Author's Notes: And back for another round. I wanted to keep this story relatively short, so there are only a few chapters left to go. Things are going to get very intense from this point on, just to warn you. I've been sitting on some of the material coming up in the next couple chapters for a while because I honestly had a moment where I wondered if maybe I was going too far. I decided to go ahead with it anyway, and I'm fully prepared to expect some hate mail in the near future. I may also have to bump the rating up somewhat to compensate as my vision of the story got darker as time went on and the PG-13 rating this story originally had going may not be applicable anymore. I just want to give everyone the heads up so they know what to expect.

Some people are going to get bitchy about this. But I must remind them that this is technically my story. This isn't like in Hollywood with really stupid focus groups who were responsible for butchering some of the best scenes in movies (i.e. Dark Man) and insisting that everything have a romantic sub-plot, no matter how forced or inappropriate. For more information on this concept, please read "If Chins Could Kill" by Bruce Campbell.

Now, all that said, I still recognize the difference between good and bad taste. As much as I like John Waters movies, I'm not that kind of writer. I don't need to give you the explicit details, just tell you what you need to know and let you fill in the blanks for yourself. You imagining the gory details is better than me beating you over the head with them like a sledgehammer. I don't want this to turn into a slasher flick, but I do want to emphasize a very stark contrast between heroism and villainy. I'm deeply influenced by Gothic tradition, and part of that means confronting the heroes with intensely powerful personifications of evil.

So, fairly warned be ye.

Ronin

Chapter 6- It Has Begun...

Tucker scrambled to think of something. No room to dodge, no place to run or hide, only a split second left to react... So this was what it was like to look death right in the eye. The two ghosts were closing for a final attack. At least it would all be over quick.

Before Tucker had a chance to see his life flash before his eyes, however, a red and silver streak rushed by, ramming the two ghosts and sending them flying into the wall of a nearby building. Valerie! She had turned her hoverboard nose-up and used the flat bottom as a ram. As she righted herself, she pulled out an ecto-rifle and opened fire. The two samurai ghosts barely managed to dodge. "They always want to do things the hard way!" she remarked. She then turned to Tucker, her mask obscuring her features from him. "You okay?"

"I've been worse," Tucker said dismissively. "There's more of them heading down the road, though. Gotta move!"

Valerie tossed an ecto-pistol to Tucker. "Just in case. See if you can get the Fentons down here, too."

"If I know them, they're already on their way." Tucker took a second to make sure he understood the basic operation of the gun. He had to give Vlad credit, the whole thing was very intuitive. A child could operate it. Huh, for some reason the knowledge that Vlad built this made the phrase seem a lot less innocent.

Valerie was already rocketing off down the road, guns blazing. Shaking his head once and thinking that he was losing his mind, Tucker ran to catch up with her. He spotted a ghost hacking at someone door with its katana. "This is where the hours of playing House of the Dead pay off!" Dropping to one knee, Tucker took aim and fired. The purple blast streaked out of the gun, creating a faint glow against everything it passed, and struck the sword out of the ghost's hand.

Not wasting any time, Tucker prepared another shot. The targeting on this gun ruled! And there was no recoil, either. He felt like a real gunslinger with this puppy. The ghost had turned to him and he fired on its face. The blast struck it squarely in the kisser and the samurai reeled back as its mask shattered. "Yeah, baby!"

Tucker's little victory was short-lived. The ghost recovered and faced him. It had no face! Underneath the headdress was nothing but black shadows with two points of red light where eyes should be. As it picked up its sword again, Tucker began to wonder if the phrase "pants-soiling terror" had been coined specifically for moments like this. Not knowing what else to do, he opened fire again.

-x-

Jazz was just coming back to the apartment with Erika and her fiancé Katsuhito. The three of them had spent most of the day out sightseeing, the two locals introducing Jazz to some of the finer points of Japanese culture. She was hoping to be able to attend a tea ceremony tomorrow with this nice family they had met at the Shimonzen Dori antique row. It was funny. It was true that the Japanese still had a strong tradition of separatism and racism, but they were still very respectful, polite, and courteous. They were very gracious hosts, that was for certain. It was a strange, but pleasant dichotomy that publicly they were one of the most conservative cultures, but in their own homes they become much more liberal and easy-going. Their entertainment industry was proof enough of that.

Danny and Sam had been going in and out of the apartment all day, so Erika had loaned them her spare key. Even she and Katsuhito saw that the two were made for each other, so why was it taking them so long to figure it out? They had gone off to see the Takigi O-Noh festival, but Jazz figured they'd be back by now. It was almost midnight. "So, how do you enjoy Kyoto so far?" Erika asked. Her English vocabulary was fine, but like most people with no experience in Germanic languages, she had a little trouble with the grammar. It didn't help that English grammar was particularly difficult to deal with as languages go.

"It's wonderful!" Jazz replied. "I wish I had thought to come here sooner."

"Erika and I will try to make reservations somewhere in Pontocho for tomorrow night. You all must dine at one of the kawadoko decks before you leave. We usually only go out to eat around there once in a while." Katsuhito had gone to school at Johns Hopkins University, so his English was much more refined. He actually spoke better English than a lot of Americans did, amusingly enough.

"That's the place along the river right?" Jazz asked rhetorically. "I'm sure Sam would love that."

They opened the door to the apartment and came across a remarkable sight. On the bedding Erika and Katsuhito had set up in the living room lay Danny and Sam. Their Japanese folk clothes were folded neatly beside them while the two of them lay together facing the TV sound asleep. Sam had her back flush against Danny's chest and the two seemed to curl up around each other, looking very comfortable.

Katsuhito put his arms around Erika from behind and the two started speaking playfully in Japanese. Jazz simply smiled and went to put a blanket over the two young lovebirds. The TV was playing some anime or another that took place at what looked like a private school. She switched it off and quietly went to the bathroom to change. She could grill her brother about what he'd dug up in the morning.

-x-

Valerie pulled off her mask and wiped the sweat from her brow. The suit was both ventilated and air conditioned, but that didn't stop it from getting warm in there every now and again, especially from a battle like what she had just faced. She and Tucker had taken out a couple of the ghosts, and the rest had made a hasty a retreat. The Fentons showed up after the first minute or so and were still pursuing the fleeing ghosts. They looked like they were heading west, and they were really bookin'. She wasn't entirely sure the Fentons would be able to catch them.

Fortunately, the streets were clear and there was no chance of anyone seeing Valerie without her mask on. She glided over quickly to where she had last seen Tucker. He was sweating worse than her as he sat on the curb trying to catch his breath. She had to give him credit, he went out to help wearing nothing but a pair of cargo pants and carrying some hokey-looking thing that looked like a Fenton invention. Now that she thought about it, it wasn't too far-fetched to imagine that Danny's family had foisted some weapons on his friends at some point or another. "You okay?" she asked as she settled in for a landing.

"I'm still breathing, if that's what you mean." He had several cuts and scrapes on his torso and arms, and he seemed a little shaky. Valerie knew he wasn't the picture of athleticism, but something had really rattled his cage. It wasn't like this was the first time he'd seen ghosts, though.

"You sure you're okay?" she pressed, sitting down beside him. "You look a little pale."

Tucker sighed and looked up at her. "They don't have faces." There was an answer she wasn't expecting. "I shot the mask off one of them and he had no face."

"So he didn't have any features?" Valerie asked in mild confusion.

"No, I mean there really was nothing there! Just two little lights for eyes. Like his headdress was hollow." Tucker shuddered slightly and shook his head. "I tried it out with a couple others, shot their masks off. These things don't have faces."

"That's weird," Valerie muttered.

"I had a few other words in mind," Tucker replied, "but let's go with that."

Valerie hung her head and once more wiped the sweat from her brow as it was beginning to bead up again. She thought for a moment while Tucker checked himself for any more injuries. "Hey... you said these things are looking for Danny Phantom, right?"

"Yeah. In fact, they were yelling and looking for him when they started tonight's attack."

"What happens when they figure out he isn't here?"

Tucker looked up, but was silent. Not a good sign. "That's a good question. I hadn't though of that."

"Clearly," Valerie deadpanned. She thought she caught sight of movement from her eye, but when she glanced over to see what it was there was nothing. The streets were empty. Again, weird.

-x-

Sam stirred slightly. She felt sleep slowly leaving her, but she felt very warm and comfortable right now. She really didn't want to end that. It took another minute of debating whether or not she wanted to sleep in when she became aware of the rhythmic pressure on her back like breathing. That revelation was followed by a tightening of arms around her waist and the touch of soft lips on her neck. Danny! She smiled and sank deeper into the embrace.

"I really don't want to have to get up right now," Danny mumbled in a half-awake daze.

"It's not like you have a choice." Sam sat up with Danny in unison to see Jazz leaning forward with her elbows on the back of the couch. She had an infuriatingly smug grin on her face. "You have a busy day ahead of you. And while I'm thinking of it, Tucker will appreciate the pictures I sent him."

"We'll rain horrible fiery death on you for that later," Sam grumbled as she rubbed the sleep from her eyes and stood up. "Right now, I need some breakfast."

"Don't spend too long out," Jazz chided as she walked around to sit down on the couch. "Katsuhito just made reservations this morning for a nice dinner in the Pontocho district. I can't remember which place he said it was, but they apparently have a great sushi bar."

"Yeah," Sam drawled. "You did tell them I'm a vegetarian right?"

"You are aware there's vegetarian sushi, right?" Jazz beamed back.

Sam decided not to answer and silently chided herself for not remembering that. She merely gathered up some clothes to get changed into.

"Erika's father is a sushi chef," Jazz explained as if somebody had asked. "She knows a lot about the nuances of the craft just from watching him."

"Jazz," Danny groaned as he stretched out, "it's not that I don't like this place, but shouldn't we be focusing on the... you know?"

"Katsuhito left an hour ago for his clinic and Erika's job at the radio station starts at 6 AM sharp," Jazz explained. "You don't have to dodge around it."

"Fine, but that doesn't answer my question," Danny replied as he slipped on a fresh pair of jeans and a T-shirt while Sam ducked into the bathroom, listening to the conversation through the door, which she left ajar.

"We have to keep up appearances," Jazz explained. "As far as those two are concerned, we're tourists and I'm working on another media study. Neither of them suspect anything about ghosts and we have to keep it that way for the time being."

Danny sighed in resignation. He obviously knew Jazz was right, and there was no point arguing that with her. "We still need to find more leads on Kagyaku."

"I know. What have you found so far?"

"Not much," Sam answered as she finished putting on the last of her clothes. She walked out back into the living room and slipped on her boots. "We checked the Museum of Kyoto yesterday, but they didn't have anything about the Crimson Ghosts."

"I see," Jazz nodded. "Where else were you planning on looking?"

"Sam suggested the Kyoto National Museum," Danny chimed in, "but I don't think that's going to be much better."

Sam sat down on the couch beside Jazz and opened up her purse to begin the process of applying her make-up. "We also should check out The Oni Museum and Fukuchiyama Castle. It's a long-shot, but..."

Jazz stood up and looked out the window. "I'll check out the National Museum. You guys investigate one of the other leads."

Danny finished tying up his shoes and stood up. "Sounds like a plan."

-x-

"Hmm... I see. Where is he then?" The news was inconvenient, but nothing that couldn't be dealt with.

"I'm not sure, master. They didn't say where, but they obviously know that Danny Phantom is not in Amity Park anymore."

Silence. This put an unforeseen delay in the plan. No matter. These setbacks were only temporary. After all, he was already dead, it's not as if he didn't have all the time in the world. "Send another wave of samurai to Amity Park. Try to neutralize any resistance they put up. Perhaps by endangering his city, we can smoke him out. If not, then we can capture the two you spoke of and find out what they know."

"Shall we dispatch the fu lions and the kyonshi as well, sir?"

"Yes. Also send a few kappas and oni if possible. I want a three-wave invasion force to descend on Amity Park in the next twenty-four hours. If you find Danny Phantom, bring him back alive."

"Alive? You wanted us to kill him, sir."

"Originally, yes. Suffice it to say that new information has come to light and I do believe this boy could be very useful to me. Bring him back alive. If you can take any hostages as leverage, all the better."

"As you command, my lord."

Kagyaku sat back and steepled his fingers as he surveyed the room that had been his safehouse in life. The centuries had been surprisingly kind. It still made an effective base of operations. Now all he needed was the halfa. If his theory was correct, he would be able to rise once more and fulfill his vow to plunge the world into a paradise of anarchy and chaos. He only needed to be patient...

-x-

Author's Notes: And there you have it! Short chapter, I know, but I only needed it to be a transition to the next one anyway.

Anyway, a welcome to our villain, and here's to the future.