Yo. Ranma here. So, last chapter had more of me than the one before, so that was good. I met Ukyou, and when I realised who she was, she threw up on me, because this guy in her head doesn’t like thinking about how Ukyou thinks I’m sexy. Which woulda been weird, ya know, except Ukyou is a girl, which I didn’t really know, ya know? Aw, whatever. I don’t understand that stuff, but these guys won’t let me get to sleep until I tell everyone about it.
So, Akane and me weren’t really getting along, cause she’s a crazy violent tomboy who molested me, but Ukyou gave us this big speech about being more mature. Then she got all worried about this guy who got killed who she didn’t even know. Turns out the guy who killed the cop can hop into corpses and he planned to kill Akane. So while we were out running around, he drew her off by herself.
Later, when we got back and started looking for the cop guy, me and Ukyou split up and she found him first, still with Akane. The dead guy was planning on shooting her in the head or something, but after they talked, he liked her too much to kill her. But Ukyou thought he was trying to, so she attacked. Then they had this big showdown… where they TALKED.
And talked some more.
Then they got rid of Akane, leaped up to the top of a building where nobody could find ’em…
And TALKED some more!
Who writes this crap?
Anyway, they keep telling me I should mention the guy in the dead body was Chris, who used to be Aaron’s friend, who is the guy in Ukyou’s head. And Chris is all pissed at Ukyou because she won’t trust him.
Whatever. Overall, I’d say last chapter had too much talking, and not nearly enough me. Let’s hope this one’s better, huh?
C&A Productions Presents
A Work of Blatant Self-Insertion
Chapter 3: Foreword
Ukyou lay back on the bed, pillowing her head with her hands. Her long hair flowed out behind her, dangling from the lip of the mattress to brush along the edge of the floor. She was naked, able to breathe much more comfortably without the bandages binding her breasts to her chest. Aaron preferred not to think about such things, but couldn’t help it as Ukyou felt the simple pleasure of relief from her restriction.
Their eyelids were heavy with weariness, and the lulling melody of the rain outside did little to aid them in staying awake. Still, they resisted sleep. Sleep had become an enemy. Aaron had been an insomniac for so long he had forgotten what true deep sleep felt like, and had once enthusiastically proclaimed that he would pay a thousand dollars for one full night’s sleep. Now he dreaded it for much the same reason Ukyou did. Sleep was a surrender, one neither of them could afford to accept. So they stayed awake, meditated, and used methods both had developed to avoid slipping into darkness. But it was inescapable.
Slowly the room lost focus, began to swim in and out. Then it was dimmer, and sound seemed… duller. Distant. Her eyes closed despite the best wishes of Ukyou and Aaron, and their breathing began to settle into an ancient and peaceful rhythm. For an infinite instant they dangled on the lip of oblivion and then…
In the dream-memory, everything was both more and less real at the same time. Colours were sharper, more vibrant, but shapes less clearly defined. Objects of attention leapt out in every detail. Here, a man walking by was etched in their mind down to the tiniest follicle of hair in his beard, there the pop machine was tall and covered in beads of moisture and flecks of rust that numbered in the thousands and yet were easily countable. Yet things beyond their immediate focus faded away, dimming, becoming less in some way. The crowd walking about outside was nothing more than a blur of vaguely people-coloured motion, and the sounds of the airport had cycled back into an indistinct bass rumble with explosions of garbled speech mixed in.
They were standing just inside the doorway, positioned so they were out of the main path of the passing people, but so that they could see with no problem outside. Except it wasn’t they, it was him. Aaron Peori, male, age twenty-five, resident of Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. Social outcast, by choice and by nature, here to meet up with one of the few other social outcasts who accepted him. Here to enjoy the company of a large collection of social outcasts of all types. Except Aaron wouldn’t really enjoy it, but it pleased his friend to affect that he did, so he went through the motions.
It was at this point in the dream-memory that they felt the strange split, a surreal second as if they were viewing this scene from two detached perspectives at once. Then it went away. They were who they were, and this was the past and thus immutable to their attempts to change the course of events.
They looked to the side and noted the approach of Aaron’s/their longest and only friend. Chris was a dark-eyed man wearing amber rimmed glasses that reflected the spring sunlight in an unsettling way. He was grinning – no, more properly he was smirking – as he walked forward. He walked with a slight limp, a reminder of the accident he had survived years ago. His arms were at his side, hands stuck into the pockets of his jeans. He was dark-haired, with a ponytail that reached past the middle of his back and a string necklace of pseudo-Indian beads around his neck. He wore a leather jacket and black t-shirt. In the memory, they could count the hairs in his moustache and see the wrinkles of his jeans fold and ripple in the slight breeze.
Behind him were the others. Chris had his girlfriend, whose identity eluded them for a moment, and his other friend with him as well. Jenn and Rob: the names leapt from the back of their mind suddenly. But they were indistinct, less there than Chris was in some fundamental way. They focused their attention on the man in front of them, and spoke.
“You’re late, again.”
“Traffic was bad. And the ride’s free, so I’m not complaining.”
Chris shrugged, and in the dream-memory the movement was full of complex and subtle motions. There were greetings from the other two, but they were there and gone like mist. One of them (Rob?) offered to carry their baggage but they waved him off. Despite Aaron’s unexceptional build, they always surprised people with how strong they actually were. They offered mechanical greetings to the others present, satisfying the requirements of politeness in both cases, then basically dismissed them from their mind.
“Let’s go. I hate airports.”
Chris deferred to Rob to lead them outside to the car. The weight of the suitcase was heavy at first, but then it lessened and seemed to vanish into the same phantom substance that most things in the dream-memory had. They walked in relative silence the rest of the way. The three others made small talk, which Chris tried to get Aaron to participate in. They only grunted and nodded as appropriate to engage in a minimum of conversation. After a time, Chris noted their reluctance to talk, and allowed himself to get into discussions with the others.
For the duration of the walk, the only real thing was Chris. They thought about the boy, and for some reason in this dream-memory they recalled much more of the man than they usually ever thought of. They recalled that first meeting in the library of the Cape Breton high school, then how Chris had always managed to barge into his life, uninvited, until they’d grown used to him and finally grew to enjoy the stories they made up, talking outside in the crisp air of Aaron’s mother’s yard. Until the day when Chris defied his father and fled with them to Aaron’s house by the river for sanctuary. After that it was just the long years of separation… even now, it had been over a year since they had last seen each other face to face. Why did they consider this man friend? This man whom they barely ever saw? But beyond a doubt they did. They would trust Chris as much as they would trust anyone.
“As you can see, Rob got a new car. Not that you’d probably have noticed, but he got in a nasty accident a bit back.”
They looked up as Chris pointed out they had arrived. The car was also quite real. It was white, medium-sized and four-doored but for some reason the exact make and model eluded them. The paint still had the smooth texture and shine of either the new or the recently refurbished. Rob mentioned something about the accident of his old car and they responded with polite interest to his story.
“He hasn’t named his new car yet. I keep suggesting ‘Kalia-chan’, but for some reason he’s reluctant.”
“I can’t imagine why.”
Chris chuckled as the back was popped to deposit their suitcases. For some reason the interior of the trunk was less real than the rest of the car, nothing more than an indistinct black pit into which the luggage vanished from view, and their world, forever. Inside the car itself was another story. Rob and Jenn occupied the front seats, leaving Chris and Aaron to the back so they could sit together and talk. Chris had not lost his happy smirk the entire walk, and he sprawled comfortably in the foam seats. They looked about the interior of the car only briefly, but noted every detail instantly and permanently, from the stylish upholstering to the functional and advanced controls for the stereo and CD player (controls only, oddly…there was no actual CD player they could see).
Rob started up the car as Chris turned in liquid slow motion to address Aaron.
“So, how was the trip?”
Chris laughed politely. He took his glasses off and cleaned them on his shirt. Jenn and Rob might have laughed, too, it was hard to tell.
“Isn’t it always. That’s why I get YOU to come HERE. Well, that and the fact that Ottawa’s more interesting than Halifax. And I’ve got all the cool stuff.”
They glanced out the side-window. The world was flowing past, a nauseatingly formless blur. They felt a niggling sense that they should be contributing more to the conversation, but failed to do so.
“So, you remembered to bring the Brigadoon DVDs back, right? And the games?”
“Yes, yes. I even remembered this for once.”
Between their feet rested a red backpack, its bottom caked with salt stains from the long Halifax winter. With what their hands felt was a practiced and familiar motion, they reached in and retrieved a green binder whose covers were worn and peeling from constant use. They handed the binder to Chris, who took it after he had finished cleaning his glasses. He opened it and flipped through, his eyes widening a bit and his smirk growing, in that impossible way, more pleased with itself.
“Wow. It’s about time. And even slightly before the third actual Star Wars prequel comes out, amazingly.”
They shrugged a bit sheepishly… an affectation, but it helped smooth things over.
“Law of averages says I have to remember it sometime.”
“This is true. Unless it’s the Altima Cycle… but we won’t go there.”
Chris closed the binder and placed it in his lap, his hands clutching it a bit protectively.
“I’ll read it later. And then type it. Or rather, get Jenn to type it, since she so capably fills in for me in that role.”
Chris grinned in his girlfriend’s direction. Jenn interjected with an amusing comment at this point and they both laughed.
“So what’s the plan for the day?”
Up ahead, the traffic was thinning. A large tanker truck, its metal finish gleaming and reflecting the world around it, was pulling up to the intersection. The light in front of them turned green; they distinctly saw that.
Chris gnawed at his nail for a moment, thinking, then noticed what he was doing and frowned. He retrieved a nail file from his pocket and set about repairing the damage. Rob pulled into the intersection: he was saying something to Jenn, not looking at the truck. The truck wasn’t moving. It was at a complete stop.
“Well, once we get you settled in, I figure I’ll show you some new music vids and stuff. Then maybe we can do some games or something.”
Chris’ smirk transformed into an amused grin. He was looking in the wrong direction to see the truck. He might not have seen anything at all. Maybe he was lucky and that was just what happened. Maybe he didn’t feel anything, either.
“Maybe I can teach you to play Here Comes The Pain. A wrestling game is, after all, just another sort of fighting game. Some variety.”
The truck was moving. Not just the slow rolling start of a lumbering behemoth combating its inertia for every inch of ground. This was the barrelling, high-speed blast of the highway. It had to be going over a hundred kilometers an hour! That wasn’t possible. They rolled their eyes. Somehow, despite the clarity of the truck, it never entered their mind that they were in any danger. It was impossible.
Their voice trailed off. Rob’s car had gotten just far enough into the intersection that the front half was beyond the point of the truck when it hit. The huge “Mack” logo was at window height when the collision occurred. Their mouth opened in a strange O as the doorway behind Chris crumbled inward in disturbing slow motion. Then Chris was gone, the pinwheeling wreckage slashing his body apart without even slowing. The shrapnel had slowed enough by the time it reached them that it merely stuck into their body in a dozen places, none of them immediately fatal.
The car was flipped by the impact, bouncing end over end to rest on its side several meters away. The gyrations sprayed the interior with blood and served to drive the shrapnel even further into their body. The pain was omnipresent. It was everything. It was so there that it ceased to matter.
“Oh, God! They’re dead!”
The voice called out from the front seat. Jenn was looking back at them, her eyes wide and fearful. She was so real. So that was why Chris thought she was beautiful; she really was in her own way. Her face was flecked with blood, but none of it was her own. In some bizarre miracle, she didn’t appear to be harmed at all beyond a bruise on the ball of her thumb. Rob was next to her, admonishing her to get out of the car, but she wasn’t listening.
They coughed, and the pain erupted into new heights. So this was what it felt like to die. There was no encroaching darkness, no phantom light, just pain slowly consuming everything. He would have to remember to get a refund from all those corny writers some day…
The dreams of sleep were bad, but waking up was far worse. Ukyou
emerged from sleep like a bat out of hell, screaming and thrashing. He tried to move his right hand but she was also moving it in the other direction, causing the hand to twitch and spasm. Eyes fluttered open and closed, turning the dim light into brutal flashes of colour and motion. She wanted to scream, but his voice wouldn’t work. Their throat pulsed as they tried to swallow and expel at the same time, cutting off precious air. Legs flopped and rolled back and forth, trying to simultaneously walk and stand and kick.
As bad as the physical reactions were, the mental feedback was far worse. Aaron was lost in memories and emotions. She was a little girl, standing in the bright sunroom with her mother who had died two years ago while his brother ratted him out about destroying her GI Joes. In the background her father was preparing another okonomiyaki in his business suit that was slightly rumpled from a long day of office work and he did not look pleased. Brad, who was not his brother because he had none, was really playing up how much he had lost so Aaron pulled out his battle spatula and taught him a lesson. She didn’t like being taunted because she had lost the
toys in the backyard sandbox. Then the memory shifted and he was training furiously against the sea, contemplating his parent’s divorce and trying to figure out a way to conceal the fact that he was really a girl when he went off to boarding school in Prince Edward Island for the year and-
“Make it stop!”
The scream broke out of his/her throat in unison. But of course, it wouldn’t stop, it couldn’t stop. Not until they had made the sacrifice. The memories kept coming, but they kept contradicting and shattering one another, like bombs going off in their head. They couldn’t think, they couldn’t do anything but remember as their overworked brain tried to resolve the conflict. But so long as Aaron refused to accept Ukyou’s memories as his own, and she did the same to him, they kept coming again and again.
It had taken them almost a day of non-stop disjunction, and the brink of insanity, before they stumbled upon the secret of releasing the pressure. It was like two balloons, expanding inside a confined space. The secret was to let out the pressure a little bit, until they could think again. Aaron and Ukyou seized upon memories and concentrated on them, forcing their minds not to waver. As the impossibilities began to emerge they refused to let them distract, instead focusing all their attention at maintaining the single image. Slowly the images merged, blended, and finally there were no contradictions.
As the pressure slowly died down, Aaron found himself able to think again, awareness of his surroundings returning. Tears were leaking from Ukyou’s eyes, and a froth flecked her lips. It took them almost fifteen minutes to master themselves, release the pressure to the level where they could distinguish him from her and regain their feet. Ukyou staggered her body into the bathroom and began to scrub her face in the sink.
She hated this. Every time they woke up, another memory slipped away from them both. This time it was back during childhood, when she was training. Except in her memories she wasn’t a she, she was a he. Her name kept waffling between Aaron and Ukyou in the memory now, and she remembered a mother she had never had calling her to dinner while her father had developed the traits of two separate men. She couldn’t even recall the original memory anymore. It had become hopelessly mixed between the two of them. It even made sense, in some bizarre way. There was no discontinuity between it and the rest of her life. Any more than the growing list of other blended memories were.
Aaron sighed and finished up the cleansing. It was the price they had to pay, to be able to move and think at all. But every time they slept and their defences slipped like that, they had to create a new one. Every time they slept, a piece of their life was gone forever. A piece of them.
Just a few more months. A few more months and The Sword could end all this. But Ukyou was beginning to have serious doubts they would even last that long. Would anything at all be left of her or Aaron by the time they had the sword?
Best not to think about such things. That way lay madness.
Besides, it was time to deal with their other problem. Ukyou moved quickly, snatching up a clean outfit with one hand while Aaron set about re-binding her breasts with the other. Today they would find a few Sailor Senshi, and clear up whatever beef Setsuna had with them.
Once again Chris was hiding in a pipe, though not the same pipe, and he had not bothered to remove and hide his clothes this time. He held the gun above him, had seen it dimly above the rush of the water for most of the day. It was tedious, but otherwise not really a problem. He didn’t get tired.
The arm was steady, but the softer, fleshy parts of it wobbled in the flow of the water in an unpleasant fashion. The colour of the flesh was also going from the normal – or, at least, understandable – pallor to something darker and less pleasant. It wasn’t very noticeable yet…but he’d had little else to do that day except look for the signs.
A wave of revulsion overcame him. He had to get out of this body soon. Inhabiting a corpse was strain enough. But once it began to rot, to decay, the inevitable breaking down of the flesh… it threatened his grasp on sanity. Such as it was.
He remembered awaking, or so it had felt like. A homeless, nameless drunk in the central United States. It didn’t take that long to figure out his condition… when you didn’t breathe, or eat, and everything felt so distant, so removed… no, it was easy. But it hadn’t even occurred to him what the consequences of this were until a few days later. He could gain access to a shower, but the stench the body was emitting by then wasn’t from dirt or sweat. And the horrible feeling that spread through him, that sickening softness…
By the third day, he was afraid to stay still, to sit anywhere, for fear that insects and rats would begin devouring him. He was going insane; could feel despair, rage, frustration eating away at his mind. Would he die, again, when the body finally decayed past the point of supporting him? Or would he remain there perpetually, eventually nothing but a skeleton, fleshless, blinded, unable to move, lying there waiting to become dust?
Yes, he had come very close to insanity. And he kept moving, always moving, the bum’s ragged shoes wearing out underneath him, and then his equally ragged feet as well. Late the third night, he had come upon a group of women, standing on a corner, assumed they were prostitutes, later would find out he was right. At first, he barely noticed them. But one called out to him.
He didn’t, even now, know what she had said to him. A proposition, a taunt, a greeting? He didn’t want to know. But at the time, he had seen red, despising her, despising her useless WASTE of life that she held up to him, taunting him, and he had screamed and gripped her by the throat with his dead hands and…
He closed his eyes, willing away the memory. Her companions had tried to stop him, beating him and kicking at him. But he felt no pain, then or now. Or rather, he felt it, but it was just as distant as everything else. Like a dull sound from far away, it could be noticed, but could just as easily be dismissed. In his rage, he ignored it, and they disappeared from his view. Probably ran away to call the police. But he wasn’t paying attention to them.
As he stood, looking down at her body, he felt he should be overcome by the enormity of what he had done. A part of him actually was shocked and horrified. But the rest… empty. He was just empty. And then he became aware that the emptiness was not only inside, but outside. Outside, in the woman’s body, was an emptiness that awaited him, beckoned for him to fill it. And without knowing quite what he was doing or how he was doing it, he did so.
He opened his eyes, awaking for the second time, and saw the rotting corpse that he recognised as himself… or, rather, what he had looked like… tumbling to the street. He didn’t look down at himself (herself)? He didn’t have to. Male and female bodies didn’t feel at all similar, even to him. He screamed, and the voice he screamed with was her voice. And then he fled, not knowing why, just feeling a driving NEED to be away from that street corner, to be away from that body that once was his, the body that had killed the body that was now his body that now was dead dead dead like him.
He stopped running… some time later. Hours, probably. He had escaped from the whole city. He stopped, not because of a tiredness that he could no longer feel, but because finally the emotions had died down. It was the sun that had done it, he thought. It was just starting to rise, bathing the world in crimson, distracting him, grabbing his attention and forcing him to think. He had to find shelter. Someplace cool. Someplace where this new body would not be exposed to the heat of the day, which would cause it to rot faster.
And, once he had started thinking, he continued. He sheltered in the overhang of a highway bridge for most of that day, and thought long and hard. Alright, so he was an undead possessing spirit. Or something. That was better than being trapped in a single rotting body, but only marginally. There was no way he’d be able to, on a regular basis, find “replacement” bodies that were themselves undecayed enough to be useful. Sure, there were morgues, but notwithstanding that he had no idea how he’d break into one undetected, it probably wouldn’t take too many bodies getting up and walking away before there’d be some serious interest in the matter.
That left the option he’d unwittingly discovered the night before: creating his own fresh replacement bodies. That was not an avenue he wanted to walk down. He wasn’t a murderer. Except, of course, that now he was. But the thought of stretching out months, years, decades (centuries? eons?) of constantly killing to keep himself going… no. He didn’t put that kind of stock on his own worth. Besides, practicality stepped in. Eventually he’d get caught and exposed for what he was. That would be unpleasant in any case, but not nearly as unpleasant as it’d be if he had left a trail of hundreds of murders behind him.
So, what to do, then? He couldn’t decide. Obviously, he’d have to turn himself in to some authority to which he could prove what he was, and see if they could help him. But who? He was in the United States. Maybe it was just his left-leaning paranoia… but he’d rather not put himself at the disposal of a government that might decide that he had useful military applications (which, of course, he undoubtedly did, in a whole number of areas). Of course, any government might decide that… but the US was a lot more able to implement such an idea, and would have more use for him. He wanted to be helped – not used, and certainly not replicated. But he was also a long, long way away from Canada. Hell, he was closer to Mexico. If he wanted to make the trip north on foot, even running all day and night, he’d have to replace his body along the way. And that would mean killing someone. He didn’t feel right doing that just because the US government bugged him.
Eventually, he decided he’d hitchhike north. It wasn’t the best of options… but it was possible. With luck, he could get to the border before this body started seriously failing him. It helped he wouldn’t have to rest, or sleep. And, of course, he was hardly worried about being accosted, kidnapped, or molested… if anyone had antisocial ideas and was too big to handle, he could just play dead, something he could do extremely well. Then he figured he could just continue after his body got dumped by the roadway. It wasn’t a perfect plan, but it was the best thing he could think of. He could always change his mind and get in contact with the US government if he was stalled along the way.
But, before he could do that, he had to go back to the city, because this look wouldn’t do at all. The skimpy clothes would be attracting the wrong type of ride, and his frantic run had snapped both the spike heels of the shoes. It was a wonder he hadn’t broken an ankle or something, so little had he been paying attention to the state of his new body.
When dusk had fallen, he headed out. Still considering plans for what to do in the future and how to do it, he found himself in the city limits almost before he knew it. He idly wondered where he might find a store that sold shoes and was open in the evening. A department store, probably. But where could he find one…?
That was when he realised he KNEW where to find such a store.
How? He racked his memory. Had he passed by this store in the body of the homeless man, wandering in his attempts to avoid decomposition? No, that wasn’t it, he was sure. Even if he had, he wouldn’t have remembered where to go to find it; he knew his poor sense of direction well. And yet, he DID know. And he had known precisely how to get back into the city, as well, recalled it so quickly and easily that he had barely needed to think about it as he returned, his mind occupied with other matters.
Trying to picture where he’d seen the store, he remembered purchasing the same shoes there that he’d broken in his run… and then he knew the truth. It wasn’t his memory at all. It was HERS. Her memories had led him back to the city, and told him where to find the store. Just like, he only now realised, the memories of the homeless man had before. His wanderings had skirted the areas where he was likely to be questioned or picked up by the police for loitering; he had just felt safer in the places he decided to go, wandered on instinct. But it wasn’t instinct, it had been learned.
He couldn’t find the old man’s memories anymore. They were gone with his body. But hers were another story. He thought, and remembered, and shared the experiences, the knowledge that he needed. He knew where her run-down apartment was. She had some money there, carefully hidden away. But it would be too dangerous to go, he quickly realised. Her pimp checked up on her every night. He would have heard about what had happened the night before. He would be looking for her. In fact, it would be best if he got out of town right away.
Luckily, he also remembered that she had some money in her pockets, earned earlier that same evening. He shook his head, making a wry mental vow to search the pockets of any subsequent bodies he found himself in right away.
First, he needed shoes. Skanky clothes were one thing, but no shoes would just make her stand out, and he wanted to stand out as little as possible. Besides, less wear and tear on the body was good.
At the store he – or she – had remembered, he found a pair; cheap, knock-off brand sneakers. People gave him mingled looks of pity and contempt, and some hastily moved away as he walked by…well, he couldn’t blame them, given what he must look like. The lady at the cash was heavy-set and looked at the young woman she thought he was with undisguised motherly compassion.
“Rough night for you, huh, Sheila?” she asked.
His name was Sheila. Wait, no… HER name was. Well, she’d shopped here often. He paused for a moment before responding, trying to glean from her memory how the dead woman had talked. But that wasn’t something she THOUGHT about much… damn. Then an idea struck him. He kept his voice steady, low. Serious, maybe a hint of anger. “Yeah, but it’s gonna be the last one.”
“Why’s that?” the woman asked, looking at him strangely. A pang of fear touched her eyes. “You’re… all right, aren’t you, dear?”
He resisted a sudden urge to laugh. About as all right as she’d ever be, unfortunately. But he spoke, still in that low, focused tone. “Yeah, I’m all right. But I’m thinkin’…well, I’m getting out of here.” He gestured vaguely.
“Out of here? To where, hon?”
“North. Way up north, I think.” He paused, as if lost in thought. “Always wanted to go there. I like the snow, you know? And the cold don’t bother me.”
“Well, bless your heart, Sheila. I hope it all works out for you.” The woman paused, obviously considering something, and when she spoke again, her eyes were kind. “You’ll be needing some warmer clothes than that, though, if you’re going on the road.”
He knew where this was going, but played his part anyway. “I’d like to, but y’know…” he shrugged helplessly. “I’m a little short, so new shoes’ll have to do.”
“Well…” the heavy-set woman paused, looking around shiftily. Nobody else was nearby. She smiled, with a bit of a conspiratorial air. “I’ll tell you what. You just go pick yourself out a set of warm clothes. It’s a special sale, just for you.”
He was tempted, but gave protesting a shot. “Oh… no, I really couldn’t. It’s not fair, and I could probably never repay you…”
“Don’t you worry about a thing, dear. If you go and make the most of your life, that’s repayment enough for me and the Lord.”
He kept his expression the same, although anger flared through him. Then he forced himself to relax, and felt more angry at himself. He’d killed this body, lied about his identity and intentions to this kindly old woman, received a generous bit of charity for it, and was offended because she’d invoked her mystical cloud-man at him? Asshole. He graciously thanked her, and quickly moved on to the women’s clothing section.
Besides, the US was full of religious nuts. 60% born-again Christians, or something like that? Lucky the old woman hadn’t given her a rosary or something to start her healing journey to make the ‘most of her life’. Ha. Maybe if some loving supreme being had been watching over Sheila, she wouldn’t be dead. Maybe if some loving supreme being existed, he wouldn’t be… what he was.
But getting angry about it was pointless and petty. Shrugging off the feelings, he browsed the clothing racks. He didn’t even buy clothes much for himself, much less for a woman, but luckily, this body knew what it was doing more than he did. And jeans were unisexual anyway. With a few pairs of them and some relatively warm – and unrevealing – long-sleeved shirts in his grip, he retired to a dressing room, making sure he went into the correct one for his apparent gender.
Inside, looking at the mirror, he winced involuntarily. No wonder people were giving him such a wide berth. The eyes were puffy, and a dark ring of bruises enclosed his – her – neck like a choker.
He was coming for her. He was insane, his eyes wide and black and devoid of anything of rage and oh my god they were DEAD dead eyes his fingers were around her throat and she was pushing at them but they wouldn’t move couldn’t scream couldn’t breathe and her vision was fading couldn’t feel anything couldn’t see anything but those eyes, those eyes, they were staring at her through her into her-
He snapped back to reality with a jerk, and cursed once, loudly, before remembering where he was and shutting up. Damn. That was one memory he didn’t want to view. He shuddered, and mentally apologised to Sheila. For all the good it did. Damn it. He hoped nothing like that would ever happen again. But if he started rotting again…
He firmly put those thoughts to the side. Not productive. Had to plan. He could get through this. Somehow.
One pair of jeans and a shirt proved to be adequate fits. They’d do. He exited the dressing room, handed off the remaining clothes to the attendant. For reasons not entirely clear to him, before returning to the cash, he detoured, heading off the electronics department.
Well, the electronics department had been his favourite part of these stores ever since he’d (mostly) outgrown the toy section. He grinned to himself, the dark feelings receding a bit. Attempting to wrangle a Game Boy Advance and some RPG out of the heavy-set woman would probably be ungracious. But no harm in looking.
Except there was no Game Boy Advance. No PS2, X-Box, Gamecube… hell, no PS1 either. There was a display set up with a Game Boy. The original Game Boy, green screen and all. Playing Tetris. It was immediately both extremely nostalgic and disturbing.
As for consoles… there were Super Nintendos there. And they were new. More than that, they were new and hyped like the latest of technology. Small game selection, and the prices… those were new game prices.
What the hell?
He peered around the rest of the section. No DVDs. No DVD players. He didn’t even see a portable CD player, although it was a small section, so… no, that made no damn sense. No sense at ALL. The smallest, crappiest electronics section in the shoddiest mall in the most hillbilly US town wouldn’t have this. This wasn’t just where he’d lived… this wasn’t WHEN he’d lived, either.
His mind worked furiously. Of course, he hadn’t stopped much to read newspapers in the last body… no money for them, although he guessed he could’ve gotten them from a garbage can or something. But why would he? He’d had other concerns, and there was no reason to look.
Except now there was. Now there sure as HELL was. He glanced around, eye latched onto a display of television sets. They were showing some talk show. He moved closer, wondered if he’d get in trouble for changing the channel. Well, who gave a damn about that? He didn’t even know what year this was. Super Nintendo new… early 90s? Not his area of trivia. He was reaching for the controls of the nearest television when the words “Sailor V” came from the speaker and arrested his attention.
He peered at the screen again. Talk show, yeah… some guests there in odd costumes. One was definitely done up as Sailor V. He thought it was a girl. Not a great-looking one, though. He almost smirked at the fangirl humiliating herself on national television. Probably going to decry the editing practices of those awful, horrible, censoring American companies.
Except… wait. If this was the early 90s, anime wasn’t a “thing” in the US then. It wasn’t even a blip on the radar. And… well, he thought Sailor Moon was around, then. Maybe. But not in English. Why would it even make it onto a talk show?
And then, the show itself answered his questions. “…our next guest, who, as you can see, is a big fan of that mysterious British urban legend – or is that superheroine? – Sailor V, let’s have a big hand for…”
Urban legend. Superheroine. British. Distinctly not ‘Japanese cartoon character’. He stared, and as the following comments only confirmed his suspicions, he began to think furiously.
It appeared the plan would require some tweaking…
A loud splash, echoing through the water, startled Chris from his reminiscing. He looked over, but didn’t see anything. He didn’t need to breathe, but nothing had made him better able to see underwater. Well, no need to panic. Probably someone throwing a rock against the pipe, or into the canal or something. He stayed still, anxiously scanning the entrance, but nothing darkened it, and he relaxed.
The setting sun was staining the water a brilliant orange, slowly fading to red. It wouldn’t be long now. Once night fell, he’d move onto his next target. He went over again, in his mind – or Officer Takashita’s – police procedures, schedules, patrolling. He’d be able to evade them, he thought. If not, he could escape into the canals again, though that would ruin them as a future hiding place. After that… well, there were other places.
The arm holding the gun was steady. Good. It wouldn’t do for that to get wet. After all, being dead only got you so far in SOME fights…
He settled back, waiting for the sun to set. It would be time soon. Soon. Soon, he mentally promised the being that called itself Ukyou. Soon, we’ll have our next meeting, a lot sooner than you expect. And then he’d see if he couldn’t have a more productive talk about exactly what she was, and what she knew about him.
Ranma looked up as Ukyou flipped another okonomiyaki off her portable grill and onto his plate. Akane was still working on her first serving, but she looked to be enjoying herself.
“That’s right, I have some business to take care of there,” Ukyou explained cheerfully. Ranma was beginning to notice that Ukyou had two moods. In one mood she was quiet and serious, her voice and face betraying little emotion. The other Ukyou was energetic and cheerful, seeming to smile in secret amusement at everything and with an easy laugh on her lips. He hadn’t figured out what triggered her sudden mood changes, but he was trying to put two and two together.
“How long will you be gone?” Akane asked. Ranma frowned at the girl sitting across from him. She was smiling at Ukyou in an overeager manner. Ever since last night, the girl hadn’t been able to shut up about Ukyou for one minute. She was gushing to her family, to her friends and to anyone who would listen how Ukyou had saved her from a rogue cop with a gun. Ranma had managed to hear the entire story himself more than once, the details getting more impressive each time it got told. Ranma really wanted to know how Ukyou had known what was going on.
“The rest of today, most certainly,” Ukyou said with a shrug as she began to clean up her grill. Ranma sighed as he looked down at his own half-finished portion and realized there would be no more free food today. She really had gotten much better at cooking over the years. “I doubt I’ll be there overnight, but you never know. Sometimes it takes a while to tie up these kinds of problems.”
“Right,” Ranma grunted as he swallowed his remaining food in a single gulp, or tried to. The combination of too much food and trying to talk caused the morsel to lodge itself in the wrong pipe. Ranma choked and smacked himself in the chest as he tried to force the food out… then he realized that spitting it up would ruin this fabulous meal. Tears rolled down his cheeks as he was faced with a terrible choice: breathe, or finish Ukyou’s okonomiyaki? He was probably turning blue by the time he managed to send the meal down the right pipe. He expelled a massive burp in a cloud of steam. Ukyou giggled a bit at his antics. Akane rolled her eyes and crossed her arms while trying her best to look down her nose at him. “So, when do we leave?”
“We leave?” Ukyou looked at Ranma with a puzzled frown.
“You’re not leaving me behind this time,” Ranma pointed out with a flip of his finger. “Last night I spent three hours talking to the police while you ran over town saving people from insane cops. You owe me.”
“Uh,” Ukyou ran her hands through her bangs and sighed. “Ranma, you don’t know how much I would like to have a second pair of hands around for this, but I don’t think it’s the best idea…”
“Well, why not?” Ranma crossed his arms and tried to put on an air of wounded pride, which wasn’t as hard as he thought it would be. Ukyou gave him a blank-eyed stare for a few moments, then put her face in her hands with another sigh.
“Ranma, just trust me.” Then Ukyou’s head snapped up suddenly and she smiled, a pleased-with-herself grin. “Besides, I need you here, to look after Akane.”
“Hey!” he and Akane screamed out at the same time. They both looked at each other and glared.
“Akane was targeted by something dangerous last night,” Ukyou pointed out with a flip of her damp washcloth. “And it definitely wasn’t human. I think we won’t have to worry about it again, but I’d rather not gamble Akane’s life on it.” She reached over and patted him on his shoulder. “Frankly, I think you’d be an even better bodyguard than I would. You’re certainly the better martial artist.”
Well, Ranma couldn’t really argue with that. But he’d rather try to tame a pit of poisonous vipers then willingly spend time with the pervert girl and her equally perverted family.
“Well, there’s a simple solution to that,” Akane pointed out as she handed her plate to Ukyou. “I’ll just have to come with you both.”
Ranma and Ukyou stared at her for a long second as they both tried to process that statement.
“Ohh boy,” Ukyou said as she rocked back and braced herself with her arms. She looked up at the noon-day sun overhead, partially concealed by the tree they were sitting under. “I knew I should have just went off on my own without telling either of you.” She continued to stare up at the sky for a few seconds, the breeze catching in her hair as it hung down between her arms and teasing it in gentle waves. How had he ever thought that this was a guy?
“Don’t think you can get rid of me this time around,” Akane pointed out, snapping Ukyou out of her reverie. Ranma glared at Akane, but wasn’t sure why. “Last time you ran off without me, I was almost shot by some inhuman police officer.”
“Well…” Ukyou frowned as she looked back at the two of them. “Can I appeal to your desire not to skip school, then? You both still have a half-day of classes left, and I have to leave now if I’m going to get there in time.”
This seemed to give Akane pause, but Ranma didn’t even hesitate. “I’m not really that attached to school, Ucchan.”
“I figured as much,” Ukyou grumbled half to herself. “Fine, Ranma, you can come.” She slid to her feet in a single elegant motion. “Akane, you have to decide if you want to skip school or not.”
“But that isn’t fair!” Akane complained. “We have a test this afternoon!” Ranma stood up as well and stuck his tongue out at her. “Don’t think I’m covering for you, jerk! You can get an F for all I care.”
“I’m shaking,” Ranma began but Ukyou cut him off by rapping him lightly on the back of the head.
“Be nice,” she admonished with her amused grin.
“This is just no fair,” Akane grumbled as she settled her chin into her hands.
The bus moved leisurely through the mid-day traffic. They had entered the Minato Ward almost a half-hour ago, making the entire cross-town trip almost an hour and a half total. An hour and a half alone with Ranma. It had been surprisingly simple to get him to go along with her. Just string him along, make him think it was his idea, play reluctant and stroke his ego at the same time and he would all but force himself to come along. That was the advice Aaron had given to Ukyou, and it had worked like a charm. Ukyou had even managed to get him to agree to take the bus with much the same tactic, despite them being able to run the distance in half the time.
Ukyou was staring out the window, or trying to. Her eyes and head kept swivelling to look at him. He was sitting there, calm and cool. There was no nervous energy in his posture, but instead an almost unsettling readiness about him. He was like a lounging cat, ready to pounce at the slightest sign of danger. With him, she wouldn’t have to worry about protecting herself. He would always be ready to fight for her. He would always be ready to react to her every need-
Aaron jerked her eyes away from him before her thoughts could go much further. She felt her stomach roil as he reminded her of his limiting factor on her “little girl fantasies.” Were they? Aaron reminded her again and again that what she felt for Ranma could not posskbly be love. She didn’t even know him. Her image of Ranma was gathered from idealised childhood memories and…
Memories of childhood and of the man he would be over the next year or so. Ukyou knew Ranma, perhaps even better than he did himself. She had seen his heart, displayed on pages in black and white. She could remember him during the moments when he was down and when he was on top of the world. He was arrogant, compassionate, stubborn, protective, possessive, imaginative, determined, juvenile… he was a person. He was much more than what Ukyou had thought he would be. He was much more than that “other” Ukyou had ever seen in him. He was all sorts of bad things and all sorts of good things.
Ranma Saotome was a real jerk. And she didn’t care. She wanted to be with him, regardless. She wanted the fairy tale ending, even if the fairy tale ending was impossible. And she was looking at him again, despite Aaron’s protests and the mild nausea. Ranma was looking back at her this time.
“Ukyou, you shouldn’t always have that serious face,” he pointed out as he wrapped his arms behind his head.
“You should smile more, you look a lot better when you smile.” Ukyou’s heart skipped a beat and she felt heat rushing to her cheeks. Slowly she pushed past Aaron’s numbing facial expression and smiled at him. He smiled back and nodded. “There, that’s much better. Now you don’t look so… I dunno, serious.” His voice was cheerful and oblivious as he spoke. He turned his head back away from her and resumed people watching, since there wasn’t much else he could do on the bus.
Ukyou ran her fingers through her bangs and released a breath she hadn’t realised she’d been holding in a long sigh. She wanted to be with him, there was no doubt in her mind now. She loved him, for whatever he was. And she could have him, too. Aaron might not like it, but he knew Ranma. Aaron knew all his triggers and traits well. And therefore so did she. It would take time, but it would be inevitable. The trick was patience, and Ukyou knew she could be patient. Just demonstrate a bit of sympathy, a bit of rivalry, a bit of compassion and a bit of sexual allure and Ranma would fall into her hands.
She could play him like a ten cent flute. Aaron’s words, not hers. Aaron pointed out ruthlessly how much she would be manipulating him. He knew how to trick Ranma into loving her, oh yes. And Ukyou would be happy with that, but would Ranma? Ranma was nothing if not a free spirit. He lived to choose his own destiny. Trapping him in a love built on so many false pretences, would it be any different than trapping a wild bird in a cage? How could Ukyou say she loved him, when she was willing to go to any lengths to make him love her, and be damned what Ranma wanted out of life.
But that didn’t matter! She wanted him to be with her. Was it so wrong how she did it? He would be happy…
Except she knew he might not be. Aaron was relentless. She might be able to lie to Ranma, she even might be able to lie to herself. But Aaron knew everything she thought and felt. She couldn’t conceal her motives from him. The fact was that she didn’t care how Ranma felt about it.
Now she felt like crap.
She was really tempted to smack herself and punish Aaron for the slight feeling of smugness he was projecting through her mind at the moment.
“Uh, Ukyou,” Ranma pointed out and snapped her out of her internal bickering. “Wasn’t that our stop?”
“Eep!” Ukyou began to ring the bell furiously as the bus began to pull away from the curb.
Ranma followed Ukyou up the steps leading towards the temple. There certainly were a lot of people here for a shrine, especially girls. Lots and lots of schoolgirls in the traditional sailor suit–themed uniforms. Many of them were giving him sly glances out of the corners of their eyes when they thought he wasn’t looking. Ranma couldn’t help but beam a little at that. Of course, this was nothing compared to the way they were reacting to Ukyou. At least a third of the them were staring at the masculine girl, many with their mouths open, strong blushes on their cheeks or affecting dizziness. Ranma frowned a bit at this, but then just had to chuckle about it. If only they knew.
Ukyou, for her part, wasn’t paying much if any attention to them at all. Nor was she paying much attention to anything else. Ever since they had gotten off the bus Ukyou had been brooding, her face bent down so her long bangs fell over her eyes as she stared at her feet. Her hands were hooked into her pants, and Ranma noticed for the first time that today she wasn’t wearing her usual school uniform, having adopted a more casual slacks and button-up shirt combo. She still sported her harness with the huge combat spatula on her back, however. Maybe that was why Ukyou was attracting more attention than Ranma was?
The top of the steps came up pretty quickly, with the steady long-legged pace Ukyou was setting. Ranma scanned the words set on the traditional archway. Hikawa Shrine, it stated in elegant simplicity. Ranma shrugged and looked down again. The name of the place didn’t really matter to him. He’d seen hundreds of shrines and temples and holy places of all kinds over his life. Usually he’d been sneaking into them, so walking in like a regular guest was a bit of a novelty.
Ukyou stopped at the top of the shrine steps, looking left and right for something. Ranma sidled up next to her, rubbing the back of his neck as he craned to see over the heads of the crowded schoolgirls for any details. The place looked pretty typical. A booth had been set up nearby, selling little trinkets to the girls. They were gobbling up the tiny charms in droves, many of them cooing and gushing over them. More than half were holding them tightly and talking in hushed whispers to their friends while pointing at Ranma and Ukyou. A little old monk with a bald head and a tanned complexion was floating among the crowd, accosting the girls cheerfully. Further on, he could see a black-haired shrine maiden stalking through the crowd towards the old monk. A blonde guy was in the booth selling the little trinkets, and he seemed to be drawing as much attention as Ranma and his friend.
“What are you looking for?” Ranma asked evenly after a half-minute or so.
“I’m looking for a girl…” Ukyou trailed off. Ranma raised an eyebrow but failed to comment. “Aha, that’s her there.” She inclined her chin slightly as the raven-haired shrine girl passed in front of them. From the barely–restrained growl on her lips Ranma guessed that she was angry with someone, probably that old monk making a fool of himself in front of a trio of young girls. “But this seems terribly familiar for some reason.” Ukyou pulled one hand from her pocket and tapped her chin thoughtfully. “This place isn’t this crowded, usually…”
“They seem to be having some sort of sale or festival or something,” Ranma replied with a shrug. He laced his arms behind the back of his head and nodded towards the booth set up nearby. Ukyou was shorter than him, so she must be having more trouble seeing over the heads of all the girls. She frowned a bit and pulled her hand from her chin.
“Let’s get closer to that, I want to hear what’s going on.”
Ukyou didn’t wait for Ranma to respond, instead stepping through the crowd with the same ground-eating strides she usually favoured. Ranma let his arms fall and followed wordlessly. So far this was turning out to be very boring. Not to mention he could do without all the girls talking behind his back; it gave him the willies. Ukyou stepped through the crowd just as the shrine-maiden finished scolding the old man about something. They were standing next to a trio of girls, probably a few years younger than Ranma from the looks of them. One had her hair up in a duet of giant ponytails that stood out in the crowd, but Ranma had seen weirder hair in his day.
“I sense evil energy!” the shrine maiden shouted suddenly. Moving with exceptional swiftness, she reached into her top and withdrew a long paper ward. Chanting quickly the girl seemed to fill it with some sort of energy: at least, the thing snapped rigid in her grip. Ranma cocked his head to the side as he watched. He had felt something happen when the girl chanted, but wasn’t sure what. “Demon be gone!” she cried out, spun on one heel and firmly applied the ward to the forehead of the ponytailed blonde. This seemed to be received badly by the girl, whose eyes rolled into the back of her head as she fainted to the ground to the shocked alarm of her friend. That seemed like a pretty overdone attack for such a little bit of effect, Ranma mused.
“Ranma, we’re leaving,” Ukyou said evenly.
“Yes, right now.” Ukyou grabbed his sleeve and began to tug him back into the crowd. Ranma looked down at her out of the corner of his eye. The shrine girl and the two anonymous friends were bending over to help the one that had fainted. Ranma’s first instinct was to stay and see what he could do to help, but Ukyou had the same no-nonsense expression on her face she had worn the day that Akane had been attacked.
“Okay,” Ranma murmured softly as he allowed himself to be led away. “But why?”
“I…” Ukyou trailed off. “I just realized I’m early. I need to come back another day.” Ukyou kept looking back over her shoulder at the goings on as she led Ranma away. Ranma cast a few glances in that direction as well, but aside from the usual commotion over carrying an unconscious girl into a temple, there was nothing to see.
“Ukyou, are you sure we should be leaving?”
“Very sure,” Ukyou replied calmly. “Hurry.”
Now Ranma was sure something was up. There was no way that Ukyou would be in such a rush to get out of here if she was just early for a meeting. This was beginning to remind him a lot of last night, when Ukyou had sent him away while she got to have all the real action. Ranma looked back over his shoulders and tried to look at everything anew, with fresher eyes than he had used earlier. Ukyou had seen something that made her want to leave, but what?
Then Ranma noticed the man staring at them. He was standing just outside the booth now, apparently drawn out by the girl’s fainting spell. He was tall, slender and blond, even if his build was mostly concealed by the enveloping garments he wore for his service at the shrine. He was staring at them with a dangerous frown on his pretty-boy face. Then for a moment Ranma’s eyes met his, and Ranma felt something, a lot like what he had felt with the shrine girl but much stronger, flash between them.
“Wait up, Ukyou.” Ranma pulled his arm from her grip with relative ease. Ukyou took several more steps down the stairway before noticing this. Ranma was already walking back towards the gateway by that time. “Hey, buddy, you want me for some reason?”
“Oh, was I staring?” the man said softly as Ranma approached. He didn’t seem intimidated, but he wasn’t hostile either. There was still something about him. Now that Ranma was closer, he could taste some nasty quality to the air. It was the same kind of feeling he got just before he was about to be ambushed or attacked, like a build-up of negative chi. “I’m sorry, I just couldn’t help but notice how… energetic you seem to be.”
“Right.” Ranma settled himself just within the man’s comfort zone and crossed his arms across his chest. “Don’t try and fool me pal, you haven’t taken your eyes off us since we got here.”
“Ranma!” Ukyou hissed as she stepped up beside him and grabbed his shoulder. “We should leave. This doesn’t concern us.”
“What doesn’t concern us?” Ranma asked, awfully curious. Ukyou opened her mouth to respond but then suddenly closed it again. She looked out of the corner of her eyes at Blondie and seemed to shake her head subtly.
“It’s not important,” Ukyou pointed out in a clear and calm voice. “Besides, you’re holding up this fine young man. I’m certain that R- er, the shrine maiden could use your help treating the girl who fainted.” The last part was addressed to Blondie, who seemed slightly amused by the response.
He bowed slightly to Ukyou. “You’re right, of course,” Blondie said in an overwhelmingly polite tone. “I should attend to my duty to the shrine before satisfying my own curiosity.” Ranma narrowed his eyes at the man. He was hiding something. The air around them had only grown more dangerous, not less. From the looks of Ukyou’s face, she could feel it too.
“But since I seem to have offended, why don’t I make it up to you?” The man held out his hand to Ranma, offering two tiny trinkets. “They aren’t much, just little love charms, but I offer them as an apology for my rude behaviour.” Ranma plucked one of them and let it settle into his palm. What use did he have for love charms? With his luck they might make those crazy Tendo chicks even more attracted to his girl side.
Ukyou slapped Ranma’s hand, displacing the charm and causing it to tumble to the ground. Ranma and Blondie stared at her, eyes wide, as Ukyou took a deep, calming breath. That had been close to real panic in her voice a second ago.
“I mean, we don’t really believe in those kinds of things, so no thank you,” Ukyou offered slightly lamely but in a much calmer voice. Ranma noticed Ukyou subtly, but deliberately, grind the charm under her heel as she moved in closer to Ranma. “Let’s get out of here, Ranma,” she said in a very serious, no-arguments-wanted tone. Ranma considered being stubborn, but decided that he’d get the full story out of her once they were away from the strange man.
“Let’s go then.”
Ukyou turned without so much as a nod to Blondie, and Ranma didn’t feel much like saying goodbye either. The blonde pretty-boy waved at them anyway, calling out that he hoped to see them both again soon. Ranma relaxed a little as he felt himself stepping out of the man’s aura. It was like walking out of a room filled with noxious fumes into a bright spring day. Ukyou was halfway down the stairs, taking them in short hopping steps that ate up three at a time, before she spoke again.
“Ranma, I want you to be on alert,” she said without turning her head to see him. “I don’t think that we’re in immediate danger. But I think we just acquired the wrong kind of attention.”
“Wrong kind?” Ranma grumbled. He was beginning to wonder if there was a right kind. Every time his father had managed to ‘get attention’ they had been chased out of town by a band of people wielding improvised weapons. Now that they had settled down he was receiving all kinds of the wrong attention from Akane, her sisters, their fathers and all the kids at school. “You owe me an explanation for all this,” he pointed out as they came to the bottom of the stairs.
“Indeed,” Ukyou murmured as she looked around. A bus stop was nearby, and she led Ranma over to it with fast determined paces. “But later, once we’re back in Nerima ward.”
“We could just run the rooftops,” Ranma pointed out as they settled in with the crowd of school girls to wait for the bus. He glanced at the schedule posted on the stop and frowned. “The bus doesn’t come by for another half hour.”
“No, we’ve done enough to draw attention to ourselves,” Ukyou said as she rolled her eyes. “Let’s just try to act normal, for once.” She was looking across the street and frowning. Ranma followed her line of sight. A newsvan was parked there, with a snappily–dressed woman standing in front of it talking to a man behind a camera. Guess this was a pretty popular sale, to get the TV people interested in it.
“Look, see, the bus is here already,” Ukyou pointed out a second later. Ranma looked over her head and saw that she was right, the bus was here. Huh. Well, guess it must be running more often because of the festival. He looked around at all the girls crowded alongside them waiting for the bus. They certainly looked like they’d been waiting long enough for it to come. Half of them looked dead on their feet, and the other half just looked plain dead. He shivered.
The bus that pulled up was perfectly normal, but Ranma felt that same negative feeling creeping through the air as he approached the doors. It wasn’t hard for him and Ukyou to get to the front of the line, nobody put up much of a fight for it. Ukyou was busy looking back at the shrine as she got in and handed the fare to the driver. The woman looked up from under the bill of her cap at them and sneered unpleasantly.
“Take your seat, please,” she said, still sneering. Ranma gave her a wide berth as Ukyou led them down the aisle. Behind them, the girls from the shrine began to pour into the conveyance.
“There’s something I’m not remembering,” Ukyou murmured mostly to herself as she sat down. Ranma shrugged and sat down next to her.
“Don’t ask me,” Ranma grumbled a bit. “I have no idea what is going on.” He yawned. Man, all this sitting around doing nothing was making him tired. No wonder all the girls on the bus seemed to be out of it, if this was what lack of proper exercise did to you. In fact, most of the girls were catching quick cat- er, a little shuteye. Not really a bad idea, now that he thought about it. He was certainly tired.
Ukyou yawned next to him, then her eyes snapped open. “Oh shit!” she gasped and tried to stand up in the seat without much success, her spatula getting in the way. “Ranma, don’t fall asleep!”
“Huh?” Ranma blinked his eyes open. He had been halfway to dreamland, but now came suddenly awake at the insistence in her voice. He still felt tired, however; fatigue was weighing down his limbs. “What’s going on?”
“I just remembered the plot!” Ukyou grabbed his collar. “We can’t be in this bus…” her voice was beginning to acquire a serious drawl as she slumped visibly.
“Sit down!” the driver called from up front. “No one can stand while the bus is in motion!” For some reason the driver found this extremely funny. Her laughter was mocking and malicious. Ranma didn’t like her tone, and didn’t like even more being ordered around.
“Stop the bus!” he barked as he propelled himself to his feet. Still, he was swaying as he tried to stand, and his arms felt like lead weights as he lifted them up to a basic boxing position. “Don’t make me tell you again!”
“Pitiful human,” the woman said as she turned her head to stare at him; a deep red glow flashed from her eyes. “You can’t fight our power. Even without the charms, this bus has been enchanted to relieve you of all your energy!”
“Take my energy?” Ranma mumbled. He hadn’t felt this weak in years. It was like the strength, the very chi, was fleeing his body. “No! Ukyou, c’mon let’s…” he couldn’t finish the words, his mouth felt numb and his tongue too big. The air around him swirled with a grey fog – some of it was seeping out of his skin! He wouldn’t go down without a fight…
Not without a fig-
Ukyou watched as Ranma toppled like a marionette with its strings cut. There went her big hope for not being drawn into this. She was slumped against the seat in front of her as well, barely able to find the energy to keep her eyes open. To her credit, she had only yelled at Aaron a few million times in their mental manner. It had taken her less than a second to do it, thanks to that whole speed of thought thing.
Aaron tried to level them back into a sitting position, trying to gain enough time to think by wasting as little precious energy as possible. Whatever this magic was, it drained their chi as quickly as Ukyou could produce it. By all rights, they should have already collapsed. Aaron really doubted that Ukyou had more chi at her disposal than Ranma did. Really, there was no real point in fighting this. Sooner or later Usagi would get her act together and save them from the evil Youma-of-the-week. Then they could go on with their lives as if none of this had ever happened.
Except Ukyou didn’t think it would be so simple. She had seen the look in Jadeite’s eyes. He had taken a personal interest in Ukyou and Ranma. With their exceptional strength, they might make perfect living batteries for the Dark Kingdom. Maybe waiting for Usagi to save them would be too late…
Aaron closed his eyes and considered that as Ukyou continued to let worry gnaw at them. Like it or not, she was right. They couldn’t take that risk; they had to find some way of getting out of this without the help of Sailor Moon. Besides, in the long run, Sailor Moon would still come to the rescue, right?
The only question was how: they were still losing energy… or were they? Ukyou opened her eyes and noted that the grey fog that had been drifting from their body had stopped. The entire cabin was now full of the residual energy. The bus itself was beginning to arch into the air, judging by the sudden shift in her centre of gravity. A huge vortex of black light was forming in front of the travelling bus. If they went into that vortex, there would be no escape.
We have to move, now! Ukyou was desperate, searching for some spark of chi or strength within her, but she was drained. How was she even awake still? With an external growl she mentally browbeat Aaron into helping her search for some inner well of untapped power, and both were surprised when he immediately discovered it at his fingertips.
Of course! Aaron’s chi had not been drained along with Ukyou’s. Up until this point, even when Aaron was in charge, they had been using Ukyou’s skills to tap into her reserves of fighting spirit. They had never even considered that there might be another pool of power available. Still, the energy was strange to Ukyou’s senses. Not quite like the chi she was used to subconsciously channelling through her body.
Figuring out how to use it to fuel their motions was trial and error. The first few times they tried to rise, they collapsed back onto the seat again with a wuff. The thing driving the bus didn’t seem to notice or care. Then Aaron stumbled on how to get the energy to flow correctly. It was all about the proper focus. Moving jerkily, they staggered out of the seat and stood in the aisle. The fatigue they had felt up until now was beginning to vanish, and with each moment they were gaining better and better control.
They didn’t have any time to practice more: from the relative speed of this bus, they would be in that vortex in only a few more seconds.
“Stop this bus!” Ukyou cried out with far more confidence than she was feeling. She was already reaching for a few throwing spatulas on her bandolier while Aaron used her free hand to search through her hidden pockets.
“You’re still awake?” the thing in human guise said with obvious surprise. It stepped away from the wheel and smiled at them, a cruel and vicious smile that nearly split her angular face in two. “Well, that makes this more fun than I had thought it would be.”
“Here, catch!” Ukyou roared as she flung her projectiles quickly. The spatulas whizzed through the air almost too fast for her to follow, but evidently not too fast for the youma. It reached up and plucked the cluster of weapons from the air with both hands.
“Heh, you asked me to,” the thing pointed out as it laughed.
“Of course I did,” Aaron said coolly. “Otherwise you wouldn’t have grabbed onto the explosive.”
“Explosive?” The youma looked down into her hands and blinked. The blast erupted across the front of the bus, throwing a cloud of dust between the two of them. Ukyou braced herself as the cabin funnelled the shockwave into her. She lowered the hand she had used as a shield to see the smoke clearing and the entire front of the bus in tatters. The windshield, side door and windows down for three seats had been blown out in the explosion. There was no sign of the youma, but Aaron knew better than to believe that was the end. They grinned, a little goofily. But nothing could survive that much dust, right?
Aaron took over, propelling them forward in two quick steps. His chi seemed to be serving equally well as Ukyou’s here. They were just as fast as before as they reached the steering column in under a second. Already the front of the bus was beginning to be swallowed by the dark energy portal. Not sure if it would do any good, but having no better options, he grabbed the wheel and began to spin it as hard as he could.
The bus lurched, and Ukyou had to brace them to keep from falling. For a moment, Aaron felt them being pulled into that void, like having a giant vacuum cleaner pressed against their side. Then the sensation was gone and he breathed a sigh of relief. Until he realised they were falling, from almost twenty meters up.
They both stood there, unable to respond until the impact. The force of the crash threw them from their feet and shattered any windows that had survived his explosive attack earlier. Metal shrieked and twisted into new and dangerous shapes around them, and many of the girls in the seats were flung bodily into the aisles. Still, nobody appeared to have died, although many of them might have to worry about broken bones later.
“You little bitch!”
Ukyou snapped her head up as metal remnants of the bus door were ripped away with a shrill squeal of protest. The youma had returned, but had shed its human shape. It was tall and ugly, a grotesque parody of a female figure. Stringy red hair framed a triangular face adorned with a mouth full of nice pointy teeth. Her skin was some sort of putrid green shade and was pulled taut over an excessively thin body. Either a coarse black coat of fur or some sort of garment preserved her modesty, thankfully for their sanity.
“I’ll rip your head off!”
“I think we got it mad,” Ukyou pointed out aloud. The creature hissed and leaped at them. This surprised Aaron, who had expected a typical youma ranged attack of some kind. Still, they weren’t about to look a gift horse in the mouth.
Ukyou rolled backward, projecting her legs up. She caught the thing in the stomach with both feet. A woof of rancid breath erupted from the thing’s mouth, and its clawed hands stopped only centimeters from Ukyou’s face. But Ukyou was smiling as she continued her momentum and flipped the thing easily over her head and out the shattered window behind them. Aaron pointed out they needed room to fight properly, and Ukyou agreed.
Completing the backward roll, Ukyou landed in a crouch and paused not at all as she launched herself out of the bus. The crisp air outside the cabin felt refreshing on their face. Aaron turned them in mid-leap. They landed in a crouch, facing back towards the battered bus. Ukyou’s hand reached up and loosed the spatula from her back. With a loud crack of displaced air and dust she swung it out from her body in one hand. The other raised in front of her, gripping a half-dozen throwing spatulas Aaron had retrieved.
They didn’t have to wait for long. The youma leapt over the bus, easily clearing it. It came down at them claws-first. Aaron projected its landing spot, and Ukyou backed them away. She was already swinging her spatula back in a deceptively gentle arc by the time she was getting to her feet. The monster only had a chance to widen its eyes in wonder as Ukyou’s attack struck it like a badminton shuttle. It screamed in pain as its head cracked against the tempered metal spatula and then there was a shriek of twisting metal again as its body was launched hard into the side of the bus. More glass rained down on top of the thing’s body as it slumped down.
Where was Sailor Moon?
No time for that now.
Ukyou sprinted forward. Her grip shifted to two-hands, choking up on the spatula like a bat. The thing was just standing up when she struck again. This time it parried. Claws and metal clashed in a flare of sparks. It came back fast, launching a strike with its free hand. Aaron backpeddled, inching just out of range as Ukyou recovered her balance.
The thing recovered faster. With a roar it sprung up, pushing off the bus with one leg and swinging its other out in a kick so fast it cracked through the air like a rifle shot. Ukyou barely got her spatula in the way, absorbing the blow along the shaft between her hands. Even so, the strike was powerful enough to send them skidding back on the tips of their feet almost five meters, a contrail of dust forming in their wake.
This wasn’t like fighting Kunou. This thing was dangerous, and out to kill them. Aaron began to pull back, running through their options in the back of their mind while Ukyou automatically took control of the main physical part of the fight. The thing was crouched in front of them, its claws cutting little lines into the pavement. Already they could feel bruises forming along their arms. Did that thing really strike that hard?
“You can’t possibly be a normal human,” the youma grinned, a dangerous expression for a thing with so many sharp teeth. “My master will be most pleased with the energy you provide us with, boy.”
“Hah! I fear not your stock dialogue!” Aaron sneered as Ukyou shifted stances slightly.
“You dare mock me?” the thing roared as it galloped towards them, propelling itself with all four limbs like some wild beast. Aaron recommended a course of action, and Ukyou agreed. With a short hop they leaped into the air, twisting upside down and arcing over the thing’s head. It rose up to slash at them but Aaron had already seen that move. With a brutal poke Ukyou thrust her weapon downward and clipped the thing’s legs. Suddenly it had no more traction and fell face-first into the pavement, skidding along with enough force to dig a shallow trench in the street. Ukyou completed their flip easily, landing in a crouch with her spatula held to her side.
They charged. Two strides at full strength carried them to the beast. It flipped to its feet but was too late. “Do me a favor.” The thing rocked back as Ukyou drilled a right cross into its cheek. Ouch. Thing had skin like rock. “And this time…” Ukyou followed through quickly, her spatula coming up and catching the thing’s legs again, flipping it off its feet. It roared as it went airborne.
“Stay down.” Ukyou continued past it, drilling her extended arm downward in an elbow strike that caught it right where the solar plexus would have been on a human. From the scream, youma must have had a similar anatomy. The thing landed in the ground again.
Ukyou didn’t pause, running past it and coming quickly to the wall along the road. She took two steps up the wall and flipped backwards, landing on her feet facing the thing as it crawled out of the dent Ukyou had drilled it into.
“You aren’t being very nice,” she pointed out as she eased up her grip on her spatula and shifted positions again. Inwardly, Aaron was running through scenarios as quickly as possible. Really, fighting was a lot like chess. It was all about how many moves ahead you were.
“I’ll devour your brains!” the thing hissed as it rubbed its chin with one arm. It was standing, looking not-much-worse for wear.
“I thought we already pointed out your dialogue problems,” Ukyou drawled smugly. Now that they had settled down, she could feel her muscles screaming in protest. It was like she had been fighting all day, not for under a minute. This was definitely getting annoying.
“Halt right there!” a voice cried from the wall across the street.
“It’s about time,” Ukyou sighed. She looked up and saw Sailor Moon posing atop the wall. Aaron had always wondered if those poses would look as silly in person as they did animated. Apparently they did.
“You monster who seeks to abuse the trust of our city’s public transportation- hey! I’m not finished!”
Aaron immediatly noted the youma’s attention drifting to Sailor Moon and reacted. Dipping forward, Ukyou ran at the beast, one hand unleashing a dozen throwing spatulas at once. The thing screamed as the razor-sharp weapons lodged in its unprotected flank. Green blood began to seep from the shallow wounds.
“At least you bleed,” Ukyou grumbled as she dashed in low. The thing growled and swung at her, but as Aaron had foreseen, it favoured its undamaged arm. With deceptive ease, Ukyou reversed her spatula and brought the ring up, allowing the thing’s punch to piston through the hole. Spinning past it, she locked the spatula behind her back with both arms and skidded her feet in the dust to stop on the proverbial dime. The thing roared as it was pulled back and to the side by its captured arm. Then Aaron made them grin. This was the fun part. With a kick into the thing’s back and a quick lever of the spatula, the thing found itself being pulled in two directions at once. There was a resounding crack as the monster’s arm broke. “Don’t wait for me to get away, Sailor Moon,” Aaron called out over Ukyou’s shoulder. “Finish this thing off before it recovers!”
“Uh, right…” Sailor Moon leapt from the wall and landed somewhat inelegantly on the ground. Her school girl fetish costume looked even more ridiculous in real life, and Aaron suppressed a surprise case of the giggles.
“Can I just ask…”
“Now, Sailor Moon,” Ukyou sighed as she spun away from the beast and brought her spatula up in another whistling arc. This time she struck with the edge, ripping a deep gouge in the chest of the monster as it tried to regain its feet.
“Right!” The magical girl calmed down and reached up to her tiara. Ukyou could follow all her actions, but only because she was used to seeing people moving at slightly faster than human speed. It appeared stock footage attacks took a lot less time in the world than they did on screen. “Moon Tiara ACTION!” Sailor Moon screamed as she unleashed her finishing move. The already weakened monster could only howl as the golden discus of light impacted with its sternum. In a flash of magical energy, the thing screeched and disintegrated to dust. The swirling discus returned to Usagi’s waiting hand and reverted to its simple tiara form. “Hah! Moon dusted!”
“You actually say that!?” Ukyou blurted out before Aaron could stop her.
“What’s wrong with it?” Usagi frowned.
“Nothing, nothing just…” Aaron’s eyes widened as a sudden fact occurred to him. “Oh no, the portal!”
“What portal?” Usagi blinked.
“That portal!” Aaron grabbed her shoulder and spun her to face the black vortex in the sky. The rapidly shrinking black vortex. “Without the Youma to sustain it, the portal is collapsing.”
“Well good riddance,” Usagi said with a sigh.
“No, there are still people trapped on the other side!”
“Oh, well that’s bad. How do we help them out?”
“We?” Aaron blinked and looked at the girl for a long second. Oh man, he was going to regret this. He was going to regret this a great deal. But he had no choice. Not if he wanted to keep those people’s lives off his conscience. “Oh no, not we. You’re the one with the magic powers, you keep it open.”
“But I don’t know how!” Usagi whined. Ukyou resisted the impulse to cover her ears. That girl had a powerful set of lungs.
“Well, I’m very sorry about this,” Aaron leaned in forward and placed his hands on her shoulders. Sailor Moon’s eyes widened as she stared at her, and Ukyou realized with a bit of chagrin that Usagi didn’t know she was a girl. “But you’re going to have to figure out how the hard way.”
Usagi screamed as Ukyou hefted her and propelled her into impromptu flight, easily sending her up and through the portal. She sighed in relief. Usagi had figured a way out of the dark portal in the anime, she was sure to do so this time around as well. Almost definitely. Very possibly. Hopefully.
But the fact was, the crisis was averted. Now she could begin to address the muscle fatigue that was creeping through her body. She reached up and rubbed her hand across her mouth, coming away with something wet and slick. She looked down in puzzlement. Blood? The thing hadn’t tagged her in the face. In fact, it hadn’t laid a finger on her the whole fight. Why was she bleeding?
“So, you finally show your true colours. I knew it was only a matter of time.”
Aaron spun them around in a tight circle. Standing only a few meters away was a tall, green-haired beauty who looked much better in her fetish sailor suit than Usagi did. That long key-shaped polearm in her right hand helped with the image.
Aaron cursed as the word slipped from his mouth before he could stop it. The woman in front of them frowned and raised her staff to point it at them. It was then Aaron remembered he had just tossed Sailor Moon through a portal into the Dark Kingdom. Way to look heroic and noble.
“Wait, I can explain! This isn’t my fault!”
“Wait, I can explain! This isn’t my fault!”
Sailor Pluto frowned but didn’t answer, keeping her Time Key trained firmly on the girl in front of her. Pluto had arrived only a few seconds ago, drawn by the strange disturbance she had detected in the timeline. Sure enough, here had been Ukyou. Ukyou, throwing the reincarnated Princess into the clutches of the Dark Kingdom. Ukyou, again. That face was burned into her brain, a face she couldn’t forget. A face she saw every night in her nightmares. Already she could feel the same terrifying energy flowing through the young girl’s body as she backed up slightly in the face of the implacable Senshi’s weapon.
“Don’t make me use this,” Pluto warned coldly. “I have a feeling you know what it does.”
“Damn it, Pluto.” Ukyou lowered her arms and seemed to quickly compose herself. “You must have made some kind of mistake. If we can just talk this over like reasonable people…”
The tip of her staff wavered slightly. This wasn’t right, a voice in the back of her mind cried out. This girl didn’t look like a threat to all creation. She looked like a scared teenager, a girl in over her head. Wasn’t her mandate to protect the people of this world? Maybe there was an explanation.
Then she remembered the destruction. And the terrible energy she could even now feel inside the girl in front of her. Her grip on her weapon firmed up.
“I’m terribly sorry,” Pluto apologised, trying to put the remorse she felt into her voice. “Your death is necessary. You may not know it now, but it’s best you never find out why.”
“No…” Ukyou growled. “I don’t care.” Her hand tightened on her bizarre weapon. “I’m not letting you kill me.”
“You don’t have much hope of defeating me in your condition.”
“Right, well see if you can face my special attack!” Ukyou held up her hand suddenly. Pluto shifted her staff up to follow the motion; then she realised that Ukyou had thrown something at the ground with her other hand.
Suddenly the world went white. Pluto blinked, then cursed herself. “Dead Scream,” she whispered her attack name. The coruscating ball of purple light shot through the thick cloud, carving a path of visibility through the flour. Ukyou had already moved, and the attack did little more than blow an impressive hole in the wall of one of the nearby homes. Pluto stepped forward, searching blindly with her staff, but knew it was futile. By the time the flour settled down Ukyou was long gone, no doubt leaping across the rooftops again.
If only Pluto could track her movements! She could give chase on foot herself, hoping to catch up. But then she saw the closing vortex behind her and sighed. No, she had other business to take care of. Without Sailor Mercury here to hold open the portal, it would collapse, trapping the Princess in the Dark Kingdom alone and inexperienced. With a sigh, she turned and pointed her staff at the vortex, concentrating her energy into holding open the small tear in the dimensional fabric.
Behind her, a woman in a flour-covered skirt-suit turned to a man carrying a flour-covered camera.
“Tell me you got that all on tape.”
The man only nodded mutely.
Pluto growled and ignored them. Ukyou may have escaped this time, but she couldn’t do so forever. It went against everything she stood for. It was against all the laws as Time Guardian. It was against her basic human decency. But Sailor Pluto had seen the future. She knew what was coming.
If Ukyou Kuonji did not die, she would destroy the entire universe.
He emerged dripping from the canal in the evening, mentally going over the details of the murder he planned to commit. His mind flinched from the term, but he refused to consider it a “step in a plan”, or some other euphemism. If he let himself do that, it would become easier. He didn’t want it to become easier. He didn’t want to stop hating himself for it. The moment he did… he shivered, and not from the cold and damp he could barely feel.
He had a certain degree of increased respect for all those angsty fictional vampires and undead (fictional? did that even apply anymore?). Oooh, all that superhuman strength and cool powers and turning into bats and fangirls hanging off of you, woe is you! But you were DEAD. Dead, and you could feel it, couldn’t escape it, couldn’t ignore the feeling, the vast weariness in your unliving bones.
He smiled a little. All that, and he didn’t even get the turning-into-a-bat or clinging fangirls benefits. Terribly unfair, that’s what it was. He wondered, if he met a real vampire, if he could just take its body. It was dead already, right?
That reminded him of the task at hand, and his momentary good humour faded. He had a murder to plan. And this time it had to go right, because he might not get a third chance if he screwed up against this target. At the very least, with Akane undoubtedly on guard now, it would be much harder. And there weren’t many other suitable candidates he could locate just yet.
Suitable candidates… his mouth twisted. Suitable victims. The idea had occurred to him, the fevered rush of thought and planning and recalculation in the wake of realising where he was, back in the United States. He had, still in the body of the woman, hitchhiked to another city, a little further north in the state. He wanted to do some research, but getting some distance between himself and the problems Sheila had back “home” only made sense.
And once there, he had visited a library, and discovered to his chagrin that the Internet had not been invented yet… well, had been, but was not exactly at the level he was used to accessing for information. Still, there were other ways to research. He stayed all day in the library and discovered what he could, poring over newspaper microfiches, history textbooks, and nearly everything he could find about Japan. He had smirked when he had confirmed the existence of a Tendo Dojo. Sure, there might be one in the “real world” he wasn’t in… but in Nerima Ward? Doubtful. Which meant that there was more here than just Sailor Moon. Which meant, if he could reach Japan, he might be able to find people who could not only help him, but had experience with the walking dead.
And, he realised, that meant there were super martial artists in the world. People with bodies harder than steel, people who could shrug off tank shells, strike faster than sound, move from the street to rooftops in a single leap. A body like that… a body like that HAD to be more durable than a normal human body. Instead of having a few days, maybe he could have weeks, months, even years. Long enough for him to stop worrying about the rotting, and be able to seriously look for help. And, learning those abilities from such a person, to be able to go beyond the limits of normal people… that was a powerful allure. He couldn’t deny it. When younger, he’d been fascinated by superheroes, by fantasy novels; when older, by super martial arts-related anime and manga, and hell, he still read the occasional Americomic. He LOVED the idea of that kind of power, the personal power that created the situation that did not exist in the real world, the individual who was truly individual, an island unto themselves, unconstrained by the ocean of society. He knew that sort of thing would realistically lead to huge societal problems, but the possibilities of it still fascinated him.
And now the possibility of gaining that sort of strength was almost in his hands. Yes, it was a powerful allure. But it wasn’t the only reason. If he was right, and such a body was more durable than an ordinary one, it would not only make it easier for him to concentrate on finding help, but it would save the lives of other people. Every day that superhuman body wasn’t rotting was a day he wasn’t desperately searching for someone else to steal the life of. That was worth it. Right?
It was a justification, and he knew it, but it was a justification he could live with. But there was a cost. He had to get to Japan, and he had to find and kill a superhuman person. And he couldn’t get there with this body. He had next to no money. And while he didn’t get tired, swimming across the Pacific Ocean was just stupid. He wasn’t Ranma, and sharks wouldn’t exactly be repulsed by a dead body swimming around. Besides, what if he froze solid? It wasn’t like he was generating body heat to prevent it. It wasn’t winter, but still…
No, he had to get to Japan a more conventional way. Which would mean killing again. And as long as he was killing again, he might as well make it purposeful. No more waste.
He was still thinking when they kicked him out of the library, but by that point, he had the gist of his plan down. And he put it into action, knowing he had to act prior to this body starting to decay.
Thank goodness for stereotypes. A nearby bar indeed had several trucks out back with shotgun racks. He examined them all, carefully selected a target according to a few criteria. Mud-splattered wheels, check. A messy interior of the vehicle, check. And most of all, the shotgun had to be in pristine shape, better than the truck itself, check. Memorising the license plate, he went inside, made an audacious announcement. Who owned that truck outside, because that was a dang good-looking gun, and she was always looking for a man who had one hell of a gun, if you know what she meant, wink wink. It was corny, but these were drunk, single men at a bar. And in this body, he knew almost instinctively the right things to do, the right words to say, the right way to stand, to look attractive to a man. Which was unsurprising, useful, and repulsive all at the same time. But this body also knew how to divorce real feelings from outward emotions, and he clung to that: smiling and chatting and further arousing the surprised man’s interest, even as inside he was recoiling both from what he was doing and what he planned to do. It had to be done. That’s what he told himself. It had to be done.
What made your life worth more than his?
He couldn’t answer that question, of course. But he couldn’t stand the rotting. He couldn’t. And he didn’t want to try to kill himself and die again, even if it was possible. Not until he found out what – who – had done this to him. And… he didn’t want to end it now, anyway. Not once he had found this. The land of promise. The land where he could be everything he’d ever wanted to be.
If only he could be alive again.
The man – his name was Roger – took them back in the dirty truck. As Chris had hoped, he lived in a refurbished farmhouse outside of town. He wasn’t exactly a militant nutcase, but he liked his privacy, and he had a shooting range, and he undoubtedly thought that “bearing arms” amendment to the US Constitution (what one was that? Second? Whatever.) was the most important. Which meant he was exactly what Chris had wanted.
Now all he had to do was kill him.
He was grateful for the unliving nature of his body, a bit. No cold sweat to worry about, and it was easy to keep his tone even. In his bedroom, he steeled himself as Roger drunkenly removed his shirt. It had to be now. If he saw the bruises around his… her neck, currently hidden by the shirt he’d chosen, he might be worried and on his guard. He wouldn’t be expecting an attack, of course, but… he needed an unguarded moment. This man was certainly a lot stronger than this body.
The unguarded moment came easily, more easily than he’d imagined. He was drunkenly pawing her body, hands slipping to places that had no feeling any more. He turned his head a bit with one hand, drawing his full attention. And then, with his other hand, he crushed the man’s throat. It was easy.
Roger didn’t even realise what had happened right away, but when Chris shoved him back, the alcoholic fog – he was a drunk driver? Chris hadn’t even thought about that – seemed to clear. His face turned ugly, and he made some indistinct gurgling noises. That was good. He couldn’t talk. His face was purple with rage, but maybe the lack of breathing had something to do with that, and sudden panic mingled with the anger in his eyes.
He lurched back, and Chris cursed himself suddenly. If he went for the phone… he’d have to do something. He couldn’t afford the police coming to check things out. He braced himself, he’d have to grapple with him and hope he could hold him off long enough for the lack of air to win the fight… and then almost sighed in relief as the dying man pulled a large-calibre revolver from the bed. From under the pillow? People really did that? No wonder he was desperate for a woman to sleep with him.
The absurd thoughts dancing across his mind were driven from him as there was a sharp crack, and he staggered backwards as if someone had hit him. Looking down, he gazed at the hole in his chest dispassionately. There was pain, of course, but he didn’t feel it strongly enough to care. A bit of fluid leaked from the bullet wound, dark and unpleasant, certainly not looking like blood.
He looked up and met the eyes of Roger. The panic in the man’s eyes had grown. Not surprising. Chris straightened, and was shot again, this time in the shoulder. He didn’t even bother looking at it. His mind was already working furiously: keep his attention, and he won’t even think about the phone. A third shot went wide; Roger’s aim wasn’t being helped by the lack of air. Or maybe his hands were shaking.
He walked toward the terrified man, slowly, deliberately, and had to suppress a laugh. He was sure acting like a real undead now, wasn’t he? He then regarded his own thoughts with a bit of astonishment. Was this normal? Thinking absurd thoughts, trying not to laugh while killing someone? Was that his mind’s coping mechanism?
He felt another impact, realised with slight startlement that he had bumped into the man, who had fallen backwards. Another bullet struck him, this time in the stomach. He looked at the man; his face was beaded with sweat, and was definitely an unhealthy colour. His whole body laboured to breathe: he could see the strain, the frantic contractions of his chest, but no noise escaped.
He smiled, a bit sadly, at the man. “I’m sorry,” he said. Didn’t reassure him much. The gun had fallen from his fingers. He looked around, and now his eyes locked on the phone. Chris moved swiftly, pinning down his wrists with his own hands. Or rather, Sheila’s hands. They were slender and Roger’s much stronger, but most of his strength appeared to be gone… he struggled weakly, but Chris had no trouble holding him. It wouldn’t be long now. His eyes were rolling in his head, his mouth working soundlessly, his colour…
Chris closed his eyes. He’d wanted to watch, force himself to confront what exactly he was doing. But he couldn’t. “I’m sorry,” he said again. If the man had had any sort of reaction, he did not see it. The struggles continued, faintly, then ceased, the man passing out perhaps, or just devoting all his remaining strength toward attempting to breathe. It seemed like a long time after that when he felt the familiar emptiness beckoning. Without looking at the face of the man he had just killed, Chris opened his eyes and sat on the bed, leaning his body against the headboard. Then he allowed himself to flee it, entering and filling the emptiness next to him.
He opened his eyes again as Roger. He realised a flaw in his plan. He couldn’t speak, obviously, with his throat crushed. He’d have to deal with that. Raising himself from the floor, he wiped some flecks of spittle from his lips as he looked towards the head of the bed. The blank eyes of Sheila stared back at him. At least they weren’t terror-filled this time. He felt the emptiness her body offered him, but ignored it. Indeed, he sighed in relief. In this new body, this fresh body, things felt… sturdier. It was more muscular, obviously, but… she must’ve been closer to rotting than he’d thought. He shuddered a little and set about his business.
He’d worked the rest of the night. First stashing the body in the cellar, where the chill would keep it from becoming too noticeable until he planned to be long gone. He realised, doing this, that he was going to be staining this man’s reputation forever. He put it out of his mind, for the moment. He’d KILLED him… kind of pointless to worry about how he’d made him look bad in the aftermath. What mattered was doing what he had to, quickly, efficiently, so as few people had to die as possible.
It took some unpleasant work, but he managed to eventually “fix” the throat to the point where he could speak in a low, raspy tone. Examining in the mirror, he decided the throat just looked odd, not like he was actually dead. At least to a casual glance. He hoped. Anyway, the raspy voice would help. He called into the man’s work, his fingers automatically pushing the phone number as if he’d known it all his life. He was sick. Might not be in for a few days.
And then he practiced. He knew this sort of trick wouldn’t be able to kill a superhuman martial artist, even a weaker one. He needed a gun, and he needed to be able to use one accurately, to kill or at least mortally wound on the first shot. So he learned how to do that. Or rather, he REMEMBERED how to do that, going through motions that felt practiced and engraving them on his mind. He knew he’d remember it later if he practiced, even in another body. He still remembered, after all, how to seduce a drunken man.
A day later, he thought he was as good a marksman as he could reasonably be, which was in fact pretty good. So he washed, changed, took the truck – hmm, he could learn to drive too, useful – and got all the money from Roger’s account…and the wad stashed under his mattress. He had also, almost as an afterthought, packed a small bag and taken a jacket, which would make him not stand out. And he had a gun, of course. A pistol, silenced… no, suppressed, his stolen memories told him. He drove west, soaking up the knowledge of how to do it like he had never bothered in real life. But of course, this was much easier than learning it the typical way. He stopped only for gas along the way, idly hoping the truck wouldn’t break down, though he had enough cash to rent another vehicle if he had to.
Eventually, he reached Los Angeles. He had never seen it, and neither had Roger, but he didn’t have time to take it in. He felt the heat, faintly, a lingering warning that he had to move as fast as possible. Did Roger’s body feel a little soft already? Or was he getting paranoid? In the airport, he bought a ticket, it didn’t matter where, but he picked Vancouver anyways. He wondered if he would ever see Canada again. But he didn’t have time for that. He had to carry out his second – no, third – murder.
There were several Japan-bound flights. A whole JAL booth, in fact. Not surprising. He was nonplussed, however, by how many PEOPLE were at the airport. That wasn’t good. He needed to be alone with someone. He swallowed nervousness, the feeling of being watched by everybody, especially the security guards. He’d be fine. It wasn’t as if anybody could possibly predict his actions. He was just a normal-looking American traveller. A tall, well-muscled man, just finished checking in his bags near the JAL booth, drifted towards a nearby bathroom, and he followed a moment afterwards. This was it.
There was another man in there as well, using the urinal. He suppressed a curse. There was a lot of people there, it wasn’t surprising. But he couldn’t keep going into and out of the bathroom, now could he? He went into a stall to wait, two away from his target. Nervousness overcame him. Was the man even going to Tokyo? What if he left first? What if someone came in as he was… he swallowed those thoughts. They’d just make him hesitant. There, the man from the urinal was washing his hands. He had left. It was time.
He realised he couldn’t open the bathroom stall door from the outside. Of course he couldn’t! All that planning, and he’d forgotten THAT? Stupid! He considered his options. He could boost himself up from the stall next to it…no, too risky, too easy to miss or even just hit him in the shoulder. If he made a commotion, it was all over. Better for him to miss this chance than to blow all future ones.
He waited impatiently, near the sink, listening almost desperately for the sounds within the stall. Someone walked by the door outside, but didn’t enter. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, the toilet flushed, there was the rustle of fabric. He walked forward swiftly, his hand reaching inside his jacket for the concealed pistol.
The man never had a chance. He was looking down, adjusting his grip on his bag, as he exited. He looked up, and his eyes had enough time to widen before the first bullet slammed into him, the suppressed barrel emitting only a small ‘phut’ sound. Then the second, and the third. All in the chest, slightly to the left of center. Not hard, at close range with some practice beforehand.
It seemed to have worked. The man slumped, bag falling from his fingers. Chris caught him and shoved him backwards to sprawl on the toilet, grabbing his bag and entering the stall himself, shutting the door behind them. Nobody had entered.
He couldn’t feel the emptiness. He almost panicked, reaching for the gun again, then stopped, forcing himself to think reasonably. It took some time for someone to die like this. He hadn’t shot him in the head. Give the brain time.
It took a few minutes, probably, but seemed like hours as he nervously paid attention to both the door and the other man. But finally, he felt it and nearly leaped into the new body, then immediately rose again, fighting the disorientation and steadying the old one. The gun fell from Roger’s nerveless fingers, clattering, but luckily stayed within the stall. Still, nobody had entered.
A few minutes later, he emerged, sliding under the stall and exiting through the one next so he could leave the door closed. Roger’s body was in there, with the gun. Some blood had been splashed around, but nothing visible from the outside. It’d be awhile before what had happened was discovered. He hoped. As long as the plane had already taken off, that should be good enough.
He had been lucky. This man – Greg – had been here alone, as he hoped. So nobody would notice that he was in fact wearing a somewhat loose new, dark shirt (which he had luckily thought to pack), the old one tied underneath soaking up the still-oozing blood from the wounds. And he was actually going to Tokyo, which was even better. Chris had been lucky… for a certain meaning of the word, he supposed.
He had shaken his head. There wasn’t any point in berating himself. Yes, what he had done was horrible. And it was more horrible how EASY it had been to kill this last one. Maybe it was because he’d had a gun… maybe. He hoped that was it. But regardless, what was done was done. He’d have time to hate himself later. He needed to prepare himself, learn what he could, get ready to do what he had to. Once he had the body of Akane, a body that wouldn’t be rotting to pieces underneath him, then he could relax. Then he’d have some time. He hoped.
And in the present, he stopped walking, cursed a little bit as he realised he’d passed his goal, and began to backtrack. He had to stop doing that. He had to stay focused. He was so close. He couldn’t screw up again. He HAD to do this. Especially now. Whatever that Ukyou-lookalike was, he needed to be able to fight it on equal terms to get some answers.
He hadn’t been able to kill Akane. That frustrated him, but made him obscurely happy at the same time. He liked Akane. She was a genuinely good person. Of course, that only meant his knowledge of her, or of what he had read of her, had stopped him where it hadn’t for the faceless, unknown people he had killed up until now. But still… he couldn’t do it. That meant he hadn’t totally lost himself yet? Right?
He shook his head. He’d killed four people. Three of them in cold blood. And now he was trying for his fifth. But he couldn’t help it. Couldn’t stop it. Or could he? Maybe he should have gone to Canada after all. Maybe he should have turned himself in. Roger, Greg, and Officer Takashita would still be alive, then. Had he chosen right in coming here instead?
Of course he had. He steeled himself. This was unnatural. And Japan was where all – or most – of the unnatural things happened. It was here he could find answers. Here he could find solutions.
And the proof of that he had already seen. That Ukyou-thing. She KNEW about him. She had to be mixed up in what had happened to him. Maybe she was a servant of whatever had done this to him. Maybe she WAS what had done this to him. He didn’t know, but she obviously knew something. And he had to know that something. It had to be able to save him. Had to.
And all he had to do was murder one more person.
It was dark out when Ranma struggled awake. He groaned and sat up, placing a hand against his forehead. Something had hit him real hard while he was unconscious. Weirdly, though, he felt totally refreshed, like he had just slept for ten hours straight. Wait, what had happened? Where was he?
He was on a rooftop, somewhere in the city. The roof was just like a thousand others, with a small laundry line running from a nearby doorway to an antenna set up near the raised lip of the building. He sat up, looking around for landmarks, and almost immediately spotted Ukyou.
She was sitting against the squat hut that housed the door into the stairwell. Her legs spread before her and her spatula was lying a few centimeters from her outstretched hand. Her hair had fallen down over her face as her head nodded forward. She was still except for the occasional bob of her head.
“Ranma…” Ukyou’s voice came out coarse. She raised her head slightly and weakly lifted her hand to try and push the hair from her face, but then gave up after a second. “Oh screw it. I know you’re alright. With the youma dead, your energy should have returned to you.”
“Youma?” Ranma sprung to his feet. Something worried him about how tired Ukyou seemed. “What happened back at the bus? What was that crazy chick?”
“I think I shouldn’t have spent so much energy getting you out of the bus when Pluto showed up,” Ukyou coughed. Ranma blinked as a red spot appeared on Ukyou’s pants. Now that he was getting closer, he could see a number of such red stains spread out across her clothes and the roof around her. “I think that pushed me over the edge.”
“Ucchan!” Ranma raced forward, getting to her side in an instant. He pushed back her hair and took a long look at her face. She was grimacing in pain, lines of blood trickling from the corners of her lips. Similarly red stains were emerging from her nose and her ears. Disturbing red tears were falling down her cheeks from the corners of her eyes. “Holy… what happened to you!?”
“I wish I knew…” Ukyou coughed and a bit more blood emerged. “This doesn’t make any sense… all I did was tap into my reserves…” Ukyou sighed out the last few words as her eyes closed and she went still. For a moment Ranma panicked, then he saw her chest rising and falling and released a sigh.
“Ucchan?” Ranma frowned down at her. She didn’t look good. Understatement. “Crap, I wish I knew what happened…” Ranma was scanning her body for some sign of injury, but aside from the obvious there was, well, nothing obvious. He couldn’t do anything for her here. He looked up, and with a nod picked her up in his arms. If Ranma couldn’t help her, he would just have to find someone who could.
“Jadeite, before me!”
Jadeite materialiaed in Queen Beryl’s throne room. The chamber was truly massive: shadows obscured the walls in all directions, and a small army of featureless youma stood behind him, mindlessly chanting litanies of worship to Empress Metallia’s name. He appeared on bent knee, head bowed, and thus couldn’t see her expression at first. He could imagine it, however. In his mind’s eye, he could see her pale skin pulled back in a vicious snarl of annoyance so that her fangs were exposed. Her long red hair would be waving in the air behind her, and her hands gesturing impatiently over her glowing crystal orb.
“Well Jadeite, it appears you failed again, and this time yet another of those Sailor Senshi has appeared to oppose us.”
“Yes, my queen, and this is even worse than it appears. The new Senshi is Pluto, the Guardian of the Time Gates,” Jadeite admitted ruefully. He was annoyed with himself for fleeing at the first sign of the green-haired Senshi. But he knew he was no match for her power in one on one combat. Apparently the annoyance leaked into his tone, since Queen Beryl laughed in her vaguely disturbing manner.
“So, the famous Sailor Pluto finally sets foot outside her precious Gates of Time,” Beryl hissed. “It is of no matter; she knew better than to meddle in our affairs when the Moon Kingdom fell. If she tries to stand in our way this time, Empress Metallia will crush her under heel like the rest of these pathetic humans.” There was a pregnant pause that Jadeite knew better than to interrupt. “But that still does not excuse your failure.”
“Actually, my Queen, I think my failure today has given me insight into how to further our plans even faster than before,” Jadeite called out as he raised his head to look at her. Beryl looked intrigued, but from the way she was snapping her hands over her crystal ball, he knew her patience was thin.
“Very well, Jadeite. Explain your plan to me, but this had better be good,” the Queen ordered haughtily.
“It wasn’t Sailor Pluto who was responsible for my loss,” Jadeite explained quickly. “There were humans there, humans with a great deal of energy. Two of them alone had more energy in their bodies then four dozen of the ones I had been targeting up until then. One was even so strong that after I drained him of most of his power, he still destroyed my servant Kigaan in hand to hand combat.”
“What? This can not be! No mere human could have such strength,” the Queen cried in annoyance. A murmur of assent emerged from the horde of nameless monsters behind Jadeite.
“I know it’s hard to believe, my queen,” Jadeite agreed. “But I saw it with my own eyes. If I manage to drain the life force from even a few of these humans, we will have a surplus of energy to revive the Empress.” Jadeite smiled. He knew exactly which humans he would start with, as well. Nobody said he couldn’t combine work with pleasure. And revenge was the best pleasure of all.
“Very well,” Queen Beryl sat back in her throne and frowned down at him. “I will allow you to carry out this new plan. You had best hope it pays off well, Jadeite.”
Jadeite nodded and stood up so he could bow properly. “You have no need to worry, my queen. I will enjoy this duty.” As he raised himself up, he teleported away. Already thoughts of how best to capitalise on his new insight into humanity were running through his brain.
Kodachi Kunou strode briskly through the hallways of her home. In times when other, lesser, people could see her she deigned to affect a more sedate and ladylike stride, but rarely bothered with such empty frivolities when she was alone. Her time was precious and best not wasted on meandering from location to location. The sky outside had darkened and what few servants that her family kept had already retired for the night, so Kodachi was unconcerned with any of them seeing her. Not that they would have spoken of her nocturnal habits if they did see. She laughed softly into her hand in gleeful remembrance of the vengeance she had exacted on the last fool who had spoken out of turn about her.
Kodachi made it to her room with little incident. Her errand tonight had been rather simple; only a few drops of a new and exotic narcotic dripped into her brother’s ear as he lay sleeping. She looked forward to seeing the results the next day. Maybe for once he would shut up about that Tendo girl and that Kuonji boy. It would certainly make breakfast interesting, a thing it had failed to be in far too long a time.
The room she entered was both elegantly lavish and disappointingly incomplete. Kodachi had spared no expense in decoration. She had an extravagant four-poster bed, surrounded by diaphanous curtains. Her vanity was carved of the finest teak by expert artisans commissioned especially for the project (and Kodachi had thoughtfully broken their fingers to ensure its uniqueness once it was completed). Wall hangings adorned the walls in just the perfect places, all depicting western-themed betrayals and romances. It was the perfect boudoir for the perfect romantic tryst. It was truly unfortunate that Kodachi lacked a suitable paramour to engage in it with.
She sighed elaborately and made her way to her bed. Sixteen years old, and still untried in the courts of love. What hell it was to be doomed to stay within the confines of a virtual nunnery! How was she expected to attract her Prince Charming if she could only practice her arts of deception on the members of the fairer sex? It was a tragedy of epic proportions.
She was halfway undressed when the noise attracted her attention. She frowned. That was no normal nighttime sound. It was sharp and loud, resounding with a dreadful echo. She stepped towards her doorway, dropping her outer layer of clothing so she could move unhindered in her leotard. This was a curiosity. She checked her person for her hidden weapons and stepped out into the hallway again.
The sound had come from the back yard and Kodachi made great haste in that direction. She resisted the urge to laugh to herself as she moved. It was only a short minute after she had first heard it that she emerged into the back yard. The garden was quiet, except for the lapping of waves in Midorigame’s pool. The noise might have awakened her pet crocodile, so Kodachi made her way in that direction first. The only light was the gibbous moon overhead, and thus the entire area was cloaked in shadows.
Kodachi alighted on the short stone bridge over her pet’s home. She could see her crocodile floating in the water beneath her, a darker shade amid the shadows. She called softly to it, but it made no move. She frowned again. Kodachi was not pleased with her beast’s lack of response. She had raised that monster from a hatchling to obey and revere her. With a soft sigh she unfurled her gymnastics ribbon and snatched the reptile with it. A sharp tug, and the beast floated in her direction.
Something was wrong. Even if the creature was asleep, it should have reacted to that, but it remained as stiff as a log. Now that it was closer, she could see a spray of fluid across her animal’s head. It was surrounding a small hole…
Kodachi had just leaned in closer to investigate when the figure burst from the water at her. She only had a moment to note that it was clad in blue and definitely male before he was upon her. She let out a short cry and lashed out, snapping her ribbon in a defensive arc. The slash caught the man across the neck and sent him spiralling into the water. He landed atop the all-too-still body of her pet and lay motionless.
Kodachi paused to catch her breath. Well, that had been most vexing, but it appeared to be over now. She looked over the man in the pond. He was wearing a police uniform, complete with pistol. His back was to her, so she could do little to see his features. She couldn’t be sure if he was unconscious or dead, for he was far too still to be injured. It was as she examined him that she remembered the sound from earlier. A gunshot? Yes, now that she was able to look at her leisure, she saw one of the man’s legs had been ravaged by Midorigame’s teeth.
A quick scenario sketched itself out in her mind. The man had snuck in, but not counted on her faithful pet. Then it had caught him by surprise. With his leg being chewed on, he had used his pistol to dispatch her crocodile. Then she had arrived and the man, still in the pond, had hidden beneath the surface planning to surprise her. She allowed her head to dip backward and laughed long and hard. The pitiful fool had not counted on encountering a maiden worthy of battle, instead of a girl barely able to defend herself.
As she finished her laughter she hopped down to the side of the pond. She allowed herself to smile, cruelly and arrogantly. The man had best hope she had finished what Midorigame had started, or she would not allow him to escape so easily from her vengeance. The fool had dared harm one of HER possessions… he deserved whatever he received in payment. So, she would have to check first, to see what had happened to him.
Moving gingerly, she stepped up to her waist into the pond. She had exchanged her ribbon for a baton, one of her specially prepared ones. She reached forward and jostled the man with her free hand, but he didn’t move. He wasn’t, she noted after a moment, even breathing, and his neck was twisted at an unnatural angle. Kodachi sighed. She wasn’t sure how to feel about that. She had never killed anyone before, but she didn’t feel any guilt or remorse over it, either. It was simply… unsatisfying. She looked more closely at the man, searching for the expression on his face. Perhaps it would show something? His body was sprawled across the mass of her dead pet, with one hand clasping firmly onto Midorigame’s collar…
That hand had not been on the collar when he had first landed. She was quite sure of that. She leaned in, and then the seemingly lifeless hand jerked suddenly, pulling on the collar. Her eyes widened, and she had a split second to remember the boobytrap she had implanted into the collar before
So that was what it felt like to be electrocuted. It wasn’t pleasant, as far as he could tell in the one-step-removed way he perceived such things. Not entirely unlike being shot, actually. A hard jolt. Heh, how appropriate.
Chris swung himself off the body of the crocodile, the smell of roasting meat – not just crocodile – rising faintly to his nostrils. Must’ve….yes, his “good” leg had been dangling in the water. Well, better than his whole being in the water, as he had planned. He’d have been pretty toasty, if so. Kodachi, it seemed, did not play around when it came to normal humans. As if the late, lamented Midorigame itself wasn’t deterrent enough.
There was no movement from the darkened house. Kodachi had screamed, briefly, as the massive electric shock from the collar had coursed through her. But it wasn’t that loud… he hoped. No lights turning on, though, no answering shouts… it looked like he was safe. Kunou must be a sound sleeper. Or maybe he just ignored his sister. Speaking of…
Kodachi was floating, face up, in the waters of the pond. Her baton had floated away, out of her reach. She was twitching a bit. Still alive, but definitely unconscious. He expected nothing less from a trap strong enough to knock out Ranma at full charge. Thank goodness for his encyclopediac knowledge of the manga. It would come in handy. In fact, he really ought to make a journal and stash it somewhere, writing down every detail he could remember, so he could reference it. That way, hopefully, he wouldn’t forget anything important, though the faux-Ukyou’s presence had already ensured things were going to alter significantly as time went on. Not to mention what he was about to do.
What he was about to do. Steeling himself, he moved away from the body of the crocodile and towards Kodachi. He stumbled a bit… Midorigame had really mangled Officer Takashita’s leg. But the leg was necessary bait to get the head of the crocodile at close range. Japanese police officer sidearms were insultingly poor, so that was the only sure way to do the job, albeit a somewhat risky one. He hadn’t really wanted to chance being devoured.
But Kodachi’s superhuman body would significantly reduce the chances of that, wouldn’t it? And here she was, unconscious and helpless, floating in a pond. Exactly as he’d planned.
So why was he hesitating?
Because he KNEW Kodachi. Just like Akane. And no matter how little sense it made, it was a lot harder to kill someone you knew – or felt like you knew – than some faceless victim who was in the wrong place at the wrong time. And there was no stress, no pressure of time… there was nothing stopping him from just leaving, leaving her here, letting her live.
Except he couldn’t. His gun was empty and abandoned in the dark water. His body was mauled. He couldn’t even hope to pass for a living person by this point. If he didn’t kill her, he’d not get another chance… he’d have to settle for a normal body. And that meant he wouldn’t be able to confront the faux-Ukyou. And he had to do that. He had to get the answers.
So Kodachi had to die. He stood over her, and with a motion that surprised him with its suddenness, he grabbed her by the shoulders and pushed her under the water. She might wake up. If she did, he was probably doomed. Maybe not. Who knew how Kodachi might react to an undead? Maybe she’d take a fancy to him, want him as a servant. That’d be better than being ripped to pieces by her. It wasn’t if he’d be too put out if she whipped or stabbed him or whatever she did to servants. And she’d probably be happy to provide opportunities for fresh bodies. Or would she? Kodachi wasn’t the most fully-fleshed-out of the Ranma characters. He knew she was insane; insane enough that Ranma and his friends usually reacted with fear to her appearances. But was she actually a potential killer? Hard to say, Takahashi wouldn’t cover ground like that…
The matter, he realised by the void he felt yawning beneath him, had been rendered moot. Already? How long had he been thinking, his brain – his? no, not his, but his thoughts nonetheless – compensating, dwelling on anything other than what he was doing? He felt slightly ashamed. You’d think he’d be used to killing by about the half-dozenth victim, wouldn’t you?
Looking down, he saw her dimly in the water. She looked peaceful. Not that he could really make out the details of her expression. She felt peaceful. Her posture was. Or maybe that was wishful thinking. But the deed was done. He couldn’t turn back time and undo it. He could only go on. If he was right, this would be the last one. If he was right, he’d be able to save himself and others before this body wore out. If he was right.
But he’d have to move as soon as possible. There’d be a lot of training and memories to experience by the morning. Knowing this, he cast his doubts aside. There was work to do.
He sent his spirit out, falling towards his goal.
To Be Continued…
Epsilon: At this point, we’d like to thank our prereaders.
Blade: Yes, Jenn and Rob, thank you for prereading! We’d thank Talen too, but he never actually made it to chapter 3. Anyway, in sign of our gratitude, they get cameos in this chapter! Whee!
Epsilon: Please ignore the fact that the plotline more or less dictated that they make cameos no matter what.
Blade: Well, okay, then that means they made cameos and we didn’t KILL THEM. Happy?
Epsilon: Not particularly, but then again, I’m me.
Blade: Which was a major theme in this chapter! See, these things are relevant!
Epsilon: And maybe now people will stop asking “what’s going on”, since if it isn’t crystal clear what’s going on by now, we’ve utterly failed.
Blade: Not that that will stop us from forging on ahead, because goddamnit, we’re going to finish SOMETHING in our lifetimes.
Epsilon: Other than that, that’s pretty much it, I guess…there’s no new special moves for me to explain or translate, anyway.
Blade: Well, it’s been said by some acronym-for-name people that our banter here is too pretentiously self-absorbed. But that makes perfect sense for this chapter, where pretentious self-absorption was the theme!
Epsilon: That’s not exactly going to win over the readers, Blade.
Blade: Well, try this: after this chapter, you will never again get a chapter 50% composed of flashbacks to our semi-real lives.
Epsilon: This would be a good place to make fun of Evangelion.
Blade: Yes. It would, wouldn’t it?
Epsilon: Because if there’s one popular series that’s all about pretentious self-absorption…
Blade: It’s Saint Seiya!
Epsilon: No, no, I’m talking about the one that all the fanboys insist is deep and meaningful, when really it’s just…
Blade: Earth Girl Arjuna!
Epsilon: No, no, the one with all that absurd “symbolism” that…
Epsilon: Fine. Lain. Whatever.
Blade: But I like Lain!
Epsilon: And that just says a great deal about you, doesn’t it?
Blade: Uh… no, not really.
Epsilon: Quiet, you, I’m trying to sound wise.
Blade: Wow, this time it really was pretentiously self-absorbed. Uh, we’ll try to do better next time! And never again will a chapter be focused so much on Chris and Aaron, without all the cool anime characters you actually care about being involved!
Epsilon: Unless it is.
Blade: But anyway, you’ll want to tune in to the next chapter for sure! Why? BIG FIGHT SCENE! What else?
Epsilon: No nudity.
Blade: Well, okay, just a big fight, then. And c’mon, anyone who reads us must have some appreciation for that, right? Not to mention angst!
Epsilon: Angst and fight scenes! They make fics good!
Blade: The only things that would make it better are explosions.
Epsilon: And Kero-chan.
Blade: And flashing clips of gore. But now we’re devolving into pretentious self-absorption (or at least in-jokes) again, so why don’t we just leave you with your SNEAK PREVIEW from the next chapter?
Nabiki had never regained consciousness after being knocked out before, and she noted with some annoyance that she didn’t like it much. Her head hurt, for one thing. Her mouth was also filled with some terrible aftertaste. It was probably the result of whatever drug she had been slipped. There really was no other explanation, unless everyone in her family had come down with a sudden case of fainting sickness.
She resisted the urge to swear as she opened her eyes. She was in some anonymous room, not really traditional Japanese style. There were no windows, and instead of a paper screen there was a solid-looking wooden door. She arched her aching head around, trying to get a good view of things. Where the hell was she? She tried to stand up, but found herself instead toppling over onto her side.
She blinked and looked down, noticing that her legs were tied with some sort of cloth around the ankles. A quick tug with her arms confirmed that those were tied behind her back at the wrist. A few seconds of futile struggle followed before Nabiki was forced to conclude that she was quite securely bound. She beat back her panic with a few choice curses, not bothering to try and cover them up now. As she did she twisted and bounced her body back into a sitting position.
Oh, whoever did this was going to pay. Nabiki didn’t know how yet, but she was sure of that.
Hybrid Theory Chapter 4: Lying From You