Hey, readers. Shampoo here, being forced into doing some crap I don’t want to, which is a feeling I’m REAL familiar with lately.
What? Why the hell are you staring at me? “Baby talk”? What the hell is that crap? I speak perfectly good Chinese, thank you, and the translation is also good, since it’s not like any of my predecessors were narrating in English. Don’t be stupid.
Anyway, like I was saying, I showed up to kill off that bitch, or I guess bastard, Ranma and then found out he was really a guy, and really my husband to be, and that’s really annoying, and it’s all really the fault of my stupid great-grandmother. Then, as if my day wasn’t bad enough, those idiots Pink and Link showed up with their new undead friend, who… well, anyway, I’m going to have to serve those two cretins for a year. Yay.
In addition to providing me on a silver platter, Chris is also dancing to the stupid twins’ tune by fetching the mitamas of those plant monsters for them. About the only thing he ISN’T doing for them is mooning over Akane Tendo – that one’s pretty much his own little thing.
Checking in with the supposed main character, Ukyou has been a busy little bitch. A little too busy, actually, since she’s having to deal with the consequences of going nuts and breaking Hayato’s spine a bit back. Not only has Hayato vanished after talking with that youma Tethys, but Sailor Pluto is still after her because Ukyou’s gonna destroy the universe or some crap. I say: give Ukyou to me. After I’m finished working out some frustration, the universe will be totally safe. Promise!
“Okay, Ran, so we sneak around the bastard’s blind side and then infiltrate the Compound of Evil.”
“His Compound of Evil. From the blind side.”
“Ranma, that’s an apartment build-“
“It’s… a… Compound… Of… Evil!”
“Ooookay. And then the ‘blind side’ would be… the back?”
“Right. Now we have to be careful, and make sure we sneak around all the guards. Like that one there. Watch him.”
“Ranma, that looks like a superintendent. Who’s taking out the trash.”
“That’s only what he WANTS you to think! Trust me, Ran, this guy’s tricky. You can’t take your eye off him for a minute, or trust what he says, or believe what he wants you to believe! And he wants you to believe that’s a superintendent.”
“Sure, stud, sure. Whatever you say. It’ll make better copy anyway.”
“You got it. Now, we gotta find some way to make it to the top floor without settin’ off any alarms.”
“What about the fire escape?”
“Feh. Too easy. And he’s gotta have it bugged- hey! Ran! Get off that!”
“Doesn’t look bugged to me. No alarms, either.”
“…well, be more careful from here on in. We’re dealing with a master of deception here.”
“Gotcha. Hey, I’m on your side. That bastard wrecked my camera, after all.”
“Wrecked your camera ’cause he’s afraid of the TRUTH!”
“Ranma, the superintendent, I mean guard, is looking this way.”
“Quick! Act normal!”
“Yeah, just like that. Try to look like you’re confused and don’t know what’s goin- hey, stop dragging me!”
“Take it from a pro, stud: keeping away from the authority figures – and guards – is the best way to get your story. Or perform a thrilling rescue. Or both!”
Ranma only allowed Ran to drag him a few steps up the stairwell before pulling his hand free and sliding in front of her. Man, she had a grip. Ranma snuck forward, putting all his years of experience under the tutelage of Genma Saotome to use. Ran followed him at a sedate pace. He couldn’t help but feel she wasn’t taking this seriously.
Of course, she hadn’t seen Chris in action as much as Ranma had. There was no way Ranma was letting that smug undead jerk get away with… whatever diabolical plan he had for Shampoo. Not that he particularly liked the psycho Chinese chick. But damn, nobody deserved to be that guy’s prisoner!
Plus, it gave Ranma an excuse to kick the jerk around a little. Ranma smirked as he thought about the epic battle to come. He was pretty sure that he had the guy’s measure. He had seen all his new techniques the other day, and spent the last three coming up with what he figured would be perfect counter-arts.
“Uh, Ranma, we’re on the twelth floor. You can stop climbing now.”
Ranma jerked to a stop and cast a look over his shoulder. “I knew that… I was just… making sure that there were no surprises up above.”
Ran seemed about to reply, but then apparently decided to just shake her head. The pony-tailed journalist simply gestured for him to follow and backflipped from the stairwell, her skirt rippling behind her, and landed in a light crouch on a nearby balcony. Ranma shrugged and followed her. Of course, he did so with a triple axel reverse spin and single-foot landing, but there was no need to go into that.
Ran rolled her eyes at him for some reason. “We should be quiet,” she whispered. Ranma nodded. “Now, exactly who was it you were here for?”
“My Chinese fiancée,” Ranma explained as he stepped past her. “She should be in this place somewhere.” He paused. “Hey Ran, are you going to stand there all day?”
“Uh… yes… I mean no. I mean… Chinese fiancée?”
“Yeah, it’s this cute psycho chick that I’m supposed to be married to because I beat her up and she saw me naked or something. I never really understood what the old troll was talking about.”
Ran stared at him. Seeing she had nothing important to add, Ranma turned back to peeking in the windows. The first window was the bedroom of those twins, who were thankfully sleeping. Ranma moved on quickly. The second window was his target. It was hard to miss her, as she was lying on the floor. Of course, Ranma didn’t know why she wasn’t just sleeping on the comfortable-looking bed less than a meter away. Also, he didn’t know why she wasn’t wearing anything.
His head bonked against the window pane and he rebounded with a muttered curse. He turned to glare at Ran, rubbing the scalp where she had hit him. “What?”
“She’s naked!” Ran pointed out in a loud hiss.
“I noticed,” Ranma said, rolling his eyes.
“Well… it’s not very polite to stare then, is it?” Ran crossed her arms and huffed.
“Fine.” Ranma leaned back. “That’s going to make rescuing her pretty annoying, though. I mean… even I might have trouble fighting Chris with my eyes closed.”
“Well, take your shirt off then!”
“What? She’s naked, so I have to be too?”
Ran turned crimson. “N-no! You idiot!” She stammered. “For her!”
“I don’t think she likes me that way…”
“For her not to be naked!”
“Oh. Right. Good plan.”
Ranma turned towards the window, taking off his shirt. He simultaneously noticed three things: first, that the window was now open. Second, that Shampoo was now standing in the window with an annoyed frown. Third, that her fist was approximately two centimeters from his nose and approaching rapidly.
When Ranma shook the stars out of his vision he noted absently that the guardrail had prevented him from flying into the abyss. Also, that Shampoo was yelling something at him in Chinese. Once she noticed he was paying attention, she spat in his direction and slammed the window closed.
“Huh?” Ranma said. He got up and began to check to make sure his nose wasn’t broken. For a girl, Shampoo could punch.
“She said, even if you are her husband, you don’t get marital privileges. More or less. She used more colourful words.”
“You speak Chinese?”
“Among other talents you have yet to discover, stud.”
Ranma shrugged and walked over to the window. It appeared Shampoo had locked it. Oh well. He used one of the tricks Genma had taught him and had it open in seconds. As he worked, Ran began to ask him questions.
“So… exactly what kind of a relationship do you two actually have?”
“She wants to kill me. I want to never see her again. Her grandmother wants me to marry her. The undead jerk wants her to serve him…” Ranma put a diabolical emphasis on the word ‘serve’, just to get across the point.
“Uh huh. I think I need the whole story on this one, Ranma.”
Ranma was about to respond, but was distracted dodging Shampoo’s three strike combination.
“She’s telling you that you never learn.”
“I figured as much,” Ranma muttered as he continued evading Shampoo’s assault. The crazy bitch was still screaming at him, but Ranma ignored her mouth and concentrated on slipping in under her attack, sliding along the edge of the window, and landing easily inside the room. It took Shampoo a moment to notice he was no longer in front of her. She spun on him with a kick, which he blocked this time. “Hey Ran, tell her I’m here to rescue her, will ya?”
“If you think it’ll help, stud.” Ran shrugged as she leaned against the windowsill and began to speak to Shampoo. Shampoo paused, obviously surprised by Ran’s fluency. Ranma sighed and released her leg. Then she kicked him in the groin when he let his guard down. “She says she doesn’t want your help.”
“I figured as much,” Ranma wheezed as he rolled around on the ground for a second. He recovered quickly, however. Kicking to his feet, he stretched his arms. He had figured Shampoo wouldn’t come along quietly. That’s what the rope was for. Ranma grinned and snapped a length of it free from the coil on his belt. Shampoo raised an eyebrow, as did Ran.
Then the lights turned on.
“Ranma, why exactly are you in my condo molesting Shampoo?”
“Hah!” Ranma spun in place. “Wouldn’t you like to know!” He pointed accusingly at the undead jerk. The jerk was standing in the doorway, dressed in jeans, a leather jacket and gloves. Ranma was all ready to say something impressive when Shampoo kicked his knees out from under him. He recovered admirably: his face only touched the carpet for a second before he sprang to his feet, this time facing Shampoo.
“You are NOT making this rescue easy!” he shouted. He tossed the rope to Ran. “Here. You deal with her or something.” Ran caught the rope and stared at him like he had grown another head. Ranma was too busy spinning to face the treacherous Chris to deal with her, however.
Chris was smirking and placed his hands on his hips. “So… it’s a rescue, eh?” Ranma allowed his body to relax. Chris stretched forth his hands and cracked the knuckles theatrically. “Well, Ranma, then you leave me no choice.” Ranma began to wiggle his fingers in anticipation. Oh yeah. This was what he was waiting for. “No choice… but to ask you to leave peacefully.”
“Aww, man!” Ranma slumped. “Not this again!”
“Well, if you don’t leave, I’m going to have to call the cops.” Chris shrugged apologetically. Ranma’s eye twitched.
“But… you’re an evil undead body-stealing monstrosity that forces young girls to serve your diabolical purposes! You CAN’T call the cops!”
“I am also the evil undead body-stealing montrosity that owns the legal lease to this condominium. And you are the brave young hero that is breaking and entering in the middle of the night to try and kidnap one of the residents.”
“Hate to break this to you, stud, but he has a point.”
“You stay out of this!” Ranma snapped peevishly. “And aren’t you supposed to be tying her up?” Ranma pointed accusingly at Shampoo, who was lounging at the foot of the bed and buffing her nails.
“Uh… maybe later.”
Ranma turned his head as a sleepy voice yelled loudly from the next room. “Shampoo! That noise is waking us up! I don’t care who’s causing it, beat them up and get them out of here, over!”
Shampoo obviously recognised the voice. Ranma froze. Then he remembered that Shampoo didn’t understand Japanese! She was still confused…
Then Ran was saying something to her. Shampoo looked at Ran, then at Ranma. She grinned. It was not a pleasant grin. Ranma suddenly decided that he had, perhaps, not thought this plan out as much as necessary. He glanced at Chris, who was waving cheerfully at him, the undead jerk.
“Don’t think I won’t be back!” Ranma shouted as he dodged the thrown bed. It tore through the wall behind him with a colossal crash. Ran eeped and briefly skidded over the top of it before landing with an ‘oompf’ on the balcony. Ranma flipped over the angry purple-haired girl’s next few strikes and landed outside the condo proper.
“Now look what you’ve done, Ranma. Poor Shampoo’s going to freeze tonight, and it’s all your fault,” Chris called out in a sing-song voice.
“Oh yeah… well… I bet they revoke your lease for that! And then let’s see you call the cops on me next time!” Ranma didn’t wait for Chris’s response before bounding down the fire escape. Ran paused on the balcony to shrug apologetically to everyone inside before following him.
Ranma led her a few blocks away. They stopped on a bridge over one of Nerima’s many canals. Ran leaned on the railing next to him and patted him on the back.
“Cheer up. Sure, you were utterly humiliated and didn’t accomplish a single thing you set out to do, but at least you weren’t flattened by a flying bed.”
“Uh… thanks.” Ranma turned around and leaned back on the railing. “It just pisses me off. I know that jerk is up to something. Ukyou would have known how to get it out of him, I think.” Ranma paused. Ran didn’t have anything to add to that, so they stood together in silence for a few moments.
“Thanks, by the way.”
“You already thanked me.”
“No. I mean, for helping me find him.”
“It wasn’t hard.” She shrugged.
“Yeah, well… it was something I couldn’t do,” Ranma admitted ruefully, rubbing the back of his neck.
“Uh… you’re welcome then.”
“Oh, and I almost forgot in all the excitement.” Ranma reached into his pocket and pulled free a tiny red and yellow box. “This is yours.”
“Mine?” Ran took it. “It’s… an instant camera?”
“I promised I’d get you a camera back,” Ranma explained. “And I keep my promises.”
“I…” Ran looked down at the little box, and then she began to grin. “Ranma, this is a five hundred yen disposable camera…”
“Yeah, it’s not as big as that clunky old thing you had before,” Ranma pointed out proudly. “Plus it has a clip for your belt, so you won’t drop it like your last one.”
Ran gave Ranma a strange look for a moment. Then she grinned. “I guess it is almost as good.” She began to chuckle. “When you look at it like that.”
“See? Never doubt the word of Ranma Saotome!”
“Don’t worry. I won’t.”
“You look troubled.”
Pluto looked up from her magazine. She was about to tell the waitress that she was fine when she stopped. Whoever this woman was, she was no waitress. At least not for this restaurant.
“Perhaps I can help you ease your mind,” the mystery woman said calmly. Pluto examined her more closely as the woman slid around behind the tiny cafe table. She was tall, with smooth Roman features. The most striking thing about her was her hair. It was a deep purple, and styled into two wild locks that zig-zagged through the air in stark defiance of gravity. She wore a wine-coloured dress jacket and a long yellow sash. “You must be carrying great burdens. Perhaps the cards can show you the path that lies before you?” The woman stretched forth her hand and suddenly a long, decorative card appeared between her fingertips.
“Ah, a fortune teller,” Pluto said with a wry chuckle. “I’m afraid I don’t have much in the way of money.” It was true. As Setsuna, Pluto earned a modest living by working on and off in the fashion industry. It was enough to afford a home and the ability to move about pretty much as she pleased. She just wasn’t in the habit of carrying money around with her.
“You’ve already done more than enough to earn my help.” The fortune teller glanced at the other chair and then at Pluto. Pluto gestured for her to sit. As she sat, she removed a tarot deck from her sash. “I never really bothered to learn the origin of the tarot deck. I have always just felt a sort of connection to it.” She began to shuffle the cards in a slow, deliberate manner. “Something about the many facets, each representing the same thing in different ways. They’re like masks we place on the future, you see. The cards, I mean. The key is to look behind the masks. Reveal what is beneath and hidden.”
She dealt a single card onto the table. “The Empress. This is your past. Interesting. I did not know that.” Pluto wondered what she meant. She’d never bothered to study the various myths regarding fortune-telling. It all seemed so irrelevant when you could simply turn your head and see the way the world would unfold for the next ten thousand years. After aeons of resisting that temptation, playing at knowing the future simply didn’t appeal to her. “This next card is your present. Death. Hmm. Ominous but not entirely bad. It means change and transition, or so I’ve been told.” The woman pushed the two cards forward on the table. “But this isn’t what you’re interested in, is it? The next card is the future.” The woman drew a card and held it between her fingers for a moment before placing it on the table. “The Tower. Now that is dangerous. Disaster looms.” Pluto smiled wryly.
“But I think we can be more specific than that, no?” The fortune teller drew another card and held it up. She gestured, and the card began to spin about a corner on the tip of her index finger. “This is the source of your trouble.” The card fell to the table. “The Hermit. Some people think that it is a male card, but I’ve always preferred to think of it as female. It is associated with wisdom, after all.” Pluto chuckled along with the woman. “And here is another card for you. Hmm… the Devil. And see how it lies next between the Hermit and the Tower. A great battle, I think? And next is… The Sun. Ah, a revelation. A message? I think so. You are worried about a message of a great battle, a wise woman and a disaster.” Pluto slowly lowered her teacup. The woman waved her hand across the table, and suddenly the faces of the cards had changed. “I begin to see what you see. Look, there is the Fool, the Lovers and still, and always, the Tower. Compassion has misled you, and now disaster seems even more certain.” Pluto reached out and plucked the Fool card from the table. Her eyes had not been deceiving her. On the card was a picture of her. Or, more accurately, a picture of Sailor Pluto.
“Who are you?” Pluto whispered.
“I came to help you.” The woman gestured and the Tower card rose from the table and began to spin idly in mid-air. Pluto looked at it. She had seen the card before. It had been the picture of a great stone turret, cloaked in shadow and being shattered by a lightning bolt. Now it looked almost the same, except the cloak of shadows was a black coat and the lightning bolt was an outstretched silver weapon. Hidden in the shadows of the card was a face Pluto knew well. “Four months ago, I began to have nightmares.” The fortune teller reached down with one manicured finger and halted the motion of the card with a gentle touch. “I did not know what they meant. Until I read a story in the newspaper about a great battle. But even then I did not come here.” Pluto’s eyes met the mystery woman’s and some shared fear passed between them. “I knew another was here, one whom the message was meant for. I thought she could handle it. A few days ago, I sensed a power like I never have. I suspected that there had been a confrontation. But the dreams did not go away. So I came.”
“Who are you?” Pluto demanded as she leapt to her feet. There was a loud clatter as her chair landed somewhere behind her. The other patrons were staring now, but Pluto didn’t care. Her hand was already gripping her transformation wand.
“I am a friend, perhaps the only one you have.” The fortune teller stretched to her feet, The Tower gripped firmly between two fingers now. “I am Rose.” She gestured sharply and the card burst apart in a flash of startling purple light. “I am here to help you do what must be done.”
Tsubasa spotted Ukyou before she spotted him. This wasn’t unusual. Tsubasa was very good at not being spotted when he wanted to be. What was unusual was that he wasn’t even trying to conceal his presence. Ukyou was striding briskly out of the high school, barely paying attention to her surroundings.
Tsubasa could have ignored her and moved on. He wanted to. But… he remembered that day a few years ago well. Ukyou had stood up for him, had defended him when no one else would. She deserved at least some closure. She deserved at least an explanation.
Ukyou’s head turned slowly in his direction. Her expression was not kind, but neither was it cruel. It was… oddly neutral. It was like she didn’t even recognise him. A second later she put lie to his thoughts.
“Ah, Fungus,” Ukyou said evenly. “I knew it was a mistake coming back just yet…”
Tsubasa frowned. He didn’t know where she had picked up that nickname for him, but he didn’t like it. It reminded him too much of the catcalls of the other boys. It reminded him of being chased down the street by outraged women with cries of ‘freak’ and ‘pervert’ echoing in his ears.
“Coming back?” he asked slowly. As he approached, he self-consciously smoothed out the pleats in his skirt and adjusted the bow in his hair. He had put a good deal of effort into his outfit today, and he wanted Ukyou to appreciate it.
“To Nerima,” Ukyou responded. “If not to Furinkan. I should have known I’d run into someone.”
“I see…” Tsubasa did not, really.
“No, you don’t.” Ukyou glanced away from him. “You don’t know why I ran away that day. You don’t know why I haven’t come back yet. I have… things on my mind.”
“Okay…” Tsubasa sighed. He looked down and began to grind his toe into the ground. “Listen, Ukyou, I need to talk to you.”
“Fungus, I’m not really…” Then she paused. Her head quirked to the side and her eyes gazed off into the distance. “Wait. Check that. I do need someone to talk to.”
“Come with me,” Ukyou ordered as she reached out and grabbed his wrist. Tsubasa gasped as she leapt up, carrying him roughly into the air. Her long black coat rippled and snapped in the wind for a second before she alighted atop a phone pole. Without pausing for an instant she was off again, bouncing over the wall of the school and landing on the top of a tree. Then a third bound took them to the roof of the school. Tsubasa collapsed to his knees as she released him and began to rub his wrist ruefully. “The door’s locked,” Ukyou said as she returned from checking it. “We can talk without anyone overhearing us up here.”
“That’s good…” Tsubasa said as he shifted to a more comfortable position. Ukyou stretched and sat down next to him, eyes staring across the expanse of Nerima towards the distant high rises of Tokyo. His heart ached at the sight of her. She was so beautiful. Her hair had grown longer, her bangs now reached down to almost cover her eyes. She was still dressed in the same dress shirt and slacks combo she had favored back at their old school. Her thick ponytail hung down to the small of her back, a stray hair here and there caught idly in the breeze. She no longer carried her spatula. Instead, a long staff was slung in a simple harness over her shoulder.
But those weren’t the big changes. The big change was her face. It was still as pretty as ever, but now seemed to have grown cold. Her expression seemed carved of stone. Her beautiful brown eyes, once so full of passion, now focused icily on whatever was before her.
“Do you mind if I go first?” Tsubasa snapped out of his reverie at her words. She sounded tired. Like she hadn’t slept in days. Now that he looked, he could see the dark lines around her eyes. “I’ve been debating things in my head for the past four days. Tossing ideas around. But there’s a point where your thoughts just begin to travel in circles, you know? Even if you do have two perspectives on the same thought. It helps just to say it out loud. It’s a kind of magic, isn’t it? Speaking it makes it real, somehow. Acknowledging it to another human being. Even one who has no idea what you’re talking about.”
Tsubasa blinked in confusion. Ukyou didn’t seem to be talking to him, really. She was more addressing the world, and he just happened to be the only part of it paying attention.
“Do you know the name of this high school?” she asked suddenly.
“It’s Tomobiki,” Ukyou pointed out. “I’d heard stories about this place. Tall tales, really. Stories about aliens and demons and boys with the worst luck in the world.” She gestured idly down towards the thinning crowd of students. “None of them are true. At least, not in this world.”
“Ukyou, what do you mean…?” She held up a finger and stalled him.
“But not all the stories are untrue. There are children running around this city with the power to shatter steel, summon lightning and run like the wind, literally.” Ukyou was saying that as if Tsubasa should be surprised.
“You’ve met the Sailor Senshi, haven’t you?” Tsubasa frowned as he thought about them. He nodded, but Ukyou had already started speaking again. “They’re going to save the world, you know. In the most literal sense of the word. In fact, there is a lot of that world saving going on. I met a young man the other day who can summon fire from his fingertips. He’ll save the world, because that’s what his family does. In America there is an airforce captain named Guile who’s going to save the world. I haven’t met him, but I have seen some of his… contemporaries about. I even fought one of them to earn some spare cash last night.” Ukyou fingered her arm gingerly. “Lots of people are saving the world these days.”
Ukyou paused, and her voice became bitter. “I am going to destroy it.”
“What?” Tsubasa gasped.
“So everyone keeps telling me.” Ukyou reached out and laced her fingers through the chainlink that surrounded the roof of the school. “Two days ago, I went to consult an old gypsy woman. She predicts the future for money, you see. I know she’s legit. I’ve seen her guide one of those heroes to the monsters that prey on mankind again and again. Not really a world-saving hero, this Ayaka, but a hero nonetheless. She fights demons and ghosts for money.
“The gypsy was afraid of me. She recognised me the moment I walked into the room. She even tried to run away.” Ukyou clenched her hand into a fist. There was an ear-piercing shriek as the metal links crumbled and tore in her grasp. “I intimidated her into telling me what I wanted to hear. I’m not proud of it, but it confirmed what I had already heard from other people.”
“What did you hear?” Tsubasa said with a gulp. Ukyou no longer looked indifferent. Her eyes had narrowed and her icy gaze had intensified. The air around her had filled with a palpable cold, and Tsubasa found himself rubbing his shoulders and shivering. Clouds began to form in front of his lips.
“You don’t pay attention, Fungus,” Ukyou pointed out idly. “I’m going to destroy the world. Literally. I am the end of all things, according to every psychic I have sought out. It’s written in the stars. It’s in the cards. It’s even at the bottom of a teacup.” Ukyou drew back her hand, tearing more of the chainlink free as she did so. “What none of them have been able to tell me is why.”
“Why I’ll do it. I don’t want to destroy the world. I don’t care about the world! All I care about is… myself, my friends… Why would I do it?” Ukyou leapt to her feet, her voice a cold hiss. “It can’t have been me. There’s some mistake. Or there is something out there I’m not aware of. Some series or video game come to life that I don’t know about yet. Something that can produce something so horrific that it will make me want to destroy everything…” Ukyou ran a hand through her bangs and her voice and expression returned to normal. “But I can’t think of anything that bad. No matter who writes the story, there’s always a happy ending. The hero always triumphs over evil in the end. Unless Manabe is writing it… but since I detect a significant lack of anthropomorphs and nearly naked chicks with swords in this world, I doubt he’s involved.”
“A storyteller.” Ukyou looked up. “One of many. I learned a lot about this world from them. More than I should. It turns out some of the fairy tales were true. And I have to learn which ones. I have to figure out what it is they do to me, to turn me into what everyone else sees. I have to prevent it. I’m going to figure out what is wrong and fix it, Fungus.”
“Fix it?” Tsubasa had finally heard enough. He stood up, smoothing his skirt and shaking his head. “Are you even listening to yourself, Ukyou? You’re not making any sense.”
“Only because you don’t know the whole-“
“NO!” Tsubasa cut her off angrily. “I think I know what you’re talking about. You’re afraid of the future. You’ve seen it somehow, and it’s not turning out the way it should. Am I right?” Ukyou nodded mutely, her expression stunned.
“And you think you’re going to fix it? Are you even listening to yourself? Can’t you hear it in your tone?” Tsubasa stepped away from her. “You think this all revolves around you somehow. You see enemies everywhere, and when you don’t see them, you’re making them up.” Tsubasa’s voice caught. “I remember that day we first met. Do you?” Ukyou paused… then slowly shook her head.
“You saved me from the boys at school,” Tsubasa reminded her. “They hated me because of what I am, you see. Everyone I’ve ever met has. I’m used to that. But that doesn’t mean it didn’t hurt when they caught me outside of a disguise and beat me bloody. Then you stepped in, out of the blue, and drove them away.” Tsubasa sniffed and rubbed his nose. “I thought you were a guy then. I thought you were just protecting me because you didn’t know I was, too. I thought you’d turn on me. But then you showed you knew, that you’d seen through my disguise. You even gave me advice that day, on how to look more like a girl.”
Tsubasa reached up and brushed a bothersome tear from the corner of his eye. “I liked you then. I only fell in love with you later. When I learned the truth about you. And learned that you didn’t save me because you were like me. You saved me because it was just the right thing to do at the time.” Tsubasa couldn’t halt the flow of tears anymore. “The boys at school never harassed me again, Ukyou. They were afraid of you, I think. But you never tried to… to FIX them. You just did the right thing. You didn’t expect it to turn out well. You just wanted to help me, and wanted nothing in return.
“But you’ve changed.”
Ukyou flinched. Then her expression grew angry and she turned to shout at him.
“I have not changed!” Ukyou screamed in his face. Even her anger was icy now. He felt the air about him chill further. “I am the same girl I’ve always been!”
“No, you’re not!” Tsubasa shouted back into her face. Ukyou opened her mouth but Tsubasa spoke first, cutting her off. “You won’t shout me down, Ukyou. I loved you once and I think you deserve to know this. So I won’t let you intimidate me into stopping. The only way you’ll stop me is to attack me. And will you do that, Ukyou? Will you break my spine, just because I’m telling you the truth?”
That cut the wind out of her sails. The temperature returned to normal and Tsubasa noted that even the air seemed to have grown brighter. Ukyou backed a step away from him.
“I would never attack…” Ukyou trailed off.
“Would you?” Tsubasa shook his head. “Ukyou, I watched you that day you took Ranma to see his mother. You were playing with those people. You didn’t have to. You just did. Did you want to ‘fix’ their lives as well? Is that what you wanted?” Tsubasa didn’t wait for a response. “I’ve seen you with your friends. You order them around like a general. You control them. You never tried to trick people before like that. Oh, you’ve always wanted things… but you’re straightforward about it. And now you want to fix the world. What makes you think you’re going to do a better job with it than you did with Ranma and his mother?”
Ukyou’s face was as frozen as a statue. The wind rippled her long coat about her ankles, but otherwise she was a study in stillness.
“I loved you once, Ukyou. But I don’t love you anymore. You’re not the person I fell for. This is goodbye, Ukyou. You’ll never see me again.”
Tsubasa didn’t look back as he walked away. He refused to brush the tears from his cheeks. His makeup was probably ruined, but he didn’t care. It hurt so much, but it felt so good too. It felt right. He knew his heart would always ache for Ukyou, but maybe he had helped her, in his own way.
Kusanagi lounged in the tree, impatiently waiting for that little worm to show his face so he could pound it in.
The TAC milled around below, doing whatever it was they did. It involved a bunch of cops surrounding the building. Like THEY’D make a difference. The scientist lady, Matsudaira or whatever, kept checking the readouts on her equipment, but didn’t look concerned, so Kusanagi wasn’t concerned either. At least these guys seemed just as interested in keeping Momiji alive as he was.
Of course, they might have been more concerned if they could hear the sounds of battle that he could from inside the faux-fairytale castle. Normally, Kusanagi would have been in there taking part in the fun, but that old fart Kunikida had asked him to wait outside until the target emerged, or they were convinced he wouldn’t show up.
Kusanagi yawned. He knew the target would show up. Nobody hunting down mitamas as religiously as this little worm and his friends were would pass up a chance for two in the same building.
He perked up a bit as the sounds of combat ceased. That had been quick. But then, the worm was good enough to give Kusanagi trouble, so that was to be expected. He moved from his lounging position to a pre-jump crouch. The TAC could handle those two girls they were so interested in. All he really cared about was his rematch with the little worm.
And there he was. First the worm, walking out of the building. He looked exactly the same as Kusanagi remembered, except he was wearing a jacket and gloves now. He was rubbing one of his wrists idly. Had he gotten hurt? All the better.
Behind him were those girls the TAC wanted. Riiiight, he’d forgotten they were sexy identical twins. They were arguing back and forth in Chinese over some crap.
And… somebody ELSE stepped out behind them. Kusanagi took a look. Then he took another look. A nice, looooong look. Man, she was hot. Long, purple hair delicately framing the face of an angel which was marred only slightly by the spatters of green blood across her cheek. Her nearly skin-tight Chinese pantsuit flattered her figure, and man, it was a figure that deserved flattering. Why couldn’t Momiji look a little more like that?
She was even carrying a sword. Which was also splattered in green blood. Whoops. Looked like those twins had gotten ANOTHER flunkie to help them hunt down the aragami. She might be trouble-
The floodlights switched on with an electric hiss, transforming the early morning darkness into blinding light. The three girls shielded their eyes. The worm didn’t even flinch, but he looked surprised.
Kunikida was holding a megaphone to his lips. “STOP RIGHT THERE!” he commanded, his words punctuated by the clack and clatter of dozens of small arms (and one really big arm held by the crazy TAC chick with the pink jumpsuit) being readied.
Kusanagi didn’t feel the need to step in quite yet.
The worm paused for a long moment, but didn’t raise his hands or anything. Finally, he spoke. “The TAC. To what do I owe the pleasure?”
The old man lowered the megaphone. “Your actions are in direct violation of the authority of the Japanese government. You are ordered to surrender the mitamas you have collected and come peacefully with us.”
One of the twin girls was whispering to the worm. She pointed right at Kusanagi. That was right, those two could detect mitamas, just like Momiji. Well, no use hiding now. Kusanagi casually dropped from the tree and strode forward with his hands in his pockets, his trenchcoat flapping behind him.
The worm smirked a little bit. “I see. However, Mr. Kunikida, it seems you have a slightly bigger problem, as it appears we are joined by a rogue known to hunt aragami outside the authority of the Japanese government, and who is in possession of no less than seven mitamas. That would make him three sevenths more of a problem than me, wouldn’t it?”
“Don’t try and change the subject,” Kunikida growled. “If you know that much, you know Kusanagi is working with the TAC.”
“No I’m not!” Kusanagi snapped.
“Shut up,” the old man hissed sideways at him.
“Tsk tsk, Mr. Kunikida, such intellectual dishonesty. If he’s ‘working with you’, it’s only because you choose to ignore his blatant flouting of the Japanese government’s authority. After all, I don’t see his TAC uniform, nor do I believe he carries any credentials authorising his actions.”
“I’ve got all the credentials I need right here,” Kusanagi informed the worm, snapping out one of his forearm-blades.
The worm spread his hands, smiling broadly. “So, if you can let one mysterious stranger helping you out slide, why not two?”
The black-haired TAC chick that had the hots for the old fart spoke up, her tones clipped and businesslike. “An important difference is that Kusanagi has been destroying the aragami. His vigilante actions, while not exactly approved, appear to have no ulterior motives. Your group, on the other hand, seem somewhat more suspicious in your actions.”
The worm sighed. “I don’t suppose a protestation of my innocent intentions would do, huh?”
“Perhaps we’ll give you a chance to explain your intentions, and if we are satisfied, you might even go free,” Kunikida said, rubbing his chin.
“Well, then, let me propose a compromise. If you name a place and time, Mr. Kunikida, I’ll be happy to come speak with you. But given that Kusanagi already destroyed one of the mitamas before, I’m afraid I would be… how shall we say… unwilling to turn those I’ve collected over to your custody at the moment.”
“That is unacceptable,” Kunikida said gravely.
“Does that mean I can beat him up now?” Kusanagi said loudly. “Like, are you finished blabbing yet? He’s not gonna surrender, you know.”
The black-haired TAC chick glared at him. “Some of us operate within the bounds of the law. We are required to at least give them a chance to surrender before we open fire.”
The worm began to lean back, opening his mouth to talk to the hot twin chicks. Though they definitely weren’t as hot as that other girl, who mostly looked bored and annoyed with all the talking. Kunikida wasn’t an idiot, though, he never took his eyes off the worm. Even as one of the twins opened her mouth to respond, the old man brought his hand up sharply.
Kusanagi barely heard the gentle ‘phut’ of the two snipers firing. The worm’s eyes widened, he spun too fast for a human eyes to follow, his hand twitched up… and he hesitated, not sure which twin to protect. Just the slightest fraction of a second, but it was enough. The twins made a slight exclamation of pain (and then said “over” for some reason) and slapped the sides of their necks in perfect synchronisation. One of the twins’ eyes widened, and she reached towards her waist. She frowned and fumbled with her skirt for a second, but the tranquilliser was very quick, and before she could do whatever it was she was doing, both twins collapsed in a heap.
“Shit!” the worm swore in English. He looked back at the TAC, and there was none of the relaxed arrogance of his earlier expression. “You sneaky little bastards.”
“We have to be, when dealing with people as powerful as you,” Kunikida noted with a hint of pride in his tone. “Do you wish to surrender now?”
“Please say no,” Kusanagi piped up, cracking his knuckles.
“I think…” the petulant worm said, eyes narrowing, “that you all should be more concerned with Momiji. She’s been kidnapped, and being held in this same building. Isn’t that your first priority?”
“Oh, Momiji is fine,” Matsudaira smiled cheerfully. “We know where she is, and all her vitals are perfectly normal.”
The worm stared at her for a moment, then slapped his forehead. “Oh, right, you bugged her! I totally forgot about that! No wonder you got here so early.”
Kunikida exchanged a look with Kusanagi. Kusanagi shrugged. Wasn’t his problem if the TAC had lame-ass security for their plans.
“Take Pink and Link. Go!” the worm barked sharply over his shoulder at the hot babe. She looked at him, looked down at the unconscious duo, smiled and crossed her arms.
“They boss. You no boss,” the babe said in heavily accented Japanese.
“Shampoo, you’re being annoying,” the worm said, his voice a mixture of annoyance and amusement. He turned back to the TAC, and drew a long strip of black cloth out of somewhere. Hey, that looked kinda familiar, somehow. Where’d Kusanagi seen one of those before…?
“Kusanagi, take him NOW!” Kunikida snapped.
Well, he didn’t need to be asked twice. Kusanagi launched himself forward, his other blade snapping to readiness. The worm wasn’t even paying attention; he was wide open. He was doing something with the cloth – it was a ribbon, actually – spinning it around his body. Rose petals, black (?) rose petals were scattering everywhere. Was that supposed to be some sort of attack? Maybe the guy was a little light in the boxers or somethiiiiiiiiing…
Kusanagi slammed his hands over his mouth and nose, crumbling to his knees as his vision doubled and his balance deserted him. He vaguely noted the hot chick collapsing to the ground out of the corner of his eye. A loud clatter behind him indicated the TAC’s rent-a-guns weren’t faring much better.
The worm stepped past Kusanagi as he tried to cough whatever poison it was out of his lungs. Some of the TAC soldiers were still up, but the worm was doing something; a bunch of shouts and thumps. He looked up through teary eyes to see the worm snapping the ribbon back into his hands, threading it between thumb and forefinger.
Wait a minute. That girl. The one that had been helping out the twins first. That was HER technique.
He no longer had doubling vision, and the vertigo appeared to be wearing off somewhat, so Kusanagi began to rise to his feet. He could still win. The worm looked down at him, and shook his head. “Damn MADMs,” he noted.
“‘Madame’? Are you calling me gay or something?” Kusanagi growled.
“Nope.” The worm’s fingers flashed; something white flew from them. Kusanagi swore, tried to dodge, but his limbs were still rubbery and he was at point blank range. A sharp pain exploded in his chest, immediately followed by an eerie numbness which rapidly spread across his body.
Kusanagi toppled forward, his limbs frozen. He wanted to swear, to get up, to struggle, to rip the worm limb from limb. He even tried transforming. But all he managed to do was drool a bit.
Out of the corner of his vision, he could see that goddamn obnoxious worm picking up one of the girls. Kusanagi rolled his eyes furiously at him. Why couldn’t he MOVE, goddamnit? The worm walked right past him after he’d collected all three of his companions, and stopped for only a moment. “Better luck next time,” he called cheerfully.
Oh, that was IT. No holding back from here on in. No “waiting” for the TAC to “talk” with the little fucking worm. Next time, he was a dead worm.
The soft wood felt cool underneath Ukyou’s fingers. It was almost summer, but in this wood a bit of the winter still lingered. That was the way of wood. It echoed. Echoed with the warmth of lost life, and the cold of lost days. As her fingers traced a path along the whorls and knots of the floor, a fine trace of white frost formed.
Cold. When had everything become cold?
Ukyou rose to her feet, adjusting the fall of her coat as she did. The dojo was exactly as she remembered it. A quiet, contemplative place that belied the chaos that existed within this household. It was a good place to practice your skills, to focus on the perfection of your own chi. So why had she spent the last four days picking fights in underground battle circuits? She and Aaron knew that fighting would gain them new skill with their chi, the focus on the ‘wind’ and ‘void’ that Ono had recommended for them.
“Oh my, Ukyou… I didn’t even know you were here.”
“I’m sorry, I came in uninvited,” Aaron said to Kasumi without turning. He took a deep breath and tried to assure Ukyou that this was for the best. She couldn’t run away from Akane and Ranma just because she was scared of what they would think of her. And he couldn’t continue to pretend that running around tracking down psychics and fighting people in poorly-lit pits surrounded by hundreds of screaming men was what they needed to do.
“Can I get you something?” Kasumi asked, her voice becoming proper and controlled again. Ukyou chuckled. Kasumi sounded so sweet and kind. But was that all there was to her? Ukyou wasn’t so sure anymore. This world, it was alive in a way she had somehow forgotten. Hayato, Tsubasa… both had surprised her. Not by being strange, but by being human. How badly had she misjudged everyone around her because she ‘knew’ about everything Aaron knew?
“Kasumi…” Aaron asked as he turned. “Can I ask you a serious question?”
“I… suppose,” Kasumi agreed with a blink. She was taller than Ukyou, and wore a modest but attractive dress. She looked so feminine… so archetypically Japanese, that for a moment Ukyou envied her. Then she sighed. She was not like that, and never could be.
“I want you to tell me what you really think about me, Kasumi.” Aaron continued intently: “Don’t hold back because you think you’ll hurt my feelings, either. I need to know…” If you are really human, too, Aaron didn’t finish.
“I’m not sure what you mean, Ukyou,” Kasumi said in surprise.
“Never mind.” Aaron waved the question away. “It was just… never mind. Tell me, where is everyone?”
“Father is in the family room, reading the newspaper,” Kasumi replied brightly. She sounded relieved that Aaron had let up on his previous question. And maybe that was proof enough that there were layers underneath her housewife persona that Ukyou and he had never guessed at. “Nabiki is gone for the day again.” Here, Kasumi almost frowned. “She’s been absent from school the last few days. She only comes home at night to pick up supplies and then leaves again the next morning. I’ve no idea where she’s going.” Kasumi sounded worried, and this caused Aaron to worry. Nabiki had no reason to skip classes at all. It was something he and Ukyou would have to check into later. Perhaps it was time to stop seeing Nabiki as an enemy… “Ranma is off with his mother again, looking to track down his father. Akane is, I believe, up in her room studying.”
Ukyou suppressed the surge of disappointment. So Ranma wasn’t available. It wasn’t just him she had come back to talk to, after all.
“Could you go tell Akane I’d like to speak with her?” Aaron requested as he strode across the dojo to the pile of mats. He kicked up onto them and sat facing the eldest Tendo daughter. She nodded and agreed to his request before striding briskly from the room.
Aaron spent the next few minutes mentally preparing himself for what was to come. Ukyou and he had royally screwed up with Akane. Things had been said, and not said, that needed to be addressed. Ukyou didn’t like the idea, but admitted that it needed to be done.
The fact was, Ukyou had really grown to like Akane over the last few months. She was so… genuine. Akane’s friendship was one of the few shining sparks in what had grown to become a harsh and bitter darkness. Ukyou wasn’t willing to resign herself to the idea that the damage that had been done between them was irreparable.
Aaron looked up as the door to the dojo whished open almost soundlessly. His senses had grown sharper the last few days. He could focus and hear the rasp of Akane’s breath, and wasn’t sure if he was imagining the sound of her heart beating. If he wasn’t, then the girl was nervous. When she stepped in, her demeanour almost confirmed Aaron’s suspicions.
Akane was dressed in a simple blouse and overall/skirt combo. Her black eyes focused on Ukyou for a second, then looked away. She began to toy with one of the long forelocks that fell in front of her ears. Her forearms were still covered in the practice weights Ukyou had gotten for her. Aaron smiled. He wondered for a brief moment if Akane knew how beautiful she was. Then he noticed the tiny creature that was sliding around at her feet.
“Akane… is that Hayato’s pet octopus?” Ukyou asked slowly. As if to answer her question, the creature slid out from behind Akane’s feet and hissed at her. Since when could octopi hiss?
“Yes,” Akane said with a sigh. “I found him in Hayato’s hospital room. After he disappeared.”
“Disappeared?” Ukyou said with a blink.
“Somebody destroyed his room and Hayato vanished. Only little Patoratsyu here was left. And he hasn’t been exactly talking about what happened.” Akane sounded relieved somehow. Aaron frowned, wondering why. Then it hit him: Akane suspected that Ukyou had done something!
“Akane, you can’t believe I would do that to Hayato!” Ukyou gasped out. Then she paused. Why shouldn’t Akane believe it?
“I don’t know,” Akane sighed and walked towards her. The octopus followed her, but kept a suspicious eye on Ukyou. “I don’t know what to believe anymore. Things keep getting more complicated. I wish it could be like it was at the beginning…”
“If wishes were fishes…” Aaron chuckled. “Akane… we can deal with Hayato later. Right now, I came here to talk to you-“
“Did you?” Akane said quickly, cutting Aaron off.
“Ukyou… I have to ask you a question.”
“Anything, Akane.” Aaron nodded. Ukyou didn’t like this. This wasn’t right. But Aaron and she had talked about this on the way over. It was time to stop hiding and treating these people like pawns on the board that was her life. Akane, Ranma… everyone, they were people. They weren’t characters in her drama or bit players in her story. It was time to start treating them like people.
“Do you love Ranma?”
Ukyou started, stunned by the question and the look in Akane’s eyes. She sounded so sad, almost lost. Her eyes quivered slightly as they stared into Ukyou’s. Aaron opened his mouth to respond, then stopped. It wasn’t his place to speak about this. He didn’t love Ranma.
Ukyou reached up to her heart; placing a palm over it, she listened briefly through Aaron’s senses to its steady beat. She thought for a moment about Ranma. Then she smiled. “Yes, Akane. I love Ranma.”
“I knew you did,” Akane sighed. She looked away. “I could see it in the way you looked at him, when you knew he wasn’t paying attention.”
Ukyou supposed a normal girl would have blushed at this point. But she wasn’t a normal girl. She didn’t feel embarrassed or ashamed by her feelings about Ranma. Even Aaron’s distaste for sex had only helped to crystallise her feelings. Without tying her emotions to his looks or gender, Ukyou realised that she had grown beyond infatuation for Ranma.
“Ukyou…” Akane turned back to her and looked her straight in the eyes again. “You have all of Aaron’s memories, right?” Ukyou felt that feeling of foreboding returning. But Aaron nodded silently. “You know what is going to happen… what would have happened to me and Ranma in the future if you hadn’t shown up, isn’t that right?” Now Aaron felt it too. Akane was proving the point Tsubasa had rammed into their head this morning. These people weren’t pawns. Still, he nodded again.
“Ukyou… did you want to become my friend just so that I would never end up engaged to Ranma? Did you want to prevent us from falling in love? Is that the only reason?” Akane’s eyes sparkled now with nascent tears.
Ukyou flinched as if slapped. She opened her mouth to protest. Akane, I’m your friend. I believe in you. I want to be with you. I want to hear your laughter. I want to share your pain. I want to make your life better. I’ve grown to care more about you than I ever would have imagined possible. Not a day goes by that I don’t wonder how you are. Not a sleepless night has passed in the last four days that I have not wanted to call you up and say ‘I’m sorry’. I can’t imagine a world where I don’t get to see you smile. That’s what she wanted to say. But she couldn’t. Because that wasn’t what Akane had asked.
“Yes,” Aaron answered for her. His voice was cold. “I manipulated your friendship to bring me closer to Ranma and cut you out of his life.” Aaron paused. “And I’d do it again, if I had it to do all over.”
This time it was Akane who reeled back. Now she was crying. Ukyou lifted up her hand to comfort her, but realised what cold comfort her words would be now.
“You… really did… just manipulate me?”
“Yes,” Ukyou admitted. Her voice too was cold. But not because she didn’t care. If she allowed her emotions to show in her voice, she would break down. “Akane… I’m sorry.”
“Sorry you did it, or sorry you got caught?” Akane shouted. Now she was angry. She wiped the tears off with the back of her wrist. Ukyou just looked down, unable to respond to that. Her silence was all the answer Akane needed.
Aaron’s newly heightened senses heard her storm out of the room. The dojo door slammed shut in her wake. Akane was sobbing, her heart racing as she fled across the covered walkway into her home. Aaron wanted to get up and follow her. He wanted to explain that there was more to it than that. He felt like the hero of a bad teen romance now. Watching the tragedy unfolding, but unable to say the few simple words that would make it all right.
Why? Why couldn’t he just get up and explain what he and Ukyou really thought about Akane?
Unable to answer that question, Ukyou finally picked them up and walked out of the dojo. They had one more confrontation today. Then… maybe then she could see if she could help Nabiki, and Hayato. Or at least, she could make sure that things didn’t get worse.
“My Queen… You summoned me?”
“Yes, Zoicite,” Queen Beryl hissed sharply from behind her crystal globe. As always, she was tracing her fingers slowly through the air about the orb, tapping into some sort of arcane commands that Zoicite could not as yet comprehend. “I wanted you to report to me on the status of your search for the Ginzuishou.”
“Ah…” Zoicite had enough self control to keep from gulping and sweating. That did not mean he wasn’t nervous. “You can be certain I understand the urgency of your request, My Queen. However…”
“In other words, you still haven’t found it,” Beryl hissed dangerously. Zoicite resisted the urge to talk further. Beryl was in one of her moods, and inviting further pain would be foolhardy. “Zoicite, you know how important discovering that crystal is to us. With Nephrite gathering large amounts of energy, we need the crystal soon. Without it, all the energy in the world can not serve to revive Empress Metallia. I can not afford to fall behind schedule with her resurrection!”
Zoicite winced as Beryl’s voice reached a particularly shrill note. “Yes, my queen. It is only that I can seem to find no trace of the Silver Crystal.”
“I will not suffer your excuses, Zoicite!” Beryl screeched. “You must succeed. If you do not… I will have to find someone more capable of succeeding.”
Zoicite let that ominous statement hang in the air. He felt a drop of sweat drip from his armpit and run along the inside of his uniform. So far, Beryl had not raised a hand to harm him or pronounced some other form of punishment, but neither had she ordered him out of her presence. With nothing better to do Zoicite knelt before her, his face on the flagstones of the dark cavern Beryl used as a throne room.
“But I have decided you deserve another chance,” Beryl informed Zoicite, her voice having calmed much in the long silence that had passed between them. “I shall deliver the energy Nephrite has gathered for her this evening. When I do, I will ask her for some clue that can help you in your search.”
Zoicite ground his teeth. Nephrite. That damnable man had become Beryl’s pet ever since he had taken over Jadeite’s old job. It almost made Zoicite wish he had lent more support to the dead fool, so that he would be alive now to continue to keep the heat off him!
“My queen… before you dismiss me…” Zoicite stood up slowly. “I do have some interesting news to report.”
“Oh?” Beryl raised a dark red eyebrow. Her voice, however, was incurious.
“While I have been searching for the Ginzuishou, I have begun to discover some strange things…” Zoicite looked up and locked eyes with his queen. It was an audacious manoeuvre. Such direct looks could be considered a challenge. But Zoicite was nothing if not audacious. “For instance, did you know that there are far more monsters in this world than we first thought?”
“Yes…” Zoicite raised his delicate white-gloved hand and snapped his fingers. A cyclone of pink rose petals sprang into being behind him. “When we first managed to breach the seal on our prison, we had thought that all the youma and monsters of the solar system had been sealed away behind Queen Serenity’s magic.” Beryl nodded, though her eyes had flashed with anger at the mention of her old nemesis. “But I have seen things out there across the world.” Zoicite snapped his fingers again, and an image formed amidst the blossoms. It was a tall regal man, with pale skin, short spiky hair and dangerous red eyes.
“This is a creature called a… vampire. He has used his power to block out the sun over a small portion of this world. And there are others.” Zoicite snapped his fingers again. This time a picture formed of a large, ape-like creature with a bat-like face. It was facing off against a quartet of girls in skimpy sailor suits. “For instance, I have discovered why the Sailor Senshi have not been opposing Nephrite. They seem to be busy fighting some other form of monster that appear to be transformed humans-“
“Why should I care about any of this?” Beryl asked sharply, cutting Zoicite off. He managed not to wince, but lost enough concentration that his illusion faded away. “Whatever monsters have risen in this world without the Moon Kingdom to police it, they will be like chaff before the scythe that is Metallia! None of them matter once she can unleash her might.”
“Yes…” Zoicite coughed into his fist. “But… I think that this may be the key to Nephrite’s success.”
“These creatures just happen to conveniently show up as soon as Nephrite takes over Jadeite’s duty? Not to mention how Jadeite was killed by humans with powers we little understand… but these same humans have not so much as shown up to bother Nephrite.”
“What are you saying, Zoicite?”
“Nothing, my Queen.” Zoicite bowed. “But I just find it strange. Nephrite claims that his method of attack is to locate beings with the highest potential energy and release it, then gather the total. It just seems strange to me that he would focus on normal humans, when there are beings like those martial artists or monsters like that vampire out there. Why would he aim so low?”
Beryl had nothing to say to that. But her eyes had narrowed dangerously. It was impossible to tell if she was annoyed with Zoicite for raising this topic, or Nephrite for the implied sins Zoicite was laying at his feet. It was time to sweeten the bait a little.
“I would never think to suggest that Nephrite were incompetent, my Queen. In fact, he is very intelligent and capable. He has always been the most independent-minded of your generals, as you know. He is quite capable of running his own affairs well, and in fact has often expressed to me a desire to improve the organisation of our own forces… pending your approval, of course.” Zoicite resisted the urge to smile. Beryl’s hands had stopped their constant motion. “I just would like to know what sort of arrangement Nephrite has with these other powers that exist. Certainly, he must have some contact with them, for these monsters that aren’t youma to be so occupying our former enemies. Perhaps he even plans on bringing them here, to swell our own ranks for the coming war? If so, he has been doing so in private… I have heard nothing of this plan. I only mention this because if he has, then I am sure you would know and could direct me to their positions. Perhaps one of them can aid me in the search for the Silver Crystal.”
Zoicite bowed, mainly to hide his grin. He heard Beryl clear her throat.
“You are dismissed, Zoicite.”
He nodded and stood up, getting one good look at Beryl’s dark expression before vanishing into a swirl of rose petals. He materialised in his own chambers a fraction of a second later. Unable to resist the urge, he rose his fingers to his lips and laughed softly to himself.
“You play a dangerous game, Zoicite.”
Zoicite turned with a wicked smile and addressed his paramour. “Oh, don’t worry about me, Kunzite.” He strutted over to the tall general and ran a finger through his long, platinum-blonde hair. “Beryl will not destroy Nephrite on the strength of my rumours and innuendo.”
“Still…” Kunzite gathered Zoicite into his arms, and the smaller general lay his head against the larger’s chest, listening to the soothing sound of his heartbeat. “Remember that we are all on the same side. Nephrite is succeeding where Jadeite failed. Every mote of energy he gathers brings us closer to our ultimate goal.”
Zoicite frowned. Kunzite was beautiful, powerful and excellent in bed, but he could be such a stick in the mud when he put his mind to it. “Oh, don’t worry so much. I needed to draw some heat off myself. Nephrite is just so prominent now that he makes a good target.”
Kunzite began to run his hand along Zoicite’s back. “I understand. And I too find his recent smugness a little annoying. I think he is beginning to forget which of us is the stronger.” Zoicite nodded. “But you have a youma keeping an eye on him, and until he actually makes a move that could be seen as treason, I suggest not trying to undermine his position. He is high in the Queen’s esteem, and you do not want him as your enemy now.”
“You would protect me…” Zoicite murmured into Kunzite’s chest.
“Yes…” Kunzite lifted up the smaller general’s chin and kissed him gently on the lips. “Always.”
The thin line of light traced a path across the warehouse. It punched through three of the shambling creatures in a row. They moaned, barely acknowledging the smoking hole in their chests. They managed to take three, maybe four more steps before a wave of golden light exploded out from the hole, washing over their bodies and leaving nothing behind but a fine ash. Just like the last ten.
“And hopefully the next… oh, three hundred or so,” Minako muttered to herself in disgust as she ducked back behind the crates. The tarps protecting the huge wooden boxes rustled as she pressed against them. She heard the distant drip of water, leakage from the rain outside. But under all of it was the constant sound of the things. Their feet shuffled across the floor. Their hungry voices moaned wordlessly. Their dessicated claws scrambled and raked across anything they came across.
Minako wasn’t used to this kind of fight. Ever since she had donned the mask of Sailor V, champion of justice and fashion sense, she had spent her time dealing with two type of foes. Either they were common criminals, terrorists and mobsters… or they were the youma monsters of the Dark Agency.
“Artemis is so getting an earful about this when I get back home,” she muttered as she leapt up onto another pile of crates. A quartet of zombies had just turned the corner, and even with her enhanced speed and strength, Minako did not fancy getting into close quarters combat with those things. For starters, they were strong and deadly. More importantly, they were disgusting. Their skin was the colour of rotten fruit, and was wrinkled and pulled taut across their skulls. They wore the clothes they had died in, many showing signs of their violent deaths.
Truth be told, despite how much she protested about it, Minako had really grown to like being Sailor V. She was a heroine, adored by the people at large and at the same time saving those who couldn’t save themselves. What little girl didn’t want to feel like a magic princess, able to deal with evil using her pure heart? But the evil she was used to was nothing like this. She stretched forth a finger, aiming carefully. It took two shots, but all of the monsters were disintegrated by the energy of her Crescent Beam.
This was mopping up. Whatever evil had befallen these poor people, Minako was too late to stop it. All she could do was lay their poor souls to rest. That didn’t sit well in her stomach. She should be able to save people. She was a champion, not a soldier. This was heroism, not war. Wasn’t it?
“They just keep coming,” Minako moaned as she adjusted her glasses. They may have looked like an ostentatious opera mask, but they had the power to see far away things and also reveal the true form of her enemies. Through them she saw another ten of the creepy dead guys wander into the building. “Just what are they, anyway?”
“They are called ghouls.”
Minako didn’t shriek, even though every instinct she had was telling her to. Whoever had just said that, they had the creepiest voice she had ever heard. It was smooth, like velvet… no, smooth like blood. It trickled into your ears and flowed into your mind, drowning out all other thought. She turned slowly, trying to hide her fear.
The man who was sitting there was no less intimidating than his voice. He was tall and rapier-thin. Even though he was lounging idly on the edge of the stack of crates Minako had ascended to, his very presence screamed violence. A wide-brimmed red hat was perched jauntily atop his head and thick, lustrous curls of black hair flowed out from under it. His pale face was thin, and his eyes were hidden behind a pair of mirrored sunglasses. She couldn’t make out much of his body, because he wore a thick red leather trenchcoat that flapped and snapped about him like a living thing, barely restrained from striking out at her.
“They’re the product of inferior vampires. Barely stronger than humans, but much harder to kill. Normally they perish when their master does, but this type seems remarkably resilient to that.” He stretched out a hand, and Minako gasped. He was carrying a Gun, a capital-G gun. It was silver and huge, at least as long as her forearm. He idly aimed it and there was a deafening concussion as the weapon fired. Minako barely followed the path of the bullet, saw it smash through a crate across the warehouse and into the cluster of ghouls on the other side of it. The ghouls exploded. This wasn’t the clean death of her own magic, but far more violent and bloody. “Still, they are just ghouls. You, now… you are something new. I have never heard of a you before. And I’ve heard of most things.”
He was looking at her, and although she couldn’t see his eyes, she couldn’t help but feel like he was staring right through her flesh and into her soul. Minako backed up a step.
“I am Sailor V, the champion of justice,” she declared, once she was sure her voice wouldn’t shake.
“So the papers tell me.” The man tipped back the brim of his hat with the barrel of his gun. “But I am not interested in the who you are. I am interested in the what you are.”
“Why should I answer your questions?” Minako shouted. Her initial fear was beginning to wear off. And while she still felt like a rabbit sitting in the shadow of the wolf, she was Sailor V, damnit! She wouldn’t be scared of this guy!
“A valid point.” The man flowed to his feet. Minako had underestimated how tall he was. “My name is Alucard. I am… a hunter of the things that hunt mankind. Call my interest… professional curiosity.”
“A hunter of… some sort of champion, like me?” Minako frowned. There was no way this guy was a hero. Not with the bad news vibes he was giving off. “Yeah right, and next thing you’ll want to sell me the docks over Madison County.” Wait, was it ‘docks’ or something else? Not important.
Alucard quirked his head to the side. “Excuse me?”
While he was distracted, Minako reached up and touched her glasses. She wanted to see what this guy’s true form was. If he was human, then maybe she’d…
“MY GOD!” Minako fell backward and scrambled away from the horror.
“Hmmm? What is it? Are my fangs showing?” The monster before her took a step forward. It wasn’t a man. It was a cloud, a cloud of eyes and teeth and crawling insects. Ten times ten million eyes stared unblinkingly at her, all around her, from all sides. There was no escaping those eyes.
“Get away from me!” Minako held her hands before her. Normally she would have called on her Crescent Beam… but somehow she sensed, she knew that wouldn’t be enough. No single beam of light would shine brightly in that darkness. Her hands quivered. “What are you? What kind of monster are you?”
“The worst kind,” the man-creature said with the same care you would describe your shirt.
Minako reached down, towards her heart. She had to find the power to fight this thing. It was inside her, she had to believe that.
“You are frightened, champion of justice?” The horror took another step forward. She sensed more than saw a hand reaching out from the darkness. “Don’t worry, I am under strict orders not to kill you. At least not permanently.” It paused dramatically. “Tell me… ‘Sailor V’, was it? Are you… a virgin?”
Even as he said it, the power of her glasses faded and she saw once again the man standing over her. Her heart skipped a beat. Somehow, she felt even more in danger now than when she had seen his true form. She reached her hand up to her heart and clenched it into a fist. She sensed a slumbering force there, greater than her current power. It was waiting… waiting for a threat grave enough to need it. Well, she needed it now!
“LOVE…” She stretched out her palm, and suddenly a floating golden heart appeared rotating over it. Alucard shaded his eyes. “AND BEAUTY…” Minako rolled backward, spinning her arm in a circle and drawing a line of golden hearts in the air. As she completed her retreat, the golden hearts cascaded into each other, becoming a brilliant orb of light. Alucard began to smile.
“Yes… let’s see what you can do, champion of justice…”
Minako thrust her hand forward, pouring all her desperation and courage into a single strike. The blazing golden ball shot from her hand like a miniature sun. Alucard threw his arms wide and began to laugh. He wasn’t even trying to dodge it! The world erupted in a blaze of light when the orb struck, and Minako was forced to shield her eyes.
“That was most entertaining!”
Minako’s eyes snapped open. He was still alive? Sure enough, the monster in the shape of a man was standing at the edge of the crate. He was chuckling, completely uncaring of the basketball-sized hole where his heart used to be.
“In fact…” Alucard stepped forward, but his voice seemed groggy now. “That was quite a bit more entertaining…” He fell forward onto one knee, the tarp bending beneath his weight. “Than I-“
Alucard’s voice cut off as he slumped to the side. Minako lowered her shaking hands. She had won?
Minako snapped her eyes up as a new person entered the scene. The first thing Minako noted was that she was female. Her skin-tight police uniform and envy-inducing attributes left that fact abundantly clear. The next thing Minako noted was that the girl was armed with a rifle that was almost as large as she was. The third thing Minako noted was that she had red eyes and fangs.
“Another one?” Minako activated her glasses again… but they only showed the same young woman. She turned them off before she had to watch her cradle the form of Alucard protectively in both arms. Minako had once heard that there were some images that could drive men mad, and wasn’t willing to test how close Alucard’s true form was to those images.
“Master… wake up…” The police girl didn’t seem to have noticed Minako yet. She looked desperate and sad. As Minako began to watch her struggle with the body, she even began to cry. They were tears of blood. “This is nothing, Master! Regrow, transform… you know you can… I know you aren’t dead…”
Minako wanted to say something. But she heard shouts and gunfire from below now. She looked down. Men in uniforms with automatic weapons were streaming into the warehouse, mowing down the ghouls with military efficiency. Minako’s eagle eyes caught the insignia on their uniforms. It was the same as that of the young woman cradling Alucard.
For the first time since she had seen him, Minako began to wonder if attacking Alucard had been the right thing to do. She saw the girl look up at her. Their eyes met.
“I’m… I’m sorry?” Minako breathed. Then she leapt away. The girl didn’t follow.
The cafe was full of the scent of cigarettes and the tiny noises of idle conversation. Kusanagi wrinkled his nose at the scent. Sometimes his enhanced senses worked against him. Still, he was able to pick out the old man quickly enough. He was hunched over his table, reading a newspaper and sipping on some tea. The table he was in was near the back. Kusanagi shrugged, adjusting his coat, and strode over to him.
“Yo, old man. I’m here.”
Kunikida looked up over the rim of his paper. His expression was intense, with narrow eyes and furrows gracing his brow. Even his wart seemed intense somehow.
“Kusanagi. I’m glad you could make it.”
“Momiji told me to meet you. Said you had something urgent to talk about?”
“Yes.” The old man stood up, dropping some bills on the table. “But not here. The walls have ears, you know.” Kusanagi raised a set of eyebrows. “Walk with me, would you?”
Kusanagi shrugged and followed the old man out of the cafe. The streets outside were close to deserted. The wind today was warm and soft. Kusanagi looked up at the bright yellow sun. Summer. The world was filled with the promise of summer now. It would only be a few more days. Well, not by human reckoning. But Kusanagi could feel a much older calendar moving, even in places like this, where men had sealed the earth beneath cement and chemicals.
“Are we being followed?” Kunikida asked after they had walked a few blocks. Kusanagi glanced at him, about to make some comment about how paranoia must have crept up on him in his old age, but the look on the old man’s face told Kusanagi this was no laughing matter.
“No, we’re not,” Kusanagi answered after taking a few minutes to casually glance around the streets they were traveling.
“Good. Listen, Kusanagi. I barely know you, but I feel as if I do.”
“What are you talking about?”
Kusanagi glanced at him sharply. The old man would raise that specter. Just the mention of her name was enough to fill his heart with bittersweet memories.
“You loved her, didn’t you? By the end, I mean. It wasn’t just a job for you anymore.”
“I…” Kusanagi growled and slapped his hand against the wall, barring the old man from walking any farther. “What makes you think I want to talk to you about this?”
Kunikida was not intimidated. His gaze was level as he stared into Kusanagi’s eyes. “I wanted to know the truth, Kusanagi. From your mouth. I need to know if I can trust you.”
“Trust me?” Kusanagi pulled his arm back, flecks of broken concrete falling away from the handprint he had left in the wall. “Why should I care if you trust me?”
“Because I need you to protect Momiji,” Kunikida told him softly.
Kusanagi blinked, unsure how to react to the sadness in the old man’s voice. “What are you talking about?”
Kunikida didn’t answer right away. Instead, he began to walk away down the lane. The old man’s trenchcoat rippled and flicked at his ankles, his hands having been swallowed by his pockets. He was hunched over like this was still the middle of winter. Kusanagi took a few seconds to catch up to him.
“I don’t think I can trust anyone else,” Kunikida started explaining without prompting. “Don’t get me wrong, I trust all my own people without hesitation. I hand-picked them. But they won’t be enough.”
“Enough?” Kusanagi chuckled. “Come on, old man, you’re beginning to worry me…” Kusanagi had never really trusted the TAC. At least not to do anything right. But over the last few weeks, he had begun to see that they were decent enough people… for humans.
“Last night, I was visited by some people from the government. They had all the right papers and IDs. They confiscated copies of all of my files.” Kunikida paused. “All of them. Everything we had about the Aragami, the Kushinada project, even the files we started on those mitama thieves.” Kusanagi grunted at the mention of them.
“So… those aragami that were posing as members of your government are dead now, aren’t they? They were killed by those thieves.” Kusanagi still felt sore about that. Sure, things had worked out well enough. Both Momiji and the little girl had survived without harm, and the aragami had been killed. Or, more accurately, they had been taken.
“I don’t think that this was the aragami,” Kunikida said softly. “The information they wanted… it was information that the aragami would have already had. No, I think someone else is poking their nose into our affairs. Someone with the political clout to do basically anything they want. I tried to track them down with my contacts on the inside, but all my leads dried up… or vanished when they asked too many questions.”
“Vanished?” Kusanagi said, frowning.
“I don’t like this. I smell something dangerous,” Kunikida said while tapping his nose with one finger. “That’s why I need to know… did you love Kaede?”
“What does that have to do with anything?” Kusanagi growled out. He didn’t like to think about Kaede. It hurt too much to think about Kaede.
“Because if you do, then we have something in common,” Kunikida announced. “I loved Kaede. She was like a daughter to me. Losing her that night… I still can’t sleep at night because I dream about her. I won’t lose Momiji like we lost Kaede. It’s not fair to either of these girls, just because they were born the Kushinada, that they have to die.”
Kusanagi remained silent as Kunikida turned to face him.
“Will you do it? Protect Momiji, if I’m not able to? Will you do it for the memories of Kaede?”
“Yes…” Kusanagi said thickly.
“Take this then,” Kunikida reached out and handed Kusanagi a small silver box. “It’s a beeper. Don’t worry, I don’t plan on tracking you with it. But if you ever hear it go off, then things have gone down. If you hear it, I want you to come as quickly as you can and take Momiji away. Somewhere safe. Out of Japan if you have to.”
“I… okay.” Kusanagi took the device and slipped it into one of his interior pockets.
“But if I do call you, you can’t trust anyone. No one in Japan. Not anyone abroad either. The Americans have been acting oddly lately. They’ve stopped asking us for reports about the aragami incidents. The Chinese are behaving strangely as well… everyone seems to be caught up in this.” Kunikida turned and began to walk away. “Those martial artists out there… they’re nothing compared to what I sense is on the horizon. I think there are monsters worse than the aragami in this world, Kusanagi. Monsters that won’t hesitate to kill Momiji if they think it will eliminate the competition.” He drew a breath.
Kusanagi nodded, even if Kunikida couldn’t see it. He watched the old man disappear around the corner. His hand reached into his coat and pulled out the beeper he had been given. Kusanagi knew the old man better than he knew just about any other human being, except Kaede… He had seen him raise the blue-haired girl from an infant. He knew that Kunikida never worried without reason.
“Worse monsters?” Kusanagi grinned. “I don’t believe they know just how bad I can get. But if you’re right, old man, I guess I’ll get to show them.”
Pink stroked the mitama softly. It felt warm to her touch, and she imagined that she could feel the life welling inside. It was definitely something… special. But if it was trying to talk with her, she couldn’t hear it.
Both her sister and Chris had been surprised when Pink insisted that she get the latest two mitamas. But it was only fair, since Link had gotten two beforehand: one from the jellyfish-creature on the boat, the second from the aragami they had tracked down and slain in the sewer. Of course, up until today, Pink hadn’t shown that much interest in the mitamas.
That last fight had changed her mind about them. She had watched, fascinated, as the two government bureaucrats had transformed into monsters before being efficiently cut down by Chris and Shampoo. They had been different from the earlier monsters, for they wore the bodies of humans. What had they been originally: human, or aragami? Chris said the mitamas couldn’t possibly control human-level minds, so it suggested those two had been willing collaborators who received power in exchange for helping the plant creatures.
Power, indeed. Though they had stood no chance against Chris and Shampoo, those men-turned-monsters had clearly been more than human. As well, she remembered that other: that man, Kusanagi. He had been strong; strong enough to fight toe to toe with Chris, and he had those mitamas implanted in him. Seven of them, Chris had said, supporting what Pink and her sister had sensed.
Could anyone unlock that sort of power? Pink smiled in anticipation. There didn’t seem to be any reason why not. Ordinary humans, with the power of these mitamas, had a shortcut to the sort of power that Shampoo had, and more. Of course, Pink and her twin were far from ordinary. And the mitamas were, at some level, still plants. There was no plant in the world they couldn’t improve. All it would take was time to unlock the mitama’s secrets. And they had plenty of that.
She looked up, intending to draw her sister aside for some experiments on their new acquisitions. Link was there, of course, tending to her tiny herb garden on the windowsill. Pink almost opened her mouth to call out to her, but something out of the corner of her eye caught her attention, and without knowing quite why, she looked in that direction instead.
Shampoo was lounging on the other side of the room, reading a magazine. That wasn’t unusual – well, aside from the surprise of seeing that imbecile actually READING anything – but something about the scene seemed odd. After a moment, Pink realised what it was: the magazine was Japanese. Shampoo didn’t know that language, as she’d made abundantly clear. But she was squinting at the pages, as if trying to make them out. As Pink watched, the purple-haired girl brought something up to her eye, looked through it at the pages before her, then put it down again and resumed squinting.
What was that?
Shampoo had noticed Pink staring; she put down the magazine, looked at her warily. As always, Pink felt a mixed thrill of fear and joy at seeing her hated nemesis this close, knowing Shampoo would kill them at any opportunity, but also secure in the knowledge she could not. Pink loved pushing at that, giving her needless little orders, shivering in thrilled delight as the hatred grew in Shampoo’s eyes even as the girl obediently performed whatever degrading task was required of her. But for now, Pink pushed that feeling aside, standing up and walking to her servant. The mysterious object was still hidden in Shampoo’s hand. “What are you doing, Shampoo, over?”
Shampoo’s eyes were flat. “Reading,” she answered shortly.
“I see,” Pink nodded. She let her gaze travel downwards. “And what are you holding in your hand, over?” Link was looking at them now, but said nothing.
Shampoo’s hands twitched, but her face remained calm. “It’s none of your… it’s nothing important,” she amended. “Just a trinket from home.”
Pink’s smile widened. She knew that the Joketsuzoku had more than a few ‘trinkets’ of great power; tales of some of them were legendary, and added to the village of warrior women’s feared reputation. “It was helping you read that, wasn’t it, over?”
Shampoo licked her lips, casting her eyes around. But the meddling old woman wasn’t there to intervene: she and Chris were out on the roof, having one of their talks. Even so, the ever-so-slight appeal for help caused Pink’s soul to sing with joy. She was right. That WAS what it was. It had to be.
A moment later, Shampoo reluctantly confirmed her hopes. “Yes.”
“Let me see it, over.” Shampoo’s face was still calm, but her eyes blazed with hate as she handed over the ‘trinket’.
In fact, it did sort of look like a trinket. It was a small loop of highly polished black stone; bigger than a ring, perhaps about as big as a large hoop earring. Examining it, Pink saw that it was in fact two loops of stone, joined together by some unknown mechanism. The two loops were stuck as solidly together as if welded, but as Pink touched it, she found she could rotate the front one without severing the connection. Chinese characters were inscribed on the back hoop at intervals: English, Japanese, Spanish, and other names of languages.
Link had come to them now, and she was looking at the item, but her expression was a perplexed frown. Didn’t she realise? Pink felt like laughing. She looked at Shampoo. “Tell me how it works, over.”
Shampoo stood up. “I don’t know. I’ll go get great-grandmother to tell you.”
“Stay right there,” Pink purred. No chance she’d let Shampoo go fetch that annoying old woman to take back their village treasure. “You may not know how it was created, but you know how to use it. Tell me. That’s an order, over.”
Shampoo sat down again slowly. “It’s the Stone of Acclimation,” she explained reluctantly. “A device to help travellers from our village in the outside world. Twist it to align with what language you desire, and when spoken through, it can translate your words… to a certain extent. It’s more a learning tool than anything.”
“And?” Pink prompted. “How were you reading with it, over?”
“Put it to your eye, look through, and it will seem to cause any writing to become Chinese.”
Pink grinned. “Any writing? It doesn’t need to be Japanese?” Shampoo shook her head. “Excellent. Stay put, then, Shampoo. I’m going to borrow this for a little while, over.”
“What is it that’s so important, Pink?” Link asked her. “You’re way too pleased about this to be just taking away Shampoo’s toy, over.”
“Of course I am,” Pink responded. “Don’t you remember, Link? Our dead friend keeps that extensive library of journals with him, over.”
Link’s eyes lit up, and she looked over at the small pile of Chris’s possessions in the corner of the room. As the dead man didn’t sleep, he hadn’t bothered to occupy one of the bedrooms. “Of course. Now we can read them, over.”
“Now I can,” Pink said smoothly. “Link, you’re going to have to make sure to keep him away until I can look through these, over.”
Link’s good cheer fell away extremely quickly. “Me? I don’t want to talk to him. You do it, and I’ll read the journals, over.”
“Now now, sister, that doesn’t make any sense, over,” Pink chided. “He’s talking with the old woman now. Wait until he comes back in and keep him busy as long as possible.” She held up a finger to stifle Link’s protest. “It has to be you. If I do it, he’ll know we’re up to something and investigate. But he trusts you. If you go talk to him, he won’t dare to offend you, over.”
Link obviously wanted to protest, but couldn’t. She knew it was true. Chris wanted them, especially Link, to like him. It was one of his weaknesses.
“All right,” Link finally said. “But what am I supposed to talk to him about, over?”
Pink shrugged. “Whatever you want,” she said cheerfully. “He’ll listen. Tell him you hate him less now that he’s gotten us mitamas, over.”
Link frowned. “I’d rather not say that, over.”
“Then think of something else. That’s your job, over.”
Her sister nodded and strode out of the room. She’d do her best. She might not like Chris, but that only meant she would want to know his secrets as much as Pink. Knowledge, after all, was another form of power.
Pink moved towards the large backpack in the corner. She kept an eye on Shampoo; but true to the letter of her order, Shampoo was staying put. Pink resisted the urge to giggle with glee at this chance which had fallen into her lap. She’d wondered, so much, about what Chris could possibly be writing in those journals he spent hours at. Well, now she’d find-
She froze as she touched the bag. A metallic clank? Damn! She’d forgotten about that Jyusenkyou water the dead man had also been carrying. Jyusenkyou… Pink shuddered. Even for this, even for power, she wasn’t sure if she’d risk sticking her hand in that bag.
Fortunately, she didn’t have to. Reaffixing her grin, she turned and beckoned Shampoo over. After all, what were servants for?
Chris leaned against the balcony, staring up into the starry night sky of Tokyo. Ahhh, that anime starry sky of Tokyo. He was pretty sure the real one wouldn’t be quite so… vivid. But then, maybe it was. How would he know? He’d never been to the real world’s Tokyo. Or maybe dead people could see through smog. Or maybe Sailor Moon had cleaned up all the city’s pollution in- between episodes. Though that wouldn’t really explain why he could see stars in the backdrop of one of the most brightly-lit cities in the world.
Cologne was gone; off to see Ranma, or so she said. His talk with her had been, once again, a little disappointing. Really, she didn’t know that much about the Musk or Phoenix that she hadn’t revealed in the manga; they WERE legends to her, and not much more. She knew even less – essentially zilch – about any other legendary things he knew to exist. Not even a tale of the long-lost matriarchal Moon Kingdom.
The old bat had sure picked HIS brain with enthusiasm, though. Not that that was a problem. Talking about Ranma, and Sailor Moon, and Blue Seed and Street Fighter and so forth helped gel their plotlines and detailings in his brain, and also jarred a few factoids to the surface that he’d forgotten up until now. Such as the fact that one of Bison’s supersoldierette “dolls” was in Japan somewhere (or at least was FROM Japan, making it a reasonable assumption). He wondered what she was doing; what the whole Street Fighter plotline was doing, in fact. Probably being troublesome to somebody.
His arm itched. He swore under his breath and scratched at it. Talking with Cologne, he’d been able to forget about the constant irritation, but now it was back with a vengeance. Taking off the jacket he now wore constantly, he looked at it, his nose wrinkling in distaste.
It wasn’t exactly zombified rotting-flesh-falling-off-the-bones, or anything like that. But even a casual viewer would have noticed something very wrong with the deathly pale skin that was dotted with sores and the splotches characteristic of congealed blood. Even more unusual, when compared with the still-fairly-pristine shape of the rest of Sentarou’s body. Or was it pristine? It was so hard to tell until the outward signs happened; he only knew the feeling, the RELIEF he’d had other times he’d entered a fresh body and only then realised how horribly hollow and… liquid the previous one had been.
But it wasn’t itching. Only the arm was. He remembered when he’d fought that super-aragami, throwing the baton, that strange jolt that had run up that arm, and the spectacular results it had had. That had to be what had done this. But what, precisely, had he DONE?
“So that’s why you’re wearing that. I should have guessed, over.”
He supposed, for someone else, it might have been hard to tell the difference between Pink and Link, especially without even looking them in the face. But he could hear the distaste, the veiled (and sometimes not-so-veiled) hate in every word Link spoke to him. “What would you like?” he said with a sigh.
“Well… in fact, I suppose I want to talk to you about that, over.” She walked up to the railing, and pointed at his arm. “You should come to the lab with me, over.”
Chris raised an eyebrow. He’d almost forgotten that, technically, Pink and Link were supposed to be looking for a way to help his condition. Had she actually stumbled onto something? Hard to believe… but she must have found out SOMETHING, to seek out his company. So… “Lead on, then.”
The “lab” was not so much an actual laboratory as another condo Chris had purchased with Kodachi’s trust fund (and other inheritance-type monies). Like their dwelling, it was on the top floor; more convenient, and he didn’t really want it TOO far away lest Pink do anything un-sensible to the other residents. Link was apparently in a hurry; not bothering to go through their dwelling and down the hall, she simply hopped from balcony to balcony to get there. Chris followed, a little pleased even now with the ease at which he could.
Once they were safely ensconced in a side room (a little less plant-choked than the rest of the condo), Link sat down and gave him a serious look. Not that that was much of a change from her usual perpetual frown. “So, I see that your arm seems to be decaying faster than the rest of you. Did you do anything unusual with it, over?”
He shrugged. “When I fought the aragami on the ship, I used this arm to throw the baton through it and use your herbicide. It was a really powerful shot, as you saw.”
Link nodded knowingly, as if that confirmed her hypothesis. And then said… nothing. Actually, she seemed to be hesitating.
“Sooo… you discovered something?” he said hopefully.
Link opened and closed her mouth a few times. “It’s… nice weather. For growing things, I mean, over.”
Oooookay. Was she reluctant to tell him because it was an awful, awful truth? That didn’t really make much sense, given who this was. But what else could it be? “Uh… well, if you’re a little hesitant to have this talk, why not get Pink to explain what it is you found?”
“NO, OVER!” She waved her hands at him. “Pink’s… uh… too impatient. She’ll take shortcuts and muck the whole thing up. I’m just collecting my thoughts, over.”
Chris leaned back. “Okey-dokey. Well, collect away, and I’ll wait.”
Five minutes later, he got a little tired of waiting, and informed her as much.
“Ummm… okay. Well, basically, you see, that your arm is rotting doesn’t surprise me, over.”
He nodded, gesturing for her to continue.
“Annnnd that’s because… well, I’ve done a lot of research into various methods of preserving human corpses, over.”
“And you found something?” he asked, trying very hard not to let impatience show through in his voice.
“Well… yes and no, over.”
“So what’s the yes?”
“There’s plenty of ways to preserve corpses. Probably thousands. Some of them even work, over.”
It was getting harder to keep calm. He liked Link and all, but this was being pointlessly annoying even for one of the twins. “So what’s the upshot of that? Spit it out.”
Link stared at him for a moment, then sighed and shrugged. “I’ve given up looking into it, because it won’t help you at all no matter what I do, over.”
“What!? But you just said you found-“
She held up one finger, taking on a lecturing tone. “There are many ways to preserve human corpses, yes. But you aren’t one. Well, I suppose you ARE, but only in the same sense that both you and a normal human corpse are lifeless objects made of chemicals. In that sense, you share about as much in common with a rock, over.”
“So why can’t you preserve this body?”
“Because you’re the one destroying it, over.”
“Well, the arm sort of gives that away. But maybe I can try and hold back a bit more in fights…”
She shook her head. “That isn’t it. You seem to be under the impression that it was the powerful martial arts strike that prematurely rotted your arm. But that’s only half the truth, over.” She stood up, pacing back and forth in front of him like a university professor trying to explain an especially difficult problem. She’d lost all the hesitation in her voice, too, he noticed. “It’s like this: from my observations and the results of the tests Pink conducted, I can tell that whatever’s happening to your bodies has little, if anything, in common with what happens with natural decomposition. It’s superficially similar, but that’s all. Your bodies, as soon as you inhabit them, in fact seem to go into a sort of temporary stasis. They don’t rot at all, over.”
He held up his arm. “Sooooooooo…?” He thought he knew what she was getting at, but might as well get it from the horse’s mouth.
“Yes, that. That’s not natural in the slightest. But… it’s not just doing martial arts that causes it. Even if you never did anything out of the ordinary, you’d rot. You start rotting from the moment you start moving. Walking, looking at things, breathing. It all adds up over time, everything you do that makes that body unnaturally move in any way also breaks it down. The only difference is that your more superhuman feats break it down faster. Surely you’ve noticed: from what you told us, Kodachi’s body took almost a month to rot… and when did it finally do so? Right after you got into that fight with the algae aragami, over.” She spun and pointed at him. “But in this body, despite the fact you say it’s even stronger than Kodachi, you’ve been fighting repeatedly. Your arm may have been hastened somehow, but the rest of your body isn’t as far behind as it looks. I’ve been watching, and I doubt it’ll last out the week, over.”
He leaned back in his chair. It did make sense. In a cripplingly depressing sort of way. “So… no solution?”
“Even if you don’t fight, your bodies will always break down, though it will take much longer, over.” Link shrugged. “But beyond that, I can’t really help you. Any preservatives I use will be ineffectual. Even some sort of process with replacing your limbs with animate vines wouldn’t likely work. Even if you could control them somehow, the rest of your body would still decay until you had to leave it, over.”
Chris rubbed his chin and stood up. “I see. Well, I have to thank you for making the effort, Link. I guess I’ll-“
Even as he turned towards the door, she was suddenly in his way.
“That’s… not all I’ve been researching, over!” she blurted.
He blinked. What was WITH her? “Oh?” he said out loud.
“I want, um, er, your… professional opinion of what I’ve discovered about the mitamas, since you know so much about them, over.”
He shrugged. “Sure. Least I can do, though I’ve pretty much told you most of what I know.”
She led him out of the room and into her section of the lab. He didn’t need to be told what WAS, precisely, her section of the lab, because moving into it was like stepping into a different room entirely. Pink’s portion of the room was chaotic, with a jungle-like plethora of plants scattered haphazardly fighting each other for light and attention. Noxious fumes hung visibly in the air, and everything felt wild and aggressive. It was the very picture of a mad scientist’s (botanist’s) garden.
Link had a smaller portion of the room to herself. But it was HERS, no doubt about it. Perfectly square, with every plant in a separate pot and nothing co-mingling. Nor was there anything random about their placements: flowering plants were here, leafy ferns there, creeping flesh-eating vines just so. There was nothing sickly-looking, deformed, or in the process of being consumed by a larger plant. Even the mushrooms (which weren’t plants, the pedantic bit of his mind pointed out) grew in picturesque mushroom shapes in their carefully climate-controlled nurseries.
The very centre of Link’s space, directly beneath the skylight, was the predictable home of the mitamas. A small, spotlessly clean table held them. One was by itself, in a small dish. The other, presumably the first she had gotten, had obviously been experimented on more. It gleamed in the loamy soil of the small glass-enclosed terrarium into which it had been placed. Some small plants and shoots grew around it, though none touched the mystic blue seed.
Link wasn’t even looking at him, now, but instead staring at her two specimens, a thoughtful frown on her face. “I’ve discovered a few things,” she began. “First, the mitama are not inherently hostile to humans, over.”
“Not really, no,” Chris agreed. “But lions aren’t inherently hostile to humans either.”
Link nodded absently at his comment. “In fact, it seems that they act almost entirely on instinct. Their own, or the instinct of their host species, whichever happens to be more dominant. While not unintelligent, their intelligence doesn’t seem to work in quite the same way ours does, over.
“What’s interesting is that when in close proximity, their power and awareness seems to be heightened. It becomes something of a collective consciousness, working together in symbiosis, over.”
Chris nodded. That fit with the way Kusanagi’s multiple mitamas worked… not to mention Momiji’s ability to detect them, and her own ability to synch herself with Kusanagi later in the series.
Link tapped her fingers on the table. “I’ve found that, by putting them together within a plant’s structure, their intelligence and capability expand dramatically, and they can use human language apparently instinctively. Of course, at that point they quickly become… excited, and I’ve had to abort the experiment, over.”
“Well, I’m glad it didn’t get away and start wrecking the neighbourhood, anyway.” He grinned.
“There was no chance of that,” Link said a little indignantly. “I had several safety measures in place after the fiasco at the ship, over.”
“Safety measures including ‘keeping Pink away from it’?”
She gave him an odd, sidelong glance. “Yyy-es, something like that, over.” She tapped the glass of the terrarium. “Still, I’ve been making a lot of progress with communicating with these two. They have a sort of memory, and they’re starting to recognise me as an individual entity, over. I think pretty soon I’ll be able to properly talk with them, find out more about what they know, where they’re from, what their history is.” She turned to Chris with an excited frown on her face, which caused him some cognitive dissonance, but as usual he ignored it. “What their CULTURE is. And where they’ve been hiding all this time, so no one even suspected they existed, over.”
“That’s pretty interesting.” He nodded. “But what did you want my opinion on, precisely?”
Her excited frown became a… well, it was sort of a regular old frown, really, and she stared blankly at him. “Uhh… well, that is, over… your opinion… of…”
He sighed. Should have known. “Okay, what is Pink doing? Is she trying to kill Shampoo? I’ll just remind you that if she does something stupid, Shampoo can defend herself, and that can only end badly. For you.”
Link tried very hard to force an enormous grin onto her face, but succeeded only in looking like she was eating something extremely sour. “W-what are you talking about? Pink’s not up to anything, over!” The beads of sweat running down her forehead didn’t help her already shaky attempt at sincerity.
“Of course not,” Chris drawled. “But I think I’ll mosey on over and take a look to make sure everything’s fine, okay?”
Before Link could come up with another excuse, he walked over to the door, kicking away a few of the more aggressive plants as they attempted to devour/poison/fertilise him. As he made his way into the hallway, he listened carefully, but surprisingly didn’t hear much in the way of brutal violence. Maybe Pink hadn’t sprung her trap yet.
It didn’t take him long to find her. He immediately looked around, and felt vastly relieved to see Shampoo sitting near the corner of the living room, looking kind of pissed off but otherwise seemingly not harmed or threatened in any way. In fact, Pink looked almost benign, sitting studiously reading a book. The only thing that was odd was the strange monocle-like thing she was reading through.
Though, wait a sec, that book looked familiar. He took a step into the room, opening his mouth to ask what was going on, but at that moment Pink looked up and saw him. She smiled.
“This Rumiko Takahashi bitch is a complete hack, over.”
“I mean, 38 volumes, and my sister and I only appeared ONCE, while this bimbo – nice description, by the way – was in practically every one? Didn’t she realise what true entertainment value was, over?”
Now he recognised the book. And the five other ones strewn about her feet. “But… you don’t read English…” was all he could think of to say.
Pink’s smile was like a shark’s. She raised the black stone monocle-thing. “I do now, over.”
Tossing the journal aside, Pink stood up. “I’m certain you wondered about how Shampoo gained a semi-competent mastery of the Japanese language in such a short time, didn’t you, over? Or maybe you didn’t.” She laughed shortly, tossing the monocle to the ground at his feet. It spun around twice, as he stared blankly at it, before coming to rest. “Well, there’s your answer. Plot fiat. Did Takahashi never write about it? I told you: what a hack, over.”
Chris looked up, looked at her face. Those journals contained everything. His nearly encyclopediac knowledge of the Ranma manga, and every detail he could dredge from his memory about all the other series’ he knew to exist, and many he only suspected did. He’d written them during weeks of work in the dead of night, when living people slept, trying to capture his memories before the inevitable creep of time washed the details away.
It was a treasure trove of knowledge more valuable and dangerous than the most powerful ki blast, killer plant or power armor. He knew that more than anybody, because both he and Ukyou had used that power to attain their goals. But in the wrong hands (and he wasn’t so sure that didn’t include Ukyou), that kind of knowledge could cause any amount of disaster.
You could kill the Sailor Senshi and doom the world.
You could find the Battle Dougi and become an invincible fighter.
You could unleash ancient horrors from their tombs. Blue Seed’s Susano-oh… King of Fighter’s Orochi… without the specific mix of circumstance and opposition necessary to seal them back up again.
You could wreak such havoc on the world there could be no recovering.
Pink was smiling.
She knew. She knew exactly what things she could do with what she had just learned.
He took one step forward. Pink had to… she had to… his hands were clenched into fists, though he couldn’t remember when he’d done so.
It was PINK. She was utterly selfish. No, selfish was too small a word. She was sadistic, enjoyed hurting people, was willing to kill anyone who got in her way or just happened to be around when she was in the right mood. He knew that from the manga and from living with her for weeks. She was no genius, but she was plenty clever enough to use any advantage that fell into her grasp. And worse, she was manipulative, and with the knowledge he had let fall into her hands, she could manipulate a great many people. A great many POWERFUL people. Just like Ukyou.
Chris realised he was holding one of the batons in his hand, now. He heard Link’s startled gasp from behind him. Shampoo was watching him with the fixed intensity of a tomcat watching a bird fall from a tree. And Pink… Pink was still smiling.
“Oh dear, it seems you’re a little upset, over.” She shrugged cheerfully. “Sorry about looking through your things… sometimes my curiosity gets the best of me, over.”
He took another step forward. His finger rested on the hidden switch that would cause the spikes on the head of the baton to extend.
She couldn’t be trusted – no, it was worse than that. She couldn’t be ALLOWED to have this. Couldn’t be. Could not.
Pink’s smile never wavered. “You look like you have something on your mind. Maybe we can talk it out. We share so many things in common, now, over.”
He liked her… liked her as a CHARACTER. It was different in reality. You could admire someone from a distance, and still despise everything they stood for. You could admire the resolve of a soldier on the other side as they charged your trench, and still fire the shot that cut them down, because it was the right thing to – no, it was what you HAD to do.
“But you know what’s even more amusing about these journals? It’s the stuff that hack writer DIDN’T know, over.” Pink picked up one, flipped to a page, casually ran a finger down it. “Pink and Link, Volume 28, twin sisters, hate Shampoo, blah blah blah… but there’s something very important you didn’t know, over.”
Link was beside him, now. He glanced over almost involuntarily. Her expression wasn’t what he expected. Panicked, he’d expected. But she was horrified. And not at him.
“NO!” she shouted at her sister. No ‘over’.
“Link, Link, Link,” Pink said smoothly, still smiling, “Now that we know all our friend’s secrets, isn’t it only fair that he knows ours?”
It was the wrong thing to do. Listening was the wrong thing to do now. He knew that. But it was like watching an onrushing train, unable to turn away.
Pink turned to him again and spread her hands in a gesture very similar to his own. “You were wrong in your description of us. Link and I are not sisters, over.”
“We aren’t sisters… but we are TWINS, over.” Seeing his expression, she laughed lightly and walked across the room. Reaching his opened backpack, she gingerly tapped it with one foot, eliciting a metallic clank from the canteens of Jyusenkyou water inside. Then she quickly moved a few steps away.
“Come on,” she said, striding arrogantly back towards him. “Didn’t you wonder why it was so easy for me to accept all this? You’re intelligent enough to put two and two together, over.”
They were so scared of Jyusenkyou water. They wouldn’t go near it.
Pink stopped barely a meter away from him. “Oh, are you still not catching on? It wasn’t obvious?” Her tone became mocking. “‘Link’s pain is my pain, over’.”
She was tricking him. “That’s ridiculous,” he snapped. “When could it have happened? When you were kids-“
“Approximately one year old, actually. From what I’ve been told.” Pink tapped her chin thoughtfully. “You see, our village has long used the waters of Jyusenkyou for various botanical experiments. It has quite interesting effects when used to water plants. Usually children aren’t allowed on water-gathering trips, but Mother was poor and couldn’t afford to have us watched. Not that there was an ‘us’ then, over.”
He didn’t need to be told more: the scene was easy enough to picture, and so… Takahashiesque.
Pink looked up at him and laughed again. “You still don’t believe? Silly boy. You thought your comic book told you everything? You didn’t know about Shampoo’s little toy. You didn’t know about Link’s temper. Lots of little things you probably weren’t told. And with such… minor… characters as us, how could you possibly expect that our lives would be so fleshed out and robust as, say… Ranma Saotome’s, over?”
Link stepped forward, almost pushing him to the side. “Why are you TELLING him this!?” she shrieked in her sis… in Pink’s face. “You know what will happen if we, if one of us…”
“That’s precisely why I am,” Pink said calmly. She stared into Chris’s eyes. “We were one year old. Of course we don’t remember a thing. How could anyone tell, from that age, who was real and who was a shadow? But Chris… ah, yes, Chris. Chris would never do anything to harm YOU, Link. You’re… an innocent, over.” Her smile nearly split her face. “Victims of the Spring of Twins, which are mostly small animals, of course, don’t usually endure very long. There’s excellent reason for that, you see… even though water won’t reverse the effect, if the original perishes, the copy can’t sustain. But you probably guessed that. Another thing your comic didn’t tell you, though, is that the two can’t move too far away from each other. Outside of a certain range, the magic weakens, and the false twin fades away forever, over.”
He stared, wanting to say something, but couldn’t. Pink stepped past her twin, standing right next to him. Her hand dropped to casually caress the head of the baton. “So, Chris, am I really enough of a… ‘capital V villain’ to risk Link’s life? Over such a little thing as this? Just over a little… knowledge, over?”
He remembered Link frowning, lecturing Pink.
He remembered her joy, showing even through that perpetual frown, when she realised he’d beaten Shampoo.
He remembered her swearing a blue streak, comically stalking back and forth, stamping her foot.
He remember how animated she had become, talking about the mitamas.
Pink was right. He couldn’t. Just like with Akane. No matter what the reason, having seen her, known her, looked into her living eyes and seen the person inside, he couldn’t kill her. Couldn’t even risk it.
Pink took the baton from his nerveless fingers and moved back two steps to stand beside Link. “I didn’t think so. You’re a good boy, over.”
“So… that’s it then?”
Aaron kept Ukyou’s hand from shaking as she took the letter from the table. Ono watched her. His expression was grim, and his eyes were hidden behind the glare of his glasses. Ukyou looked away, unable to meet his accusing gaze.
“I can’t continue this, Ukyou. Not if you’re going to use my teachings for such violence…”
“I understand…” Aaron stood up. Truth be told, he didn’t believe that he needed Ono’s teaching anymore. Ever since he had revealed the existence of the five chakra techniques, Aaron had been having more success helping Ukyou enhance her skills without him. It helped that, in a very real sense, Aaron understood the concepts behind the five element theory of martial arts much better than Tofu Ono. He still didn’t know why, but he did.
“I don’t think you do, Ukyou!” Ono snapped as he stood up. Aaron started involuntarily. Ever since he and Ukyou had met the man, they had never seen him so upset. Not even after the fight… “You need help. Real help. Professional help.”
“I don’t need a psychiatrist,” Ukyou informed him coolly. No shrink in the world could solve her problem.
“You need more than that, Ukyou. You need to stop using this power of yours. It is hurting you, and I don’t just mean your body. I think it’s doing something to your mind…”
“You talk like I’ve had a choice…” Aaron cut Ukyou off. She had had a choice. She could have accepted her loss to Hayato. It had been her choice to fight him all-out. Nothing would have been lost there but her pride. Ukyou felt a brief stir of resentment, but it was empty fury. Aaron was right, and he refused to be blustered into silence anymore. “Maybe you’re right, Ono.” Ukyou leaned over the table, tapping her fingers on the wood next to Ono’s hand.
“Maybe I am doing damage to myself, permanent damage that will never go away. I think I’m beginning to accept that now. That choices have consequences. But I can’t leave this alone. This power… it is the cause of my problems and I think, maybe, the solution.”
“As long as you continue to explore it… I can’t be your mentor.”
“Is this the end of everything between us then?” Aaron asked, his voice cool.
“It is if you want it to be, Ukyou.”
“I don’t want it to be, Ono. You’re… the most mature friend I have. I thought we were becoming close, in our own ways. But I just can’t do what you ask. This world… it is turning its back on me. If the only way I can survive is to use that power, I will.”
“Ukyou…” Ono stood up. “I think you need more time to think about this.”
“So this is the end?”
“My door is always open for you when you need me. But…”
“Thank you…” Ukyou said sincerely, and strode out of the room.
Forget needing him for his teaching. She would miss him for… him. But she wouldn’t cry over him. It had taken her all night to work up the courage to come back here after yesterday’s disaster with Akane. She still had to find Ranma. And if Ranma turned his back on her…
Ukyou wouldn’t cry over Tofu Ono.
Aaron sensed the figure in the door to Ono’s clinic before they saw him. He had recognised that his own affinity for the Void chakra could enhance his senses, and had been working on that just like Ukyou had drawn on Aaron’s knowledge to enhance her Wind chakra. She had proven how much that had enhanced her fighting abilities the other night when they had fought E. Honda in that pit. Of course it still hadn’t been a very easy fight, but Ukyou had won.
Aaron, however, could sense the power of the person in the doorway. They radiated it through the walls of the clinic like a miasma. It curdled the blood in Ukyou’s veins. Aaron had never experienced anything that he would have described as ‘evil’ before, but this power made him want to use that term. Was it some new enemy, drawn to Ukyou and him by that damn prophecy? Or perhaps an old enemy?
For a moment Ukyou and he considered just ducking out the back. But their experience with Pluto had taught them they could only avoid a confrontation for so long. He just hoped that if there was a fight, he could lure whoever this was away from the clinic. Destroying their ex-mentor’s livelihood once was enough for them both.
“I knew if I waited here long enough you would return.”
Ukyou stopped in her tracks as she rounded the corner. That voice… no. She looked across the reception area. It was Hayato. He was standing, arms crossed and face uncovered, his frame blocking out the doorway. He had changed, and not just his clothes. His eyes were dangerously narrow, and his posture like that of a restrained hunting cat. Light glinted off the golden ornament he now wore around his neck, some sort of stylised crescent and lightning bolt.
“Walking?” the boy sneered.
That wasn’t possible. Ukyou knew his spine was broken. Even the martial artists of Ranma’s calibre didn’t get up from things like that! And she knew that he had been crippled. She knew because everyone had told her. She knew because she had done it. She had felt the bones shatter under her heel. Even now she could recall the feeling.
“Don’t look so surprised, Ukyou.” Hayato stepped into the room. “I told you this wasn’t over between us. I told you I would find a way to defeat you, and I have.”
“No…” Aaron shook his head. He should say he was sorry. He suspected it would do no good, but it was still the right thing to do. Except something was holding him back. Something even he didn’t want to admit.
“What, not going to apologise? Plead for understanding?” Hayato lashed out with one hand, crashing his fist through a wall with enough force to leave a basketball-sized hole. “Aren’t you even going to pretend you feel sorry for me!? Don’t think just because I am walking that the injury you inflicted on me wasn’t real. Don’t think this washes away your crime!”
“Pretend to feel sorry…” Aaron said coldly. That was it. He could say he felt sorry to Hayato, but it would be an act. Telling Hayato he felt guilty about what he and Ukyou had done would be another lie, another facade. But it was time to abandon facades. The truth was he didn’t regret the act of it. Nor did Ukyou. They regretted the consequences, but not the crime. In fact…
They had enjoyed it.
Ukyou recoiled from that thought. But it was the truth.
“Hayato, I can’t say anything to you that would make up for what I did,” Aaron admitted. “And I suspect nothing I can say will stop you from attacking me.”
“Attacking you?” Hayato grinned. “I am going to kill you, Ukyou. This isn’t about honour anymore. What is between us now is not the honour of martial artists. What is between us now is a much older law. The law of vendetta!” Hayato began to chuckle and raised his hands. “What is between us can only end in death.”
Aaron nodded. A part of him, and a larger part of Ukyou, thought that perhaps they deserved this. But the far larger portion of them refused to accept that. He would not roll over anymore. Ukyou refused to accept death. They would fight, if it came to that.
“I will not kill you,” Ukyou informed Hayato. She meant it. No matter what… there would be no killing. Aaron agreed. That was a step he would never take. No matter what. There were some lines that could never be crossed. If it came down to it, she and he would die first.
Or so they believed, honestly and truly. But they had to believe that. Otherwise…
“No, you won’t kill me.” Hayato stretched his neck, producing an audible crack. Aaron felt the dark aura around him intensify.
“Can we do this somewhere else?” Ukyou asked suddenly.
“Because you want to fight me, not all my friends. If you attack me here, trying to kill me, they will step in.”
“Hmmm… you’re right.” Hayato stepped to the side and gestured at the door. “Fine. Lead me to the place you want to die, Ukyou Kuonji.” Ukyou raised an eyebrow. “Forgive me if I don’t feel like turning my back on you.”
She nodded wordlessly. Hopefully Aaron could sense if Hayato grew impatient and attacked them from behind. Though he seemed more interested in an honest confrontation. Ukyou stepped out of the clinic, leading him down the street. There weren’t very many places she could think of that would make a good, private battlefield. She might have to lead him out of Nerima and-
Aaron reacted an instant before the explosion. His leap carried them above the blast. Ukyou took over, already focusing her chi into her Wind chakra. She rode the shockwave like a skydiver, gaining altitude and sliding over to a nearby lamppost. Ukyou caught the hanging light in one hand and swung around it like a gymnast before perching atop the pole.
“That wasn’t me.” Hayato informed her. He was standing next to the crater, completely untouched. Ukyou frowned at the vague shimmer in the air before him. Aaron focused his senses on it… but it collapsed to his feet before he could see much. And the residue it left on the pavement looked like nothing more than water.
Aaron dropped backward, plummeting through the buoyant air as a flashing ball of scintillating green and yellow light passed above him. Ukyou spun them, landing in a combat crouch, her staff now held out next to her.
“Rose?” Aaron murmured, having recognised the voice a bit – and more importantly, what the voice had said.
“Hmm. You’ve heard of me.”
Aaron narrowed his eyes, focusing in on the voice. She was standing on the top of a nearby building. Her ridiculously coiffed hair was twitching slightly in the air. Her long yellow shawl was wrapped about her shoulders, covering the top of her double-breasted wine coat. She stood with one hand on her hips and the other fingering the trailing edge of her shawl. How had he missed her? His senses had been on high alert ever since he had first felt that dreadful aura back in Ono’s clinic.
“In a manner of speaking.” Aaron stood up. “I take it from your introduction that this isn’t a social call?”
“No.” Rose stepped idly off the edge of the building, floating gracefully to the ground. A wave of dust pulsed out from her feet as her heels tapped down on the sidewalk. She pulled her hand from her hip, and was holding a long tarot card there. Aaron couldn’t make out what was on it. “I’ve seen your fate in the cards. It is time someone put a stop to that.”
“Wait just a minute!” Hayato stepped into place between Ukyou and Rose, his arms thrown wide. “What do you think you’re doing?”
“I am going to kill that girl behind you,” Rose said calmly. As she spoke, she elegantly unfurled the shawl she wore, revealing that her coat only came halfway up her breasts. The rest of her torso was covered in some sort of skintight purple spandex leotard. “Step aside, boy. I don’t want to hurt you.”
“Oh no… Ukyou is MY enemy! I won’t let you take my vengeance from me!” Hayato growled. “I gave up everything for this fight!”
“Do as she says,” a new voice interrupted them.
Aaron had sensed Sailor Pluto’s arrival before she spoke. Now she had stepped out of the thin crowd that had gathered. She levelled the business end of her time key staff at Hayato. So that was it? Pluto couldn’t kill Ukyou on her own, and had found help. Would they have to fight their way through every psychic on Earth before they could dispel this damned prophecy?
“Sailor Pluto…” Hayato hissed, his voice taking on an odd quality. Aaron glanced over at him sharply. When had Hayato learned that name? “Damn it… I can’t risk…” He reached up and fingered the medallion around his neck.
“Ukyou, do not die on me.” Hayato looked over his shoulder at her. “If you do, I will have to take out my anger on your friends!”
With that he leapt up, practically vanishing from view. Aaron didn’t bother to follow his escape. Nor did Ukyou try to follow him. Instead she backed up, placing both Sailor Pluto and Rose in front of her.
“I’m sorry that this has to be done,” Rose said as she stepped forward. Aaron could see a green glow begin to form along the edge of her skin. That would be her Soul Power. He searched his memories, recalling all of Rose’s moves. He wasn’t exactly sure how far she was up on the Street Fighter food chain, but he knew it was definitely a tier or two above E. Honda.
“So… two on one?” Ukyou replied coldly. She didn’t relish her chances if such were the case. After her last confrontation with Sailor Pluto, she had almost fallen unconscious. The Guardian of Time must have done something to her, because Ukyou could not recall even a single blow being landed in that ‘fight’, but yet the damage had come close to putting her out.
“If needs be.” Rose started walking forward. “But I doubt it will come to that!”
Aaron didn’t feel the attack coming, and only Ukyou’s honed reflexes allowed them to dive aside. The spiralling green vortex of energy skimmed along the edges of her shoes, but she rode the impact and used it to propel her into a handvault. She spun in mid-air, watching as Rose drew her shawl back, the green energy fading from it as she finished her attack. Damn… she was fast. And for some reason, Aaron couldn’t focus on her moves.
Rose gracefully spun on her heel and charged after Ukyou. She would catch them coming down at this rate. Ukyou stabbed her staff down, using it to vault away again. Rose’s shawl whipped out in a brilliant green and yellow arc just beneath her.
They needed breathing room. With a single motion, Ukyou drew spatulas from her coat and let fly. Rose waved her scarf before her, contemptuously batting the weapons from the air. But it allowed Ukyou to get her feet under her again.
Aaron frowned and rushed forward. Ukyou slipped her hands along the length of her staff. Rose was much better at ranged combat than close in. If they could get under her guard, keep her off balance… that was their best chance.
Rose saw them coming, and ran forward to meet them. This time Aaron saw her draw back her scarf. Ukyou ducked. The psychically enhanced fabric passed within a hairsbreadth of her head. Her staff skipped along the ground just before she slashed it up. The blow was aimed at Rose’s midsection. Rose wasn’t there to receive it.
Ukyou cursed and finished her follow through. Aaron could feel the pressure of the wind as Rose flipped over them. He still couldn’t ‘sense’ Rose. Ukyou captured the momentum of her swing, using it to spin them about without halting their forward momentum. The world tilted as she allowed her legs to fly out from under her. Her controlled fall kept the gypsy woman’s leg from striking her as it thrust through the air.
Ukyou caught herself and Aaron snapped up their legs. With a triumphant cry he locked their knees around Rose’s calf. The gypsy was pulled off balance, and Ukyou used her hands as a pivot, tossing her into the air. Ukyou dug her fingers into the pavement and spun in place, pulling her legs under her again.
Rose was directly above them, quickly recovering her balance. Aaron gripped their staff in both hands and thrust it up with all their might. The blow hit true, catching Rose in the gut and propelling her further upwards. Ukyou was already leaping to follow up.
Even as Ukyou rose into the air, Rose somehow recovered. Her shawl flashed down, glittering with emerald light. It hit the side of Ukyou’s face with the force of a battering ram. Black starbursts flared in her vision, and for a moment Ukyou felt like her head had been caught in a vice. She barely felt herself slam into the ground, staring blankly for a moment at the short trench that her body had gouged out of the pavement.
Aaron let his instincts take over, rolling to the side. Even as he did so he heard the ground explode where he had been. But where was Rose? He spun to his feet, trying to shake the dizziness away.
Rose caught them from behind. They screamed out in shared pain as the edge of Rose’s scarf parted the back of their coat. The blow hadn’t cut their skin, but it felt like it had. Ukyou staggered forward even as Aaron lashed out behind them with their staff. He felt it connect, but from the way it bounced he knew that the strike had been blocked. Ukyou used the time his desperate strike had gained them to push them into a forward roll.
She skidded to a halt on the edge of the sidewalk, her foot digging into the gutter. Rose was flying across the pavement towards them, a wake of dust behind her. Aaron didn’t even have a chance to ready the staff before the woman was upon them. Gracefully Rose spun her hand forward, her shawl forming another vortex of psychic force.
The window of a shop yielded to them as they flew back. A glittering rain of shattered glass fell down about them as they crashed through a table. The phantom pain began to fade away as they came to a halt. Ukyou took a few precious moments to recover her wits before she rose.
“Aura Soul Spark!”
“Oh shit…” Ukyou crossed her arms in front of her. Aaron was already busy shunting all of their chi there, focusing through their Earth chakra in the vague hopes that his limited skill with it could help. The blast caught him dead centre, and waves of green-yellow flames erupted across him. He felt the sleeves of their coat shred, and the dreadful heat of Rose’s attack. But it was more than that. The Soul Spark seemed to send some sort of psychic resonance up the length of his body: a primal, formless pain that caused them both to scream.
But when the flames cleared, they were still standing. The ground around them was scorched, and both of her sleeves had been vaporised from the forearm down, but Ukyou was still standing. She opened her eyes and the first thing she saw was the quintet of scars Jadeite had left her. She hissed.
“New plan…” Ukyou dashed forward, vaulting the bottom of the shattered window. Aaron agreed with Ukyou’s quick plan. It was obvious his own sensory skills weren’t helping much, so they both shunted all of Ukyou’s available chi away from that and into her Wind chakra. As they did so the world around them seemed to slow down a bit. Aaron focused all his will, trying to channel all of Ukyou’s chi into that one chakra as best he could. It should give them a lot of speed, at the expense of pretty much everything else.
Rose was surprised to see them. Ukyou dashed across the road towards her. Dust and wind exploded up in her wake. Ukyou thrust her staff out like a spear, catching Rose in the gut. The gypsy doubled over, her breath exploding from her lips. Before she could even finish folding over the weapon, Ukyou was beside her. Her fist rocketed out and caught Rose in the chin. The woman’s hair swirled in her wake as she was flipped backward.
But Rose caught herself, using one hand to somehow push off the ground without even touching it. Ukyou snapped her hand forward, a half-dozen shuriken-spatulas flying from her fingers. Rose twisted elegantly in mid-air and once again used her scarf to bat them aside. Then the woman landed, her heels clicking against the road, and her scarf spinning around her.
With another shout Ukyou was forced to dodge a Soul Spark at near point-blank range. She pivoted, dragging her staff behind her and trying to counterattack. But somehow Rose anticipated and blocked with one arm, a skin-tight aura of green light shielding her forearm.
Ukyou stepped back, and Rose followed her. Again and again the gypsy’s scarf struck out, a graceful percussion of blows. Ukyou spun her staff about her in a complex pattern of defence, barely parrying each of the strikes. Aaron was beginning to lose focus. He couldn’t force their chi to flow so strictly to just one chakra for much longer. But Rose was still moving faster than her, and if Ukyou lost her speed-
It happened in an instant. Aaron’s concentration collapsed, Ukyou stumbled back, her momentum lost, and Rose smiled. Aaron saw the light flash around Rose, pulling in towards her. But he couldn’t do a thing about it as Rose glided forward and neatly planted her fist into Ukyou’s jaw. The blow propelled Ukyou skyward and for a moment she lost all orientation and her grip on their staff. Then she felt Rose’s manicured hand clamp like a vice around her neck.
“Goodbye,” Rose whispered as she leaned in slightly. Ukyou couldn’t answer, her voice cut off by the lack of air. Even as she was raising her own hands to pry Rose’s fingers from her neck, Rose released them.
Ukyou screamed, a wave of pain rolling across her entire body. Then she collided with the ground. She barely even felt that, only becoming aware of it as a lingering ache in her back from where she had crashed into the pavement once the psychic pain receded.
Aaron groaned and reached out, scrambling for purchase along the edge of the crater they now found themselves in. He could hear the click of Rose’s heels as she approached to finish them off.
No more holding back.
The wind tore apart around them as Aaron leapt into the air. Rose was below him, her head tilting back in slow motion. He could see the fabric of her aura stretched taut around her. It shimmered softly, sinking into the gypsy’s scarf. He could see the look of surprise on her face. He smiled.
Ukyou landed beside Rose, her body moving with elegant speed. Rose was able to twirl and face her, but Ukyou still caught her cleanly with a perfect roundhouse. The blow nearly caved in Rose’s cheek, and the woman skidded back to smash into a parked car with enough force to crush the hood. Ukyou dashed after her.
God, why did she fear this feeling? Even as she closed on the gypsy-psychic, Ukyou felt as if her entire soul had been cleansed. She felt refreshed, alive and clearheaded. In fact, the entire world seemed clear and simple now.
Ukyou’s fist tore through the hood of the car. Somehow Rose had rolled away from her attack. Aaron shrugged and latched onto something inside, then yanked. The engine block of the car tore free with a protest of screaming metal. Rose’s eyes widened as Ukyou pivoted and swung the engine with a trail of oil forming an arc in the attack’s wake. Well, Ukyou had to make up for dropping her staff somehow.
Rose’s scarf rose up and slashed into the engine, smashing it to fragments around Ukyou’s fist. Aaron stepped into the plummeting debris. He could see the trajectory of each tiny scrap of metal, and so wasn’t even touched as he ducked between them. Ukyou lashed out with her other fist, and this time she struck home, catching Rose in the gut.
Rose flew back, unable to recover as she landed sprawling on the pavement. Ukyou chuckled coldly. Then she leapt up, Aaron’s warning allowing her to vault the purple ball that was Sailor Pluto’s attack. As Ukyou landed, she looked over her shoulder at the Senshi of Time.
“I’ll deal with you soon enough,” Ukyou informed her in a voice like an arctic wind. That reminded her that she couldn’t afford to toy around. Even now she could feel her body rejecting the power she was using. It wasn’t pain, so much as an acute awareness of the injury she was doing herself. Aaron knew where each capillary had burst and where each muscle fibre had torn.
Ukyou spun back to Rose. She could see the woman rising to her feet. She dashed forward, clenching one hand into a fist. The wind split around her as Aaron focused the strange power they had down towards it. He could feel the pulse of Rose’s aura now, brushing against their own. Ukyou pulled back her fist, as Aaron willed his strange chi into a wedge between the clashing auras.
“Spiritus Fracta Turbonis!” Ukyou screamed as she unleashed the uppercut that would trigger her technique. Her eyes widened as her hand passed neatly through Rose’s face. For a single instant Ukyou thought she had crushed Rose’s skull. Then she realised there had been no resistance.
Even as the tornado formed around the figure of Rose, Aaron realised what had happened. The illusion of Rose dissolved, its image ripping apart into the vortex. Aaron spun. Where had Rose gone?
As Aaron focused on it, he sensed the real Rose. She had come up behind him. He could feel her aura compressing along the tip of her scarf. He continued to spin, but now the slow motion speed of the world mocked him as it seemed to take forever. He was only able to turn his side to the blast when Rose hit him with her fully charged Soul Spark at point blank range.
Ukyou felt her ribs crack, felt the blast burn away the fabric of her coat – but there was no pain. It was just an awareness that she had taken horrible damage. For a moment she wondered what had happened to the psychic pain that accompanied each of Rose’s attacks. Then she was flying through the air.
The wall they smashed into exploded and then they were moving past that, hitting the wall ten meters beyond that with enough force to put a dent the size of their body into it. Ukyou collapsed to the ground. Her left hip refused to move. Her breath came in short, sharp gasps. Worse, she could feel the blood trickling from her nose, her mouth, her eyes… they couldn’t afford to keep up this trick any longer.
Reluctantly, they released the power. The world of pain and terror crashed back in on them like a tidal wave. Aaron wasn’t able to keep a groan from escaping his lips. It would have been a scream, but his lungs burned too much for him to draw deep breaths. The next few moments seemed to draw out forever as the pain and despair warred for dominance.
But Ukyou refused to give up. Aaron felt her force their hand down and begin to prop themself up. He felt a sudden burst of shame. He had felt defeated. But Ukyou was refusing to accept that feeling. She was rejecting it with every fibre of her being. So, Aaron joined her. Together they managed to somehow get back on their feet. Ukyou’s hip hadn’t broken, but it was so stiff that it was all they could do to move it.
“You’re still alive?” Rose called out as she stepped into the building. A piece of masonry crashed to the floor behind her as she walked into the room. Ukyou narrowed her eyes.
“In all my years, I don’t think I’ve ever encountered someone as surprising as you. But I guess that stands to reason. You would be no threat to existence, if you did not have something special to you.”
“Rose…” Ukyou spat, her blood hitting the floor. “I would have thought that, of anyone, you would know better than to blindly follow fate.”
Words had never been Ukyou’s strong point. Nor had they ever been Aaron’s. But that was all they had left. Rose… was a class above them. A class above Ranma, even. Even going all out, they couldn’t beat her.
“I do not follow fate, I defy it,” Rose explained calmly.
“Do you?” Ukyou’s voice was like ice. “You judge me a monster for what I might do one day? How can you call that fair!”
“Life is seldom fair,” Rose said cooly as she flipped her scarf around her neck. “Willing or not, one day you will be a threat to the life of this world. It is my duty to protect this world from such threats.”
“Oh… so you plan on killing yourself next, is that it?”
“What?” Rose frowned.
“You too have a destiny, Rose.” Aaron took over the narration, but his voice and tone was no different than Ukyou’s. “One day, one day soon, you shall serve evil and bring destruction upon those things you care about.”
Rose just smiled. “You seek to confuse me-“
“Don’t you find it strange that Bison had the same power as you, that he knew exactly how to teach you how to use yours?” Aaron smiled thinly. “Don’t you find it strange that you keep feeling yourself drawn to him?”
“Bison is dead…” Rose said, her voice cool, but she hesitated. Aaron had struck a nerve.
“You don’t believe that, Rose,” Aaron insisted. “Tell me, Rose, do you dream about him? Does his madness creep into your mind when you aren’t looking?” Rose’s eyes widened slightly. “How does it feel being the discarded garbage, Rose? How does it feel being the part of Bison he threw away because he found it too weak?”
Rose was standing before them, her shawl and hair floating serenely in the air. Her eyes were narrowed ,and she was staring levelly at Ukyou. She could have made an attack then, struck and killed Ukyou. But she hesitated. Was she curious? Was she afraid? Was she angry? Nothing showed on Rose’s face.
But while Aaron had been talking, Ukyou had moved them. Aaron had spotted the pipes on the wall. He had briefly noted the inflammable sign. It was gas. Ukyou was now standing with them directly behind her.
“This changes nothing,” Rose said crisply. “I will kill you, then I shall deal with Bison.”
“Bison is your destiny, Rose,” Aaron said grimly. “I wonder, when someone comes to kill you for the crimes you will one day commit, will you go softly into that good night?”
“We shall see…” Rose said. Then she slashed up with her scarf and a blast of purple-blue flames flew towards them. But Rose’s speed had been lessened, her concentration broken just enough. Ukyou dropped as the blast travelled over her head. She rolled forward, pushing past the pain.
Rose gasped. There was a bang from behind them and a brief hiss that turned into a burning roar. Aaron grabbed a piece of debris and pulled it up behind him. The next thing he knew, the world was filled with flame and sound. He felt himself flying.
He landed in a heap, back out on the roadway. The debris was in flame. He discarded it. He rolled to his feet. It had protected him, but only enough to just survive. He looked into the flames of the burning store.
Among the orange-red flames, purple-green sparks floated. They were coming closer. Rose was still alive. She was still coming. Aaron looked down at his feet… then did the only thing he could. He fled.
“Mom, I don’t think this is really me…”
Ranma grimaced, holding up the wire mesh shirt. His mother was kneeling there, the perfect picture of domestic Japanese femininity, with this enormous smile on her face. Therefore he couldn’t just toss it in the garbage can, which was what he really wanted to do.
“But Ranma, it’s all the fashion,” Mom said, gesturing towards the rest of the outfit that she had picked up for him. “I spent many hours watching the… music video channels and other things. All the men who attract the most girls were wearing them.”
“You want me to dress like a heavy metal singer?” Ranma managed not to squeak. He was very proud of that.
“Well, not that I doubt your skills at wooing the finer sex, Ranma,” Mom said, tapping her chin. “But I have noticed that you and your fiancée don’t seem to interact very much. Now, Ranma, I don’t blame you or her. Girls need to be properly seduced, you see. The first step is the wardrode. Now, in my day that was a tuxedo and flowers, but from what I saw on the television these days it involves things like this and-“
“Mom!” Ranma cut her off. He needed to find an excuse to get out of this… Aha! “But what if I’m wearing this thing when I get hit by cold water?”
“Oh dear,” his mother muttered. “I guess I hadn’t thought of that.” She paused. “Maybe you could wear it just the once, until you’ve made love to Nabiki?”
“Ranma, I’m just so worried that this curse is going to dilute your inner manhood. You should really find a nice girl and sow your oats. It will make a nice man out of you. Then, secure in your masculinity, you can settle down with a nicer girl – after all, nice girls don’t have sex before marriage – and have a little family.” She paused. “And I suppose if you need a concubine or two on the side to combat those feminine feelings, then I can live with that.”
“Well, somebody has to look out for you, Ranma.” His mother stood up, brushing a stray lock of black hair off her forehead as she did. “It’s not like your father is doing much of a job with it.” She stepped up to him. “Getting you engaged to this Tendo girl was a good step, but you really need a girl who doesn’t vanish for days at a time.”
“Er, yeah…” Ranma sighed and rubbed the back of his neck. Maybe the gods would send him some salvation if he prayed hard enough and promised to do them a few favours. Like beating up some demons or something.
“You there, you’re Ukyou’s friend, aren’t you?”
Ranma blinked. He looked up. On the top of the Tendo’s compound wall, a boy was perched. Ranma wasn’t sure he recognised him until the boy spoke again.
“Ranma, isn’t it?” The boy leapt down into the yard where Ranma and his mother were talking. “Yes. I remember you. From the fight the other day.”
“Hayato?” Ranma blinked. “But… you were in the hospital!”
“I got better,” Hayato grinned, fingering a strange golden medallion hanging around his neck. “You are Ukyou’s friend, aren’t you?”
“He most certainly is not!” Mom shouted, stepping between Ranma and Hayato. “I will not allow my son to associate with that violent maniac. Tell him, Ranma. You haven’t seen that boy since I banished him from your presence.”
Ranma began to sweat.
Hayato frowned and stepped up next to her. “I don’t believe I invited you into this conversation.”
“I invited myself,” she stated simply, crossing her arms. “Ukyou Kuonji is a dangerous young man, and Ranma doesn’t associate with his kind.” She nodded her head. “I even heard that boy put someone into the hospital, paralysed him for life. Ranma doesn’t need that-“
Hayato began to laugh. Ranma frowned. He felt… danger. That feeling at the back of his neck was so strong he wanted to scratch it away. In fact, he could feel an aura of menace flowing off of Hayato. An aura that struck him as strangely familiar. He narrowed his eyes, trying to place where he had felt this particular sense of danger before.
“Young man, I think this is very serious and-“
“What did you-“
“I said SHUT UP!” Hayato screamed. “I don’t have time for your idiocy!”
“Hey!” Ranma pulled his shocked mother back by her shoulder. “Nobody yells at my mother! I don’t care how much of a cripple they are!”
“You’re angry… good.” Hayato stepped back. “You’re going to need that anger to help save Ukyou’s life.”
“Ukyou is currently being attacked by Sailor Pluto and some witch who can fire balls of energy,” Hayato explained calmly. “I don’t think she can win, and I know they don’t plan on letting her live.”
“Where?” Ranma accepted the boy’s words at face value. After all, he knew about Sailor Pluto. And whoever this other enemy was… well, Ranma would deal with that when he arrived.
“I…” Hayato paused, and tilted his head to the side as if listening to something. “Follow me. We don’t have much time, and I know the fastest way there.” Ranma nodded and followed Hayato… further into the yard. In fact, the boy who really should have been immobilised for life was making a beeline for the Tendo’s koi pond.
“Uh… this isn’t taking us any closer to the fight…”
“Be quiet,” Hayato snapped over his shoulder. He stepped up to the edge of the pond and gripped his new medallion in one hand. “This way is faster.”
Ranma hadn’t really gotten over the shock of seeing Hayato walking around. Thus, he couldn’t really say he was shocked when he saw the boy gesture over the pond and cause a long, thick tendril of water to slowly rotate its way free of the surface. It was like watching a whirlpool in reverse. Once the water had reached the height of Hayato’s hand, he flicked his wrist and thrust his palm out. The waterspout snapped into a new shape, thin as paper but forming a wide circle the size of a small doorway. Ranma blinked as he watched ripples form on its surface… then he could see images in those ripples.
“Ukyou!” he shouted. He reached out. He could see the young woman running down a street, somewhere in Nerima. Her trademark coat was nearly burnt off her: both sleeves were in tatters, and half the waist was missing. As he watched she vaulted up over a car… only to be caught in midair when the car exploded violently into a fireball. Ukyou spun through the air, obviously completely out of control, then crashed into the side of a parked van with enough force to send the vehicle skidding onto the sidewalk.
Around both sides of the flame, two figures strode. One Ranma recognised. He had seen Sailor Pluto back during the Narita fight…
THAT was where he had felt that aura before.
“Step through the portal, it will take you there instantly.”
“How the hell are you doing this?” Ranma spun on Hayato.
Hayato smiled, his ugly pug face looking slightly perverse for the expression. “You ever hear the expression ‘don’t look a gift horse in the mouth?'”
“Ranma!” His mother caught his attention by tapping him on the shoulders. “What are you doing? You can’t go there!”
“Mom… I have to.”
“Ranma, why? That boy is dangerous…”
“Because… I don’t care, Mom.” Ranma turned back towards the portal. He wasn’t sure he trusted Hayato as far as he could spit. But he would risk this journey. “I don’t care what Ukyou’s done, or what Ukyou’s said. I care who Ukyou is. And Ukyou is my friend. Nothing you can say will change that.”
“Ranma.” Her tone forced him to look at her. She smiled at him. “If you have to do this, I understand. Go.”
“Heh.” Ranma patted her on the shoulder. “Don’t worry. I’m not about to fail!”
Passing through the portal was like leaping through a thin but freezing waterfall. Ranma didn’t even notice the sudden disorientation until his feet touched down on the dry asphalt of the roof. He snapped his hand up to his head, trying to overcome the vertigo that leaping several kilometers across the city in a fraction of a second apparently caused.
With his bearings regained, Ranma took off in the direction of the battle. Two leaps had him within sight of the street where Ukyou had fled. As he watched, she skipped down the street like a stone across a pond, green-yellow flames trailing from her limbs. Sailor Pluto and the other woman were striding towards her. The other woman was spinning her long yellow scarf about, drawing some form of green light into it. Sailor Pluto was raising her staff.
Ranma cursed. He jumped to the street, but he was still a few blocks away. Ukyou looked up at the two women, her eyes unfocused.
“AURA SOUL SPARK!”
Ranma snapped his hand out, tearing a hood free from a parked car. He heard somebody yell in protest. “Sorry!” he shouted back and spun forward, launching the hood like a shuriken. The metal caught both blasts before they got even halfway to Ukyou, and disintegrated in a spectacular blast of light.
“Hey!” Ranma shouted, grabbing both women’s attention. “Two on one seems kind of unfair, doesn’t it?”
“Stay out of this,” the tall woman with the bizarre hair said, turning slightly to face him. “You don’t know what you’re doing.”
“I know exactly what I’m doing!” Ranma shouted as he ran down the street.
“Handle this,” Pluto told her companion. “I’ll deal with Ukyou.”
“Very well…” the other woman replied.
Ranma frowned. The woman in the burgundy jacket had slid into place between him and Ukyou. She was already swinging that scarf of hers towards him. Of course, Ranma had already seen her fling a blast of energy from it, so he slid forward, skimming under the ball of light she launched at him. His elbow caught her in the gut and she flew back… directly into Pluto, who had been about to finish off Ukyou.
Ranma cartwheeled to the side, placing himself between the two of them and Ukyou. They were rapidly untangling themselves, and Ranma saw that the newcomer was barely hurt.
“Ranma…” Ukyou coughed out.
“I’m here now, Ucchan.” Ranma gave her a quick smile. “I won’t let anybody hurt you.”
The girl’s eyes widened. He saw her begin to smile – a gruesome smile under the blood that flowed from her eyes and lips, but a smile nonetheless.
“I almost gave up…” Ukyou said, slowly rising to her feet.
“If you think I won’t kill you to get at her, you are mistaken.”
“Oh shut up, Rose,” Ukyou hissed icily.
“I’ll give you one last chance to escape…” The woman raised one hand, a flare of green light pulsing down her arm.
“Funny, I was about to say the same thing,” Ranma grinned.
“Do you realise who you are protecting?” Sailor Pluto suddenly spoke. She brushed a lock of green hair away from her forehead, her tiara glinting in the sunlight. “This girl is a messiah of darkness. She will destroy us all. Even now she has the power! It twists and writhes inside of her, and she cannot control it.”
“Whatever.” Ranma yawned theatrically. “Are we going to fight, or what?”
“Then you leave us no choice but to…”
Rose cut off, swinging her scarf to the side. There was a metallic clang and a white rectangle fell to the ground at her feet. Ranma blinked. It was a newspaper.
“Hey now,” Ran said, walking down the street. Ranma wondered briefly how she had gotten there, then saw Hayato appear seemingly from mid-air in a splash of water. “I can’t let you two get killed now. Where would I get all my stories?”
“That power…” Sailor Pluto murmured just loud enough to be heard. She was looking at Hayato. The boy grinned at her, that same almost perverse grin. “Rose. The tide has turned against us.”
“We can still win…” Rose insisted, trying to keep everyone in sight at once. Ran began to circle to her left, making that difficult.
“We can win another day,” Pluto pointed out, turning her staff to point at Hayato. The boy merely raised his arms up as if in surrender, but never stopped smirking.
“Every day we let her live, is another day for her to master that power!” Rose snapped.
“Ladies…” Hayato’s voice was oily. “Sailor Pluto… You know who I am, what I am. You can destroy me, perhaps. But you know that if I am protecting her, then someone you can’t defeat has also taken an interest in this girl. Do you really want Beryl’s entire army here?”
“Beryl?” Rose narrowed her eyes.
“Damn…” Sailor Pluto cast a long glare at Ukyou. “Is this the sort of person you ally yourself with, Ukyou?” She turned back to Rose and raised her staff. “If we continue this fight, the damage to the city will be unacceptable.”
“Very well…” Rose nodded and slid her scarf back around her neck. Pluto waved her staff once and Ranma was forced to shield his eyes as a flare of light blinded him. When his vision cleared, the two women were gone.
Ranma sighed. Not really relieved, but more disappointed. Then he felt a sudden weight collapse against his back. He turned and patted Ukyou on the shoulder. She smiled up at him.
“So… uh… Ukyou’s a girl?” Ran called out suddenly, catching Ranma’s attention.
“Uh…” Ranma considered disputing it. But everyone had been calling her a girl, and half of Ukyou’s clothes had been burnt away by her ordeal, leaving her gender in little doubt. “Guess I never got around to telling you that, huh?”
Ranma snapped his head back towards Hayato, who stood nearby with arms crossed.
“Make sure you get better soon.” Hayato grinned and raised his arms, forming another portal out of the water in a nearby gutter.
“Wait a second…” Ran turned to Hayato. “Just answer me one question, please! Ukyou nearly destroyed your life. Why are you going through so much trouble to save her?”
“Because I intend to kill her myself, of course.” Hayato smiled that almost perverse smile again, then stepped through the portal. Once he was through, the portal collapsed into a brief downpour.
“We’ll deal with him later,” Ranma announced. “First, let’s get Ukyou to Doc Tofu’s…”
“No…” Ukyou said, almost too softly to be heard. “Not Doctor Tofu…”
“But he’s the best…”
“No!” Ukyou insisted softly.
Ran stepped over and helped Ranma lift Ukyou back to her feet, lacing one of Ukyou’s arms over her shoulder. Ranma did so as well, only realising he had been female for the entire confrontation when he turned out to be shorter than both girls.
“I know a school nurse who’s very good,” Ran pointed out. “She can help out Ukyou a bit.”
“Kyoko…” Ukyou murmured.
“You know her?” Ran sounded surprised.
“By reputation…” Ukyou coughed.
“Well, she can help you out. Justice High isn’t that far from here, maybe an hour on the bus…”
“Damn,” Ranma growled as they began to walk down the street together. “Ukyou, you should know better than to keep running off by yourself like this. How am I supposed to know when to come help you if you’re half a city away?”
“Heh. I’ll keep that in mind, Ranma…”
“OH! That reminds me.” Ran reached down with her free hand and pulled something out of her pocket. “This is for you, Ranma.”
Ranma blinked and accepted it. It was a small device of some kind, with a series of numbers on it and some sort of antenna on the top.
“Uh, gee, thanks Ran… but what is it?”
“It’s a cell phone, stud.”
“Uh, like a regular phone, but you can use it anywhere?” Ranma blinked at her. She was grinning at him cutely. “It’s so you can call me when you’re about to get into a fight. I don’t want to rely on the magnanimity of revenge-obsessed guys to help me get my stories. Plus, we can use it to make sure we get you involved in all the heroic stuff.”
“Wow. Gee, thanks, Ran!” Ranma laughed and grinned back at her.
Then he shivered, glancing at Ukyou. She was staring at Ran, her eyes wide. But why was it so cold all of a sudden?
His arm itched. Chris knew scratching it would do more harm than good, so he tried to ignore it as much as possible, staring up into the sky above the condo’s balcony. A few small, wispy clouds drifted thousands of meters above – there wouldn’t be any rain today, at least. The sun was just starting to drift towards the western horizon.
And his arm was still itching. Chris swore and straightened himself into a sitting position, folding both arms in front of him. It was getting harder and harder to ignore it. It reminded him that he’d need a new body soon. As of yet, he hadn’t decided on a candidate. Unfortunately, most of the truly vile people he knew of were either in locations he had no idea how to find, or not in Japan and thus hard to reach on short notice. He supposed he could travel to find one of the latter before he rotted too badly, but the thought of travelling to another country just to murder someone and take their body left him with a great deal of distaste. Even more than thinking about who was a good ‘choice’ did. But he had to think of someone suitable soon. He’d taken it easy as best as possible, but Link had told him flat-out he’d be rotting away within a week.
Thinking of Link brought his mind to the twins. They were in their “lab” somewhere, still experimenting with the mitamas. In the two days since Pink had stolen his journals, he’d somewhat come to grips with what had happened, and decided he probably hadn’t pulled the trigger on the end of the world after all.
It boiled down to the fact that while Pink had dangerous knowledge, and she was effectively immune to any threat of his to kill her or even imprison her (since forcing Link to stay in a single small area for her entire life was hardly better than killing her), she was far from free to do as she pleased. He could definitely stop her from acting on the information he’d inadvertently given her. And who better than him? There was no conceivable way for Pink and her poisons to defeat him.
It sounded like an excuse, even to him. Chris shrugged and grinned. It was the truth, though. He COULD put a stop to any plan Pink might cook up – it’d just require keeping a careful eye on her. And in a few years at most, her information would be so outdated and changed by circumstance that any possible danger she might pose would be reduced to acceptable levels.
In addition, Link had been helping keep her twin under control since… well, since they were twins, he guessed. She probably still could – especially if he was alive again, at which point she might actually work with him.
Being alive again. It was high time he got back on the path of working towards that goal, especially since his Martial Arts Death Machines bodies were turning out to not be quite as durable as he’d hoped. He needed to find out more information. Lacking any leads as to the identity of the person or force which had led to him ending up in this world, he’d thought of two… ‘people’ who might be able to at least shed some light on what his situation was and what to do about it.
The first was Saffron. God-king of the Phoenix People, last antagonist of the Ranma 1/2 manga. He was immortal, Chris was pretty sure, and earned the “phoenix” moniker by being born again after death. The manga hadn’t explained his origins, but there had to be some secret to it, something Saffron knew or discovered or was born with that allowed him to be reborn after dying. And that might help Chris do the same.
The second was Akio Ohtori. Chairman of Ohtori Academy, from Revolutionary Girl Utena, both of whom he had found to exist after some quick detective work the day before. Also the villain of that series, and also very likely immortal. But the immortality was a secondary interest in this case. Cologne had told him when they’d first met that the Second Circle, the realm of all mystical power, had few theoretical limitations, but one of those was that it could not create anything eternal.
Well, the theme of “something eternal” was prevalent in the Utena series, being one of the things represented by the castle in the sky and by inference the goals that the characters in that series fought for. If there really was something eternal, Akio would know what it was. If he would talk.
Of course, Akio was also pretty profoundly evil: not in the cackling destroy-the-world sense of many anime villains, but pretty damn evil nonetheless. And the scope of his knowledge and power was very vaguely defined. He’d be far more dangerous to talk to than Saffron, who at this point was still a virtually powerless small child, months away from the time when he would undergo the ritual to become his immensely powerful adult self.
Nonetheless, after considering the options, Chris still decided that his next move would be to visit Ohtori Academy and its chairman. Just as he had when he’d first considered it the night before. It simply felt more… likely. Saffron’s powers of resurrection, while impressive, still seemed… “normal” for this world. A Second Circle effect. And Cologne had said a Second Circle effect, no matter how mighty, would be unlikely to solve his problems: just like a First Circle-using martial artist could not undo magic with his power, the power of magic would not directly be able to combat whatever otherworldly (otheruniversally?) force had put him in this state.
Besides, Akio was closer. And as his arm continued to remind him, time was of the essence.
A shadow fell upon his face, dimming his view of the sky. Given the shortness of it, not to mention the fact it was perched on a staff like some sort of lollipop on a stick, the identity of the intruder was fairly clear.
“Can I help you?” he asked.
“That depends on your definition of the word, boy.”
He leaned his head back, now able to see the old woman looming above him. “And you complain I talk too cryptically.”
Cologne chuckled wryly. “I actually wanted to ask your advice on a matter, for once.”
Well, that was fair enough, considering how many times he’d been asking her things… though they more often were requests for information than for guidance. “Certainly. But about what?”
“I was wondering if it was common, in this country, for people to have such a great deal of interest in the affairs of others.”
Wow. So THIS was what talking to him felt like to everyone else. “Can we just skip ahead four or five sentences until we reach the part where you actually spit out the point?”
“Ah, the impatience of youth.”
“I know. You’d think death would have lended me some gravitas, wouldn’t you?”
Cologne dropped off her staff to the balcony, and used the selfsame gnarled wooden cane to point down at the street below. “I was wondering if you were aware of the reason why those people in the van down there have been watching us for several days.”
Chris blinked and peered over the edge of the balcony. True to her words, there was an unmarked black van, with tinted windows and the general look of some incredibly conspicuous Spying Vehicle to it. He wondered why he hadn’t noticed it before. Too much staring at the sky, he guessed.
Stepping back from the edge, he looked at Cologne. “Did you see who was in it at any point? Or how many of them there are?”
“Men in some sorts of suits and helmets. They rotate in shifts, every twelve hours or so. I believe there are four in each shift.”
He frowned. That could be almost anybody, but was highly unlikely to be anybody with good intentions. “I think I’ll go pay them a visit. Especially since, if they’re watching us, we just clued them in that we’ve noticed them.”
Cologne sat back, pulling out her pipe. “You’re welcome, boy.”
He chuckled a bit. “Sorry, I was immediately a little distracted. Thank you for telling me.”
So, how to approach? He decided the direct route was in order. He could always find another condo. Actually, chances are he’d have to anyway, depending on what Evil Conspiracy these goobers represented.
With that in mind, he knelt down for the briefest of moments before leaping up, flipping gracefully in the air as he sailed over the railing of the balcony. Two teaspoons spun through the air to puncture the tires of the van on the side facing him, precisely 2.3 seconds before his feet impacted with its roof.
There were yells and screams from inside the van. Tsk, sloppy work, no organised response. He leaned over, yanked open the back door of the van (it was locked, but that wasn’t really much of an impediment), produced a highly toxic flower arrangement, and threw it inside. Then he shut the door again.
As the gratifying series of coughs and thumps from inside the van began, Chris was already in motion. There’d be a driver; he’d have the radio, but likely NOT the surveillance equipment, so he’d be a bit behind the ball on what events were actually happening. But that wouldn’t last long, so he had to take him out hard and fast.
Almost on cue, the driver’s side door of the van opened and a figure leapt out in a cloud of noxious fumes, coughing slightly but not out yet. Chris prepared a baton to rectify that, and…
That was a Chronos soldier.
The outfit was unmistakable: a blue, skintight bodysuit with white piping; shoulder, knee and elbow pads, and a thick ceramic helmet with a bulging set of almost snowgoggle-like eyepieces in front.
It was a Chronos soldier.
As Chris sat there, staring, the soldier was shouting, pulling off his helmet. Chris was vaguely aware that some other people were on the street, also shouting. A door slammed somewhere, or maybe opened.
The Chronos soldier looked up and spotted him. He was average-looking, with short brown hair. He was snarling something. Even as Chris watched, the soldier’s features began to twist, deform, eyes turning yellow, skin green, inhuman musculature erupting outwards as his outfit ripped away from his flesh. It was a Gregole, some dim voice in the back of Chris’s brain told him.
The baton was still in his hand. The creature was rapidly getting bigger: its head was almost level with Chris’s feet now, and a large horn was beginning to protrude from its forehead. That was as good a target as any. Lightly, he hopped down, and as the half-transformed monster drew breath to – what? Shriek? Roar? Shout? – he casually, almost fastidiously smashed the baton into its head, driving the tip like a piledriver into the horn.
The baton, as well as the horn, hit the back of the thing’s skull all of a moment later, and the fairly predictable gout of gore followed. The monster collapsed, its intaken breath escaping uselessly, before quickly beginning to dissolve into bubbling goop, as all its kind did when killed.
As all its kind did. As all zoanoids did.
Zoanoids. Chris’s mind raced. He’d thought of this, considered it, and dismissed it. The zoanoids were from the Guyver series. A series containing an evil organisation, Chronos, who had created the monster dissolving at his feet. An organisation which ruled the world in all but name, who had infiltrators in every level of government and civilian authority in the world, even down to schools and newspaper offices. An organisation that was planning to use their genetically-engineered supersoldiers, such as the one he had just killed, to take over the world IN name.
An organisation that was going to SUCCEED in doing so, because they were already far too powerful and widespread for the heroes of the Guyver series (or, indeed, anyone else) to stop.
It was a series that could not possibly exist in this world. Because this world had Sailor Moon in it. Sailor Moon, who would go on saving the world from extraterrestrial menaces for years, who would eventually take over the world herself and turn it into a perfect utopian paradise, but before that happened would finish out school and marry her destined love and do other things he was not familiar enough with the series to list, but he was DAMN sure did not include fighting the uncountable armies of monstrous killing machines that would enslave the world within a year or two.
There was a light tap on the ground next to him; Cologne landing on her staff. “Well, that was a bit excessive, boy.”
“No,” he said softly. “No, that wasn’t excessive enough.”
There were at least three others in the van. This time, he ripped the door completely off its hinges. Three, yes. They were sprawled across the various items of surveillance equipment; the bouquet of black roses in the centre of the vehicle, just where he had thrown it. The zoanoids were all still human.
Chris killed them far more neatly than he had the Gregole, snapping their necks and hurling the corpses from the vehicle in the same easy motion three times over. Their bodies began to dissolve on the pavement, but that meant they wouldn’t damage the equipment.
Time enough to figure out how Chronos could possibly exist in this world later. First, he had to find out why Chronos was watching him.
Cologne’s silhouette appeared at the back of the van; her voice was more serious than he’d ever heard it. “Boy, would you like to explain what is going on?” It wasn’t really a question.
He couldn’t make heads or tails of the readouts on the equipment. He wasn’t an expert at this stuff, damnit. Nor was Cologne, he’d wager. If only he could have taken the bodies of one of the zoanoids, but their removing-evidence dissolving feature made that impossible. “I will explain, but for the moment suffice it to say we’re in very, very big trouble. So is the world.”
Cologne seemed to accept that, for the moment. “In that case, what are you doing?”
“Trying to find something, anything, to tell me why these-” At that point, he cut off. He heard something, a crackle of static, and as he fell silent a voice came on a nearby speaker.
“Team Beta, report. What was that disturbance?”
He was in the front of the vehicle in a flash, picking up the radio receiver – it at least was normal enough. He didn’t try to disguise his voice, hoping that the man on the other end of the line didn’t know any of the soldiers personally. “There’s been a problem. One of the targets appears to have noticed our presence, sir.”
There was a long, soul-chilling pause from the other end. He stared at the receiver. His heart couldn’t skip a beat, it didn’t matter if he was unable to breathe, and he felt no cold sweat. But the feeling underlying those reactions he could experience, and did. Acutely.
The voice came back on the line, speaking slowly and deliberately. “I see.”
He was able to keep his voice calm, crisp, professional. “What are our instructions, sir?”
“There’s no help for it. We’ll insert another team in that area later. For now, you can assist in the other operation we are running.”
“In what capacity should we assist, sir?” Of course, they would have known about the other operation. But maybe…
“Proceed to Juuban Middle School and assist Team 5 in escorting their captives from the city once they’ve completed their objectives.”
Juuban Middle School.
Usagi Tsukino’s school.
Oh shit. Oh SHIT.
But he was still dead, and his voice was still level. “Acknowledged, sir.”
To Be Continued…
Epsilon: Well, first off, we’d like to give our thanks to C.M. Aeris, for finally finding a way to make these fanfics halfways legible on fanfiction.net.
Blade: And we’d like to thank everybody still reading at this point. We might as well reveal now that Hybrid Theory will be a 30-chapter piece: that means you’ve now stepped into the second third of the fanfic, and since we divided each chapter into “books” as an accurate representation of their length, that’s no mean feat. Kudos, and thank you for continuing to read!
Epsilon: It’s also worth noting that these break points aren’t quite arbitrary. Each “book” has a theme, a tone, and a focus. So book 1 had a certain theme, and book 2 will have a different theme.
Blade: Of course, we can’t reveal what that theme is: it’d be spoilers! Besides, it will either come across in the writing, or it won’t. It’s up to us and our dubious talents!
Epsilon: I’d also like to remind readers that, once again: we do NOT expect you to have read/seen any given series involved here, including Ranma 1/2 and Sailor Moon, much less anything else. If you feel we’re not adequately introducing and differentiating characters so that you can recognise and remember them, it either means a) We’re not trying to, because they’re too minor to Hybrid Theory at the moment, regardless of their importance in their own original series, or b) We’re failing miserably as writers, because they are important. If the latter, feel free to let us know!
Blade: And that’s pretty much a wrap for this month. Don’t forget to check the webpage for character guides and other fun-ness! And join us next month, when we’re no longer bankrupt! Aside from morally.
Ran pulled a newspaper from her vest, snapping it rigid with a flick of her wrist. “Put her down…”
Even as she spoke, Hayato spun and flung Ukyou. Ran’s eyes widened and she dove for the girl, but her fingers fell short as Ukyou impacted the upright whirlpool and vanished. Ran grunted as she skidded along the ground. Then she felt Hayato’s boot on her back.
“You don’t think I’m foolish enough to fight her here?” Hayato said, laughing. “I have a special place just perfect for her demise.” Hayato leaned down and whispered into her ear. “Make sure you get her friends together and come looking for her. In about a half-hour, she’ll be dead. But I would hate to see you all lose the chance to bury her.”
Ran tried to buck Hayato off of her, but was rewarded with a stunning kick to her side. The air exploded from her lungs and she rocked back, clutching her ribs. Hayato laughed and walked across the roof, stepping idly into the portal. Ran wanted to scream, but was too busy trying to catch her breath. Then Hayato, and his portal, were gone.
Hybrid Theory Chapter 12: High Voltage