The Hinata Defense Force

By Cyberwraith9

Part I


It all started so innocently.

The tiny drone had been sent from the central hive on a foraging expedition to the surface. It was loathe to leave the security of their subterranean nest, but the collective had insisted, and none could defy the will of the collective. So now, it was risking its shell out in the open, searching for scraps of metal, forgotten appliances…anything that could bolster their ranks and strengthen the hive.

Dangerous or not, it was all part of life as a mechanized hot-springs turtle.

The mecha-tama scooted along the ground, heading up into the hills of Hinata. Though most of the town's technology was in the valley, it was too dangerous to go into the more heavily populated areas. That's why ninety percent of the hive's missions went out to the single most isolated source of technological goodies in all of Hinata. In point of fact, it was the grounds of the elders, the first mecha-tama that had come before them.

Scurrying up the steps of the Hinata House as fast as its flippers could carry it, the mecha-tama slid along the ground on a tiny jet of air that kept it just above the concrete walkway like an air hockey puck. Its sensors were tuned to look for useful refuse and appliances. A large disturbance had registered with the hive, and large disturbances always meant debris, debris, debris!

* * *

The Old One had stood the test of time for so long…It had seen the rise and fall of nations, the urbanization of Japan, and countless people, great and small. It had wielded great power over the hearts and minds of man and woman alike, manipulating them as it saw fit. It was a force like no other, a force that no man could deny, that no heart could defy.

Until now.

Three young lovers had conspired against it. They had tricked it, and defied its power. What's worse, their defiance had wrought destruction upon the Old One, and had nearly destroyed all of its power…but not quite all of it. And so the Old One plotted its revenge against the betrayers, and against all those who had stood by and watched. The entirety of Hinata would pay for its loss.

* * *

"Su-chan?" Urashima Keitaro stuck his head around the corner, peering into the dusty, cluttered garage sitting beneath the Hinata House's main living area. Since none of them owned a car, the garage had remained unoccupied for many years. Recently, the House's resident mad genius, Kaolla Su, had taken second residence in the hold, turning it into a funhouse of mysterious (and scary!) technology. Where the floors had once been bare, now miles of poorly-patched electrical cables snaked to and fro, connecting various machines together. Keitaro could only guess at some of the functions of the devices, and with many of them he was certain that he didn't want to know.

"Su-chan?" he called again, wary to enter the room without Su present. The gesture wasn't so much out of respect for her privacy as it was a general fear of becoming trapped in her latest invention with no one to turn it off. "Shinobu says that lunch is almost ready. Su?" There was no answer.

Bolstering his courage, the Tokyo U student freshly returned from his studies overseas decided to risk entry into the makeshift lab. The constant, high-pitched hum of electronics permeated the room, combined with a faint hint of burning rubber in the air. He walked past what could have been a missile rack (once again, reminding himself that he didn't want to know for sure) to get a better view of the place. Kaolla Su loved nothing more than leaping out and scaring the bejesus out of someone…except bananas…and taking over the world…and waging her never-ending war against little Tamago…but scaring people definitely ranked up there.

His voice shook with unease, and he suddenly wished that he hadn't come alone. Even having Tama at his side would have made him feel better; at least then, he would have had a decoy to distract Su before she could try her latest invention on him. "Come on, Su-chan," he whined, "This isn't funny. I know you're hungry. You're always hungry!"

"Did someone say food?"

Su's voice echoed from behind him in the small garage, instantly dispelling his worry. "Oh, thank goodness." Keitaro wiped his brow, turning around. "Su, lunch is just about seEAUGH!"

An enormous, transparent, and familiar disembodied head floated in front of him, bobbing slightly as if suspended in a pool of water. Somehow, Su's head had become a ghost of its own, a bluish-white specter the size of a Volkswagen. Her eyes fluttered at his womanly shriek, her mouth opening wide in her patented grin as he clutched his beating heart. "Good morning, Keitaro!"

"SU!" Keitaro screamed, falling backwards and scooting on his buttocks until his back was to the wall. "You've become a g-g-g-g-ghost!"

"Huh?" Su's head tilted, her features puzzled. "What are you….ohhhhh!" Her eyes veered down, as if it had suddenly become apparent to her that she didn't have a body. "Silly Keitaro," she chuckled, "I'm not a ghost. I have a body!"

"No you don't!" Keitaro shot back, completely hysterical over the subject. He stood up and waved his arms underneath her head. "Do you see a body? Do you? I don't! Oh god, what do I do?" he moaned, hitting his own, normal-sized cranium against the wall. "What do I do? They'll think I killed her?" The thought started a slippery slope of doom and gloom. "They'll call the police…and then I'll go to jail! And then I'll never fulfill my promise to Naru, and die an old, pitiful virgin."

"Not if you go to prison, you won't." Su's head snickered, giving him a gigantic wink. "Hold on, I can explain once I get out of this thing…Sarah? Sarah, where'd you go?"

Sarah rounded the corner, carrying a miscellaneous piece of equipment. "I think I found one. It had three holes, but I only wanted one, though." She wore a long, red T-shirt with a glittering lightning bolt forged from countless sequins. The lightning danced in the pale illumination of the lab, reflecting the blue-white that Su's head threw off.

"Thanks, Sarah. Could you get me out of this thing? I think Keitaro needs a hug!"

Sarah glowered at Keitaro, as if he had purposely ruined their fun, then went over to a long black cylinder set vertically against the far wall. She pressed a brief code into a keypad set halfway up the chamber, then stepped back. A seam opened up down the middle of the cylinder, hissing steam as a pair of doors swung outward. As they did, Su's ghostly, disembodied head flickered and vanished, much to Keitaro's amazement.

"Good morning, Keitaro!" As soon as the steam had cleared away, Keitaro could clearly see Kaolla Su standing in the strange black chamber, surrounded by a series of wires, tubes, and harnesses that were holding her up. Besides the technological adornments, she was as naked as the day she was born. "How do you like my Chronological Hyper-Improbability Compartment?"

Keitaro immediately shielded his eyes, careful not to get a good view of what he knew Naru wouldn't want him seeing, and would probably beat him for if he did. "Your chrono-crouton hybrid what?"

Su accepted the clothes that Sarah dutifully handed to her, whipping them on faster than the human eye could follow. "My Chronological Hyper-Improbability Compartment!" she repeated through the fabric of her shirt, which her head was having trouble fitting through. Popping her blonde crown through the top, she added, "I call it CHIC!"

Sensing it was safe to look, Keitaro stepped around the two younger ladies and ran his hand along the smooth black casing of the strange device. "Wow. It's…uh…It's very CHIC, I guess. What's it do?"

"I'm glad you asked that." Su reached over, yanking a blackboard full of equations to rest in front of Keitaro. Unfortunately for Sarah, she had been standing in the exact spot the chalkboard now occupied, and so received a clunk on the head and a one-way trip out of the panel. "Utilizing my theory that time runs in a sort of loop-the-loop, and bringing into mind that time flies when you're having fun, AND, just for kicks, I threw in Bohr's laws of electrostatics-"

"Bohr's laws?" Keitaro repeated wearily, clutching his head as it tried to make sense of the chalky mess Su had scribbled on the board.

She nodded. "It's very Bohring." She affirmed. The chalkboard flew away again, once more knocking Sarah back before she could enter the scene again. "Essentially, though, it's my ticket to immortality!"

"How's that?"

"Well," she pointed to the array of wires and tubes inside, "Once I enter the chamber, it generates a field of anti-time at the same scalar level of my own time vector, but in the opposite direction."

"Time's not a vec-"

"Then, you see," she continued, "Time is reduced to zero in the field! The only problem was, I couldn't move…it takes time to move, you see, even just a little. So, I hooked up a modified version of my Mr. Virtual to my new holographic projector. That way, even though I'm frozen inside of the chamber, I can still interact with the outside world via my hologram!"

Sarah returned from her painful excursions, rubbing the growing lump on her forehead. Looking menacingly at the audience, she demanded, "Did everyone get that? It'll be important later!"

Ignoring Sarah's obvious delirium, Keitaro examined Su's solution to her own mortality, rubbing his chin thoughtfully. "That's neat and all, Su-chan, but…won't being trapped inside a chamber for all of eternity in a state of constant non-death sort of…drive you insane?"

"Maybe," Su mused seriously for a moment. The soberness disappeared rapidly though, as he knew it would. "But I can control all of my computers and networking through the chamber, too, so it's okay!"

No longer worried, Keitaro couldn't help but chuckle. He rubbed the top of Su's head affectionately, taking her and Sarah in hand. "C'mon, you two crazy scientists. Shinobu gets flustered whenever anyone's late to a meal."

* * *

The mecha tama skittered forth, heading towards the source of the major disturbance. Up ahead, it detected a large collection of untouched debris, possibly filled with unfathomable treasures that would make the hive stronger. Filled with artificial excitement, the metallic turtle threw caution to the wind and jetted forward unfettered. Upon reaching the ruins, it began a full scan for any useful items. Aside from a strange background energy, nothing was out of the ordinary; it seemed like any another collapsed building the mecha tama had raided.

Unbeknownst to the turtle, the Old One sensed its approach. The plans that it had waited to enact suddenly came to life as the one opportunity it had longed for made a beeline for its broken, twisted body. Summoning up the last of its strength, it gathered the remaining power, focusing it all on the tiny intruder.

The mecha tama had time enough for a grating, piercing shriek before its systems were overloaded by the deluge of immeasurable, inexplicable power. Violet energies surged from different parts of the Old One's broken body, finding safe refuge in a new vessel. The vessel, however, was not up to the task of housing the Old One. It was unworthy.

Through sheer force of will, the Old One asked, pleaded, begged for one last favor from its poor, once beautiful body. Little by little, the body responded; a bolt here, a sheared portion of beam there, perhaps a long-forgotten appliance or portions of the old clock that had once resided in its magnificent tower…One by one, the pieces came together, wrapping themselves around the Old One's new shell until a crude cocoon was forged from steel and iron.

And then slowly, the Old One began to grow and change.

* * *

A shrill cry drew Keitaro from the delicious lunch that Shinobu had prepared for them. Somehow he managed to tear himself away from the grilled fish (though a buttered bun somehow found its way into his pie hole before he left the dining room) and ran out to the entry way to see what all the commotion was about. Of course, given that there were only two people not present at the lunch table, it wasn't hard to figure out who was causing all the trouble.

"Just get your goddamn meat hooks off of my things, you lying skank!" The flashing eyes of Urashima Kanako, Keitaro's adopted little sister, narrowed in on her arch-rival for Keitaro's love. She stood next to several trunks and bags, which had burst open at the bottom of the staircase, presumably after suffering a long fall. Kuro, her tiny, enigmatic cat, was perched on top of the haphazard stack, blinking at his owner with confusion.

Standing several steps above her was Narusegawa Naru, lusciously dressed to kill in a breezy summer gown. Her hands were on her hips as she glared back at Keitaro's little sister. "I was just trying to help. You don't have to go all psycho-bitch on me."

"Just get out of my way!" Kanako spat, stuffing her things back into the trunks. She picked them up and began dragging them towards the entryway. Kuro glided after her, riding on his oversized ears.

Naru gave her a long, wet raspberry. "Feel free to let the door hit you on your bony ass on the way out!"

"What's going on here?!" Keitaro cried out, rushing onto the scene. Tama floated next to him, as calm and carefree as ever, unaware of her roommates' quarrel. "What's with the luggage? Kanako?" He looked at his sister, then down at her luggage. "Kanako, where are you going?"

"Goodbye, brother…" Kanako sniffed, wiping the tears from her eyes as she ran for the door. She tried to get around Keitaro's outstretched arms, but he effectively blocked her way. "Get out of my way!"

"Let her go, Keitaro!" Naru insisted as the rest of the house made their way from the dining room to view the commotion. "She's been nothing but trouble for everyone from day one!"

Keitaro ignored Naru (which was a first) and grabbed Kanako in a bear hug. Not only did it hold her back, but it caught her off guard as well. "Kanako," he hissed to the wide-eyed girl, murmuring in her ear. She could feel his breath rolling against her skin, which brought back all the feelings she had tried to forget when she had stepped aside for Naru. "Kanako, you don't have to leave."


"Please…stay here, at least for the night. We can talk about this." He said softly, pulling away but taking her hands in his.

Naru shook with fury as she watched the suspicious sibling stare into her brother's eyes. Just who the hell did the little tramp think she was? And what was Keitaro doing with her? "Kei-ta-rohhhh…" she gritted her teeth, producing a grinding sound loud enough to make even Kitsune cringe. "Can I talk to you for a moment…please?"

Sensing a painful argument coming his way, he looked over at the others, singling Shinobu out. "Shinobu, why don't you get everyone settled down for lunch, and Naru and I will join you in just a moment." He gave Shinobu a meaningful look, tossing a glance towards Kanako with pleading eyes.

Clever Shinobu, sharp as a tack, didn't miss a beat. "K-k-kanako-san," she stammered, bowing respectfully, "I had a plate all ready for you at the table. W-why don't you join us?" Kanako nodded, following the younger girl into the dining room. Motoko and Kitsune each tossed Keitaro their own looks- uncertain and bemused, respectfully- before following suit.

As soon as he was sure they were out of earshot, Keitaro turned to the love of his life, expecting an explosion of anger. He was a little surprised to find that Naru had her own tears leaking from the edges of her vision. "Na-narusegawa?" Keitaro asked, moving forward hesitantly to grasp her shoulder.

"Keitaro…" Naru stepped into his arms, wrapping hers around his waist. "Do…do you love me?"

"What are you saying?" Again, he was shocked. Did she really think that, just because he didn't want his sister leaving in a huff? "Narusegawa, of course I love you." The words that had failed him so many times now came easy to him. Since the defeat of the forbidden annex, they had both realized just how important it was to be honest with each other, in addition to fulfilling their promises. "You mean more to me than anything-"

"Even Kanako?"

The question gave him an uneasy feeling. "Kanako…is my sister." He said at last.


"But that doesn't change things between us." He insisted before she could protest further. "Narusegawa-"

"I'm really scared," Naru bleated, burying her face into his shoulder. He could feel her tears bleeding through his shirt, warm and wet against his skin. The sensation sent a jolt of electricity running up and down his spine as her muffled voice continued. "We went through so much to be together…I just don't know what I'd do if I lost you again."

"I'll…I'll talk to her after lunch, okay?" Keitaro promised her softly, kissing her atop her head. "I'll set things straight, I promise. Okay?"

"Okay." She sniffled.

He pulled her back to arms' length so she could see his cheery smile. "C'mon, let's go to lunch."

"I'll be just a minute." She waved, managing a small, pathetic smile. She pulled out a compact, pretending to check her puffy eyes until Keitaro had left. With a loud snap, the compact closed, revealing her triumphant smile. She wiped the crocodile tears from her face, silently giving thanks to her high-school drama teacher. "That ought to fix the little psycho's wagon," she mused, walking to the dining room with a jaunty sway in her hips.

* * *

Kanako sat in her windowsill with her knees drawn up to her chest, staring out at the sleepy city blanketed out down below. From atop their hill, everything that Hinata was seemed so…distant. All its people, with their buildings and their restaurants and their laughter, it felt like a different universe to her. An unattainable universe, it would seem, for try as she might, she had never felt like she fitted in.

…But with Keitaro.

Her brother had been the only person in her entire, miserable life that had ever understood her, the only one that had ever made her feel welcome and loved. She had returned to the Hinata House in hopes of recapturing that feeling again, perhaps even finding something new, something better. If only that bitch, Narusegawa, hadn't gotten in the way…

"Brooding again, Kanako?"

Kanako arched an eyebrow as her wall tapestry spoke up with a familiar boorish accent. "Sneaking around again, Konno-san?"

The tapestry moved aside, allowing Hinata's resident trickster through into the room. "You know, Kanako, you could call me 'Kitsune' like everyone else."

"In case you haven't noticed," Kanako shot her a dirty glare before turning her attention back outside, "I am not 'like' everyone else." She drew her legs tighter to her body, burying his face in her knees. "Just leave me alone. I'll be gone before dinner."

Kitsune pulled herself from the secret passage, careful not to spill her sake as she moved the cloth back into place. "Too bad," she lamented, taking a small sip and savoring the alcohol as it burned down into her stomach. "You sure knew how to shake things up around here."

Kanako gritted her teeth, wishing with all her might that the intrusive harlot would just disappear. Try as Kitsune might to catch her eye, she refused to look at the beaming smile that seemed to never leave the older girl's features. "That seems to be all I'm good for…Since when do you know the secret passageway system, anyway?"

"Su's selling maps. Fifteen hundred yen a pop per floor…and they still haven't mapped even half of the place yet, either!" Swirling the contents of her glass, she killed the sake with a tilt of her head. "Why do you mope around so much, anyway? I don't get this little 'poor lonely me' act of yours."

"It's not an act!" Kanako snapped. Then she remembered herself, drawing her rogue emotions back in. She wasn't about to give Konno the satisfaction of getting under her skin. "No one understands me. I don't belong here. I don't belong anywhere."


That got Kanako's attention. Her head whipped around, whirling the hair into her face. "What?"

Kitsune grinned, sitting down next to Kanako on the windowsill and crossing her legs. "See, you don't fool me. You're just like the rest of us." Kanako tried to protest, but Kitsune barreled through her outcry. "Everybody here has a reason for living at Hinata House. Shinobu has her family problems, same as Sarah and Su. Motoko is preparing to take over her family's school, and Naru and Keitaro are trying to build some kind of future for themselves."

Kanako's eyes narrowed. "So why are you here?"

"Oh," Kitsune's smile was patently enigmatic, "I have my reasons, just like you."

"And what are my reasons?" Kanako huffed, crossing her arms. "Since you know me so well…"

"Maybe you need to figure that one out for yourself." Kitsune stood, sauntering towards the door. "You know, Kanako," she remarked, sliding the door open, "You've been a lying, sneaky, manipulative bitch with absolutely no regard for anyone else living here."

"So?" she growled archly.

"But besides that…it's been pretty cool having you here." Kitsune turned, flipping her empty sake cup over to Kanako in a single smooth motion. "Here, take care of that for me." She grinned, sliding the door closed behind her and leaving behind a young lady with an empty glass and more confusion than she had started with.

Kanako sidled back up to her windowsill, setting the empty glass in front of her. She considered the glass, as well as Kitsune's words. "Pretty…cool…" she rolled the words around in her mouth, letting them sink in. Gazing down at the ruins of the Forbidden Annex, she began to wonder if maybe, just maybe there might be hope for her. Keitaro had been the reason she had come…but perhaps there was now a reason to stay, a different reason.

She continued to gaze at the annex debris, recalling with a shudder the horrors that the mystic, dark spirits had wrought upon them. As she did, the new warm feelings were chased away in a heartbeat by her memories, just as they always were. Then her sharp eyes spotted something odd happening in the ruins; a flash of movement, a glint of metal, and nothing more. It could have been anything, really, but her Urashima warrior instincts (the ones Keitaro had apparently been born without) told her otherwise. Casting one last glance at the sake glass, she rose from her seat and exited the room with a new purpose.

* * *

"Naru-sempai…do you think that you were, maybe, a little…'hard' on Miss Kanako?"

Naru looked up from the soapy dishes she was in the process of washing, stopped in mid-handoff of a large pan to Shinobu, who was her dryer and inquisitor. "What do you mean?" she asked, careful to keep her voice neutral. "I wasn't hard on her."

"Well," Shinobu made sure to take the heavy pan away from Naru, "You did shout at her…and call her a psycho-bi…names," she blushed, turning away and placing the pan on the rack. "I'm sorry, I shouldn't be saying these things."

The Tokyo U student was suddenly struck with a rush of guilt. If her behavior had been atrocious enough to make quiet Shinobu speak up…"I didn't think I was that…What I mean is-" she tried to defend herself, stammering as she searched for an explanation.

"I know," Shinobu muttered, still unable to meet Naru's eyes. "You were just concerned about Sempai, that's all."

"That dork?" Naru pulled back reflexively before realizing that she really 'was' in love with Keitaro. "I mean…uh…"

Shinobu approached Naru, carefully folding her towel to give her hands something to do. "Narusegawa-san," she murmured quietly, looking down at the ground, "Do you really love Sempai?"

Naru felt something twinge inside her heart. She remembered the first time she met Keitaro, and how she had almost killed him at least three different times that day. She remembered accidentally journeying to Kyoto with him, having the time of her life with a boy she had hated earlier that morning. She remembered rushing off to Pararakelse to chase Keitaro down. And she could remember, not too long ago, facing down the slight, shy girl in front of her for the man she had grown to love without ever realizing it.

"Shinobu," Naru said in a small, scared voice, "I love him so much it scares me." She accepted the House chef's towel, wiping the suds from her hands. "I think of Keitaro, and I feel something inside me that I've never felt before…" She hugged the towel to her chest, closing her eyes as that very feeling spread out from her heart. "I feel warm, and safe. He makes me feel…" she heard a small chuckle, and opened an eye to see Shinobu's beaming smile. "What?"

"I've never heard you talk about Sempai like that before," Shinobu tittered again, smiling like Naru had never seen before. "You're very cute." Then her face darkened slightly. "Much cuter than you were with Miss Kanako…Oh!" she blushed again, recoiling. "I'm so sorry, I didn't mean-"

"It's okay." Naru insisted quickly, hoping to stave off a panic attack. "I…I guess you're right. It's just…" Now Naru's bright face dimmed, thinking back to the edgy moments before lunch. "When I think of how close I was to losing him, I just…I just couldn't take it, and I…"

"You what?" A pair of hands encircled her waist from behind, surprising the hell out of her.

"YAAAA!" The old Kung Fu that Seta had taught her as a release for her pent-up anger kicked in as she flung her assailant over her shoulder and through the kitchen window. "Pervert!"

"Naaaa-ruuuuuuuu!" Keitaro screamed, flying through the window. Lucky for him, glass gave far more easily than the wood or concrete that he usually found himself flying into.

"Oh my God, Keitaro!" Naru cried, cringing at the blow she had just delivered. She heard a scoff from the kitchen door, and felt her stomach dropping. Glancing sideways, she confirmed her worst fear as she saw the one person on Earth she didn't need at the moment.

Kanako arched an eyebrow, leaning against the doorframe. "Funny," she said hotly, "I didn't know love looked so painful."

Before Naru could stammer in an explanation, Keitaro walked through the opposite door, ignoring the shards of glass still embedded in his skin. "Guess I'll have to add the window to the Repair Log, huh?" he laughed. "Sorry, Narusegawa," he gave his would-be girlfriend an apologetic bow. "I didn't mean to sneak up on you like that."

"How do you like this?" Kanako sneered, crossing the kitchen. Naru was torn between righteous fury and embarrassment as the disguise artist laced her fingers behind her head, pretending to examine the ceiling. "She tosses her boyfriend through a window, and he's the one that has to apologize."

Naru counted backwards from ten inside her head, forcing the raging anger down as she rushed to Keitaro's side. "Are you all right?" she asked. Her hands ran over his cuts, which strangely didn't go any deeper than his shirt.

"You must really love me," He smiled, running a hand over her face. She shivered at his touch, which still felt new. "Usually it takes me a few minutes to make it back to the House, and you usually punch me instead of a Judo throw." Then his eyes lit up, as if he just noticed the others in the room. "Oh, Kanako!" he exclaimed, "There's something I wanted to talk to you about."

Kanako bit her lip. She already felt nauseous at the PDA between her brother and her worst enemy, and she could well imagine what Keitaro wanted to talk to her about; more likely than not, it was to ask her when she was going to track Granny down, so he and Naru could get it on like dogs in heat once the last obstacle to their love was gone. "A-actually," she cut in, "I saw something down in the ruins of the Forbidden Annex. I was going to go have a look."

Keitaro grew serious at the mention of the Annex. "Something? Something like what?"

"I-I don't know…I didn't get a real look, but…"

Even Naru could feel the growing tension in her stomach. "But knowing the Annex, it's probably trouble."

"We should check it out together." Keitaro affirmed. Kanako began to protest that they didn't need Naru gumming up the works just as Naru cried out at Kanako's inclusion. He covered his ears, gritting his teeth and squeezing his eyes shut. "Stop it, the both of you!"



"Look," he tried to remain calm and rational, "If the Annex is back, then all three of us are in trouble. Now let's go!"

Shinobu watched the three points of the House's love triangle jet out the door, catching the dirty looks that Kanako and Naru shared with one another. "Be careful, Sempai…" she whispered to no one in particular.

* * *

The metamorphosis was complete.

The time for vengeance was nigh.

* * *

Keitaro was relieved to see that Kanako wasn't the only one who had noticed an oddity at the Annex: Kuro sat atop a pile of broken masonry at the Annex's edge, watching with his luminous eyes while Tama-chan floated breezily on flapping flipper overhead, circling the area as if on patrol.

"What the hell is that?" Naru exclaimed, pointing towards the center of the ruins. Even from here, they could spot the oddity that had obviously drawn Kanako's attention. The metallic cocoon stood almost three meters high, its surface pulsating as if it were a living thing. "I don't remember that being there before…"

"Brilliant observation, Narusegawa." Kanako rolled her eyes, shoving Naru aside so she could better examine the structure. "You must tear it up down at the campus."

"Listen, you…" Naru started, but a sharp crack from the Annex cut her tirade short. "What was that?"

"I don't know…" Keitaro's eyes narrowed. If they could get closer to the cocoon, they could start finding some answers. The only problem was, he couldn't be sure if it was safe or not. "We need to get a closer look."

Kanako grimaced, thinking of their previous adventure in the Annex. "Maybe we should send that turtle of yours in…"

"What?" Naru cried, whirling on Kanako in an instant. "Why don't we send that stupid cat of yours instead!" Tama and Kuro exchanged nervous glances, edging away from the trio as they continued to argue.

Another sharp crack stopped the girls' arguing better than Keitaro's insistent pleading did, finally getting their attention. A sharp sliver of light escaped the irregular sphere as a long, thin fracture appeared along one side. Several other luminous shafts opened up along its surface as the trio stood and watched in awe.

Finally, the shell gave way to an enormous metallic claw, tearing and rending its own protective crust. The cocoon began flaking away, revealing more and more of the creature by the second. The three-fingered hand revealed a large, round body encased in segmented armor. Thick, stubby legs supported the creature, keeping the large, domed shell on its back aloft. Its elongated head snaked out from the top of the shell, twisting about and taking its new surroundings in with red, triangular eyes.


Keitaro and Naru were frozen with fright, but Kanako wasn't impressed with the display. "Check out Professor Exposition…" she remarked snidely, crossing her arms insolently with a smirk on her lips.

Tama-chan fluttered warily towards the metallic creature, curious of her new fellow turtle. Tamagar recognized his little cousin immediately, and his wide mouth split in a despicable grin. "Ah," his grating metallic voice buzzed, "Little one. Join me in my conquest of this pitiful planet, and we will destroy humanity together!"


"You dare to defy me?"


"Fine!" he roared, batting Tama-chan aside. The tiny turtle squeaked, tumbling through the air and landing at Keitaro's feet. Tamagar growled, flexing his long, terrifying claws at the humans and their pitiful pets. "And as for you three…"

"Holy crap!" Naru stooped over, scooping Tama into her arms. She glared at Tamagar with newfound ferocity, outraged that someone could strike a spirit as pure and utterly adorable as Tama-chan.

Keitaro scowled, putting himself between the monster and his girls and adopting the defensive stance that Seta had taught him months before. "Listen," he called out to the monster, silently urging Kanako and Naru to go while the going was good. "I don't know who you are…Actually, I don't know what you are…" he admitted, "But you can't just go around hurting innocent turtles!"

Tamagar seemed amused by the outburst. He began advancing on the trio with the same demonic smile on its unnatural face. "Then stop me." He challenged Keitaro.

The former ronin sized up the two-and-a-half meter metallic turtle, swallowing hard. 'Hoo boy…' he thought, clenching his fists.

* * *

Motoko sat with Kitsune in the living room, sharing a quiet pot of Oolong tea with the trickster while they waited for lunch to settle. Su and Sarah seemed to be pouring over blue prints, which covered the coffee table and spilled out onto the floor. Motoko's eyes were closed, her face serene as she enjoyed the moment of quiet that had fallen over the Hinata House.

"That was some cat fight, huh?" Kitsune grinned, sipping her tea. The soothing blend mixed well with the sake in her stomach, settling the delicious meal Shinobu had whipped up rather nicely. "Who do you think Keitaro will choose?"

Motoko's eye opened, zeroing in on Kitsune. "I was under the impression that Urashima had already chosen Naru-san." Her mind brought up the memory of that infamous kiss amidst the Annex ruins, and her stomach churned in kind.

Kitsune must have noticed her discomfort, for her smile grew. "Jealous?" she asked slyly.

The swordswoman quickly got her rogue thoughts under control and shot Kitsune a venomous look. "Hardly."

"Hey," Kitsune laughed, "Don't be too sure. He's gotten pretty manly since his little trip to America. Besides…" she added, "Love is a pretty funny thing. You never know what will pop up."

Motoko's response came in the form of a terrified shriek as the wall exploded inward in a hail of wooden paneling and drywall. Instantly, she was on her feet, sword drawn and ready to handle this latest crisis. "Kitsune, protect the children!" she shouted as the dust cleared, "Get them clear and I'll handle the…Urashima?"

Keitaro's head poked through the wall, courtesy of the hole his skull had drilled into the side of the old Inn. "Oh…" he smiled dizzily after his eyes rolled Motoko's way, "Mo-mo-koh…"

Kitsune already had Su and Sarah in hand, but relaxed as she saw the nature of the 'threat'. "Keitaro? You must have wandered into the bath again, huh?" she snickered.

"Not that I remember…" he said, talking as though he had a mouth full of cotton. "Mo-ho-to, could you join me outside? We have a situation…"

* * *

Naru and Kanako each grabbed a leg and hauled Keitaro out of the wall. Judging by how long it had taken Tamagar to lay the smack down on Seta's protégé, they needed to beat a hasty retreat. Even now, the robotic turtle was advancing on them, eager for another round with his foe.

"Pull harder!" Kanako growled, dragging her brother along the ground and letting his head bounce as they ran for it.

"You pull harder!" Naru snarled in kind, tossing a look over her shoulder. Tamagar wasn't even trying to keep up with them; he was plodding along, letting each step crush the ground beneath his enormous feet. "He's not chasing us!"

Kanako began steering them towards the entrance to the House. "He doesn't have to," she scowled, "We have nowhere to go."

As they reached the door, the rest of the dorm's tenants burst out onto the scene. Motoko was in the lead, with Kitsune at her arm. Shinobu, Sarah and Su brought up the rear, with the latter two girls each lugging a gigantic cannon.

"Urashima warned us of trouble," Motoko explained, sword already drawn. Then she stopped, frowning with confusion at the sight of the two girls each with a leg in hand. "What are you doing?"

"Oh," Kitsune rubbed her chin, "I've seen this before. But aren't you supposed to use a wishbone or something? I mean," she shrugged, "If you break him, then neither one of you-"

"Not us!" Naru shrieked.

"Over there!" Kanako's finger zeroed in on Tamagar, who had rounded the corner and was pacing slowly towards the gaggle of girls. "The turtle, you idiots!"

"Turtle?" Motoko caught sight of the robotic titan and froze in terror. "TURTLE!" She recoiled in horror, knocking Shinobu down and flattening against the entryway wall.

Tamagar's eyes flashed at the sight of the other girls. He stopped a few meters short, snarling with unbridled fury. "You!" he roared.

"No, it isn't us!" Shinobu insisted with tears in her eyes. She was right next to Motoko, seeking shelter in the insensate swordswoman's presence. "You're looking for another all-girls dormitory!"

"You betrayed me!" Tamagar declared. "You were to be my minions, but you sided with them!" His claw jabbed at Keitaro and Naru as he continued his tirade, "And you sought to destroy me! But I have sought shelter in this form, and so have returned to have my revenge on you all!"

Sarah traded sidelong glances with Su, who nodded. Together, they raised their cannons, each hefting it onto their shoulders. Acting in perfect synchronization, they pressed down on the cannons' triggers. Streams of bright white energy leapt from their muzzles, streaking towards Tamagar. The turtle titan was caught in the midsection by the sneaky blasts, lifted clear off his feet and tossed almost twenty meters back.

"That'll teach you to go into a back story in the middle of a fight!" Sarah tossed at him, adding, "Idiot!" as an afterthought. She watched in satisfaction as Tamagar's torso smoldered, blowing wisps of smoke into the wind.

Su checked the charge on her cannon, nodding in satisfaction. "I'd say the new plasma cannons work like a charm, partner…though it did take the entire power pack to bring him down."

"Uh, Su-chan…" Shinobu warbled, pointing in the monster's direction, "You'd better check your plasma-thingy again. Look!"

The Hinata House crew watched in horror as Tamagar climbed back onto his feet. His movements were sluggish and clumsy, but it was clear that he still had plenty of fight in him. Even Keitaro, with his incredible recovery rate (he had already made a full comeback from Tamagar's last blow, after all), was shocked that the creature could survive such a blow.

"A worthy attempt, Hinata House…" Tamagar allowed, examining the smoking crater that had been his chest only moments before. "But ultimately futile. I shall seek repairs in the sleepy village below," his claw indicated the Hinata Hot Springs district far down the hill, "And then I shall return to destroy you!"

As Tamagar began to cackle maniacally, his shell split on an unseen seam, revealing an advanced thruster pack underneath. The thruster came to life with a flash of blue flame, lifting Tamagar from the ground and high into the air. Within seconds, he was out of sight, one with the endless blue sky.

Keitaro blinked right along with the rest of the girls, transfixed on the waning image of the turtle monster. Even Tama and Kuro, who had emerged from their hiding spot, could do nothing but watch.

"What the hell was that?" Kitsune was the first to speak, folding her arms across her curved chest with a scowl on her face. "One minute I'm enjoying an after-alcohol glass of tea, and the next, we're under attack by some kind of stupid robot turtle!"

"It was…" Naru stammered, trying to wrap her head around the events that had just befallen them. "It was…"

"The Annex." Kanako finished grimly. "The Annex is behind this."

Motoko shook her head, still shaken by the sight of the enormous turtle. "That's impossible," she insisted, "We defeated the Annex just last week. It was destroyed."

"It had to have been." Keitaro sided with his sister, brushing himself off as he stood. "It recognized all of us, and it mentioned something about betrayal."

Kitsune just sighed, suddenly wishing for another glass of sake. "Great. Just great. I wonder how this day could get more effed-up…"

True to the old axiom 'Be careful what you wish for,' Su and Sarah exchanged meaningful looks. "I think it's time."

"But we haven't finished testing the limits," Sarah protested. The others noticed their outcries and gave the odd couple their full attention. "They're not ready!"

"They have to be!" Su took off in a dead run. "Come on, everyone! It's time!"

The rest of the dorm stared dumbfounded at Su's receding form until Sarah began yelling at the lot of them. "Well, don't just stand there! You heard her, didn't you?" Taking off after her mentor, Sarah led the charge towards the House's garage, followed closely by her dormmates.

* * *

"Su! Sarah!" Keitaro huffed, rounding the corner into the garage. Sarah had managed to get a good lead on the rest of the girls. As such, he was the first to catch sight of Su in the buff. Her clothes were strewn about, tossed without care by their owner as she began checking power levels and switch configuration on the various equipment in her lab. "Su!!!"

"What's going…" Naru skidded to a halt, watching Keitaro as he watched Su in abject horror. "What do you think you're doing?" she demanded, lashing out with her foot and catching him in the small of the back. He jetted forward, crashing into Su's homemade particle accelerator (which consisted mostly of duct tape and air conditioner conduit) and effectively destroying the hardware. "Pervert." She spat, crossing her arms angrily.

The rest of the girls were quick to catch up, hungry for answers. Su, however, offered none. She merely climbed into her black chamber, sealing herself inside as the tubes and wires began attaching themselves to her body.

"Su-chan," Kanako huffed, leaning on her knees, "Why are we-EEP!"

The ghostly, floating head of Kaolla Su flickered into existence above their heads, easily big enough to gobble them up if she so desired. "Hi guys!"

"Su, what's-"

"I'll explain the floating head thing later. Sarah, prepare the HDF Equipment Alcoves for activation."

"You'll explain now, Su!" Keitaro insisted, rubbing his temples as he brushed the last of the accelerator's remnants from his shirt. "This is all too much; there's some kind of monster terrorizing our town, and now you and Sarah have gone crazy. We need to call the Army, or something!"

Su's enormous head shook in disagreement. "The Army will never be able to mobilize the right equipment in time. If we're going to save all those nice people who live down there, we need quick, decisive action! We'll have to handle this one, Hinata House style!"

"Why us?" Naru asked.

"Because it's our fault." Kanako said softly. Everyone else fell silent at her words, even Su. "We thought we had defeated the spirit of the Annex. Instead, it has found purchase in a new body, returned to finish its dark work."

"She's right." Kitsune agreed, lacing her hands behind her head. "This is our mess, and we need to clean it up." At that, the rest of the Housemates knew they had no choice. After all, if something was serious enough to make Kitsune's demeanor sober, then those were truly dark times.

"Besides," Su added, "If they find out that the spirit got into one of my Mecha Tama, then I'll probably be held responsible."


"And so, without further ado," Su quickly moved on, "I give you the ultimate weapon in my arsenal. Enjoy!"

Working on Su's cue, Sarah activated a panel set in the rear wall of the garage. The response was immediate as the wall began rising. Six glass cases were revealed from behind the drywall curtain, cases that held a different mannequin in each. Each oversized doll was a different height and body type, and at first glance appeared to be different colors. Upon closer inspection, it became evident that it was their clothing that differed, clothing unlike any they had ever seen.

The others approached the glass cases in awe, breathless at the marvels Su had wrought seemingly from thin air. "Su…" Keitaro whispered, "Where did you get the materials for all of this?"

"Oh, here and there…" Su's head laughed gleefully, glad that they had received the suits well.

Naru approached one of the cases, frowning at the shape of the mannequin within. It seemed disturbingly familiar. Though it took her a moment, she realized that the dummy was exactly her height, with her exact proportions

"Earth's last hope." Su's head reassured her. "Ladies and Keitaro, I give you…the Hinata Defense Force!"

=To Be Continued=

The Hinata Defense Force! Earth's mightiest heroes! Well, sort of. Stick around for the next installment of Love Hina.