Five days had passed since Misa had last seen Baron. The weekend had passed without a word from him, even after Misa tried and failed once more to get into his room, and the other students had started whispering their own theories about where the loud evil guy had gone to. Some said that the school finally realized that he wasn't supposed to be here, and booted him out. Others jokingly said that he had gone north of Mahou City to conquer the first village he came across. Misa was pretty certain that he was still in his dorm room, and like she had done at least a dozen times that day, she reassured herself of this by pulling out her MSF High rulebook and opening up to the page that featured Baron's description.
His level remained the same. No changes to his hit point level, indicating that he'd not gone out to fight. Still had his armor equipped, she could tell by the active facet levels it was unlocking for him. Did he sleep in it, or did he just not sleep at all? Misa couldn't help but worry, and the fact that the language teacher was currently two-dimensional and writing everything on the chalkboard as infinitely thin lines was doing little to distract her. Even when the school's siren went off, signifying that a group of shadows was attacking the sports field, she didn't really feel like pushing up against the window to see what was going on. She was, however, already seated next to one of the windows looking outside the school, and couldn't help but catch a glimpse at one of the looming monsters as it lumbered towards the school.
Misa's ears shot straight up.
It was tall, even for a trauma shadow, as most people see their problems as something larger than themselves. This particular one stretched up a couple dozen feet, and was proportioned in such a way that it looked as though it was being viewed at a lower angle, with stretched legs and a foreshortened top half. The ground around it swarmed with rolling bits of darkness, and the mass appeared as a whole to be composed of segmented chunks of darkness that shimmered slightly against the light, with hissing fog pouring from the seams. It looked, as much as it looked like anything at all, to be a shadowy mass constrained in a suit of armor, and that armor was covered in spikes, just like the armor that Baron wore. Where its right forearm would be was a massive glowing blade, and as it took long, stomping strides, with the same gait that Baron clearly meant to imitate, the area around it bathed in darkness seemed to grow larger and larger, as if it was taking more of the land beneath it into its domain. A pair of glowing red embers that served as something like eyes focused clearly on something above far the horizon, and though it seemed to pay no heed to what was beneath it, the grass where it stepped withered and died and the ground beneath quickly dried and cracked. More than anything, though, Misa could feel the aura that radiated off of it. Plants that were too far away to be affected by its withering touch instead seemed to pull away, and simply looking at the eyes that refused to look back filled Misa with a sense of inescapable dread. Though something like this couldn't have actual racial levels, it was at least emulating the abilities of a Terror elemental. It was a shadow of Lord Malignor.
Frozen in place from fear, Misa tried to calm herself enough to figure out what to do. It wasn't going to stay and fight whoever it was that was going to head out to the field, and judging by the other shade-comprised beasts already tearing into the bleachers around the school's track, they were going to have their hands full. Misa's body wanted nothing more than to run away from the thing, and it was only after a few moments of staring agape at the terrible thing that she realized that running away was exactly what she had to do. As the other students were stunned by what she was doing, Misa wrenched open the window and jumped out, then took off in great leaping bounds towards the dorms, hoping to warn Baron of what was coming for him.
Keeping her distance from the monster that was most definitely headed in the same direction she was headed was difficult enough. Every few leaps she took, she felt compelled to look behind her, freezing momentarily as she could not help but take stock of it once again. Thankfully, the abilities her part-rabbit DNA afforded her incredible distance to her jumping steps, letting her move much farther before she was stalled again. Remembering the futility of knocking on Baron's door as well as the fact that she would not have enough time to navigate the interior of the dorms before the entire building would be set upon by the trauma shadow, she made the snap decision to make a rush for where she figured Baron's window was. Once she was close enough, she planned, she would jump with all of her might in the hope that she would at least be able to grab hold of Baron's windowsill and yell out a warning. However, as the dormitory building grew into her sights, the armored figure standing in front of the entrance told her that that would not be necessary.
"Baron!" Misa screamed at the top of her lungs, still hopping towards him. "The shadow's coming for you! You have to run!" Misa adjusted her path towards him, and as he came into focus, she could see that he had his sword out and was standing in a readied pose. As she got even closer, she tried again, certain that he could hear her. "You can't fight one of these things! Let the teachers handle it! If it touches you--"
"It is mine to fight." Baron barked back, shifting his feet slightly to readjust his sword. "You should stand clear."
Misa jumped past Baron, scurrying to the entrance to the dorms. Again she found herself unable to move, but it was purely to see how Baron would be able to face such a monster rather than the terror-inducing abilities the trauma shadow had. As the shadow gained ground, it seemed almost to slow down, and though its eyes never looked down at Baron, it was clear that its focus was turned completely to the young human. Misa tried to look past the shadow, hoping that one of the teachers or perhaps an upperclassman had followed it out to the dorms, but there was no one to be seen. Despite the creature seeming to grow even larger as it drew nearer, Baron refused to budge.
"Come at me!" Baron yelled up at the beast. "It's me you're here for, right?
There was a silence that filled the area around the dorms as the creature finally turned its eyes downward. Misa was awash with a noise that sounded like the muted screaming of a thousand pained people, and Baron's determined face grimaced for a moment as he came to grips with the same sound. Saying nothing further, the armored Human simply stared back at the shadow, saying nothing aloud by communicating to it all the same that it would be unable to intimidate him. The embers that were the monster's eyes narrowed and, once it came to the realization that it would be unable to simply terrify him into acquiescing, it lifted its right weapon-arm up into the sky before dropping it down directly where Baron was standing. Baron deftly hopped to the rght, and the enormous sword of dark energy sparked against the paved sidewalk with a screeching crash. In response, the beast swung its arm outwards, digging up chunks of concrete that sprayed around the gash it was creating as Baron rolled back into the grass that adjoined the sidewalk. Sensing an opening, Baron dove at the shadow, using both hands to swing his own blade at the monster's center mass, only to watch as the armored energies of the creature merely split away to allow his swing to whiff completely.
Baron taunted the creature as he hopped back away, pulling a hand back from his sword to hold the twenty-pound weapon in a single hand as he spoke. "Pathetic. You fear so much as a single blow from my sword?" He waved his free hand over the blade and spoke again, his hand and his voice radiating with magical energy. "Blade of will!" Baron's hand glowed brighter for a second before all of the power radiating from his body rushed into the hilt of his sword. After gathering for a moment, It exploded outward along the blade in waves of rushing red energy that licked around the sharpened parts of the weapon like a translucent flame. With his warrior power activated, he began to fight the beast more directly, slashing at it whenever it approached, and causing the beast's miasma to hiss at him as it came into contact with his empowered weapon.
As the trauma shadow realized its physical assault was of little use against Baron's skilled swordsmanship, it reeled back for a moment before using its other arm, tipped with a writhing mass of darkness that could generously be called a hand, to gather clouds of its miasmatic energies into bolts of impenetrable blackness that it threw in groups of three at Baron and the area around him. As Baron dodged the bolts, deflecting some of them with the flat of his blade, Misa finally was able to compose herself enough to realize that she could help, as well. Opening the book she had carried with her all this way to Baron's page, she scanned over the fighter's stats for a quick moment before fumbling out a pencil from her backpack. "Baron, I'm going to try and give you as much of a boost as I can," she yelled out as she frantically scribbled out new, higher numbers, hoping they would take effect long enough to allow him to defeat the shadow, or at least hold it back until help arrived. Defense wouldn't be much use, if it touched him in any meaningful way the fight would be over, and strength was equally worthless as hitting it seemed to do nothing at the moment, but boosting up his Agility and Personality would allow him to evade the monster's physical attacks and resist any of its mental effects.
Scanning over the page for anything else she could do, she realized that though the monster's attacks weren't doing physical damage to him yet, they were sapping his stamina, and Misa devoted the majority of her attention to rewriting the dropping health point value as often as her book would allow to its highest level. Seeing little else that she could influence, she called out her intention to try and boost his magical weapon ability, giving it a greater effect and another extended use of the power when the first charge of it ran out.
With renewed Vigor thanks to Misa's rewrites, Baron was able to close the gap between himself and the shadow version of Lord Malignor, but even with the increased range and damage afforded by his enhanced sword, the damage he did to it seemed to vanish moments after it was dealt. In frustration, he screamed out with his attacks. "Accursed beast! What will it take to vanquish you?"
"It's a trauma shadow," Misa yelled from the cover of the recessed doorway she had stationed herself in, "it represents how you feel about your father! Regular attacks won't do much to it, and neither of us is strong enough to whittle it down faster than it can regenerate!" Misa had learned long ago about how Shadows functioned for one of her articles, but had to trim it down to the quick version for Baron. "You can only fully defeat it symbolically! Whatever you think will defeat your father will hurt the shadow the most!"
"That is unfortunate," Baron boomed back as he leapt around the shadow to take an ineffectual strike at its ankles. "My father eliminated his fear of death when he ascended to his Elemental form."
"I know he's tough! I know he took over the entire planet!" Misa yelled back, trying to think of what the best way to deal with a representation of an immortal dictator would be, and coming up blank. "But no shadow yet hasn't had a weakness! You just need to find it, and not let it scare you!" Maybe, Misa hoped, just standing up to it would be enough, but if that were the case, it shouldn't have been able to attack in the first place. She recalled all that she had learned about Baron and his father through the timeline on Professor Quom's computer, but none of it was personal enough to offer him anything.
As Misa continued trying to keep Baron's health up through rewriting over and over in the book, Baron's relentless assault against the shadow continued. It was only after a few unhindered blows that he began to realize that the shadow was no longer taking swipes at him. Cautiously, he backed away, keeping his sword arm up, and after nearly a minute where nothing happened, Misa cried out again.
"It's trying to surround you!"
Baron's eyes darted from side to side and, sure enough, the dark mist that exuded from the bottom of the creature had crept around on both sides and was about to connect in the back. Baron leapt for the patch of grass that had not yet shown signs of withering, but as he came down he realized that the creature had swung its giant blade-arm to intercept him at this exact point. With only a fraction of a second left to react, the young warrior slashed his own sword, hoping to deflect it, but his timing was not quite good enough to do so entirely. Instead, the creature's appendage slammed into the back of Baron's gauntleted right hand, and, rather than knock him away as Baron had expected, slowly began to seep into the joints of his armor as Baron tumbled through the withering grass.
Horrified, Misa screamed out Baron's name. In her experience, just touching a shadow should have been enough to put someone into a coma, and this is exactly what she had expected to happen to Baron. Instead, though, as the shadow's misty inner form began to gather on Baron's arm, Baron pushed himself up and wrenched his right arm away, slashing with his sword as he did so.
Misa stared agape for a moment, then looked down at her book. Baron's stats remained the same, but the page itself appeared different, as if a shadow was being cast on the corners that was slowly darkening the pages. Desperately trying to deal with it, she first scribbled hasty borders around the edges, hoping to at least slow the spread, but it had no discernible effect. Drawing upon the spell knowledge she had, she tried in vain to cast a healing spell, then a cleaning spell on the page, but if it did anything she couldn't tell. Meanwhile, Baron's dodges and swipes began to become sluggish, and Misa's attempts to overwrite his stamina with a higher number failed as the page was too dark to influence. The tide of the battle was quickly shifting, and instead of trading dodges and blows with the monster, Baron was soon devoting all of what energy he had left to trying to parry stronger and stronger strikes with his sword alone. The determination never faded from his face, but he was simply lacking the energy to fight it off much longer. It seemed almost an inevitability that it would hit him again, and when it finally did, it did so in the same spot it had hit him before, along the wrist joint of his right hand.
With a sizzling sound, the shadow's blade dove into the armor, losing its shape as it squeezed into the plate mail's joints. Baron screamed in pain, unable to keep his left hand on the sword any longer as he tried desperately to pull his body away from the thing that was now inside him. Misa continued throwing spells at the book, every purity spell she could manage to think of, but all she was doing was mentally exhausting herself. "The shadow...it's like this because your father planned to steal your body..." She said, loud enough to hopefully reach baron but unsure that it would be any help. As Baron dug his feet into the ground in an attempt to wrench his overtaken limb away from the creature, it let out a deep bellowing noise that sounded like a wicked laugh from an unearthly beast. It pulled up its arm, causing Baron's right arm to move similarly, waving it around a bit as if to try it out. With that, it turned its gaze towards Misa.
Misa had been resisting the effects of the trauma shadow's terror elemental abilities for the duration of the battle, but the entire time it had been focusing its attention on Baron. With it looking directly at her, she was unable to summon the willpower to move, and she stood helplessly there as it raised Baron's arm. Baron grunted, yelled, and pounded his left fist against the possessed arm, but seemed unable to stop it from advancing towards her. As it slashed down at Misa, it was only a well-timed kick from Baron that took the sword off-course to miss Misa's head completely, but instead the MSF High book she was carrying was neatly bisected. The creature screeched in annoyance and looked over at Baron for a moment, which was just long enough for Misa to leap away.
Unfortunately for Misa, there wasn't much of anywhere left to jump to. The spot that she had picked had already been withered away by the shadow's miasma, and though it wasn't currently occupying it, it seemed to be able to move much more quickly to areas it had already been over. Misa panicked in response, darting slightly to one side in an effort to fake it out, but by the time she had done so the shadow had already cut off all her escape routes, leaving her only able to back up against the dormitory wall. There were no windows in reach, and no way that her jump could take her to the roof of the building. All Misa could do was press her back to the wall and try to avoid looking at the monster. She was pretty certain that the monster could only temporarily dispose of her--no one stays dead for long in Mahou city--but by the time she was revived, the trauma shadow would have hours ago completely taken Baron over, at which point it was likely to simply put him into a coma as is standard procedure for them. More concerned with Baron's fate than her own, she cringed and waited for the shadow to strike her down.
As it had when it first started its fight with Baron, the towering shadow raised its right arm high into the sky, pulling Baron along with it. Baron looked at his raised right arm, from which the rest of his body dangled precariously, then down at Misa. The shadow likely could not have hurt Misa on its own, but could cut her in half with Baron's own arm. He could have taken a moment to ponder the best course of action, but he already knew the only thing he could do at this point.
Remembering that Misa had given him a potentially more powerful second charge of his warrior ability, he yelled at the creature, hoping to distract it long enough to activate the power. "Cretinous coward! I will not allow you to bring harm to Misa! Blade of will!" Like before, power surged from his body, but this time he forced the energy into the bladed back of his left gauntlet. The spikes licked with furious red energy, and Baron thrust his fist towards his armpit with all of the might he could muster. With a sickening "splorch", the ornamental yet sharp blades sliced through the joint in his armor, tore through flesh and bone, and emerged a bloody mess through the other side.
Baron and the monster simultaneously screamed in agonizing pain as the straps holding Baron's pauldron to his chestplate snapped under the weight of the remainder of his body. Most of the exhausted warrior immediately fell to the sidewalk below, the torn socket where his right arm once was spurting pints of blood onto the already depressing dead grass, but his severed arm hung in the air momentarily as the shadow that still possessed it shrieked with an ear-shattering screech. The arm's hand convulsed, dropping the sword a few feet from Baron as the foggy black mists sucked back into the center mass of the monster. It tried in vain to shake the arm into working again, but it was rapidly losing its form as the armor began to flake away, revealing the blackened arm with pulsing emberlike veins beneath. It grasped at the prize it had temporarily gained, but its other limbs were becoming less and less solid, and as it screeched out its last cry Baron's right arm, charred and withered, fall to the ground and collapsed into a pile of ash.
Misa called out to Baron as she ran towards his convulsing body, casting spells in desperation to staunch the bleeding. Baron weakly turned to smile at Misa and spoke softly, his voice weakened as he drifted out of consciousness. "If any part of me was like him...I didn't need it."
As Misa approached Baron's dorm room, the drawbridge door this time lowered for her before she was even up to it. She wasn't entirely sure, but it also appeared as though the moat was a few inches smaller. Before entering, she looked around her shoulder to see the box she was trying desperately to keep hidden poking out, and pushed it the other way before stepping in. To the immediate left of the doorway, she could see Baron propped up in his bed, wearing a plain white T-shirt and with his blanket half-covering him. His left hand was holding one of his schoolbooks open against his knees, and he looked up from his textbook to greet his guest. "Misa," he said, again calling the bunny-girl by her first name, "It's good to see you." Misa looked around for a second, then tried not to stare as she confirmed that Baron's right arm was still gone, as it had been during the visit she had made yesterday.
"How are you feeling today?" Misa asked Baron, trying not to look awkward holding the box behind her back. Quickly realizing that it might have looked a little inappropriate to be holding one arm out of sight, she set the box against the corner of Baron's desk before going back around to the side of his bed.
Baron glanced over at the package, but paid it no mind. "I'm doing well. I'm perfectly ready to resume my instruction at the school, but that nurse continues to insist that I take it easy. I don't enjoy taking it easy."
"I had been told early on in the year," Baron said, almost changing the subject, "That the magics of this school would heal all injuries. I presume it's for that reason that I survived the encounter at all, but it does leave some lingering questions."
"R-right," Misa began, pulling her MSF High rulebook out from her backpack. Baron smiled just a bit when he saw it out, and Misa once again squirmed for a second, as she realized that her book had somehow managed to repair itself after being cut in half, but Baron's arm was not quite as lucky. "Most of the time, that's true, if a student loses a limb like that it will just reappear the next day. but Keiri knew that wasn't likely to be the case when she'd attempted to use a regeneration spell on the stump and nothing happened. While you were out, I managed to get an explanation, and your entry in the book confirms it." She flipped her book back open to Baron's page, and as she did so he noticed that she had placed a tab along the side to facilitate reaching that specific section.
"Most trauma shadows represent something that just caused a student pain, so that's all they care to do. Yours was special in that your father never directly hurt you, but instead spent your entire life using you." Misa looked down at the character sheet as she continued to explain. "He planned on taking you over, and once you realized that, the trauma shadow that you generated wanted to do that more than simply shut you down. Of course, it still would have by its nature as a trauma shadow, but you were too strong-willed for that."
Misa went on. "When you cut your own arm off rather than let him hurt someone using your own body, it symbolized a rejection of your father's evil and the environment he had raised you in. I suspect that a similar self-sacrifice would have been required to deal with him no matter what." Glancing back down at the page, she reminded herself that his physical disadvantage list now showed that he was missing an arm, cementing the idea that it was permanent. It wasn't all bad, though, according to her book. "Your father had done something to you as a child, and you were somehow already prone to becoming a Terror Elemental like him. Probably, it was part of his preparations to cast his body-swap spell. But when you cut your arm off, you were able to change your bloodline. My book is showing now that you have levels both in Human and Strength Elemental, so that's something."
"If losing an arm was all it took to rid myself of his corrupting influence," Baron replied, "It was well worth it." He paused for a moment, collecting his thoughts. "I'm not a fool, you know."
Misa pulled back a moment, flustered. "I-I never thought--"
Baron raised his hand to calm her. "I always knew, to a degree, that my father was a terrible man. I saw the way others treated him. He called it respect, but I should have recognized it as fear. I just...had never felt it before, until I saw myself about to hurt you. And looking back on my life, everything he ever did for me was just a means to give himself a strong and youthful body without having to put in the effort to train himself. Every meal was for his eventual benefit, every suit of armor or extravagant piece of sculptuary in my room something for him to enjoy in a year or so. He never even gave me a name, but when he declared me Baron over a tiny keep I was so desperate for validation that I embraced the title. I never even realized that he had sent me to a death trap because he had become immortal and no longer had use for me."
Misa joined in. "That must be why the name entry in this book is so strange. It just has a title and your father's last name."
"I never even knew my mother," Baron sighed. "He had told me that she didn't want me and that was why she left, but now I question that story." He turned to look at Misa, sincerity she hadn't seen from him before in his eyes. "Do you think that she had given me a name?" He looked down at his book sternly. "She must have. When I return to face my father, the last thing he will do before he is struck down by my hand is tell me who my mother was and the name she gave me."
"So, I suppose it's a foregone conclusion," Misa interjected before the warrior could get too angry, "That you'll be going back to your home planet after you've graduated MSF High?"
"Someone will have to deal with him. Who better than me?"
"I suppose that at least makes poetic sense," Misa answered, "But there is something you should know. When I went to learn about your home planet, I discovered that you had been taken from a time period over four hundred years in the past, and the Watchers have information about the events since. That means that the school would have to send you back to Onnisaris in the modern day, where he's been in charge this entire time."
Baron raised an eyebrow as Misa related his home planet's name. "Hmm." He seemed to be deep in thought, but it didn't take him long to come to his conclusion. "Then I will have to study hard in ways to defeat a terror elemental as well as continuing my strength training. I still have over three years to catch up to him here." He smirked the slightest amount. "I suppose that's a fair enough fight."
"Maybe it will be, but it's not yet," Misa replied, working her way toward the box she had set against the desk. She picked it up and walked it over to Baron, setting it next to him so as not to disturb his book. "But I think what's in there might help even the odds."
Baron looked down at the box, then over to Misa, who nodded eagerly, signaling him to open it. It was a simple black box with a lid and a dark red ribbon tied into a bow. With a gentle tug on the fabric from Misa, the bow fell off, and Baron removed the lid. Inside the box, packed in carefully molded foam, was a right arm.
More specifically, it was a mechanical right arm, constructed on the outside of a black metal not unlike his armor's color but inlaid with a series of intricate engravings. The fingers each had multiple individual servos that gave it the full range of motion a normal human hand would have, and the carvings incorporated the joints into their design. At the shoulder joint where the arm terminated, a cluster of strange shimmering pads bunched around a jointed stalk, and a number of clasps made of a much more flexible material surrounded the rim of the shoulderblade. Curiously, Baron prodded at one of the fingers.
Misa spoke up before he could ask any questions. "It's a cybernetic arm, like Professor Riley has. The pads sense the signals from your nerve endings and moves the arm in whatever manner you will it to. It requires a few implants to install, but I'm told that once it's fully set up it can even feel texture and temperature. Just as good as the original!" Misa beamed, and Baron, looking up at her, couldn't help but smile a bit back before his face turned serious again.
"It is incredible," he said, "But I hope that you didn't spend the money I paid you for your help on it. You earned all of it, and more."
"Oh, I didn't have to pay a cent" Misa cheerfully replied. "While you were being tended to by Nurse Keiri, I thought about it, and went to the shops that you'd taken me to. I asked them if they were willing to help, and they not only wanted to do everything they could to replace what you had lost, but they told me about all the other stores you've been to. Some kept playing along, saying they'd do anything for their Baron, but most of them were just genuinely concerned to hear that you'd lost your arm. Altogether, they donated more than the total cost of the arm, so I had the scientists that built it put some extra tech in it. It's a little stronger than your old arm and has some channeling ports in it so that when you use your warrior powers, it will grant your sword a little extra oomph!"
"Some of that will channel through the engravings, I wager, bolstering the technological aspects?" Baron held the arm up to examine it more thoroughly.
"That's right!" Misa was surprised that he was able to tell that. "I thought you weren't that good with magic."
"I'm not," Baron replied, matter-of-factly, "But I know quality when I see it. O'Malley, from the blacksmith shop, he constructed this casing, didn't he?"
Misa smiled, though she was hoping to be able to tell him that herself. "He did. Actually, when he saw the arm as it originally was, he said that it wasn't befitting such a fine lad and demanded that I let him work on it. That's why I wasn't able to get it to you yesterday."
"I only hope he didn't spoil the secret," Baron said, craning his neck slightly to look over towards his desk. "He said he was sworn to secrecy, but I've been surprised by your intuition before." Misa blinked at Baron, confused, causing him to smile as he continued. "Good. If you wouldn't mind opening the top left drawer of my desk, there's a gift in there for you, as well.”
Unsure of what to expect, Misa returned to the desk and slid the drawer open. Seeing nothing else inside, she pulled out the object within, which immediately glinted in the light. Examining it, she first saw it as a polished metal plate, but as she turned it over, she realized that it was in fact a pair of plates with a large set of joints in the middle. Opening them up, the plates were pressed into a pair of pockets, with all of the corners completely smoothed out so as not to pose a risk of slicing her fingers. Misa tried for a moment to figure out what it was, before Baron spoke up.
"In the battle, you used that book of yours to help me," he recalled, "But it was destroyed in the fight. Nurse Keiri told me that it would fix itself, but I felt that it should not be at risk of being damaged in the same manner again, so I commissioned O'Malley to construct a plated cover to keep it safe. I hope it fits."
Misa opened the cover up again, then pushed the two covers of her book into the pocketed sides. With precise snugness, it fit perfectly, adding just a little weight to the book, but not enough to bother Misa. She shut the book and looked at the polished metal, reflecting her face back at her.
"If the enchantments he imbued it with along with the reforging serve their function properly, it can now deflect spells to some degree, but I would not use it as a shield under normal circumstances."
"Reforging?" Misa asked, before realizing the answer herself. "This was made from the pieces of your armor!"
Baron nodded slightly. "I have little use for those specific pieces, even now. And O'Malley says that the bare polished surface is much more suitable for someone like you."
Misa's eyes welled with tears at the sentiment behind the gift. She thought back to herself from only a week ago, wondering along with the other students what Baron's deal was, and how wrong all of her assumptions were. Nearly bawling, she blurted out, "B-Baron! This is so sweet! I love it, thank you so much!" She pulled the armor-plated book close to her chest and continued. "It's not fair. Everyone else at school thinks that you're just some dumb bully, when really you're not either of those things! I can write an article and tell them all that you're not like that! Not too many students read the paper, but I can find a way to get them to read it!"
"That's a very kind offer," Baron replied, "But I would prefer you not. I've had many hours to think." Baron looked up towards the ceiling for a moment before proceeding. "This place is a haven for those who have been given a second chance to learn how to deal with people like Lord Malignor. Potentially, every one of them is someday going to face a deadly tyrant. If me playing the part of an evil overlord helps them learn to stand up to that sort of evil, then that may be the most good I can do. I'm more than used to taking the hits, regardless, and it's better that they focus their frustrations on the town's villain than some other random student.
"You're not going to be very good at it," Misa's cracking voice answered through her tears, "Eventually you won't be able to help yourself and you'll publicly show that you're really a good guy. It's no fun having so many people hate you, either."
"I suppose you could be right," Baron chuckled, "But until then, having just one person that I can confide in is all I require." He reached his hand out towards Misa. "You won't tell anyone, will you?"
Misa clasped hold of Baron's hand and smiled. "It will be our secret." Someday, she thought, she would have to write an article about Mahou City's most secret hero, but for now, she was going to have to keep it to herself. Normally, the delay between writing her article and seeing it in print alone was agonizing, but this time the thought of holding it back filled her with a joyous warmth.