a bit odd being around so many people again..."

For the longest time, it had just been herself and Betty. And before that, Alphy had been fairly isolated from others both because of her reputation and because of her abilities. Mingling among other people, let alone mortals that she could kill with a mistaken glance back in the Three Realms...

It was strange. Even though it wasn't completely mingling among ordinary people because of the suggestion to erase any connections of herself, Asako, and Rin with Project MirAIs, Alphy still had the sense of being... 'normal.' An ordinary young woman wandering around a mundane city with people she cherished.

Asako sipped on her hot cocoa and then nodded. "Tell me about it." She looked around and muttered, "I keep expecting a random thug to try and jump me or an assassin to spring up with a knife."

Rin rolled her eyes and said, "And you were saying that *I* randomly said dark things, Aneue. I don't think ordinary people casually say that they're used to being ambushed."

"Well, I've never been ordinary. And trying hasn't ever ended well." Asako mumbled and then looked around. "...I guess this is kind of nice though. I think I like America more... Though I definitely wouldn't be caught dead showing something like this off there." Asako raised her left hand, staring at the elegant sapphire-encrusted silver dragon bracelet wrapped around her wrist. "...John doesn't do simple gifts, does he?"

The three girls walked around the block, easily making their way through the crowd without being disturbed. After walking along the sidewalk for a while, the crowd thinned a bit.

When it did, Rin shifted her drink to her right hand and then glanced at the bracelet wrapped around her left wrist, one made of golden vines wrapping around fire opals that caught light like they were filled with sparks. Staring at it, Rin nodded and said, "Well. Mister John is the sort of person to do a lot for the people he cares about. Right, Onee-chan?"

Asako lowered her hand and said, "Well I know *that.* Still, to just casually hand out bracelets that must have cost a fortune to buy..."

"Hm?" Alphy tilted her head and said, "Papa didn't buy these for us though?"

Asako blinked. "Then where did he get them?" She paused and said, "Don't tell me he has a stash of imperial jewelry or something?"

Alphy swirled the slushy around her cup and hummed. "I think he used to. But he traded it all away to protect Betty from creeps who wanted to keep her away as a pleasure slave."

"Wait." Asako immediately raised her hand and said, "What did you just say?"

Alphy sipped her slushy and shook her head. "Don't worry. Everything's fine now. And Papa made sure to erase that person from existence, as well as five generations of that person's bloodline and family."

"Five generations?" Asako blinked and then furrowed her brow. "What the hell? I knew that China still has it bad with human trafficking problems, but to be ballsy enough to try and abduct the daughter of someone crazy like John... The Triads really are something else these days, huh?"

Alphy blinked. "Triads?"

Rin looked between Alphy and Asako and then frowned. She shivered and then said, "Could we talk about something else?"

Asako winced and said, "Sorry, Sis."

"It's fine." Rin sipped on her drink and said, "Anyway..." She looked at Alphy and smiled. "Does Mister John really have a collection of valuable jewelry, Onee-chan?"

Alphy shook her head. "Not anymore. The only jewelry he still has should be the jade talisman he had since his teenaged years and the ring that Mama made for him."

Asako gave Alphy a blank stare and then shook her head. "Why is it that everytime I start to think you and your family are normal, you have to say something crazy? That insanely expensive looking wedding ring John wears was made by Miss Yue? Like, by hand?"

"Mmhm." Alphy nodded and said, "She's really proud of it. Mama always bragged about how she toiled for years carefully smelting the metal and mining the gemstones before refining the ring at the highest point in the world so that it could be imbued with as much of the sun's light as possible."

"...And John gave the cheap looking diamond ring in return?"

Alphy giggled and said, "Well, it was his first try at making jewelry back then and what inspired Mama to make her own ring to give him." She sipped on her drink, remembering the past and said, "The number of times Papa accidentally crushed diamonds by chiseling them too hard..." She giggled again went back to sipping her drink.

"Ooh!" Rin's eyes lit up and she said, "So Mister John made these by hand! Wow!" She looked at her bracelet and said, "He's really good!"

Asako looked at her bracelet as well and then let out a wistful sigh. "Is there anything that bastard can't do well?"

"Sleep."

Asako blinked. "What?"

Alphy furrowed her brow and said, "Papa still isn't very good about sleeping. I think he's better now that Mama is around to force him, but he has a bad habit of staying up for weeks on end." She paused and then frowned. "...I should remind him about that the next time he scolds me for staying up late. It's his fault Betty has that habit too."

Asako sipped on her drink and said, "Well, considering where you guys came from and the secret backstory that you still won't tell me, I'm not surprised John finds it hard to sleep." She frowned and said, "If it wasn't for the fact that I've had sleepovers with you two and had things turn out fine, I'd probably still be hard-pressed to get a good night's sleep too." She paused. "...Though the expensive bed I just bought should help."

Alphy's eyes lit up and she said, "Is it memory foam? Papa always talked about a fancy bed from his homeland that was made of that. Can I try it?"

Rin giggled.

Asako sent her a sour look before glancing back at Alphy. "Sure, Alphy. It won't be here until after the new year though. It's that fancy purple bed thing shipping straight from America." She sipped on her hot cocoa and said, "To be honest, I'm curious about it too. Apparently it's a special type of memory foam that can help with back problems." She reached up to rub her shoulders and said, "I've got a lot of kinks I need to work out, so this should help."

Rin swirled her straw around her drink and casually said, "Oh I bet you do, Aneue."

Asako paused and then glared at Rin. "You need to stop scrolling through Protolewd."

"But it's so fun teasing you! And you and Onee-chan make such a cute couple! Plus, when you get married, we can all be real sisters!"

Alphy blushed. "M-Marriage is a bit... Um..." She sipped on her cherry slushy, focusing on the cold beverage to calm the heat rushing to her face. "...E-Even if Asako has Papa's approval, I-I still need to prepare myself..."

Asako blushed as well and said, "W-What do you mean I have John's approval? A-And what's that about preparing yourself? I-It's not that serious..."

Alphy paused and then looked at Asako with teary eyes. "Y-You're not?"

Asako flinched. "I-I mean..."

"Got you." Alphy giggled and then sipped on her drink.

Asako blinked and then handed her drink to Rin. "Hold this for me, Sis."

"Um. Sure?" Rin blinked and took the hot cocoa from Asako.

And then Asako lunged towards Alphy.

Alphy giggled and then dashed away to a nearby playground, hiding behind a slide. "You can't catch me, Asako!"

"Get back here, you impossibly cute and sexy woman!"

Rin laughed and said, "You're letting your true feelings show, Aneue."

"Shut up, Sis!"

"Why? You should be more- Pwah?!" Rin spat out the snow suddenly covering her mouth. "Aneue!"

Asako palmed a clump of snow and started forming a ball. "Like I said, shut up already!"

Rin huffed and then ran over. "This means war!"

"Bring it, you- Pft!?" Asako dropped the snowball she was making and then spun around to glare at Alphy.

Alphy giggled and said, "What?"

"...Oh you are *so* dead!"

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

On the street opposite to the playground, a tall man with a shaved head and a black trench coat glanced at the girls starting an impromptu snowball fight and smiled. After that, he adjusted the phone he was holding against his ear and said, "The situation is clear, Employer. The devices appear to be working as intended, so there is no need for intervention."

"Great to hear, Toby. Keep watching over them, will you? I'd do it myself, but I've got a date with destiny and a few other things to deal in the background." John's voice echoed from the phone, along with a baby's faint gurgling. "Also, I think it's about time I step out of the limelight for a bit. Things always seem to be better when I do that."

Toby nodded and said, "I will do just that. Though I believe that it would be fine for Employer to be a bit more public."

"I'll think about it. For now, I'll let the girls run the show and have fun."

"Understood."

Silence.

People walked past the Prototype girls and watched them play for a bit before smiling and continuing on their way.

That was good. The devices that turned such a scene into a 'wistful memory' in the eyes of the observers made Toby's job a lot easier.

It had been a bit of a hassle dealing with that persistent reporter continually trying to catch the girls going to and leaving from Myth Inc. HQ.

"Well." John spoke up and said, "I'll leave you be. Make sure to take breaks and live your own life too. You're on security detail, but that shouldn't be your life's purpose here."

"Thank you for your concern, Employer. And rest assured, I am taking care to maintain my mental health by spending time with my best friend and his sister."

"You made a friend? That's great!"

Toby nodded, watching Alphy knock Asako to the ground with a barrage of snowballs. He smiled at that and then shifted his attention back to the phone and said, "Yes. It has been an interesting and enjoyable experience. And speaking of experiences... Have you considered opening an English branch of Project MirAIs? And if not that, a male idol group? I have quite a few people to recommend if you have, Employer."

"Really? Mm... We'll talk more after the new year."

"Understood."

"Then if that's all..."

"One more thing, Employer."

"Yes?"

"Is it normal to be sent unsolicited pictures of beautiful naked women after streaming? And would you happen to know why they keep suggesting that they have a cat they wish to show me?"

"..."

Slowly getting back into the swing of things. We'll be shifting over to slice of life and the daily lives of the girls for a while.

Also, I have *yet again* been preempted by Cover on the next story development. >.> Just when I'm mapping out the plot points on how to start the male branch of Project MirAIs they go and drop HoloTEMPUS...

...Well. There goes all the 'Temporal' pun names I can use...

Now I just have to quickly get to the World Line Arc before Alternative drops in its entirety...

P.S. I'll add the names and the stream chapter later. Don't want to break this flow.

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