Chapter 23: Night Flight (Just Wake Me When It's Over)
Since we were still trying to be incognito, we opted not to go back to the palace for the evening. Instead, Nuriko found a hotel just a few blocks away that didn't look like the kind of place where they might stuff dead hookers under the mattresses, and we checked out a pair of connected rooms for the evening. Nuriko and Hotohori shared one room, of course, with Ren, Tasuki, and me in the other. The three of us got into a loud but not particularly violent argument about who would share beds with who (whom?), until finally Nuriko got sick of it and ordered a cot up from the main desk. Ren fit perfectly, and that was that.

We spent the evening wandering the area – apparently we were in the Koshi District, which was famous for unique shops and restaurants during the day and drug trafficking during the night – in an attempt to cheer up our stressed, quiet, and all-around depressing Emperor, but as the sun started to sink we gave up and headed back to the hotel. I assured everyone again and again that by noon tomorrow we'd have a miracle doctor with us, and with that promise weighing on all of us we turned off the lights and went to bed.

I was tired, but I couldn't get myself to sleep. Ren and Tasuki passed out early, but when I put my ear to the door I could hear the television running in the other room, so I knocked and let myself in, a little relieved to find both Hotohori and Nuriko still awake. They weren't the ideal hang-out companions, but it beat staring at a darkened ceiling for hours.

"Hey," I greeted. "Mind if I come in?" Nuriko waved me in, so I took the invitation. "Can't sleep?"

"Heika is concerned about his sister," Nuriko said, which in Nuriko-speech probably meant something like "I'm concerned about Heika."

"How can I sleep when Ane-ue is in so much pain?" he moaned. I looked over at him and frowned a little when I saw him with his knees drawn to his chest and his arms wrapped around his knees. He looked like a little kid, which was about the same way he'd looked since we'd found out about Joumi.

"Don't worry so much," I said. "I'm gonna get Mitsukake back to the palace even if I've gotta hold him at gunpoint to make it happen. Joumi-senpai's gonna be fine. Really."

He shook his head. "But even so, after what happened…"

"Ugh," I groaned, plopping down on the end of Hotohori's bed. "Look, yeah, what happened was basically your fault. But that's no reason to keep beating yourself up about it. We're gonna fix it now, and you're here to help," 'Though how I'll never know,' I added silently, "so it's gonna be fine. Live and learn, right? Just think of this as part of your emperor training."

Hotohori snorted. "Some emperor I am. Can't even look out for the one person who gives a damn about me."

Nuriko stiffened on the opposite bed. I don't think Hotohori noticed, but I did. "Hey," I said, punching him lightly in the knee, "no pity parties allowed. There're lots of people who give a damn about you. I give a damn about you, right?"

"That's different," he muttered. "You're the miko."

"And your friend," I added, and was surprised to realize that I meant it. As infuriating as the guy could be, somewhere along the way I'd stopped thinking of him as the 'Koutei-baka' and had started thinking of him as 'Hotohori,' a real guy with, sure, a lot of flaws, but some good points, too. Like how much he loved his sister, for instance.

"But even so," he shot back, "you don't have any real faith in me, do you?"

"Not especially." I winced as soon as I said it, but what could I do? His question had been so blunt and out-of-nowhere that the answer popped out of my mouth honest and unformed, without giving me a chance to shape it into something that wouldn't hurt so much. "B-but I'm working on it," I added hastily. "I mean you've gotten a lot better, and I can see you trying, so… er…"

Hotohori barked out a humorless laugh. "You don't have to force yourself, Mikako. I'm well aware of what you think of me. You told me so yourself. And I appreciate your honesty, I truly do. But…" He frowned, burying his mouth into his knees. "Ane-ue was different. Different from you. Different from the Council Members. Different from Haha-ue… and Chichi-ue." His head drooped at the mention of his father, so that all I could see was his hair. "Ane-ue… she was the only one who ever actually believed in me. And now, to betray that trust… to let this happen to her… it's…"

The television clicked off abruptly behind me. I turned, surprised to see Nuriko slam the remote control against her nightstand, then throw the covers over her head and roll over so her back was facing us. "It seems that I am tired after all," she said in a tone that was distinctlysharper than usual. "I'm going to sleep. Good night."

"Oh…" I stared at her back for a moment, then glanced at Hotohori. I could practically see the Doom Waves emanating off both of them, though for two completely different reasons. I sighed and decided it wasn't worth the energy to fix this particular mess, not after the long days I had both behind and ahead of me. I'd put it on the 'To Do' list for now, and deal with it after I'd gotten Mitsukake to join our dysfunctional little family. "I guess I'd better go back to my room, then." I patted Hotohori's knee. "Try to get some sleep. And, hey, chin up, all right? Joumi-senpai's gonna be just fine."

He didn't have an answer, but I hadn't really expected one. It seemed to me that he just needed to stew in self-loathing for the night. Maybe it would even do him some good, in the long run. I shook my head at the pair of them and went back to my room, closing the door between us. 'Sometimes those two make Ren-kun look low-maintenance.'

I tried to fall asleep again, but that plan was a bust. I wound up flipping on my PSMini and playing around with that, then when the power started to run low I walked over to the window and stargazed for a while. I wanted to sleep, but I just couldn't get my mind off of Joumi, and Mitsukake, and all the things that I had to do right in the next 24 hours.

'What? You thought being the Miko would be easy?' I scoffed to myself, flopping down in my bed again and staring mournfully at the blinking lights of the digital clock between my bed and Tasuki's. '4 AM. At this rate, I'll scare Mitsukake off with my bloodshot eyes. Brilliant. I'm gonna—'

My rambling, insomniac thoughts were cut off by the sound of shuffling outside the window. I tensed in my bed, far too used to Konan violence to believe that it was just a stray dog sniffing around for food. We were on the ground floor. And guess whose bed was closest to the window?

My eyes snapped open as I caught muttered voices on the other side of the wall. I slipped out of my bed like a spy in a bad action movie, hitting the floor on the other side and just about jamming all the fingers on my left hand. I whispered a curse to no one in particular, wishing I could be smooth for once, then reached up with my undamaged hand and tugged at Tasuki's pajama sleeve. "Psst. Tasuki. Wake up. There's someone outside, and I—"

"Shut up. I hear 'em," he hissed back, rolling off his bed and landing with catlike grace next to me. Stupid seishi and their physical perfection. "I'm-a sneak 'round 'n' get Ren. Me 'n' him'll see wha's up. You jis' 'lax here, an' we'll—"

But all our plans flew out the window, which was easy for them to do seeing as how someone had just smashed all the glass out of our window. I screamed and Tasuki swore, grabbing my arm and vaulting us over his bed. He shoved me back against the wall just as Ren dropped down beside him, knives at the ready.

My memory gets real choppy after that. It was like the chaos made my brain devolve, so that when I think back to those frantic moments, all I really get are photographic snapshots instead of a running film. I know gunshots flooded the room, because I clapped my hands over my ears to keep from being deafened. I know Ren was standing in front of me, shielding me with that tiny body of his, and that Tasuki was crouched in front of him, using the bed like a blockade or something as he leaned over it and fired back lightning-fast at the attackers. There was maybe a half-second of silence as he dropped the first wave, then we heard the gunshots coming from the room next to ours.

Next thing I knew Hotohori and Nuriko were crouched down with us, though how they got there I can't remember. Then Nuriko and Tasuki were barricading the door between our rooms with Ren's cot. Hotohori was next to me, curled up against the bed with his head between his knees and his hands over the top of his head, making these "Oh gods" noises over and over again. I was a little disgusted since I had to compare his reaction to the rest of my ready-for-battle seishi, but at the same time I couldn't be really mad at him. After all, these attackers were after hislife. Not to mention that seeing him like that made me feel a whole lot better about my own turned-to-ice reaction.

During the rain of gunfire that filled the next I-don't-know-how-much-time, the only distinct moment I can remember was when a bullet whizzed into the wall beyond us – and then suddenly the wall had exploded, sending plaster and paint raining down on us. I kept from panicking, but only just barely, and I'm pretty sure I had to grab onto Ren to keep myself together.

"Gods fuckin' damn it!" Tasuki roared from somewhere to my right. "How the fuck – how the fuck!"

"I thought your enkou was one-of-a-kind," Nuriko said, somehow still calm and reserved. I was really beginning to worry about her sanity.

"It is!" he snarled. "Jun made it – that motherfuckin' cocksucker done said he made it special fo' – that cum-guzzlin' assfucker sold th' fuck out! When I sees that sumbitch agin I'm gon'... fuck, fuck, fuck!"

He punctuated each obscenity with another shot, and whether it was Tasuki's fury or the gang had just figured out that they weren't going to take us by surprise, whoever-it-was backed off to regroup. The room fell into a nasty silence. Nuriko and Tasuki knelt behind the bed, guns at the ready, Ren just a step behind them. The lull gave me time to work through my shock, though Hotohori didn't once move from what I was starting to think of as his 'duck and cover' pose. "Is everyone okay?" I asked, though I could barely hear it over the hammering of my pulse in my ears.

"Unharmed," Nuriko said, and Tasuki and Ren jerked nods to agree with her. "Though I fear that may not last. I believe we are surrounded."

"We are," Ren said, and as if to second his notion our front door rattled with gunshots.

"Well we sure's fuck can't stay here," Tasuki snapped, catching sight of an attacker through the window and letting off a shot. We heard the now-familiar kracka-BOOM of his enkou tearing through flesh. I'd have felt like vomiting if I hadn't been so keyed up. "Gon' get trapped like rats, we does 'at. We gots t'jet."

Nuriko rotated and fired through our Swiss cheese door. Someone screamed and the gunfire stopped for another brief moment. "And have an entire terrorist faction chasing us? That's a poor solution."

"Then what do we do?" I asked, ready to hear anything just so long as it would keep us from getting shot at anymore. I did not like the idea of looking the way our door was starting to look.

Tasuki and Nuriko glanced at each other, and I got the feeling that a whole lot passed between them without me understanding it. Ren nodded. 'Oh great, my seishi developed a secret code while I wasn't looking,' I thought, a little surprised that I could feel snarky at a time like this. 'Next there'll be special handshakes and passwords and they'll never let the Miko play with them…' I was so frightened that I almost giggled aloud at the ridiculous thought, but Tasuki snapped me back to reality in a hurry.

"Mika, how much you weigh?"

"About fifty-four," I stammered, too scared to be annoyed at the question.

"I c'n handle 'at." He shifted so that his back was facing me. "Grab on. I'm-a play horsie f'you. Feel lucky. I don' do shit like this f' jis' anyone."

There wasn't time for questions, and anyway I had too many to figure out which one to ask first. So I just nodded and looped my arms over his back, locking them just below his breastbone. Behind me, Nuriko said, "Lure away as many as possible. I will deal with the rest and follow shortly. If we can, we will meet at Oudou-san's residence. If not there, then the palace."

"An' if not there, Suzaku's shiny gardens," Tasuki said, and though I couldn't see his face I got the feeling he was grinning at that. "You ready, Ren?"

"Hai."

"A'ight. Slash 'n' Dash."

"Hai."

"As f'you, Mika: hang on tight. We gon' fly."

He sprang to his feet, hitched my legs up around his waist, and – well, then we flew. I gasped as the air whistled past me and tightened my death grip around both Tasuki's waist and shoulders, though I was careful not to strangle my 'ride.' We barreled through the front door, Tasuki's enkou blazing out a path for us. I saw a splatter of blood and decided I didn't want to see anymore. I buried my head into his jacket and tried to think away the screams and gun blasts. It turned out that I didn't have much time to do that, though, because Tasuki whirled at the end of the hallway, jerking to a halt and calling back at the attackers, "Hey, you mu'fuckers want th' Suzako no Miko? Then you best come 'n' git her, asswipes!"

My head jerked up at that. "The Miko? But I thought – eep!" Then we were flying again, and I didn't have time to think about questions, much less ask them. So I buried my head again and let Tasuki take care of me. It seemed like the safest thing for both of us at this point.

I didn't know how long we ran, paused, taunted, and ran again, but eventually Tasuki swung me off his back and against a boarded-up door, panting beside me as we crouched inside a stoop. He fumbled with his gun, knocking out an empty cartridge and shoving a new one into place. His breath was heaving out of his chest like he was trying to keep his lungs from escaping, and I couldn't help but whisper a guilty, "Thanks" when I saw him like that.

"What? I'm s'pose-a… let'chu get capped… by those mu'fuckers?" he growled between breaths. "Fuck 'at. Fuck it… sidewise."

"Why are they after me?" I whispered. I tried to chance a glance around our hiding place, but Tasuki shoved my head down before I could even get a peek. "I thought they were trying to kill the emperor."

"Nah. I reckinize those mu'fuckers' colors anywhere. They's part-a this big fuckin' terr'rist gang, wanna burn out th' emp'ror 'n' make Konan they own."

"That sounds familiar," I drawled.

"'Ey, fuck you, Mika," he snapped back. "Rekkai's makin' life better. These mu'fuckers? They jis' wants t'watch shit burn. 'At's why they wants t'see th' Miko on ice. She gets her wishes, they figgers, Konan gon' get better, an' then mebbe they ain't gon' get 'nuff support no mores. Me 'n' mine, though… Shit, you make this hellhole better, ain't none-a my coms gon' complain. S'different, you dig?"

"Okay, okay," I agreed, holding up my hands in defense. "But I still don't get it. How could they find me? I haven't told hardly anyone that I'm the Miko."

"Prob'ly got leaked in Sou'un," he admitted between gritted teeth. "They's a rat in any group, don' matter what'chu do. An' 'at rat prob'ly tol' his coms up in Eiyou that they's a Miko runnin' 'round, an' they—"

"Found me," I finished with a nervous gulp. "Brilliant." I thought about peeking out again, but one look at Tasuki told me that'd be a pretty awful idea. "Did we lose them or something? I thought the whole point was that we were the decoys so the others could escape."

"Nah, we ain't no decoy, we jis' wanted t'split 'em up so's they'd be easier t' pick off. You, me 'n' Ren was th' only ones 'scapin'. 'Riko's still gon' have a fuckton-a work t'do back at th' hotel."

"What!" I squeaked, and completely forgot to keep my voice down. "You mean we left them back there to fend for themselves, trapped in that tiny room? We've gotta go back and help them! Nuriko doesn't have any back-up, she might need us—"

In all my panicked wisdom I tried to stand and dart out of the stoop, but Tasuki saw my plan from a mile away and grabbed my arm, dragging me back to sit beside him. "You retarded 'r somefin', Mika? Whole reason we split was t'keep you 'n' that sumbitch emperor safe. This way, me 'n' 'Riko each on'y gots one person we gots t'keep safe."

"But you've got Ren-kun to help you!" I protested. "And I'm not frozen to my seat! Worse comes to worse I can run like my bum is on fire, but if Nuriko gets hurt then Hotohori's just gonna sit there until somebody – and we can't let them—!"

Tasuki clapped a hand over my mouth, using the other to hold me still. "First: shut th' fuck up. You aw'ready callin' down ever' asshole inna neighborhood. An' second: don't'chu worry 'bout that sumbitch emperor. You seen th' way that girl-a his watches him? He ain't gon' die, much's I hates t'say it. 'Riko ain't gon' let him."

"But Nuriko—"

"Knows damn well what she doin'," he snapped. "'Sides," he added, glancing out past our hideout as we heard the sound of footsteps on gravel, "ever'one knows you don' need alla seishi t'summon Suzaku. 'At's why we bo'f wanted you t'breeze outta there steada 'at sumbitch emperor."

He said it so matter-of-factly that I felt like crying and kicking him at the same time, but the sound of approaching feet made me hold back. I promised myself that I would beat both him and Nuriko to a bloody pulp later, for thinking that their lives were somehow less than mine. Just thinking something like that made me sick to my stomach.

"Now keep low," he hissed. "We gon' have t'fly 'gin soon, but I wanna catch my breff long's I can. Lemme know if you spies anyone comin' from th' other way."

I nodded and positioned myself against his back, glad that I could do something useful even in a situation like this. As I looked along the empty alley, a thought that I should've had right from the beginning finally struck me. "Nee, Tasuki, if Ren-kun was supposed to escape with you, then where is he?" I felt my heart wedge itself in my throat. "Oh gods, you don't think he—?"

"Chill, Mika," he said, and even laughed a little when he said it. "Ren's fine. I tole him Slash 'n' Dash, di'n't I?"

"But what does that—?" I didn't get any farther than that, though, because three guys came around the alley from my direction, all sporting guns and none looking particularly friendly. "T-Tasuki—!"

I choked as Tasuki grabbed me around the waist and swung me around behind him, shoving me into the boarded-up door. I fought to find my breath again, glancing over his shoulder and watching as he leveled his enkou at the would-be attackers—

—then gasped as all three screamed and fell to the ground, dropping their guns and grabbing at their ankles. My eyes widened as I watched pools of blood form around their feet, and only then did I realize that something had slashed their Achilles tendons.

"I dropped another five on the way here." I nearly screamed as Ren flickered into being beside me. "None of them are dead, I promise. Sorry I'm late."

"Late? You jis' in time f'th' party," Tasuki said with another of those half-crazy laughs of his. "Now look after this li'l kitten f'me, will ya? I gots s'm assholes t'ice."

He spun around again and gunshots roared out behind me, but I was too busy watching Ren to really notice. My fourth seishi – my sweet, innocent, tiny little fourth seishi – flicked his butterfly knives in one smooth motion, sending the drops of blood scattering off of them and against the walls. He glanced at me a little shyly out of the corner of his good eye, still keeping his head tilted in that self-conscious way of his. "I scared you, didn't I? Sumimasen. It's just that the only things I'm really good at doing are the tricks with my knives and that teleportation thing, so I thought… to help out, that I'd… b-but still, I scared you. I'll try to warn you next time. Sorry."

I blinked rice-bowl eyes back at him. "Oh, n-no, it's fine, I—"

"Down, Mika-san!" he cried, and that cool grace filled all his movements again as he pushed me to the ground. I had my head facing upwards this time, so I had a perfect view of Ren standing over me and flinging out his knives. They whirred across the alley in a blur of silver, taking out two more attackers in the process.

'Wow. Ren-kun's kind of a superhero,' I thought in that same, inane sort of way that I'd been thinking everything since this awful night had literally blown up in my face. I wanted to gush to Ren about this badass side of his, but there wasn't any time because another four or five attackers were inching forward – carefully, this time – to take the other two's places. "Yuu!" Ren called over his shoulder, sliding forward to shield me.

"I sees 'em," he hissed back, suddenly right behind me again. Dammit, between Ren's teleportation and Tasuki's speed, I was gonna have a heart attack before those terrorists had the chance to take a crack at me. "How many we got?"

Ren closed his eyes for a second, and I thought that I could maybe see the faint shimmer of red light around his form, but it disappeared as soon as he opened his eyes again. "Ten. Total, I mean. The others are too far away for me to feel them." I noticed that he didn't bother adding a "Sorry I could be wrong because I'm not very talented" asterisk to this sentence. Apparently life-or-death situations made Ren gain some self-esteem.

Tasuki swore under his breath. "Too many t'fuck wiff here. 'Sides, I'm runnin' low on bullets." He hissed another curse out between his teeth. "We gots t'git someplace where we can't get shot at from bo'f sides."

"Oh, what about the stockyards by the river?" Tasuki and I both whipped around to face Ren, who blushed under our stares. "W-well, I've lived in Eiyou for the last year, you know…"

Tasuki grinned and shook his head. "You c'n 'splain later. F'now, jis' git us th' fuck outta here." He ducked his head out around the stoop again, squinting through both streetlight and the faint dawn light that was finally starting to filter between the buildings. "A'ight, we clear left. Ren first, an' Mika you stick t'him like he made-a crazy glue. I'm-a cover our asses. Go."

This plan sounded a whole lot like 'Tasuki takes a bullet for the Miko' to me, and I wasn't about to have any of that. "Wait." Now it was my turn to press a hand into each of my seishi's arms. "Ren-kun, can you teleport yourself to this place?"

He didn't even hesitate. "Not in one trip, but yes."

"Good. Do that. Tasuki and I will find you."

"Find him?" Tasuki repeated. "But how you gon'—?"

I tapped the side of my head, winking at him. "Hey, I'm the Miko, aren't I? I can always find my seishi."

Tasuki looked pretty skeptical, but when I glanced at Ren I could see him considering the idea pretty seriously. After a half second that felt like three lifetimes he nodded. "Okay. Good luck, Yuu… Mika-san." Then he ducked a short bow, tugged on his baseball cap, and disappeared.

Once he'd vanished I turned back to Tasuki with a weak smile. "Mind playing horsie for a little bit longer?"

A couple winks later and we were sprinting down the alley again, our attackers hot on our heels. Tasuki was tired, and my weight was dragging him down, so we were never able to completely lose them, but we managed to stay one street away from them, keeping them far enough out of bullet range for comfort – though I still kept my head pressed close to Tasuki's neck so I didn't have to think about the occasional shot that might be whizzing past. I kept my eyes squeezed shut and my mind focused on Ren. Luckily, I'd played this hide-and-seek game with Ren before, so even with everything going on I sort of just knew where to go.

"Left – right – right again – oh hell, dead end! Loop back around… left here… and then straight ahead for one… two… three… swing right, now!" I shouted directions like a proper navigator, and even had to fight the urge to giggle a couple times. Tasuki really was my 'horsie' now.

A frantic sprint later and I lifted my head, feeling Ren pulsing nearby. I loosened one arm to point ahead triumphantly, peering through my flapping bangs at the piles of crates and beams and machines dead ahead. "Ren-kun's at the far end, behind those rusty-brown boxes!"

Tasuki threw on an extra burst of speed, heaving us around the corner and into safety. He collapsed as soon as we were under cover, shrugging me off his back as he did. I murmured another "Thanks," feeling a little guilty at how much I'd had to rely on him up to now. But hey, at least I'd navi'd us to relative safety. I glanced around, checking out Ren's 'safe place,' and had to say it wasn't a bad pick. We had the river behind us – though it would probably be fairer to say it was some kind of man-made canal, with the water flowing far below us, fenced in on both sides by walls of concrete – and heavy crates to either side of us. We were at the end of an absolute maze of crates, too. If those guys wanted to come after us they were going to have to face us head-on and in close combat. Child's play for Ren and Tasuki, I figured.

"Shit," Tasuki gasped. "You got… real fuckin' heavy… in a real fuckin' hurry… Mika."

I stuck my tongue out at him but didn't bother replying. I looked over to Ren, ready to give him some thanks, too, but stopped when I saw him watching the canal behind us, his arms crossed over his chest and his hands clenched into the crooks of his elbows like he was cold. I couldn't see hardly any of his face, he had his head tilted downwards as usual, but the half of his mouth that I could see looked like it might be in pain.

"Nee, Ren-kun," I murmured, touching a hand to his shoulder. "You okay?"

He shook his head, taking another step back from the canal. "I-I don't like this place. It was a mistake to come here."

"Don't be silly," I assured him. "Any of those guys make their way in here, you and Tasuki can take 'em out easy. And…" I glanced around, then found a nail-studded scrap of wood that looked about the right length for a baseball bat. I picked it up, taking a couple practice swings through the air. "I'll defend myself, so you guys can just cut loose without worrying about me. It's perfect, see?"

He shook his head again in that wobbly way that looked more like a shiver. "No. That's not it. This place, it's… I don't like it, Mika-san. I just don't."

"I don' like it neither, Ren," Tasuki said behind us. I looked back in time to see him heave himself to his feet, his own eyes on the canal. He gritted his teeth, then hurriedly looked away, back to the tiny entrance to our hideout. He drew his gun, flipping it around so he had the butt in his hand like a club. "But all 'at don' mean two shits right now. Get'cho ass in gear, Ren. We gots somefin' mo' 'portant t'do."

Ren shuddered again, then nodded and turned slowly from the canal. He didn't say anything to either of us, though, and I got the feeling that he couldn't push it aside as easily as Tasuki. I promised myself that I'd ask him about it later. Whatever it was, I had a feeling that it had a whole lot to do with why he'd left Sou'un – and maybe why he'd refused to see Kiku, too.

I didn't have much time to ponder it, though, because true to Tasuki's words the first of our newest batch of enemies rounded the corner, gun drawn and ready to fire, though it didn't do him much good seeing as how Tasuki clocked him hard across the jaw with the butt of his enkou. I winced at the loud crunch of bone, but didn't have time to ponder that, either, because those remaining nine were all over us like ants on chicken sandwiches, and it was all I could do to keep myself out of harm's way.

Not that I had all that much to do, to be honest. Ren and Tasuki were experienced fighters, and it didn't seem to matter whether they were going at it long range or close quarters. Ren moved in low, slashing at ankles and knees, while Tasuki aimed for faces and arms. Blood, spit, and teeth were flying everywhere, and if I hadn't been on such a fierce adrenaline rush I know I would've lost last night's dinner all over my shoes. As it was, though, I was pretty much just enthralled by the battle, totally lost in my seishi's ultra-slick fighting moves. Who cared if I was in mortal danger? I was in a live-action fight scene that'd put all my dad's favorite kung fu movies to shame!

"Omaeeee…!"

I whirled at the guttural roar just in time to see an attacker slip past Ren and dive at me. I squeaked and ducked to the side, and luck must've been with me because the guy stumbled, losing his footing for just half a second – which was all the time I needed to bring up my nail-encrusted piece of plywood and slam it into his teeth. His eyes rolled up into his head and he fell with a soft sigh that could've maybe been a curse.

"Whoa…" I gasped, staring first at him and then at the weapon in my hands. I felt a grin spreading across my face, no doubt pushed along by that adrenaline that was firing through my body at about a mile a minute. "Suck. On. That!" I cried, whipping back around and making a couple of jabs at the dwindling enemies. Suddenly I felt a little like a superhero myself. "Yeah, that's me, Miko the Destroyer! Come 'n' get me, you terrorist pigs! I'll wipe the floor with all of you! I'll—oh!"

Okay. Yeah. I know. Taunting them was a bad idea. It just served to draw their attention towards me, and though there weren't that many left there were enough that one of them could wriggle away and come at me. I stepped back, weapon cocked over my shoulder like a baseball bat – and feeling pretty darn good about my chances, to be honest – when my foot hit something soft and lost its balance. I fell backwards, over the top of the guy who I'd knocked out before, and found myself staring up at a very angry man wielding what looked like an oversized skinning knife.

"Little bitch!" he snarled, jumping forward with his knife swinging. I screamed and threw my hands up in front of my face, for all the good that would do me, but even as I did I realized that I'd sort of expected this to happen. After all, Mitsukake had to have a reason to reveal himself as Mitsukake, right? So it just made sense that I'd have to get hurt the same way that Miaka Oba-chan had to get sick. I just hoped that wherever he stabbed me would knock me out fast, so that I didn't have to really feel it… I'd been shot already, and I'd heard once that getting stabbed hurt even more than getting shot, and getting shot had freaking hurt, so—

"Oof!"

'—Is not the noise someone usually makes when they're stabbed, Mika,' I thought mindlessly, and risked opening my eyes to see what had happened. I didn't get to see much, but I saw enough.

Saw Ren side-tackle my attacker.

Saw my attacker whirl on Ren.

Saw knives flash, though where I couldn't tell. Saw hands grappling, and Ren's so much smaller, so much weaker.

Saw them both stumble backwards.

Saw the canal edge looming up behind them.

Saw my attacker topple.

Saw Ren topple with him.

And then—

"Oh, God!"

—Like a bad slow-motion action scene—

"Ren-kun! Ren-kun!"

—Me at the edge, staring down at the rushing canal water, the splash of water shooting upwards, the ripples flaring out from it—

"REN-KUN!"

—And then, nothing.

Absolutely zero.


Japanese Terms:
Koshi – old city. The name of the district of Eiyou Mika-tachi are hanging out in.
Haha-ue – formal, archaic form of "mother"
Chichi-ue – formal, archaic form of "father"
"Omaeeee...!" - literally, "omae" is just the casual, masculine way of saying "you," but taken in context it has a much ruder meaning. In this case, it's more along the lines of "bitch" or "damn you."

Conversion Note: When Mika says she weighs "about fifty-four" she is, of course, speaking in kilograms. In American terms, she's about 120 pounds.

Author's Note: 4/22/09
Hey everyone!

Busyness strikes, so I don't have a lot of time to chat. It's a wonder I was even able to get this chapter posted (good thing I've had it written for a while, huh?). Ah, action chapters are always fun to write, particularly when it means Tasuki and Ren get to act like superheroes. And yes, I know, the cliffhanger ending makes me evil. But hey, I gotta keep you guys comin' back for more, right?

I'm really excited about the next chapter. It has another one of those scenes that I've been sitting on for a while, so it'll be a lot of fun to finally write it all out. Be ready for another bloodbath, more suspense than you can shake a stick at... and maybe just a dab of romance, too. (Haha, I got your attention now, don't I?)

Okay. No more talking. My pile of homework grows taller by the minute. Thanks to everyone for reviewing, and I hope to hear from you again after this one.

Next Time: As Mika and Tasuki race to find their fallen friend, Nuriko struggles to hold her position at the hotel. Badly outnumbered and with nowhere to run, will her devotion be enough to save Hotohori - and herself? See you next time!

/ Tangerine Infinity /