330 – To the Hotsprings! – II
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The parking lot behind Myth Inc. HQ. There, Suzume placed her bag in the trunk of a black sedan. After that, she turned and smiled towards the man leaning against the driver-side door. "Thank you so much for this, Mikata."

Mikata adjusted his crimson scarf and smiled. "Don't worry. It's my job to protect you. A few more girls won't be an issue. Besides, I'm curious to see these hotsprings you girls are talking about." He glanced off into the distance, the wind ruffling his white hair as he did.

A heroic figure. Even though he said he was just a bodyguard, Suzume couldn't help but feel that there was something more to the man than he let on. But she didn't pry. Instead, Suzume leaned against the door of the car and smiled. "Are you an onsen enthusiast, Mikata?"

"Heh." Mikata shook his head and said, "Not really. I used to know some people who owned a private one, but that was a lifetime ago. I'm just looking forward to getting a chance to unwind for a bit."

"Of course." Suzume nodded and said, "I'll have my parents arrange a private area just for you, Mikata."

Mikata smiled. "I appreciate it. Though." He rubbed his face and muttered, "If those two are the people I think they are, it might get a bit awkward."

"Hm?"

"Nothing."

Suzume wanted to ask a bit more. But before she could, someone called out.

"I thought the car was going to be inside! It's cold out here!" Chihiro shivered beneath her blue parka and then walked over, carrying a black dufflebag under her right arm.

Shu laughed from beside Chihiro and said, "You need to get out more, Chi-chan. It's warm today."

"You call this warm?!"

Yuri smirked, walking behind Shu and Chihiro. "What's the matter, Chichi? Can't stand a little cold?"

"More like I can't risk my delicate fingers getting frostbite." Chihiro tucked her hands beneath her armpits and said, "Honestly... The onsen better be worth it."

Suzume waved at the other Prodigy girls walking over from the building and said, "Did you finish packing?"

Chihiro arrived at the car first and then carefully placed her duffle bag into the trunk. "Finished enough. You said we'll get more clothes over there, right?"

Suzume nodded. "It is a bit remote, but there should be a few stores to pick up any missing pieces."

"And internet?"

Yuri rolled her eyes and tossed her bag in the trunk. "We're taking a break, Chichi. We don't need internet... Unless you didn't set up any premiere videos?"

"Stop calling me that." Chihiro frowned at Yuri and said, "And of course I did. But streaming isn't my only work, you know? I have a lot of commissions I need to check up on."

Shu walked over to put her bag in the trunk and said, "It's the week before New Year's. Just say you're on break or something. Chi-chan is good enough that you can say that, right?"

Chihiro paused and then straightened, looking a bit smug. "When you put it that way..."

Yuri rolled her eyes and closed the car trunk. "Stop feeding her ego, Shu." After that, she looked towards Mikata and said, "And thank you for taking us, Mister Seigi."

Mikata smirked at that, as if enjoying an inside joke. But then he nodded and said, "Don't worry. I've been meaning to drive across the mainland anyway. I'm curious to see how much has changed."

Shu tilted her head and said, "Have you been away from the country for a while, Seigi-san?"

"Something like that." Mikata pulled out his phone to check the time and then said, "We should get going if we want to arrive by nightfall."

"Ooh!" Chihiro ran to the passenger side and said, "Shotgun!"

"Ah." Mikata spoke up and said, "Speaking of guns." He stared at Chihiro and said, "I'm confiscating that when we arrive."

Chihiro froze.

Yuri blinked and then facepalmed. "Chihiro. You brought *that* again?"

Chihiro let out a nervous laugh and said, "It's for personal protection?"

Mikata opened the driver's side door and said, "Then as the personal protector of you girls on this trip, I will use it effectively to keep you safe. Now let's get going."

"...Hmph." Chihiro huffed and then hopped into the passenger side of the car.

Yuri shook her head and then went around to the back to open the car door. "Sometimes, I swear that you're the one who needs therapy, Chichi."

Chihiro glanced over from her seat and said, "Well, what's an artist without some mental problems?"

Mikata got in the car and said, "As long as you don't start talking about marbles."

Chihiro blinked and looked over. "Marbles?"

"Don't worry about it."

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

Back in his new office at Myth Inc. HQ, Kai sat down at his desk and scrolled through social media on his laptop. Sipping a cup of coffee, he checked the various Project MirAIs hashtags and then sighed. "Looks like Prototype is still more popular than Prodigy."

Checking on UTube, Twotter, Readit, and other social media, the main posts on Project MirAIs were mostly Alfi, Hana, and Aoko. Of course, there were a few for the Prodigy girls, but it wasn't even a contest right now.

"It's really not fair opening with an all-star cast like that, John. Especially Alfi." Kai muttered and then glanced at the live feed from Twotter.

Memes of Alfi swinging swords around. Pictures of her disgusted and disappointed face. Fanart of Alfi stepping on the camera... And quite a few of her stepping on Aoko. Not only that, but there were memes of Hana's room floating around, creating a new trend of decorating it with various things since it was so plain.

It would be one thing if it was just isolated to a niche audience. But...

Kai glanced at the top ten trending on Twotter. In particular, he stared at #AlfiTitor trending at number 1 and #VTuberUprising at number 2. And right after that, trending at number 3 was #WhoIsJohnSmith.

"...Hah. I miss the time before social media." Kai shook his head and then went back to work analyzing everything and making PR plans for the Prodigy girls.

The year was coming to an end, and afterwards... Well. It'd be a brave new world with all of the crazy tech that would be dropping from John and his family.

Kai had to make sure the Prodigy girls didn't get swept up in the tides and have to get rescued by John.

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