A/N: Okay, so here's another new story. Mostly it's just something meant to stir my interests so I'll start writing again period, but maybe you guys'll enjoy it so much it'll become a repeat. In case you wanted to know, the world this takes place in is the same world I'm trying to write my original stories in. In other words, it's the Love Hina characters in a completely different world. It's a steampunk/magic setting, and I personally really like it, so hopefully you will too. Some people may even like the changes made to the actual characters. Hope you enjoy!

Disclaimer: I do not own the Love Hina characters but I do own the world they live in and its histories, races, nations, and all that kind of crap. Ha! Try and steal that from me!

Gazers in the Abyss
Chapter 1: Insane Introductions
By Irritus185

The sun was high up in the sky, reaching past over its zenith and falling back down into the horizon. The sky was blue and clear, unheeded by a unusually small amount of clouds that drifted quickly on the breeze. Along with it came the salty mist of the ocean, whipping up from the water and soaking the air with a light, crisp feeling. If one looked closely enough, they could see the intricate and complicated flow of æther that passed through the mist, forming a dazzling display of water particles.

The ferry chugged along at a steady pace, thick steam pouring from its twin smokestacks as water was rapidly pushed into its double-output steam engines and heated to a boiling temperature within a matter of seconds. It had already left the island continent behind an hour or so ago, and already the mainland continent was in sight, the tip of one of its mountain ranges peeking over the cusp of the waves. A few gulls flew in tandem with the ship, giving off a shrill shriek in accompaniment with the deep bellowing of the ferry's horns.

The wind blew slightly from behind, moving his messy brown hair around to cover his eyes. He needed a haircut soon; his bangs were getting a bit too long for his liking. The young man glanced up from the ferry's railing, pushing up the thick pair of lens that perched on the edge of his nose, hooked by a thick length of thread behind his head. Chocolate eyes peered from behind them, glancing at nothing in particular as the ocean bobbed up and down in rhythm with him.

He looked like nothing special. A young man that was emerging into the life of adulthood, his body was lanky and looked like it was rather clumsily built. Thin and gangly, it appeared as though he was slapped together at the last moment before his birth. His face was too young, fitting more the face of child than a man. His clothes were nondescript as well. Plain, leather shoes, thin fabric pants, a loose tunic, and an even thinner jacket adorned loosely on his thin frame. The only thing that begged to be noticed was a sheathe that was drawn diagonally across his back.

It was a simple enough looking longsword. The hilt was black with a few lines of red streaking down the handle and up to the blade. A cheap-looking ruby was planted on the hilt between the crossguards. But a closer look revealed a gem that was as darkly crimson as blood and clear as the purest water. The sword seemed to pulse, eradiating an aura that asked for someone, anyone, to come just a little closer. Just a little closer and then…

The man snarled briefly. His lips moved quickly and softly, forming words that couldn't be heard. The aura vanished.

A few people who had strayed towards them had the sudden urge to leave, and veered away as though they were being chased by wild beasts. One or two of them had something in the back of their mind that told them they should feel relieved for whatever had just happened, but they were not quite sure what.

The young boy turned his head slightly to see the last of them walk down to the end of the lane where the other ferry riders were. His chest receded a bit as he let out the air that he had been holding in.

That was a bit too close for comfort.

Feh, you never allow me even a smidgen of fun, do you?

Sucking the blood of innocents isn't exactly…

You just have to try it. This is what is to be expected of someone who spent their entire life in such a stuck-up culture where all you learn is how to make brain-damaged meathead of yourself.

Iurius! Do you ever shut up?

Nyahahahahaaa!! And why should I do that, my empty-headed little friend?

Because if you don't I'll chuck you overboard and let you sink to the bottom of the ocean.

Pah! You wouldn't dare! Lose a priceless family heirloom like myself? Your ancestors would turn over in their graves.

My ancestors are probably turning over in their graves right now knowing that you still exist, you plague of a being!

No, more likely that I came into the possession of someone as incompetent as you.

Why you little-!

Nyahahahahaha!

The man made as if to draw the sword from his back, but he paused midway through and instead sped up his hand, rapping the sword on its handle with his hide-covered knuckles. A shallow ringing sound echoed from the impact.

Gah! You little human bastard! How dare you lay your hands on me in such a violent manner!

Oh, like it's any different from all the times you've parried-

That was during battle! But to touch me with those pure hands…At least carry some blood on them next time so I can have a good meal!

I swore that I wouldn't…

Or should I just start talking out loud? The crystal in the center flashed lightly. "Eh, Kei-"

"Nox!"

The boy made to try and cover the red crystal in a futile effort to muffle the voice that was coming from it. In a stroke of luck, though, he found that it wasn't necessary.

"Onii-yan."

The slurred mix of Varunaen and felis dialect caught the boy's ears. He turned to his right to see a girl a little younger than him. Her pitch-black hair fell in precise lines behind her neck and two bangs over her shoulders, kept together by a thin ribbon of red satin. Sharp, brown eyes looked up at him, mottled by an apathetic look of boredom. Her dress flapped gently in the wind, molding close to her body with the black bodice that was wrapped around her chest and torso.

The man held back a squawk that was threatening to escape from his mouth. He always was surprised by the way she could just show up out of nowhere like that, no matter how many times she had done it before. It was an unconscious acknowledgment of her skills of stealth and agility. "Did you finish searching around the ferry yet, Kanako?"

She gave a small, curt nod, not breaking eye contact with the taller man. "Yes, onii-yan." Her nose crinkled a bit as though something caught her attention. She said nothing to this. "I found nothing of interest, though," she added as if it were an afterthought.

He nodded back and smiled warmly, placing his hand on her head. "Good job," he said, affectionately rubbing her hair. His fingers glided across the ridge of her ears, which flattened in pleasure as she subtly pushed her head against his hand harder. It was joined by a slight blush on her cheeks and her sleek black and blue tail curling up around her leg. He could feel the light fur on her ears stand up as though they were electrically charged.

"Awww…isn't that cute…" A voice drifted from the man's back. It was deep yet grating, a tone that was condescending and capricious at the same time. It clucked its tongue. "Your little sister must really like you, eh, Keitaro?"

The female dæmon felis narrowed her eyes. Her tail pinged straight for an instant before reverting to slowly and sensually floating about. "You be quiet, Nox Hina. You give my onii-yan enough trouble already." Her soft voice had an underlying quality of razor-tipped steel.

"Nyahaha! And what are you going to do about it my little pussycat? Go on now, drink some milk and settle down for a nap on your big brother's lap!"

"Now, now!" Keitaro chuckled anxiously, hoping to extinguish the blaze that was building up between the two. Whenever they were around each other, an argument was bound to explode. He still found it difficult to believe that someone as level-headed and cool as Kanako could be riled up so easily, but when it came to Nox…He then could just as easily see how hard it was not to blow your top within the first few minutes of conversation. "We should all just calm down and try to settle this without resorting to violence."

Kanako tilted her head a bit to the side. "As you wish, onii-yan." She sidled up beside him, propping her head on his upper arm and gazing out on the ocean. Keitaro gave a small shiver as he felt her warm hair and fur settle onto his skin. The mix of cool ocean spray and her warmth was an interesting combination.

Nox snickered. "Yeah, yeah, like I could really do anything without the idiot drawing me, anyway. Honestly, what am I supposed to do with a swordfighter who wont bother to swing me around every once in a while?"

"Urashima Clan Vows," Keitaro interjected, holding a finger up and closing his eyes, his voice taking on a lecturing quality to it. "Number 4 – A weapon may only be drawn in self-defense, never in aggression or jest. To do so is to stain our heritage."

"A bunch of rules created by a bunch of dunderheads who never had any intention of following them. If they did, do you think something likeme would have been created?" Nox's tone was mischievous but had an overt amount of spite sprinkled about it.

Keitaro fell silent. He did not know how to answer something like that. He never knew how to answer that one particular questions. Of course, any families had skeletons in their collective histories, but some of the stains that littered his were one that were blasphemous to the gods, to the spirits, and to very existence itself. Nox was less than noble. He was not kind or just or anything of the sorts. But still, what had happened to him was something that should never be done without permission.

"I can't vouch for my ancestors, but all I can say is that by following them now…" He stumbled over what he was going to say next. "By following them now…"

"It was because of such mistakes that the Urashima clan created them in the first place, so that we may not come to the point of having to repeat them again. That is why we uphold them – so that we may carry on the tradition of continuing to make the right decision rather than the wrong one."

Keitaro's eyes widened a bit as he twisted his head a bit. Kanako was still looking out at the ocean, but her eyes had gained a more nostalgic gleam to them than her originally bored one. He did nothing but look for a moment and then smiled. He turned back to look at the water, the currents being pulled under the boat and at the stern into a white, light froth. His lips curled up a bit at the corners and his eyes wrinkled as they squinted, reacting to the sunlight that was reflecting off the water's surface.

"Not surprising to hear such a thing from a genius."

Kanako blinked. There was no jealously in her brother's voice, no mean-spirited pitch; only praise and pride and care. Still, it made her feel a twinge of melancholy as her very achievements only brought the curtain up on his failures. "It was only two times, onii-yan. With the status of our clan and the fact that you are the companion of Nox, I'm sure you can still make it in."

He shook his head and chuckled. "The Academy is just a pipe dream for now. I only wanted to go at first to make our parents proud, but I have only brought shame on their names instead. Nox was just an accident, and with his demeanor I doubt that the path to entering it will become any easier."

"Most people happen to enjoy my blunt and forward demeanor. I simply tell the truth and refuse to sugarcoat life's downfalls for them."

"Most people would prefer to be chewed on by rabid fire chimeras than engage in an conversation with you."

"You underdeveloped, unsophisticated animal!"

Keitaro laughed quietly as the two fell into a more heated argument. At times it was better to try and stop things from escalating. At other times it was better to simply lay back and observe the fireworks and hope that something wouldn't burn down in the process. This was one of those latter times. As dirty and vile as their language could get, degrading down to the most basic forms of Ærichan and Varunaen which consisted of growls, grunts, barks, and other various sound bites, it was actually amusing in a low-brow type of fashion, and Keitaro needed the break from his daily meditations to sink even further into the most primal aspects of his psyche.

As the two raged on, Keitaro found himself thinking upon what Kanako was trying to console him on. He was disappointed in himself – that was true. Years of his life dedicated to training and fulfilling the honor of his family, and he had failed twice to enter the Academy, the most prestigious of all schools on all of Terra. It didn't matter what the area of knowledge was, everything was taught there. From shaping the simplest forms of æther, to learning how to build an analytical machine from scratch, to discovering the exact anatomy and chemical composition of a dryad, all could be learned from its many halls.

Kanako had managed to make it into there, even if it wasn't for very long. Her kind still wasn't appreciated in the educational facility, even after years of public appeal for her race and others like it. Still, the little amount she did spend there was put to good use, and she was all the better for it when she emerged, an inky blackness that slinked through the night.

And yet he…he…Keitaro could feel the gloom of his shortcomings begin to creep through the cracks of his mind, seeping further and further in, waiting for that one perfect moment to strike and rend his confidence in twain. He shook his head and slapped his cheeks light. No! He couldn't allow that to happen! He still had work to do! Kanako still believed in him! Besides if he allowed himself to slip into the realm of depression and angst, he knew that Nox would never let him hear the last of it. It was all but impossible to ignore someone that had just as good a grip on your mind as you did yourself.

Keitaro fell out of his thoughts as he the argument between Kanako and Nox grow even louder and more degraded. By this point they had regressed to the most basic of their languages, Nox speaking in a dialect that hadn't been spoken in about one-and-a-half centuries and Kanako in her primal roots. They didn't even know what the other was saying; it was now nothing more than who could shout the loudest.

"Necoha jiokan iufa pesuca hefosagakode!"

"Grawr meor fffwa hssssiff rarararrrr!"

"Hoanjyo gesaya-!"

"Okay, okay, that's enough!" Keitaro rapped the sword on his crystal again with one hand, gently pressing a finger to Kanako's mouth with the other. They both calmed down immediately at his gestures. Nox grumbled darkly.

"How come she gets a little shush and I get smacked?"

"Because she's my cute little sister, and you're just a foul-mouthed lunatic."

"Correction – a strong foul-mouthed lunatic that has saved your butt on too many occasions to count."

Kanako swallowed her urge to preen at the compliment given by Keitaro and to stick her tongue out at Nox's. She had to keep a certain reputation, after all. Allowing herself to become relaxed around her big brother was fine, if it was restrained, but around Nox was something she would never allow herself to do. If only Keitaro wasn't so adamant about keeping the damned sword within eyesight almost every hour of the day and night. "I apologize for letting my emotions get the best of me," she murmured.

"It's no problem," Keitaro smiled gently. "I can understand what it's like when you talk to someone of Nox's caliber."

"I'm just the sort of person who is impossible to ignore."

"That's not necessarily a good thing." Before Nox could bark back a retort, Keitaro shoved his hands into the inside pocket of his jacket, pulling out a manila envelope. The seal, which was made of a simple "H" pressed into a lump of red wax, was already broken. He slid a folded sheet of paper out of the envelope and unfolded it.

The letter was plain and simple and to the point. The way it was delivered was an entirely different matter. Through an elaborate use of fire and wind æther, the concept of making a trivial message into a small hologram was created. Æther-grams were much more expensive in comparison to regular ones, normally only used by those who had money to burn for such pointless luxuries. However, Keitaro's grandmother was not someone to be bothered by the concept of financial security. She shifted those concerns onto others – like her relatives. Keitaro sighed.

"Keitaro, come to my guild in Grious. Bring Nox and Kanako. Hinata."

Keitaro and Kanako watched the Æther-gram as a miniature version of their grandmother yapped at them. Closing the paper, her image disappeared and he slid it back into its envelope and then into his pocket. He sighed and lifted his glasses to rub at the bridge between his eyes. "I understand why Nox had to come with me; I really can't go anywhere without him. But why did she ask you to come along, Kanako?"

Her mouth curled up the tiniest bit. "That's simple. I go wherever that my onii-yan goes."

The sword pulsed a bit, Keitaro feeling the vibrations ripple across his back muscles and up and down his spine. "You have a huge brother complex, you know that?"

"I see nothing wrong with caring for my brother."

"Yeah, but you caaareee for him."

"Do you feel like having me test my claws on you?"

"Nyahaha! Just try it, little pussycat! You'll break them if you even dare!"

"Can't you two ever get along?"

"It pains me greatly that you couldn't have gotten a partner worthier of you."

"Nyahahahaha!!"

The ferry continued along its way, the bickering of its passengers being caught on the breeze and carried to the continent of Antorok. Its mountains, valleys, and forests called out for those that would explore them. Whether it would keep this sentiment in the months that would come to pass is something that is yet to be seen…

GAGAGAGAGA

Grious was a normal city by any standards. Located at the base of the Unine mountain range and buffered by the Protac forest, it was a quiet city with a fairly large population, inhabited by a large range of races. Since it was positioned between these two areas that were known to be dangerous at times as well as starting points for adventures, there were also a small amount of guilds peppered around the city, ready to take on any jobs if the right amount of money was paid.

It had an acceptable crime rate, and other than the occasional pickpocketing and bar fight that got out of hand, nothing of too much importance ever really happened there. Only one real trade route passed through it, so the townsfolk always got the needed supplies and infrequent specialty. The æther flows were stable, the density was low, and there was no worry of a sudden weirding, so everyone lived in comfortable stagnation. Simple, a bit dirty, but with a better standard of living than many other cities or villages, Grious was a homely place to live.

The sibling duo walked down the street, taking in the sights. Keitaro had the obvious look of an outsider to the natives, his eyes all aglow and overflowing with amazement. His village, while not really poor, was much simpler than the somewhat more advanced structural design of Grious. It wasn't much, but it was certainly interesting for the slight change from rural to urban to register in his brain.

Kanako was a lot more subtle. Her eyes took in everything, but she moved in a smooth and confident fashion that belied her own wonder over the qualities of the city. The Academy had been much more interesting than this place, but then again, the Academy was more interesting than any place on Terra. Still, she hadn't much time to explore, thrown directly into her studies. Here she had the luxury of taking everything in, to experience her surroundings at her own pace.

Nox was quiet. Keitaro had warned him (Kanako, too, with more than just that) not to talk in public, and so far he hadn't. It wouldn't matter anyway. He couldn't get the boy into as much trouble if he just started to babble aimlessly on the avenue. He had to wait and bide his time…

Keitaro shivered as though someone had prematurely walked over his grave. He turned to Kanako. "How are we doing?"

She looked at him through the corner of her eyes. "I think we will reach grandmother's house in a few more streets." She looked forward again. "On a separate note, we have been targeted at least three times already."

Keitaro's body tensed, his hand instinctively reaching over his shoulder to finger the clasps of his sheathe. His eyes had changed as well, the warm chocolate becoming something colder. "Hostiles?"

She shook her head. "Simply some low-lives who thought we would make an easy score. The first two approached us before being scared off by Nox on your back."

"Well at least he's good for something other than mouthing off."

I heard that, ya dumbass.

A smile crept out from Kanako's mouth before she bit down on it. "The last one kept going and attempted to steal your wallet out of your front left pocket." Keitaro made no motion as to check if it was still there. He just kept staring at the young felis. She caught his stare before letting out a malicious smirk. Kanako fished a small wallet from out of her bodice's bosom. Her hands blurred and the wallet became two. "I don't think he'll try again with such a poor penchant for stealing."

Keitaro could almost hear the frustrated yell of someone from far behind them. A long, low whistle raced across his mind. She's really good with her fingers, isn't she? Kinda makes me wish I was alive again so I could test her aptitude out.

That's my little sister you're talking about.

I'm sure she would say otherwise.

Keitaro sighed and stole the first wallet from Kanako's outreached finger. Opening it up, he found a healthy sheath of auras bills lining its pockets. He smiled nastily for a second before returning it to Kanako. She took both it and their wallet and shoved it down her bodice again. Keitaro forced down the blush that was trying to emerge as Kanako kept her clothes open for a moment longer than was needed.

They continued their walk, making idle conversation with the other as they crossed street after street. The sun was farther down in the sky, signaling late afternoon. Letum could be seen in the darkening sky, a circle of deep red that mixed in with the light yellow, orange, and red that came from the bending of light rays. Anima wasn't there yet, still caught on her lunar path around the world.

The two stopped and looked up. In front of them was a large, three-story building. It was the Hinata guild of the city of Grious, belonging to Hinata Urashima, the sibling's grandmother. Hinata had been an old war hero in their country, pulling her weight along with the strongest and best of the male warriors. She was regaled as the "warrior priestess," a veritable whirlwind of strength, beauty, and wisdom. Now she was just a shriveled-up crackpot that bought this guild with her retirement egg to try and make a little money in her old age.

By the looks of things, the guild matched her mental health.

There were holes of various sizes in the front lawn, craters that smoked and had burning landscape thrown all around the place. Twisted pieces of metal and mortar jutted out from the front of the building, creating a deadly jungle-gym. A large tree was sprouting out from the very top of the guild, looking as though it had simply grown and pushed its way through the ceiling. Various plumes of smoke rose from the windows. The sign that held the guild's name itself was dangling by only one tattered rope, its other one long broken, the wooden, metal-edged rectangle swinging from side to side. Some of the damage seemed recent, but most of it looked like it was done quite some time ago and no one bothered to fix it.

"This…is the place…right?" Keitaro felt as though the air was kicked right out of him.

"It would seem so." Kanako was equally as disturbed.

Nox took the opportunity to break his vow of silence and put in his own two cents. "This place is a piece of crap."

To verify his comment, the tattered rope holding up the sign broke, causing it to crash down into the yard and stick up from the ground at about a forty-five degree angle.

The siblings looked at each other. This did not bode well for either of them.

Keitaro took the first step into the yard, making sure that he would be the first to take on any attacks that were aimed at them. When nothing happened, he gestured for Kanako to follow. They inched their way around the yard, making sure to avoid the smoking craters in case something volatile was still lingering inside of them. They made it to the double doors in one piece. Keitaro hesitantly rapped his knuckles on the door. When he heard no movements from inside, he grasped the handle and swung the door open.

Peeking his head in, he called out, "Hello? Is anyone here? Grandmother?"

No one answered. He stepped in, chancing a look around. The inside looked a lot better than the outside. While a bit messy and looking like it was in need of a good cleaning, it didn't have the same kind of sheer property damage that the front yard did. Keitaro breathed a sigh of relief. For a moment he was worried that they had stumbled onto the end of a battle at the place, but the inside didn't appear to be the site of a struggle, so at least he didn't have to worry about someone leaping out from the shadows and attacking him.

"Hello?" he called out again. "Can anyone hear me?"

"It is strange that no would answer. Someone must be home or the front door wouldn't have been open."

"Yeah…maybe they're all asleep?"

"Right, every single member is taking a nap at the same time. Your deductive skills are so very illuminating."

"At least onii-yan is trying to make sense of the situation."

Keitaro ignored the two as he walked down the hallway. He held a hand up, silencing them. He could hear and feel a change in the air. The temperature had risen and the humidity had gone up as well. His clothes were beginning to stick to his skin in a sodden manner. He caught Kanako's eye. She nodded in affirmation. They made their way further to the source of the change in ambience.

Near the back they discovered a door that had tiny tendrils of steam pouring from underneath its opening. Keitaro took a firm hold on the doorknob and swung it open.

Inside he found a pool of heated water, trails of bubbles emerging from the surface at different parts in the pool and flumes of steam trailing up. A partly-open skylight took up half of the ceiling, heavily fogged by the mist and allowing a beautiful array of distorted light to refract through the condensed glass. Several buckets and stools were littered around the pool, arranged in such a fashion that they were ready for whoever entered whenever.

Keitaro blinked. "I didn't know grandmother managed to find a natural spring in this city. It must have taken a fortune to buy the land rights to this place." Natural springs were rare in this part of the continent. Most of the water reservoirs were deep, deep underground, circulating through the mountains and emerging deep within the forest where the dryads lived. Having one in a human settlement was something that was hard to come by.

"But knowing her it would only make sense for her home to have such a luxury." Kanako remembered the few times she had met the wizened old lady when she was just a babe. Hinata loved to keep warm, and always dragged Kanako along to one of the hot springs that were found around their homeland. "She is too spoiled for her own good."

He hummed in agreement. Then again, it was a nice change of pace. Perhaps if he…Keitaro glanced at his clothes and took a discreet whiff. He smelled musky, thick with sweat and earth. Another scent wafted into his nose, a lighter one. It was soft and brisk. Keitaro knew who that scent belonged to. He stretched his arms over his head and groaned. "Should we take advantage then? If grandmother's going to make us wait then we might as well do something to pass the time."

Kanako smiled cheekily. "If you let me wash your back."

He chuckled. "I'm…not sure that's such a great…" His rejection trailed off, seeing the way that her eyes, ears, and tail drooped down. He never could resist her when she did stuff like that. He heaved a sigh of resignation. "Fine…But you're definitely going to be wearing something if you do."

Kanako smiled again. "As you wish, onii-yan."

Keitaro watched as she walked off before sighing again. He shucked off his jacket, his fingers working quickly at the buttons on his tunic. When those were removed, he took off his pants and glasses, and placed all of them in a small pile next to the pool. He paused for a moment and blushed, but removed the last article of clothing – his loincloth – and draped it on the pile. Nox was carefully laid on top of it all. The sword snorted.

Bah, like I haven't seen any of this before.

"I don't know why you were expecting a peep show," Keitaro grimaced. His body was lean, without a strong assortment of muscles. He wouldn't win any beauty competitions or make the women swoon for him, but he was efficient where it counted. He was meant for agility and speed, not overwhelming power. That was Nox's realm when it came to it. "It's embarrassing enough that I have to strip down to nothing in front of Kanako."

Unfortunately for you, and luckily for me, it doesn't look like she has the same inhibitions.

"Huh?"

"Onii-yan?"

Keitaro turned his head and almost fell flat on his back from the shock. Kanako was covered like she had promised, but it might have been just as well, maybe even better, if she had come over stark naked. She had grabbed several lengths of linen and wrapped them around her body. However, instead of hiding her curves, it accentuated them, showing the slender form that she had developed over the years. Her lower legs were covered in a fine, downy indigo fur, and it traveled up her body creating a design of sorts up her stomach and chest. Her eyes were a mix of innocence and deepness.

Keitaro slapped a hand over his eyes. Nox didn't, even though he technically couldn't.

"Nyahahaha! Take it all off, pussycat! Strut for daddy!"

Keitaro pushed down the urge to slam Nox across the stone floor and instead turned around and sat down on one of the stools. Kanako took this as a gesture and followed, proceeding to scrub his back with a rough cloth. Keitaro relaxed as he felt her tender ministrations pull him into a lulled sense of security. He was safe and he was happy.

Kanako bit her lip as she noticed her brother's head loll to the side a bit. He had grown so much. His back had gotten so broad. All these years he had taken care of her, and all these years she had wanted to return the favor. To her, Keitaro was the most important person in all of Terra. For him, she would do whatever it took. To her, he was…

She placed her forehead on his back, her ears soggy from the steam and flattening against his skin. She murmured his name softly.

"Onii-yan…"

"Oi, Kitsune! You in here?! I wanted to know if…you…"

The siblings looked up to see a naked girl march into the bath area and then slow down upon noticing them. A lithe female dæmon lupis stared at them, her stout auburn tail wagging erratically. Deep brown eyes were planted on her slightly tanned face, and long auburn hair trailed down her back, meeting a thin layer of red fur that covered her legs and arms. Her hands ended in thick sharp claws, matched by the same pair on her feet. Her ears were pointing straight up, a large display of red, orange, sienna, and brown. Her figure was full, her breasts matching her slightly wide waist and rolling hips. The only thing that was covering her up were a few strands of hair that hung in front of her breasts and some thick steam that floated around her nether regions.

Keitaro watched as several emotions ran through the lupis's face, ranging from shock to embarrassment and finally settling on anger. He could understand how things looked, him naked and Kanako looking like she belonged in a brothel pressed up against his back.

Wait, Kanako!

He turned to see that his sister's eyes had widened to that of saucers. Her body had begun to perceptively shake and shudder. Kanako's lips were trembling and he could feel the fear that was rolling of her skin like heat from a blast cannon. She was starting to regress. He was starting to lose her! Already little whines had started to pour from her lips.

The lupis was not noticing any of this, however. All she knew was that she had come into the bath to try and relax after a hard day of work, and had found these two people just about to engage in illicit activities. Her brain was working at overdrive and already she was flipping the switches that allowed her to cope with stressful situations like this.

Her ears flattened against her skull and her tail pointed straight up. Growls erupted from her mouth, guttural noises that promised great pain and suffering to their recipients.

"Intruders! And perverts at that!"

The switch was flipped. Blood shot down her arm, collecting at the hand. Her fist swelled and bulged and grew, increasing in density and size and mass in seconds. The nails became huge knives, the hands meaty slabs, and her palms became padded and scarred. Shaggy fur erupted from her skin, shooting down her arm like waves at the beach during high tide. Her arm grew as big as her, a monstrous version of itself. She swung it up and then slammed it down on the duo, shattering rock shards and splashing water all over the place.

"AROOO GRAR RAAA!"

When she raised it back up, she found that there were no bodies in the crater she had made. Growling, she turned to see the intruders dashing across the bath hall, trying to make it through the entrance.

Keitaro breathed deeply, stumbling as he tried to hold Kanako and Nox and shove his pants on at the same time. He had too many different things to worry about now! Kanako was going feral and he assumed that the lupis had already done so. There was no point in trying to talk some sense into her, so all he could do was try to hide and calm Kanako down. It wouldn't do if his own sister became a loose ball of instincts when he needed her right now. And what was Hinata thinking, keeping a lupis in her guild when she knew what had happened to Kanako as a babe?

Kanako mewled pitifully, shaking Keitaro out of his thoughts. This was no time to point fingers and shift blame. He held Kanako closer in her arms, trying to calm her shakings. He had to escape!

However, as he reached the entrance to the bath, Keitaro found his exit blocked as yet another female came through the door. Keitaro didn't even bother to see what this one was. He put on a burst of speed, finding the exact point where he would move. His feet hit a slippery part and he slid, ducking and twisting under the arms of the female and out the door.

Not even a foot out and Keitaro felt something latch onto his throat, spinning him backwards. He dropped Kanako and Nox, the felis and sword hitting the ground with a thump. He stumbled again and found his face planted between two soft, furry mounds. Looking up, he came in contact with two narrow brown eyes, staring at him as though he were a prey being sized up. A canine slipped from out of the female's mouth, her vulpine ears wagging suggestively.

"Now, now," the dæmon vulpes cooed throatily. She pulled at the linen sturdily wrapped around her hand and Keitaro's throat. "I don' think I've eva seen you here 'fore." She took her free hand and pushed his face further into her ample bosom. He snorted as the fine silver hair on her breasts tickled his nose. Her grin widened. "I don' think I've felt you here 'fore either. I'd rememba such a pleasurable sensation."

Keitaro was caught between two warring factions. One, the danger sector in his brain, was screaming at him in full force. This female was dangerous; everything about her screamed danger from her capricious eyes to her sly smile to her seductive body language. The other section was telling him to just shut up and enjoy the situation. He had never been thrust into one like this before and he had no idea how to react.

The vulpes's lush tail wrapped its way around his leg. His mind broke as he felt the inquisitive appendage search the seam of his pants. Just like everything about this female was dangerous, everything was so inviting as well. From her many curves to the soft silvery fur that covered every inch of her body up to her neck and face to the shortly cropped silver hair to her elegant fingers, all of it screamed of pure concentrated sex.

He could hear the lupis running up to them, her dialect reverting back to Varunaen. Odd, why would these dæmons be speaking that dialect here? "Good job, Kitsune, you managed to capture the intruders."

"Oh? Were they intrudas? I thought they were some hired entertainment." The vulpes grinned. "I could eat the human and little felis all up."

At her mentioning of Kanako, Keitaro broke out of his pheromone-induced stupor. He glanced down to see Kanako curled up in the fetal position.

Oi, dunderhead! You gonna continue with your happy time or get us out of this?

Keitaro grimaced. Kitsune saw the change in his expression and almost prepared herself for his actions, but he was too quick and too unexpected. He twisted in her grasp, slipping underneath her parted legs. The vulpes gave a subdued gasp of pleasure as she felt the cloth rub up against her. Keitaro yanked on the fabric, causing her to pitch forward and fall on top of the lupis. The shock made her let go of the cloth, and Keitaro quickly unraveled it from his neck before scooping up Kanako and dashing off.

As he ran down the halls, he could hear the scrabbling of the two female dæmons behind him as they got up from the floor and gave chase. From the shouting that was coming from other various parts in the building, he assumed that his presence was known to whatever other guild members were home at the time. He could only hope that he didn't meet too many of them at once. He wouldn't be able to protect both himself and Kanako if he did.

Why don't you just beat the crap out of them and be done with it? With your skills, as pathetic as they are, I know you could.

That's not the point. His eyes darted back and forth as they searched for something. There was a thumping on the floor above him following him in a parallel movement. I can't attack them. They are simply protecting their home. I would react the same way if I found intruders in ours.

Didn't the old bag think to tell them that you would be stopping by?

Sadly, I wouldn't be surprised if she didn't simply so that something like this would happen. 'Find training in everything' she says. Bleh.

Keitaro glanced down at the warm body in his arms. Kanako had stopped shivering, but she was still mewling softly. Her eyes were big and wide, brimming with tears. She was just a child again, alone in the world. Keitaro gulped when he realized she would be worthless if battle came. It was a cruel and harsh thing to say about his sister, but this was not the time to worry about such things. Kanako would have told him the very same line.

He snapped his head back and forth, his eyes locking on the door nearest to him. Kicking it open, he saw a half-full storage room. Depositing Kanako on a pile of dirty and moth-eaten sheets, he petted her head in an assuring manner. "Don't worry, Kanako," he whispered. "I'll be back as soon as a I can." She whimpered in response.

He gulped and went out, shutting the door behind him. Hopefully she would recover in the time it took for him to distract the other members, but until then he had to get as far away from her as possible. He took off in another run, turning a corner that he hadn't gone down before. As he rounded it, he dug his heels into the floor as a little girl popped into his vision.

She was small, her head barely coming past his waist. Her short, blonde hair framed a heart-shaped face. Her slim arms and legs peaked out from a very simple white cotton dress. She had a aura of cuteness to her, but it was negated by the blank look plastered on her face. Her eyes were glassy and empty, and her mouth was stuck in a neutral frown, accented by her small, pointed nose. She opened her mouth.

"Intruder detected. Executing security protocol." Her shoulders lifted up from her arms, revealing vents. Puffs of steam burst forth, accompanied by a high, shrill whistle. Her arms shot up, subtly vibrating.

Keitaro instinctively dodged to the left. Twin orbs of highly pressurized, condensed steam erupted from her hands, rocketing forwards at speeds that rivaled that of Ventus himself. They punctured the wall behind him, leaving two perfectly round and even holes in their wake. Keitaro rolled as he fell, kicking off from the ground as several more blasts followed his motions. He ricocheted off the wall, heading towards the little girl to jump over her.

She grabbed him by the ankle and slammed him into the floor, her hands holding a strength a hundredfold too much for her petite frame. Keitaro let out a wracked cry of pain. He had underestimated her.

I didn't know grandmother had a steam doll protecting the guild!

"You are unauthorized to be on the premises. Please evacuate at once or I will be obligated to use even more force." The nimaus's voice commanded, her synthetic skeleton keeping a crushing hold on the boy's leg.

"Sorry," he grinned. "But Keitaro Urashima can't leave until he finishes the orders given to him. And I'm not done yet!"

Something flashed across the doll's eyes. They grew clearer and soulful. Her face grew lax, losing its sharpness and becoming softer. "Keitaro Urashima?" Her voice had a nostalgic ring to it.

Her head rocked backwards as the boy lashed a kick at her temple, knocking her down. Without giving a chance for her to recover, he swung down his captured leg in an axe kick, catching her in the stomach. She groaned. Her mind was a whirl of thoughts and memories. The nimaus wasn't in the proper condition to fight back.

Keitaro ended his counter by flipping the girl over his shoulder and into the wall. Without even checking to see if she was all right, he ran off, his breath only a little bit heavier.

Didn't you just say that you didn't want to hurt the guild members? Keitaro could have sworn he caught some disdain and reprove in the weapon's voice.

He laughed quietly. Nimaus are built much better than the average human, dæmon, or dryad. He should know; he had the "joy" of fighting a fully functional one his size when he was younger. He had never lost that quickly to anyone before. The strength of the ætheroid was simply astounding. You would have enjoyed fighting one.

Seeing how that little girl smacked you down so quickly I probably would have.

Keitaro laughed again. As strange and unnerving as the last several minutes had been, he had to admit that it was interesting. He hadn't had this much chaos in his life in a long time. Nox pulsed on his back. Then again, maybe it was a good thing this wasn't such a common occurrence.

He ran through the hallway. He had already gathered the attention of at least three guild members. He didn't know how many more he would have to worry about but at least by this point they were mostly focused on him and not Kanako. Seeing another open door, he ducked into it. Keitaro almost collided with another person. Absently he wondered how many more times this would happen.

This room was the kitchen. Surrounded by pots, pans, and a various assortment of cutting implements, Keitaro had to wonder how much danger he was in when the room was a veritable weapons vault to whoever knew it well. He put his shoulders on the person he had smacked into and pushed them back.

A mop of blue, feather-like hair tickled his chest. Huge deep-blue eyes framed a pale and child-like face. Feathers trailed their way down from her shoulders down her arms and ended in beautiful wings with delicate claws at the end of her fingers. The small girl epopis looked up at him, garbed in a chaste and simple robe of lavender purple, the raindrop brooch of Imber pinned on her chest. Her small frame was perched on spindly, thin legs, taped at the bottom where they hardened into petite talons. Her cowl was thrown back, allowing her blue bangs to be seen, the scruff of her neck overflowing with down feathers. White skin could be seen at the throat and where the robe stopped. A small mouth that begged to have a smile blossom from it completed the look.

The child epopis looked up, her eyes questioning and confused. Keitaro could feel a blush racing to escape from his cheeks and could not stop it in time. A rosy flush blew across his face, something that was triggered neither by the seductive movements of the vulpes or brazen view of the lupis. This was something that was pure, innocent.

The girl's eyes widened a bit more before they became shiny and watery. Her lips trembled as they fell down into a melancholy frown.

"Kreeeyaaaa!"

Keitaro leapt backwards. He was shocked by how loudly the girl had yelled but not really as for why. He had come barging in wearing only pants and wielding a large longsword. Any normal person would have reacted the same way.

He crashed out of the kitchen. Even if it was unintentional he had broadcasted his position to the members again, so any searching for Kanako would most likely be halted as tales of his "assault" on the little girl came to ear. Keitaro grimaced as he thought of that, but he supposed it wouldn't really matter in the long run if they thought a little poorly of him.

It's a bit odd, though.

What is?

So far, every member in the old bat's guild we've met have been non-humans. Does she have some sort of freak fetish or do you just have to be a loser to join up?

This coming from the sword with the vocabulary of Fera.

Fera had a great vocabulary!

His two main phrases consisted of 'kill' and 'eat.'

Simple and concise.

Why do you always make my brain hurt?

Because a brain hemorrhage is like a little kiss from me to you.

Keitaro groaned at the smug feeling that Nox gave off. Still, he still had a point. He hadn't met a single human in the guild yet. Personally he didn't find that a problem. Living with Kanako from when she was a babe to now made him very tolerant and even anticipate meeting more non-humans. But in human settlements like Grious it was surprising to see so many non-humans in one place. As far as Keitaro knew, this area wasn't a popular crossroads for dæmons, and as for the nimaus…Hinata had never been the type to want someone to exist underneath her, and with the innate slave status of a nimaus, that was pretty much what it meant to have a steam doll in the guild.

He shook his head. He never was good for considering the sociological standing of non-humans, and he doubted that now was such a time to try to start. Turning, he jumped up a flight of stairs, making it to the second floor. Running out of the stairwell, he let out a groan as something impacted with his side.

Hitting the ground and sliding, he looked up to see a girl several years younger than him standing up with a large device hooked onto her waist. It had a large barrel in the front, smoke pouring out from the back from several vents. A long mess of wires were attached to it, looping up and down to hide in a small apparatus in the girl's hand. The girl herself had a mix of childish energy and charming maturity. Her skin was heavily tanned, bright blonde hair pulled back into a crisp, short ponytail. Her elfin frame showed that she had yet to hit puberty, but there was still a beauty in her that was already coming out. She was donned in dirty, oil-stained overalls, a baggy shirt hanging off her. Her bright green eyes matched the exuberance of her smile. A child of Nabvo, the nation of nature…holding a miniature scale bow-shocker that shot rubber shells.

She grinned. "Let's have some fun, okay, mister? It's been a while since I could test my inventions on someone." She pumped the device and the bow-shocker roared to life, rattling as the springs inside clacked and wound up. "I'll give you a head start. Ready? One…two…three…"

Keitaro knew that he couldn't strike her. Her body was much more fragile than the nimaus. The only option he had right now was to run…and quickly.

He took off with a dash. She let out a delighted laugh, the muffled fumph of the shells leaving her high-powered weapon following each one. The shells bounced around the hall, leading Keitaro around as he ran down the long hallway.

A Nabvon acting like a mecha freak from Donarad! What the hell is going on here?!

Your personal hell, and karma is finally working for me?

Keitaro reached the end of the hallway, noticed that there were no ways for him to escape from the laughing, smoke-stained ball of energy that promised his imminent demise, and took the only path he could distinguish – right through the large glass window perched on the wall.

It was a tinkling, a shattering, a smattering array of light and colors as Keitaro crashed through the window. Luckily there were a large amount of branches to break his fall, and he fell through each one before landing softly in a pile of peat-green moss. Picking himself up, he found that he was in what seemed to be a forest. Surrounding him was a large arrangement of ferns, flowers, bushes, and small trees. In the center was a huge and exceedingly tall redwood, its branches spreading out to all corners of the room and reaching up past the ceiling. Keitaro realized it was the same tree that he and Kanako had seen from the outside, reaching up past the third floor roof. Did that mean he was still inside?

Glancing around, he figured he must be in some sort of atrium. What was Hinata thinking? She had a mini-forest as well as a natural springs? Was she trying to turn her guild into some sort of tourist attraction? Keitaro then thought of the guild's members. No, wait, they'd probably kill anyone who would try to visit.

His ears perked up as something caught his attention. Something was rustling the leaves of the plants. It wasn't the wind, more like they were alive. It was a melodious and lilting sound, one that belonged more in a symphony than here. But at the same time it fitted this place exactly. As Keitaro listened, the rustling became more shaped and less superfluous. He jumped when a voice came from behind him.

"Oh my, we have a visitor? It's been a while since that happened."

Keitaro turned around and stopped. His mouth gaped open as he saw what was possibly one of the most beautiful sights in the world. An ethereal beauty stepped out from the branches, her naked form stepping lightly towards him, raising a hand as she yawned deeply. Deep, luscious brown skin, long green hair that matched the moss beneath her feet, and large, dark brown eyes fitted her body. Her form was voluptuous, large breasts and an hourglass figure, accented by her elongated arms and slim hands. There was nothing to cover her from his gaze, and she seemed as though she didn't even care. A beauty of the forest, a nymph of nature – a dryad had appeared before him.

She stepped closer, overtaking him before he could react. Her hands grasped his face, the cool, dry feeling of her wooden hands complimenting his soft, slightly moist flesh. Her lips were twinged upward, like she was laughing at a personal joke. "You wouldn't happen to be that intruder, would you?" Her voice seemed to dance on the air, light inside his head.

He shook his head. "N-no," he stuttered. "I'm just..."

She clucked her tongue and giggled. "You are a good, cute little boy. And good, cute little boys don't lie…" Vines suddenly erupted from the ground, entangling themselves around his legs. Keitaro squawked as he was lifted into the air, dangling upside-down a few meters from the floor. He gaped as the dryad lifted a hand to her mouth and laughed gaily. "…right?"

Keitaro gawked as he saw how the vines then wrapped themselves into a tight knot and planted themselves under her derrière. She lifted herself up by them, her legs crossed and her hands clasped in her lap. He knew dryads had an innate control over nature, but the precision that this one was showing…Was she a…?

The dryad giggled again. She tapped Keitaro lightly on the nose. "Now, don't you think you should tell me the truth…?" She trailed off and looked at him, waiting.

He blinked. "Keitaro."

She smiled. "It's nice to meet you, Keitaro. My name is…" The rustling began again, but lower pitched this time and quicker. After a few seconds the dryad stopped and smiled sleepily. "But I guess that's a little hard to say in Varunaen, isn't it? You can just call me Mutsumi."

"Ah…" He blinked again. Why would she take a Varunaen name? Did she have some close connection to them? "Right…"

"Now, I know we just met but I want to talk about you, Keitaro." Mutsumi clapped her hands together and smiled sweetly. "What say we-"

She was interrupted when a blur dashed across the room and through the vines holding Keitaro up. They were sliced clean through, and he dropped down to the ground, expertly landing on his feet and ripping off the rest of the creeping foliage.

"Onii-yan!"

"Coming!"

Keitaro chased after his sister, who led him to a door hidden behind several ferns and out of the indoor atrium.

Mutsumi sat there, a baffled look on her face. "Oh dear, oh my, oh dear," she murmured to herself, a small frown appearing on her lovely face. "Did I just let them go? That's a problem, isn't it?"

Keitaro ran alongside his sister, who was holding several small knives in between her fingers. She had a grim look on her face, remembering the scene she had come upon with her dear older brother tied up with vines, hung and trussed like an Amoran turkey. It was a good thing she came when she did; who knew what kind of horrors would have been unleashed on Keitaro.

"Thanks, Kanako!" Keitaro said. "Are you all right now? I'm sorry I left you alone; it's just that…"

"You need not apologize, onii-yan. I understand." A small smiled confirmed that she was not just sparing his feelings. She did know why he had chosen that path of action.

"Thank you…" Keitaro smiled before frowning again. There were still a few problems that needed to be looked at. "But gods all around us, was that a viridian sage in there?! What kind of guild is grandmother running?!"

"In all honesty it seems like one that would fit her tastes."

Crazy tastes for a crazy bat. For once I agree with the pussycat.

"Have you run into any of the others?"

"No, it looks like the guild is intently focused on finding only you. I managed to hear some scraps from some that passed my position, but nothing that would act as useable information."

"So we're still completely in the dark. Ruina take her! Grandmother is going to have an earful when this is over."

The two emerged in the lobby, but found that the front way out was blocked. Standing in front of the double doors was a female dæmon lacerta decked in light armor. Pointy ears reached up from her temples, and her black eyes featured a fierce visage on a solemn face that was brushed by scales on her cheeks. Sleek black hair ran down her shoulders, free from any restraints. Her black and green scales emphasized the worn armor that adorned her chest, hips and upper limbs. The scales ran down both her arms and legs, ending in wickedly sharp claws on both appendages. Her figure was hidden by the armor, but she was tall and sleek, an priestess warrior like the likes of Hinata in her prime.

She removed her katana from its sheathe, pointing it directly at the duo. Her voice was firm and serious, allowing no one to defy her. "Lowly wormsss that infest this place, I challenge you on your honor to a duel. Allow me to sssend you back from whenssst you came."

Keitaro took a step back and heard something creak from behind. Turning around, he saw the other members had gathered around them, blocking off any exits. He chuckled and turned back around to face the lacerta. "Looks like we can't run anymore, huh?"

Kanako nodded. "It would seem they have pushed us into a corner."

Orarararararararah! C'mon, let's finally fight! Let's fight, let's fight, let's fight!

Keitaro grabbed the sheathe harder. He took a deep breath. "Listen, you think that we can just work this out? I'm sure that if we talk you'll see it was just a huge misunderstanding and then-"

The sheathe shot up, catching the naked blade of the katana that the lacerta had just tried to bisect him with. She had jumped into the air the moment he had started talking, swinging down with the full force her animal genes had granted her. Kanako had rolled to the side, lodging herself on the wall with her feet while her hands were at the ready with her knives. Keitaro jerked his head to reject it. She calmed down. He looked back up at the lacerta.

"I challenged you to a duel. It would be rude if you did not at least try to fight me." She frowned imperially. "Come now, you have a sssword. Sssurely you know how to ssswing it around a bit. But do not think I will take it easy on you."

Keitaro swallowed, not because of fear, but because of a sudden rush of excitement. He nodded, and the female backed off, settling into a stance, her sword parallel to the ground. "Very well, I will accept your challenge. My name is Keitaro Urashima, of the four-hundred year old Urashima clan. And you?"

Her eyebrow rose at the etiquette that he showed. "You may simply call me Motoko."

He nodded again. His sword shivered and then Nox's voice erupted. "Orarararararah! Enough introductions! Let's get onto the fighting, the fighting! I want to see some blood!"

The members seemed a bit startled as Nox continued to scream insults and obscenities. Keitaro shook his head in shame. "You have to excuse Nox, he's a bit uncouth when it comes to…well, when it comes to pretty much anything." He gave the crystal a small whack. "You ready, partner?"

A snort. "Ready as I'll ever be, 'companion.'"

Keitaro nodded and closed his eyes. His hand moved to the hilt of the sword, his lips beginning to move slowly as he recited the vow. "I art thou, and thou art I. Thou emerged from whence I came, falling to my hand as I charge into battle. We share the same blood, the same spirit, the same soul. I call upon thou to be at my side, to be my sword and my partner. I call thou by thine true name. Come to me! Nox Hina!"

He pulled the sword from its sheathe, a gust a wind escaping as he did so. The rest of the sword was finally shown, a monster of a blade. Black as the goddess Yorune, with lines of blood that traversed all the way up and down its blade. The ruby had grown darker and redder, swallowing up all light. As Nox emerged, lines began to run up Keitaro's arm. Runes appeared, encircling his arm and legs and torso and chest. Black runes that told of a pact, a vow, and a promise that could never be broken. The symbol of that pact appeared in Keitaro's right eye, a red orb of darkness and crimson that matched the one lodged in Nox's hilt. It bound them together, and they could never be torn apart.

Motoko seemed only the smallest perturbed as she watched Keitaro calm down, a small smile framing his innocent-looking face. But it did not match. The smile was made of something darker, more sinister. She frowned. "I have heard of thisss before. People who have the sssouls of othersss imprisssoned in weaponsss so that they may wield their life force as though it were nothing but a game. They called them 'rune bladesss.'"

Keitaro grinned toothily. "You're pretty smart. Yeah, I'm a rune blade. This is Nox Hina, my rune spirit and partner."

She frowned. "Pathetic. You cannot rely on your own power so must ussse that of others."

"It's not like that." Keitaro sighed. "We're partners, equals. A rune blade is connected to his weapon at the very core of his being. Not like I could get rid of this guy even if I tried." He waved the sword around to emphasize his point.

"Oi, don't swing me around like a babe! I'm stronger than you'll ever be!"

"Gahhh…Why can't you be nice to me even once?"

"Enough!" Keitaro glanced at Motoko. She was frowning heavily, her eyes narrowed. "Ssstop your meaninglesss chattering. Fight me now so that I may see whether this 'ssstrength' of yours is real or not."

Keitaro shrugged. "Sure." He handled his sword so that it was angled away from his body, and then lunged forward.

The fight between them was magnificent. Motoko was obviously a trained swordsman. Her moves were efficient and without waste, making each movement count without using up extra energy. Her grace was beautiful and elegant, something that was odd for one of her race. They were meant to be strong and steadfast, but she flowed with her strikes and slashes as though she knew exactly what was going to happen next.

Keitaro was another matter. His moves were like water, an unnatural grace in his movements that made it seem like he was dancing rather engaged in a potentially dangerous fight. His hands cut back and forth as though he was one with his sword, the weapon simply an extension of his limbs and just as easy to maneuver. Somehow he seemed even more elegant than Motoko though her form was more slender than his.

Motoko twisted her wrists, sweeping the katana up. Keitaro parried, brining Nox in a backhand arc. He then jumped, twisting in midair as Motoko followed him in his arc. Both had a light sheen of sweat on their faces, but neither seemed as though they were tiring. Rather, it appeared as though they were having the time of their lives.

Kitsune leaned over and called softly to Kanako. "Seems like our Motoko is putting your little friend through the wringa."

Kanako didn't even spare the vulpes a glance. "Onii-yan hasn't even begun to get serious."

Kitsune snorted back a laugh. Right. From what she could tell, they were on even grounds and neither was giving any leeway. If it came to who had more stamina, than Motoko would definitely win. No one could beat a lacerta when it came to unwavering energy.

Oi, Keitaro. I haven't seen any blood yet! What's going on?

We're just having a fun, little match.

Enough with the fun! Let's get serious here!

Keitaro frowned. Well, he supposed just a little bit. Parrying another overhead slash from the attacking girl, he bent down, his knees almost touching the floor. Feeling that he was giving up, Motoko pushed harder. The runes on Keitaro's legs suddenly flashed, and with a sudden burst of power, the Varnuaen erupted from the ground, pushing Motoko back. She looked up to see him heading for the ceiling, his body curling up and turning. His feet planted on the ceiling, bent again and he catapulted himself from there, swinging his arms back behind him.

Motoko didn't have time to react. The push had unsettled her on her feet, giving her an unsteady stance. She raised her sword up, hoping to absorb enough of the blow so that she wouldn't be knocked off her feet completely. She waited.

It never came. Motoko looked up and saw the blade of the sword caught between two fingers. An older human woman glared apathetically at them, her short brown hair matching her brown eyes. She was dressed in a simple tunic and pair of pants, several tattoos engraved along her taut, muscled body. She took her free hand and removed the tobacco stick from her lips, puffing out some smoke in the process

"I leave you guys alone for a couple days and this is what I get coming back?"

Keitaro blinked a couple times. "Oh, hey Haruka."

Haruka Urashima, daughter of Hinata, released Nox and spun into a backwards roundhouse kick. Keitaro grunted as one of his arms instinctively came up to block it, but he still skidded a couple of feet along the floor. She let out a quick grim smile. "Nice to see that you haven't gotten lax in your training. Hello, Keitaro, how have you been?"

"I'm fine. Kanako's with me, too."

"Me, too, ya ol' fogey!"

Haruka returned Kanako's wave hello and swatted Nox on the crystal. He started to yell obscenities again. As the family members began to talk, the young epopis from before stepped forward, scared but wanting to know what was going on. "Haruka? What's going on? Who are these people?" She blushed as she saw Keitaro looking at her, recognition dawning in his eyes.

Haruka waved her hand absently. "This is my nephew, Keitaro Urashima, and his sister Kanako. They are Hinata's grandchildren." She took another swing of her tobacco stick. "And as of now, he is the new guild leader of 'Hinata's Guild.'"

Keitaro nodded before slowing down and opening his eyes, the chocolate orbs full of shock. The guild members, Kanako, and Nox felt the same way. Nox put it the most succinctly.

"Oh, Irritus."

A/N: Well, that's the first chapter. What do you think? Hopefully you find the completely new surroundings interesting and fun. This is a completely different world from our own, with magic, spirits, and animal-humans. Instead of an inn, we have a guild, but Keitaro's just as screwed as he'd be as landlord. Anyway, hope that you enjoyed what happened. If you have any questions, whether it is to explain races of history, or even if you just want me to continue or not, then just ask! Until then, good luck! Please Review, and remember, no flames!

Next Chapter – Guild Realizations