# Pencils, Chapter Four

[Prince Edward Island, Canada - 98.10.05]

Blade was angry.  Well, alright, he wasn't -really- angry, not to
the point of more than minor violence really, more just irritation,
and in truth his name wasn't really Blade even if he was probably
known to more people by that moniker than his own...but he didn't care
about such insignificant details either.  Mostly because he was angry,
and angry people aren't likely to quibble about such things.
So, Blade was angry.  More specifically, he was angry at his
progress at a video game.  Not that he was having any real problem
with the game, even in beating it, which by any reasonable calculation
he could have done -that- several hours of playing time ago.  But
beating the game wasn't really all that important; after all, any fool
could -beat- a game.
On the other hand, it took a truly OBSESSIVE fool to continue
playing after beating the game, for the primary purpose of turning his
favourite character into a living god.  Which was what he was angry
about, for this process was taking rather longer than he had expected.
"Come ON!" he growled, easily demolishing another party of
wandering monsters.  "How many more bloody fights do I have to go
through before hitting 250, anyway?"  At the next fight, he rather
savagely unleashed a Bahamut Esper at the hapless monsters, which
relieved his anger somewhat.  "Soon..." he hissed, "very, very
soon...Celes will be a GOD!"  He laughed megalomaniacally, pushing
buttons at random for the next battle, which let the wandering pack of
Tyrannosaurus' use Meteor to beat his party to a pulp.  Barely
managing to get through alive, Blade saved the game and switched it
off, mumbling under his breath about the imbecility of people who gave
wandering dinosaurs magic spells to begin with.
Still, there'd been more progress.  Surely in his next session
he'd finally reach the fabled 250 battles, finally gain the coveted
Paladin Shield...finally equip it, the Illumina Sword, the Gem Box
Relic, and an Economizer onto Celes Chere...and instantly transform
his favoured character into a demigod.  He almost drooled at the power
that would be under her command.  He could obliterate Kefka with her
alone.  Hell, if it were possible, at this point she could probably
take on Kefka, Sephiroth, probably Tyr for good measure, and...
But that was for later.  Dismissing his quest from his mind,
Blade turned his attention to his latest acquisition, sitting by the
side of his TV.  It didn't really look like much...just an ordinary
mechanical pencil.  And it was green; Blade wasn't really fond of
green.  He'd much prefer a rich black, suited to his usual apparel and
demeanour...or even a nice, dark blue would do.  Still, it was a NICE
green, as greens went, rich and dark and polished, the light from the
overhead flourescent lamp shimmering off the emerald surface.  Yes, a
nice green.  Perhaps that was why he had bought it, when it had turned
up in his box at the comic shop, along with his eagerly-awaited issues
of Drakuun, Evangelion and Dragonball Z.
Blade considered this, and shrugged mentally as he rejected it.
In all honesty, he'd bought the pencil because it was cheap, although
the fact it looked nice hadn't hurt.  Besides, he kinda wondered how
it had gotten into his box.  Some misplaced promotion, maybe?  Came
with someone else's comic?  Ah well, their loss.  Reaching out, he
took up the pencil, rolled it between his fingers, admiring the almost
silky smoothness of it.  Even if it -was- green, it certainly looked
nice and elegant.  A good replacement for his cherished snakeskin
pencil (black, of course), which was after several years of usage
starting to get more than a little frayed around the edges.  He
started to get up with the vague intention of depositing his new
possession in his jacket pocket when the urge to trace something
struck him.
Blade wasn't really much of an artist.  Actually, that was an
understatement.  He sucked rocks as far as drawing or painting went,
and he knew it.  Despised the fact, since there were so many pictures
and doujinshi he wanted, and the fan artists he knew were so
unreliable and slow, but acknowledged it nonetheless.  Yet he wasn't a
bad hand as far as tracing went; many years ago, when first getting
into anime, he'd traced and modified many characters into his own.
However, it was time-consuming work, and not really as rewarding as
drawing something himself, so he'd lost interest and not traced
anything for several years.  But now, oddly, he felt a strong urge to
do just that.  He wondered at it for a moment, then gave another
mental shrug.  Might as well give the pencil a try; it wasn't like, in
his unemployed, poverty-stricken boredom, he had anything -better- to
do.
Quickly snitching a couple of pages of white paper from the
computer printer, he strolled back into his living room and
contemplated what to trace.  He glanced at his new manga...no, he
didn't really want to emulate Toriyama's art, the only prominent
personage in the latest Eva issue was the difficult-to-modify Rei, and
while Johji Manabe was one of his favourite artists, he didn't do
nearly enough cool-looking poses for Blade's liking.  What to do, what
to do...his eyes shifted over to a large cardboard folder leaning
against the wall, whereupon Blade kept the over 250 pieces of artwork
and posters that had once adorned his walls.  Including, naturally,
over fifty of Pantyhose Tarou, the living personification of coolness
as far as fictional characters went.  If he felt like tracing, who
better to trace?
Opening up the folder, Blade flipped through pictures of Kiima,
Saffron, Ukyou-ah, many of Ukyou-Mariko Konjou, Ryuu Kumon, Herb of
the Musk...ah, here it was.  After looking for a moment more, he
withdrew a piece of paper and shut the folder.  Moving to a
comfortable spot in the middle of the floor, he examined the picture;
Tarou and Ranma Saotome, arms locked in ostensible companionship, eyes
locked just as firmly.  A picture from their ill-fated alliance of
Volume 32, and quite possibly Blade's favourite manga portrait.  There
was just one problem...the damn picture cut off right below their
torsos.   But hey, how hard could drawing the legs be?  Blade would
kill for a completed copy of the picture, so he might as well give it
a shot, since he felt so inspired.
Laying the paper over the drawing, Blade started to trace.  To
his surprise and delight, the pencil seemed almost eager to do so,
fitting in his grip as if it had been crafted for it, flying across
the paper in clean, accurate lines.  He even replicated the complex
pattern of Tarou's dragonscale vest almost perfectly, no mean feat.
As the picture began to take shape, looking easily as good as the
original, Blade smiled in anticipation.  If he'd known his skills has
improved THIS much, he certainly would have traced more before this.
Finally, the Tarou figure was complete, except of course for the
legs.  Ranma wasn't much more than a forearm, but that was
unimportant.  Blade was inspired, and he wanted Tarou NOW.  Fem-boy
could wait.  So, confidently, he moved the pencil down, continuing the
line of the drawing, into the curve of the leg...and his hand slipped,
producing a harsh angular line that jutted way too far out.
Blade shook his head.  He had to concentrate.  Carefully erasing
the mistake, he tried again, guiding the pencil in soft strokes down
the page, but after a moment he looked at the effect and noticed that
it was warping.  Disgusted, he erased it again, noting with
displeasure the page was starting to get marked.  Maybe if he did the
interior creases first, to delineate the shape...but no sooner did he
start than his hand trembled slightly, causing the line to go jagged.
Angrily, Blade stared at the drawing for a second, then with a
snarl of rage tossed it aside.  He stared at the original picture,
anger welling within him.  Why couldn't Takahashi have done a full
page picture, or released it in the Memorial Book, or done -anything-
besides leave such a brilliant portrait unfinished?  He raised the
pencil in anger, hesitated for a moment, then remembered he had
multiple copies of this picture and stabbed with all his might.
Light.  Blazing, blinding, unbearable, seeping into his head,
into his body, twisting, warping...Blade blinked the spots out of his
eyes and looked around, expecting to see at least one gaping hole in
the wall, the decor charred and blackened.  Had the heater exploded?
A bomb?  But as his vision cleared, he saw nothing seemed to have
changed.  Even the unfinished drawing lay where he had tossed it.  But
Blade had seen the blinding light, felt pain, his body ached and
burned with the aftereffects, and felt strange besides...
"What happened?"  Blade looked around for the speaker, saw noone;
realised, in retrospect, that he was the one who had spoken.  The
voice was cracked, sounded weak, tired, and puzzled.
It also wasn't -his- voice.
At least, it sure as hell hadn't -sounded- like his voice.  Blade
looked down, intending to check his watch.  It must be later than he
thought, if he was having hallucinations and his voice sounded so
weird...and then he blinked in confusion.  He was looking at his arm,
his left arm...but that wasn't his arm, either.  His pale skin had
deepened to an almost yellowish shade, his slender musculature had
grown, become more defined.  And on his forearm, instead of a watch,
there was a bracer, glittering with burnished violet scales.
There was a moment of silence as the import of this sunk into
Blade, and then he slowly lifted the arm-Tarou's arm-up to his face.
His moustache was definitely gone...and he slid the hand back, felt
the dangling circlet in his ear, felt the curled tendril of hair
dropping down behind it.
And then he rushed up, pushed open the living room doors and
gazed in his reflection in the mirror on the bathroom door.  Except it
was no longer his reflection, as he'd more or less suspected it
wouldn't be.  It was Pantyhose Tarou's.  Blade stared at Tarou-at
himself-for a long moment, and then he threw back his head and laughed
in his new voice, deeper, richer.
He didn't doubt the reality of his new situation.  After all,
Blade had been reading, writing and imagining fantasy for years, and
this was no more than the accomplishment of one of his fondest dreams.
He certainly wasn't going to spoil the joy of the moment with doubts.
Besides, if it -was- a dream, Blade was going to have a very fun dream
indeed.
Turning, he lashed out with a kick, smashing a large gouge in the
wall by the stairwell.  At once he was both pleased and slightly
disappointed.  He was stronger, that much was obvious, as he probably
would have broken his foot trying to break the tough wood a few
minutes ago.  On the other hand, the real Tarou wouldn't have been
feeling a severe twinge from his ankle after doing that either.
Ah well.  Take blessings where they come.  And speaking of
which...Blade rushed up the stairs, glanced out the door.  It was
raining; a cold, erratic drizzle such as had been common of late.
Excellent.  Striding into the kitchen, he switched on the light and
plugged in a kettle of water.  As an afterthought, he carefully
removed the dragonscale vest and bracers, laying them on the
dishwasher carefully.  He wasn't sure if he could get them back as
easily as Tarou, IF what he hoped would work worked, and he certainly
had no intention of shredding the irreplaceable garments, as his skill
in sewing was only slightly more developed than his skill at drawing.
After waiting impatiently for the kettle to heat, he grabbed it,
flung open the door, and leaped outside.  Nothing happened.  Blade
felt a surge of disappointment right up until the moment he realised
he was still within the carport, and no rain was falling on him.
Shaking his head, he dashed out into the rain, holding the kettle
high.
A surge, a peculiar warping sensation like unto the one he'd
experienced when his body had first changed, and suddenly Blade's
perspective changed...grew.  He towered above the paved driveway,
above the car...above the house.  He was not flying...this height was
gained merely through his new body, a towering mass of muscle and fur
and writhing tentacles.  He felt them, felt the trickling damp as the
rain tried to penetrate his fur, felt the slight pressure of the
massive, wickedly sharp horns on his head, felt dimly the thrashing of
the eel-like tail, saw his heavy breath misting the rain before
him...and without preamble, he toppled like several tons of bricks and
proceeded to flounder like a fish out of water.
Blade hadn't, he had to admit, bargained for this.  Oh, he'd
expected to have -some- problems with his balance, certainly, but he
had grossly underestimated them.  The real Tarou made it seem so
easy...so easy to stand on those comparatively tiny little legs,
supporting his huge hunchbacked upper body...but that wasn't the worst
of it.  It was...it was the tentacles, and the wings, and even the
tail, a thousand sensations he didn't understand, could barely
comprehend, all demanding his time and attention, all acting
insidiously on their own to topple him, responding erratically as he
tried frantically to regain some semblance of control over his
suddenly gained multitude of limbs and appendages.
So he floundered, and the more he tried to seize control the more
erratic his motions got, until one wildly flailing tentacle snapped
into his arms-at least he could still control those!-and sent the
nearly-forgotten kettle sailing in a high arc until it crashed into
Blade's massive chest, luckily spilling its contents.
Blade continued to lay in the driveway for a moment, breathing
heavily.  -That- had been a confusing experience, to say the least.
He would need much more practice before he even seriously attempted
walking, let alone flying...and to fight in battle, controlling the
motions of those tentacles, coordinating the attack...Blade paled at
the thought, closed his eyes.  And then snapped them open again, a
wicked grin sliding across his face.  Who gave a damn about that?
Here was POWER, pure and simple.  And once he learned to control it,
control the power, he could do anything he wanted, go anywhere he
pleased, crush anything that stood in his way.  At least, he could if
the pencil worked the way he was beginning to suspect it might...
The pencil.  That thought-and the realisation he was laying naked
on the driveway and the rain could start again any moment-drove him to
his feet, and he quickly strode back inside.  Grabbing the vest and
bracers, he dashed back downstairs, grabbing a towel from the bathroom
to wrap around himself.  As he reentered his living room, the green
pencil gleamed at him, seductive, inviting.  Blade smiled, looked at
his bookshelf, carefully picked out two tankouban from his extensive
collection.  Two of his favourite series'...Yuu Yuu Hakusho, and, of
course, Ranma 1/2.  And if his theory held true, Blade wouldn't have
to content himself with the impressive, but limited power he had so
recently acquired.
If his theory held true, Blade could rule the entire world.
Hell, even Celes would have to envy him.  He threw back his head,
the glossy black, slightly damp hair tossing droplets of water onto
his newly muscular chest, and laughed, in the voice which he had
already begun to think of as his own.

[Nova Scotia, Canada - 98.10.09]

The afternoon sun shone down on the hustle and bustle of Halifax.
Halifax was not really much in the hustle and bustle department
compared to other cities, but managed to hold its own with large towns
and suburbs.  People went to and fro on errands that only they really
cared about,  with expressions of distaste at the other people going
to and fro on errands they couldn't care less about and getting in
their way.
Down the length of one road walked a boy on no particular errand,
a thoughtful expression on his face. He appeared to be your
archetypical computer student. Short, but not unusually so, he had a
day or two of stubble on his face and a pale complexion speaking of
either too little sun or too much radiation. A thick black coat like a
truncated trenchcoat covered the majority of his frame, a hood pulled
away from his tangle of dirty brown hair. The word "DAL" was etched
into the back of the coat with bold golden stitching. He wore
windpants of dark blue with a stain on one leg, and a grey sweater
covered his chest where the jacket is open in the front. A large
backpack stuffed with square objects, slung over his shoulder casually
by one strap, completed the picture. Something in his hand flashed
dark as he twirled it absently.
"What to do? What to do..." he muttered under his breath as he
drew closer to the local library across from the technical college.
But his thoughts were caught off, for it was at this point that he
became aware of the screaming. This was mostly accomplished by the
eye-opening measure of someone running straight into him, wailing like
a banshee. The boy staggered back, nearly thrown off his feet, but
recovered quickly with practiced skill.
"Watch where..." he began, irritated, then paused as the sounds
of screams intensified, and the rush of people began to become less a
two way stream and more a flood heading away from the downtown area.
"RUN!" the man who had slammed into him screamed after recovering
from the blow,  but spared no explanation as he dashed off with
considerable haste. The boy, forced to dodge to the side of several
more oncomers, presently decided to take  refuge in a nearby shoe
store. As he watched, the wail of sirens grew from the distance as
police cars begin to head down the street towards whatever disturbance
has caused this riot. Unfortunately they couldn't get far, as hordes
of screaming people dashed heedlessly among them in a panicked effort
to get away from whatever was behind them.
The boy observed this from his haven with a puzzled expression,
but what he heard next caused his eyes to widen in even greater shock.
"Where are you going?"  The voice, somehow breaking over the roar
of the crowd, was slightly high-pitched and contained a hint of barely
held in mirth. "Aren't we all having FUN?"  It then burst out into a
peal of megalomaniacal laughter.
{I recognize that voice...} the boy thought in wonder, {But from
where?} The answer presented itself soon enough as he watched what
occurred next. To describe every evisceration, decapitation and
mutilation that occurred shortly thereafter in the same detail that
the boy witnessed would be detrimental to the mental health of the
readers, so I will refrain. Suffice it to say that suddenly there
appeared a horde of flesh-toned...whips? Tentacles? Talons?  All those
and more, some grotesque, some merely functional, but all united in a
single purpose.  Hundreds of the fleshy weapons came from behind the
crowd, massacring them as they fled.  Bullets and curses mingled with
the screams as police tried to comprehend and deal with the hell that
had been unleashed into their peaceful backwater city.
The boy stepped away from the window, startled both by the scene
and by the fact that he had survived. Then his eyes narrowed, and he
spoke to himself, thoughtfully. "The voice...flesh colored
weapons...indiscriminate slaughter. Only one person...if that term
even applies." The boy stepped further back into the store, saw two
clerks cowering behind the counter and then dismissed them from his
mind with a shrug.  He raised his hand as soon as he was in a patch of
shadow and slowly...ever so slowly the shadow...twitched.
The effect was difficult to describe really, but the shadow the
boy stood in seemed to twitch nervously, as if it were some person
being awoken from a long slumber. Then the boy smiled, a cold smile
that didn't reach his eyes. That smile held no joy, or even evil,
merely a monstrous uncaring. Then the boy spoke, words of power, words
to channel will into form.
"SHADOWFORM!"
The shadow burst around him like a bubble of water, sending
darkness spinning in silent arcs throughout the store in a strange
show of anti-light. The shards of darkness swirled around him, forming
into a cyclone that slowly was sucked into his body until all remnants
of the shadow he had once stood in...disappeared. In stark defiance of
physical laws, the light no longer cast a shadow in that place. The
clerks rather unsurprisingly fainted from this display, but the boy
wasn't interested in them, and could do little for them in this form
anyway. With a restrained, testing wave he casually passed his hand
through the counter they had been hiding behind.  Satisfied,
he...walked is wrong, even if his feet moved and he never left the
floor. His forward movement seemed related only to the pumping of his
legs by chance. He glided, floated, skated across the room somewhere
between touching and not touching, between walking and flying.
By the time he reached the door the street was deserted, looking
as if a slaughterhouse had exploded and covered every square inch with
gore and other things better left unexamined.  A maniacal laugh
drifted down the street, and the boy stepped through the door as if it
were mist and looked in that direction from which it came.
The creature that had done all the damage was less than
impressive from this distance, but then it would have been little more
physically intimidating up close.  It was short, dwarfishly so, but
normally proportioned for a human otherwise.  A dark, featureless
bodysuit covered it, and a mane of purple-black hair fell down from
its head. It was turned away from him, apparently interested in some
other distraction, perhaps taking a little longer to deal with some
unlucky survivor.
"Toguro Ani," the boy murmured in confirmation. "Some damn fool
summoned up THAT horror?" A dark frown covered his face for a moment.
"Only one person I could think of would be that stupid." He looked
back along, the street, and without a second glance at the mind-
numbing scenery through which he glided began to trace the trail of
carnage back to its source.  He didn't have to go far before he came
upon the catalyst for what was undoubtedly already the single
bloodiest day in his country's history.  After all, who else would be
walking calmly in the wake of the psychotic monster who was already
gleefully running in pursuit of more victims?  Yet despite this, as
the boy saw the figure he stopped, looking confused for a moment, and
then his eyes widened in startled recognition.
The man was tall for a Asian, standing slightly taller than his
observer. He had dark hair done up in a airy style almost impossible
for a normal person, the most striking feature being two curled
tendrils of hair which hung at the sides of his head, their darkness
setting off the flash of the gold circlets in his ears. His face was
effeminate, but with a hint of masculine angularity to it; the word
bishonen came to mind.  He was clad in a black leather jacket that fit
snugly over his lean, muscular frame and was open in the front to
reveal a vest made of some form of scales from a creature which did
not exist on earth.  Black jeans covered his legs, and a bokken-hilt,
guard and blade wrapped in a protective layer of black tape-rested
easily on his shoulder.
He hadn't noticed the boy yet, which instantly rung alarm bells
in his mind. If this was who he had first believed than his presence
would have been detected instantly, probably long before he even came
in sight.  There was only one other person it could be, his mind
reasoned, and considering the strangeness which now seemed only to be
beginning to affect his life it seemed not to be outside the realm of
possibility. {The realm of possibility,} he thought with a smirk,
{shall, I suspect, grow wider and wider with each passing day. Well,
only one way to know for sure.} He rose his voice calmly to the man.
"Greetings, Blade-san."
The figure in black who happened to bear an amazing resemblance
to Pantyhose Tarou stopped suddenly.  He looked into the shadow which
the boy had unconsciously deposited himself and squinted.  "Aaron? Is
that you?" His voice held no hint of a Chinese accent, but sounded
nothing like his friends'. Still the recognition was enough to cinch
it. Aaron slid out of the shadow fully into the light. It took effort
to remain in the light, but Aaron had nothing if not an iron
will.
"Who else would recognize someone in Tarou's body, carrying that
ridiculous bokken and walking around with Ani?"
The man who looked disturbingly like a fictional character
smirked. "A few others, but none in the Maritimes, I think. At least,
none in Halifax."  He glanced around, seemingly amused.  "And
certainly noone here now."
Aaron nodded to himself, deciding to contain a few billion
questions in favor of perhaps the most immediate. "How?" he asked,
making a vague gesture at the new body which his friend possessed.
Blade's smirk widened still further.  "A long story," he said
melodramatically, as he reached into a pocket of his jacket and pulled
a green pencil from it. "But this has a lot to do with it."
"I see..." Aaron stepped back halfway into the shadow.
The man who had been his colleague unlimbered himself and moved
his bokken down off his shoulder. "Want to spar? I think I might be
able to match you physically this time."
Aaron smiled. {Might as well have some fun.} "I don't think even
in that body you could hurt me, Chris."
He barked a laugh.  "You assume too much sentiment.  I tried to
kill you when I WASN'T a living god!"
"Tarou is hardly a god, Blade," Aaron sighed, "and since you
didn't even notice me, I doubt you are anywhere near as powerful as
him."
"Hmph," Blade hmphed disparagingly. "I was referring to my power
that let me do this, rather than my physical skills." He grinned
wickedly, "But I -am- better now.  Want me to demonstrate?"
"By all means," Aaron intoned as if he had a million better
things to do.  "Go right ahead. I won't even defend myself."
"I'll try not to kill you."
"You're too kind."
Blade walked over and took up a kendo posture.  He seemed little
changed from before; good, but not great. Then his blade flew forward,
not too fast to track but fast enough for most people to be unable to
react.  Aaron didn't even blink as the blade poked harmlessly through
his chest, but inwardly sighed in relief at the confirmation of his
theory.  Blade was stronger, faster, perhaps as much as a human could
get, but the real Pantyhose Tarou's ungodly skill and superhuman
abilities appeared to be denied him.  A relief indeed, all things
considered.
Blade reacted in a predictable manner. "What the..." his voice
sounded so different but carried so many of the same inflections and
tones...then he tried again. After the fifth attempt to impale his
friend he got the point (rimshot) and stopped.
"Intangible, hmm?  So that's how you got past Ani."
"Nothing so dramatic back there; this was merely insurance in
case he came back."
"How then?" Blade's eyes narrowed.
"A long story." Aaron grinned as he mimed his associate and
pulled his own pencil, deep midnight black in color, from out behind
his back where he had stashed it, "But this has a lot to do with it."
Blade stared, the expression on Tarou's face of shock comical to
behold. {He looks just like the manga character,} Aaron observed, {but
somehow he doesn't seem out of place in the real world, eyes and
everything. Interesting.}
Finally Blade regathered himself, "We have to talk."
"Not here then. I know a place nearby where we can have some
privacy."  Aaron looked around with an arched eyebrow at the mass
of-in some cases still twitching-flesh. "And where I don't have to
smell this."
"Lead away then, but first let me fetch Ani. You two should get
along fine."
"How do you control him?" Aaron inquired as they began walking.
"Hmm?"
"You have to be able to control him somehow, or else you wouldn't
be alive to have this conversation with me."
"I'll tell you when we get where we are going."
Aaron, curiosity piqued and mind racing with possibilities,
quickened his pace a little. Blade, in his new body, had no trouble
keeping slightly ahead.

------------

The small glade was deserted, a wall of thorns separating it from
view on one side and a wrought iron fence on the other.  Beyond the
fence a graveyard stretched down a steep slope into one of the many
bowl-like valleys that make up the geography of the city of Halifax.
The place was quiet, quiet like the moment after death but just before
decay.  Quiet like an empty tomb awaiting its new tenant, quiet like a
morgue in a newly constructed hospital.
Toguro Ani, the miniature shapeshifting psychopath from hell
(literally) was partly to thank for this quiet. After nearly a
half-hour of futile attempts to dissect Aaron and peal upon peal of
megalomaniacal laughter, Blade had ordered him to clear the area of
all living things, stay within earshot and not come back until called
back. This being done the two could actually get down to some
discussion.
"...and so I flew myself and Ani over from PEI and showed up here
this morning. I wanted to go look for you but decided to send Ani off
to have some entertainment first.  He was getting restless."
Aaron sat back, his form obviously solid now as his back brushed
against the fence. "An...interesting story. I trust you'll command Ani
not to kill me as well? I don't feel like walking around intangible
all the time.  And you still haven't told me how you can command
him..."
"You'll find out later," Blade smiled, obviously in great
pleasure over his own cleverness.  "It gave me an idea...but first, I
want to know your story."
"In a few moments." Aaron cocked an eyebrow and effected a small
smirk that didn't reach his eyes. "First let's get some things
straight."
"Alright," Blade nodded.  Without warning, Aaron tossed Blade
something.  He instinctively, if somewhat clumsily, caught it and
looked down at what he held. The black pencil seemed to glitter
seductively in his grasp. "Why? You giving it to me?"
"No," Aaron shook his head. Just wanted you to find out you can
never use it, so don't even think of trying to steal it from me."
Blade stared hard at him for a moment, then shrugged.  "You wound
me shonen," he quipped, absently sketching vague patterns in the air,
"I would never dream of taking your pencil from you."
"Right," Aaron replied in a dry tone. "I'm sure."
Blade tossed the pencil back to Aaron, who snatched it and drew a
two folded pieces of paper from his jacket pocket.  Unfolding them, he
placed one over the other and quickly began to sketch. Lines formed,
in defiance of physics in mid-air, an outline that followed the trace
of his work until it completed, and then there was a glass of water on
the grass in front of him. With a sigh Aaron picked it up and drank.
"I've figured out these things don't give you exactly what you want,
not always anyway." Blade nodded knowingly as Aaron continued.  "So,
since it won't give me what I want I'll have to find some other way to
get it."
"What do you want then? I thought all you ever wanted was to
finally finish a novel."
Aaron shrugged.  "Pretty much. But if a trace a book I get some
random already written one or a book full of blank pages."
"So why the magic?"
"An experiment.  After I discovered the...special power of this
pencil I decided to see what kind of limits it had. I needed a way to
defend myself other than just the eraser so I..."
"Eraser?"
Aaron paused and tilted his head to the side, looking at his
friend's new body. "I didn't tell you, did I?" Flipping the pencil
around, he calmly rubbed the opposite end along the fence behind him.
In the path of that innocuous motion the metal touched
simply...disappeared. Blade's face lit up with evil glee at the sight.
"THAT is a damn fine trick."
"That is not all, however." Aaron picked up the glass, stabbing
the  pencil into the center of it, and suddenly it...wasn't. No
flashes or sparkles; the traced object simply disappeared. "I don't
know yet if it will work as well against objects traced by another,
but it does work on my own."
Blade nodded to himself, face somber but eyes shining as dark
plans began to form inside his twisted little mind. "So, now on to the
magic."
"A permanent after-effect of one of my experiments."
"How so?"
"Well, it went a little like this..."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~flashback~~~~~~~~~~~~~

It was a rather spacious basement; a long wide room with three
doors leading to two bedrooms and the bathroom/laundry room of the
house. A piano was stretched across the room at one end, separating
the area where two computers rested from the rest of the basement.  In
the other section rested one of those home gymnasium machines, like
some twisted metal altar to a god of useless trash. In the center of
this room Aaron stands, sans jacket and in another loose and rather
unfashionable outfit, wielding the black pencil. Slowly he traces,
until after a moment a set of manacles appears on the floor. He picks
up the obviously heavy chains with a grunt and drags them over to the
wall, and then attaches the chains to a heavy iron hook.  Four sets in
all stand there, enough to secure two people wrist and ankle.
Aaron stands back to inspects his handiwork for a moment, and
then picks up another piece of paper and then sketches again.  As the
tracing appears in the air, he swiftly moves the arm manacles into the
proper position, succeeding in this just as the expected person comes
into being.  The chains clank with echoing metallic clangs as they
settle onto the sudden weight they are secured around. The figure
looks around in shock for a second, giving Aaron a chance to secure
the ankle manacles as well.  Straightening, he glanced at the bonds
for a moment, then nodded in satisfaction and spoke.
"Greetings Hikaru, don't try anything special."
The girl in her school uniform blinked at him in incomprehension,
then seemed to realise she was chained to a wall. Being a smart girl,
Hikaru began to scream. Aaron smacked her sharply
and quieted for a moment. "You can't understand me, but I won't
condone another outburst." He smoothly stepped next to the aerobic
machine and erased a portion of it, then pointed the pencil menacingly
at her.  Her eyes widened as she got the message.  Aaron smiled
slightly.  "Bright girl."
Without delay he stepped over to the next set of manacles, set
considerably closer together than the girls. He repeated the process
again, once again waiting for the being to start appearing and
slipping the manacles into position.  Then again there was a new life;
what appeared to be a short child with white hair in an extravagant
robe. A distinctly foreign appearance dominated his features.
"Ah, Master Clef, head magician of Cephiro.  Welcome to my
parlor."
The diminutive magician studied his captor for a moment. Then in
accented but passable English, he spoke.
"You think chains can hold me?"
"Perhaps not, but better safe than sorry.  I wasn't even sure you
would understand me."
"I can, I know most earth tongues."  Looked over he noticed, with
a start, the fire-haired schoolgirl shackled next to him. "Hikaru?
What?"
The school girl spoke to him rapidly in Japanese, obviously
frightened but showing a grim resolve not to show it. While Clef began
to reply Aaron stepped forward and calmly erased one of her fingers.
Hikaru's scream was rather excessive, and her violent reaction to him
almost fast enough to strike him... if she hadn't been chained.  He
held the eraser to her throat and she quieted, fear now beginning to
overcome determination again.
"I'm afraid this Hikaru won't know you. I made sure to
specifically stick to an earlier design, from before her journey to
Cephiro. But..." he allowed the pencil to drift up and brushed some of
her hair out of existence, "...she is still special to you, ne?"
"Bastard..." Clef growled, "Let her go."
"Teach me magic."
Clef was, to say the least, incredulous. "You have got to be
kidding!"
"No," Aaron snaked the eraser back down to her neck and let his
cold gaze fall on Clef's eyes. "And in case you're thinking of some
bizarre magic..." he deftly snapped the pencil down and stabbed a
chain on the wall, dispersing it into nothing again. Then, with a
smirk, he inverted the ebony object and held it to her chest. "I've
seen you work, you can't hit me before I kill her."
"You're sick and twisted..." he closed his eyes. "And totally
without feeling. Magic comes from within the user, the emotions
within.  All you are is a pale shadow of a human. No emotions and no
soul... a dark cancer that is just beginning to consume you."
"Spare me the comparative morality lecture, sorcerer."  He pushed
the pencil dangerously
close to his hostage. "Try or she dies. Or if you prefer, I'll torture
her slowly to death, piece by piece, and you can watch. One of the
three, you decide."
"Fine, you wish to be unfeeling, be unsouled. The shadow inside
you shall demand horror for your ill gotten power! ~o Teach Magic o~!"
To call it lightning would be incorrect, to call it light would
have been too simplistic. It was...it was will and form and soul and
power. It was chi, mana and the million other things it has been named
since time began. It felt...like a vast void to him. There was no
pleasure, no epiphany of understanding, but only the burning away of
the last vestiges of the emotions he had repressed for so long. He
staggered back from his victim as the magic flowed through him...from
him, was him, and he was a void, a shadow of a human soul.
"Shadow magic," Clef spat the words as if a curse, "The darkest
magic, demanding ever increasing cruelty to master its secrets."
"Indeed," Aaron said as he straightened, his eyes without
emotion, without cruelty or pleasure both. "Then let me learn
something quickly."  Still disgusted with himself from his helpless
capitulation, Clef had no chance to notice Aaron moving in...and
stabbing him swiftly. The magus disappeared, and the young Hikaru
screamed.
"Be quiet," Aaron hissed in a tone which transcended language,
and she feel silent.  He had killed him.  He felt strange, a weird mix
of guilt and satisfaction. It FELT, it felt and he could feel nothing
since so long ago. But now there was only emptiness again, a shadow of
feeling and a shadow of a soul. He turned to Hikaru with a cold smile.
"Allow me to attempt an experiment."

~~~~~~~~~~~~end flashback~~~~~~~~~~~~

Blade, for his part, managed to look slightly shocked. "I never
knew you had it in you, Peori-kun."
Aaron smiled and stepped into the shadows again. "Neither did I."
He looked at his hand. "I never killed before...but I felt something
when I destroyed those two. Actually felt something like I can't
remember ever having felt before. And from that, I learned this.
SHADOWFORM!" And the shadow he stood in shattered and swirled and was
consumed; leaving him once again a wraith among men.
"You and Ani will get along like brothers!"
Aaron smiled twistedly. "Like his own brother and he got along,
you mean?"
Blade managed...somehow, though Aaron couldn't for the life of
him figure out how, to produce a sweatdrop. "Okay, maybe that was a
bad choice of words."  He looked thoughtful for a moment, then
grimaced.  "Impressive, certainly...but really, you shouldn't have
done that."
Aaron blinked.  "Those two?  Blade, I should think you would be
the last person to get moral qualms about killing, especially after
what you let Ani do today."
Blade waved his hand in contemptuous dismissal.  "I don't mean
that...I meant obliterating Hikaru like that.  I mean, I kinda liked
her.  Fuu would have been a much better choice.  But I suppose it's
too much to expect you to think of every detail."
Aaron rolled his eyes and sat down next again, continuing as if
Blade had not spoken. "I figure the more...evil for lack of a better
term, I grow the more magic I will be able to draw upon. So, I figured
hanging around with you and your homicidal little friend will teach me
some valuable lessons in that area."
"And your ulterior motive, Peori-kun?"
"I am shocked and amazed that you trust me so little."
"No you're not."
"Well, true."
"You didn't answer my question."
"I know."
Blade gave him a flat look and shook his head. "Just don't stand
between me and what I want, Aaron..."
"I think 'Epsilon' would suit me better now...all things
considered."
"Fine, Epsilon, whatever you say. Just don't get in my way and
help me out every now and then and you can stick with me."
"I feel so blessed."
"You should."
"So what ARE you going to do?"
"Err...I haven't thought that far ahead yet."
Epsilon managed to do a marvelous impression of a facefault,
despite not being in an anime characters body.