Narrator here - no, I'm not dead. I've just been really, really, REALLY distracted lately, applying to grad schools in Japan and Texas and working full-time. (bows humbly) Please read and enjoy, and be amused, so that you don't feel the urge to kill me?
Disclaimer: Though the Laws of Physics are pretty much chucked out the window in this story, the Laws of Copyright are not. The Narrator still does not own Samurai Deeper Kyo!
Chapter 5: A (Sample) Frame of Mind
CRASH! WHAM!... thud!
"Dang, I don't care if you're Mibu-ichizoku or not, that had to friggin' hurt!" Kanashimi observed with pseudo-sympathy as a Mibu minion was sent head-first through a very thick tree trunk.
"Oh my, he's bleeding!" Okuni gasped and promptly fainted. Again.
"Okuni-san!" Migeira exclaimed, catching her before she hit the ground. Again.
Kanashimi rolled her eyes. "Hey, Yukimura," she said, turning to the master strategist, "are you sure you don't want to be in on this?" She pointed to Kyo, Sasuke, Hotaru, and Benitora, who were in the midst of making mincemeat of the hundred or so assassins that had suddenly beset their little party. Kyo hadn't even given their leader a chance to finish his long-winded monologue about "death to the accursed demon child of the Mibu, etc., etc." before launching himself at them like a rabid raccoon on an overloaded garbage bin.
Sasuke and Benitora had followed suit with equal enthusiasm. Hotaru joined in, after asking permission from Kanashimi, of course.
Yukimura shook his head. "It wouldn't be very fair, would it?" he asked, "I'd be depriving them of several opportunities to vent their anger and frustration in a constructive manner."
"Constructive?" Kanashimi echoed. The forest around them somewhat resembled the aftermath of a concentrated carpet-bombing, and there were still minions who had not had the bright idea of fleeing for their lives. But she could see Yukimura's point. "Meh, but you have to admit, they really chose a sucky opportunity to attack Kyo, what with…" She indicated the still-unconscious Yuya, whose head was resting in her lap.
"I suppose even self-styled gods can lack a sense of timing," Yukimura replied as the last minion was dispatched in a manner both messy and painful. "What about Yuya-san?"
Kanashimi shook her head. "No change… we'll only be able to figure out what happened to her when she finally wakes up."
A dark shadow suddenly loomed over them, radiating an overwhelming aura of unsated homicidal rage.
"Oh, hi, Kyo," Kanashimi greeted casually, "Are you feeling better now?"
Kyo made a sound that was probably a very foul curse word and flung himself on the ground, his back against a tree trunk, glaring at all them as if waiting for an excuse to lop off another head.
"And here I thought only females got PMS-y," the muse commented, "Looks like Sasuke-chan's got some competition after all."
Yukimura deftly deflected a very serious attempt on Sasuke's part to send Kanashimi to meet her maker, and took the onimitsu-turned-kunoichi to one side to discuss proper anger management.
"Why hasn't Yuya-han woken up yet?" Benitora wanted to know as he anxiously nudged the bounty huntress' shoulder with a paw, "You said she'd wake up after your sister attacked her!"
"What happened to Yuya-nee-san?" Hotaru added plaintively, kneeling down beside Yuya. Gone was the battle rage that hinted his true nature had not been entirely subsumed - Hotaru appeared to be about five seconds away from another bout of toddler tears.
Kyo's eye twitched, and his baleful glare became one of disgust.
"Like I said… " Kanashimi said tiredly, "We won't know anything until she wakes up; and she will, trust me."
"And why, exactly, should we do that?" Migeira asked sharply, narrowing his eyes at her, "The Mibu attacked before I could say anything, but I cannot help but notice that your ki is very much like the demonic entity that has wrought these unnatural transformations."
"You're not exactly the brightest bulb or tastiest crayon in the box, are you," Kanashimi retorted impatiently. Migeira blinked. "If you'd been paying attention, you'd notice that I've been trying to keep the damage of my dear onee-sama's insane rampage in check, except that some people…" here she sent a significant Look at Kyo, who ignored her, "decided that they could handle her themselves."
"'Onee-sama'?" Migeira echoed, clearly caught off-guard, "You mean, you are related to the little girl who…?" He stopped short, having said something he wished he had not.
"Oi, how'd you know that that whack-job's a little girl?" Benitora wanted to know.
"Have you had a run-in with Narrator-san?" Yukimura added, having finished his little counseling session with Sasuke.
Even Kyo had quit sulking long enough to hear Migeira's explanation - the self-proclaimed justice-seeker looked supremely uncomfortable under everyone's combined stares. "I have had to misfortune to meet her," he finally admitted.
"What did onee-sama do to you?" Kanashimi pressed.
"It is not important to the current situation," Migeira replied sharply.
"I think we should be the ones to determine that, Migeira-san," Yukimura said, "I repeat Kanashimi-san's question: what did Narrator-san do to you?"
"Yeah, spill it, already!" Benitora demanded, "It can't be as bad as me, at least you're still human! Relatively speaking."
Migeira's eye twitched, though he surely could not decipher Benitora's smart-ass remark. Without a word, he got to his feet and strode several paces from the group, turned sharply on one foot, flung back his mantle, leveled his cannon arm directly at Benitora…
"Oi, watch where you point that thing!" Benitora howled in alarm.
"Don't shoot him!" exclaimed Kanashimi and Yukimura in unison, so taken aback that they had not reached for their respective weapons.
"Shoot! Shoot!" Sasuke and Hotaru cheered.
"'Bif'?" Kanashimi echoed, blinking in confusion. Everyone else was too stunned to speak (or still unconscious).
"Am I dead?" Benitora asked, cautiously opening one eye. He looked around and quickly surmised he had not left the mortal plane. "Whew! Hey, wait a minute…" He turned and glared at Migeira, baring his teeth. "What the hell did you go and do that for, you bastard! What did you shoot me with?"
Kanashimi leaned down and picked up a small yellow ball that lay on the ground at Benitora's feet. "This is…" she said in amazement, "… a wiffle ball?" She squeezed the Styrofoam sponge ball just to make sure her eyes were not playing tricks on her.
"Yes - you sister turned my Muramasa cannon into a toy!" Migeira raged, "Now it only shoots those ball things instead of my soul!"
Absolute silence reigned…
… for all of two seconds.
"It's not funny!" bellowed Migeira as everyone (Kyo included) began laughing their heads off. His face turned bright red from combined anger and embarrassment. "Do you idiots have any idea what this means!"
"It means Justice goes armed with Nerf cannon!" Kanashimi managed between giggles, before collapsing into another hysterical fit of mirth.
Migeira was rendered nearly incoherent with fury. "It means that the temporal instability I have been warning you about has been accelerated!" he finally spat, "With one of the Muramasa so fundamentally altered, one of the guards against history being irrevocably changed has been nullified!"
That sobered everyone up pretty darn quickly (except Hotaru, who probably would not have understood what Migeira said under normal circumstances anyway).
"Shit, he's right!" Kanashimi swore, "I forgot that you guys weren't the only integral elements of this reality! Those damn Muramasa are also important!"
"This is getting out of hand," Yukimura observed grimly, while Kanashimi let loose a string of Gaelic invectives so vitriolic that set fire to a nearby tree, "We're not making any progress either in…"
"Nee-san's waking up," Hotaru informed everyone off-handedly.
"Eh?" Kanashimi stopped cursing long enough to look down at the young bounty huntress. Yuya moaned softly, her expression pained. "Hey, you're right… will you guys back off and give her some friggin' air already?" Benitora sat back on his haunches so quickly he almost fell over (Hotaru actually did fall over), Migeira backpedaled right into Kyo, while Sasuke and Yukimura sighed into their hands.
"Speak to me, girl," Kanashimi urged, after giving everyone a suitably admonishing death-glare, "Say something…"
Yuya's lips moved slightly, framing silent words as she struggled to broach the veil of unconsciousness. Instinctively, Kanashimi leaned closer, straining to hear.
"… Appurikotto Paffu… Transformation…"
Blinding, orange-gold light and sweet-scented silver smoke filled the air…
'Wha… what's going on?' Yuya drifted in an impossibly bright dream haze, where annoyingly cutesy music played and someone with a very high-pitched girly voice was singing about fluffy bunnies and sugar tart. 'I wish this would stop, right now…' Yuya thought in irritation.
As if in response, the music and singing stopped dead, but the haze still lingered. Yuya had time to notice something else, too. 'Am I… naked?'
"YOU ARE A NEW CHAMPION!"
'Ki-yah!' The basso profundo voice came out of nowhere, reverberating in her head like an enormous gong.
"OH, SORRY, I DIDN'T MEAN TO STARTLE YOU."
'It's not that! Well, yes, it is… But even worse, why do you have to be so loud?' Yuya demanded.
"SORRY! I MEAN…sorry. I just wanted to tell you that you are a new champion, who will use her powers to fight for love and justice and fluffy cute things!"
'… what?' Yuya was now thoroughly confused, and more than a little ticked-off. Plus, she was fairly certain that yes, she was indeed naked. 'What's going on? Who are you?'
"Sorry, but I'm only supposed to tell you that you're a new champion and that you're supposed to use your powers to…"
'"fight for love and justice and cute fluffy things," I got that part the first time, now tell me…!'
"Ganbatte kudasai, Bishoujo Bounty Huntress Apricot!"
'Now wait just one second…!' Just then, the dream haze evaporated completely and Yuya was rather unceremoniously dumped into full wakefulness.
Where everyone was staring at her with slack jaws and stunned expressions.
And where she suddenly felt suspiciously under-dressed.
"What are all of you gaping at?" she flared, noticing that even Yukimura seemed rather pole-axed, which could not be a good thing, "What do you think you're…?"
A mischievous breeze coursed through the clearing, driving away remnants of smoke and delicate sakura petals… and flipping the hem of Yuya's suddenly all-too short skirt above her bared mid-riff.
"KI-yaaaaaaahhhhh!" Yuya shrieked, clamping down on her skirt, only to discover it wasn't the familiar magenta cotton cloth of her kimono, but a silky peach satin that seemed to catch every single errant puff of air. As a matter of fact, none of her kimono remained - in its place was a brief sleeveless bodice and ridiculously pouffy upper armbands of the same material as the skirt. Instead of geta, she wore knee-high yellow boots with sharply pointed heels that caused her to teeter alarmingly. Her obi had been replaced by a creamy white sash tied in an enormous bow around her hips, its ends fluttering just above the ground like doves too nervous to land. White gloves sheathed her hands and forearms, and a golden band encircled her right upper thigh.
"Erk…" she managed.
"Yuya-han was naked, and I can still see her underwear…" Benitora's tongue lolled out of his mouth and blood trickled from his snout. "I can die a happy man… dog… whatever…" Belatedly, he realized that Kyo was standing right next to him, his right hand clenched on Tenro's hilt, one blazing crimson eye fixed menacingly on his number two servant. Benitora shut his trap with a snap (nearly taking off half his tongue in the process) and sidled away from the homicidal samurai. "Yuya-han's undies…" he murmured, once he was a safe distance away.
"What… what sort of devilment is this?" Migeira demanded hoarsely. With great effort, he tore his eyes away from Yuya and stared at Kanashimi. "What has happened to Yuya-san?"
"It seems onee-sama's… feeling generous today," Kanashimi said with a ghost of her normal sarcasm.
"Leaving Yuya-san half-naked is hardly generous," Yukimura felt compelled to point out. 'Generous for the rest of us, maybe… it is a rather cute outfit on her.' Just as that thought occurred to him, Yukimura felt the razor-sharp edge of a blade rest against his unprotected throat. Even more disturbing, however, was the fact that he had missed Kyo's smoldering ken-ki, resonating with the demon-eyed samurai's desire to spill Yukimura's blood at any cost. "Ne, Kyo-san, you…"
"Back off!" Sasuke's battle cry shattered the dazed atmosphere, Shibien's black blade crackling with tongues of lightning as she swiped down on Kyo. Tenro leaped instantly to block, and Kyo was driven back fives steps by the sheer physical force of Sasuke's strike.
"Sasuke!" Yukimura berated himself for being caught off-guard, for now, Sasuke and Kyo had touched off a fight that would most likely leave at least one of them dead.
"You've got a lot of guts, lifting your katana against Yukimura right in front of me, Demon-Eyes!" Sasuke growled.
Kyo's eyes narrowed, a smirk slitting his face. He really could not explain why he suddenly found himself with Tenro a hairsbreadth from Yukimura's trachea or why he had wanted to kill the master strategist so much at that very moment, but if this kid was spoiling for a fight, Onime no Kyo would not disappoint. "You gonna go at it for real this time, brat?" he drawled.
Sasuke's response was a smirk that mirrored Kyo's for bloodthirstiness. "You were lucky last time," she said.
"Oh, for cripe's sake!" Kanashimi groaned, holding her head in her hands, "I'd have thought turning Sasuke into a girl would have at least made him smarter…"
Yukimura was torn between stopping the two warriors and simply let them have at it; after all, he would be terribly upset if someone attempted to stop a fight between him and Kyo. 'It's what Sasuke-kun wants, more than anything… Kyo-san, too.'
Migeira watched Yukimura out of the corner of his eye; after the initial shock, the Sanada general seemed to be observing the impending death-match with utter complacency. 'If Sanada does not intervene, then I have no reason to, either. Perhaps the child will solve the problem of Onime-no-Kyo's existence for me.' He nodded, his decision made. 'I will stop them only if Sasuke is in danger, for he must not die yet.'
Hotaru stared at Kyo and Sasuke with wide-eyed anticipation, ki slowly beginning to manifest about him. "I want to fight, too…" he said softly.
'… undies…' Benitora was in no condition to head off another round of testosterone-driven stupidity.
"Kyo? Sasuke-kun?" Yuya's freak-out session about her bizarre wardrobe change came to a screeching halt when she saw Kyo and a suspiciously feminine Sasuke unexplainably square off as though they fully intended on killing each other. "Wait! Why are you two…!"
Heedless of Yuya's protestations, Kyo and Sasuke lunged at each other…
That, at least, was what Yuya meant to scream.
What came out was: "APRICOT STUN NECTAR CANNON!"
Golden sparks flew from the palm of her outstretched right hand like a swarm of fireflies, coalescing into the familiar form of her matchlock revolver… only about twenty times larger than normal. Before Yuya's scrambled brain could process this fact, her trigger finger had already squeezed off two shots.
Sasuke had to literally hit the dirt to avoid the mass of sickly-sweet scented orange goo that hurtled toward her head, while Kyo merely checked his headlong charge with thoughtless ease as the stuff flew past.
"Whoa…" Yukimura said, which pretty much summed up the situation.
"Wha… What's going on here!" Yuya shrieked, dropping her weapon like it had burned her hand, "What the hell… Why…?"
Kanashimi headed off Yuya's panic fit with a dead herring smacked smartly across her face. "Don't," she told the transformed bounty huntress sternly, "Spazzing will only make this more difficult than it has to be." Yuya was too stunned to be hysterical. "It's not like you have anything to complain about," Kanashimi continued, banishing the herring, "Onee-sama turned you into a magical pretty girl, probably because she thought it would be funny and…"
"Stripping dog-face, isn't funny, it's sick!" Kyo spat.
Yuya's cheeks flamed bright red. "Then stop leering at me if you really believe that, jerk!" she yelled hotly, hugging her arms around her exposed midriff and slumping her shoulders.
"Ahem!" Kanashimi interrupted, heading off Kyo's retort, "I was going to add that onee-sama has used Yuya here to create a new vector in this universe. There's nothing more diametrically opposed to a guy-centered, fighting-obsessed storyline than the fluffy sweetness of a magical pretty girl."
"A magic… what?" Yuya demanded, trying to simultaneously adjust her skirt, bodice, and sash to cover up as much of her bared skin as possible and failing miserably.
"Magical pretty girl," Kanashimi repeated impatiently. She eyed Yuya critically. "No mistaking it - You look like a cross between Tokyo Mew Mew and Sailor Moon with a bit of Cardcaptor Sakura thrown in for good measure. Trust me, it could always be worse."
"I don't want to imagine how that would be accomplished," Yukimura remarked, deciding just to ignore Kanashimi's incomprehensible allusions, "Poor Yuya-san's embarrassed enough as it is."
"True that," Kanashimi agreed, walking around Yuya to scrutinize the costume (much to Yuya's discomfort), "Ya know, about the only thing she's missing to make her transformation complete is the cute mascot."
Blank stares greeted this latest non sequitur. "Never mind, it's not important."
Just then, Yuya noticed that yet another key aspect of her former accoutrement was MIA. "Ano… has anyone seen Akira-san?"
"You lost him again?" Kyo snorted scornfully.
But before Yuya could spit out an angry reply, a miniature lop-eared form pulled itself free of the pile of splintered wood and ash at her feet with a labored grunt. Lofting into the air on unsteady gossamer wings, it hovered in front of Kanashimi's less-than-surprised face.
"I," Akira-the-Ice-Emperor-turned-Fluffy-Stuffed-Bunny-turned-Cute-Fluffy-Winged-Bunny-Mascot stated flatly, "am going to kill your sister."
"I can't possibly be the only one who fails to find the humor in this situation," Akira groused, folding his stubby arms as he sulked.
"Ano, Kanashimi-san, are you going to be all right?" Yukimura asked the muse concernedly. Of course, he would have asked that of anyone who had laughed so long and hard they were currently in the fetal position on the ground, wheezing and gasping for want of air.
"Man, this almost makes up for being turned into a dog!" Benitora (unhelpfully) contributed, "Yuya-han's undies and brat-face is a flying chew-toy!" He rolled on the ground, barking and shaking with laughter.
"Benitora, stop it! You're being mean to Akira-san!" Yuya scolded. She had already sent Hotaru to time-out for trying to pull Akira's wings off (and for playing with her newly oversized weapon and discharging it so that Okuni was presently encapsulated in a rock-hard cocoon of orange crystal). "And stop trying to look up my skirt, dammit!"
"I can certainly sympathize with your current predicament," Migeira assured Akira, though admittedly, he was waging an uphill battle against the urge to burst out laughing with every irritated twitch of Akira's long ears.
"I doubt it," Akira retorted brusquely.
Kyo had dealt with the situation as he normally did: that is, he sat down in a comfortable spot and waited for the idiots to get the idiocy out of their systems so they could finally decide to get serious and go kill something.
Or, at least, he tried to…
"Kyo!" Yuya called irritably, stomping over, "Why haven't you gotten Okuni-san out of that cocoon yet? We don't know if she can even breathe!"
"And that's something that should concern me because…?" Kyo asked boredly.
"Because she might suffocate!" Yuya raged, "You're always bragging how Tenro can cut through anything, why don't you prove it?" Even Sasuke's Shibien had failed to crack the hardened shell, though it should be noted that Sasuke had not really been trying that hard.
"Still don't see why I should be concerned, dog-face," replied Kyo with smirk as Yuya's face became so red, he was certain steam was about to come whistling out of her ears.
"Oh, forget it, I'll do it myself!" Yuya huffed, whirling away in high dungeon, "And stop ogling my rear, pervert!"
"Do what you want," Kyo said, mostly to himself. Really, she was so amusing when she was pissed off. And he would keep staring at whatever part of her he wanted, thank you very much.
"Hooooo…!" Kanashimi finally sat up, having gotten control of her breathing at last. "Man, that was a trip. Right, let's see if we can't figure out how to go from here."
"I think getting Okuni-san out of that shell should be the first thing," Yukimura noted.
"Do we have to?" Kanashimi and Sasuke asked at the same time.
"Yes," Yukimura said firmly.
"Phooey," said Kanashimi, pouting, while Sasuke settled for a disgruntled sulk. "Hey, Yuya!" she called out to the bounty huntress, who was staring at the massive citrine lump in bewilderment, "You ought to be able to take care of that, since it was your weapon in the first place."
"How?" Yuya wanted to know, "I don't even understand how I got this way or how any of my powers work!"
"There's a dagger in your left boot," Akira supplied unexpectedly, "Touch it against the shell, and it will shatter."
"Oh… okay." Yuya bent down and pulled an elegant gold-chased stiletto from her boot. It looked rather flimsy, but since they had tried (practically) everything else, what was the harm?
As Yuya touched the tip of the blade against the smooth surface, a phrase suddenly popped into her head: 'Blossom Shell Dissemble!'
"Eep!" Yuya squeaked as shards of orange crystal exploded every which way, instantaneously dissipating into dust.
"It actually worked?" Sasuke blurted.
"Ano… Akira-san? How did you know that Yuya-san had that dagger?" Yukimura queried as everyone stared at the winged rabbit.
"I… I don't know," said Akira dazedly, "I just did."
"Well, duh, he's Yuya's mascot after all," Kanashimi pointed out as though amazed at their amazement, "Everyone knows that even if the magical pretty girl doesn't know how to use her powers, her mascot's always there to tell her."
"Why…?" Migeira began, then he stopped and shook his head, "Never mind, I get the feeling I do not want to know."
"I'm thinking it would be a good idea for Yuya and Akira to get together and see if they can't figure out how to tap into Yuya's new abilities," suggested Kanashimi.
"What? Yuya-han going off alone with ice-bunny-man? I don't think so!" Benitora protested immediately.
"Like hell!" Kyo snapped at the same time, "No way she's…!"
"Awww, are both of ya'll jealous of little Akira-usagi, is that it?" Kanashimi teased.
"Of course!" Benitora replied shamelessly, while Kyo settled for glaring and bitterly wishing he had not so stupidly opened his mouth. Where the hell had that jealous urge come from, anyway?
'I'm not jealous!' Kyo protested inwardly.
'Are too,' Kyoshiro pointed out. That was one of the bad things of having your worst enemy residing inside your head, he tended to know when you were lying.
'Am not!' Kyo argued right back, pretending he could.
"Okay, while Kyo sorts things out with the voices in his head…" Kanashimi continued, but she was interrupted when Okuni groaned, indicating that she was regaining consciousness.
"Okuni-san!" Yuya called anxiously, helping the older woman to sit up, "Are you all right?"
"She was trapped in a cocoon of hardened sugar sap for the last ten minutes, of course she's just fine," Sasuke growled sarcastically.
"Sh!" Kanashimi told her.
"Where… where am I?" Okuni asked in a breathy voice, "What happened to me?"
"It's okay, you're safe now," Yuya told her rather helplessly, not knowing just how she was going to tell Okuni about being encased in solid syrup.
"Yuya-san…" Okuni smiled slightly. Until her eyes happened to drift downward a little and she noticed Yuya's new outfit.
"3… 2… 1…" Kanashimi counted down, and stuffed earplugs in her ears.
"OH MY HEAVENS, YUYA-SAN! HOW COULD YOU POSSIBLY BE WEARING THAT OUTRAGEOUS GET-UP!"
"Itai…" Yuya replied, falling backwards and clutching her head, "Okuni-san, itaaaaaiiii…"
"If you would allow me, Izumo-no-Okuni-san, I shall explain the situation to you," Migeira stepped in, gallantly coming to Yuya's rescue. He proffered his hand to the dazed and outraged miko.
Okuni looked up at him and blushed. "Oh, you are such a gentleman!" she said, with a coquettish giggle.
Migiera sweat-dropped, but otherwise ignored the comment and the various looks (ranging from weirded-out to disgusted to just plain stunned) he was getting from everyone else as he took Okuni to one side out of earshot.
"See that, that right there?" Benitora said, "That's just wrong. We need to get this crap straightened out before anything else happens."
"And I suppose you've got a bright idea on how we do just that?" Akira snapped.
"And you do?" Benitora shot back.
"Maybe I do, maybe I don't, but I wouldn't want to explain it to a thicky like you," said Akira boredly, "Your head might explode." (Nobody seemed to think it odd that he could communicate with Benitora; then again, no one was really paying attention.)
"Son of a…"
"That's enough, both of you!" Yuya scolded, sweeping Akira up into her arms as Benitora lunged. Akira stuck his tongue out at Benitora, who growled threateningly but could do little else.
"Ah, Kyo-san, where are you going?" Yukimura asked as Kyo stood up and slung Tenro across his shoulder.
"Anywhere but here," Kyo said, "I'll probably have that little bitch's head on a platter inside of two minutes without the lot of you holding me back."
"Wait, Kyo!" Yuya called, running after him, "Are you crazy? If you try going after Narrator on your own, you'll…!"
Kyo rounded on her so suddenly she almost plowed right into him. "I'll what, dog-face?" Kyo sneered, "You think I'm actually lose to some insane little girl who fights with an iron pan?"
"Hey, you said it, we didn't, and given your track record, Kyo-honey, I'd place my bets on onee-sama," Kanashimi contributed (un)helpfully.
Kyo ignored her, only because he was staring down at Yuya so intensely she wanted nothing more than to find a nice place to hide. But of course, Yuya's instinctive reaction to Kyo's intimidation was to get even angrier. "Haven't you seen what she's done?" Yuya countered, "She's not something you should try to take on alone, she might…! Hey!"
Kyo grabbed her mid-rant, effectively cutting off her air supply as he clasped her to him.
And not a moment too soon…
Something hit the ground where Yuya had just been standing with earth-shuddering force, but by now, everyone was so used to high-velocity impacts from random objects, no one lost their footing.
"(Hack!coughcough!) Dammit…! (chokecough!) Now what?" Sasuke demanded angrily, eyes watering as dust clouded the air for the second time in less than twenty minutes.
Yukimura sighed and wished in vain for sake.
An undeniably human-shaped form pried itself up out of the crater at Yuya and Kyo's feet. "Where am I?" Shinrei asked dazedly.
"Shinrei!" At the sight of the Mibu warrior, three katana sang from their respective saya, while those without operable weapons or limbs to use them settled for guarded stances.
"Ohohohoho, it's raining bishonen!" Kanashimi cackled gleefully. "Oi!" she yelled at the sky, "send down my Pookie next!"
"What the hell are you doing here, Shinrei?" Kyo demanded (after making certain Yuya was behind him and not getting in the way).
"As though I would tell you that," retorted Shinrei, after spitting out a mouthful of dirt. He vaulted neatly out of his hole in the ground and surveyed the warriors arranged in a loose formation around him. His twin, wickedly sharp re-curve blades seemed to materialize in his hands. "It is time for you to die, Onime no Kyo, and this time, no one is going to…"
"I'm still waiting!" Kanashimi blared, shaking her fist at the sky, her ki crackling with irritation.
"… stop me. Who is that?" Shinrei asked, wondering why the strange girl seemed vaguely familiar.
"Like a dead man needs to know," Kyo said.
"Hn," Shinrei snorted disparagingly. By chance, his glance happened to fall on Yuya. "It would be a shame for me to defeat you now and consign your woman to an untimely death, but I cannot turn from a fight when the enemy of the Mibu is right in front of me."
"What!" Akira, Migeira, and Sasuke demanded angrily.
"Oh, you did not just say what I think you said!" Benitora howled.
"You'll gain no advantage in a fight with Kyo-san by threatening Yuya-san," Yukimura pointed out, secretly wondering if Shinrei's impact with the ground had scrambled his brains.
But Shinrei had seen the way Kyo stiffened at his reminder. "You still have time left to reach the Mibu lands, Kyo," he continued, "Or do you actually want my Suiryuu to devour her heart?"
"Eh?" Yuya had been plenty confused when Shinrei first decided to pay attention to her, but now he was just being plain weird. "What are you talking about?" she demanded.
"You know very well what I'm talking about," said Shinrei, "The dragons I put in your body when I…"
Now, let us remember that Shinrei's a bright boy (for the most part) but he can be rather a bit slow on the uptake. It was only just then that Shinrei realized that the girl in front of him, whom he had consigned to a most horrible death should Kyo not defeat him, was not only not wearing her usual outfit, but also held no trace of his water-wyrm curse.
"… geck. How is this possible?" Shinrei demanded, gaping at Yuya in disbelief, "No one could remove my curse, not even Muramasa-sama himself!"
Kyo decided he had heard enough babbling from the self-righteous prick. Tenro flashed down ward on Shinrei's unprotected neck, and the Mibu water-wielder only just managed to block it. He responded with the rapid, whirling vortex of his blade dance, which Kyo was forced to dodge with some might fancy footwork.
Things were shaping up quite nicely in terms of an all-out, no-holds-barred, chop-till-you-drop duel when Kanashimi decided She Had Had Enough.
"I have had ENOUGH OF THIS!" she announced, "Onee-sama's run amok, I've got to save the universe, the group I'm babysitting keeps wandering off and getting attacked, and to top it all off, I DIDN'T GET MY POOKIE! SOMEONE MUST PAY!"
Shinrei was about to deliver his tour-de-force attack of Suimabaku-ryuusen when he was unexpectedly and quite rudely plowed into the ground, hog-tied with a roll's worth of duct tape, and his hair forcibly braided into two glitter-bespangled pigtails.
"Ahhhh, I feel better now," Kanashimi said placidly, seated on Shinrei's back and playing idly with one of his new braids, "Bishonen-torture is so therapeutic!"
Before Kyo could throw a hissy fit over being denied the opportunity to beat the crap out of Shinrei, Yukimura smoothly stepped in to get some answers to several nagging questions.
"How did you wind up here, Shinrei-san?"
"Mmmmpf-errr graumpgh miierg ahn!"
"Any chance you could remove the gag you've placed over his mouth, Kanashimi-san?" Yukimura requested politely.
Kanashimi clicked her tongue and sighed. "I don't know why you think he'll answer your questions," she answered, "I know the type - he'll keep his trap shut till Judgment Day if he thinks it'll piss off his enemies. Besides, this way it's nice and quiet again."
"Oh, all right!" Kanashimi grumbled, "Damn you and your melty puppy-dog eyes!"
Yukimura grinned a smug, cat-like smirk, but otherwise ignored the comment.
"UUUUUAAAAAAAARGH!" Shinrei bellowed, informing everyone of his displeasure of having his lips nearly ripped off along with the duct tape, "RELEASE ME THIS INSTANT WOMAN SO THAT I CAN AVENGE MY HONOR AND DESTROY YOU!"
"Gee, you really know how to sweet-talk a girl, don't'cha?" Kanashimi purred, not moving in the least.
Kyo snorted. "Dogs who have been beat should know when to keep their yapping traps shut," he informed Shinrei. He was still pissed that a decent fight had been interrupted and that Shinrei was still breathing, but with characteristic Kyo-ness, he shrugged it off and let Yukimura entertain himself questioning Shinrei.
"What do you think he meant when he talked about dragons eating my heart, Kyo?" Yuya asked him worriedly.
Kyo glanced sidelong at her and "hn"-ed.
"You're lots of help," Yuya muttered sarcastically, electing to leave Kyo to his sulk and listen in on Yukimura's interrogation.
"Oi, quit tickling him in the nose with that thing!" Kanashimi protested, "You're making him all squirmy and I can't put my mascara on!"
"My apologies, Kanashimi-san," said Yukimura, sighing and putting aside the puffy-headed weed (for the time being), "He's being awfully stubborn."
Shinrei glared, but his mouth remained stubbornly closed.
Yuya sweat-dropped, wondering what clan of ninja used such intelligence-gathering techniques. Sasuke, for one, did not seem perturbed in the least.
"Obviously your onee-sama had something to do with this," Yukimura continued, "Question is, what did she do to him?"
"You mean, besides drop-kicking him from the sky?" Kanashimi asked and shrugged. "Beats the hell outta me."
"Maybe she's just trying to slow us down by having Shinrei attack us," Yuya suggested. Everyone, including Shinrei, looked at her in surprise. "I mean, nothing seems wrong with him at first glance, right?"
"Hmmm…" Yukimura put his chin in his hand and mulled this over.
"You…" Shinrei spoke up, staring at Yuya with a frown of befuddlement, "How did you erase my curse?"
"Oh, so we're back to that again, are we!" Benitora demanded.
"This curse he keeps referring to," Akira said to Yuya, "Are you certain you have no idea what he's talking about?" He was getting a pretty clear reading from Shinrei that the Mibu warrior was firmly convinced he had attacked Yuya in some way. There was also something a bit… off in his aura that Akira found unsettling.
Yuya shook her head vigorously. "No, I don't," she insisted. Being careful not to flash anything more than necessary, Yuya crouched on the ground and looked hard at Shinrei. "What do you mean when you say you put a curse on me?"
Shinrei's confusion became annoyance. "What game are you trying to play with me, girl?" he snapped, "You know perfectly well that I placed water dragons into you that shall devour your heart in twenty days, in order to show Kyo how weak he was. But somehow…" Here he became angry and bewildered again, "… you have freed yourself from them! That is impossible!"
"Again with the squirming!" Kanashimi complained, jabbing Shinrei in the back of the head with her lip-liner, "Will you please knock it off?" She sighed in annoyance and banished her make-up back into Hammerspace. "Oh, and I've figured out what onee-sama's done to him, by the way."
"Do please elaborate," Yukimura said politely.
"Simple - she's crossed the line dividing animeverse and mangaverse; this Shinrei here is from the manga version, which is why his memory of events is different from everyone else's."
Kanashimi sighed again and rubbed her temples. "I was really hoping I wouldn't have to do this…"
"… and that's why the proliferation of realities can be manipulated by an authoress and how Shinrei got here," Kanashimi said, capping her marker. The gigantic wipe board behind her was marked into red oblivion with a plethora of mathematical formulas, diagrams, proofs, and one or two scattered doodles of penguins, squirrels and a synopsis on the meta-physical properties of duct-tape.
"Fascinating," Migeira remarked.
"Agreed," said Shinrei, looking almost happy, despite the fact that he was still bound up in duct-tape with a new hairstyle, "Remarkable how simple it is once something is explained to you."
"Anyone else find the fact that those two are having fun disturbing?" Benitora asked.
"Just because you're too thick to comprehend higher logic doesn't mean that no one else can," Akira pointed out.
Yuya yawned and opened her eyes. "Hmmm…? Is it over yet? Okuni-san, wake up, you're making my arm fall asleep!"
"… my head hurts," Sasuke said frankly.
"Probably has something to do with those fumes from her ink brush," noted Yukimura, feeling a little mentally strained himself.
Hotaru had fallen asleep in Yuya's lap after succumbing to marker fumes, and Yuya had not bothered to wake him up just yet.
"Any questions?" Kanashimi offered, but the look her eyes promised painful, messy death if someone took her up on it.
"We're going to have to leave this reality to find her, aren't we," Kyo spoke up regardless.
Kanashimi blinked, looked back at the board and blinked again. "Holy shite… you're right!" she gasped, "By displacing such a radical element and crossing the inter-dimensional divide…" She did a couple more calculations. "Hey, anyone here good at meta-physics?"
Migeira and Shinrei raised their hands.
"Geek," Kyo said under his breath.
Shinrei bristled. "I was honored to receive instruction in such an arcane art - a warrior benefits from all sorts of knowledge."
"And Sakuya-nee-san was in the same class," Hotaru piped up unexpectedly.
"Shut it!" Shinrei barked, cheeks flaming scarlet.
"ANYWAY…" Kanashimi interrupted them with a growl, "Both of you, come here - I'm good at the theoretical stuff, but my proofs need to be checked." She released Shinrei from his bonds so that he and Migeira could help her.
"But if Kanashimi-san's onee-sama is no longer here, isn't that a good thing?" Yuya asked hopefully.
"Not really, since it means she's no longer here to correct what damage she's already done," Yukimura observed, "Who knows what will happen if she decides to corrupt another reality linked to ours."
"Oh…" Yuya's sudden optimism died instantly. 'But… leaving this reality sounds pretty dangerous,' she thought, 'Not to mention impossible.'
"Are you sure about that? Shinrei, check out this variable…" Kanashimi, Migeira and Shinrei were pretty deep in serious discussion; Akira cocked one long ear and caught Kanashimi's whispered, "Well, we'll just have to make sure Kyo doesn't find out till it's too late."
The ice-wielder filed that away as Probably Important.
"Okay," Kanashimi announced several minutes later, "We got the details of the extra-dimensional trans-reality metaphor complete, I just need to get the engine in gear. Essentially, by leaving this reality and going into the other one, we're placing a temporary freeze on the chaos that's going to destroy your reality. We have to overpower onee-sama in the other reality and bring back here before the freeze collapses."
"There's a lot of "if" you left unsaid in that," Yukimura pointed out as Kanashimi pulled out a piece of chalk and began marking the trees, rocks and dirt around them with strange symbols, "If we find your onee-sama in time. If we manage to bring her here. If our leaving will indeed halt the imbalance. If we even manage to leave in the first place."
Migeira squinted at him as Kanashimi began drawing an array around the whole group. "Do you have a point?"
"No," Yukimura chirped with a shrug, "Just noting Kanashimi-san left a lot "if"-s out."
"We have no idea what's going to happen once we do get there," Yuya said out loud, having resigned herself to the idea that inter-dimensional travel was indeed possible (no one else seemed too bothered by it; either that, or the marker fumes had been really strong), "why do I have a bad feeling about this?"
"Because we've entrusted not only our very existence, but the survival of our very reality to someone who may or may not be evil incarnate?" Akira suggested.
"That's not funny, Akira-san," Yuya told him.
"Unfortunately, it's not supposed to be,' Akira thought, remembering Kanashimi's whispered remark.
"Hey, you keep going on and on about 'damage to the universe' and all," Sasuke spoke up as the last chalk line was being drawn, "but other than the stupid shit that's happened to us, I haven't seen anything to be worried about."
Just then, the sky turned a hideous shade of puce as black lighting arced across it, ominous thunder rolling overhead like war drums. A penguin popped into existence and kicked Sasuke hard in the shin before vanishing.
"Are you really stupid, or are you just doing this to piss me off?" Kanashimi asked Sasuke, who was clutching her shin and gaping at the space where the penguin had been, "Saying something like that is just asking for cosmic retribution. I would have thought Kyo's little embarrassment would have driven the point home for everyone!" She glared at the assembly. "All right, now, sit down, shut up, keep your feet off the seats, no smoking, and especially, no tempting fate until the dimensional transference is complete. Got it?
"Bob, beam us up!"
Oh the insanity! The Laws of Physics are defied and parallel universes come crashing together! How will it all end?
Frankly, The Narrator has not the slightest clue.