The first event happened in 1939. A German U-Boat exploded en route, killing the entire crew. A later investigation recovered their bodies—as well as five more bodies that resisted all efforts at identification. The examining doctor's autopsy of the bodies was sent to German High Command, which quickly fired him on grounds of incompetence, and destroyed the report.

Later rumors had it that the Germans had performed mysterious bombings in the middle of the Atlantic, though these were highly denied. After the war, a series of secret documents suggested that they had, though the object of these bombings remained unfathomable.


The second event happened in 1963, when a car in New York crashed, killing its driver instantly. As opposed to the first event, (which would have a book written about it) there was very little mystery and about as little interest in this event. The driver had been a prominent neurosurgeon, and thus ranked a sizable obituary, but he wasn't a well-liked man, and very few people came to his funeral.


The third event actually happened before the first and second, if you want to get technical, since it happened before the start of what some people might call time. Because of this, almost nobody who would actually live in what people generally refer to as the universe noticed that it happened. Also because of it, it is nearly impossible to describe. Suffice to say, things were discussed, a decision was made, and this decision had fascinating ramifications on the universe at large, which resulted in there being a lot more planets, and a few more civilizations. At least, for a little while, anyway.


In his throne room at the Center of Time, Kang the Conqueror frowned. He'd hoped that after his first alteration, the universe would have stabilized. But no. Instead alterations were whipping up and down the timeline, shifting things in a manner even he was finding hard to predict. This was not how it was supposed to be. Each change added more variables, more uncertainties—more threats to his plans. The tiny part of Kang's mind that could be called sane was almost frightened. But it was too late to go back now. Indeed, such an attempt on his part might damage his own existence beyond repair. Already, he felt another timeline shift.

And the world changed, once again…



Chapter 1—"Strange Days Indeed"

An "Avenging" Universe Spinoff

By David Dee


Hikaru Gosunkugi was having a bad day.

Mind you, for Hikaru Gosunkugi almost any given day was bad. This was because Hikaru was one of those unfortunate young men who seem to be born with no luck, and whose pathetic existences pass them by leaving them with nothing better to show for it then the national award for self-esteem, and third place in the local spelling bee. Life had given Hikaru no real advantages. He was smart—but not that smart. He had the build of the boy in the Charles Atlas ads, who gets sand kicked in his face and humiliated in front of his girl, before Charles Atlas made him a real man. Not that Hikaru could even get a girl, mind you. Not with his complexion, which made him look like he had just risen from the dead, and was considering going back on that choice.

No, most of Hikaru's days were bad ones, but some reached greater depths of suffering than others. You see most days, people did Hikaru the great favor of ignoring him. As opposed to today, when four young toughs were explaining to him why they were offended by his having the audacity to walk on the sidewalk through their neighborhood.

"And take that! And that, you freak!"

The reason for this reception was, apparently, that they thought that Hikaru had looked at one of their girlfriends in a manner they thought was inappropriate, or possibly, because they thought he was a homosexual. Hikaru wasn't sure which it was, and he had his doubts they really cared.

It was as their boot heels were colliding with his ribcage that he heard the voice. The horrible, horrible voice. "Let him go, punks."

The so-designated punks immediately stopped the important business of beating Gosunkugi to a bloody pulp to stare in terror at the owner of the voice.

"Oh shit!" muttered one. "It's Nabiki Tendou!"

A pathetic whimper issued from Hikaru. Everyone else present assumed it resulted from his injuries and so didn't pay it much mind. And they were all wrong, except in the most metaphysical of senses.

The biggest, surliest, stupidest member of the gang (who was, by these virtues, the leader) immediately spat on the ground. "I heard a you, Tendou. Everyone says yer tough, but it sounds like bull ta me…"

Nabiki gave a very calm smile that was as thin as a knife's edge, and about as unpleasant. "Care to try your luck, then?" she stated, cracking her knuckles.

The leader immediately rushed forward. "Come on, guys! It's just one girl!" His friends seemed to be on the verge of following him when Nabiki's knee collided with his stomach. This was followed by her right fist crashing into his nose, her left fist socking his jaw, and her right foot stomping on his toes.

As their leader collapsed, the other punks ran off. Hikaru watched them go as he lifted himself off the ground, then turned to look at his… savior. Nabiki eyed him with the cold, cocky smile that is the personal property of those who are just a little too sure of themselves. Looking at it, Hikaru had to suppress an urge to deck her in spite of what she'd just done, an urge that was only kept in check by the facts that: a) only a real heel would hit a woman; and; b) if he tried, she would probably break both his knees, and use his spinal cord as a xylophone.

Hikaru sighed. There was something inherently humiliating about being saved by a girl to his mind, even if she was a master of the martial arts. Still, there were worse things…

Nabiki raised a mercenary palm. "So, Gosunkugi, do you have my fee?"

Such as having to pay her protection money. Hikaru reached awkwardly into his pocket. "I've got—five yen on me…"

Nabiki rolled her eyes. "Honestly, sometimes it's like you think I'm some kind of charity. I mean, you're already paying my preferred customer rates!"

Hikaru gave a pained nod. "I'll get the rest to you. Soon."

Nabiki gave him a friendly pat on the shoulder. "You do that." With that she turned to walk away—then glanced over her shoulder. "You know, I'm starting up a service I call "the gold level". For just fifty more yen, you get a vital signs monitor, which will notify me the moment someone lays a finger on you…" Nabiki's shut her eyes, smiling softly. "I can count on your patronage, at least…"

A wave of anger swelled up in Hikaru that would have been terrible to behold if he were not an utter wimp. Checking it in, he merely took a deep breath. "I'll consider it." With that, he strode off in measured defiance.

Or would have, if that banana peel hadn't been there. Hikaru was still trying to get Nabiki's chuckling out of his head when the cane came crashing down on his hand. Its owner glanced calmly to the side, and regarded him with a mildly apologetic gaze, as she moved it. "Oh. Sorry, Hikaru."

Hikaru felt his spirits lift, even as his hand was suffering from near-crippling pain. "It's all right, Akane. I'm fine." he replied as he gazed into the eyes of Akane Tendou, the girl—no, the woman for whom he'd gladly cut off his own head, and serve it on a silver platter, with a sprig of parsley as a side.

She nodded. "Well, that's good," she stated levelly, and then walked away.

He'd gotten a positive response from her. Hikaru rose determined to take advantage of this moment. What he needed was some way of saying, 'Akane, I worship the very ground on which you tread. I know that it's an imposition beyond all reason to ask a goddess like you to even deign notice a grotesque creature like myself, but would you maybe, perhaps, consider going out for a bite to eat some time?' Only shorter, and more succinct. And then it hit him.

"Nice weather, isn't it?"


Akane gave him a look that mixed annoyance with boredom and pity, all in equal measure. "No. It's hot, and muggy, and the sun is too bright."

Hikaru gulped. Already he was ruining his chances. There was only one thing to do. He gave a quick nod. "I suppose you're right."

Akane gave a frustrated groan. "No, Hikaru. I'm not. The weather's perfectly fine. The problem is me." She glanced down at the ground, her expression bitter. "It's just—seeing Nabiki take down that thug—and then making you pay her for it—it made me wish I could still practice martial arts. I'd use them to protect people, not to make money. But instead I'm a useless cripple." A tear rolled down her cheek.

Hikaru tried to convey the thought, 'Akane, I'd think you were the most perfect being imaginable even if you were a blind, deaf, mute quadruple amputee. You're so smart, and so pretty, and so kind. Please don't cry,' as best he could.

"That's too bad."

Akane nodded, moving quickly away. "Yeah. It sure is." Hikaru thought about following her, but decided against it.


Later that day, during lunch, Hikaru was sitting by his usual table by himself, reviewing his conversation with Akane. (Most other students gave Hikaru a wide berth, largely out of the fear that whatever he obviously had was contagious.) He gave a sigh. All right, so eloquence wasn't his forte—still he had persistence, and that had to count for something, didn't it? After all, he had sat at the table next to hers for years, risking occasional notice from Nabiki, on the off-chance that Akane might one day realize he existed. And then one day, she had approached him and asked, "Do you have any salt?"

"Yes," he had replied, hands shaking, as he nervously picked up the pepper shaker before he realized his mistake, and wound up having a ten minute sneezing fit. True, it wasn't Camille, but still it was something.

Hikaru glanced over to the side. Lately, Akane had been leaving school early to work as a nurse when she could. While she seemed a lot cheerier now, the truth was, he disliked that she was gone so often. Akane seemed to be taking an interest in her new job that was bordering on the obsessive. Hikaru shook his head. He really couldn't say that for certain. Not until the pictures from his spy camera were developed.

Suddenly, his ears perked up. Nabiki had just uttered Akane's blessed name, and that merited his immediate interest.

"…horrible crush on him." Nabiki stated. Hikaru almost bolted up in his seat. Who was this 'him'? What horrible Lothario had stolen his precious Akane's heart? Suddenly, a thrill passed through his entire body. Could it—might it possibly be that all his attentions had finally paid off? Was Akane actually interested in him?

"Akane's in love with Dr. Tofu?" squealed Sayuri.

Hikaru fell back in his chair, much to the amusement of a good portion of the cafeteria. Ignoring their laughter, he shut his eyes. He should have expected this. There was no way that Akane would ever be interested in a wretch like him. He stood no chance of ever winning her heart. Well, there was only one thing to do about that.


As Hikaru stood on the dock with a pair of sandbags tied to his waist, and his suicide note in a plastic bag taped to his chest, he wondered why nobody seemed to be the least bit interested in stopping him. Was he so pathetic that everyone agreed with his decision to do away with himself? Was that the reason they all carried on their business like he wasn't even there?

The answers to these questions could be gleaned from the whispered conversation of the onlookers.

"Keep your distance, everybody, and don't try to attract his attention. I don't like the look in his eyes…"

"He's a madman, a madman!"

"Think that's a bomb strapped to his chest?"

"That or maybe some nerve gas…"

"Shhh. He's about to say something."

Hikaru looked around and coughed. "Well, this is it. Goodbye cruel world."

Everyone in the vicinity took a step away from him.

Hikaru took a deep breath and stepped forward. So he was right. Nobody cared if he lived or died. That was fine. It just proved that he was making the right choice. He was a failure at life, at love, at everything. Death at least promised to be something he could succeed at.

He looked down. The water looked awfully cold. And damp. Hikaru shut his eyes.

It occurred to him then that he did not want to die like this, drowning on the docks with a suicide note written on "Hello, Kitty" stationery on his body.

The onlookers were at this point were getting restless.

"He's just standing there…"

"Why doesn't he do something…?"

"Sure is a strange looking one…"

"STRANGE?" shot out a loud, piercing voice whose general tone was similar to fingernails dragged across blackboards. "You want to talk about strange? I know strange…" Everyone turned to look at the maker of this bold statement, even Hikaru. That individual was an old man who looked like the Gorton's fisherman, if he'd been stranded on a desert isle for a decade or so, and had only made it back to civilization last week. "Me name's Joe, though most call me Old Salty. I been all over the world, an' seen all sorts of strange things—St. Elmo's fire on the ocean, the pyramids of Egypt, the great snakes of South America—and once in England, I saw a man with three buttocks. But the greatest, most strangest thing I've ever seen, was in Sri Lanka. I met a man who possessed powers far beyond the mortal ken—Dr. Druid, he called himself. And he insisted that he was only the least student of the Ancient One, a mighty sorcerer who lived in the mountains of India—perhaps the mightiest in the world." Old Salty shook his head. "It's an experience both marvelous, and humbling to know such powers exist."

Hikaru shook his head and chuckled. There'd been a time in his life when he'd believed in magic. But that had been long ago, before Nabiki Tendou had proven to him time and time again his own shortcomings. He knew now that power and success were things that lay forever beyond his grasp, that no magical shortcut existed to overcoming that fact.

But what if you know wrong?, a small voice within him said. What if the old man were right? In that case, he had simply been looking in the wrong places before—and now he knew the right one.

Hikaru shut his eyes, and took a deep breath. It was madness. Chances were this was just another fraud. But still—any chance, no matter how slight was better than what he had now. Utter despair. And perhaps—perhaps the trip would do him good. "India" he muttered. The syllables seemed to reverberate in the air, as promise of wonders and mystery.

Yes. He would do it. He would go to India, seek out the Ancient One, and ask him for his help. Hikaru gave a confident nod. This was a new start for him. From now on, he was going to live life on his terms. With that, he took a great step forward.

After a moment, the onlookers shook their heads.

"Would you look at that?"

"After standing there so long, he just…"

"Just stepped right off the pier…"

"Aye," nodded Old Salty. "He's lucky it's low tide. There's only about three feet of water, so a man would have to put a whole lot of effort in to drowning."

That was when they heard the sputtering. "Would someone please throw me a rope, or something?"


As he stood on the mountainside, staring up at the forbidding palace before him, it occurred to Hikaru that if he were ever to make a travel guide to India, there were five or so points he'd try to get across.

The first was that India was crowded. There were over a billion people living there, and rather large portion of them were crushed together in the cities. This made for a horrific sprawl in places, with all the resulting problems—scarcity, pollution, pests, and of course, crime. Hikaru had lost nearly a third of his funds to a pickpocket on his first day. Fortunately—and this was point number two—a little bit of money goes a long way there. In his search for the Ancient One, he had paid for food, lodging, and numerous bribes with an amount of money that would have bought two cups of coffee and a doughnut back home.

The third point he would have to make was that as one went into the hinterlands, one had to do without certain modern conveniences. Like electricity. And indoor plumbing.

He really missed the indoor plumbing.

And all that tied into the fourth point—India is not the land of happy mystics that popular culture imagines it to be. Of all the people he'd encountered looking for the Ancient One, not one was a wise old sage with a long white beard who dispensed fragments of wisdom with casual aplomb. Most were travelers and merchants—and he suspected that some of the aforementioned were actually criminals. Others were street performers, beggars, and traveling storytellers—three professions that tended to blend into each other. It was from their twice-told tales and vague rumors that he had finally encountered the handful of people who might qualify as "sages", and they usually had a rather crazy look in their eyes, and a tendency to trail off midsentence during the course of a conversation. And the three or four people that might have possessed genuine magical powers did not strike him as the most pleasant characters.

The fifth point, Hikaru thought, as he looked around, was that when it rains in India, it rains. For days on end. Without stopping. It had started two weeks ago, and in that time, every bit of clothing that Hikaru owned had been soaked through. He was miserable, and cold, and he feared opening his suitcase lest the resulting mildew had achieved movement, and perhaps a rudimentary sentience.

After a week, the rain started showing up in his dreams.

And one night, he'd had the strangest dream—nightmare—dream, that he'd ever had in his life.


He was in a rainstorm, and saw a cave. Rushing in, he was surprised to see a bonfire was burning there. He sat down, and warmed himself. That was when he heard the greeting. "Hello."

He looked up. A woman sat there, in a green silk dress, with pale skin and long, black hair who had certainly not been there a moment before. She was poking the fire idly with a stick. "Hello," he replied nervously.

She glanced back up at him, the fire shining in her eyes. Hikaru shifted uneasily. There was something—off, about the woman. "So, where are you going?" she asked, calmly.

"I don't know," he replied.

The woman chuckled. A flame shot up, and briefly covered her hand, before burning out. Her hand was not even singed. "An admission of ignorance! That's a rare thing! For that my gift is wisdom!" The woman leaned forward, her expression amused, and arrogant, and predatory, all at once. "Ask three questions. You'll receive three true answers."

Hikaru's first question sprang to his lips unbidden. "Will Akane ever love me?"

The answer came like a gunshot. "No."

Hikaru gulped. The cave seemed unbearably hot. "Will—will I ever find what I'm looking for?"

The woman laughed at that one. "No."

Hikaru shook his head. He had to use his last question wisely. "Will the Ancient One help me?"

The woman thought a moment for that one before replying, in a hoarse whisper. "No."

Hikaru stood up angry. "You promised me three true answers, but only gave me the same one over again."

The woman stood up gracefully, and chuckled. "Is it my fault you asked the wrong questions?" She placed her hands on her hips, and gave Hikaru a look of condescending pity. "However, since I did promise you wisdom, know this—beggars can't be choosers, and cold iron is most useful against spirits."

Hikaru wiped his forehead. It was getting very hot. "That's—that's nonsense…"

"Of course it is!" the woman gloated. "Nonsense is the only sense there is and negation the only wisdom!" Flames burnt high behind her. Hikaru realized with a start that the fire had surrounded him on all sides, blazing out of control.

"Oh, crap," he muttered, before the flames burned through his clothing, and then his flesh, while the woman strode forward, gazing at him hungrily and laughing the entire time.

Hikaru woke in a cold sweat, grateful that he didn't have to change his sleeping bag. It took him several hours to get back to sleep and when he did, his sleep was deep, and dreamless.


But that was behind him. He was finally here—the sanctuary of the Ancient One. Staring at the immense castle, Hikaru wondered how anyone could build something like that in the mountains.

And how they'd pay for it if they could.

And why they'd do it in the first place.

He walked forward. As he reached the gateway, the immense doors opened on their own.

That was, he decided after a moment's thought, a nice touch.


The Ancient One, Hikaru decided, may have been the greatest mystic in the world, but his judgment in interior design was highly questionable. In all honesty, his sanctuary was proving the greatest monument in the world to bad taste outside of Graceland. Giant abstract murals covered the walls, their clashing s bringing nothing to mind so much as a hangover, made visual. Gigantic torches, burning with a purple flames, lit the corridors, and would flicker on as he approached.

It appeared that restraint was not one of the Ancient One's virtues.

Finally, Hikaru entered a great hall, dominated by a giant throne in the center of it. Seated on the throne was a little old man, his serenely shut. "Hello, Hikaru Gosunkugi," he stated, his eyes not opening.

Hikaru coughed. "Am I supposed to reply with a shocked question of how you know that, even though I can think of half a dozen ways you could…? Because I'd really like to skip that part…"

The old man's eyes opened. They stared at him with a faint, compassionate amusement. "What business have you with the Ancient One, that has carried you over this great distance?"

Hikaru gulped. The man may have talked like someone in a bad old historical movie, the kind where Roman Centurions talked like they'd just come out of weekend in Hell's Kitchen, he had a sort of presence that was hard to shrug off. "Well—sir—I—I've had a—well, a pretty miserable life, and it always seemed that if I could just get a break I could—maybe—improve it—a little. But that's never happened. And then I heard about you, and I thought you could—make it better. Somehow."

The words seemed petty and ridiculous even as he said them. I have no chance here, he thought, as the Ancient One's eyes narrowed. "So Gosunkugi" the sorcerer stated calmly, "is this how you ask for my secrets? Secrets that can shake the very foundations of the cosmos?"

Hikaru glanced down at the floor. "I guess that's a no." He sighed. "All right then. I was sort of expecting something like this. Don't bother getting up—I'll see myself out…" It appeared this trip was a waste. Still, it'd been a precious month or so without Nabiki. That was almost worth it. Suddenly, it occurred to him.

He turned to look back at the Ancient One. "I was just wondering… I—could you—help out a—friend of mine… A-Akane Tendou…?"

The Ancient One quirked an eyebrow. "I see. You wish her cured of her limp—and thus, properly grateful." The image came instantly into Hikaru's mind—a joyous Akane, embracing him in thanks. And almost as quickly he discarded it. That was nonsense. A restored Akane was even further out of his reach. "Look, it's only because—she's the only person I know who's more miserable than I am—and just once—it'd be nice to see her smile is all…" He sighed, thinking thoughts of Akane, which were five times more pleasant, and ten times less lucid than his usual ones. "You don't have to even mention me—just do whatever you can for her…"

He continued to the door. A slight chuckle came from the Ancient One. "I don't recall giving you permission to leave—apprentice."

Hikaru started. "What was that?"

The Ancient One shrugged. "I'm taking you on as an apprentice. It's a whim of mine."

Hikaru immediately took a deep bow. It was a virtual miracle he didn't lose his balance. "T-thank you, sir."

"Do not thank me, Gosunkugi." The Ancient One shut his eyes. He looked very tired, all at once, and very old. "I've done you no favors." He turned to the corner of the room. "Mordu."

A man appeared from them, who had most certainly not been there before. A tall, stately aristocratic man wearing a blue cloak, in his early twenties, with long black hair, and a handsome, refined face. "Yes, master?" he murmured in a voice that was as silky and polished as the rest of him.

The Ancient One gestured in Hikaru's direction. "I will need you to escort Mr. Gosunkugi to his quarters." He turned to glance at Hikaru. "This is Baron Klaus Willigott Mordu, my senior apprentice."

So it appeared that human Adonis was his upperman. Nothing ever really changed, it seemed. Hikaru suppressed an urge to scream.

The Ancient One seemed oblivious to his discomfort. "Mordu will answer any questions you have about this place. I will see you again tomorrow." He shut his eyes.

Hikaru turned to find Mordu already at his side. Staring at him with an expression that suggested studying an annoying insect more than regarding a fellow student. "Follow me," he uttered, that perfect voice a perfectly cold expression of contempt. Hikaru found he really didn't appreciate Mordu's tone of voice. In fact, he really didn't appreciate Mordu, period. Still, he obviously knew his way around, and Hikaru suspected he didn't want to get lost in this place. He followed quickly, noting that Mordu made little effort to see that he was keeping up.

It was a long walk down the hall. Hikaru made an effort to strike up a conversation. "So, how long have you been here?"

Mordu didn't even look at him. "Long enough." Hikaru allowed the conversation to die a premature, and horrible death. All in all, he was rather glad when they reached a heavy stone door, and stopped. "Your..." began Mordu.

"Yes, I know, my room…" muttered Hikaru, walking forward. He could have sworn that Mordu growled at him for that remark, but when he glanced back at the Baron, he seemed as placid as ever. As Hikaru entered the room, Mordu glanced at him. "I should warn you," he began, "this place is most—dangerous at night. It would be wisest not to stir from your quarters.

Hikaru blinked. "What's the danger from?"

A rather smug smile spread over Mordu's far too handsome face. "You're better off not knowing." With that, he strode majestically away.

That night, as he lay in bed, listening to things slither, and drip by his room, Hikaru decided that Mordu was probably telling him the truth.


The next day, a tired miserable Hikaru found himself woken up at the break of dawn, and escorted by a smirking Mordu to a large room that looked like someone had been designing a theme restaurant based medieval torture chambers. It was lit by more of the purple torches, which Hikaru was finding more and more irritating. The Ancient One sat on the floor his demeanor calm, and rather abstracted.

"So young Gosunkugi," he began after a rather lengthy silence, "you have come to learn the ways arcane from me—and now your lessons begin…"

Hikaru gave a weary nod. "Uhh, right—say is there—anyway I could—get maybe another hour of sleep…"

"The awakened mind treasures each moment of awareness…" replied the Ancient One in a horribly chipper voice.

"And so—do I, but I like to have them…! I'm probably going to nod off in another second…"

The Ancient One gave a dismissive wave. "Relax, child. The wonders I will show you will shock your mind to peak wakefulness."

Hikaru shuddered slightly. "Wonderful."

The Ancient One beamed at him. "I am happy to see you are getting into the spirit of things. And now for your first lesson—flight!"

Hikaru glanced up at that. Flight?" That sounded—almost pleasant. As a child, Hikaru used to dream of flying high in the air, above the problems that faced him on the world below.

At least, he had until the day Nabiki had offered to give him flying lessons for twenty yen. And then shoved him off a cliff. Admittedly it was a rather small cliff, but to Hikaru's mind it was the fall that counted.

Hikaru looked down at the floor. It seemed rather hard.

The Ancient One gave a sage-like cough. "Flight is perhaps the simplest of all magicks, the most easily learned—and yet the techniques that it teaches are the building blocks for even the most complicated spells."

Hikaru gave a quick nod. "That's fascinating. Now, excuse me, I need—a drink. Of water."

The Ancient One shook his head. "The needs of the body are illusory—a cage to bind the spirit." He pulled something from the folds of his robe. "Now, then, as a novice, you will need aid with this technique." He unfurled the bundle. "From this Cloak of Levitation."

Hikaru stared at the cloak. It looked like someone had taken a greatcoat, fed it anabolic steroids, and then exposed it to a massive dose of radiation for good measure. It was large. And red, with a golden fringe. And not a pleasant red, with a thin fringe—an eye-stabbing red, with a fringe that would have kept an army of drag queens in spangles for years. And finally, there was the collar. Hikaru could see that if he wore it, it would overwhelm his head. Actually, the thing looked like it could overwhelm a fair-sized civilization, and then go on to destroy Tokyo for good measure.

Hikaru glanced away, fidgeting, as he tried to get the eyesore out of his head. "Do you have anything quieter?" He was hoping for something in black, or grey. Hikaru liked black and grey. They went well with anything. Especially black and grey.

The Ancient One laughed. "Why, this cloak was the one I used as an apprentice."

Hikaru eyed him suspiciously. "Was that during the 70s?"

The Ancient One gave a casual nod. "Around 1370, or so, yes…"

Hikaru blinked. "Ah."

"Here," said the Ancient One, handing him the cloak. "My gift to you."

Hikaru quickly put it on, hoping that he didn't look as ridiculous as he felt, and suspecting that he did. "So how does this work?"

"Merely direct your will towards flight, and the cloak will carry you."

"Ah." said Hikaru, with a nod that indicated that he naturally believed every word he'd just been told. He shut his eyes, and pictured himself flying. In this cape.

It was a depressingly silly looking picture.

"This—really doesn't seem to be working, sir…" he commented quietly.

The Ancient One's voice came up at him faintly. "It's working exquisitely. Indeed you exceed my expectations." Hikaru opened his eyes. The Ancient One stood on the floor, far below him, and dwindling in size at a rather startling rate. Hikaru let a startled chuckle escape his lips. This was amazing! He was rising effortlessly! Almost as if he was born to do this! Suddenly, Hikaru realized that he had better figure out how to stop before he hit—


—the ceiling. Hikaru blacked out for a second. When he opened his eyes, he was falling away from the ceiling, to reacquaint himself with his old childhood friend, the floor.

Hikaru did what came naturally. He shuts his eyes again, and whimpered.

After allowing his pupil a moment to recuperate, the Ancient One walked forward, and tapped Hikaru lightly on the shoulder with his foot. "Very good, Gosunkugi. Now try it again. We must work on control…"

Hikaru groaned.


That night, Hikaru lay in bed, nursing his battered and bruised body. He had practiced flight for several hours, before being allowed a break. Once that was out of the way, he had practiced flight for several more hours. During all this, the Ancient One had praised his 'enduring spirit", which Hikaru took for took to be mystic cant for "surprisingly fast recovery time". Now doing a mental review Hikaru noted that he was sore in places that he hadn't even known existed, thoroughly exhausted, and much, much too terrified to go asleep.

He let out a sigh. Somehow, this was not how he pictured being taught the ways arcane. It made sense to him how the Ancient One had gotten his formidable reputation—anyone who gave out this sort of training was either powerful beyond belief, so as to avoid be killed by a disgruntled student, or completely insane, so as not to care. Or quite possibly both, which Hikaru suspected to be the case. Still, it could be worse. He could be out there with whatever was making those noises.

At just that moment, Hikaru felt a—familiar stirring. He groaned. Of all the times to have to go to the bathroom, this ranked among the worst. He shook his head. Forget it. He would just wet his sheets, if it came down to that. That definitely outranked be shredded to pieces by ungodly monstrosities. That was when he realized he had—the other sort of business, as well. Hikaru cried. Why him? He wasn't an evil man. Just a slightly pathetic one.

Still, even he had his limits. If it was—befouling his sheets, or dying horribly, he'd take dying horribly, thank you very much. He rose and went to the door, then paused a moment, and cleared his throat. "Look—unholy beasts of hell, and acquaintances—I know you're out there, so if you're going to devour me, just do it, all right? No lurking, no stalking, no twisted mind games—just grab me and get it over with, okay? Because I am really NOT in the mood to mess around." He opened the door.

The hallway was empty.

Hikaru sighed. He hoped he wasn't getting set up.


It was funny, thought Hikaru. When he'd been heading to the bathroom, the way had seemed quite certain. However, heading back, he was hopelessly lost. At first, he'd tried to get his bearings by finding some bit of decoration that he recognized. After a short time, he realized that this was impossible. There were NO decorations in the Ancient One's sanctuary that a sane human being would be even capable of recognizing. That's not to say there were no decorations—it was just that everything was the same godawful, garrish, pseudo-moddish abstract stylings that were so utterly random that the human mind simply ceased to notice any difference in it.

At the moment, Hikaru's plan was to amble about randomly and hope that he found his room. Given the place's size, this would probably take him sixty years, at an optimistic estimate.

It was enough to make him want to cry.

Hikaru glanced around. He was presently in a long, dark hall with three identical looking doors. Hikaru shrugged. Really, what were the chances that something soul-suckingly horrific lurked behind whichever door he chose?

Pretty damn good, so he might as well get it over with, and bear his punishment like a man. He opened a door.

Inside Mordu stood before a huge golden altar, decorated with a malefic-looking horned demon head. A brazier of sickly greenish flame burned before him. Mordu was holding a bloody knife, and chanting in a low, dire voice that sounded like it came from a graveyard. "Oh, Lords of Anguish, Twin Monarchs of Despair, I call on the power that you bear. By fire and pain, blood and death, wrack the body, and cease the breath."

Hikaru got the distinct impression that this wasn't his room.

Mordu was now raising his left hand, a long cut visible on the palm. "Dread Dormammu! I invoke thee! By thy power shall I destroy the Ancient One! By thy power, shall he die!" The green flame towered up, and gathered around his hand, absorbing itself into it.

That was it, Hikaru decided. He was getting the hell out of here. Hikaru turned around quickly, and started to sneak out. He was fairly certain he did not want to be caught by Mordu.

"You there."

Oh, crap.

Hikaru turned around, slowly. Mordu stood there, watching him, almost motionless. His eyes bore into Hikaru's skull, their gaze one of icy command. "What did you see?"

"Oh, nothing." Hikaru could feel his knees shaking. "Just the whole—death spell thing. It—really didn't strike me as too important…"

Mordu chuckled. "You will not tell."

Hikaru gave a nervous laugh in reply. "That's right. Absolutely right. The way I see it, if you have a problem with the Ancient One, that is absolutely no business of mine. So goodnight, see you tomorrow. Hope everything works out for you…" He began to head out again.

Mordu simply smiled. "Your desperate attempt to bluff me is noted." Hikaru gritted his teeth. He was toast.

Much to his surprise, Mordu merely stepped forward. "You misunderstood me, however. I was neither asking for, nor confirming your cooperation. I was COMMANDING it." Mordu glanced away, quietly amused. "I have placed a mental block in your mind. You will say nothing I do not want to be said." Mordu glanced at Hikaru again, his expression now openly mocking. "Go on, try."

Hikaru tried to reply with a hearty "You are a freaky psycho who terrifies beyond all measure, so may I please go now?" but found he couldn't. It was as if his larynx had been surgically removed—try as he might, the sounds would not come out.

Mordu gave a silvery laugh. "So you see—I have no reason to fear you." He calmly turned away. "Goodnight, Hikaru Gosunkugi. Pleasant dreams."

Hikaru left the room, in a sort of stunned daze. Oddly enough, he found his room with no trouble after that, though his dreams that night were far from pleasant.


The next morning, Mordu seemed even more self-satisfied than usual. Hikaru watched his eyes. They had the same predatory gleam he associated with Nabiki, when she announced some flimsy reason for him to pay her more money. It was the look, he thought, of those who have everything before them to gain, and nothing behind them to hold them back.

He didn't like that look.

Mordu smiled at him, calmly. "Tell me, Gosunkugi, why do you suppose I'm going to kill the Ancient One?"

Hikaru gulped. "Well," he said, after a moment's hesitation, "I'd say—and this is only a rough guess—that you want to move up the whole magician totem pole—thing." Hikaru gave an awkward laugh. "Which is of course a show of admirable ambition. So, why don't you lower the magical compulsion, and let me—?"

Mordu snickered. "As usual, you try to hide a flicker of courage behind a show of cowardice. You are such a strange, sad creature, Gosunkugi. I find you quite amusing."

Hikaru braced his shoulders. "Well the feeling isn't mutual. I find you frightening and eerie."

Mordu gave his head a rueful shake. "I will have to keep you alive when Dormammu grants me this place as a kingdom. You are most amusing, and quite harmless." He shut his eyes. "And as for your reason—it is partially accurate—but only partially. There are other matters here. My father was a student of the Ancient One." A grim tone came into his voice. "He was dismissed because he dared to go further than the old fool! It shattered him. I have spent my life waiting for the opportunity to avenge him, and now it is here." An unpleasant, vicious smile came to his lips. "And it tastes sweet." He opened his eyes, and chuckled. There was a world of hate behind those eyes, a world of hate that had been growing steadily for many years.

Hikaru shut his eyes, and shuddered. Life really, really sucked, when you got down to it. Good, if somewhat mad men like the Ancient One got killed so that insane monsters like Mordu could laugh about it. He'd traveled thousands of miles to get away from the phenomena, and instead had stumbled into it written about as large as it got.

It wasn't fair. But neither was being born looking like a zombie, and no one had consulted him on that particular matter either.

The doors to the Ancient One's chamber opened. The Ancient One sat on his throne, his expression meditative. He smiled kindly. "Ah, Mr. Gosunkugi. Thank you, Mordu." That poor man has no idea what's going to happen, thought Hikaru.

Mordu gave a low bow. "I am pleased to be of service, Master." He raised his left hand slowly. He is going to die, Hikaru thought. The Ancient One was going to die.

What he did next happened so quickly, it surprised even him, even when he thought back on it. In one motion, he pitched his body into Mordu's, knocking him over, and screamed, "He's trying to kill you! Mordu's trying to kill you! Mordu's trying to kill you!"

Mordu glanced at him, looking both shocked and offended. "You broke my control? I-impossible…" Mordu raised his hand, the green flame shimmering off of it. "You—you will die for your insolence…"

Hikaru began to scoot away as quickly as possible. "Oh crap, oh crap, oh crap…" he muttered to himself. The green flame struck forward in a serpentine swirl, and then was dissolved into nothing by a bright golden light, inches away from Hikaru's face. The Ancient One stood next to him, all frailty gone, now calm, and powerful.

"That is quite enough, Mordu. It seemed you have overestimated your own might—and underestimated the power of Mr. Gosunkugi—and myself." The Ancient One stepped forward, the strength radiating off of him. "I have know of your dealings with the Dark One for some time now, Mordu, but I allowed you to believe you were succeeding both to allow me to keep a better eye on you, and as a test for the apprentice I knew was coming."

"And did you know about this?" snarled Mordu, pulling out a small purple shard from what looked like a jewel that cast a pale light in the chamber.

The Ancient One's eyes went wide. "It cannot be…"

Mordu smiled grimly. "A gift from my Master, to be used when needed."

Hikaru winced. "Umm, this is very bad isn't it?"

Mordu chuckled, placing the jewel against his forehead. "For you, yes." The jewel seemed to recede into Mordu's flesh. "Soon, Ancient One, you will be nothing more than a mem—" Mordu's eyes went wide. "No." He fell to the floor with an ear-piercing scream, writhing in agony.

Hikaru got up, and glanced at the Mordu, whose flesh was palpating in a manner that brought to mind something about to explode. Hikaru looked at the Ancient One, which was far preferable to looking at Mordu. "This just got WORSE, didn't it?"

The Ancient One gave a grave nod. "Indeed it has." He grabbed Hikaru by the shoulder. "We must go. Quickly." Much to Hikaru's surprise, the chamber immediately began to fade out of view, accompanied by the feeling of being strained into a million pieces, and then being hastily reassembled. Hikaru tried to suppress his urge to vomit.

He failed.

Once he was finished he looked up at the room he was in. It was stone chamber, oddly sedate compared to the rest of the sanctuary, with a greenish door inscribed with strange symbols. A large stone pillar stood towards the end of the chamber. Hikaru turned to the Ancient One, the fear and frustration obvious on his face. "Okay—I'm just a little slow on some topics—like, you know—demons, and evil plots, and funny names—and I'd really appreciate it if you'd kindly explain WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON?"

The Ancient One shut his eyes. "Mordu has bargained with beings far beyond him in power, and become their pawn." He gave a deep sigh. "He is now a hand of the dread Dormammu."

Hikaru gave a nod. "And this means—what? What's Dormammu?"

"Dormammu is the ancient ruler of the Dark Dimension, a hellish being of immense power, knowledge, and guile."

Hikaru sighed. "And yet he chooses to go by the name Dormammu."

"Do not mock!" The Ancient One eyes spread wide, his expression severe. "Dormammu is perhaps the greatest enemy I possess. He has for centuries tried to gain dominance over Earth. But the way is locked to him. Still, he tries to open it, to conquer this world as he has the Dimension of Darkness…"

Hikaru gave an awkward cough. "I'm not doubting his power, sir—it's just—well, that doesn't even sound like a viable cough, much less a name…" The Ancient One continued to gaze at him stonily. "I'm sorry. Please continue. What's Mordu going to do?"

The Ancient One turned away. "Mordu—is going to let him in."

Hikaru gulped. "Okay, that does sound like a crisis… So what are you going to do?"

The Ancient One shut his eyes. "We are going to stop him."

Hikaru blinked. "We…?"

"He will come to this chamber, for the tool he needs to open the gate." The Ancient One stepped back to the pedestal, and picked up a leather bound book. He rubbed his hand calmly over it. "The Book of Vishanti. Repository of the lore of those that watch over the worlds."

Hikaru coughed loudly. "Excuse me, did you say 'we'…?"

The Ancient One turned to Hikaru, holding up the book. "With the spells written here, Mordu could tear a hole in the foundation of the world. And humanity could drown in what rushed through that hole."

Hikaru nodded. "Ah-hah. I see. Now, did you use 'we', as in 'you and I'…?"

The Ancient One nodded. "Indeed." A quiet smile came to his face. "Are you frightened?"

Hikaru glanced around the chamber. "Just—a bit, yes…" He looked at the door ruefully. It appeared to be the only conventional way in or out of the room, and looked also to be exceedingly heavy.

"I am sorry, child, that you have to face Mordu." The Ancient One stated apologetically. "But I have grown old, and am not what I was."

Hikaru was about to say something that he hoped would have been vaguely reassuring when he heard the sound of a heavy object being wrenched out of the ground, and torn into pieces. And so his message of hope was transmuted into, "What was that?"

"The first wall of wards," replied the Ancient One calmly. There was another torrent of sound. "And that was the second." The Ancient One nodded slightly. "Mordu is certainly making good time."

Hikaru gave an awkward cough. "So—supposing Mordu does release—Dormammu, what will happen…?"

The Ancient One shrugged. "In all likelihood, the damnation of all humanity." He sighed. "Indeed, we will probably prove fortunate in being among the first to die."

Hikaru winced. His plan on improving his life was definitely looking worse, the longer it went on.

There was a third rending, louder then the other two.

"The…" began the Ancient One.

"Third wall of wards," interrupted Hikaru. "So, how long until he gets here?"

"Not much longer," replied the Ancient One.

At just that moment, the doors to the chamber were torn open.

Unholy power, it seemed, had not agreed with Mordu's good looks. His once slender form now bulged and contorted like the flesh of some grotesque, hunchbacked weightlifter. His face had become a gaunt, cavernous thing dominated by a huge gaping mouth. His tongue seemed to be sprouting fingers. A third eye was sprouting from his forehead, while two more seemed to be growing behind his ear. His hands, meanwhile, were backtracking along the evolutionary path, and seemed to have given up thumbs in favor of lobsterlike claws.

The Ancient One strode defiantly forward. "Now Gosunkugi, we must—! "

Hikaru never got to hear what it was that they had to do, as Mordu grabbed the Ancient One with amazing speed and hurled him against the wall. The Ancient One gave a gasp, and passed out. Mordu gave a dry heaving laugh. "So—master—it seems your pathetic form has reached the limit of its powers. Do you see now the foolishness of defiance?"

Hikaru was aware suddenly, that his legs were moving him.

Then he was aware that they were moving him towards Mordu.

"You evil—cowardly—bastard!" he yelled, and then struck Mordu in the side with his fists. While there was a sort of metaphysical impressiveness in the action, the facts were that Hikaru's arms had a hard time mustering the strength necessary to crush an insect, and thus were completely unsuitable for attacking a great demonic beast.

Mordu turned and regarded him with eyes that had now sprouted tentacles. "Ahh. Gosunkugi…" It leaned forward, its expression baleful. "You irritate me, do you know that? You have defied my edict, and mocked my power, and for that I will kill you…"

Hikaru gulped, as Mordu's hot, stinking breath poured over him, and reached into his pockets, almost on instinct. It was still there, like a lucky rabbit's foot you keep on you even though you don't believe it works, because somehow, you're just used to it being there. For a moment, he recalled the first day Nabiki had broken through the solitude that surrounded him, only to disprove everything he believed. Grasping it, Hikaru did the only thing he could do.

There were a thousand actions Hikaru could have taken that Mordu would have immediately recognized and thwarted. And thus it is fortunate beyond measure that Hikaru did the one thing that Mordu was definitely not expecting.

He drove an iron nail right into Mordu's forehead.

"ARRGH!!" screamed Mordu, as he backed away, screaming in anguish. Hikaru was surprised how easily the nail had gone in, more like a knife through butter than something facing flesh and bone. He backed away as Mordu clawed desperately at his forehead. "BLAST AND BUGGER YOU, GOSUNKUGI! WHAT DID YOU DO TO MEEEEE?"

The flesh near the nail, Hikaru noted distractedly, was beginning to smoke.

'Cold iron is most useful against spirits', thought Hikaru. He glanced at the Ancient One. The old man was still out cold. And that was when he saw it, lying there, right by his hand. The Book of the Vishanti.

He picked it up, quickly. An image of Nabiki stole through his head. "You actually think that voodoo crap will work Gosunkugi? You're crazier than I thought!"

A grim smile came to Hikaru's face. "Maybe, Nabiki, but you were wrong about the hammer and nails, for once." He flipped open the book. All he had to do was find some spell for dealing with hands of Dormammu, or something to that effect. There had to be at least one.

The spell on the page the book opened on read, 'For the Destruction of Servants of the Dark Lords.'

Hikaru nodded. That seemed about right.

"Oh, holy three, monarchs of light, I call on thee—destroy the foulness that lies in my sight…"

Hikaru felt a jolt pass through his body, as if some great force was moving in him.

Mordu turned to Hikaru grimacing in a manner that showed much more of his mouth than Hikaru wanted to see. "What are you doing?"

Hikaru continued. "I am the key, and the gate—the road and the song—the scroll and the law." He could feel himself gathering energies, preparing to unleash them. It felt good—as if he was using parts of himself that he hadn't known existed.

Mordu snarled, his entire body bristling, and distorting. "Dare you defy me?" He swiped at Hikaru with his malformed claw. Suddenly a great flash of light emanated from Hikaru, as much to Hikaru's surprise as to Mordu's, whose claw jerked away, and then began to crumble, like a stale cracker that's had the slightest bit of pressure applied to it.

"And yours are the power and the glory, the name and the rank…"

Mordu stared at Hikaru wheedlingly an action rendered exceedingly grotesque by his mockery of a shape. "Please cease your casting. I… I see now I misjudged you. Cease your casting, hand me the book, and you will sit in glory at the Master's right hand." An image formed in Hikaru's mind, so quickly that he knew it hadn't started in him. Hikaru sat upon a throne, Akane at his side gazing at him adoringly, while Nabiki lay supine before him, begging for mercy. And the expression on Hikaru's face was the look of those who have everything before them to gain, and nothing behind them to hold them back.

That's not me, thought Hikaru. And you know what? I'm actually glad about that.

"By the power of righteousness, may the evil be vanquished!" Hikaru said authoritatively. Raising his hand, a great wave of light swept forward, engulfing Mordu. The erstwhile magician's form twisted erratically, desperately searching for a form that could survive or escape Hikaru's blast. And he failed, being torn to pieces and disintegrating into a fine powder. Finally, all that remained was a tiny jewel shard, glowing dully.

Hikaru stared, shocked. He had no idea exactly how—but it seemed that he had saved the world. He should have been happy about it, but somehow the audacity of what he'd done numbed him. Hikaru may have dreamed of actually being powerful, but he'd never envisioned being able to tear someone apart with a phrase.

The more he thought about it, the more he felt an urge to lie down. Quite possibly for a decade or so.

And that's when he heard it. "You've done well, disciple." Hikaru turned. The Ancient One stood behind him, smiling gently.

Hikaru began to scratch his head bashfully. "Umm—yes—urr—thank you."

The Ancient One continued smiling. "Believe me, Gosunkugi, I should be thanking you. Your actions have corrected my own dire failure. Mordu should never have been allowed to get this far. But like his father before him—he showed such promise." The Ancient One glanced at the shard. Almost on its own accord, it levitated towards him, hovering before his face. "Beautiful, is it not?" He glanced at Hikaru. The shard followed his gaze and floated towards Hikaru, and stopped just level of his eyes. "Do you want it?"

Hikaru looked at the jewel. His casting of the spell seemed to have improved his perception—he could feel the power radiating off of it.

It was a not-nice power.

"Umm, no thank you," he answered.

"A wise choice" chuckled the Ancient One. He blinked at the jewel and it was immediately covered in a fine white silk. "It is a dark power, that gem, a little piece of hell." He shook his head and sighed. "However, I'm afraid you'll have to be its keeper. For a little while at least."

Hikaru took a step away uncertain. "Look, I'd really rather not…"

The Ancient One shook his head. "In this you have no choice. Child, look at this world. It is in tumult. The order on which it relies is disintegrating. It is like an egg placed in a vise that is being slowly, and surely tightened. It is cracking, and things are entering through those cracks. You know this to be true—you have seen it, and you have felt it, in your heart." The Ancient One's face was a severe mask, all the good humor Hikaru was already used to gone. "If it is to endure—perhaps if all the universe is to endure, then we must fight this power that is turning all askew."

Hikaru grew pale. This was quite an accomplishment for a man who already lacked most of what was generally called 'skin tone'. "We? Did you just use 'we' again?"

"Yes, Gosunkugi, "we"! Those destined to pit their strengths against the evils that would thwart all ripeness. Those who must fight in the shadows, so that the light may endure." The Ancient One gazed at Hikaru calmly, a glowing nimbus surrounding his head.

Hikaru took a deep breath. "Umm, well—sir, I'm—honored that you think I—measure up to—those standards but—well, I don't think I do…"

The Ancient One smiled at him. "Hikaru Gosunkugi, I know your thoughts in this matter—and I know they are wrong. Listen to me—you have traveled all the way to be here—you were found worthy to be my apprentice—and both of these are no small feats—and you defeated the commands of a sorcerer of far greater experience than yourself, and called upon the powers of the Book of Vishanti. You're attributes are more than adequate for this purpose—I'd argue, they are extraordinary." He paused here. "Still, this is your choice. Will you rise to your world's defense, or damn it to perdition? Will you be my sword, Hikaru Gosunkugi?"

Hikaru gave a deep sigh. "There is no way I can answer 'no' after that buildup and not be a jerk, is there?

The Ancient One beamed. "So you accept?"

Hikaru shrugged. "Well, I don't think I had that long a life expectancy anyway."

The Ancient One nodded and took his shoulder. "Then follow me, Gosunkugi." The pair walked off. "Now, I will have to give you what knowledge I can in a very intense burst of exhaustive training." Hikaru winced. "And even that way not quite prepare you. Still we must hope…"

Hikaru whimpered.


In a small flickering chamber, the entity called Dormammu swore. To a witness, he would resemble a man wearing elaborate robes, a radiant fire surrounding his head. And in fact there was a witness, though to her, he resembled nothing, and simply was. "That old fool! He practically throws the gauntlet down before me… Well, he shall pay, oh, yes he shall…" A deep, dark chuckle came to his lips.

There was a stirring from behind him. "Honestly Onigumo, I do wish you wouldn't mutter to yourself. It makes me worry about your sanity."

Dormammu (who was known to a small circle of beings by his true name, Naraku, and by one very irritating being by the name Onigumo) glanced behind him. A beautiful woman in a rather risqué green silk dress stood there, a mocking light in her eyes. "I have told you not to call me by that name."

The woman a long mournful sigh that Naraku did not consider too sincere. "But what am I to call you? You have so many names these days, I have a hard time sorting them out." She walked to his side and gave him a rather sharp pinch on the cheek. "Besides all long-term couples need affectionate private names for each other." She paused for a moment. "In fact—I must insist you call me 'sugar dumpling'."

Naraku gave her a sidelong glance. "Why?"

The woman shrugged. "It has long been a fantasy of mine."

Naraku shut his eyes in irritation. "Kikyo—has it occurred to you that your actions have grown increasingly erratic over the years…?"

Kikyo gave a playful toss of her head. "Occasionally. And then I cry out in torment at the horrific thing I've become and swear to destroy you and turn all your dreams to dust in vengeance. And then I find something amusing and it passes." She gave him a flirtatious grin. "Tonight I found you. Lucky boy."

Naraku stared at her. "You are aware of the setback I'm facing are you not?

Kikyo patted his head. "Of course, Onigumo. That's what makes it so amusing."

"Listen, witch" Naraku snarled. "If you had killed the boy as I asked, we'd be free!"

Kikyo laughed and shook her head. "I tried, darling but he was too strong for me." She smiled at him. "I'm hardly omnipotent, after all. Just highly flexible."

Naraku frowned. "I will have to begin my secondary plan then…"

Kikyo nodded. "And then your tertiary plan, and then your quadriary plan, and then your quintery plan…"

Naraku ignored her. "That means more waiting. I hate waiting."

Kikyo snorted. "I'd think you'd have learned to get used to it by now." She turned to leave. "Goodnight, Onigumo." She paused at the door. "Or perhaps good morning. It's really impossible to tell here." And with that she left him.

Naraku leaned back against the chamber wall, and cursed the power Kikyo had to vex him. Still that would change soon. Very soon…

Kikyo meanwhile was grinning to herself. The game was continuing—and had gained a new player. Kikyo loved games. They kept her from getting bored. And thinking about herself.

And so the relationship of the two co-monarchs of the Dark Dimension continued much as it had for the last few centuries. It was fairly dangerous for those around them, but they both considered that its primary virtue.


Next Chapter:

HIKARU: Umm, look, I don't think this a good idea—I'm really not any good at public speaking… What do you mean I'm on?




Umm, hello—gentle readers. Well—that was exciting—wasn't it?


Please don't answer that.


Next chapter promises to be loads of—fun, with more—villains, more heroes, and—more excitement. So—hold onto your hats because—


Oh, come on—who writes this garbage! You can't honestly expect me to read that!


What do you mean—"other interested parties"? I'm the main charac—




Because next chapter—yours truly will gain a pair of—stalwart companions—oh, come on that sounds like some sort of homosexual catchphrase! You know I'm right…

(back to business)

So be sure to catch our next exciting chapter--"Satan Met a Lady—Lady Met a Warlock". It's—


fiendishly clever—look, can I least get some control over what's in the rest of these—I cannot take doing another one this stupid—No, I didn't mean it like that…


Author's Notes:

Ahem—first, I didn't own or create any of the characters I stole to make that story. Dr. Strange and company come from the minds of Stan Lee and Steve Ditko—the Ranma 1/2 characters are the creations of Rumiko Takashi—and Joe (or as most know him, "Old Salty") is the creation of Pete Abrams, for his seminal internet comic, Sluggy Freelance. (Go check it out. You'll be glad you did.)

Nor, can I say to have invented the concept and mixed universe that the story is set in. That honor goes to DB Sommer in his marvelous crossover Avenging, who I must thank repeatedly for allowing me to play around in his creation. I strongly recommend you read his original story—several times, in fact—and then if you're still interested in my little cob job, well, thank you.

And now, for the continuity minded among you. First, if a conflict ever arises between this story and Avenging—then Avenging is right, and you may consider this a sort of alternate universe. Otherwise, this story can be seen as necessary or superfluous to the Avenging universe proper as the reader wants.

Now for a timeline—Hikaru's story starts at about three months before the start of Chapter 2, so no, Akane was NOT Thor when she talked to Hikaru. Just before anybody asks.

And also, to head out the almost inevitable flood of corrections, yes I KNOW that Baron Mordu's name in the original comics is Karl Amadeus Mordu. That's the father that Klaus referred to who it seemed came to bad end even without Stephen Strange to help him out…

And yes, criticism is always welcome. As long as it's intelligent. And the spelling is reasonably correct.