Subject: [FFML] [RANMA][SI] Hybrid Theory Chapter 19
From: "Aaron Peori" <rlepsilon@hotmail.com>
Date: 1/1/2006, 4:42 AM
To: ffml@anifics.com

I remember sending out chapter 18 to this list last month AND I'm pretty 
certain I got the standard "post recieved" message from the bot, but I tried 
looking and I couldn't find Chpater 18 anywhere in the archives. So if 
anybody could tell me if chpater 18 actually appeared on the list, I would 
be appreciated. Please send a message to my e-mail address directly 
(rlepsilon@hotmail.com) instead of to the list as a whole as I have the list 
set on vacation mode to prevent my mailbox from being clogged.

Anyway, as usual this chapter might come out poorly formated on the FFML, so 
if you want a clean copy you can go to our website (www.bladeandepsilon.com) 
or you can go to Ficwad.com which has an excellent system for storing 
fanfics with decent formating and everything.

---------------------------
Epsilon



-- Attached file included as plaintext by Ecartis --
-- File: hybridtheory19final.txt

Hello all you bitches! This is Yan (and Luke's) Hybrid Theory Paper Phallus
Recapping Special!

Of course, you'll just have to imagine that me and bro look like paper
phalluses... cause this stupid thing is in text only. Who reads fucking 
books
these days? You can't even see any tits! Except for that Yomiko chick. She 
reads
books and has great tits. Too bad she, and everyone else, is going to die 
soon!

Oh man, is the shit about to hit the fan this time! Rock on! First off, 
yours
truly, the inestimably cool Yan Valentine made his big reappearance last
chapter. I totally punked that stupid golden bitch V! I rock! Unlike that 
homely
chick Rip Van whatever. She couldn't kill V or Ukyou! Twice!

But we may get a rematch, which I am so going to totally win! First Ukyou 
runs
into a bunch of soldiers out in a swamp with number one virgin bitch Integra
Hellsing, then she finds out they've been inflitrated by a servant of some
stupid Dark Kingdom called Zoicite. And Ukyou, after learning all this... 
lets
Zoicite go!

AH HA HA!

Is she stupid or what? So, of course this guy immediately turns and sells 
out
the location of Ukyou to both the righteously evil armies of Millennium and
Bison. Oh, Bison is this guy I can kinda admire. Use my unstoppable psychic
powers to kidnap hot barely pubescent girls and turn them into my stripper
lesbian ninja hit squad? I would SO be there! Maybe there'd be a bit more
killing, but I could totally hang with Bison.

Anyway, I got kinda distracted, where was I? Oh yeah. Hot chicks. Turns out 
V is
having issues or some shit. But who cares? Also that little girl Hotaru is
having issues 'cause her daddy died and everyhting she cared about was 
killed.
And there's Sailor Pluto, who was also moping even though the girl that got
killed had nothing to do with her family. Course, she got her head back on
straight when this chick Chizuru showed up. That one kinda reminds me of
Integra, ya know. Hope she buys it this chapter. Geez, these Sailor Senshi 
do
nothing but mope around about their families getting killed. Maybe I should 
go
to America, pick off Usagi's mom and dad and send her their heads? That 
would be
awesome! Write that one down, bro.

Speaking of travelling the world, I think when I do I'll go find that Pink
chick. She is really hot in that creepy 'call me queen' way. Anybody whose 
goal
in life can be pretty much summed up as 'I am going to hurt everyone else so
badly they'll never forget meeting me' gets double As in my book. I hope she
turns on Akane like a rabid dog!

But really, the big thing you have to remember is that Ukyou confronted Big 
Red
last chapter, and he just confirmed that she is going to destroy the world. 
I
guess I can see it. But the girl has all the wrong attitude! If I was 
destined
to destroy all creation, I would be living it fucking UP! Personally I plan 
to
petition God. He did a totally piss-poor job choosing an antichrist. I think 
I
would make a much better final villian than Ukyou.

What do you think, bro?



			      C&A Productions Presents

                          A Work of Blatant Self-Insertion


                                   Hybrid Theory


                                Chapter 19: And One


	The summer wind blew down the streets of Tokyo. Today the sky was clear,
not a cloud in sight. The sun was rising bright and strong in the east, the
water of the bay turning a brilliant scarlet. The moon hung low in the sky,
ghostly against the azure air. According to the newscaster, today would be a
once in a lifetime event, a perfect solar eclipse. Already there were stands
along the streets, selling the box-glasses used to safely view the 
astronomical
miracle. Not miraculous so much because it happened, but because the 
scientists
and astronomers were baffled by why it was happening today.
	Akane brushed through the crowd as she walked down the street. Today,
even at this hour, the streets were filled with people. Children and 
teenagers
and adults, all laughing and joking. The city had adopted a festival air. As 
far
as they were concerned, the eclipse was an excuse to hold a party. For the 
first
time since she had arrived back in the city, Akane felt like the tension had
begun to lift.
	This was the spirit of Tokyo, of Japan. Monsters and demons and violence
in the streets? It would not keep these people down. Not for one moment.
	Akane was grateful not just for the chance to enjoy herself, but for the
opportunity it gave her to move about freely. With the streets so packed 
with
people, she did not fear being discovered by Chronos spies nearly so much.
Besides, she couldn't spend any more time in that house all by herself.
	Chris had left even before sunrise. He was looking for Chizuru, the
woman who could help him defeat Goenitz. Cologne had left shortly 
thereafter,
claiming she needed to explore the city. Akane could see that something 
worried
the old woman. When asked in private, Cologne had only looked at her oddly. 
'I
sense a storm coming,' had been her words, then she had left.
	Akane had shrugged and considered asking Shampoo to come with her, but
Pink had grabbed the girl and ordered her to come along. She and her sister
had left before Akane, claiming to have 'errands' to run.
	Akane frowned at the thought of Pink. She needed to be dealt with. Akane
still believed that Chris could be saved. He just needed to get away from 
that
girl.
	And so she was out here, looking for Ukyou.
	Patoratsyu scuttled along in front of her, and Akane glanced down to
make sure she was still following him. Akane still remembered confessing to 
the
land octopus her admittedly sketchy plan. She hoped to find Ukyou. Ukyou had
been at least partially right about Chris, and she did have a tendency to at
least have a clear plan... maybe she could deal with him. More importantly,
maybe she could figure out what to do about Pink before the girl hurt more
people.
	Even more then that, it felt right. She had just woken up this morning,
her mind reeling from another nightmare. But she had woken up with the 
feeling
that she had to find Ukyou. No, not just the feeling, the certainty.
	Akane had been wondering aloud how she could find the girl, when the
octopus had grabbed her arm and started tugging her towards the door. She 
had
looked down at him, asked him if he could find Ukyou. He had nodded. Then 
she
had asked how. Akane was surprised that an octopus could stare at someone 
with
such open contempt.
	Then Akane remembered that he used to belong to a man obsessed with
finding Ukyou and getting revenge. She had felt pretty silly, right about 
then.
	Patoratsyu was leading her into one of the seedier parts of Tokyo. The
buildings were run-down, with rusted iron girders appearing through the 
broken
facades here and there. What walls weren't filthy were covered in gang 
signs.
The people lingering on the street corners gave her long, dangerous looks as 
she
passed.
	Akane met their gazes unflinchingly. She allowed her aura to flicker and
flare if any of them didn't look away quickly enough. They all turned away. 
A
few months ago, she would have been scared to be alone in a place like this. 
But
now... now she had learned to fight and survive. She carried a sword like it
belonged on her.
	A soft pained squeak caught Akane's attention. She looked down to see a
foot stepping on Patoratsyu. The foot was connected to a leg in a purple
jumpsuit. The boy in the jumpsuit was short and thin, with blond hair that 
flew
up from his head in a series of long spikes. He was grinning down at the
captured animal, his hands in his pockets.
	Behind him loomed a man larger than any Akane had ever seen. He was a
green mountain, with a barrel strapped about his immense midsection. But he
looked like a solid wall of muscle, with a face to match.
	"Heh heh. Look, Gan, lunch!"
	"Uh..." Gan scratched the side of his head. "Edge, I don't think..."
	"I've never been one for octopus sushi, but maybe I'll make an exception
today and..."
	There was a sharp hiss as Akane drew her blade. All eyes in the road
were suddenly on her.
	"Release him," Akane said with as much force as she could. The big guy
gulped and backed up a step. The little wiry one only seemed to grin.
	"Nice blade..." he said. His voice was high-pitched, slightly manic.
"Wanna see mine?" He pulled one hand from his pocket and with a flip of his
wrist readied a butterfly knife. It snapped into his palm with a metallic 
clack.
	Akane didn't want to fight this boy, but he was clearly asking for it.
She frowned and assumed a stance Shampoo had taught her. "I don't want to 
fight.
I just want you to get your foot off my pet."
	"Your pet?" Edge grinned and chuckled. "Maybe I should take him as
payment, for letting you walk through our territory with the blade-"
	"Edge! Leave her alone!"
	The new voice brooked no argument and Edge immediately stepped away.
Patoratsyu skidded back behind Akane now that he was free, rubbing his scalp 
and
glaring at the boy. The newcomer was even shorter than Edge, with the body 
of a
slender young man. He wore tight black motorcycle leathers with spiked 
shoulder
pads and a helmet emblazoned with a skull motif. He moved with the 
confidence of
a man three times his size.
	"I wasn't gonna do nuthin', Akira!" Edge whined.
	"What did Daigo tell you about picking fights?" Akira snapped.
	"But she can take care of herself!" He pointed at Akane with the hand
not currently holding a knife. "Look at her stance! She knows how to use 
that
thing!" Akane might have taken some pride in that statement, but she was too
busy staring at the newcomer.
	She should know him. She had seen him before. Akane could feel something
around her, like a pressure in the air. It was a deep tension, a rolling 
sense
of impending purpose. She realised dimly she had woken up with it this 
morning.
It had grown stronger, minute by minute. There was something here she was
supposed to do. She knew it.
	"Besides, Daigo said it's okay to fight if the other person agrees..."
Edge trailed off lamely under the hidden stare of Akira. He had his arms 
crossed
and was tapping his foot.
	"We don't have time for this, Edge," Akira said flatly. "With this many
people around, we have to step up patrols. Kyosuke's group is taking the day 
off
so they can actually attend classes for once, and we're going to have to 
pick up
the slack."
	"Geez, Akira, you're no fun anymore..." Edge kicked idly at a stone on
the sidewalk.
	Akira shook his head. Then he turned to Akane, unlacing his arms. He
bowed slightly. "I apologize for my friend's rudeness..." he trailed off. 
Akane
realised that he could feel the tension in the air too, now. The other two 
just
looked around dumbly, wondering why Akira had paused. "I... I'm sorry. I 
lost my
head for a moment. This really is a bad neighbourhood, though. If you want, 
I
can escort you to your destination."
	Oh great, a pick-up line. Akane smiled politely. "No thanks." She
sheathed her sword. "I'm actually looking for a friend of mine... my... 
uh..."
She blinked. Well, it had been a long time since she used this excuse, but 
it
would work just as well. "My boyfriend actually."
	"Oh?" Akira tilted his head to the side, the light glinting of his
visor. "And who would that be? I know most people in this part of town."
	"His name is Ukyou..." Akane trailed off as Akira suddenly stiffened.
Akane backed up a step, not sure what to think, as Akira stared at her. Then 
the
boy reached up slowly and undid the clasps on his helmet.
	When he lifted the helmet away, Akane saw that he was not a he. He was a
young girl, younger probably then Akane, with hair in a short bobcut and an
earnest face. "Did you say... Ukyou?"

*

	Ukyou woke up with a start. She was shivering. Her body was covered in a
cold sweat. She clutched her arms around her naked chest, trying to slow the
beating of her heart. It was the same dream. The same sacrifice. Again and
again, every night. But the shakes died down quickly. Her pulse returned to
normal.
	The tent she was in rippled slightly in the breeze. She reached out and
grabbed a shirt, slipping it on mechanically. Aaron no longer even cared 
about
her flesh. Months of living in her body, of living her memories, had dulled 
his
sensitivity to the strange sensations of her female physiology.
	Ukyou stopped, her pants halfway on. They were getting used to this. It
had been abhorrent to them at first. She had despised him, and all he
represented. She despised the concept of being 'unreal' with every fiber of 
her
being... but she was getting used to it. Aaron just couldn't seem to get 
that
niggling thought out of the back of his mind, that feeling that everything 
in
this world was from a fairy tale. That none of it was real. But Ukyou could 
only
see it as real. It was everything to her. It had been all she had ever 
known.
	But they were getting used to it. It chilled her to the bone. She looked
back, wondering when the last time she had cared, truly cared, about Aaron 
being
trapped within her had been. Weeks? Months? The wishing sword, surely? But 
no...
if she'd been as fanatic about a cure for her 'curse' as she had been at the
beginning, she would have taken the sword and damn the consequences. She had
been more concerned with other things. Ranma, and Hotaru, and Akira and Ran.
Defeating Vega.
	Ukyou doubled over, retching suddenly. Her hands curled up in front of
her and she stared at the palms of them. In her mind, there was a sound, a
deceitfully small crack, like a peanut being crushed. She hated that sound. 
She
hated what it meant. She hated it with all her being.
	But she was getting used to it.
	Her hands wouldn't stop shaking for a long time.
	When she exited her tent, it was dark out. Not that this was a surprise.
Most of the people in the camp slept during the day and worked at night. 
They
had to move slowly, limited by the darkness and their need to not use too 
many
lights. Not that this was a problem for Ukyou. She could see fine. Aaron
wondered idly if the chi they were focusing through their eyes could be 
seen.
Did Ukyou's eyes glow dimly in the darkness, like a ghost's?
	They shook aside such thoughts. With a thought, they scanned the web of
chi, the spiritual ebb and flow of energy that connected all things. 
Locating
the strand that would lead them to Integra, they set off. They had to meet 
with
Integra today, for a plan. Integra wanted to make a decisive strike. If 
Minako
could really kill any vampire, she suggested, they should strike at the very
heart of Millennium: the Major. Sneak into his flying fortress and give her 
the
opportunity to take out the fat psychopathic demagogue with one shot.
	It just might work. Who could say if the Letztes Battalion could survive
without its commander? But it was also a suicide mission. Even if they
succeeded, they would likely die. Integra didn't seem to mind.
	Ukyou was going to volunteer. She smirked. Of course, she had no
intention of dying. She would go because Ranma would go. Ranma would go 
because
he needed to protect someone, and to strike at the evil. She would go 
because
she would keep herself alive. It was all she was good at, after all. She had
driven away every friend she had. Even Ranma was cold and distant to her 
now,
for reasons she couldn't understand. Reasons that made even Aaron feel hurt 
and
betrayed. But she could survive. Jadeite, Pluto, Chris, Rose, Tethys... how 
many
times had she survived despite all odds?
	Ukyou was halfway to the table where Integra was sitting when she
paused. Aaron quirked their head up and to the side. He had heard something. 
It
was distant, but growing closer. It was a whine, a shrill shriek of tearing
air...
	His eyes focused, chi-enhanced vision cutting through darkness and
distance with disturbing ease. What he saw made his face drain of all color.
	"Incoming!" Ukyou screamed, running through the camp. The still-groggy
soldiers began to look at her. She saw B. B. Hood glance up from cleaning a
rifle. She saw Integra putting down her fork. It was all happening in slow
motion.
	She ran, and the people around her were moving in molasses. She dashed
forward, guided blindly by Aaron's senses. She saw Yomiko a second later. 
She
was with Hotaru. Hotaru looked up at Ukyou, and Aaron saw her face register
Ukyou's panic. Hotaru knew something bad was about to happen, but her 
expression
did not change at all.
	"Yomiko! A shield! Quickly!" Ukyou gasped out.
	"What?" the bookworm blinked, idly flipping back a lock of chocolate-
brown hair.
	Before Ukyou could answer, the first missile hit. The explosion drowned
out all sound. The shockwave of it hit Ukyou as she pulled on her coat. 
Yomiko's
mouth was open, she was screaming, her hands clutched around Hotaru. Ukyou
grunted. She had stepped between the girl and the blast instinctively. The 
heat
pushed against her back.
	Then sound returned, and everyone was screaming. Screams of panic,
screams of pain, screams of confusion... Aaron ignored them, filtering them 
out
one by one.
	"Yomiko!" he shouted.
	"R-right!" The woman threw a briefcase into the air. It snapped open and
for a moment it looked like it was snowing. Then she gestured and the 
floating
sheets of paper began to spin and twirl. With an elegant gesture she flicked
towards the camp, and the sheets began to expand into a dome. Aaron's heart
fell. She could never shield the whole camp.
	"To the left!" he shouted, "Seven o'clock!"
	Yomiko reacted instantly, and her paper dome moved. The next missile hit
it and there was another deafening blast. But this time the only thing sent
flying were harmless bits of flaming paper, not corpses. Aaron's pleasure 
was
short lived. A third missile struck in the trees nearby. Water geysered into 
the
air, flaming wooden shrapnel rained from the sky. A fourth missile struck 
just
north of the camp. Too far away to hurt anyone, too close for comfort.
	"What's going on?"
	Ranma was running up to them. Minako was trailing behind. Ukyou ignored
him, grabbing the golden-armored senshi's wrist and pulling her forward,
	"Minako, we need a shield! As large as you can make!" He turned to
Yomiko, who was staring at the carnage, making little mewling noises in the 
back
of her throat. "Yomiko, help her! Your paper isn't as tough, but it's more
malleable."
	Ukyou released Minako and started running again. She had no time to
waste seeing if her plan worked. It had to work. She had to trust that they
could stop the barrage. Or at least hold it off for long enough to... to...
	What?
	Aaron's mind went blank. He had no idea what.
	He ran blindly, finding Integra. She was hunkered behind the picnic
table, which she had thrown up on its side to serve as a makeshift shield.
Victoria and B.B. Hood were with her.
	"...provide cover fire," Integra was saying to the red-cloaked girl. She
grinned and nodded. Ukyou shuddered. That grin was devoid of compassion. B. 
B.
Hood might have be on their side, but she was not an ally Ukyou would trust.
Integra turned to Victoria. "Vampire, can you see where the missiles are 
coming
from?"
	Victoria peeked up over the table. There was a trinity of explosions,
but the golden net that had erupted over half the camp caught them, sending 
the
plumes of flame and shrapnel harmlessly into the air. Victoria narrowed her
eyes, looking beyond that.
	"Yes." She slipped back down. "An airship."
	"An airship..." Ukyou hissed.
	"This isn't a random patrol," Integra snarled. "This is an assault. They
wouldn't commit one of their flying fortresses to anything less."
	Aaron couldn't help but agree. But he knew there was more coming. He
turned to Integra. For some reason, he felt ashamed, looking at her. No, not
ashamed. Guilty. He felt guilty.
	"It's worse," he informed her. "We have incoming helicopters. Two dozen,
at least. Packed to the gills with vampires."
	Integra nodded grimly. She reached into her pocket and withdrew a cigar.
She tore the end off with a twist of her fingers and lit it in a small fire 
that
one of the explosions had ignited not far away. She took a long puff. "Then 
I
suppose we fight."

*

	Batsu frowned up at the sun overhead and shaded his eyes. Couldn't that
damn eclipse start already? It was too hot. For that matter, couldn't summer
break start already? He grunted and crossed his arms, trying to move further
into the shade. It was hard, considering there was nothing that really cast 
any
shadows up on the roof.
	Ah well, he might as well enjoy the fresh air while he could. Pretty
soon Hinata would be up here looking for him, dragging him to class. And if 
not
her, then Kyosuke. Couldn't those two appreciate the fine art of ditching?
	"Attention all students," a voice called out faintly beneath him. Batsu
quirked his head to the side, listening as the pleasant voice of the school
secretary called mildly through the PA. She sounded even more spaced-out 
than
usual. "There will be a school-wide assembly in the auditorium starting
immediately. Attendance is mandatory. That is all."
	Batsu was half-way to his feet when he blinked and smacked himself in
the head. "What am I doing?" he muttered and sat back down. His entire body 
was
sore, his muscles ached and his left side still burned from where that one
monster had tagged him. He had no idea where Kyosuke and Akira had learned 
about
those things, but fighting them was getting annoying. He rubbed his side and
sighed. At least it got him out of classes... well, except for today.
	Thinking about fighting always made Batsu hungry, and today was no
exception. He pulled his pack towards him with his feet and rummaged in it. 
The
box lunch inside was not the most appetising thing in the world. The chicken
looked burned and was all mixed in with the vegetables, and all the sauces 
had
coagulated in one corner. Batsu made a face and sighed.
	Really, Hinata wasn't a half-bad cook, he mused as he started into it
with fervour. It even tasted okay. She just really had to work on her
presentation. Mainly because she kept insisting on presenting him with these
lunches in front of everyone, and Batsu couldn't stand the looks of mingled
horror and pity anymore.
	Once he was finished Batsu stood up and began kicking around a bit.
Damn, Hinata was late. She should have been here before he was halfways
finished, then she would have yelled at him and he would have yelled back 
and
she could have dragged him kicking and screaming down to the assembly and
Kyosuke could have laughed at him and...
	"Aw, for crying out loud..." Batsu couldn't believe he was doing this,
but he actually started down towards the auditorium willingly. The halls of 
the
school were deserted. Batsu slowed down. It was eerie. There weren't even 
any
teachers around. Worse yet, there was no sound. He felt his body tensing up,
like he was about to be attacked.
	By the time he got to the auditorium he was sprinting again. Something
was wrong. He could feel it in his bones. The doors ahead were closed, 
closed
and barred.
	From the outside.
	Batsu pulled back his fist, channeling his chi. His voice began to
rumble deep in his throat as he focused. His fist began to glow faintly. 
Batsu
charged forward, ready to blast the portal into splinters with one strike.
	"It'd be stupid to burst in like that."
	Batsu skidded to a halt, his fist coming to a rest only a millimeter or
two from the door. He looked over his shoulder and saw a girl standing 
there.
She was Chinese, with long purple hair and wearing a form-hugging dress with 
a
skirt so short it made Batsu blink. Her arms were crossed and she was 
leaning
against the wall. On her back she wore a curved broadsword. She wasn't 
looking
up at him.
	"Who are you?" Batsu shouted. "What's going on in there?"
	"Look for yourself, but open up the doors like a normal person." She
smirked at some private joke. "The auditorium is packed. If you blow open 
the
doors like that, you'll hurt somebody."
	Batsu considered interrogating her more, but frowned and turned his back
on her. With a twist of his hand he snapped the mop-handle barring the door 
and
pushed them open.
	He coughed and fell back, covering his mouth. Red mist poured into the
hall, briefly obscuring his view. He felt suddenly exhausted, like he had 
spent
ten hours straight fighting, and all his wounds felt fresh. He groaned and 
fell
down, barely managing to land in a sitting position.
	The mist cleared and Batsu stared into the auditorium. The students were
all sitting around, most of them looking like they had been drugged. A 
teenage
girl dressed in green walked among them. She floated between the rows of 
seats
on clouds of scarlet, her fingers caressing the faces of all whom she 
passed. In
her wake, the people... changed.
	Batsu had never seen anything like it. They went from groaning and
struggling to just sitting there. Their eyes shone and their lips smiled. 
They
stared after the girl in adoration. She smiled back at them. Even Kyosuke, 
whom
she was just now passing, wasn't immune. Batsu would never have thought the 
dour
boy could look so happy, so filled with bliss.
	"What's... going on..." Batsu struggled to his feet, panting. The mist
had thinned and he could breathe easier now. His strength was returning, but
slowly.
	"She's enslaving them," the mystery girl explained, still not looking
up. "Everyone she touches is her slave."
	"What!" Batsu groaned and took a step forward. The girl in the
auditorium was closing in on... "HINATA!"
	Batsu was about to rush forward again, when he heard a hiss of metal on
leather and felt something cold and sharp press against his throat.
	"You..." he snarled.
	"I've been ordered not to let anyone in or out of that place," she
explained coldly. Then she smiled, a grim smile. "But I was never told I
couldn't help you."
	Batsu blinked, and she capitalised on his confusion to pull him away
from the door. She pushed him against the wall roughly, and he gulped as the
blade drew a bead of blood. "You want to save your friends? Rushing into 
that
mist will only sap your strength, and those students will kill to protect 
her.
All you'll do is play into her hands." She drew the sword away from his 
throat,
and with a flourish planted the tip into the tile floor. "But I can help you
save them. All you have to do is exactly what I say."

*

	Ranma felt his blood pumping, his breath coming quickly. Beside him,
Minako cried out and fell to one knee. Her hands were extended skyward, and
above them a great golden shield shimmered and flowed. It was made up of
thousands and thousands of tiny golden hearts. He could hear the explosions 
just
beyond it, five of them in rapid succession. But the shield held. Minako 
held.
	He couldn't stand there all useless. He had to do something. He snarled
and leapt to a nearby tree. His fist lashed out, his voice roared and the 
trunk
exploded under his knuckles. He darted under it, and caught the massive 
trunk
with both hands. It was heavier than he thought. His muscles strained, 
burning
as he pushed them.
	"Minako, make a hole!" he shouted.
	A second later, a hole appeared. Ranma took only a second to line up the
shot. He could see the next stream of missiles incoming. He roared again,
pushing everything he had into his arm. The tree flew straight and true. The
missiles caught in its branches, dozens of meters in the air, and 
exploded...
one explosion taking out another and another in turn. He grinned.
	"Good idea!" Yomiko cried. She too had been building a shield, but now
she tugged down and it collapsed into a rain of falling white. With a series 
of
sharp gestures, she grabbed pieces as they fell. She whirled gracefully, her
long hair trailing behind her, her brown trenchcoat flaring slightly, then 
she
snapped her hands up. A dozen paper airplanes flew from her fingertips, 
flashing
through the sky with the speed of bullets. The next barrage met with the 
same
fate as Ranma's. Minako smiled and slowly climbed to her feet.
	Then dark shapes flashed over the clearing. The wind blew up in their
wake, pushing everything down. Yomiko's paper scattered as she struggled to 
keep
it under control. They were huge, each the size of a city bus. The 
helicopters
were brown and grey, big boxy things with huge rotors and they did not move
especially fast. On their sides, some monsters had painted the Nazi 
swastika.
	Ranma was gawking, and thus he didn't react until the sides of the
helicopters unfurled like paper doors, revealing dozens of dark shapes 
inside.
They howled inhumanly as they fell from the sky. The air was filled with the
roar of their bloodthirst, the deafening drone of the helicopters and a 
small
buzzing sound. A sound that tickled at the edge of Ranma's memory.
	Minako dropped her hands, the shield vanishing in an instant. There was
no way she could have covered them from those things anyway. Instead, ten 
points
of light began to form at the tips of her fingers and she spread them into 
the
air. She would cut them out of the sky. There was no way this suicide drop 
could
work, not as long as Minako was alive.
	And the vampires had to know that.
	"CRESCENT BEAM SH-"
	"GET DOWN!" Ranma grabbed Minako by the back of her neck and pushed. A
moment later a small black shape shot through the space her head had been. 
Her
long golden hair was tugged violently to the side, and a dozen strands flew 
free
as the projectile cut them free. He landed next to her, hearing her cursing.
	Then he heard the monsters land. He growled and rolled to his feet. One
of the things was only a meter from him. It carried a more modern-looking
firearm than he was used to seeing them with. It was firing wildly into the
crowd of humans, laughing and howling. Ranma beheaded it with a single 
strike.
	He grabbed the gun before it fell from its nerveless fingers. He spun
the weapon along his fingertips, then launched it like a boomerang. It 
scythed
through the air and struck another vampire in the head. Ranma had not 
learned
the trick of making dull things sharp like his friend Ryouga had, so that
vampire survived.
	For about the two seconds it took Ranma to close on it.
	Then Ranma spotted him. The elegant pretty boy vampire from the mansion.
His long flowing blond hair and immaculate white suit. He had pinned a man
against a tree with one loafer, and was holding his ornate pistol against 
the
man's head. Ranma felt his heart racing further. He kicked a stray stone up. 
It
flew true, and struck the vampire's hand the moment he fired. The bullet 
tore a
good hole through the tree, but the man lived.
	Luke looked over at Ranma. His eyes narrowed.
	"Come back for more?" he asked.
	"No running away this time," Ranma told him.
	The vampire smiled, his fangs glistening in the light of the fires. "I'm
afraid I have another engagement. We have something special planned for 
you."
	Ranma was about to ask what that was when he felt it. His jaw clenched
tight and he felt his heart stop for a mind-numbing instant. He turned
mechanically and saw it.
	The airship was huge, a giant blimp as grey as a storm-filled sky. It
hovered only a few hundred meters away. Black shapes - more helicopters, 
Ranma
dimly realised - flocked about it. But Ranma barely saw any of them. His 
eyes
followed a seemingly tiny black shape as it fell from the bottom of the 
airship.
He could barely make it out with his eyes, but he could feel it. He could 
feel
its rage. He could feel its hate. He could feel its hunger.
	It crashed into the forest floor, and for a moment Ranma hoped it had
died. Then an ear-splitting shriek broke free of the forest. It wasn't 
human.
Nothing human could make that sound. Ranma backed up a step.
	"You can feel it, can't you?" Luke was saying. "It's magnificent. A
perfect killing machine. Of course, I don't plan on being here when she 
shows
up. They can't control her, you see. Not even with the chips." He chuckled. 
"It
didn't used to be this way. She was just another chip job until a few weeks 
ago.
Then... then one day, she just went mad. Tore her captors to pieces, nearly
killed Dok. Made quite a mess."
	Ranma looked back at him, and he could see the worry in the vampire's
features. Nearby he could see Minako and Yomiko fighting. Golden light and 
white
flashes surrounded them as they held the vampires at bay. But he could see 
that
this was what they wanted now. The vampires weren't trying to fight them, 
just
pin them down.
	So that it could find them.
	Ranma cursed under his breath and ran toward them. They couldn't sense
it. They couldn't feel it. They had no idea what was coming. He heard Luke 
laugh
behind him, but he ignored it.
	Just as Ranma reached them, the creature emerged from the woods. He
skidded to a stop, and both Minako and Yomiko stopped in mid-strike as well. 
Now
that they could see it, they could feel a part of its malice. It didn't look
like much. It was a young woman, medium height, athletic build. She had hair 
the
color of dried blood tied back in a topknot that flared in all directions. 
She
wore a green military vest and matching shorts, with military boots that 
rose
halfway to her knee.
	But her eyes, they were pits of red hatred. And her mouth was painfully
distorted, and like a shark's it was nothing but row after row of sharp 
teeth.
She was taking deep, body-shaking breaths, like a hunting hound panting 
slightly
after a long chase.
	"W-what is that?" Yomiko gasped.
	"I don't know, and I don't care!" Minako gestured and a golden heart
formed on her palm. "LOVE AND BEAUTY SHOCK!" She thrust her palm at it and 
her
attack flew forward like it had been shot from a cannon. The swampgrass 
parted
in its wake. The thing just stared at it. Ranma felt his body tense up. 
Closer
and closer the magical blast approached. Ukyou had said that Minako's magic 
was
the death of all vampires. Even a touch would kill it. The blast was moving 
in
slow motion, the thing just gazing at it idly.
	Then it vanished. Ranma's head jerked to the side, just barely able to
follow it as the woman blurred to the side, a millisecond before the blast 
would
have hit. She roared and charged.
	Minako's arm was still extended, her lips had not even closed from her
shout, when it reached her. Ranma somehow threw himself between them. The
thing's hands clawed out once, twice. Ranma smashed his wrists into its, and 
he
felt the bones there ring out in pain. But it had worked, the monster had 
been
rebuffed.
	Minako fell back, startled. Yomiko grabbed her before she collapsed.
Ranma could only concentrate on his enemy. For all her animal ferocity, she
fought with a skill and discipline that surprised Ranma. Her moves were 
tight
and controlled, vicious and brutal. He realised almost instantly that this 
was
not an animal. This was a weapon. A walking implement of death.
	He also knew, after the first three blows, that he had no chance against
her. He struck, and she faded back. He parried, and his arms bruised from 
the
pain. Even near-misses left shallow red lines across his flesh. When she 
struck,
streaks of purple light followed in the wake of her fingers, and those wakes
could cut and maim as easily as her limbs could.
	"I can't get a clear shot!" Minako screamed.
	"Ranma!" Yomiko called out in concern.
	"Get out of here!" he roared. But even that much distraction cost him.
The monster leapt forward, spreading her arms wide. A ball of violent light
formed in front of her and Ranma could only cross his arms and absorb it as 
best
he could. The blast threw him off his feet. He skidded across the wet grass 
and
fell into a pool of stagnant water.
	He coughed and rose to his feet. For a moment he was afraid, then he saw
Yomiko fighting the woman. She was good. Her movements were not those of a
martial artist, but of a person who had learned to fight the long and 
difficult
way... by painful experience. She wielded a sword and shield made of paper. 
The
shield was enough to balk the savage woman's claws, and the sword enough to 
keep
her at bay. But Ranma saw the weakness in her technique almost instantly, 
and
the monster was not far behind.
	It backed up, and Yomiko fell for the feint, stepping forward to slash.
The thing let the sword cut into her side. But then her hand snapped down,
catching Yomiko's wrist. Yomiko gasped. Her sword had cut halfway through 
the
creature's chest, a diagonal line starting at the hip and working up towards 
the
heart... but it got no further. With a smile and a hiss of pleasure the 
thing
pulled Yomiko forward, her other hand snapping past the woman's shield.
	Ranma's foot collided with the vampire's neck and she snapped back, her
claw halting bare centimeters from Yomiko's throat. He didn't pause, letting 
the
moment of his impact push him away. He spun, coming back instantly and 
striking
at the thing's hand. The blow knocked loose its grip on Yomiko. At the same 
time
he pushed at her with an open palm, adding just enough of a cushion of chi 
that
she was blown a few meters away. He allowed his hand to touch the paper 
sword
still imbedded in the body, but it disintegrated into harmless sheets at his
touch. He could feel an energy there, though, for just a moment. It was like 
the
energy Ryouga used to turn his belt hard, but different... more refined.
	The vampire reacted quickly to his assault. Still reeling backward, she
stabbed her elbow down. It caught him in the side and his ribs almost 
cracked.
He smashed into the ground hard. But he didn't pause. His legs scissored 
out,
tripping her. She fell, but caught herself with both palms. She flipped away
from him, and he flipped to his feet as well.
	The wound in her chest was healing. Purple fire was leaking from the
cut, and as it did, he could see the flesh reforming in its path. There was 
a
flash of golden light, and another. Both of Minako's shots went wide as the
thing bobbed and weaved between them. It was coming at him again. Ranma 
readied
himself to meet it...
	Then the creature halted and danced backwards. Ranma wondered why, until
he saw the spatulas embedded in the ground at its feet.
	Ukyou landed next to him, her long coat flaring behind her. For a
moment, he saw the battle behind him. The people were screaming, the 
vampires
were swarming over them. Integra and her two other soldiers formed a core of
resistance, with a couple of dozen other men around them. Anything that came
near them died, but those outside of their protective bubble were not doing 
so
well. He ripped his gaze away from them, but it was hard.
	"Leona..." Ukyou breathed. Ranma could feel the cold radiating from her
body, but her voice was soft. "I'm... I'm sorry. You deserved better than 
this."
	It took Ranma a moment to realise she was talking to the vampire. The
thing was crouched in front of Ukyou, its lips curled back from its long 
sharp
teeth and its fingers leaving furrows in the ground. But that's all it did. 
It
held itself there. It crouched and snarled, but was not attacking. What was 
it
waiting for?
	"Are you okay?" Ukyou asked.
	"Fine..." Ranma mumbled. Minako and Yomiko nodded as well. Then Ukyou's
eyes widened.
	"Where is Hotaru!?"

*

	Kusanagi ran along the rooftops, his coat snapping behind him. The trail
of his passage was a vortex of torn air and funnelled dust. Tile and 
shingles
flew up as his footsteps tore apart fragile roofing. He barely noticed.
	For weeks he had hunted. For weeks he had walked around the city alone,
trying to find her. Now... now he could smell her. His face was split by a
terrible grin. He had her scent now, and he was not going to let her go.
Straight downwind he charged. There was no way that bitch would escape now.
	Matsudaira. Not as good as the one who had actually done it. Not as good
as the bitch that had killed Kaede. But she was a traitor. She had led the 
evil
to her, allowed it to happen. Kusanagi would let her live long enough to get
where the witch was hiding from her, and no longer.
	He came to a park. It was full of trees and on the slopes of the hill
people sat about in small packs, laying on picnic blankets and sharing 
laughter
and jokes. He leapt, his bounds taking him from tree to tree as a red blur. 
A
few spotted him, and they began to whisper and murmur. They sounded afraid.
	Everyone was afraid of him now. They thought he was one of the monsters.
His smile tightened. Maybe he was. But he was a monster with a very specific
enemy.
	He landed in the middle of the park, his eyes scanning the crowd. It
took him only a few seconds to spot her. She wasn't even trying to hide. She 
was
standing under a cherry tree, her face dappled by shadows. She wore the 
clothes
she had worn in her previous life. He growled and flexed his arms, the 
blades of
his heritage tearing free of his limbs painfully.
	He stalked towards her, walking straight between a couple. He had never
trusted her. He had never liked her. She was one of the ones who had
experimented on Kaede, driven her away. She was to blame! She would have 
done
the same to Momiji... wouldn't she? It didn't matter!
	Matsudaira had spotted him by now, and she was turning to smile at him.
There were two other people with her. One was a leggy brunette with short 
hair
and a red dress that clung to her scandalously. But Kusanagi's eyes 
instantly
fixed on the other.
	He was tall, regal, European. He had short black hair and a blonde
beard. He wore a blue uniform with a high collar like a priest's. But 
Kusanagi
could sense a power from him, a power that made the very wind around him 
shrink
in fear. It filled the air like noxious mist. Kusanagi noticed that even
Matsudaira was stepping away from him, even she smelled of fear in his 
presence.
The man fixed Kusanagi with ice-blue eyes and smiled, a smile filled with
neither warmth nor caring but something that mocked both.
	"And what have we here?" he murmured. Kusanagi did not respond to him.
	"You're coming with me!" he growled instead, reaching for his target. In
a flash the man's hand snapped around Kusanagi's wrist. His grip was iron 
and
his touch burned like frost.
	"I'm afraid I'm not through with this one yet," the man explained in a
calm voice that carried within it hidden layers of menace.
	Kusanagi met his gaze. "Do I look like I care?"
	The man grinned, his white teeth flashing. Kusanagi pulled and the man
released him without a struggle, forcing the shorter man to fight to retain 
his
balance.
	"Kusanagi..." Matsudaira said, actually sounding relieved. "It's a good
thing you came."
	"Kusanagi?" the man said, raising an eyebrow. "Well, well... any
relation to Saisyu Kusanagi or his brood, by chance?"
	"Never heard of 'em," Kusanagi said, glancing from side to side. He had
backed off a step or two. His eyes narrowed. He could hear people beginning 
to
leave now, slowly. The park would be empty in a few moments. But he could 
sense
the caged animal fury in the air around this man, a smell like blood that 
filled
the air with its foulness. He would not keep up this pretense long, but 
Kusanagi
had to delay him for a few more minutes. "What do you want this witch for,
anyway?"
	The man smiled. Then he sketched a short bow. "How impolite of me. My
name is Goenitz, one of the Four Heavenly Kings of Orochi." He raised a 
finger
and pointed delicately at Matsudaira. "She, I have heard, knows where I can 
find
a god called Susano-oh. I wish to talk with her about it."
	"You can have her after I'm finished, then," Kusanagi growled. "Or
what's left."
	Goenitz's face darkened, and the air around him began to whip and flash.
"No. I think that I am very interested in this. And I also think I'm not 
going
to risk letting someone who just happens to be named Kusanagi and who just
happens to also be looking for the god live."
	Kusanagi felt something slam into him with the force of a bullet train.
He screamed the air out of his lungs and flew back, tearing a deep gouge in 
the
earth and crashing through two trees before he came to rest imbedded in a
chainlink fence. He groaned and staggered forward, coughing up blood. What 
had
hit him...
	A flash of instinct later and he was leaping away as a small cyclone
slammed into where he had been. It bore a perfect circle into the ground, 
like a
drill into wood. The wind... Goenitz controlled the wind!
	Kusanagi was transforming even before he landed. His power rippled, his
muscles surged, pain flooded his limbs and he felt his clothing tear away. 
When
he came to the earth he was in his full battle form. He saw Goenitz looking 
at
him in some surprise, then Kusanagi flew forward like a rocket. The grass 
flew
up on both sides of him and he screamed.
	The tree Goenitz had been standing in front of stood for a moment. Then
its top half began to slide from its bottom half, slowly at first then 
toppling
with a startling suddenness. Goenitz was nowhere near it. He was standing 
not
far away, on the remains of a couple's picnic. The people around him were
fleeing, most of them screaming. Matsudaira and the brunette were sprawled 
near
the tree, both having leapt away. But on Goenitz's cheek was a thin red 
line. He
reached up and rubbed his white gloved hand against it, then glanced
disdainfully at the blood on his fingertips.
	"Vice, guard the woman," Goenitz commanded, his eyes fixed on
Kusanagi. From the looks of him, he wasn't taking this nearly as casually
anymore. That suited Kusanagi just fine.
	"Kusanagi!" Matsudaira yelled as Goenitz fired a blast of razor-sharp
wind. Even as he did, Kusanagi returned with a shot of blue lightning. The
ground exploded behind him and Goenitz as they both dodged. Before the dust 
and
debris had settled they moved in, each striking at speeds that defied human
comprehension. Kusanagi's blades were deflected by some sort of skin-tight
vortex, and Goenitz's hands produced tiny slashes of wind that could tear 
stone
as easily as flesh. They both landed apart, covered in small scratches.
Superficial damage, nothing more. "We can defeat him if we work together!"
	"Shut up!" Kusanagi roared. He jumped back, powering up. He felt the
energy gather in the tines behind his head. It swelled and shrieked as it
scorched the air. With a roar he released it. A cerulean line crossed the
park: where it touched, the earth vanished into geysers of sod and rock and
shattered chunks of trees. Goenitz grit his teeth and threw out both hands. 
A
vortex formed between them and the beam caught there before shattering in 
all
directions. The lances of light peppered the park, reducing the pristine 
lawns
into a cratered wasteland in a fraction of a second.
	Kusanagi backed up, staring in horror. He could see bodies among those
craters. Then Goenitz hit him, a blade of air that nearly tore his arm clean
off. He screamed and staggered back, green blood spraying from his wound.
Goenitz was taking deep breaths, but he was smiling.
	"You are powerful, boy, perhaps even more than I..." He laughed. "But
your compassion is a weakness. I do not think you can fight full force 
against
me."
	Kusanagi grit his teeth, clamping one hand over the vicious wound. It
would heal, eventually.
	"Chemical Buster!"
	Goenitz leapt aside as a stream of acid flew at him. With a single wave
of his hand he deflected the acid harmlessly. Matsudaira paid for her attack 
as
Vice ran into her from behind. She clamped a hand on the back of the 
scientist's
head and rammed her into the dirt. Matsudaira coughed.
	"Oh no, none of that from you," the red-clad woman purred.
	"Kusanagi, I can lead you to her..." Kusanagi paused as Matsudaira
spoke, her words muffled by the dirt in her mouth but still comprehensible 
to
his enhanced hearing. "Just save me from these beasts, and I will take you 
to
the woman who killed Kaede."
	Kusanagi dodged another attack. He struck once or twice more, but his
heart wasn't in it. Goenitz could sense his hesitation, and he struck 
without
mercy or restraint. His power was awesome, it tore the park to shreds. It
blasted away trees and stones and people like they were made of paper. He 
was
nothing compared to Murakumo... but even so, Kusanagi doubted he could 
defeat
him with such a serious injury.
	When he struck, it was without warning. The sultry woman screamed and
fell to the side. She would live, the blade had only cut into her leg. But 
she
would not be walking anytime soon. He reached down and helped Matsudaira to 
her
feet. Goenitz had paused in his attack.
	"How do we beat him?" Kusanagi said. He thought of Kaede. He kept her
face in his mind.
	"Just get me close," Matsudaira answered, and for a moment a sinister
smile crossed her face. It was a smile of triumph. But it was gone quickly, 
and
Kusanagi chose to ignore it. "I just need to touch him once, on the heart... 
and
this will all be over."

*

	"I... I don't know," Minako said, her voice horrified.
	"You don't KNOW!" Aaron roared, spinning on her. Behind him, Leona
shifted and growled, but he knew he was safe. He had felt the power of the
creature Leona had become long ago, but had not been able to move away from 
the
other battle. The other vampires were bad enough, but Luke and Yan were 
leading
them and Ukyou had been forced to help Victoria and B. B. Hood fend them 
off.
	Yet here she was, because she had felt Ranma pushing himself. She had
felt his chi reaching a peak that it hadn't since his fight with Vega, and 
she
had felt him beginning to lose. So she had come, instantly.
	And Leona had taken one look at her, and backed down. Aaron could feel
her staggering power. He had never experienced anything quite like it. It 
was
rage and hatred and pain, an endless well of darkness. But underneath it 
all, he
had felt something else. Fear.
	Leona feared her. But even as the thought had crossed his mind as he
looked at her he realised that wasn't true. The thing Leona had become did 
not
know fear. The fear came from somewhere deeper, hidden behind the source of 
that
well. For some reason, the Orochi feared Ukyou. And because it knew fear, 
its
puppet did too.
	Ukyou had wanted to laugh, when Aaron reached that conclusion. But then
she had realised that Hotaru was nowhere nearby.
	"I... I just lost track of her..." Minako's knees were shaking, and her
face had drained of all color. Aaron wanted to yell at her. He wanted to 
accuse
her of being a fool. How could she lose track of Hotaru in this? He wanted 
to
strike her, and for a moment his arm twitched as if he would, then the anger
drained from him.
	"I think... I think she fled into the woods," Yomiko was saying. Ukyou
glanced at her. The woman was peering into the woods now, as if she could
magically make the girl appear.
	"No..." Ukyou moaned. A few minutes ago, Integra had given the order for
her soldiers to retreat into the woods. Out in the open, they were sitting 
ducks
against the vampire's superior speed and strength. But even as the first of 
the
men reached the treeline, dark shapes had burst out from them. The men had
screamed as the stiffly moving figures had dragged them to the ground. What
happened next, Ukyou would rather not remember.
	A quick probe of chi and Aaron had confirmed it. The woods were full of
ghouls. Hundreds of them. Thousands. For a brief moment, he had wondered how
they had been moved into position, then he saw that the ghouls were wearing
shiny black gear that covered them head to toe except for the face. Gear 
that
could protect them from the light of the sun, Ukyou wagered.
	Ukyou took a few steps towards the woods, her heart falling. But then
she smiled. She could feel Hotaru. She was in the woods, but she was alive. 
A
wall of ghouls were between Ukyou and her, but that was no barrier at all.
	Ukyou took two steps forward, when she felt Leona shift. She looked back
over her shoulder. The vampire paused and hissed at her, its red eyes 
gleaming
balefully. It had moved away from her, towards the heart of the larger 
battle.
The Orochi was not brave enough to have its servant attack Ukyou... so it 
would
attack something else. She could feel its frustration, its rage and pain. It
needed to lash out at something.
	If she left, Leona would start killing.
	"I'll hold her," Ranma announced.
	"You can't!" Ukyou turned on him. "You can't beat her!"
	"I..." Ranma ground his teeth. "I have to. If I don't, everyone over
there will die."
	"I can hold her!" Ukyou protested.
	"You have to find Hotaru, protect her." He grabbed her shoulder. "You're
the only one who can."
	"He's right," Minako said. "I don't know why that thing won't attack
you. But we can fight it." She held up her fist. "Together."
	"Yes..." Yomiko frowned and looked down. "The three of us, together. We
can fight it."
	Ukyou closed her eyes. They were right. She had to leave. Ranma had to
fight it. Ranma had to face it. She opened her eyes and looked at him.
	"Live," Aaron said, surprised that the word tumbled from his lips. Ranma
grinned, that arrogant Saotome smirk. The smirk that said 'Hey, I'm Ranma
Saotome! What else could I possibly do but be the best?' And just like that, 
as
they stood staring into each other's eyes for a long instant, the entire 
world
coming apart around them, Aaron realised he loved him.
	The thought struck him like a freight train, left him stunned beyond
words. This was not just Ukyou's feelings creeping into his psyche, or if it 
was
they had wormed their way so far in that Aaron could no longer tell the
difference. It helped, but only a little, that Ranma was at least female at 
the
time.
	But he shook off the thought. They needed to find Hotaru. And so he
turned and ran into the woods, running away from Ranma.

*

	Ryouga grunted and shifted his arm, pushing the debris off him. It
cracked and groaned and shifted to the side in an avalanche of dust. He 
stepped
forward, unable to see where he was going but trusting himself not to get 
lost.
He never got lost anymore, not since Nabiki had made her wish.
	He could feel it, on the back of his mind. A subtle urging, drawing him
forward. She only touched his mind lightly, not even enough to read his
thoughts. Just enough so that she could compensate for his own lack of
direction. He grinned oddly at that last thought as he stepped out onto the
street.
	The battle was going well for the heroes, he noted. The monster was
reeling back, half its crab-like legs missing. Its carapace was dented here 
and
there, sometimes so much that small rents appeared and leaked green fluid on 
the
asphalt. In the near distance the flashing lights of the police cars hemmed 
the
street in on both sides. Ryouga had to admit, they seemed to be getting good 
at
getting the civilians away from these battles now. The only person who 
didn't
look like she belonged here was Nabiki.
	She was crouched behind the remains of a news van. Her face was smudged
with dirt, and her blouse was torn. In one hand she gripped the wishing 
sword,
'just in case'. Her eyes were closed, but then she hardly needed them 
anymore.
Her powers had been growing steadily for the last few weeks. She had never
looked more beautiful to his eyes.
	For a moment he let his gaze linger, but then she frowned slightly and
her head turned in his direction. He grimaced and suppressed his thoughts,
buried them beneath his depression. Nabiki did not need his lust to pollute 
her
mind like he had polluted her body. In the last few weeks, he could almost 
have
begun to think that maybe she had forgiven him, but he knew better.
	She had started treating him differently. She gave him little
kindnesses. A 'thank you' here, a small present there. Lending a bit of her
concentration to make it so that he never had to get lost again. That had 
been a
miraculous feeling. She had simply looked at him and told him to wander 
Tokyo as
he would, and he had. He had visited places. He had gone back to his old 
house,
played with his dog. He had visited old friends from school. The sheer 
freedom,
the joy of being able to simply go where he wanted, had been overwhelming.
	But then he had returned to her, and he had seen the truth. She had
bought them a fancy dinner, and over the course of it she had started asking 
him
questions, strange questions. Questions about what he wanted to do with his
life, what his hopes and dreams were. She had never asked him about them 
before.
He had wondered why, until he had looked into her eyes and saw fear.
	It was always there now, behind her expression. She was always afraid of
him. He was not a stupid man. He could see what she was doing. She was 
trying to
get him away. To focus his mind on something else. She had heard that he 
wanted
to help the people being attacked throughout Tokyo and had started letting 
him
do that. She even guided him to the places he was most needed. Because she
wanted him away.
	He knew why. It had all changed that day, the day she had looked into
his mind. He knew that she had seen something inside him, something so awful
that it shook her to the core. Now she was afraid of him.
	Ryouga used these thoughts to fuel his power, until his chi was a
bonfire of green light around him. The asphalt cracked beneath his feet as 
the
weight of his aura multiplied. He rose his eyes.
	He was ready to fight.
	"DEEP SUBMERGE!"
	A blast of aquamarine light flashed across the street and into the giant
crab. It shrieked and staggered back, another dent appearing in its body. 
The
woman who had fired it was panting, her pretty face covered with a sheen of
sweat. Her partner dashed in at the staggering monster, her yellow-white 
sword
flashing in the sunlight. Ryouga knew these two, he had been at the scene of
many of these battles with them. He idly wondered where their other partner 
was,
the woman with the white coat and long black hair, then snarled and drove 
that
thought aside.
	The fight mattered now. Protecting Nabiki mattered now.
	He was already moving before he even finished the thought. The woman
with the sandy blonde hair got to the monster first. Her sword flashing out
once, twice. The thing screamed inhumanly, one of its legs cleanly severed. 
The
Sailor Senshi was leaping back, but the thing was swinging its large claw at
her. Maybe she would have gotten clear, maybe not. Ryouga made the point 
moot.
	He caught the claw with one hand, snarling. The thing fought his grip
and Ryouga placed his other hand on it, his fingers cracking the armour. 
Then he
roared and wrenched his arms, pulling suddenly and at the same time blasting 
out
with all his aura. The monster was pulled in two directions at once and its
joint was not up to the pressure. He snapped the claw free and with a grunt
heaved it over his shoulder where it crashed into the already destroyed
storefront he had been smashed into.
	The blonde landed next to him. She smiled grimly and nodded once. Ryouga
held up his hands, charging for a Shishihokodan, and acknowledged her thanks
with a similar smile and nod.
	The light came from the sky with the suddenness of lightning. It was
bright red and Ryouga's eyes burned as he staggered away. A moment later 
there
was an explosion and he was flung from his feet. He landed well, and was
standing again a fraction of a second later.
	When the smoke cleared he saw he had been blown away from the Senshi.
The place where the crab had been standing was nothing more than a smoking
crater now. Then a man-sized shadow fell from the sky and landed in the 
center
of the crater with a loud crash. Ryouga held up one hand, wondering if this 
was
friend or foe.
	"Well, well..." a mocking voice called. "Four birds with one stone."
	"Who's there?" the aquamarine-haired Senshi called out. She was standing
ready to launch another blast of torrential water.
	"My name?" The figure stepped free of the smoke. He was not tall, and
his hair was slicked back. He wore a pair of mirrored sunglasses and a skin-
tight navy blue bodysuit with yellow piping. A horrible scar crept down half 
his
face. "My name is Aptom, little Senshi."
	That certainly didn't sound like one of the good guys. Ryouga clenched
his fists and began to focus on his chi, building up a fresh charge. The 
blonde
stepped towards him, brandishing his sword.
	"You killed that monster, but what do you want?" she asked.
	"Careful, Uranus, I sense great evil from him!" her partner warned.
Uranus nodded.
	"Evil?" Aptom chuckled. "I guess you could say that." He stepped towards
Uranus. "I am an engine of death, and I have come for vengeance. Vengeance 
for
the brothers that your kind slew, and vengeance for the humiliation and pain 
I
was caused, vengeance on the whole world for being so sick and twisted that 
it
would produce a being like me!"
	Aptom snapped his hand up, and the flesh on his palm peeled back,
revealing a lens there. Ryouga shouted a warning and grabbed a convenient
street sign. With a roar he pulled it from the ground and swung, knowing 
he'd
be too late. The blast of crimson light lanced from Aptom's palm. The 
aquamarine
Senshi dove under it, landing roughly. The beam walked up the side of the
building behind her, leaving a molten line in its wake. The energy then 
vanished
like it had never been: the building stood for a moment, then shuddered and
exploded.
	Ryouga's blow struck just as the building sent a rain of plaster and
glass across the street. He hit just above the elbow, and he saw the arm 
deform
around the metal in a way arms were not supposed to. Aptom gasped as his arm
broke. Then Uranus was dashing past him, her sword flashing brightly.
	"SPACE SWORD BLASTER!"
	Aptom gaped. Then slowly his torso slid away from his legs. He toppled
to the ground in two pieces. There wasn't even any blood, as her sword 
instantly
cauterised the wound. Uranus stopped and sighed. Ryouga lowered his sign.
	"Neptune, are you alright?" Uranus called.
	Neptune picked herself up slowly, but nodded. "I'm fine." She glanced at
Ryouga. "And you?"
	"Okay," he grunted. He was still staring at Aptom. The man looked dead,
but Ryouga still felt... something. It was the unease he felt just before an
attack. That lightning tingle on the back of his neck. It just wouldn't go 
away.
	"Let's get out of here, Ryouga," Nabiki said as she came around the
corner. He glanced at her.
	"Ah, there she is."
	Ryouga's eyes widened and he spun to face Aptom. The man was picking
himself up, despite being in two pieces! Neptune and Uranus also stood, 
stunned
for a few precious seconds. Then Aptom smiled and his broken arm snapped 
towards
the blonde Senshi. Ryouga tried to scream a warning, but it came too late. 
She
was too close, and Aptom's arm suddenly deformed and melted like wax, 
becoming a
slick tendril that wrapped itself around her shin.
	Uranus cried out in pain, her eyes closing. She staggered back.
	"Don't worry, girl," Aptom said slowly. "I could have killed you with a
single touch... but I don't just want your body!" He began to laugh.
	"Let her go!" Ryouga shouted. As he roared he pressed his hands forward,
a car-sized ball of brilliant green light erupting from them. Even as his 
blast
flew, the air also rippled as a blue orb smashed into Aptom from the other 
side.
His laughter cut off as his body was crushed mercilessly between the two 
forces
until there was nothing left.
	But Uranus was still screaming in pain. Ryouga stared in horror. The
tendril was still wrapped tightly around her leg... no, not just around. It 
was
IN her leg. The flesh of her shin was twisted, the veins pulsing and 
throbbing
as it merged horribly with the remains of Aptom. From her calf sprang a 
dozen
more tendrils, flailing and snapping before firmly encircling her body, 
pinning
her arms. Uranus screamed again and fell on her back. One of the tendrils
hovered above her heart.
	"Haruka!" Neptune screamed, charging forward. Ryouga heard Nabiki
retching behind him. He saw the legs of Aptom twitch and grabbed the Sailor
Senshi as she passed, pulling her back. "Let me go!" she screamed and hit 
him
with surprising strength. He actually felt it. "I have to get to her! 
Haruka!"
she stretched towards her companion, but Ryouga leapt back. He watched as 
the
legs began to stretch and distort, slowly regrowing the entirety of Aptom.
	Uranus was completely bound now, and the tendril above her heart had
ceased swaying. It shifted, and a black star appeared on its end. From that
star, an awful black light emerged. It struck Uranus in the chest, creating 
a
ripple of darkness above her heart. She shrieked, but only for a moment. 
Then a
eight-pronged crystal star, glowing with pink light, popped from her body. 
Her
eyes went blank. The tendril shot down, and a mouth formed on its end. It
swallowed the star without pause.
	"HARUKA!"
	"Ryouga!" Nabiki screamed. "We have to get out of here!"
	Ryouga glanced at her. She was backing away, slowly. He began to tighten
his grip on Neptune, ready to leap away again. The woman had gone limp, her 
eyes
staring deadly at the body of her comrade.
	"You leave..." Aptom said, "And I will kill every human in a two mile
radius."
	Ryouga stopped. Aptom was standing there, his clothes having regenerated
with his body, his arms crossed. Behind him, the body of Uranus lay limp. 
The
tendril were sinking slowly back into her flesh, until she was left 
unmarred.
For a moment, when she began to stir, Ryouga felt hope. But then it 
shattered as
her body changed. Her costume vanished, becoming the same bodysuit the other
Aptom wore even as her body also came to mirror his.
	"Let me down..." Neptune said hollowly. Ryouga did so without thinking.
The woman stood on her feet, her posture strong but her eyes blank. "You,
killed... you killed... YOU KILLED HER!"
	"And I'm going to do the same to you." The new Aptom raised both hands.
"WORLD SHAKING!"
	Ryouga leapt one way and Neptune leapt the other. The coruscating orb
of magical energy blasted a hole into the street, but otherwise did nothing.
That was, until Ryouga saw the first Aptom sprinting towards where Neptune 
would
land.
	"NO!" he shouted, and his hands snapped out. A dozen buzzing projectiles
spun through the air, passing through Aptom in a dozen places. His body
collapsed to the ground, cleft into chunks. But Ryouga paid, as the second 
Aptom
snapped out his hand, and a laser shot from his palm. Burning pain erupted 
from
his chest as he was flung back and through the van Nabiki had been hiding
behind. It exploded as he passed through, and he choked as he was forced to
breath flame for a fraction of a second.
	He groaned and rose to his feet. The front of his shirt was gone, and a
scorch mark had darkened his abdomen. Another second, and it would have 
burned
through. He ignored the pain and rose to his feet. Nabiki was rushing up to 
him,
her eyes concerned.
	"DEEP SUBMERGE!"
	Another explosion from behind the van, followed by another. Then a
scream, a woman's scream.
	"No..." Ryouga moaned. He smashed his fist into the ground, cracking it.
Wasn't he good for anything? Couldn't he save one person!?
	"Ryouga, we have to run!" Nabiki was saying. She was holding his
shoulder. "We can't win! I've seen into his mind! He's still toying with 
us!"
	"You're right, Nabiki Tendo."
	Ryouga pushed Nabiki behind him. Aptom walked through the flames, all
three of him. The one on the left was holding a blade of yellow light. The 
one
on the right held a hand mirror. The one in the center spoke.
	"I have come for you, today," he explained. "You're too much of a
risk, Nabiki Tendo. The fact I get to kill the man who humiliated me is only 
a
bonus."
	"Damn you!" Ryouga growled. "I won't let you win!"
	"Ryouga! Don't fight him!"
	"We can't run, Nabiki," Ryouga shot back over his shoulder. "He'll kill
until he's stopped. And if he found us once, he'll find us again."
	"Then..." Nabiki shifted her hand, touching the sword.
	"Ah ah ah!" Aptom sneered.
	Then the ground around them exploded. Ryouga shielded his face as a
dozen tendrils erupted from the ground all around him, waving in the air. 
Nabiki
gasped and pressed herself against his back, her warm body trembling. Ryouga
stared over the top of his arm, looking at Aptom's feet. He could see it, 
the
way the soles of his shoes melted into the ground. He could see the earth
twisting around beneath him.
	"I'm the perfect killing machine, Nabiki," Aptom explained. "One touch,
and you die. In the time it would take you to say 'I wish...' your body 
would be
mine. And my body is everything. This flesh. The rocks beneath me. I can
absorb anything I wish!" He threw back his head, laughing.
	Ryouga grit his teeth, but restrained from summoning his aura with
Nabiki so close. Aptom suddenly stopped laughing, and he looked at them 
sharply.
"But I don't just want your body, Nabiki. I want everything that is you. 
These
two... they know something marvellous and fantastic about a friend of 
yours." He
smiled. "Yes. Once I swallow your soul, I think I shall use that sword of 
yours
to find this girl Ukyou and perhaps pay her a visit."
	"Ukyou..." Ryouga hissed. What did any of this have to do with Ukyou?
	"But first..." Aptom smiled. "I think I'll play with you." The tendrils
shrank back, disappearing into the street once more. "Come at me, boy. Bring
everything you have."
	Ryouga needed no more invitation.

*

	The woods were dark, filled with a thick mist that clung to the trunks
of the trees like shrouds. Dark shapes moved among the trees, moaning, 
grasping,
endlessly hungry. Ukyou moved among them like a ghost. None of them saw her;
none of them even noted her passage.
	Hotaru was far from the camp. The swamp they were in abutted a mountain,
and the place Hotaru was was under the shadow of that mountain. Aaron felt
something familiar as he approached. It was an energy, like chi, but 
different.
It was pure in a way normal chi was not. It was cold, focused, intense... 
like
wind chi without any sort of balance. Whatever it was, it was next to 
Hotaru.
	Ukyou stopped just short of the clearing. Aaron enhanced their eyes,
their ears. It was a simple trick now. The clearing was almost eight meters
across, an irregular circle with moss-shrouded limbs stretching over it from
three directions and a wall of craggy rock leaning over it from the other.
	Rose stood there, her back to the rock. She was tall and regal, the very
picture of exotic beauty. Her long purple hair flicked restlessly in the 
slight
breeze, her scarf hung limply around her neck. One delicately manicured hand
rested on the shoulder of Hotaru. It did not hold her, but the restraint was
obvious.
	Hotaru was standing, looking forlornly up into the sky. The full moon
shone down from overhead, a beam of moonlight cutting through the only 
opening
in the dense canopy and haloing the two of them in it. The light caused 
Hotaru's
expressive purple eyes to shine softly as if from within.
	For a moment, Ukyou looked up, wondering what could hold Hotaru's
attention so. Aaron gasped softly. The moon... was vanishing. A sliver of
darkness crept slowly across its face, too slowly for the human eye to 
really
follow. But he was certain that earlier it had been full and now it was half
gone. And he felt something, a terrible tension. It was like the force of 
two
magnets, placed too close together, pushed and pushed despite their tendency 
to
repel, until the magnets shattered.
	"Powerful, isn't it?" Rose said into the empty air. Ukyou held her
position, trying her best to blend into the shadows. Rose couldn't have 
detected
her, could she? But where was Pluto? The two would never be that far from 
each
other. "You can sense the power up there. And I can sense it too. I wouldn't 
be
able to, except for the child. I can sense the darkness inside her. It is
responding to it, rising up to it, calling it. It has a terrible purpose." 
Rose
paused. "I can see why Pluto thinks she has to die. Sailor Saturn has the 
power
to unmake the world. One sweep of her Silence Glaive, just bringing it from 
the
sky to the earth, and all life here perishes." Ukyou said nothing. "This is 
what
Sailor Saturn was meant to fight. The darkness that is coming with that dark
moon. The darkness that grows even stronger now, far across the other side 
of
the world. Even if she weren't tainted, she would not hesitate to destroy 
the
world to stop evil. That is, after all, her purpose. The reason she was
created."
	"Leave her alone!" Ukyou cried out, unable to restrain herself further.
Hotaru was looking up at the gypsy woman, her face placid. But her eyes...
Hotaru knew what Rose was saying. And she was dangerously close to believing 
it.
If that happened, then all hope was lost.
	Aaron felt it a fraction of a second too late. The world around him
seemed to buckle and flow. It was like everything around him was slowing 
down,
while anything further away sped up. Time, he realized suddenly. She hid
herself in time. Even as he thought of it, he could see the weave of the 
magic,
how it knit a bubble in reality, a bubble in which time flowed the way Pluto
wished it to. A bubble separate from the rest of the world, something that
flickered in and out so fast he could not have sensed it. Then she was 
behind
him.
	Ukyou cursed herself for a fool. She had fallen right into the trap.
Hotaru had not been the bait, Rose's words had been. They only needed to 
know
where she was. She was trying to dodge, to pull her head down and away, but 
she
felt the strangely warm end of the time staff press flush against the back 
of
her head. There would be no avoiding this, no surviving it.
	Aaron screamed inside. It couldn't end like this! Hotaru needed them!
Ranma needed them! They couldn't die yet!
	And Pluto gasped, the staff suddenly quivering in her grasp. For a
fraction of a second, it moved a little away from Ukyou's head. The blast 
that
would have ended her never came. "Uranus... Neptune... no..." Pluto 
murmured.
	Then Ukyou's elbow caught her in the gut. Her words turned into an
explosive breath as the air blasted violently from her lungs. Ukyou's other 
hand
came up, catching onto the time staff. It felt warm, timeless and mighty. 
Aaron
ignored the feeling. Using his shoulder as a pivot, he yanked, pulling Pluto
from her feet. The stubborn Senshi refused to let go of her talisman until 
it
was too late.
	As Pluto flew up, Ukyou fell down and kicked with both legs. She caught
the green-haired woman in the back as she passed. The added movement flung 
her
through the air, straight at Rose. Rose had a choice: strike at Ukyou while 
she
was vulnerable, catch the plummeting Pluto, or restrain Hotaru.
	Ukyou screamed as the blast of soul power smashed into her side. It
burned up her chest, sending tendrils of icy pain shooting through her brain 
far
out of proportion to any injury the blast had caused. Ukyou crashed into a 
tree,
and it shook but remained standing. Rose was not so lucky: the impact with 
Pluto
had knocked them both to the ground in a tangle of limbs.
	Aaron grimaced and focused, and with a single sharp thought he focused
his chi through his void chakra. Just like he had once done to his hearing, 
his
sense of touch turned off like he had flicked a switch in his mind. The pain 
and
discomfort vanished. Ukyou seized the chance. She rebounded from the tree,
catching her feet instantly.
	Rose would have expected the attack to cripple Ukyou for longer. Ukyou
knew she had put more emphasis on the pain than on the physical impact this
time. It was an attack that had been meant to make sure she didn't escape. 
But
Ukyou had no intention of escaping. It was time to end this.
	Hotaru was in danger. Ranma was in danger. People were dying, every
second. No more. Once and for all, this was the last time she and Sailor 
Pluto
would face each other. Too many lives hung in the balance for Ukyou to let 
this
happen again!
	Rose extracted herself from Pluto with grace. She floated to her feet,
her shawl clutched in one hand. Her eyes widened as she saw Ukyou charging 
her.
Ukyou briefly saw her own form, her coat flowing behind her like a shadow,
reflected in the other woman's eyes. Her hand came up, and she slashed with 
her
shawl. The thin fabric glittered with psychic power, and Ukyou leapt up, 
over
it.
	They had no chance of beating Rose head on. She was just a level above
Ukyou. But Ukyou's target was not Rose. She spun in the air, planting her 
feet
against the rocky cliff. For a moment she hung there, in defiance of 
gravity,
like a fly on the wall. Then Rose was spinning around. Her shawl came up in 
a
long arc. The gypsy had filled it with tremendous power. It sang through the
air, glittering like a beam of light. Ukyou dropped and the shawl slashed
through the rock just above her head.
	The cliffside exploded in the wake of Rose's attack. Rock dust and
debris showered down and for a moment all Ukyou could see was darkness. She 
knew
some of the debris was hitting her, maybe even doing damage, but she felt
nothing. But Aaron could see. He could feel the position of everyone. He 
dashed
forward, pressed low to the ground.
	There was a blast behind them as Rose fired blindly into the concealing
dust cloud. But Ukyou ignored her. She emerged from the cloud with one hand
already outstretched. Pluto was just getting to her feet. Her red eyes 
flashed
wide, then Ukyou latched onto her shoulder like a vise. She cried out, and 
Ukyou
spun around her. Her free hand flashed out, and there was a flash of silver 
in
the vanishing moonlight.
	She stood up, holding Pluto in front of her. The razor-thin edge of her
throwing spatula brushed lightly against Pluto's neck. The woman stiffened. 
Rose
turned to face them, her expression calm. Ukyou backed up a step, keeping 
Pluto
between them.
	"You think this will stop me?" Rose asked.
	"You aren't firing," Ukyou replied grimly. "You could blow a hole right
through her body. Compared to us, Sailor Pluto is fragile." Ukyou chuckled
darkly. "But that wouldn't take me out. You might wish it, but you can't 
kill me
in one shot, can you?" Rose's eyebrow twitched, but her expression remained 
calm
and calculating. "And you just saw that I can resist your pain trick. 
There's no
guarantee that you could incapacitate me long enough to deliver a killing 
blow.
With Pluto dead, I might just get away. And then what?"
	Rose paused a long instant. "You're right," she said slowly, her voice
level. "I can't risk it." Then she raised her hand, and gestured toward 
herself
briskly. Hotaru flew from the woods, and jerked to a halt in mid-air. She
hovered there, above the forest floor, surrounded by a nimbus of purple 
light.
Her expression was a grimace of pain.
	"LET HER GO!" Aaron roared.
	"Why?" Rose asked, as if she genuinely expected an answer.
	Aaron was about to answer when he felt a surge of power in Pluto. He
snarled and pressed the blade against her throat just enough to draw blood.
"Don't even think it," he warned her in a whisper. "I can feel your power 
now.
If you try anything stupid..." He trailed off. He really had no idea what he
would do if she tried anything stupid. Could he kill her? Just lop her head 
off
like she was a doll? The thought revolted him, revolted them both.
	"She won't let the girl go," Pluto said softly. "And you know why."
	"Damn you..." Ukyou hissed. "Why do you have to be so stubborn? Can't
you just leave me alone!"
	"I can't." Pluto closed her eyes. "You know I can't. And you know why,
too." Neither of them answered. "You can tell what's happening now, can't 
you?
You know all about the prophecy... but more importantly, you BELIEVE now, 
don't
you?"
	"Shut up!" Aaron growled. Ukyou looked at Rose. "Let Hotaru go," she
ordered in a voice as icy as she could.
	"Or what?" Pluto asked. "You'll kill me? I don't think you have it in
you, Ukyou." The words stunned them both, and they almost lost their grip...
almost. "Surprised? I know you're a decent person, Ukyou. Even if sometimes 
you
don't believe it yourself. I've watched you. I can't always see your 
present,
but I can always see your past. I've watched each of your battles, each of 
your
struggles, over and over again. I've watched you gain friends and lose them.
I've watched you save lives, and end them. I know your heart, Ukyou. Maybe
better than you know it yourself."
	Aaron wanted to yell at her to shut up again, but the words wouldn't
come out. He could only listen, as Pluto's voice slowly grew in strength and
conviction. "You've seen it, the future. But not in some prophecy, not in 
some
dream. You've seen it in yourself. You know you can't fight it. You want to, 
but
it's Destiny. It is the hand of God. Oh, you know how this will all end, 
Ukyou.
You won't just snap one day. You won't watch horror after horror until your 
mind
simply can't take any more. This doesn't end with Hotaru's death, or Ranma's
death or Akane's death and you going insane and deciding to end the world.
	"It erodes you, from the inside. It wears you down, this world. You're
like a mighty stone in the path of a raging river. Every day a little bit 
more
of your morality wears away. A little bit more of the person you are 
vanishes
and you can't get it back, no matter how hard you try. It won't happen 
today, or
tomorrow, or probably for several decades, maybe even millennia. But it will
happen. You know it will."
	"That isn't true..."
	"Why do you think you came here, Ukyou?" Pluto continued mercilessly.
"Why are you fighting these monsters? You know that this battle is 
meaningless.
You can't defeat them. This battle itself... it means nothing! All you can 
do is
survive, Ukyou. If you kill every vampire here today, destroy every ghoul, 
it
will mean nothing."
	"Stop..."
	"You can't bring yourself to do what's right. That's why you're here.
You looked down at Vega's body and you realised you had it in you. You had 
been
clutching to that one belief so hard, that when it fell out from under you, 
you
gave up inside. You knew you could not win against Destiny. You had it in 
you to
do anything, even those things you swore to yourself you wouldn't do. Even 
those
things you knew you couldn't do. But you don't have the strength to put an 
end
to it."
	"Please stop..."
	"So you came here. You choose a battle you couldn't hope to win, against
an enemy that would not hesitate to kill you. You want to die, Ukyou. You 
want
to find an enemy who will kill you. One that will end your threat to the 
world.
That's why you came here. That's why you let Zoicite go, so that the Dark
Kingdom would come after you too. That's why you took me hostage."
	Aaron stiffened, but said nothing.
	"You did it because you know there is no way out of this for you. Rose
won't let you go, even if she does have to kill me. You can feel her soul - 
you
know she doesn't have the passion to care about me that way. She'll decide 
on
the needs of the many over her own preferences. No... you want to end this, 
and
you want us to do it for you. The only thing you want out of this, is the 
girl."
	Ukyou was shaking her head, but she couldn't deny it. She just... she
couldn't.
	"And if you let me go... if you do that, I will order Rose to let the
girl go. We'll even take her safely back to Ranma. He and Minako and the 
paper
woman can take care of her. I won't harm a hair on her head, Ukyou. All you 
have
to do, is surrender."

*

	The phone snapped closed with a dull snap. Akane glanced up at Akira,
who was looking down at the cellphone with an intense frown. One of the 
girl's
heavy boots was resting on top of her helmet, which had been placed on the
ground in front of them. Akane herself was leaning against the railing, 
holding
the two frozen treats.
	She felt oddly prosaic, standing here next to a park holding snocones.
The people were gathering now. The moon was drifting ever closer to the sun.
Vendors had set up stands, pitching everything from food to special eclipse-
themed toys.
	"Who was that?" Akane asked.
	"Mr. Kunikida," Akira explained. She slipped the phone into one of the
pockets of her nearly skintight riding leathers. Now that Akane looked 
closer,
she could see the hints of Akira's feminine curves, but the thick leather 
and
the spikes and the skulls emblazoned on it effectively hid her gender. In 
fact,
if you didn't look at Akira's delicate features and cute bob-cut you'd be 
hard-
pressed to guess the truth. "I was informing him that I wouldn't be able to
patrol today."
	Akane blinked. For a moment, she was struck by the startling similarity
between this girl and Ukyou. Not just the way both could pass so 
convincingly as
men, often more convincingly than some men Akane knew. Her posture and her 
tone
were also, for a brief moment, strikingly familiar. She had that same weary
gruffness to her voice. She had that same guarded humour in her expressions.
	Then, in an instant, it was gone. Akira was smiling and grabbing her
snocone. She swallowed the entire thing with one gulp. Akane stared. Akira
smiled back. Then her face turned slightly blue and her smile faltered 
slightly.
	"Good..." she said, her teeth chattering.
	"Right..." Akane took a bite of her own. "Thanks for the help."
	"Anytime!" Akira kicked her helmet into the air and caught it on one
finger. She skipped a little bit out from the fence. "So, where are we 
going,
anyway?"
	"I'm not quite sure..." Akane looked down at her half-eaten treat,
shrugged and tossed it towards a nearby garbage can. Akira intercepted it,
giving Akane a reproachful look. Akane gestured for her to finish it, and 
Akira
did so. "With Ukyou gone, my plan is kind of shot."
	Akira made a low sound of agreement, nodding despite her teeth
chattering. "At least I'm certain she'd be more than willing to help," she
offered cheerfully. "Given how much she told me about you, kept on 
referencing
your training when we were trying to study together, and... uh..." She 
trailed
off. "Well, I think, that is... she really regretted that things didn't turn 
out
better between you two."
	Akane nodded. "Yeah, me too..." She started walking, idly choosing a
direction that would lead them back to Chris's safehouse. "I think I'm 
beginning
to get over how she lied to me..."
	"She must have had a good reason," Akira asserted.
	"Yeah," Akane replied with wry amusement. "She wanted to make sure me
and Ranma wouldn't get married."
	Akira stopped dead in her tracks. "Uh..." Akane looked at her. "I
thought you said that whole boyfriend thing was a trick..."
	"Because she likes Ranma, dummy."
	"Oh..." Akira chuckled and rubbed her neck. "That makes sense! After
all, while Ukyou may dress and ACT like a boy... she certainly doesn't...
eheh... you know..." She dissolved into bouts of nervous laughter.
	They walked on in silence for a few more minutes, each lost in their own
private thoughts. Akane couldn't help but think about how strange things had
turned out. Not only with herself, but with Ukyou as well. And Ranma. And 
Ran...
	"Ran..." Akane sighed.
	"You knew her?" Akira asked.
	"I... briefly," Akane responded after a moment. "She... was nice." It
was hard to believe that someone she knew was dead. Even if Akane was 
becoming
intimately familiar with death. It seemed to linger everywhere now, just out 
of
sight. It was like that strange sense of purpose she had been feeling all 
day.
If there was anyone who should have been able to face death, it was her. She 
HAD
been dead. She had passed over and felt... something. Something humbling. 
The
thought of other people facing that filled Akane with a kind of nameless 
emotion
that caused the hairs on the back of her neck to rise.
	"You could go after her."
	"What was that?" Akane only realised she had been walking for a long
time, staring at the ground, when Akira snapped her out of it.
	"You should go after her," Akira reiterated. "If you still have any pull
with Chris, convince him to go to England with you." She paused, rolling her
helmet back and forth between her palms. "He doesn't even have to know why, 
if
you don't tell him."
	Akane blinked. "Akira, that's a great idea!" She pumped her hand once.
"Even if Ukyou acts like a bitch sometimes, she has a habit of... knowing 
what
to do." She nodded to herself. "She was right about him, at least partially.
They may have gotten off on the wrong foot, but they were friends once. Or 
at
least, that dead guy Aaron was Chris' friend..."
	"Who?" Akira asked sharply, but Akane ignored her.
	"If I can just convince Ukyou to get over her irrational hatred of him,
maybe she can get him to see what a monster Pink is!"
	"Wait, Akane..."
	"I bet Ukyou can even think of something we can do about her, too."
	Akane
smiled and increased her pace.
	"Akane, I really think..."
	"It'll work, Akira. He DID promise to do anything I say, so this should
be a snap. You worry too much."
	"No, Akane." Akira grabbed her shoulder and dragged her to a stop. Akane
blinked and looked around. There was a crowd in front of them, blocking 
their
path. They looked like high school students, with the occasional adult mixed 
in.
"I think we have a problem." Akira gestured over her shoulder, and Akane saw 
a
similar crowd catching up behind them.
	And in the side streets, more of them. And more still. There were
hundreds of them. They were all staring at the two girls. Their eyes were
intense, focused and dangerous. But that wasn't what disturbed Akane most. 
They
were all smiling. Not menacing grins or lustful leers, but happy complacent
smiles. She'd seen those smiles before.
	"I think I have a solution, over."
	Akane's eyes narrowed and her head snapped up and to the side. Pink
stood on the edge of the rooftop, her arms dangling loosely at both sides. 
Two
students were kneeling on the edge facing Pink. One was a girl with short 
brown
hair held back by a headband, wearing a uniform like all the other girls 
except
for her fingerless orange karate gloves. She was looking down at Akane and 
Akira
with the same blissful smile and intense stare as the rest of the mob. The 
other
was a much taller boy with neat reddish-blonde hair and an immaculate white
uniform that did not match any of the others. Pink was running a hand 
through
his hair, like you would a dog.
	"Kyosuke! Hinata!" Akira shouted. She took a step forward and Akane
barred her path with one arm.
	"I don't think that would be a good idea..." Akane advised, her voice
frosty. She was glaring up at Pink.
	Pink smirked, her gaze sweeping away from Akane and settling on Akira.
She looked the other girl up and down for a moment. "Ah, Akira Kazama. What 
a
coincidence! I was just about to go looking for you and your friends next,
over."
	"What did you do to them?" Akira demanded, but Pink's attention had
already left her.
	"Oh, Akane, setting up a little conspiracy, are we?" Pink tsked, waving
a finger on her free hand chidingly. "I know what you're thinking, Akane.
'Didn't she say she didn't care what I did?' Well, you're right." Pink 
laughed.
"I lied. I was planning on killing you anyway, and under the circumstances I
feel no need to waste such a marvelous opportunity." Her smile turned 
suddenly
predatory. "Kyosuke, Hinata, kill them. Make it painful, over."
	"Yes, Mistress Pink," the two said in eerie unison, and rose to their
feet. Overhead, the edge of the sun began to vanish.
	Akane growled and pulled sharply on the cord tying her weights to her
arms. They clattered to the street, and that was the signal for everyone to 
rush
at her at once.

*

	Chizuru thanked the young woman, who bowed politely and backed out of
the room. The room was well lit, the authentic ricepaper walls were painted 
with
traditional Japanese watercolors - scenes of rivers, cranes and fishermen,
mostly. The tea was good and the service even better. She inhaled the aroma 
and
knelt in silence before the low table, wondering what she was doing here.
	Well, she knew exactly what she was doing here. She was responding to a
letter, sent straight to her main offices and addressed to her specifically. 
It
said, 'I wish to talk to you about Goenitz and the Orochi. Please meet me at 
the
Green Turtle Tea House at ten o'clock. Thank you.' There were no subtle 
meanings
or hidden clues. The meaning was obvious, and her showing up was never 
really in
doubt.
	But hadn't she moved beyond the Orochi now? Pluto and Rose had departed
for parts unknown, and trusted her with a greater task. Haruka and Michiru 
had a
great destiny. Even if they weren't Sailor Senshi, you could feel it if you 
were
sensitive to such things. Guiding them and protecting them until they were 
ready
to accept the mantle fate had thrust upon them was an awesome 
responsibility. It
was made even harder by the fact that both of them were bound and determined 
to
fight, to challenge the monsters at every turn.
	Chizuru couldn't fault them for that. She had just been doing her best
to help them learn and develop, to protect them when they needed it. But she
supposed every child had to take steps on their own eventually. That was why 
she
was here. She could let Haruka and Michiru take care of the demons for one
morning while she dealt with the ghosts of her own past.
	As Chizuru took another sip of her tea, the door slid open almost
soundlessly and a boy stepped in. He was very young, no more then ten. Small 
and
cute, he had short milk chocolate hair and wore a leather jacket several 
sizes
too large for him. His jeans and t-shirt fit better, however. He moved like 
no
boy she had ever seen. There was something unmistakably adult about his
gestures. There was also something wrong with his eyes that Chizuru couldn't
quite pin down.
	He filled her with unease. No, it was something deeper than unease.
Chizuru shifted uncomfortably. Every instinct in her body was screaming for 
her
to do something. Something NOW. But she couldn't figure out what. So she sat
there, and stared at the boy as he walked over and knelt opposite her. Some
servant closed the door after serving him tea. He didn't so much as touch 
it.
	"Thank you for coming," he said, giving her a smile meant to break the
ice. His voice had the high pitch of a boy not yet through puberty, and it 
had a
pleasant musical quality to it. But his tone and expressions were those of a 
man
much older. Chizuru wanted to stare at him, to try and discern what was 
wrong.
Instead she took a sip and nodded.
	"I was honoured," Chizuru indicated. "It's not every day I'm invited to
speak with someone with so much knowledge at their disposal."
	He chuckled. "Yes," he said, waving that aside. "You'll have to forgive
my presumptuousness. I make it my business to know as much as possible about 
all
the important people in Japan. Plus, you are a hard person to get in touch
with."
	"A hazard of celebrity," Chizuru replied dryly. "But my manners desert
me. I am Chizuru Kagura. Pleased to meet you." She bowed slightly.
	He returned the bow. "My name is Chris." Chizuru smiled politely and
waited for him to get to the point. "Right..." he murmured slowly. "Well, I
don't want to take up too much of your time, so I'll get straight to 
business."
He shrugged a bit, adjusting his jacket. "In fact, I'm here to request your
assistance. I'm being pursued by a man of your acquaintance, one of the 
Heavenly
Kings of Orochi, Goenitz."
	"Oh?"
	"As you also have a certain hostile interest in him, I was hoping that
we might be able to pool our forces," he finished.
	Chizuru considered his words for a moment. They seemed straightforward
enough on the surface, but for some reason she couldn't bring herself to 
trust
him. It wasn't his appearance. Despite his odd pallor and his expressionless
eyes, he was not that strange. Chizuru herself was familiar with the fact 
that
children could often act much older than one might expect, having been 
slightly
precocious herself. Nor was it his proposal. Truth be told, Chizuru may have
accepted a new position, but she had not abandoned her old quest. The Orochi 
was
one of the things she was certain her charges would have to help deal with. 
If
doing so led to her getting to watch Goenitz die for what he had done to her
entire clan, so much the better.
	It was that feeling. She tried to pin it down, but it remained elusive.
	"I see..." She drained the last of her cup to buy herself some time. "Do
you mind if I ask why he is pursuing you?"
	Chris allowed an almost cocky smile to cross his features. "That is
something of a tale..."
	Chizuru listened intently as Chris outlined a long and dark story. He
told her how he had awoken in this world trapped in a rotting corpse, how he 
had
been forced to exchange bodies to avoid the creeping rot. He told her how he 
had
sworn off killing, and been drawn to a certain woods in a search for a cure 
for
his condition. There, he had run afoul of Goenitz and the chosen incarnation 
of
the Orochi on the mortal plane. The boy had been accidentally killed in the
ensuing fight, while Chris had been occupied elsewhere. When his former body 
had
been destroyed, Chris had been forced to inhabit the incarnation's body, and
discovered he had inherited some of the Orochi power with it. It was easy to
piece together why Goenitz would be so interested in him, from such a story.
	And with each word he said, Chizuru's unease grew. She tried her best to
school her features, but from the way he kept glancing at her and pausing, 
some
of it must have slipped through. It was like something was missing...
	Exactly like that, she realised suddenly. There was no certainty. The
moment the boy had walked into the room, Chizuru had felt a strange sense of
vertigo, like she was walking a tightrope that stretched off into the 
distance
with no end in sight. Her entire life, Chizuru had always known that she had 
a
purpose. With the death of her sister, that purpose had only crystallised. 
With
Rose's visit, that purpose had changed, but it was still there.
	In fact, it had only grown stronger. Talking to Pluto, teaching the
Outer Senshi, it had all felt so right and good. Like this was part of her
destiny. Sitting here, in this room, she felt like the world was unraveling
around her.
	"Tell me..." Chizuru was surprised at how dry her voice came out. She
cleared her throat, and continued more forcefully. "How long ago, exactly, 
did
this confrontation with Goenitz happen?"
	"Three weeks ago, give or take..." Chris tapped his cheek. "I've been on
the run so much, I think I lost track of the date there for a few days."
	Three weeks ago.
	The blood drained from Chizuru's face.
	Three weeks ago when she had woken up from a nightmare. Three weeks ago
when the mirror had cracked. Three weeks ago when she had felt a god scream 
in
mortal terror.
	Chris looked concerned, he leaned slightly over the table. "What's
wrong?"
	And she felt it. The power around him. Pluto and Rose had taught her to
feel it. The wrongness of it. "The end of everything..." she whispered and 
then
jerked back. She wasn't certain what she was doing, except getting away from
him. She heard more than saw the table tumble to the side as she kicked it 
away
in her haste. She backed up against the ricepaper wall and stared at him. He 
was
kneeling there, stunned.
	"Chizuru, don't worry!" he said, trying to appear as small and harmless
as possible. "I have it under control. There's no chance the Orochi is going 
to
drive me insane."
	Pluto had to know. Chizuru stood up, slowly. Two of them. Pluto was
wrong. She didn't know the truth. There were two of them. God help them all.
	And that thought gave her strength. She took a deep breath. She had a
purpose again. She had to get out of here, and she had to make sure Pluto
learned about this abomination.
	"I'm not worried about that," Chizuru explained coldly, crossing her
arms. "But you will get no help from me." She frowned. "If I thought I could 
do
it, I would destroy you myself. Now get out of my sight." It was a bluff, 
but
Chizuru was used to intimidating people who technically had more money, 
power or
influence than she.
	Chris stood up, his expression a mixture of surprise and anger. "Listen,
Chizuru, let's be reasonable about this."
	"I don't reason with monsters like you and Ukyou." She let her arms drop
and assumed a stance. "However, I'd rather not destroy these expensive
furnishings."
	Chris stared at her for a long moment, his emotionless dead eyes boring
into her. Then his lip twisted into a sneer of disappointment and he left
without a word.

*

	Rip Van Winkle moved through the dark forest at the head of a pack of
ghouls. The battle was nearby, the last of the pathetic human resistance 
being
crushed like bugs. Even if the Valentine brothers were leading the offence, 
even
if that abomination Leona was defeating the human super-fighters, she still
found that thought enjoyable.
	But not enough. Her hand clenched around the shaft of her rifle. She had
to find her target. That woman, Ukyou. She mocked her. She had torn Rip's 
prey
away twice now. She had eluded her, deceived her, played her for a fool. She 
had
forced Rip to retreat in disgrace. Such insults could not be forgiven. Rip 
would
find her, and her magic bullet would end that woman's life tonight.
	She grinned. Even if Ukyou could sense it, she knew her magic bullet was
the superior weapon. After all, hadn't Major Krieg himself praised it? 
Hadn't he
told her it was a fantastic technique? That was why he had taken her with 
him.
	She had been nothing but a village girl, back then. During the War. Her
people had known nothing of politics or policy. They had merely come when 
Hitler
had called, like all loyal people should stand for the sake of their 
country.
All of them but her. She had always been the best hunter in the village. The
best eye. The best shot.
	But the fatherland did not need female soldiers. They had told her that
flat out. And so her brothers, elder, younger, all... had gone off and died 
on
some meaningless clump of mud trying to invade an arrogant little island 
nation
called England. And her rage had grown. She had trained. She had decided to 
show
them all. She had found her final inspiration in an opera, of all places. 
The
"Freeshooter". A tale of a young hunter and his deal with the 
demon-worshipper
Caspar to learn the technique of the Magic Bullets. Bullets that could be 
guided
wherever the shooter wished. But Caspar had betrayed the young man, and 
meant to
use the bullets to kill a princess and save himself from hell. In the end, 
true
love won out over all, and Caspar was thwarted. The demon king Zamiel rose 
from
the underworld, and Caspar was torn apart by wolves.
	Soon after, she had perfected the art of the magic bullet. Then, she had
snuck into the army, meaning to find any excuse, any way to get even with 
the
English pigs who had butchered her family. Then he had found her. He had 
seen
through her disguise instantly. And he had smiled, because he saw something
special in her. On that day, the Major had given her a new purpose.
	And she would not fail him now. She would fulfill her mission. She would
find Ukyou and kill her by her own hand!
	"Curse you, Ukyou!" Rip shouted, slashing out and cracking her gun
against a nearby tree. "Come out! Zere is no escape! I vill find you! I vill
KILL you!"
	"Kill her?"
	And suddenly Rip was afraid.
	She turned around, slowly, very slowly. Her fingers rattled. Her knees
shook. Her breath came in sharp gasp. The power she felt... it couldn't 
exist.
She had felt Leona's power, the unbridled animal chaos of it, but this put 
the
power of the beast to shame. This power was as primal as a volcano, as deep 
as
the liquid core of the earth. It was as cruel and merciless as a firestorm.
	She turned around, and saw him. Even though he was standing in shadows,
she could see him clearly. His body was outlined by a thin halo of light, 
blue-
purple St. Elmo's fire that traced the shape of his body. He wore a red 
uniform,
military cut with thick black boots and cuffs on the sleeves. The fabric
strained to contain his massive bulk, a wall of muscle that rippled visibly 
with
every breath he took. Over his shoulder he wore a velvet cape, which swirled 
in
the fog behind him, vanishing into the darkness. On his head was a cap with 
a
skull-on-wings emblem, the brim tilted so that the top half of his 
square-jawed
face was cast into shadow. Out of that shadow burned two blue sparks. His 
eyes,
a part of Rip vaguely realised.
	"Zamiel..." Rip breathed.
	Her ghouls moaned and charged the man, her control of them having
slipped. He didn't take his eyes from her. He didn't so much as blink. The
ghouls just vaporised, vanishing into swirls of purple flame that left 
nothing
behind, not even ash.
	"You mentioned Ukyou," the man said softly. "Tell me where she is?"
	"I... I..."
	His eyes narrowed dangerously and before Rip knew it, his hand was
around her throat. The fire of his aura burned into her, but her flesh was
unharmed. The pain raced into her mind, into her soul. She wanted to scream, 
but
could draw no breath. She felt him, his aura, leaking into her, burning a 
tight
beam straight into her mind. She couldn't keep him out. Sooner ask her to 
blot
out the sun.
	"You were going to kill her, weren't you." It wasn't a question. "But
that is not my will." He raised her up. "Your mind is so weak, so open. You
believe so fervently in your Major, don't you?" He grinned. It was a grin 
full
of malevolent joy, sheer insane glee. "Even now you are praying for him to 
save
you. To send help." He shook his head. "You foolish vampires, so petty. Your
ambitions, so shallow and meaningless." He turned and began to float through 
he
trees. "Allow me to demonstrate the futility of resisting my will."
	The world seemed to rip apart. One moment, she was floating along in his
grip, then the world and everything in it was gone. She floated in a sea of 
fire
and pain. Her world was lines of blue-purple light. She knew, instinctively,
that she was in his world now, the part of it he had claimed for himself. 
Then
she was back in the real world, with its cool, comforting mist and stable up 
and
down. Best of all, the fire in her mind was gone. He still held her, but 
only to
restrain her. There was no burning, unstoppable force beating at her psyche
anymore.
	They had appeared floating above the clearing. The battle rolled and
shifted below them. On one side of the field, the Hellsing witch and her 
vampire
flunky and some normal humans fought the Valentines. The humans were dying,
slowly, but the strength of Alucard's spawn and a small girl that fought 
with
her kept them from being overwhelmed. On the other half, three humans fought 
the
vampire Leona. She was a force of destruction, her movements crisp and 
brutal as
she beat down at the three of them. The short girl in the red shirt held her 
at
bay, while the other two tried to strike... but they were losing. Rip could 
see
this clearly.
	"That..." The man pointed at Leona. "That is a power your Major barely
understands. To him, it is but a weapon. Her kind may be a supervampire, her
blood may let him drown the world in flames and chaos." His pointing hand
uncurled the other fingers until he had a palm open towards the girl now. 
"That
power is nothing. I fought a man who claimed it could defeat me. He had one 
eye,
and this same power raged in his blood. It was too awesome for his frail 
body to
withstand, but he used it against me because he knew I would destroy him
otherwise. It was not enough." A tiny ball of purple light popped into 
existence
in front of his palm. A line of blue light shot from the sky, intersecting 
the
orb as it grew marginally bigger. Then another, and another. For an instant,
all action on the ground ceased. Everyone could feel it. Even those dead to 
such
things, even those blind to the power of the human spirit, could sense this. 
It
shot straight into some primitive reptile brain instinct. "I... I am Bison, 
and
I am the only power that will control this Earth!"
	The orb suddenly trebled in size, becoming as large as a medicine ball.
It shot forth from his hand like a rocket. The air screamed in protest. 
Leona
hissed and leapt to the side, and for a moment it looked like she would 
clear
the attack. Then it erupted into an explosion almost five meters across, 
then
another, and another. A series of blasts, each larger and more destructive 
than
the last, ripped apart the ground, sending loam and rock flying in all
directions. For a moment there was only the sound of the explosions.
	Then the flashes cleared from Rip's vision. She looked down. The only
thing left of Leona was an outstretched hand, the rest of her body having
vanished just past her elbow. Steam rose up from the severed limb. The three
women who had been fighting her were scattered across the ground moaning;
alive, but scorched and steaming from their proximity to the blast.
	"That is my Psychopower," Bison informed her. He snapped his fingers and
shadows emerged from the trees. Rip saw they were women, all of them young 
and
all of them with stunning figures. They wore skin-tight black leotards with
jaunty little yellow neckties. "Find the one called Ukyou. The others I do 
not
care about," he yelled over the clearing.
	Bison spun Rip around to face him. The hand not clutching her neck
reached up and grabbed her musket. It shattered at his slightest touch. Then 
he
touched her arms, each in turn. She felt the bones crumble in her flesh. She
whimpered, unable to scream due to the death grip he had on her throat. "Now 
go.
Crawl back to your master. Tell him Bison has claimed these humans for 
himself.
They are not for him."
	And he dropped her.

*

	Nabiki's mouth was dry. Her knees were weak. Her palms were cold and
sweaty. She knew the signs of terror well now. She had been kidnapped and 
held
hostage and threatened and shot and chased from her home by monsters. She 
was
familiar with panic and pain.
	But she had never been so scared in her life. Aptom was a demon. She
could feel them, the revolting emotions of his mind. Anger and jealousy and
hatred and a twisted sort of glee all wrapped around a central core of alien
darkness, a nihilistic impulse that made Nabiki sick just to be near it.
	But she was not only near it, she was inside it. She narrowed her eyes
and focused, willing her way into his alien mind. Surprisingly she found
defenses, for the first time since she had made her wish. His mind was 
shielded,
blocked from outside interference by some strange protean barrier. Nabiki's 
mind
slicked along the edges of this barrier, searching for a weakness that 
wasn't
there.
	Ryouga was fighting all-out. He struck with a speed and ferocity she had
only seen once before, back when he had defended her from Chris. His entire 
body
was covered in a thick aura of sick green light. The ground he ran across 
was
pockmarked with craters from where his feet tore gouges in it. The buildings
nearby were shattered and hollow. The eerie light of the half-devoured sun 
cast
the scene in sharp relief.
	Ryouga had struck first with his umbrella, sinking it into one of the
Aptoms' chest. But the monster had only sneered. Tiny creepers of his alien
flesh had snapped out, sinking into the weapon. Nabiki had screamed a 
warning,
but Ryouga had already leapt away. A moment later, the beast consumed the
umbrella like it was nothing.
	Ryouga had been trying everything, his attempts growing more desperate
with each exchange. His belt could slice them in two, but that only slowed 
the
triplets down. His bandanas barely slowed them. He grabbed lampposts, signs,
cars and chunks of walls, using them to bludgeon or drive back the three
monsters. Aptom never even stopped grinning.
	'Behind you!' Nabiki warned him telepathically. Ryouga got the perfect
impression of the Aptom reaching for his shoulder. He ducked under the blow,
spinning and landing on his back. Both hands thrust upward and with a roar 
he
unleashed the full power of his Shishihokodan. It vaporised the Aptom from 
the
waist up, but Ryouga was not finished. He yanked his hand down, dragging the
glowing sphere behind his palms. It crashed down into the sidewalk with a
deafening roar, the legs of the monsters disintegrating under the pressure.
	Aptom clapped as Ryouga rolled away, coming up breathing heavily. Nabiki
could sense Ryouga's desperation, his fatigue. It wouldn't be long now. It 
would
already have been over, had Aptom been going all out.
	"Damn you!" Ryouga screamed. He reached over, grabbing a van four times
his size with one hand. "WHY DON'T YOU JUST DIE!" Ryouga spun, pulling all 
his
weight and strength into the effort. He flipped the van forward, towards the 
duo
of Aptoms. They only watched, smirking.
	'Ryouga!' Nabiki prompted mentally. 'The gas tank!'
	Ryouga received her mental instructions perfectly. He continued his
roll, and came up flinging one of his bandana's. It snapped through the van 
like
the van wasn't even there. A second later amber liquid began to pour out of 
it.
The Aptoms narrowed their eyes as it came crashing down on top of them.
	Nabiki was moving as quickly as she could. Her free hand came up, and
with a flick she snapped the lighter she kept in her pocket to life. It spun
towards the van and Nabiki held her breath. Please don't miss, she prayed
silently to whoever was listening.
	And it didn't. Just as the two monsters caught the van in their arms,
her lighter fell into the waterfall of gasoline. The van went up like a new
year's bonfire, flames exploding along its entire length in a second. The 
Aptoms
screamed as the fire raced down their bodies, consuming them.
	Ryouga relaxed, but Nabiki only stiffened. She did not feel pain from
Aptom. She felt amusement. And it was coming from all around them. Nabiki
informed Ryouga of this and he stood up slowly, looking around.
	The crowd was watching them silently, police and civilians that had been
forced out of their homes or otherwise drawn. They were all smiling, the 
same
menacing grin that Aptom always wore. One of them, a young woman, spoke with 
his
voice.
	"Did you really think it would be so easy to kill me?"
	"I am anyone I want to be," another said.
	"I am anywhere I want to be," a third said.
	"I am anything I want to be," this voice came from a nearby storefront
as the face of Aptom emerged from the wall.
	"You cannot defeat me, you cannot even hope," all the voices said in
unison. Nabiki fell to her knees, covering her ears and screaming. Ryouga 
placed
himself over her. She could feel something from him... something she didn't 
want
to register. "I think I've taught you enough about humility. Now... both of 
you,
prepare to die!"
	Nabiki had no other choice. She closed her eyes and let loose with all
her power. She had no idea what she was doing, or how. But she was not going 
to
die here! She would win this game! She gathered up every bit of her will and
lashed out in all directions, and the barriers of thought around her 
crumbled.
	Aptom's mind became an open book to her. She could see into the depths
of him. She could see everything that had led him to where he was. Down 
inside
him, she felt that part of him that was human struggling against the demon
Matsudaira had implanted within him. She knew the true Aptom would win in 
time,
absorb the monster into his being just as he had absorbed everything else. 
But
even if he won, it would be no help for them. Aptom himself was insane, a
product of year after year of abuse and the worst kind of enslavement. He 
felt
nothing but depression and rage. He wanted nothing more than to lash out 
against
those he judged responsible.
	But far worse was Ryouga's mind. Because she felt the same sort of
depression inside him. The same sort of need to lash out. Nabiki choked down 
her
own bile. She knew that she was responsible for that. It was her lies. It 
was
her desire to turn him into her slave. She had found something good and 
noble
about him and twisted it around her finger.
	Ryouga twitched. He turned his eyes down towards her. Nabiki's eyes
widened. "No..." she whispered.
	But then there was no time. Aptom was coming in towards them, from all
sides. Nabiki forced thought from her mind, and let herself serve as a 
conduit.
She could see Aptom's every thought, experience his every plan and strategy.
Even as he decided to strike here and there Nabiki knew it. And through her, 
so
did Ryouga.
	He dodged and weaved, avoiding attacks before they happened. He struck
back, his aura flaring and blasting. Bodies tumbled around him, trees and 
stones
and other shapes broke against his fury. He was one step ahead of the 
monster,
his aura held tight against his skin, the only barrier between him and the
thing's deadly touch. But there was nothing between him and Nabiki. She 
could
not hold back. Perhaps if she had been more skilled, more comfortable with 
her
new powers, she could have held some part of herself back. But she had to 
let
him see everything, learn everything even as she herself did. It was the 
only
thing keeping them both alive.
	Even it wasn't enough. Ryouga was tired. His energy was spent. He was
fighting on sheer willpower now, and even that drained away with every 
strike.
Aptom closed in from all sides, his bodies mutated and monstrous. Every sort 
of
horror from their nightmares was on display. reaching and grasping and 
striking.
Ryouga carried her in one arm, dancing between them. He leapt away as the 
ground
turned into a mass of writhing tentacles. He bounced off a car moments 
before it
grew giant hands that grasped at him. He came down in the center of them,
roaring and blasting outward.
	The explosion sent dozens of the creatures flying, dozens more were
vaporised instantly. Ryouga knelt in the center of a five meter wide crater, 
his
fist just touching the epicenter. He was spent. There was simply nothing 
left to
give.
	And as the sun vanished, and the entire world was plunged into twilight,
the shadows of Aptom fell over them. Nabiki fell as Ryouga released her.
By some miracle, he rose to his feet. Nabiki could sense his plan forming.
	"NO! Ryouga!" Nabiki screamed.
	"What do you care?" he shot back.
	"There has to be another way!" she said, and she realised she was
crying.
	"Another way..." Ryouga chuckled grimly. "No, Nabiki. This is it." He
looked at her, and in his face Nabiki saw nothing but hatred. He knew 
everything
now. Every lie and every scheme. "This is what you wanted, right? Somebody 
who
would die for you. Isn't it!"
	"Not like this," Nabiki's face fell. "I never meant for this to
happen... I never thought..." Hot tears fell from her cheeks onto her hands.
	"I wish you could get what's coming to you," Ryouga spat. "But I saw him
too. I saw him through you. He has to be stopped."
	Ryouga didn't say another word. He merely started walking up the side of
the crater. The Aptoms waited for him. Nabiki clenched her hand around the
wishing sword. The ground around her pulsed. Tendrils like veins throbbed 
all
around her. Aptom would not let her save him. Her mouth filled with a bitter
taste as she bit her tongue. She withdrew from Aptom, from Ryouga, from
everything until the only thing left was her.
	Ryouga was going to die for her. Even after everything she had done. He
would die for her. She stared up at him. She had to stop this.
	One Aptom had assumed his true form. He waited for Ryouga calmly. Ryouga
threw wide his arms and his aura dimmed, vanishing completely. The Aptom
laughed. "Yes boy, surrender is your only option!"
	The thing lashed out faster than Nabiki's eyes could follow. Its palm
struck Ryouga just over the heart and Ryouga screamed. It was a sound that
Nabiki knew would haunt her nightmares forever. Ryouga continued screaming 
as,
with a wet sucking sound, Aptom tore out his soul. Then, and only then, did
Ryouga fall silent. Aptom grinned as he held up the glittering multi-faceted
crystal star.
	"Ah, sweet revenge," he murmured. The star began to vanish as the
tendrils of Aptoms being coiled around and through it. Then they stopped as
Ryouga's hands snapped up, grasping the star between his palms.
	"You want my soul..." Ryouga's voice was soft, devoid of strength and
hope. His eyes looked up, and they were the eyes of the damned. Aptom had 
just
enough time to be afraid. "Then eat it all, you bastard! JISATSU BAKUHA!"
	"NO!" Nabiki screamed, even as the world flooded with light. The
explosion was so large, it drowned out sound. It turned night into day. She 
saw
the shadows of Aptom's horde, desperately running to escape. But this attack 
was
not physical. This attack was straight into Aptom's soul. Ryouga had known 
this,
that Aptom would swallow him, and their souls would briefly be connected. He 
had
taken all his anger and pain and hopelessness with him, directed it into 
that
abyss and turned it against itself. Aptom's own despair, his own rage only
fuelled the suicide blast. Like a chain reaction, it sprang from body to 
body,
to the ground, the walls, everything that Aptom had infected burst from 
inside
as the green light of the ultimate Shishihokodan consumed them.
	But Nabiki was not going to live with this. She would not have his death
on her conscience. She could feel her retinas burning as she stared into the
light, watching Ryouga's body disintegrate. Her hand raised high. The sword
snapped aloft.
	"I WISH HE WOULDN'T DIE!"

*

	The mob fell back after a few moments. They were no threat to Akira, or
Akane. But they just stood there, grinning. It was like they didn't even 
feel
the blows. Akira had bit her lip and struck back, glad she'd managed to get 
her
helmet on before the rush had hit. She had tried to go easy on them; most of
them weren't even trained. But her strikes didn't faze them, and she was
seriously debating whether she should step up the violence a notch when they 
all
suddenly withdrew.
	Now Akira knew why they had rushed. It was simply to keep her and Akane
busy while Kyosuke and Hinata closed in. Both moved steadily forward, their
auras just beginning to register on the naked eye. Akira glanced over at 
Akane.
The girl had yet to draw her sword. She hadn't even made a move to. She was 
good
at hand to hand, very good at handling the crowd, but Akira felt she had her
measure.
	She was no match for Kyosuke. She might not even be a match for Hinata.
Akira clenched her fists and made her decision quickly. Akane would just 
have to
be able to hold her own. There was no way the two of them could fight 
together
with the kind of skill Kyosuke and Hinata would. They had fought together so
much that it was habit. If Edge or Gan or Daigo had been here, Akira would 
have
trusted her partner to back her up. But Akane and her would not fight 
together
smoothly.
	So Akira roared and charged, pushing all her chi into her wind chakra.
Kyosuke was caught off-guard by her rush and she slammed into him like a 
freight
train. Students flew past them like tenpins as Akira drove them both through 
the
crowd and into a wall. The wall parted like water and Akira continued 
running
and pushing. She was halfway through the store when Kyosuke regained his 
wits.
	His hands came up calmly, grabbed her shoulders and he flipped her off
him with the casual ease he would wipe dirt off his lapel. Akira went 
through
the wall behind him, and this time she felt the brick and mortar part around 
her
painfully. She landed in a storage room of some kind. Boxes were piled here 
and
there. Mannequins were leaning against one wall, looking eerie in the 
half-light
that crept in through the hole Akira had created.
	She got to her feet slowly. The light dimmed as Kyosuke stepped up to
the hole. He placed one hand on the edge of the wall, and used the other to
adjust his glasses. He was smiling.
	"If you wanted to fight me by yourself, all you had to do was ask," he
said cheerfully. His voiced sounded lighter, brighter than she had ever 
heard it
before.
	"Kyosuke, you don't want to do this," Akira tried. Akane had explained
about Pink's so-called 'ambrosial thorns', but Akira did not believe her. 
She
did not want to believe her. She had been forced to fight friends before. 
She
had seen what people were like when they were brainwashed. Her own brother 
had
fallen to such mindgames before... but he had been brought back to himself.
	"Yes I do," Kyosuke said with a chuckle. "I have to say, this is
probably the first thing I've wanted to do in my entire life."
	But there was something wrong here. Kyosuke didn't sound brainwashed. He
didn't move like someone whose mind had been defiled. There was no mindless
drone to his voice, no violent intent in his eyes. There wasn't even the
fanatical gleam he had seen in the eyes of the Dolls. No, those eyes 
belonged to
Kyosuke and Kyosuke alone.
	He came at her quickly, dashing across the room. Akira spun, kicked off
the wall, came down at him with a cry. He caught her shin on his forearm, 
pushed
her away. She twisted, turning his parry into her punch. He caught her hand. 
She
twisted again, kicking with the leg that was only now leaving the wall. His 
head
swayed back. The cleats of her boots scraped along the rim of his glasses. 
Then
he thrust his hand and she was thrown back against the wall. She caught 
herself
with one hand, spinning herself so her head was once again aimed upward.
	"You're looking for the secret of what she did, aren't you?" Kyosuke
said. His palm came in, she dodged to the side as it broke open the wall 
behind
her. "You won't find it, Akira. I can't be 'saved' like that."
	"I refuse to believe it!" Akira stepped into him, her elbow connecting
with his ribs. He fell back, and his legs scissored up, catching her and 
sending
her into a pile of boxes. She threw them off her and backflipped to her 
feet.
"You're under her control, can't you see that?"
	The air between them was split by a flash of blue. Akira ran forward,
sidestepping the waves of chi as they cut into floor and ceiling. The air 
was
filled with ringing and a sudden downpour of water. She caught him with his 
arms
still extended. Her fist sent him flying into the mannequins.
	"You're wrong, Akira." Kyosuke rose up from the shattered bodies. "She
has set me free!" He leapt onto a mannequin and gestured up sharply. Akira 
fell
back as lightning suddenly erupted from where she had been. But the blast
sizzled and raced along the floor, spreading in all directions. The water, 
Akira
realised too late. The electricity hit her soles and she screamed as it ran 
up
her body.
	It was too diffuse to do any real damage, but it stunned her. He came
in, striking unrelentingly. Her body jerked and twitched as he pounded away, 
his
body a blur, his arms and legs hitting with impunity. And as he struck, he 
told
her things.
	"All my life, I've been chained by my own will," he related calmly, even
as his hand nearly dislocated her shoulder. "By my fear, Akira. I've always
known I was different than them, different than my brother, than all the 
other
children. But I couldn't stand the thought of them hating me. So I hid it,
buried my desires deep down inside." He stopped, holding her briefly. "But 
you
know all about that, don't you, Akira?"
	"W-what?" Akira coughed out. He threw her back against the wall, boxes
fell in her wake.
	"All about lies, don't you." He smiled. "But while I've been lying to
everyone else, I at least knew what I was inside. I never had a need to wear 
a
mask, unlike you."
	Kyosuke roared and thrust his hand forward. She deflected it with her
palm, and skidded to the side. "I don't lie to myself, Akira. I know what I 
am,
and I'm proud of it. I may not have chosen to tell anyone, I may have let my
fear keep me private and alone, but I knew how I felt all along. You... you 
just
sicken me."
	"I have no idea what you're talking about!" Akira shouted, striking at
him in a sudden fury. He backed up, his blocks and dodges becoming 
increasingly
desperate. She was like the waves, crashing again and again against him,
steadily wearing down his defenses. Sooner or later, he would slip.
	"Yes you do, Akira," Kyosuke purred, his voice calm even as his defenses
began to crumble. "I've seen the way you react to the boys. I've seen the 
way
you react to the girls. You think this is all about violence, all about 
playing
the perfect sister, don't you?" He smirked. "But it isn't. You're afraid of 
what
you are, of how you feel. How do you really feel about that girl, Ukyou?"
	Akira's heart skipped a beat. Her offence stalled for one split second.
Her defences dropped for the slightest instant. It was enough. Kyosuke's 
hand
flashed forward. There was a crack, like thunder, and she felt his 
fingertips
against her forehead. She jerked back, her instincts kicking in at the last
second.
	She fell on her back, scrambling away from him. Her helmet clattered to
the floor on either side of her, split in twain. Kyosuke withdrew his hand.
There was blood on his fingertips. Akira reached up, brushed her forehead. 
She
could feel the cut there. It was small, but deep. It bled freely.
	Another split second, and he would have cracked her skull just like that
helmet. Another split second and she would be dead.
	"No more masks, Akira," Kyosuke chuckled, and kicked away Akira's helmet
with his foot. "Now it's just you. Just a scared little girl, praying for 
her
big brother to save her." Akira couldn't speak, she merely backed away. 
"Praying
for him to save her from the bad men, from the bad feelings she has inside."
	"No..." Akira mouthed.
	"You don't think I haven't listened to him talk?" Kyosuke sneered. "The
'seven correct actions of the upright man' or some such nonsense?"
	He came in at her again, and Akira defended herself mechanically.
Kyosuke was better than her, she knew that. There was no hope for her to 
defeat
him. She could only delay it, the finishing blow. He had been toying with 
her
all along. More and more of his blows slipped through, and she felt her body
beginning to break under the onslaught.
	"I bet he had a lot of things to say about women too, about how they
should be." Kyosuke smashed Akira across the face, and she fell to the 
ground,
stunned. "They shouldn't feel the way you felt, right? They shouldn't like
motorcycles and grease and fighting. They should be there for their men. 
They
should accept their lot. And they certainly shouldn't stare at the other 
girls
and blush and think naughty things."
	Kyosuke grabbed Akira, lifting her up. She blinked drunkenly in his
grasp. "And that's the difference between us, Akira. I may have always been
afraid of what I was, about how I felt. I may have hidden my true self from 
my
brother, I might have let the distance come between us and helped him become 
a
monster. I may have hidden it from everyone, but never from myself. I was 
never
ashamed. I was never so sick of being who I was that I created a whole new
identity for myself, to let those feelings out!"
	He slammed her into the ground suddenly, viciously. Akira could only
gasp and moan. He had slammed her right next to the remains of her helmet,
forcing her to look at her own reflection in the cracked mirror visor.
	"THAT is who you are, Akira!" he hissed in her ear. "A scared little
girl, who can't take being what she is. So scared that you made this man, 
this
biker boy who could fight for you, and say the things you wanted to say but
never could." Kyosuke chuckled grimly. "Those are your chains."
	Kyosuke's hands wrapped around her neck and he lifted her up once more,
lifted her up off her feet. Her mind reeled with pain and confusion. He was
lying. He was trying to confuse her. Kyosuke excelled at mind games. But... 
but
a part of her...
	"And this is what I am, Akira," Kyosuke explained. He wasn't smiling
anymore. He drew in a deep breath. "Pink has set me free. She has shown me 
that
true happiness, that pure happiness exists in her. I don't have to feel pain
anymore, Akira. I don't have to be afraid. It all just melts away. I wish 
you
could feel that touch. I always did like you; I saw you as a kindred spirit. 
But
she says you have to die. And I would do anything for the person who saved 
me
from pain." His grip tightened suddenly and Akira could not breathe. "I'm 
sorry
it had to end like this, Akira."
	Then she was screaming. It came out a sharp whistle as her body jerked,
and writhed. He had summoned the lightning, right under her feet. He 
squeezed
her throat and the lightning coursed through her body. Her vision blinked,
black spots dancing across her sight. Her limbs flailed uncontrollably. She
could feel her heart. It was jerking and starting like the rest of her.
	She had to survive!
	But how? Her body was tortured, broken. Ukyou would have found a way.
She had seen Ukyou fight in worse situations. She had heard how the young 
woman
had never given up, had found a way out of anything. When Akira had first 
met
her, Ukyou had been recovering from one of those battles. And then she had 
been
attacked again, and nearly killed. Then again, and again. The enemies just 
kept
coming, and Ukyou survived. She had gone on, when her world had been 
crumbling
around her.
	Because Ukyou knew herself. Ukyou might not be open to others, but she
knew herself. Ukyou looked down into her own heart and sometimes she saw 
things
that scared her, and sometimes she saw things that disgusted her, but she 
never
turned her eyes away. Ukyou was the only person Akira knew that was that 
honest.
Not to others, but to herself.
	That was why Akira loved her.
	A wall broke down in Akira's mind. She heard someone cry out in pain,
then she was on her feet. Her hand reached up and she rubbed at her throat. 
It
was sore. Her body smoked, the leather of her outfit was covered in scorch
marks. Kyosuke was lying on the ground, clutching one of his wrists. Akira 
had
broken it, she remembered now. Her hand had reached up, and snapped the 
bones
like kindling.
	"You're right, Kyosuke," Akira said, her voice weak but growing
stronger. "I haven't been honest with myself." She raised one hand, 
clenching it
into a fist.
	"No..." Kyosuke kicked to his feet, ignoring his injured hand.
	"I can't die here today, Kyosuke," she explained, summoning up her aura.
She smiled ironically. The energy that flowed through her body was pure 
water
chakra. Ukyou had been the one who had taught her about it, about how it was 
the
energy that brought about change, adaptation... and healing. "I have a 
promise I
have to keep."
	"You're not strong enough," Kyosuke growled, and she knew he wasn't
talking about her physical strength. She smiled.
	"I am now. She showed me the way."
	Kyosuke came at her, but she intercepted him. She wasn't holding back
now. Kyosuke was her friend, but he was also her enemy. She struck with a
viciousness she hadn't even known she was capable of. It flowed through her 
like
a river. His striking arm snapped back as she slammed her palm into his 
elbow,
cracking the bone. Her shin came up against his knee, popping it. He 
screamed.
She came in, hitting him in the sternum with all her might - right above the
heart.
	For a moment, a terrible moment, his eyes went blank. Then he blinked
and coughed and fell to his knees.
	"I'm sorry, Kyosuke," Akira said. "But I didn't have time to be gentle.
There are monsters to slay."
	She struck him in the forehead with enough force to crack the concrete
floor underneath him. His eyes rolled back in his skull and he lay still. 
Akira
was moving before he even hit the floor, running for the exit onto the 
street.
	Akira landed on the sidewalk in a crouch. Her eyes flashed through the
crowd. There was no sounds of combat, no sign of a struggle. The sky was a 
black
shadow, the sun was nothing but a sliver of purple light around the edges of 
a
black well. Her eyes narrowed as she saw Akane slumped in the center of the
road. Hinata was holding her from behind, restraining her arms and bracing 
her
palms against Akane's neck, holding the girl's head up. Akane looked dazed.
	"Sometimes you make it too easy for me, Akane," Pink mused, standing
only a few meters away from the girl. "I know I said I'd never touch you, 
but
that was before I had such a perfect opportunity." Her hand came up and tiny
thorns unfurled from the tips of her fingers. "Now, what would you hate to 
do?
What would compromise those precious morals of yours so much? What can I 
make
you beg me to let you do, over?"
	"Let her go," Akira ordered, rising to her feet. Pink looked over, one
eyebrow raised. She didn't look so much shocked or afraid as disappointed.
	"It's so hard to find good help these days," the green-eyed girl said
with a sigh. She snapped her fingers. "Kill, over."
	The students rushed in. Akira narrowed her eyes. These people were her
friends. She knew many of them by name. They had thanked her for helping 
them.
She struck without thought. Bodies flew in every direction. One hand planted 
on
the shoulder of a girl a year Akira's senior, then Akira was flying into the
air. She came down, her cleats smashing into the skull of a boy who had once
asked her out. She ran forward, the screaming bodies and their flailing 
limbs
serving as her path.
	Hinata had enough time to blink before Akira came down at her. Akira's
hair whipped around her, bright light flashing along the edges of her 
vision.
She landed right beside the girl, her aura roiling around her like a 
whirlpool.
Akira had once admired Hinata, admired her for doing so casually what Akira
could only accomplish with hours of soul-crushing effort.
	Akira's hand came up, and her palm gently touched Hinata in the side,
just under her arm. Like a tidal wave her aura exploded, sweeping the girl 
away
with a scream. Akira spun around, catching Akane with her other arm. Hinata 
flew
through the crowd and smashed into a storefront with enough force that the
entire building shuddered, then collapsed on top of her a second later.
	Akira looked down at Akane, smirking slightly. That had felt strangely
satisfying.
	"Akira?" Akane murmured. Then her eyes widened, and Akira felt the other
girl kick out at her legs. For a brief moment, Akira was afraid she was too
late. Then she fell, and felt something flash through the air above her 
head.
She spun them both around, landing on her back with Akane held above her.
	Pink stared down at the two of them, her outstretched hand clutched
impotently at thin air.
	"Well, fuck, over."
	Akane growled, and her hand snapped down to her sword's hilt. Pink
backed up a step as Akane rose. The crowd was rushing in on all sides, but 
Akira
struck the ground with one foot. The tremor was enough to throw off 
everyone's
balance. Even Pink stumbled. But Akane didn't.
	The air was filled with a loud hiss. Akane stood for a moment, her knees
bent slightly forward, her sword hand extended up and to her side. Pink 
toppled
forward in front of her.
	But the sheath was still on the sword.
	"OW! MY FACE! OW, OVER!" Pink was screaming. She was clutching at the
welt on her face, a thick red line that had almost caved in her exotic 
features.
	"Shut up, or next time, I use the blade," Akane said, letting the sheath
slide to the ground as she lowered the blade.
	"You don't have the guts, over!" Pink said, sneering through her pain.
	"Maybe she doesn't," Akira said solemnly. "But I do."
	The crowd was screaming, but in fear, not rage. Akira looked up... and
up some more.
	It was three stories tall. A praying mantis with fierce clicking
mandibles and claws that were as long as Akira was tall. On its insectile 
head
was perched a girl that was Pink's twin, except human. She wore an outfit
exactly like Pink's as well, except instead of the blue gem growing into (or
perhaps from?) her chest, there was a shadow shape of it there.
	"I think this is the part where we leave, over," the newcomer said, her
eyes fixed mainly on Pink. Pink, for her part, was too busy scrambling
underneath the protection of the giant monster to offer a snappy comeback.
	"Link," Akane said, her voice uncertain. "Why are you letting this
happen?"
	Link switched her focus to Akane, her frown twitching slightly as if she
was amused by some internal joke. "Because I know the truth, Akane. None of 
this
matters, over."
	"You think that thing's going to stop us?" Akira said, frowning herself.
"I've fought bigger."
	"Stop? No. Slow down so we can escape? Yes, over." And then Link was
leaping back, her hand extending up, and suddenly a shape buzzed out from a 
side
alley. It was a wasp, if a wasp could be said to have been molded from amber 
and
flower petals. Also, it was ten feet long. She caught one of its legs and
swooped down, picking up her twin.
	"And don't any of you useless fools follow me, either!" Pink screeched
as the wasp rose into the air. "Damn pathetic high school students! Next 
time I
brainwash something useful, like accountants, over!"
	Akane and Akira both leapt to follow, but the mantis knocked them from
the air with twin sweeps of its claws. They landed in a heap, and Akane 
moaned,
sitting up slightly. Akira saw Akane's eyes fix on a nearby rooftop, where a
woman with long purple hair was watching silently. Then the woman vanished 
over
the side of the building and was gone.

*

	Pluto waited.
	She had said everything there was to say. She knew that this was the
moment of truth. It had all come down to this. Either Ukyou would see the 
wisdom
in her words, or she would remove Pluto's head from her body. Either way, it
ended here and now. She could sense it. It filled the air around them. It 
was a
terrible pressure, the weight of Destiny. It was the feeling that all the 
time
stream had been building up to this moment, that everything now hinged on 
what
would happen.
	Slowly, so slowly Pluto was not even aware it was happening, the blade
at her throat eased. When Ukyou spoke, her voice was barely above a whisper. 
It
had none of her cold certainty, none of her iron confidence. It was the 
voice of
a scared little girl.
	"You have to get her out of here," Ukyou said.
	"Hotaru?" Pluto asked.
	"Get her to safety. Get her away from this place."
	"NO!" Hotaru screamed. She was still floating in Rose's telekinetic
grip, her body squeezed just enough to be uncomfortable. "Ukyou, no! Don't 
do
this!"
	"Hotaru...?" Ukyou sounded surprised by the girl's reaction.
	"Don't surrender because of me! Please! I can't st-"
	"SHUT UP, HOTARU!" Ukyou roared. The girl's mouth snapped closed, her
chin trembling and her eyes glistened. "You don't understand. I'm not worth
saving. Pluto is right. But you... I won't let you come to harm. If my dying 
can
save you, then so be it."
	Hotaru looked at Ukyou for a long moment. Then her head slumped to her
chest and her body began to shake with silent sobs.
	"Get her out of her, Pluto!" Ukyou hissed. "Before I change my mind.
Send her somewhere safe."
	Pluto nodded and stepped away from Ukyou. She pulled up her time key
staff. Through it, she was connected to the Gates of Time. With the gates, 
there
was very little she could not do. Normally, she could send Hotaru back or 
forth
in time with ease... but not now. Her power had already been tested to its
limit. Creating the sector of null time in which she had hidden for her 
futile
ambush had nearly killed her. No, breaking down the barriers of time was out 
of
the question. That left space. Unfortunately, Ukyou thought more highly of 
her
ability in this regard than Pluto was actually capable of.
	If all three of the Outer Senshi had been here, then they could have
teleported anywhere in the entire solar system. But that would never happen
now. So much loss... she shook that thought aside. They would not want her 
to
hesitate now. She couldn't send Hotaru absolutely anywhere, but she could 
send
her somewhere safe. A building near the battle, a building all the vampires
avoided. A building they feared. Pluto didn't know why, but it would be safe
enough for the girl for the moment.
	Hotaru's body faded slightly, then vanished in a flicker of green light.
	"Pluto, look out!"
	Pluto was too slow. Ukyou came up with the speed of a whirlwind. Her
hand shot out and clamped onto the haft of the time key staff. But even as 
she
did, Rose appeared behind her. Ukyou's body jerked forward, her back bowing 
as
Rose focused the full force of her soul power into her. Her coat burned 
away,
the leather disappearing into a swirling mass of blue flames. Pluto could 
hear
the ribs in her back cracking, one at a time.
	But Ukyou's eyes were focused. Her cold black lotus eyes gazed straight
into Pluto's, and Pluto knew she had been fooled. Ukyou had never 
surrendered.
She would fight on, to the bitter end. There was no hope for her to win, not
like this, but Ukyou would fight on.
	"Sorry, Pluto, but this ends today!" Ukyou screamed. Then her grip
around the time staff tightened, her knuckles turning white. Rose screamed,
pouring a constant stream of energy into Ukyou, but she wouldn't fall. Then 
her
fingers closed into a fist, and for a moment time stopped.
	Pluto stared. Time had literally stopped. Everything in the world had
simply ceased moving for a moment, except for her and Ukyou. Overhead, the 
moon
had vanished into the shadow of the earth. Pluto held the end of the time 
key
staff in her hands. The other end, its haft shattered, was caught in 
mid-fall.
The tiny fragments and splinters of the staff floated in the void of time 
for an
instant eternity.
	Then time started again. Pluto screamed as the pressure of it grounded
through her body like a bolt of lightning. She heard Ukyou scream too, and 
knew
the woman had experienced similar pain. Pluto slumped to her knees. Beside 
her,
Ukyou fell on her side, her body twitching.
	Pluto looked up dumbly. The clearing had been destroyed. The force of
the temporal implosion had scoured the soil down to the bedrock. The tree 
line
had been moved back five meters. The cliff wall had shattered, now nothing 
more
than a mass of rubble. Rose lay on top of the remains. For a heart-stopping
instant, her chest was not moving.
	Rose's mouth opened and she gasped. Pluto felt relief flood through her
like clear spring water. She did not know if she could have withstood that. 
Not
so soon after losing the Outer Senshi as well. It wouldn't have been worth 
that
cost.
	Rose was regaining her feet, and Pluto was as well. Ukyou, however, lay
still. She was unconscious. The skin on her back was scorched black from 
Rose's
assault. Her body obviously hadn't been prepared for the backlash of what 
she
had done. Pluto could only marvel at her tenacity. She hadn't believed
destroying her staff was even possible.
	"Pluto, your staff..." Rose said.
	"Gone..." Pluto dropped the now useless metal. It was cold and lifeless,
like any other stick now. The garnet orb had vanished, disappearing back to 
the
Gates of Time no doubt. "I can no longer access the Gates of Time."
	"I see..."
	"But I am still a Sailor Senshi," Pluto pointed out, holding up her
hand. "I still have the seed of the guardian star, the planet Pluto who 
stands
at the gates of death, within me." A purple orb began to form around her 
fist.
"I can finish what I started."
	Then the world exploded again.
	Pluto came to a second later. She was laying near the trees. She looked
up, dazed.
	Rose was standing in front of her, her body cloaked in power. Just
beyond her a massive man floated, his heels held smartly together, his arms
crossed. He was grinning.
	"Did you truly think that you could deny me, Rose?" Bison said. Pluto
felt her heart sinking. She recognised the man. She knew who he was from 
Rose's
description and her own examinations of the time streams.
	"I will always deny you, monster!" Rose said, her voice cool.
	Bison laughed. "And that is why I discarded you."
	"I am not part of you!" Rose declared. She raised her shawl and a blast
of soul energy ran along its length, flying from the tip towards Bison. He 
held
up one hand, and it popped against his flesh like a balloon.
	"Oh please, useless fragment, do not fool yourself." He lowered his
hand. "You are the weakness I saw in myself. The doubt and limitations on my
great Psychopower. I cut you from my soul like a surgeon would a tumor, and 
cast
you aside. I must admit, I was surprised when you sought me out, first drawn 
to
me as a student, then as an enemy."
	"I defeated you once," Rose pointed out.
	"Why would I want to defeat you, Rose?" Bison smiled again, his glowing
blue eyes flashing dangerously. "We are the same, you and I. If I were to go 
all
out against you, kill you, I might risk your weakness creeping back into my
spirit. So I let you believe you could defeat me, rather than risk such a
foolish confrontation." He chuckled, a menacing sound. "But now I am at my 
full
strength. The Psychodrive feeds my power, purifies it. I am power incarnate 
now.
You cannot hope to prevail."
	"I..." Rose paused. "I do not have to." She looked up at him sharply.
"All I have to do is hold you long enough for Pluto to finish what she 
started!"
	Rose charged forward, and Bison laughed as he vanished from in front of
her. Pluto could only stare as a battle like none she had ever witnessed
unfolded in front of her.
	Rose was a dynamo, an elegant tornado in the centre of the clearing.
Bison was like a phantom, fading away from her assaults. He teleported with
wanton abandon. But even as he faded, Rose would spin, launching an attack 
at
seemingly empty air. Only a moment later Bison would materialise, his arm 
just
blocking her strikes, or his body just barely dodging. And he struck too. 
His
blows came in from all angles. He flew back, and came at her in a tight
cartwheel. She dodged. Even as she did, he struck out. She caught his limb 
and
pivoted around it, landing safely away. He vanished, appearing in the sky,
coming down at her from unexpected angles. He would teleport in the middle 
of a
punch or kick, and she would spin to block at nothing, only parry his 
incoming
thrust.
	Pluto realised that she was watching a fight that was occurring on a
whole other level than the physical. Rose and Bison were fighting a battle 
that
was as much spiritual as actual. Each was reading the other's minds and
intentions. Each was battering at the other's will with their tremendous 
psychic
force. The clearing was filled with the tension of the battle of wills. That 
was
why neither was filling the air with the pyrotechnics Pluto knew them 
capable
of. They needed every mote of power they could spare for the telepathic 
contest
between them.
	Except Bison did not. He was vanishing and reappearing without a care,
spending energy like it was water. Rose did not have his reserves. She would
lose this fight.
	Pluto held up her hand. The Dead Scream began to form again. She
couldn't let Rose fight in vain. She had to find Ukyou. She almost missed 
her.
	The woman was crawling away, into the trees. Pluto circled the battle,
trying to get a good shot. But as she did, she felt something inside of 
Ukyou.
It was there again, that terrible power. Not yet active, but closer to the
surface now. Everything else that Ukyou had, her chi, her will, her body, 
had
been worn away. It was all she had left. But Ukyou was not grasping that 
alien
power. She crawled away.
	No, not away.
	"Ran... Ranchan..." Ukyou coughed. "I... I'm coming..."
	Pluto hesitated.
	There was a sudden burst of laughter behind her. Pluto spun. Rose had
been caught. Bison held her by one arm. She was dangling over the ground, 
his
massive frame easily able to hold her above the ground. Her face was 
haggard.
She was almost completely out of energy now. Bison was holding up his hand, 
and
a blue-purple sphere was growing atop his palm.
	He was going to kill her. He no longer feared her being able to weaken
him, or maybe he was just so far gone in his bloodlust he didn't care. He 
would
kill her. Ukyou was rising to her feet, her eyes wide and fearful.
	"Hotaru... no..."
	A second after Ukyou said it, Pluto felt it. Sailor Saturn. She was
awake. Pluto looked at Ukyou, whose eyes were closing. Pluto knew this was 
it.
She could fire now, while Ukyou was distracted, while Bison was occupied. 
Her
Dead Scream would kill the woman. It would end it.
	And Rose would die.
	"DEAD SCREAM!"
	Always before, the words had been spoken in a whisper. Now Pluto roared.
The ball of purple light flew across the clearing. Bison screamed as it 
slammed
into his back. His grip on Rose snapped open, and Pluto was already there to
catch her.
	"You... fool..." Rose murmured.
	"What good is saving the universe..." Pluto spoke softly, "If I lose my
soul in the process?"
	"Foolish woman!" Bison roared, levitating to his feet. "You will pay for
that insult!"
	Behind him, Ukyou was looking back at Pluto. Her eyes were unreadable.
Her face was set in a grim frown. Her fingers were curled into fists. She 
spoke,
but the words were not really meant for Pluto, or anyone else. "Please 
forgive
me, for what I must do."
	And the alien power filled her. It exploded through her body, and the
world around her shuddered. Bison stopped in mid-speech, turning to stare, 
but
Ukyou was already gone, vanishing into the woods with impossible speed.
	"Now!" Pluto cried, pushing Rose forward. The woman needed no other
prompting. They struck at Bison, throwing everything they had, the last of 
their
magic and spirit.
	Together.

*


	Inside, the tent was as dark as the sky overhead, the place cavernous,
an empty auditorium with no audience. In the centre they danced, their 
costumes
bright and colorful. They swayed to the beat of the pleasant music that was
being played expertly off-key. There were dozens of circus performers. Here 
a
knife juggler, there a fire-eater, here an acrobat and there a clown. They
cavorted and performed for an audience of no-one, and as they did they 
chanted
loudly.
	"They didn't notice!" they cried. "They didn't notice!" They repeated it
like a mantra, over and over. "Such blind beings these humans are!" one of 
them
said, and this new chant was mixed in with the others. They laughed and 
danced
and the twisted music filled the cavern.
	Cologne tapped her staff sharply against the stones. It made a sound
like a thunderclap, and instantly the entire procession fell silent. She
crouched silently in the entranceway, gazing out at this troupe of buffoons
through half-lidded eyes.
	"Who are you?" one of them said, sounding surprised.
	"I'm the one who noticed," Cologne introduced herself. It really hadn't
been hard. She had heard the story of the sudden eclipse and had felt the 
dark
energy rising. It was a simple matter, for someone sensitive to such things, 
to
track them down. She was actually amazed that they thought landing a giant 
tent
in the middle of downtown Tokyo would not be noticed. "Now it is my turn. 
Who
are you?"
	Cologne was not afraid of these clowns and freaks. Oh, she could sense
their power. They had potent magic, whoever these invaders were, that was 
for
sure. Much more potent than even the magic Cologne had felt from those girls 
the
child Akane seemed so concerned about. But while they had power, Cologne 
could
see that they lacked spirit. There was no true purpose to this bunch, just
mindless malice and greed.
	"We are the Dead Moon Circus!"
	Cologne looked up at the high-pitched voice that responded, and allowed
herself one slow, careful blink. There were four of them, girls no older 
than
twelve by the looks of them. They each wore outfits that made the ridiculous
costumes of their brethren look sane in comparison. Each was colour-coded, 
with
a small orb appropriate to their costume hanging near them as they hovered 
in
space. One was riding hers.
	"And what kind of old grandmother are you?" The red-head girl and
apparent leader spoke up again.
	"Yes!" the one with pink hair added primly. "You are obviously unworthy
of our attention, old woman. Especially when you are dealing with such youth 
and
beauty as us."
	"You should mind your elders, child," Cologne said, even though she
could sense ancient power here. She knew instinctively that these children 
were
no older than they appeared... no matter how old they actually were.
	"Elder, elder, elder!" the blue-haired one cried in a sing-song voice.
"You're too old to understand what kind of trouble you're in."
	Cologne sighed, having grown tired of this. She leapt into the air,
propelling herself with the speed of a chi long cultivated and 
well-maintained.
Her staff lashed out four times, and the girls toppled to the ground, more
surprised than hurt.
	"She... she hit us!" one of them complained.
	"And I'll do so again if you don't show more respect next time," Cologne
offered. The entire circus was silent for a moment at this affront. All the
performers were backing away in fear. If these four were what those monsters
feared, then Cologne was not impressed.
	"We'll show you, granny!" the one with green hair growled. She climbed
to her feet and held up her hands. Her orb began to pulse with power, and 
the
others all giggled and followed her example. Cologne willed her body to 
relax,
to be able to burst into motion at any instant. She felt the magical aura 
around
them rise. She would have to draw them outside, away from their home turf. 
Maybe
she could drag in a few of those young monster slayers to help her. 
Certainly a
big enough commotion would draw in somebody, right?
	"I just want to know what you plan to accomplish here," Cologne replied
grimly.
	The girls just laughed.
	Then Cologne felt someone step up behind her. Her breath caught in her
throat as she felt his aura flow over her. She had only felt such an aura 
once
before, when that creature Gyro had confronted them. She kept herself from
trembling. The energy of the thing behind her was immense, but she could not
show fear. For a moment her own desire to have somebody else notice the
descending balloon seemed to mock her. Why did it have to be one of THEM?
	"I think I would like an answer to that question myself." The voice was
cultured, European. Unlike Gyro's, it did not demand obedience, merely 
expected
it. Cologne turned to look at the man behind her.
	He was tall, with blonde hair cut regally short. He wore a long cloak
that was held fast in front of him, concealing his body. On his shoulders 
were
large elaborate decorations. His face was angular, with piercing eyes and 
thin
lips.
	"Another old geezer!" the blue-haired girl said, tittering.
	The man's eyes narrowed. "I am Frederick von Purgstall. I rule here,
and I demand to know what you plan on doing in my city."
	His voice brooked no argument, but the girls ignored him. They laughed
and mocked him, pointing at him derisively. Cologne felt his power building, 
and
she leapt to the side. He frowned wordlessly. Then his forehead split apart, 
a
great shining light too bright to look into spilling forth from the wound. 
In an
instant, it lanced forward, a beam of raw destructive power that filled the 
air
with the stench of lightning.
	The beam passed almost a meter above the ground, but in its wake the
stone floors buckled, cracked and then exploded. The circus freaks too slow 
to
move out of the way screamed as the bolt tore through their bodies without
pause. First giant holes appeared in them or entire limbs vanished as they
came too close to that blinding light, then their bodies vanished like 
shadows.
The beam flashed across the room, striking a peculiar platform on the other 
end
of it. Cologne didn't have much time to examine it, for as the beam rose up 
its
length, it was blown to bits. Then, impossibly, there was a second surge of
light, even larger than the first. A great bulge of energy that pulsed out 
from
Purgstall's forehead and whipped across the room too fast for Cologne to 
follow.
It hit the far wall, and the sound of it hitting was like a thousand cannons
going off at once. Cologne covered her ears and closed her eyes but even 
that
didn't block out the sound and light of the explosion.
	When she opened them again, she was still blinking away spots and her
ears were still ringing. The circus was a shambles: the stands had been 
blasted
to splinters, the floors were a rubble field and the entire back wall had
vanished like it had never been. She looked down, almost bemused to see the 
four
girls kowtowing to the large man. Cologne couldn't make out what they were
saying, but from their frantic movements and their expressions, she guessed 
that
the 'Dead Moon Circus' was surrendering.
	Which left no one for the zoalord to focus his attention on but her.
She sighed and gripped her staff tightly. Her only regret was that she 
wouldn't
live to see if her great-granddaughter became the kind of woman Cologne 
hoped
she would be.
	"You would be Cologne," Purgstall said. He had waited until the ringing
in Cologne's ears had stopped. She nodded. "You broke into our mountain, if 
I
understand correctly." She nodded. "Well then... I think I would like very 
much
to talk to you. Would you care to join me for tea?"
	Cologne blinked. From his tone, it wasn't an order. But from his
expression, she wasn't certain she had much choice in the matter. Cologne
lowered her staff. She nodded again.

*

	"That was so stupid, over," Link commented.  They were buzzing lazily
over the rooftops of Tokyo.  The darkened sun cast the city below into an 
eerie
twilight. Many people were out on balconies, rooftops, and the streets.  
Most
pointed and stared at the wasp-like aragami the twins rode, but there wasn't
much they could do, of course.
	Pink had hesitated a moment before responding.  The skin around her eye
had turned an ugly purple, and she was gingerly touching the swollen lump 
just
beside it. "It was an opportunity.  Besides, those two were conspiring 
against
me, over." Perversely, her smile widened as she said the last.
	"You could have died," Link snapped at her twin.  "I wasn't fast enough
to stop Akane, over."  And if Pink had died... Link suppressed a shudder.  
She
couldn't risk that.  Not now.  Not when she had finally cracked open the 
truth
of the world.
	"But I didn't," Pink snapped right back.  "And don't think you can
lecture me, Link.  You seem to forget who holds the power here, over!"
	Link turned.  Her brown eyes met Pink's emerald ones.  "Oh, am I, over?"
The wasp made an angry humming sound.
	Pink's lip curled.  "Please.  You'd no sooner drop me than yourself."
She levered herself into a more casual position, daring Link to order the 
wasp
to hurl her off.  "And you won't do anything else, either.  You'll do what I
tell you and be happy for it, over."
	Link's frown deepened.  She knew, of course, where Pink was going with
this.  But that had never stopped Pink from bragging before, and this time 
was
no different.
	"You know why?  It's because I have HIM.  You'll never be able to
salvage your relationship with him now.  And even if you did, you'll never 
be
what I am to him.  Just like Akane Tendo.  Don't think you'll ever again be 
able
to threaten me into doing what you want like you did with Adon, my dear 
twin.
If anything happens to me, Chris will make sure you regret it for the rest 
of
your life, over."
	"That doesn't change anything, over."
	"It changes everything," Pink laughed triumphantly.  "I don't NEED you
anymore, my dear twin.  I have Chris, and I can get any number of other 
slaves.
Oh yes, I suppose you still have to live."  Her smile bared a flash of white
teeth. "But whether you'll get to tag along behind us on our many 
adventures, or
whether we'll carry your limbless, eyeless, tongueless torso in a bag of 
broth
from that moss you worked so hard to get is entirely up to you, over."
	Her eyes gleamed feverishly, and Link almost involuntarily nudged
further away from her.  "I wouldn't tempt me, if I were you."  Pink laughed 
at
her own joke, but her hungry eyes never left Link's.  "You, my shadow.  
Always
there.	Always echoing me.  Always DENYING me.  But you're not even my
reflection anymore.  When I'm listening to you scream, which of us will be 
more
real, over?"
	Link sat, frozen, for a moment, before turning away. She felt the
aragami's confusion and anger, but calmed it with a thought, then directed 
it
down towards the ground.  The wind rushed around them as they dove.
	"I think you can make it back to the house from here.  I'm going to go
see if I can get my mantis, or at least the mitama, over."
	Pink laughed to herself and dismounted.  "Sure, sure.  You go do that.
I think when Chris gets back, we'll go round ourselves up a little army.
There's still enough delinquent martial artists around for that.  And then 
we'll
gather up a few more mitama for me... twenty, thirty maybe.  What do you 
think
of that, Link, over?"
	"I can't see a problem with it, over." Link didn't turn around.
	"I didn't think so, over."
	The dust whipped around as the wasp lifted into the air again.  Link
waited until they were well away before allowing herself to chuckle.  The
aragami sent an inquisitive feeling into her mind.  "Pink really doesn't
understand anything about the situation she's in, over."  The aragami 
indicated
it didn't understand either, but Link soothed it with a soft sound, rubbing 
its
head right above where the precious mitama gleamed.  It didn't matter.  Pink
could be a threat, but she had a short attention span.  And there was plenty 
of
people she hated far more than her twin.  Shampoo came to mind.  And at this
point, quite likely Akane as well.  Keeping her distracted wouldn't be
difficult.
	She concentrated, searching for the telltale signature of her other pet.
Surprisingly, it wasn't far at all, and was growing nearer.  Link relaxed a 
bit.
The mantis must have escaped.  Not unexpected - Akane was anything but
bloodthirsty.  The wasp angled around a tall building, speeding towards its
brother-
	Link blinked.  She had just enough time to do that, and realise that the
purple flash she had seen wasn't just an optical illusion of the eclipse, 
before
the head of the wasp lazily, almost casually spun away from the body.  And 
then
they were plunging towards the ground, the body withering away underneath 
her,
the darkened world spinning.  Link's stomach rose, and she was screaming, or 
at
least her mouth was open, and then the ground filled her vision and she had 
only
time to close her eyes-
	And she was stopped.  Not by the ground, but by a pair of arms.  Link's
eyes snapped open, and she looked up at the face of the girl she'd once 
hated
more than anyone else in the world.
	Shampoo was smiling slightly.  "You alright?"
	"Yes, what..." and then Link looked over, and saw Shampoo's sword on the
ground.  It was covered in green ichor: both from the wasp, and from having 
cut
the mitama from the mantis, which lay in a small puddle next to it.  Her 
eyes
narrowed, and she ripped herself from Shampoo's grasp, backing up a step.  
The
Joketsuzoku merely continued staring at her, eyes half-lidded lazily.  
"Shampoo.
What did you do, over?"
	"Shampoo not cause any harm to you, as promise.  No promise anything
about plant monsters."
	Link scowled.  "What are you up to?  If you're trying to scare me, don't
even try.  Your great-grandmother can't protect you from Chris, over."
	Shampoo laughed.  "The last thing Shampoo care about is being protected
by great-grandmother."  She looked to the side, and her smile widened.  
"About
time."
	And at that point she vanished.  Again, it took Link a moment to even
follow what had happened, and by the time her head snapped to the side,
Shampoo's limp body was tumbling from the crater it had made in the concrete
siding of the building.  She hadn't even tried to defend herself.  She 
staggered
up to one knee, and then Link realised in a flash of terror what was 
happening.
	"Shampoo, get the mitamas to..." she trailed off as a blue flash
smashed Shampoo into the ground with enough force to make the entire street
shake.  This time, Shampoo did not rise again.
	Link slowly raised her eyes from Shampoo's unconscious body.  The boy
looked like a thug.  His navy blue school uniform strained to contain his
muscular form, and was ragged and threadbare from poor care.  His short, 
spiky
brown hair was just starting its retreat up his forehead, leaving bare the 
x-
shaped scar there. His expression was grim as death.  He raised one 
red-gloved
hand, curling his fingers into a fist.
	"Batsu Ichimonji..." Link murmured.  "So, you weren't just absent.  I
should have known, over..." He saw her edging to the side.  His muscles 
tensed.
Link made a desperate lunge towards the mitama.  Two steps towards it and he 
was
in front of her.  She opened her mouth, though whether to threaten or plead 
she
never knew.  Red flashed before her eyes, and she fell into darkness.

*

	Artemis hated this feeling, the helpless feeling of standing on the
sidelines. He wanted to do something so badly it hurt. He wanted to help
everyone, but all he could do was watch. He ground his teeth and forced 
himself
to stand still. He would accomplish nothing by rushing out into that war 
zone,
nothing but getting himself killed.
	He was crouched in the doorway of the old church. With his superior
feline senses and psychic powers, he could follow the entire battle from 
here,
without being noticed. It was the one place the vampires dared not approach. 
He
had seen a few of them run towards it, only to stall in their tracks, their
faces open-mouthed gapes of terror. They could sense something in this 
church,
something that scared them more than anything. He had watched vampires 
charge
straight into artillery fire. He had seen them leap through walls of flame. 
He
had watched them fight on even as the sun rose, laughing as they burned 
beneath
its cleansing rays. But the thing in this church, the corpse, frightened 
them
beyond anything else.
	So he was safe here, for now.
	He felt something in the air behind him, and turned. The girl, Hotaru,
had just appeared in the church, leaning against one of the pews. She was
clutching herself and crying softly, her sobs shaking her whole body. He
wondered briefly what it was that had brought her here, then he felt the
explosion.
	Sensitive as Artemis was to magic, he could not fail to feel it. A rip
in the time stream, a temporal backlash of monstrous proportions. As quickly 
as
it came, it was gone. He gasped and ran out the door, looking off into the
woods. He saw the man in the sky hovering for a second, looking in the 
direction
of the explosion. Then he grinned and chuckled, before vanishing into a 
shower
of purple light.
	"Sailor Pluto..." Artemis murmured. He had no idea what had just
happened, but he was certain it was bad.
	Even as Bison vanished from the sky, his servants moved in to attack.
There were ten of them, Artemis realised quickly. Each was a young woman,
wearing identical black skin-tight uniforms. They were not identical; each 
had
distinct features and hair, but they all moved in eerie unison. The vampires 
had
ceased their attack for the moment, wondering what to make of these new 
threats.
Then the one nearest the back, a young woman with pink hair, raised a 
microphone
and began to sing.
	It was a song with no real words, just her voice rising up and down from
tone to tone. It was a soft aria, a song with no emotion, only mechanical
precision. One by one, the other women began to pick up the tune, each 
opening
their mouths and adding her voice to the chorus. In no time at all they were
singing in perfect unison, and Artemis felt the energy between them all 
growing.
He realised they were linking up with each other, synchronising their power 
in a
way that went beyond the tone of their song.
	When they struck, it was like a tidal wave washing over the clearing.
They came in fast, each coming in by a separate route but all moving with 
the
same purpose. The vampires roared and opened fire, their weapons creating a 
wall
of lead. The women moved through it without pause, dodging and parrying the
bullets with their thick red metal forearm guards. They fell into the 
vampire
ranks, striking with fist and spear and staff. Where they struck, the 
monsters
fell.
	Integra opened her mouth, about to shout in triumph at the turning of
the tide, when one of the women appeared in front of her. She was short, 
with
long blonde hair in a ponytail and a thick iron mask hiding her face. She
glanced at Integra for a second, then her voice emerged, breaking the aria 
for a
moment.
	"Identity confirmed," she said. "Hellsing, Integra. Not target.
Proceeding to eliminate." She stepped forward, thrusting her fist with 
inhuman
speed. All Integra could do was gasp, then she flew back. The fist emerged,
bloody, from the back of the girl vampire, Victoria.
	She grinned, blood leaking out of the corner of her mouth. "Not... today
you don't," she said. The woman reacted only by withdrawing her hand and
swinging it up at the policegirl. She snapped her hand up, catching the 
wrist.
With a roar, she drove her other hand into the masked woman's chest. The 
woman
buckled back and Victoria released her. She flew through the air... and was
caught neatly by two other of the Bison-women. They set her down, and the 
woman
stood as if she had not been hit. All three turned on Victoria, who wiped 
the
blood from her lips. "Miss Integra... stay behind me."
	"NANCY!"
	Artemis' eyes flashed from one confrontation to another. Yomiko had
risen to her feet again, Ranma and Minako not far behind. The bookworm was
staring into the melee, her mouth quirking up into a smile. Her eyes flashed
with hope. She began to walk forward. Artemis saw her destination, an 
identical
pair of the Bison-women. They seemed slightly older than the others, but no 
less
attractive for it. They had short black hair that gleamed in the firelight. 
As
Artemis watched, one of them swung her hand through a vampire, as easily as 
you
would pass your arm through a thick mist. When her hand emerged, she was
clutching the thing's heart. The vampire slumped gracelessly to the ground. 
The
other was walking toward a cluster of humans, who were firing futilely at 
her,
their bullets harmlessly emerging from her back with a flash of gold sparks.
	"Yomiko, come back!" Ranma cried, trying to grab her. But her fingers
slipped along the edge of Yomiko's coat and the woman was running now. Ranma
grimaced. "They aren't your friends anymore! I've seen what Bison can do to
people!" She realised Yomiko wasn't paying attention. "Damn. Minako, we have 
to
stop..."
	Ranma turned around, only to gasp. Artemis felt his own hackles rise,
felt himself hissing. The blonde vampire, Luke, was holding Minako by the 
neck.
He had one of his antique guns pressed against her temple. Minako was 
pulling
futilely at his hand, her expression panicked.
	"You monster! Let her go!" Ranma cried.
	"Or you'll what?" Luke grinned. "Kill me? No, I think I will take this
one." He nodded his head towards the battle between the vampires and Bison's
female servants. "The tide of the battle has turned against us, and it's 
time to
make our leave. But we need some trophies, to appease the Major. Don't you
agree, brother?"
	"Oh, fuck yeah!"
	Ranma tried to turn around, but her attention had been so focused on
finding a way to free Minako that she hadn't noticed the other Valentine
sneaking up behind him. The dark-skinned young man grinned, his horrible 
missing
eye widening, as he pressed the barrel of a machine gun into Ranma's back. 
There
was a loud roar as the vampire emptied the entire clip into the 
boy-turned-girl.
Ranma's cry of pain was almost drowned out by the weapon. Almost.
	She stood up straight for a moment once the only sound the gun was
making was dry clicks. Then she toppled forward like a felled tree. Her back 
was
a purple ruin, a mass of bruises and welts, and the back of her shirt had
vaporised under the onslaught. Yan frowned as he looked down at her.
	"Well fuck, she's bulletproof," he complained. Ranma could only groan as
Yan reached around his back and pulled out a massive rocket launcher. "Let's 
see
if you're rocket-proof, bitch!"
	"RANMA!"
	Luke cried out in pain, stumbling back as a golden halo suddenly burst
out from Minako. She stood there for a second, her arms crossed in front of 
her,
her lips pulled back in a grimace, her eyes closed. The light around her 
became
blinding, and Artemis was forced to turn his gaze away.
	When he looked back, Minako was leaping away, carrying Ranma's semi-
conscious form over her shoulder. Luke fired a few times after them, but he 
must
have been still partially blinded, because both shots went wide. Minako 
vanished
into the trees somewhere. Yan was growling, rubbing his good eye and about 
to
charge after them when his brother barred his path with one arm.
	"Let them go, Yan," Luke advised.
	"Fuck that shit!" Yan growled. "That bitch is why we came here!"
	"Yes, but I think we can get an even better trophy."
	"Huh?" Yan looked back towards the battle. "You mean Hellsing? No
offense bro, but I ain't goin' anywhere near those luscious little 
ass-kickers
again."
	"No, I meant Big Red," Luke said, grinning.
	"Big..." Yan trailed off.
	"Can't you feel him?" Luke turned, and for a moment Artemis feared he
was staring directly at him, but no... it was the church he was looking at.
"He's weakened, but still there. That why no one will go inside."
	"Oh yeah... oh FUCK yeah!" Yan pumped the arm holding the rocket
launcher once. "Alucard! If we take that bad boy back so Doc and that hot 
chick
can take him apart..."
	"Then this battle will still have been a success," Luke nodded.
Grinning, the two began to walk towards the church. Artemis cursed under his
breath, and ran inside.
	Hotaru was still there. She was curled up in a fetal position, rocking
back and forth. She was murmuring something under her breath, just audible
enough to hear but not loud enough to make out. Artemis ran up to her.
	"Hotaru! Hotaru, snap out of it!" He pawed at her leg.
	"...she's dead... she's dead..." Hotaru spoke more loudly this time.
	"Who's dead?" Artemis shook his head. "No matter, we have to get out of
here, Hotaru!"
	"All dead... all of them dead... everyone dead..."
	"Hotaru..." Artemis felt his heart tearing. What was he supposed to do?
He wanted to comfort her, but any second the Valentines would kick in that 
door
and poor helpless Hotaru... no. It was too terrible to think about.
	"HOTARU!" Artemis leapt up onto her knees and slashed out with his
claws. The strike was not enough to do any damage, not even enough to do 
really
hurt. But it caught Hotaru's attention. She stopped rocking and stared at 
him.
Deep in her purple eyes flickered a soft red light. "We have to run, Hotaru! 
It
isn't safe here!"
	And Hotaru laughed. It was the first time he had ever heard her laugh,
and it made his soul wither. It was a child's laugh, but completely devoid 
of
cheer. "Nowhere is safe, kitty-cat. They all die, no matter where I go. 
Everyone
dies... for me... for ME!"
	"Hotaru..."
	"The world... is a terrible place, kitty-cat. All it does is hurt and
hurt and hurt..."
	The door exploded inward. Artemis stared in horror as the two vampires
strode casually into the church. Their eyes fixed on the casket for a 
moment,
then slowly, inevitably, they settled on Hotaru.
	"What's with the jailbait?" Yan said.
	"I don't know," Luke shrugged. "Maybe they hid her here thinking we
wouldn't come in."
	"Guess they underestimated the testicular fortitude of the Valentine
brothers!" Yan screeched.
	"Yes." Luke smiled, and it wasn't a human smile. It was a smile full of
long sharp teeth. "I guess I could use a snack too. If you don't mind, 
brother?"
	"Nah," Yan waved his arm. "You go ahead, bro."
	Luke took a step forward and Artemis leapt in front of him, hissing, his
back arching. "Get away from her, you monster!" he yelled as loudly as he 
could.
	"A talking cat?" Luke blinked.
	"Hey, I've never had a talking cat before," Yan said. "Wonder what they
taste like? If you get the girl, give me the cat."
	"I won't let that happen!" Artemis roared and leapt. But Luke caught him
with ease. He screeched and clawed at the man's arm, but Luke held him 
calmly.
	"Here, have fun," Luke threw the cat back at his brother. As he flew,
Artemis saw Hotaru following his path with her eyes. She was mouthing his 
name,
but no words came out.
	Artemis felt the younger Valentine catch him, but he couldn't look at
his fate. He could only stare as Luke leaned down neck to Hotaru, his mouth
still a rictus grin of fangs. He patted her head. "Don't worry little girl. 
I
can promise you, this will hurt a great deal!"
	His mouth yawned wide and it snapped forward, seeking her exposed neck.
Artemis gasped, and he saw something in Hotaru' eyes just give up.
	There was no sound. No scream, no cry of pain, no sound of flesh being
torn or of wood splintering. The sound of the battle outside had vanished. 
All
sound had vanished. He could no longer hear his own screams. He could no 
longer
hear his own heart beating.
	Then Luke was unmade. He was simply torn apart from the inside out. Bits
and pieces of his flesh ceased to be, revealing that there was nothing but a
great yawning void within. Slowly he vanished, his back arching and his 
mouth
opening as he tried to scream, but it all happened in complete silence. Then
there was nothing left of him but a Luke-shaped hole in the world.
	Hotaru was rising to her feet now. The air around her rippled. The floor
beneath her peeled away, the rotted wood simply unmaking itself. The wall 
next
to her, the pews, the ceiling above her, it all unraveled into nothingness. 
Her
face was turned rapturously toward the black moon. Her body seemed to be
shifting and flashing. Her clothes rippled and unwove themselves, then back 
into
something else, then unwove and reknit and on and on. It was like she was 
trying
to transform into two shapes at once. On her forehead there was a black 
light
shining, a dark symbol forming there that Artemis could not make out.
	Artemis felt himself dropping. Yan was screaming something, something
lost in the absolute silence. He snapped up his rocket launcher, bracing it 
with
both hands. A plume of silent flame exploded from the back of the tube and 
the
rocket itself fired forward into the soundless world. Hotaru's head snapped 
down
suddenly, her purple-red eyes focusing on the incoming rocket.
	Artemis could suddenly hear the roar of the rocket, Yan's scream, the
sounds of the battle outside. He could hear himself breathing again. Hotaru
raised one hand and a weapon wove itself out of nothing, bits and pieces
appearing until a long shaft was resting in her hand. It was a polearm, 
easily
two meters tall. It ended in a pair of wickedly curved blades. Artemis
recognized that weapon, and he slumped to the ground.
	"Sailor Saturn..." he breathed. So... all hope was lost.
	She flicked the end of the Silence Glaive, and Hotaru unmade the rocket
in mid-air. It popped out of existence, leaving nothing behind. Yan stared 
at
her, his mouth opening and closing. "Fuck this shit, I didn't care that much
about him anyway!" Yan hurled the rocket launcher at Hotaru, spinning as he 
did,
and ran like a bullet into the woods. Sailor Saturn, her form still caught
halfway between two shapes, gestured the weapon into nothing before it could
reach her.
	Artemis could only stare in horror. Everyone else had stopped moving
too. They were all staring at the little girl now. Her transformation had 
blown
away most of the church, letting everyone see the end coming. Sailor Saturn
stretched her arm up, holding the Silence Glaive up to the sky. When it 
fell,
her power would destroy the entire world. Sailor Saturn's mouth opened and 
she
began chanting the final thing anyone would ever hear.
	"DEATH..."

*

	ZX-Tole leaned against the wall, his arms crossed. The sky overhead was
black as pitch, the sun nothing more than a fading ring of light. It was
unnatural, and it set his teeth on edge. He had seen a few eclipses in his 
time,
but they always lasted only a few moments. A minute or two at most. Then the 
sun
came back, and the ghost moon continued on its own orbit around the world. 
But
today was different. Today the sun was not coming back.
	It had been a half hour. Something was wrong. The problem was that he
had no idea what was happening. Despite everything, he was just a soldier. A
soldier with the ability to turn into a giant beetle, perhaps. A soldier who
could devastate an entire division of troops by himself, yes. Yet he 
understood
things the way a soldier did. He knew about troops and battles and 
resources. He
knew about logistics and tactics and propaganda. This alien eclipse, it 
worried
him in a way even an enemy ten times his equal in battle could never have.
	The door to the mansion slid open and ZX-tole looked up. The rest of his
squad did so as well. Immediately they began to scramble to their feet. Lord
Purgstall had returned. ZX-tole snapped to attention and resisted the urge 
to
demand to know what had happened. Purgstall had left with barely a word, 
merely
an order for ZX-tole and the others to stay put while he 'dealt with the
situation'.
	"ZX-tole, tell the servants we have guests for lunch," Purgstall said
softly, in that voice that was not ordering, simply expecting obedience.
	It was only then that ZX-tole looked down. Balancing somehow on a simple
wooden stick was an old woman, almost comically shrunken to the point where 
she
looked barely human anymore. ZX-Tole blinked, then recognition hit him like 
a
thunderclap.
	"YOU!" he screamed. He was about to trigger his transformation, when
suddenly an overwhelming weight settled on his mind, and his power fled him. 
He
collapsed to his knees, suddenly exhausted.
	"ZX-Tole, this woman is our guest." Purgstall did not look angry, merely
disappointed.
	"She's our enemy, Lord Purgstall!" ZX-Tole protested. Normally, he would
have never dared raise his voice to a zoalord, but that witch... she had 
been
there when Gaster had been killed! He had to take revenge for his brother in
arms!
	"I know exactly who she is, ZX-Tole," Purgstall explained coolly. "And I
know what she means to you. But she is under my protection and no harm will 
come
to her. Now, I believe I gave you an order." There was no friendly 
expectation
in the man's voice now, only cold command. ZX-tole bowed, and walked out of 
the
room.
	When he returned at the head of a pair of servants, the old woman and
the zoalord were sitting across from each other. Her staff was leaning 
against
the wall, and Purgstall's cloak had been thrown back to reveal the black
bodysuit he wore underneath. She was puffing on a long pipe, which he could 
not
see how she could possibly have stored in her green robe. The other members 
of
Team 5 were sitting nearby, each looking at the scene with curiosity. Even 
the
normally dull-witted and vicious Derzerb.
	"You are nothing like the other zoalord I met," the old woman was
pointing out as ZX-tole entered.
	"You mean Reichmann Gyro, I suspect?" At her nod, Purgstall continued.
"No, I am not. Gyro is young, the youngest of the zoalords. He has not yet
reached the maturity that comes with power and age." Purgstall allowed 
himself
to be served before he continued. "More importantly, he has not met with our
true leader, Arkanphel."
	ZX-Tole blinked. He had never heard the name before. As far as he knew,
there was no force on earth greater than the Zoalord Council of Twelve.
	"I see..." the old woman mused. "Perhaps I was misled about you. I was
under the impression that Chronos was nothing but a pack of slavering 
monsters,
beasts little better than rapid dogs."
	"Do you really think we could have lasted so long if our control was so
limited?" Purgstall laughed. "Our people have worked their way into every 
level
of government, in every nation of the world. We are not monsters. We are 
humans,
merely more evolved." He smiled. "But you must know what it is, to be older,
wiser and stronger than other people. To know what is best for those weaker 
than
you. To have to deal with their jealousy and ignorance."
	The woman took a puff of her pipe. "Perhaps you are right," she
admitted. "I have not given you a chance to tell your side of the story. 
Though,
one wonders if that is the whole reason you brought me here. Surely I am not 
so
important that I rank a personal audience with one of the greatest elites of
Chronos?"
	Purgstall smiled again. "No, you alone are not." He shook his head. "But
what you represent is. Our top scientist has discovered something 
fascinating
about you martial artists. He calls it 'self actualised auto-evolution', or 
some
such thing. To put it frankly, you have accomplished through training what 
it
took scientists hundreds of years to replicate, based on half-understood
fragments of alien technology. You have evolved beyond humanity." He held up 
his
hand. "I believe that if we were to combine your teachings, with our 
science, we
would be unstoppable." His hand suddenly clasped into a fist. "That is why I
sought you out personally, Cologne of the Joketsuzoku. Don't look surprised.
While we did not have any records of your tribe until a few months ago, our
agents work fast. We have already visited your village. A few of our people 
are
still there."
	Cologne's eyes narrowed dangerously. "Is that what this is? Blackmail?
You demand my cooperation, or my village suffers? Why not just shove me into 
one
of your tubes and be done with it?"
	Purgstall chuckled. "Because I do not want a slave. A want a scientist,
a teacher. An explorer of the human condition. It is our duty, as evolved
beings, to guide those beneath us along the path to the stars."
	"And if I say no?" Cologne said coolly.
	She never had a chance to find out. Just then, an explosion shook the
entire mansion. ZX-Tole was already up and running out the door before the
tremors had died down. His squad followed him in tight formation. He felt
Purgstall rising up as well, and even saw the old woman bounding rapidly
forward. Not so rapidly that she outpaced him, but he got the impression she
could have done so had she wanted to.
	They approached the edge of the compound just as the dust cloud was
settling. The entire north wall was gone, now nothing more than a rubble 
heap. A
single man was walking through the wreckage. He was tall, with pale skin and
long oily black hair. He wore a colorful jacket and slacks, into which he 
had
thrust his hands. His eyes were nothing more than black pits out of which 
tiny
white specks gazed.
	"Who are you?" ZX-Tole growled as he landed from a leap, a few meters
away from the man. Derzerb and Elegen landed on his right, Thancrus on his 
left.
The old woman kept slightly behind him. He could feel the awesome power of
Purgstall, but he was hanging back.
	"My name is Murakumo," he introduced himself. His voice carried a
strange distortion to it, like a hollow echo. "I have come to order you to
release my god to me."
	"Your god?" ZX-Tole frowned.
	"Do not toy with me." The man frowned, drawing out his hands. There was
a flash and a sound like a sword being drawn. On the ends of both of 
Murakumo's
arms were meter-long blades. "I can sense the power of Susano-oh coming from
this shack like a beacon. Release him to me, or I will shatter you and this
entire city to rubble!"
	"I have no idea who you are talking about," ZX-Tole growled, but he was
grinning. At last. At long last. "But you chose the wrong place to attack."
	ZX-Tole's form jerked and spasmed as he transformed, his body expanding
in fits and spurts with blasts of smoke and flame. Soon he had risen up into 
his
full battle form. The other hyper-zoanoids had followed his example. And 
still
Purgstall hung back. ZX-Tole knew that he would not involve himself until 
and
unless this madman turned out to be more of a threat than he looked.
	"So... the man-beasts?" Murakumo smirked. "Why am I not surprised?
Humans, thinking you can attain the same perfection we aragami did centuries
ago. Now I understand. It is your jealousy of his divine nature that has 
left
you with no choice but to kidnap Susano-oh." Murakumo threw back his head,
laughing. "Very well. If you want a war, so be it!"
	He reached up into the air, snapped his fingers, and all hell broke
loose.

*

	Tethys stood on the great icecap. Around her, the cold wind blew. Snow
blew around her like white ash, traveling at speeds that were approaching 
those
of a hurricane. All around her roared a white vortex, the ice spinning 
around
the aegis of her power. She had woven the shield as strong as she could, and
still it shuddered, still the occasional white puff blasted through, 
chilling
her to the bone. She looked up into the sky.
	This far north, the sun set but once a year. For six months, the sky was
filled with brilliant light. But not today. Today the sky was dark, and the
stars winked down mockingly at the world. The sun was dark, nothing but a 
purple
corona. But it was much more. Tethys could feel it.
	"How..." she whispered. It was just like Metallia, but even greater.
Stronger. A force like that couldn't exist. Beneath her the icecap trembled. 
The
youma of the Dark Kingdom were cowering in terror as their empress raged in 
her
prison. Metallia couldn't see this dark spectacle, but she could sense it. 
She
could sense the approach of... of what?
	Tethys frowned. Metallia wasn't the only one. She could feel it in the
very fabric of her being. Whatever was approaching was Metallia's kin. It 
was
filled with the same terrible purpose, the same chaos and hatred as her 
empress.
If Metallia was a god, then this was... a sibling? Yes. That felt right to 
her.
A brother or sister to Metallia.
	Tethys clenched her fist. She could feel the dark tension increasing,
feel Metallia's anxiety. The power was flooding the world now, from two
locations, on opposite sides of the globe. And Metallia trembled. She was
afraid. If there was any time to strike... it was now. While the god was off
balance. While the god was afraid. While the god wasn't concerned with her.
	Tethys laughed. How could she hope to win? Metallia had made her. Every
fabric of her being was part of Metallia. She could unravel Tethys with the 
same
ease that she could speak. Even if Tethys struck with all the power she had
stolen from Beryl, there was no hope for her.
	"There is hope."
	Tethys looked up. It would have been impossible to hear any speech in
this blizzard to end all blizzards. But this voice came from within.
	"Be quiet," Tethys snorted. "You can't hope to help me defeat something
like her. Beryl? Yes. But Beryl was human too, in her own way. She had human
weaknesses."
	"It's my humanity which can beat her," Hayato said in their mind. Tethys
wanted to snap at him, but she couldn't bring herself to do so. She sneered 
at
herself. To think she had trusted him. She had thought that his ideals, his
methods could bring her the... power she craved. That he would give her life
purpose now that Jadeite was dead and Ukyou seemed beyond her grasp. She had
been a fool. "When you confronted her, she struck at you with her will... 
but
she didn't touch me."
	"What?" Tethys snapped.
	"I could feel her power, but only through you." He paused. "I don't
think she can touch me. I'm not a part of her, like you are. I'm immune to 
her
power."
	"So you propose to fight her?" Tethys sneered. "I could throw you from
this body, and what good would that do? Even if you weren't crippled, you 
don't
have the force, the power to destroy her. Not in your wildest dreams."
	"But you do."
	"I cannot go near her." Tethys lowered her head. "Even if I allowed you
to be ascendant, she could still reach beyond that facade. She could rip me 
from
you and unmake me in an instant."
	"Then we need to do this together."
	Tethys blinked. Then, slowly, his meaning became clear.
	"No..." she breathed.
	"It's the only way." Hayato insisted. "Do you want to be a slave
forever? Or do you really want to understand what it means to be human? To 
fight
as one. To live as one. To be one. And more than human. I can feel you 
holding
back. Our merger could be more complete than it is. If you do that, I don't
think she can touch you. I'll be a part of you, and she can't unravel me."
	"There... there would be no going back..." Tethys voice quivered. "I
could do as you say, but there would be no going back for us. Either of us. 
We
would cease to exist as separate beings."
	"I... I can live with that." Hayato paused. "My life, the life I led as
a human, was a lie. A fantasy. I lost everything that day at Ukyou's hand. 
But
since I've been with you, I've had a purpose again. I have something to 
fight
for beyond revenge. Something I'd be willing to die for. Someone I'd be 
willing
to die for."
	Tethys closed her eyes.
	"That... I think that's what it means to be willing to fight as a human.
To care so much about living, to care so much about surviving, that it
overpowers everything else. And then to be willing to give it up.
	"That's how Ukyou beat us. Because she had something to fight for that
meant more. That's how we can beat Metallia."
	Tethys turned around, looking at the black pit which was the physical
entrance to the Dark Kingdom. Miasmic smoke rose from the hole in plumes. 
Tethys
could feel Metallia's anger and fear, like a fire in her soul. She narrowed 
her
eyes.
	"You're right." She closed her eyes, and began to walk forward. As she
moved, she began to unweave the barriers between them. She had spent hours
crafting them, and countless more sustaining them. She had worried over 
them,
constantly adjusting them and patching the wears and tears in the spiritual 
wall
that kept the two of them apart, even though they shared one body. If she 
was
ever going to surpass Ukyou, she had to do this. She had to face her own 
demon.
But she would not face it alone.

*

	wake up ukyou
	She had no idea where she was. She floated, like a balloon. Wherever
she was, it was warm. Comforting. This endless oblivion, in which there was 
no
care or worry. It was nice being here.
	wake up
	She could remember everything that had happened, but it all seemed so
unimportant now. It was like remembering a promise of childhood. Looking 
back at
a promise sworn with a child's mind. How important it seemed, back then, to
swear never to eat broccoli or never let a girl join your club or never step 
on
a crack or it would break your mother's back. Promises that had meant the 
entire
world, but looked at with the jaded eyes of adults, were really so empty. 
That
was how the world seemed now.
	please wake up
	She reflected that her actions had been phenomenally stupid. What had
she hoped to accomplish? Was Hotaru really safe now? She still had to deal 
with
Mistress 9, with her own destiny, with a world full of darkness and 
monsters.
And destroying Pluto's key staff. It had seemed so important then, to remove
that weapon. It had flashed through Aaron's mind the moment she had revealed 
how
she tracked them. Without it, Pluto would be as blind to them as any other. 
Of
course, he hadn't considered the consequences. The attack by Rose that he 
hadn't
even felt, the temporal backlash that had knocked them out.
	you have to wake up
	Or had he? Was Pluto right? Had they wanted to die, just been unwilling
to quit to the bitter end? Had they struck out like that as one final futile 
bit
of defiance? It seemed possible now. They floated in this void together, 
where
the trials and problems of the world seemed so distant and far away. Was 
this
death, then? Or something else... something worse?
	if you don't wake up
	And what if it was? Why fight it now? All that fighting, resisting, had
ever brought them was pain. They had resisted Chris, and he had beaten them 
half
to death with Kodachi's power. They had resisted Jadeite, and his scars were
still on her arm. They had resisted Hayato, and lost their closest and
dearest friend. They had resisted Pluto and Rose, and been repaid in pain. 
They
had resisted Tethys, they had resisted Chris again, they had resisted the 
Dolls
and Vega and everyone, and always they ended up half-dead. And they 
survived.
They had resisted their own darker nature, and Ran was dead. What good had
fighting done them? What good had struggling accomplished? Why even bother 
to
wake up ever again?
	ranma will die
	Ukyou gasped. Oblivion vanished and pain returned. She was alive. Her
body lay on the ground, at the edge of a crater the destruction of the time
staff had scoured into the earth. It hurt. Her hand hurt, it refused to open 
or
close. Her arm hurt, like someone had wrenched all the muscles free of her
bones. Her back hurt, a storm of pain. But what worried her more was what 
didn't
hurt. Her legs didn't hurt. Her legs didn't feel at all. They were numb... 
worse
than numb. It was like they weren't there.
	She croaked, a brief bitter laugh. Her spine was probably broken. Rose's
soul power might have fried all the nerves in it. Maybe it had been severed. 
It
hurt to laugh, so she stopped.
	Aaron could feel the fight behind them. He knew instantly that one of
them was Bison. His psychopower was unmistakable, and even more awesome than 
he
had feared. He couldn't sense much beyond that. His senses refused to focus. 
He
had no chi to channel into his Void Chakra. The mystic world that had been
growing so familiar to him of late seemed to hover just out of reach. He 
snarled
internally and seized at it with his mind.
	There. He could sense a familiar pattern. It was a comforting pattern.
Ranma's pattern, he realised. It felt nice, to feel it. But it was weak. He 
was
injured, or worse. His energy had drained away to a level Aaron had never 
felt
before. Aaron grimaced, and reached out with one hand.
	Their fingers sunk into the soft soil and they dragged themselves
forward. Inch by inch, they struggled on. What they would accomplish when 
they
reached him? It didn't matter. Aaron loved him. He didn't want to, but what
person had ever been given the luxury of choice when it came to their own 
heart?
He could only curse himself for a fool. He had been so against it, against
embracing any part of this body, that he had not seen Ukyou's feelings 
moving
gently into his soul and taking up residence. He did not even really regret 
it.
It felt... warm, when he thought of that love. He had spent his whole life
unable to feel this way, and it felt good in a way he hadn't believed 
possible,
to feel it now.
	"Ran... Ranchan..." he coughed. "I... I'm coming,,,"
	Inside them, the third circle waited. It was the oblivion. The alien
thing inside them. With it, they could rise up and run to Ranma's side. But 
they
would not.
	Then it happened. They felt the power spike, even with their reduced
senses. Hotaru. The power inside her, opening up like a dam collapsing. It
flooded into the world. Enough power to destroy the world. It was happening. 
She
was going to unmake everything. End all the pain, all the misery with one 
sweep
of her glaive. He grit his teeth, and pushed down, trying to rise up. His 
legs
still refused to respond. Ukyou took chi from places she shouldn't. The life
force that kept their heart beating, their lungs breathing, the very spark 
of
their being. She channelled as much of it away as she could, and flooded it 
into
her legs. Aaron grabbed at it, jerking it like a puppeteer would strings,
forcing her legs to grow rigid, to support his weight. "Hotaru... no..."
	They would never make it. It had taken them almost fifteen minutes to
reach this clearing. Even at top speed in pristine condition, they couldn't 
make
it in time. Three steps, maybe five... that was all they could make before 
their
heart stopped. God DAMN you, Pluto! Couldn't you have sent her somewhere 
safe?
Anywhere but here?
	"DEAD SCREAM!"
	For a moment, Ukyou entertained the idea that the choice had been taken
out of her hand. One strike, and she would die. But she heard Bison roar in
pain. She turned her head back, watching as Pluto skidded along the ground,
catching Rose as she fell out of the megalomaniac's grip.
	"You... fool..." Rose murmured.
	"What good is saving the universe..." Pluto spoke softly, "if I lose my
soul in the process?"
	"Foolish woman!" Bison roared, levitating to his feet. "You will pay for
that insult!"
	Ukyou looked back at them for a long moment. She frowned, clenching her
hands into fists. Why had Pluto done that? Was she hoping the Death Reborn
Revolution would destroy Ukyou, along with everything else? Then their eyes 
met
across the distance. Ukyou saw something in her red eyes. Hope. She realised
that Pluto had thrown away her chance to kill her, to save her friend.
	Pluto had thrown away everything that meant anything to her, to save her
friends. Ranma. Akane. Akira. Tofu. All her friends. Everyone she cared 
about
would die. No. Even if it led to the end of the universe. Even if she would
stand on that plain one day, and strike everything out. It wasn't worth it. 
What
good WAS saving the universe, if you lost your soul in the process?
	"Please forgive me, for what I must do."
	And they embraced it. The alien power rushed through them. It all
dropped away. The pain, the hopelessness, the confusion... like a bad dream 
they
vanished into mist and smoke. Now they could feel much more of it, of what 
it
was doing. It was not magic, it was not chi. It was remaking the world 
around
them. She could feel it unraveling and reweaving. It wasn't power. It was
potential. Pure, limitless, eternal potential.
	Their minds shied away from it. It was too huge. It was too insane. It
was everything and nothing and it threatened to drive them mad. But it gave 
them
strength. A moment's thought and the power in their legs trebled, then 
cubed.
Their control of it became as fine as a surgeon's. They turned and started
running.
	Trees blurred by on either side. But it was still too slow. They needed
to go faster. They needed more time. Instantly Aaron's mind remembered 
Pluto's
time control. He focused, clearing the image of the bent time in his mind. 
He
translated it, making it into data he could understand. It was all data. 
Just a
model of the universe in his mind. Like a scorecard, like the stats for an 
RPG,
like the words of a book... it wasn't real. But then again, what part of 
this
world was real? He focused, and willed it REAL.
	He felt the change ripple out from him. He felt time itself slowing...
no, not slowing. It was skipping. He was skipping back and forth in time, 
moving
forward one second, then back again. He was outside of time. Suddenly, it 
was
meaningless. He burst into the clearing an endless instant later. His eyes
scanned everything, picking up the entire scene.
	Minako and Ranma were at the edge of the woods. He had one hand on a
tree trunk, supporting his weight. He was staring straight forward, about to
break out into a run. Minako was trying to hold onto his other arm, she was
saying something. Pleading for him to run away.
	Integra was leaning against an upturned table. Her face was covered in
blood, but she was alive. Her rapier lay at her side, it too was covered in
blood. She held a gun in one hand. Aaron could tell it had one bullet left 
in
it. She was going to fire it at a vampire nearby. Victoria stood with her, 
her
body ripped and bloody, but standing defiant against three of the Dolls at 
once.
	Yomiko was nearby, standing in front of... Nancy? Yes, it was Mata Hari,
the phasing woman from Read or Die. She was wearing one of the Doll 
uniforms,
and from the looks of it, was about to tear out Yomiko's heart. Yomiko, for 
her
part, was screaming at her, her eyes glistened with tears. She was doing 
nothing
to defend herself.
	Nearby, a second Nancy stood with her hand inside the chest of B.B.
Hood. Hood was grinning, blood dripping from the edge of her lips. Her hands 
had
raised, and she held a grenade in each, their pins drifting slowly to the
ground.
	Yan Valentine was running away, towards the only edge of the clearing
that was currently unoccupied.
	And in the centre of the ruined church, the Silence Glaive held high,
her form caught somewhere between that of Sailor Saturn and Mistress 9, was
Hotaru.
	Ukyou could feel their trick catching up with them. The ground around
them was splitting, great shears appearing in the trees and stones. Time was
shifting too fast, the environment couldn't keep up. She realised with a 
heavy
heart that they had somehow shifted the normal damage their body took to the
outside world. If they kept this up for long, they would probably rip a hole 
in
time.
	So they stepped out of it. Aaron's eyes flicked closed. He remembered
the data of the world. It was much harder now, undoing what had been done. 
He
could feel the change continuing to expand, the edges of it fraying. It was
imperfect. It was incomplete. He didn't understand the whole of it, and it 
was
unraveling around him. Except where it touched the world he could see the 
spaces
forming, spaces into something ELSE. If he didn't stop it, it would tear up
everything...
	And Ukyou was there. She knew his model was a fiction. She believed that
this world was real. It was her everything, it was all she knew. His lie, 
his
belief in the fundamental unreality of this place could not affect her. And 
she
unwilled it, because it was a lie. The illusion shattered and drifted away, 
like
it had never been.
	There was an explosion to one side, and Ukyou was already moving. She
was sprinting like the wind, crossing the clearing in a black streak. Aaron
flicked one hand to the side, a spatula flying from his fingers. It would 
hit
the Nancy Doll, knock her out before she could kill Yomiko. He knew it 
would. It
had to.
	"DEATH..."
	Ukyou's legs pumped, she was almost to Hotaru now. But how could she
stop her? Her fingers curled into claws. It could be done simply, with one
strike. Enough force, and she would die instantly, painlessly. It was the 
simple
solution. It would be a mercy.
	"...REBORN..."
	No! There had to be another way! The Glaive was falling now. When it
completed its arc to the earth, its power would unmake the world. The power 
was
already building. It was Silence, the end of all life. Nothing could stop it
now. Except her death. But Ukyou refused. Aaron refused. They would not kill
this child, ever! Under any circumstances! Let the world burn, they would 
not
kill her!
	"...REVOL-"
	Hotaru cut off as Ukyou appeared in front of her, crouched low. Her
hands snapped up, catching the haft of the Silence Glaive. The blade stopped 
a
centimeter away from her head. She had placed herself directly in its path. 
If
Hotaru was going to end the world, she would have to cut Ukyou in half 
first.
	"HOTARU!" she screamed, but Hotaru didn't respond. She wasn't even
looking at Ukyou. Her eyes were fixed on the dark moon overhead. Her eyes 
that
glowed red from within. Ukyou grit her teeth and held on.
	The Silence Glaive was not heavy. Ironically, it was as light as a
feather. Nor was Hotaru doing anything to push it down. She was not 
straining to
force the blade through Ukyou. She was not struggling at all. But Ukyou 
could
feel the power of the Silence behind it. It was the power of inevitability. 
It
was the thing waiting at the end of the time, when all the stars had 
guttered
out. When the universe had stopped expanding. When there was nothing left. 
The
natural entropic end of the universe.
	Ukyou was not fighting gravity or strength, she was fighting the end of
everything. It bore her no malice. It was not sentient or demonic. It was 
just
the end. It had been summoned to here from the end of all things, and it 
would
fulfill its purpose. Ukyou fell to one knee. She could feel blood flowing 
from
her lips, her eyes, her ears. The Third Circle was tearing her apart. She 
was
losing the battle, within and without.
	"Why do you struggle?"
	Ukyou looked up, her eyes widening. The voice had been Hotaru's, but it
was much too vicious, much too cruelly happy to be her.
	"Mistress 9..." Aaron growled.
	"It's useless," Mistress 9 said, her eyes still staring up at the sky.
"Even if this child doesn't summon the Silence herself, my master is coming. 
The
tunnel through space is opening, in that dark moon. The shadow of darkness. 
He
will come and bring an end to this world!"
	Aaron wanted to deny her, he wanted to denounce her. He wanted to say
she was lying. But he could sense the truth in her words. He could feel the
power of something trying to force its way into this reality from the other 
side
of that dark moon. There was no way they could stop it all. No way they 
could
save everything.
	For a moment, Aaron despaired. His legs were failing. He would fall...
	"I don't care!" Ukyou screamed. "I'm not fighting to save the world!"
Ukyou pushed back, straightening them. "I just want to save one person!"
	"Who?" Mistress 9 cackled. "The boy? He despises you, even if he would
never admit it."
	"No..." Ukyou growled. "I'm not fighting for him. I'm fighting for her.
One soul. One life. I won't fail her now. Now let her go, you BITCH!"
	Aaron suddenly realised how to do it. Like he had almost done to the
Wishing Sword, like he had done to Mamoru and the Dolls. All he had to do 
was
understand the way things were connected. The model. The way the universe 
linked
itself together. All he had to do was change who owned the Silence Glaive. 
All
he had to do was take it from her... and everything that went with it.
	It was done with a thought. They rose up, pushing Hotaru back. She
gasped and fell. Her hands slipped free of the Glaive as she toppled. Aaron
could see the power of Mistress 9. She was clinging to the Glaive with 
ethereal
strings of power, fighting to retain control. So he let her, he let her pour
everything she had into the Glaive. But there was no buffer for her, 
anymore. No
little girl's soul to serve as a wall between her soul and the terrible 
Silence.
She screamed, when she realised what he was doing, but it was too late. Her
essence, everything that she was, poured into the Glaive as light pours into 
a
black hole. She vanished into the Silence with a scream that only he heard.
	They stood in the ruins of the church, the Glaive held high. He had cut
off the link to the Silence, but much of its terrible power was still there,
trapped within. Aaron didn't know how to send it back. He didn't think he 
could.
The long shaft was vibrating, producing a single tone, a perfect E. It would
shatter under the strain of holding in the Silence if he didn't do something
with it.
	He turned slowly, and saw it. The vampires were all fleeing. They were
running towards their ship, a giant white oblong in the sky. Aaron and Ukyou
nodded, and flicked the Silence Glaive once, sharply.
	"SILENTIUM ABOLEO EXERCITUS!"
	The ground in front of them was scoured clean as the Silence sprang
forth. It flashed forward, muting all sound, the world in front of them
vanishing one piece at a time. Grass, soil and rock all peeled away. Trees 
and
mist and water, all gone. Those vampires caught in it simply ceased to be. 
It
stretched out, a cone with Ukyou at its apex. It started out as thin as a 
razor
and by the time it reached the zeppelin it was almost four hundred meters
across. The ship shuddered for a moment, great rents appearing in it. Then 
it
too simply boiled away, the fabric of its being unravelling into nothing.
	Ukyou collapsed. The Glaive fell from her nerveless fingers. She pushed
the Third Circle away. She felt her legs give out instantly. She had not 
felt
this bad since Chris had worked her over. But she was grinning.
	Everyone was moving towards her. Integra and Victoria, Yomiko and Ranma
and Minako and the few dozen remaining mortal men and women. But they all 
halted
when they heard a loud clapping from the edge of the clearing.
	Ukyou looked up, blinking. It took everything she had just to do that.
Bison floated there, in the center of the path of destruction the silence 
had
carved into the world. He was clapping, grinning from ear to ear.
	"Splendid! Fantastic! That is a power I can respect!" he shouted.
	"Damn..." Ukyou's hand flailed, and settled on the Silence Glaive. It
was still cold, but its charge was gone. She didn't think she had the 
strength
to summon another attack with it, and she was certain nothing else they had
could even phase Bison. But he simply nodded at her.
	"We will meet again, Ukyou Kuonji. Enjoy this victory." He raised into
the air, gesturing with his hands. As Ukyou watched, the Dolls floated into 
the
air with him. There was only one missing, the Nancy clone that had been 
striking
at B.B. Hood. Bison laughed and vanished, the Dolls all disappearing a 
second
later. But his laughter lingered over the clearing for a long time.

*

	Spring of Man.  Spring of Woman.  Spring of Twins.  Spring of Youth.
	Chris frowned as he carefully checked each bottle.  None of them had
been tampered with, as far as he could tell.  Of course, Pink and Link were
terrified of the Jyusenkyou water, but it didn't hurt to be cautious.
	Spring of Yeti-Riding-Bull-Carrying-Crane-And-Eel.  Spring of Asura.
Spring of Octopus.  He had only half of one flask of the latter left, after 
the
battles with the Hyper Zoanoid Team 5.  How weird, that he'd used more of 
that
than any other water.
	Spring of Virtuous Person.  Spring of Lecher.  Spring of Beautiful
Woman.  All still carefully sealed and labeled.
	Chizuru.  She was going to be a problem.  What had made that meeting go
so badly?  Sure, he was technically capable of using the Orochi power, but 
it
wasn't like Chizuru hadn't been willing - quite ready, in fact - to work 
with
people who were actually tainted by it.  The only explanation was Ukyou.  
She
must have been yet another of the people who had seen that prophecy.  But 
why
instantly connect him to her?  Even if they both wielded the Third Circle, 
he
wouldn't destroy the world.  Hell, he was trying to protect it.  But the
vehemence of Chizuru's reaction... she was irrational about it for some 
reason.
And the last thing he needed was to be hounded by random lunatics like Ukyou
was.  If Chizuru tried gathering allies to attack him with...
	Spring of Amnesiac.  Spring of Slave.
	He lingered over those two for a moment.  But neither looked like good
solutions.  Amnesia that only lasted until she got splashed with hot water
wouldn't solve the problem.  And whatever the actual effects of Spring of 
Slave
were, Akane certainly wouldn't approve.  Chris's slender fingers dipped into 
the
backpack, pulling out the last bottle.
	Spring of Suicidal Person.
	He gazed at it for a long moment.
	A pair of arms flung around his shoulders, accompanied by a cheerful
voice. "Hey there, over!"
	"Pink," he said needlessly, smiling slightly.  "I was wondering where
everyone had gone off t-" He broke off with a start as he looked upwards.  
"What
happened to your face?"
	Pink's smile was intact as always, of course, despite her blackened and
swollen eye  She raised a hand to gingerly touch the welt on the side of her
head. "Nothing important.  It's dangerous out there.  A whole bunch of 
fighting
broke out a little while after the eclipse, over."
	"I heard," Chris said with a nod.  "I was thinking I might go out
looking for you guys soon."
	"How thoughtful!" exclaimed Pink, and giggled, tousling his hair.
"Although it's funny to think of you as my knight in shining armour in that
adorable little body, over."
	"Do you know where the others are?"
	Pink shrugged, the soft petals on her shoulders bouncing slightly. "Link
is just fetching something.  The others went out to check out things in the
city.  I wouldn't worry about them.  They can handle themselves, over."
	Chris nodded, looking back down at the bottle in his hand.  A thought
struck him.  "You know, I thought you were afraid of the Jyusenkyou water."
	"Oh, I was," Pink smiled, letting go of him.  "But I feel safe around
you now, over."
	He laughed, and began packing the bottles back into the bag.  "Fair
enough."
	Pink crossed back into his vision, throwing herself down to lounge on
the sofa.  "So what's bothering you, over?"
	"What?"
	Her emerald eyes twinkled slightly.  "You can't hide things from me.
You were doing that mopey expression when I came in.  Plus, you don't have 
that
Chizuru chick with you.  I'm guessing the two are related, over."
	"More or less," he admitted.
	"So, again... what's the problem, over?"
	He tapped his cheek.  "She reacted badly.  Not sure why.  I think she'd
seen the prophecy about Ukyou, and assumed that she and I were the same."
	"Stupid bitch.  So what are you going to do about it, over?"
	"I don't know," he admitted.  "It's a problem I can't really ignore.
She's certainly capable of gathering allies, and that's assuming she hasn't
already.  Who knows how much Ukyou altered her timeline?  But she wasn't 
even
willing to work with me to take down Goenitz, and that means she's serious 
about
how much of a threat she thinks I am.  Even alone, she's powerful enough to 
be a
lot of trouble."
	Pink flashed him an impish grin.  "I wouldn't worry too much about it,
dear.  These problems have a way of... taking care of themselves, over."  
She
laughed a little to herself.
	Chris sighed.  Pink was right, though.  Since he couldn't do anything
about it at the moment, there was no point wasting time worrying.
	"So what are you going to do now, over?"
	"Not quite sure.  Once we've dealt with Goenitz... honestly, I'm not
certain.  I need to try to find out more about the Third Circle.  How to use 
it.
And who used it in the first place.  What exactly is the real difference 
between
it and magic..." Pink looked bored, so he changed the subject.  "How about 
you?
Any ideas?  Plans?"
	She sat up slightly.  "Well, I want to get more mitamas.  Now that Link
and I can use them, there's no reason to let Murakumo keep them, is there,
over?"
	"I don't really feel like fighting Murakumo," Chris noted, but Pink
waved that aside.
	"You won't have to. The aragami are swarming everywhere ever since we
got back to Tokyo, and they're even more agitated today for some reason.  
It'll
be easy to pick up a few dozen in the fighting, over."
	"Hmm..." Chris mused.  "Not a bad idea.  That would make you and Link
much more able to defend yourselves, anyway.  We do still have to deal with
Goenitz before we can move forward."
	"Of course," Pink smiled. "We should be able to recruit some more people
to your side.  If you're worried they might be more Chizurus, I can help 
make
sure that doesn't happen, over."
	Chris considered the notion.  Akane wouldn't like it, but there was
definitely some appeal in welding together a smallish army.  On the other 
hand,
Pink's ambrosial thorns were a little close to mind control.  Not that those
police officers had seemed to mind...
	"Well, I wouldn't quite go that far yet.  But we can keep it in mind if
things get out of hand-"
	He was cut off by a scream.  His head snapped up.  Pink had suddenly
sat bolt upright.  Her arms were wrapped around herself as if she were in 
pain.
	"What's wrong?"
	"I... I don't know, over..." she said slowly.  "It felt like something
had wrenched my insides or some..." her voice trailed off as she raised one 
of
her hands, and her eyes grew steadily wider.  Chris stared as she did.  
Little
bits were flaking from her hand, like strips being grated from a block of
cheese.  But no blood emerged, and the strips of flesh, instead of falling,
simply vanished.  Pink paled.
	Chris was now by her side.  He hadn't really been conscious of the
transition, nor did he care.  "What's happening!?"
	"It's broken..." Pink whispered.  The slow unravelling was spreading up
her arm, both hands now, touching her chest where it was exposed around the
mitama.  "It's broken.  Link went too far away.  How could she..."
	He gripped her by the shoulders, spinning her to face him.  He felt
little bits of her shoulder petals falling away beneath his hands, but drove 
it
from his mind.  "Listen to me!  Where is she?  Where is Link?  What 
direction?"
He could fly.  He was sure of it.  He could push this body to the limits.
	She stared at him.  Tears were in her eyes.  Her smile hadn't quite
disappeared, a sickly slash in the white skin of her face. "It doesn't 
matter.
The connection is broken.  She's not there anymore.  And I'm... it's me 
that..."
	He stared at her.  A strip of flesh tore from her cheek, bisecting one
glistening track of wetness, and vanished into nothing.
	No.
	He would not let it happen.
	Power flowed through him.  Orochi power, chi power, the Third Circle, he
wasn't sure.  All of it and none of it at once.  He sent it flowing outward 
into
Pink, hardly aware of what he was doing, only willing it to work, somehow,
anyhow.
	And for a single moment, it did.  A strip of her arm in the process of
dissolving clung to creation, hanging in a timeless instant.
	But could he reverse this?  He didn't know anything about magic...
	It was slipping through his fingers.  He fought, he drew up more power,
more reserves, but he didn't know what he was doing and it slipped away from
him.  The unravelling continued.  It was accelerating now.  Pink was 
becoming a
ghastly patchwork, a tottering jenga tower of a human being.  She was still
staring at him, watching his efforts.  Her eyes were wide and fearful, but 
they
trusted in him.  They trusted him to keep her safe.  He drew back, and could
hardly bear to look as that hope died.
	"I can't," he said, barely able to force the words out.  "I don't know
how.  Oh my god, Pink, I'm sorry..."
	She leaned forward, pieces of her falling off into oblivion as she
moved.  She clutched herself to him, but her touch was feather-light, no 
more
substantial than a soft breeze.  "You have to do something!  You have to 
stop
it!" Her voice was panicky now.  "Chris, I love you!  I'm the only one who 
loves
you!  Don't let this happen to me!"
	She was crying in earnest.  Why wasn't he?  "I'll find something.  I'll
figure out how to bring you back to life!"  He knew he could.  Death wasn't
immutable.  He was proof of that himself.
	"You can't!  I'm not dying, if I vanish I... I'm not... I've never..."
	He looked down at her.  She was a shadow, a wire-frame, but he could
still see her emerald eyes.  "I can.  I will.  I've got the Third Circle.  
Even
if nobody else in the universe can do it, I can do anything. Believe me, 
Pink.
I'll find a way, no matter what it takes!"
	Did she hear him?  Her gaze was unfocused, as if she was looking past
him.  Suddenly she recoiled in terror.  The last parts of her were 
vanishing.
He felt the last vestiges of her being departing.  Her mouth was no more, 
but
from somewhere her voice emerged.  "DON'T FORGET ME!"
	And then she was gone.
	Chris stayed kneeling for a long moment.  He still wasn't crying.  He
felt like he should be, he felt the pain inside, but his dead eyes refused 
to
produce even a single tear.  In front of him, Pink's clothes, the ones he'd 
had
designed for her, settled gently on the couch.	Nestled in them were two
mitamas, glittering eerily in the dusky half-light.
	She was gone.
	She'd loved him.  And she was gone.
	Why wasn't he crying?  Why couldn't he?
	And then he was.  Liquid dripped from the side of his face, staining the
silk of Pink's clothes.  But only one side.  He slowly lowered his arm.  It 
was
covered in gore from where it had ripped into the side of his head.  But he 
was
crying now.  Tears of black blood and crushed eye and other fluids dribbled 
down
slowly.
	Of course, he didn't feel any pain.  He was dead.
	Chris stood up.  When he reached the backpack, he carefully put away the
two mitamas that had been Pink's.  Then he shouldered it.  He walked to the
door, and after opening it, turned to look back into the house that had been 
his
shelter.  Purple flames sprang to life, consuming everything they touched 
and
setting off more natural fires.  Japanese construction had inordinate 
amounts of
wood and paper.  The house would go up like a tinderbox.
	He turned and walked away.  Up until now, he'd spent too much time
pitying himself and his problems.  He'd spent too much time running around
accomplishing nothing.  There were worse things than death.  And there were 
more
important things that needed to be addressed.

*

	Akane walked slowly, leaning on Akira for support. The fight with Hinata
had taken a lot out of her. Scorch marks adorned her clothes, and her 
muscles
screamed in protest now that there was no adrenaline to support them. But 
she
moved on. Akira had insisted they go to her school, check up on her brother.
Pink had indicated she was planning on attacking them next, so Akane did not
begrudge her that.
	But Akane was far more worried about Shampoo. That had been her,
standing at the edge of the battle. Akane was certain of it. But why had she
stayed back? Was her honour, her word really so precious to her that Shampoo
would let her friends be killed, or worse, to protect it?
	Akane didn't want to think so. She wanted to believe that Shampoo was
her friend. That they understood each other. They had both been there, for 
that
moment, that moment when Akane had returned to this world. And Akane knew 
that
she had come back with a purpose. She could feel it swirl around her.
	Even as the city itself was going up in flames, she could feel it
beating ever louder. And Shampoo was part of it. Akane knew it.
	"Akira!"
	Akane looked up. A large man was running towards them. He wore a black
student's uniform, and had a long scar that crossed one of his eyes. Akira 
put
Akane down, and ran up to him. She cried out in joy, leaping up and 
embracing
him. He held her gently for a few moments, then slowly put her down.
	"Akira... I was worried..." he murmured.
	"I know, brother. But I'm okay now."
	The young man looked at her with his one good eye for a long moment.
"There's something different about you."
	"Is there?" she replied, quirking her head to the side.
	"Your voice... your posture... your spirit..." He shook his head.
"Later. We have to get back to the others. The monsters are coming out in
force." He clenched his fists. "It is our duty to protect this place from 
them."
	Akira looked at him for a long moment. "Aren't you going to tell me to
stay behind? Aren't you going to protect me? You've been against me fighting
these things ever since Ukyou left..."
	Her brother smiled slightly. "No... no." He ruffled her hair, a
brotherly gesture and one Akane somehow knew she was seeing him use for the 
last
time. "I don't think that's necessary anymore."
	"Right..." Akira turned to look at Akane once more. "But I have to
actually help her."
	"Help her?" the man said.
	"Hi," Akane waved weakly.
	"We have a terrible new enemy," Akira pointed out to him. "And we have
to help Akane stop her."
	Akane was about to answer, when she felt the tingle on the back of her
neck start up again. Danger, and nearby from the feel of it. She forced 
herself
to stand upright, and her blade hissed as she drew it from its sheath.
	"Are they here?" the man cried, assuming a wide-legged stance.
	"Danger..." Akane murmured. "But not immediate... more like..."
	"We're being watched," Akira confirmed a moment later. She closed her
eyes and raised a pair of fingers so they hovered just between them. "Ukyou
tried to teach me some tricks... like how to tell when..." Her eyes snapped
wide. "THERE!"
	Akane spun, and saw nothing at first. Then the wall of one of the
buildings seemed to fold, shift, like a wave of heat distorting the air. 
Then
just as suddenly, it was gone and there was a creature there. It was taller 
than
a man, with a body that was thin-limbed but covered in spiked and bony 
armor. It
had a hook-shaped beak for a nose and two large eyes with bat-like ears
extending out from the side of its head.
	"ZOANOID!" Akane shouted, rushing to face it. Akira and her brother
were one step behind. The creature, however, didn't hesitate. Its 
invisibility
shattered, it turned and scrambled up the wall like a lizard. Then with a 
bunch
of its long legs, it was up and flying away. Akane hissed. There was no way 
they
could catch it...
	And suddenly there was a purple blur. Akane gasped as the thing's head
fell back, its body continuing to fly forward on its initial arc. She 
stumbled
to a halt. Shampoo had landed in front of her in a crouch, her sword held to 
her
side. As she rose Akane could see that her body was a mass of bruises, her
clothing a torn mess. She had been in a battle, and not the winning side 
from
the look of it. She glanced at Akane once, then flicked her blade. The blood
snapped off the sword, vapourising before it even had a chance to reach the
ground.
	"Shampoo?" Akane breathed out, but wasn't certain if she was relieved or
angry.
	"Akane." She sheathed her blade. "Pink is not a problem you have to deal
with any more."
	"What?"
	Shampoo held out her hand. "Come with me. I have one last thing to show
you."

*

	It was little wonder no one noticed her there. The city was a war zone.
In the distance, a skyscraper began to topple into itself, collapsing in a
shower of dust. Out of it rose a enormous creature, a giant flatworm with a
million legs. From its body a brown mist descended, mixing with the dust. 
Here
and there, monsters fought in the street. People were screaming, fleeing,
begging, dying. It was so nice when a plan came together. One custom-made 
plant,
designed to send out a signal much like that of Susano-oh... and this chaos 
was
the result.
	Telulu sat on a wooden bench. Above her, the sky was ebony. The black
hole sun was now directly overhead. She could feel the energy of it, of
something beyond it, trying to enter this world. so much like the power of
Pharaoh 90, and yet so different. Telulu resisted the urge to laugh. Little 
did
it realise that it was merely paving the way, creating a tunnel through 
which
her master could enter this world. Then all the world would be consumed in
glorious silence.
	The tiny baby in her lap twitched in his sleep. He sensed the powers
gathering here, and in his still childlike brain he was afraid. Telulu 
reached
out with her new abilities, soothing him with the power of the Kushinada, 
and he
fell into fitful slumber again. She cooed a lullaby to him. The timing could 
not
really have been better. Susano-oh was almost prepared.
	There was only one thing missing.
	Telulu looked up as there was a light tap in front of her. The man
Kusanagi had arrived. Eudial's spy cameras didn't really do him justice. He
really was quite impressive in his full battle form. His orange skin 
glistened
with sweat, his green hair was slick with it. In one hand, he held a pink 
multi-
faceted crystal star. Telulu smiled.
	"You came," she said.
	"You knew I would," Kusanagi growled. "Don't think I'm here to play your
games."
	"Oh?" Telulu tilted her head to the side, easing the child on her lap.
"Is that why Azuma is not with you?"
	"The witch got what she deserved," Kusanagi growled. He held up the
crystal. "You think I didn't see through that plan? Tricking me into getting
this for you... what kind of moron do you think I am?" he shouted, holding 
it up
higher. "The only reason I brought this here was to shatter it at your 
feet!"
	"I don't think so..." Telulu gestured with one hand.
	"Kusanagi!"
	The half-man half-aragami stiffened, He turned to the side and stared as
Valkyrie stepped out from behind one of the titanic metal supports that held 
up
the tower. The gleaming metal daimon was grinning evilly, and in her hand 
she
held the struggling form of a young brown-haired girl.
	"Momiji!" Kusanagi stepped forward, then halted as Valkyrie began to tug
on the girl's arms. She screamed as they were wrenched violently and almost 
torn
from their sockets.
	"Valkyrie thinks this is fun!" the daimon said in her enthusiastic,
inhuman voice.
	"If you destroy Goenitz's heart crystal, I'll have Valkyrie destroy the
girl." Telulu stood up. "Or you could hand it over, and I'll let her go."
	"You BITCH!" Kusanagi turned and faced her. His hand curled around the
core of the heart crystals. It flickered and shimmered in his grasp, but did 
not
break. "How? How did you get her!?"
	"Oh really..." Telulu sighed. "It was all too easy. A quartet of normal
humans against a daimon and a witch? Did you really expect they could 
protect
her?" Telulu smiled again. "It's actually rather ironic, don't you think? If 
you
hadn't been so focused on hunting me down, you might have been there to stop 
me
from kidnapping her."
	Kusanagi's jaw clenched, the tendons on his neck straining.
	"Now drop the crystal... or Valkyrie will kill her," Telulu said with
solemn finality.
	Kusanagi slowly uncurled his hand, and the crystal drifted to the
ground. Telulu smirked and flicked her wrist. A pair of vines snapped out
lightning-quick and snapped up the heart crystal. Her eyes widened and her 
heart
skipped a beat as she finally held it.
	She could feel the power inside it; Goenitz's power, the power of the
Orochi. She had not believed it when Azuma had first told her about them. 
But
Azuma had done her research well. With access to magical powers, and 
Eudial's
tiny spy robots, she had gathered up all the data on everyone in Tokyo.
Including the newcomer Goenitz, and his power. Power so much like that of
Pharaoh 90, the power of chaos and destruction. But also power like that of 
the
aragami, power tied to this world. It was the perfect link. The perfect key.
	"Now... Eudial," she breathed.
	Kusanagi screamed as the world filled with terrible sound. He slumped
down to his knees. The witch Eudial walked up behind him. Her Sound Buster
armour had been modified since her last battle, and she held up one arm. 
From
the speaker over her wrist a high-pitched whine emitted.
	"Heh. What an idiot," Eudial said with a smirk. Kusanagi tried to stand,
but Eudial adjusted a knob on her suit and he screamed and fell to the 
ground
again.  Across the tiny park, the girl Momiji screamed too. "Don't stand up.
This device is emitting a certain frequency of sound, the sympathetic 
frequency
of those precious blue mitama embedded in your skin. If I turn it up to 
full,
they'll shatter like glass. And I'd be very interested in finding out what
happens then, wouldn't you?"
	"Momiji..." Kusanagi gasped.  He stretched his hand towards the girl,
who was screaming still as the Sound Buster threatened to shatter the mitama
embedded in her own chest. "You said you'd..."
	"I lied." Telulu laughed now. It felt good to win. "Oh, I won't kill
her. Not yet. But as soon as we're out of range, Eudial here will put you 
out of
your misery." Telulu smirked at her subordinate. "After all, she has to be
useful for something." Eudial frowned at her, but said nothing. What could 
she
say?
	Telulu turned around and started to walk away. She closed her hands
around the crystal and it shrank. She closed it further and it was no larger
than a tiny seed. She stroked under the chin of her tiny child god and his 
eyes
opened. They were old, far older than they seemed. The giant mitama on his
forehead gleamed. He could sense what was happening, but he was helpless 
before
it. He could not resist her, and in a few seconds, he would not want to.
	She forced the crystal into his throat, and for a brief moment time
seemed to stop. Then the child began to cry, but no sound came out. Telulu 
felt
the world shift, and a terrible presence suddenly filled her thoughts. It 
was
focused on her, on this spot. It was coming. A hole in the sky would be its
doorway, and a child would be its guide. And she would greet it laughing.
	Smiling to herself, Telulu walked into Tokyo Tower to prepare to meet
the end.


				To Be Continued...



Author's Notes:

Blade: Hey, you used Latin again.  What's it mean?

Epsilon: The Silence That Abolishes The Army.  Literally!

Blade: Thas cool.  So, uh, now what?

Epsilon: I don't know.  We've kind of written ourselves into a corner, 
haven't
we?

Blade: Yeah, everything's pretty much screwed, all the heroes are dead or 
insane
or impotent or all of the above.

Epsilon: Or Ukyou, and nobody wants to see her save the world, since they're
still pissed off that she yelled at Nodoka.

Blade: Hey, you just don't disrespect senior citizens when you're Japanese, 
man.

Epsilon: True.  But we can't rely on our readers for help; nobody responded 
to
our LAST poll for some reason.

Blade: Ah, maybe they were just scared of the possibilities inherent in 
holding
such power over the story.  Let's give them another chance!

Epsilon: Yes, readers!  Come on!  Give us your responses; we'll take 15 days 
to
tally the results, and then write all 327K (just to pick a random number out 
of
thin air) of next chapter centreing on the person that YOU want to save the
world in Hybrid Theory!

Blade: That's right!  Somebody needs to defeat Millennium... and Chronos... 
and
Bison... and Tethys... and Telulu... all at the same time!  But only one 
person
can possibly do that!

Epsilon: Out of the following list, that is!


***

SECOND OFFICIAL HYBRID THEORY POLL!

"Who is going to defeat every single villain in the series and become the 
new
main character?"

1) Pantyhose Tarou
2) Doorknobder
3) Adon
4) BANDO!
5) John Cena, after no-selling the Death Reborn Revolution
6) Vash the Stampede
7) Super Vegeta
8) George W. Bush (hey, he exists, you know!  It's 1992!)
9) Jesus
10) Doctor Tofu (Evil is optional)

***

Blade: I'm voting for Doorknobder!

Epsilon: You would.

Blade: So make sure to vote, because if you don't, or if you do but for some
reason we don't pay attention, THIS will happen!



	"AH HA! I'VE FOUND YOU AT LAST!"
	All four of them went as stiff as statues and began to reach for their
henshin wands. Then Rei got a good look at the person and sighed in 
recognition.
She was shorter than Rei, with bright yellow hair and a garish tight 
pantsuit of
the same color. She was pointing imperiously at them.
	"Usagi Tsukino! I am Nanami Kiryuu, Acting Student Council President,
and I have finally found you!" the girl sneered. "What have you done with my
brother? Did you lure him away to some sort of evil shadow city? Also, what 
is
THIS?" Nanami gestured and suddenly there was a pink bell in her hand, 
attached
to a heart-shaped handle. "I CAN'T MAKE IT GO AWAY! Did you do this to me? 
Did
you steal my brother..." The girl trailed off as she noticed everyone 
staring at
her.
	"I'm sorry, let me start over." She cleared her throat. "Hi, I'm Nanami
Kiryuu. I've been looking for you for awhile now. Can we talk?"


			Hybrid Theory Chapter 20: Faint























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