is early in the afternoon of a
weekday and empty seats are prominent
in this first-class car of the
Athena Asamiya is sitting in a window seat, heading
for her next concert venue in Fukuoka. Her manager
has been directed to meet up with her at Hakodate.
Now, she travels alone.
The train slows and comes to a leisurely stop.
"Kyoto. This stop is Kyoto."
The announcement echoes over the platform.
When the door opens, a familiar face is smiling in
"Long time no see, Athena."
The attractive blonde is dressed in the sprucely designed
uniform of a girl's high school. She is Hinako Shijo,
one-fourth Russian and the daughter of a model upper-class
"So, Hinako, how have you been? Forgive me for
calling you here."
"Oh, it's no bother - as luck would have it our
family has villas in Kyoto and Kobe."
Without giving second thought to her blatantly bourgeois
remark, Hinako shoves the backpack she had strapped
to her shoulders onto the luggage rack above.
The luggage rack squeals ominously. The backpack is
loaded with weights of ten kilograms or more. Judging
by the groan of the rack, Hinako's lugging more weight
Appearance, bearing, word and deed - all are what the
dreamy-eyed Hinako is about, but because her dream
is starting a sumo team at her girl's school, one cannot
resist feeling that this young lady comes from a different
In the meantime, Hinako has plopped down in the seat
next to Athena. The first thing she says,
"Please accept my condolences."
A closer look reveals that Hinako conscientiously wears
a symbol of mourning on her uniform. Athena, who is
obligated in her line of work as a pop idol to remain
unfazed by most things, finds herself flustered by
this current situation.
The flustered Athena hesitantly takes the condolence
gift Hinako extends to her.
"Master Chin did pass away, didn't he? Just how
old was he anyway?"
"U-uh, no, the Master is still fit as a fiddle,
in a manner of speaking."
"Athena, I know being in denial is part of the
grieving process, but if you don't accept reality..."
"Uh, I don't know what impression you're under,
but the Master is in the pink. He still drinks a gallon
of alcohol a day, naps, trains Kensou, and watches
"Oh, really? I am so sorry. I just assumed the
reason for you asking me to join you in KOF had to
be because the Master had died and you needed an extra
"No, that's not it at all. Anyway, let me return
this to you."
Athena meekly tries to return Hinako's condolence gift.
"Ah, please keep it. You can always hang on to
it until you need it again."
(Until I need it again...?)
There is no malice to Hinako's statement. Athena understands
"Wow. So Kensou isn't entering the tournament
this time either...?
"As a matter of fact, he isn't. He's got a lot
of other stuff on his plate..."
Athena casts her eyes downward. Yes, this time things
"Then who will be our other member? I rather think
that Chang Koehan would be a most excellent choice."
"I-I'm not too sure about him."
"Ah, you're probably right. He can't really manage
a sumo wrestler's butterfly coiffure, can he?"
"U-uh, you do have a point there. Do you have
anyone else in mind?"
"Hmm. I can't come up with anyone who's suited
for sumo, though..."
"That's okay. That's okay. It doesn't have to
be a sumo wrestler type."
Athena can't bring herself to say she'd prefer someone
other than a sumo-type.
Of course Athena too has considered prospective teammates,
"Hey, you're Athena Asamiya, aren't you?"
"Huh? Oh, you want an autograph, right? Just a
second. My pen...."
"No, that's not it. You're entering KOF, aren't
Athena and Hinako both blink and do a double take at
their new acquaintance.
She's a rather spunky-looking teenager, a bit shorter
than Hinako. Her face and manner seem feline. She sports
a miniskirt, blazer and bunched up socks - in short,
she's a typical Japanese high school student.
"Yes, I'll be in it, but...how does that concern
"Your team's short a member, isn't it?"
The girl helps herself to the seat next to Hinako.
"Uh, I suppose it may be."
"Hmm. I guess our organization's info is sometimes
useful after all."
"I beg your pardon?"
"Oh, nothing. By the way, have you considered
me for your team?"
"J-Just like that? Who are you anyway?"
"Oh, I'm sorry. Allow me to introduce myself.
The name's 'Malin.'"
"So you're name is Malin, is it? I'm Hinako Shijo.
That's an unusual name you have there; your family
name's "Ma" and your given name is "Lin," I
gather. What Chinese character do you use for "Ma?" Maybe
the character for magic? Or is it the "ma" for "manuke" -
you know, the word that means "bonehead"?
"U-Uh, don't let her offend you. Hinako didn't
mean anything bad by that. Words just flow out of her
like...well, no need to get yucky here."
"No, the name's just one word, 'Malin.' Works
on its own, don't you think? So, are you going to put
me on your team, or not? I'm getting off at Osaka,
so you got to decide quick."
And as if on cue, the announcement is heard throughout
the train: "Shin-Osaka. We will soon be stopping
The time for decision instantly arrives, but there
is no need to mull over an answer.
"We appreciate the offer, but no."
"What? Why? Tell me, why?"
"The KOF tournament is the peak of fighting competitions.
Though I do say so myself, Hinako and I are exceptional
fighters. I appreciate the sentiment, but..."
"You doubt my abilities?"
"Doubt? I don't even know your abilities. We've
"...Shoot. Okay, you don't need to hit me with
a hammer. I'm out of here!"
The train slides to a stop at the platform of Shin-Osaka
Malin bolts up with a bang as if she has kicked her
seat and abruptly exits.
"Uh, Athena, are you sure you made the right decision?"
"Yeah. I had no choice. This isn't some high school
Appearing out of nowhere, Malin is now outside, rapping
on the bullet train's window.
In her hands (?), she holds two ribbons of different
colors that flutter in the breeze.
"??...Hey, those are...!!"
In a panic, Athena and Hinako run their hands through
One of the ribbons that tied Hinako's long blonde hair
and the ribbon used to gather Athena's hair together
to conceal her identity are gone.
(When did she...?)
Athena springs from her seat. She looks as if she intends
to catch up with Malin.
At the same time, however, the bullet train has pulled
out from the platform.
The train begins to accelerate.
The form of Malin smiling ear to ear and waving her
trophies in the air slowly recedes.
"Oh, fudge...how stupid could I have been?"
Hinako consoles Athena who is slumped down in her seat.
"Cheer up. We can still find another team member."
"But...Huh? Hinako, under your ribbon!"
A small scrap of paper is secured under Hinako's remaining
Athena quickly removes the paper and checks its contents.
"If you change your mind, give me a call. Malin.
After reading the note, Hinako and Athena press their
faces to the glass of the train as if to look for Malin.
The sight from the window, however, is no longer that
of the platform but the buildings and streets of Osaka's
Nevertheless, the two feel as if they can catch sight
of Malin in the landscape streaming by, and they continue
peering out the window for some time thereafter.