The One Gate 3: Reunion with a Lost Love!

Year 35 of the Shouwa Emperor – Ukiya Family Residence.

_Ok, you can do this, you can do this…_

_Wait, is my ribbon on straight?_

_I can't believe he wants to give me his…_

_Do my shoes match my dress? I can't remember!_

_Relax! Re-lax… you can do this, you can do…_

She jumped suddenly as his voice pierced her thoughts.

"When is it your house's turn Rurippe?"

_He said my name…_ she thought to herself, and then immediately after: _Hold yourself together!_

"Next week…" she found herself mumbling. Would it really be so soon? Not that it mattered, it wasn't as if she would be living near _him_ anytime soon… The thought almost brought tears to her eyes.

_Snap out of it Ikusawa! You only have one shot at this – do it right!_

Mustering her suddenly scant courage, she managed to force a few halting words through her chattering teeth. "Oh yeah… you know… about _that_ thing…" she said, and almost instantly wanted to smack her face with her palm.

_Great move Ikusawa… call the 'treasure' that he spent hours making just for you a 'thing'… That'll certainly win him over._

_But… what was she going to say?_

Before she could completely compose herself, she found that fate had gotten sick of waiting for a lovesick little girl.

"Shun," she heard his mother call, "We're going now!"

An involuntary "Oh!" escaped her lips at the summons, and she finally found herself able to look him in the eyes. But he wasn't looking at her anymore, his head cocked towards his mothers voice. Before she knew it, he had thrust his 'treasure' into her hands and was giving her a cheerful –cheerful!- wave as he began to walk away.

"I'll see ya later!"

No - oh no! She wanted to run after him, to cling to him, to keep him from going. It wasn't fair, she hadn't been able to tell him yet! It wasn't fair! And… and now he was leaving… and she might never… never…

She acted before she could even think.

"Wa – wait!" she shouted, her voice sounding pitiful and desperate in her ears. Whether it was her words or her tone that reached him however, the effect remained the same. He stopped, and half turned back towards the little girl who was clutching a little wooden dinosaur in a death grip. She couldn't see enough of his face to learn if he was expectant, or annoyed, or happy or bored… What mattered though was that he stopped.

Now what?

"I… You know I'm…" Oh what was she going to say! She was acting like an idiot!

"Shun-kun…" Had she ever called him Shun-kun before? Was he offended? Why had she said his name anyway? He knew who he was for God's sake…

"I-I have al-al-al-al-al…" She couldn't do this! She couldn't say it!

_Stop babbling! Just say it say it SAY I-_

"Al-always liked you!"

_Liked you… Liked you…_ The echoes repeated, as if mocking her with the ease with which her endeavor could be repeated.

She was blushing… She knew she had to be as red as a tomato. And Shun… why was he just standing there? Why wouldn't he say anything?

And then his eyes met hers, and without even having to say it, she knew where his feeling lay.

_He… he likes her better… He likes -_

"I'm sorry, Rurippe." He said, looking a bit abashed at having to state the obvious, but nevertheless, barreling on. "Honestly, I like Miyu-chan better… Because unlike Rurippe, Miyu-chan isn't a snuf- a snuffle nose."

And then, she was there, standing beside him – black hair mussed and brown eyes twinkling in victory. One arm wrapped itself possessively around Shun's waist and the other hand flashed a jubilant v-sign.

"I win again, Ruri-ruri! Miyu-chan always wins!"

Rurippe sniffed and once more felt her snot flowing down her face, It wasn't fair – it wasn't fair!

"N-N-N—Nooo!"

*whack!*

"Ouch…" Ruri winced, one hand going to her head as the world dissolved into a whirling kaleidoscope of color. When everything finally came back into focus she found herself sitting at a window seat within a plushly furnished jet, staring out blearily at the fluffy clouds that skidded along in their wake. She gingerly rubbed the spot on her forehead which felt sore from some sort of impact – it seemed she had fallen asleep at one point and had been wakened only when her head had forcibly met the transparent plastic of the window. She guessed she should just count herself lucky that the plane AEGIS HQ had provided them with didn't use glass for their windows…

The thought of AEGIS brought her current situation back to the fore. After the gathering at the Supreme Headquarters, it had been agreed that the Far East Branch Gatekeepers would be assigned the task of securing the potential new recruits. One group, led by Kaoru and guided by the French Gatekeeper Francine Allumage, had left for France to visit the monastery where the first potential Gatekeeper currently resided. The other, composed of Ukiya, Ruriko, Bancho and Jun was on its way to Las Vegas to scout out the second candidate.

A girl named Miyu Tanaka.

Ruri sighed. It was just like life to throw her a curveball when things had looked to going on the up and up. Not that much had outwardly changed between her and Shun ever since that awful moment when she had thought he was going to die… But obvious or not, something _had_ changed between them, something fundamental. Sure he still infuriated her at times, but for whatever reason, she found herself more aware of the fact that many of his actions towards her were motivated by genuine fondness, and at times, concern. On her part, she had been slowly finding it easier to show that she did have feelings for him – though never quite as directly as Kaoru- chan had been able to do. Such boldness was just beyond her. _And anyway,_ she found herself thinking, _he should be doing some of the work too after all!_ Wasn't the man supposed to be the one to make the first move?

Even with all those complications however, Ruriko was sure it was just a matter of time. After all they'd been through together, surely they could overcome whatever happened next? Kaoru-chan seemed to be willing to sacrifice her own feelings so her two 'sempai's' could be happy – an act that had elevated her further in the eyes of Ruriko, and had won her eternal gratitude as well. She had felt confident that if Ukiya had still been able to 'pick' her over a girl of such obvious beauty as Kaoru, then Ruriko had little to worry about. All it would take was time, she had thought, time and a drill to bore through Shun's thick skull.

But she had never expected to have to deal with Miyu Tanaka again.

Not that she wouldn't be glad to see her in a way – she, Miyu and Ukiya had been nigh inseparable in the old days. Even then though, something had always set Miyu apart. She had been older for one thing, and was the de facto leader of their little gang – the one who made up the games they would play, the one who decided what they should eat for lunch. Ukiya had always taken delight in Miyu's inventiveness, and Ruriko had been too much in awe of her two playmates to go against anything they had to say. In truth, once she had been able to get over the initial hurt and disappointment, it hadn't been hard to understand why Ukiya had liked Miyu better. Ruriko had been timid as a child, while even then Miyu had been the fearless one, the go getter, the one who would pick a fight with anybody – boy or girl, child or adult – who stood between her and something she wanted…

_What if she wanted Ukiya back?_

Ruriko shook her head. She was being irrational and she knew it. Neither she nor Ukiya were children anymore – they had certainly proven over the last few months that they were capable of making their own decisions. Ukiya and Miyu had never really had anything between them anyway – they'd all been children then for God's sake! And besides, Ruriko was no longer a shy, timid girl. She'd driven herself to excel since Ukiya had rejected her the first time, and she had never looked back – she was hardly the perfect student that Megumi had enviously thought her to be, but she knew that she had earned her place. There was no real reason to feel insecure, she told herself. She was a beautiful, intelligent, poised young woman, and Ukiya's affections were hers to lose.

And yet… Miyu had been all that already as of ten years ago. And her picture in the profile AEGIS had given them seemed to indicate that the brunette had kept pace with Ruriko in the 'beauty' department at the very least.

Ruriko shook herself. It wasn't proper to be thinking such thoughts. She was first and foremost a member of AEGIS, and the only thing that should concern her now was recruiting the 'candidate' and getting her safely back to AEGIS Headquarters. Her personal feelings should not distract her from her duty. In fact, she should be glad that another Gatekeeper candidate had been found… And if the said candidate served as an obstacle to her relationship with Ukiya well, then… She'd just have to handle that now wouldn't she?

_ Honestly, I like Miyu-chan better… Because unlike Rurippe, Miyu-chan isn't a snuf- a snuffle nose._

Ruriko winced, then slapped her palm against her forehead. _No, she would not think these thoughts!_

_Miyu-chan!_

*slap* _No!_

_Snuffle nose!_

*slap* _NO!_

_Miyu-chan!_

*slap* "No!"

"Rurippe? We're - "

*slap* "NO!!!" she shouted, jumping up from her chair –

-to find herself face to face with a rather shocked Ukiya.

"Uhm, why not?" Ukiya asked her, a puzzled look on his face. "We've landed at the terminal already. We really should leave y'know…"

The girl blinked, then turned to see Jun, Bancho and the other AEGIS personnel staring at her. She vainly tried to prevent herself from blushing a bright red.

"Erm I was just… uhm… having a bad dream. Really…"

Ukiya was still giving her a weird look. "Are you sure? You look a bit pale Rurippe…"

That name was the last thing she wanted to hear. "How many times do I have to tell you to call me Ruriko you Baka!" she screamed at him, then pushed him aside roughly and strode from the plane.

Ukiya blinked once.

Then he blinked again.

"Scary…" Jun muttered, and Bancho could only nod in agreement.

Once she had fled from the others, Ruriko managed to calm down a bit. She shouldn't have done that to Shun-kun, she realized. Ever since the battle with Kageyama she had pretty much let him call her whatever he wanted – it was unfair to make such an abrupt about face after he had gotten used to it. She'd have to apologize to him later…

Ruriko sighed. She didn't like the way their impending reunion with Miyu was making her feel – Miyu had been a good friend after all. Maybe she should have just gone with Kaoru's group – the young monk was bound to give her less turmoil than this assignment…

==[AEGIS]==

"Haaaa-chew!!!"

"Oh… hooow nice! Someooone's thinking of you Kaoru-chan!"

Kaoru Konoe wiped her nose with a rather wet handkerchief and scowled unpleasantly at the cheerful Gatekeeper.

"Thash jush a shilly shufurshtishn," she managed, before once more succumbing to a fit of sneezing.

"What did she say?" asked Francine Allumage from nearby. The blond girl tapped lightly on the small earpiece that she wore in her right ear. "I thought Vuai told us that we'd be able to understand foreign languages clearly with this thing."

"Ayaya, I doubt he made any allowances for the way we'd sound if we had a bad cold Francine…" Fei replied as she laid a comforting hand on Kaoru's arm.

Kaoru nodded a sad agreement. Of all the times to come down with a cold, it had to be when Shirei gives her her first leadership assignment. Of course that just might be the weathers fault… the 'bracing' French air was proving much too cold for her liking.

Still, it was fun to think for a minute that the old superstition was true. She wondered who could be thinking of her right now. Maybe it was Ukiya-sem-

She stopped in mid thought. _You don't want to go there girl. You really don't want to go there. The last thing you need right now is a relapse…_

Kaoru straightened her shoulders and motioned towards the small town ahead of them. "Let's go everyone," she said. The girl was proud she was able to keep her voice fairly clear, although the cold made her voice sound almost as hoarse as a boy's…

From the airport, the four Gatekeepers had been ferried by helicopter to this clearing, just on the outskirts of the village of Truscas. It would still be a long hike before they reached the Monastery where the potential Gatekeeper was staying, while he studied to be a monk. There had been little data in his profile: no name, no picture even, but AEGIS had been assured that the Abbot would know who the candidate was and direct them accordingly. Kaoru knew that the others wished they could have been dropped closer to the monastery – after all it was practically on top of a mountain. till – it wouldn't have been proper to take the noisy chopper any nearer, at the risk of needlessly disturbing the peace in the area. AEGIS may be more in the public eye now than ever before, but that didn't mean they liked flaunting their actions.

"Let's stop by the village and ask for some directions," Kaoru said as they proceeded towards the town. "It would probably be easy to get lost amidst all this countryside."

Francine pouted a bit. "I'd never get lost here – this is my homeland! Don't you trust my guidance?"

"Francine-chan," Fei began, "If the Pilot had followed your directions, we would have landed closer to California that France."

"Well…" the blond girl demurred. "It's not _my_ fault the map was upside down… California sort of looks like France when it's tipped over."

"Oh I do that aaaalll the time tooo," Reiko said, nodding in agreement.

"I think she spent too much time studying American geography instead of French geography," Fei whispered in an aside to Kaoru, referring to the European Gatekeepers fascination for all things American.

Kaoru just grinned and shook her head.

It wasn't long until they reached the town proper. A few people were going in and out of the town, past the dilapidated sign proudly welcoming visitors to the area. Two men pushing a cart laden with vegetables stopped as the girls approached, giving them wary looks.

"Well now's a good time as any to get some directions," Francine said, before approaching the two men. "Excuse me," she asked, in her native French. "Would you know the way to the Orthodox Monastery of Saint Nichols?"

The two men, one short and rotund while the other was tall and rather dirty, merely glared at the Gatekeeper and then resumed pushing their cart. Francine blinked.

"Hey!" she shouted at them sounding incensed. "What's the matter with you! You understand French don't you! Come back here!"

"Don't waste your breath," came a voice from behind Kaoru. The girls turned to see a pleasant looking woman standing before them, one arm looped through the handle of a basket filled with flowers. "Those two haven't had a pleasant word for anyone in two years. Is there anything I can help you girls with? Except for the blond one, you don't look like you come from these parts."

Francine stepped forward while Kaoru and the other girls just gave her their best smiles. The devices that the African Gatekeeper had been able to concoct – which they lovingly labeled PUT for Portable Universal Translator – enabled them to understand most languages, but did not enable their own words to be translated. That was one of the reasons why a native speaker had been assigned to both teams of the Far East branch – Jun for the American group, and Francine for theirs.

"Why thank you ma'am," Francine said to the woman, a big smile on her face. "My friends here are on a pilgrimage from Japan, and I would like to show them the Orthodox Monastery of Saint Nichols… But its been so long since I've been there that I seemed to have forgotten the way…"

"Well you did well to get them this far," the woman replied. "You're still a distance off, but it shouldn't be that hard to find. Five hundred meters after the exit of this village, take the direction of La Dalmerie as indicated by the sign. Eventually you'll reach a crossroads, with a panel that should indicate the Orthodox Monastery . This crossroads is situated to 6 km of the hamlet of the Dalmerie. Keep going in the direction "the Dalmerie" and you'll reach the monastery in no time," she finished, then waved and began to walk away.

"Merci!" Francine called out, then turned to the others. "See? We're not lost at all!"

"Aya aya…" Fei replied, shaking her head. "That's because we haven't been following you."

"Shall we go Kaoru-chan?" Reiko asked.

Kaoru nodded, but her eyes were focused some distance ahead. There, in front of one of the houses, the two surly men they had met earlier were discussing with each other in hushed tones. Occasionally one or the other would gesture in their direction, or at least that's how it seemed to Kaoru.

"Kaoru-chan?" Reiko asked again. "Are you alright?"

Kaoru blinked, then turned to Reiko. "I'm fine," she said, smiling at her friend. "Shall we go everyone?"

As they entered the town proper however, Kaoru couldn't help but glance back at the two men. They had separated, each going his separate ways, and the girl began to wonder if she was imagining things. What could two men possibly do to harm four Gatekeepers anyway? Writing off the whole incident as a paranoia attack, Kaoru returned her eyes to the road and led the others into the village. After all, she had a responsibility.

She did wish that she could have gone to Las Vegas with Ukiya-sempai and the others though… that would have been fun…

==[AEGIS]==

The shove sent Shun tumbling backwards, culminating in a painful landing on his rear about two meters away from his assailant. Jun shook her head in dismay as the younger boy stared daggers at the Casino bouncer who had so forcibly barred their entry. Ukiya was muttering curses in Japanese which one did not need a Universal Translator to understand. Too bad the rest of the language wasn't quite as comprehensible to an English speaker such as the bouncer, as Ukiya had leaned to his chagrin when he had tried to explain why they should be allowed inside the casino even though they were obviously under-age.

"Friend Ukiya!" Bancho called out. "Are you alright?"

Ruriko leaned over the fallen Gatekeeper and sighed. "You forgot that the Translator works only one way right?"

Shun's face redeemed. "It's – it's not like that!" he blurted out, then quickly bounced back to his feet. "In any case," he said, not-so-deftly changing the subject. "We have something which transcends language barriers!" With that he reached into his pocket, and with a flourish presented his Earth Defense ID Card.

The bouncer looked at it in mild perplexity for a minute or so before causally flicking it away with his finger.

As Ukiya was recovering from his shock, Jun decided it was time for her to take charge. Striding towards the large enforcer with an air of authority pervading her movements, the black haired girl reached into her pocket and produced another ID card.

"I'm telling' you kids, you ain't getting in with no fake ID's…" the man was saying, but he stopped short once she kicked him hard in the gut. The man went down swiftly, gasping for breath, and before his companions could respond, Jun held out her ID in plain view.

The bouncers stopped in their tracks.

"You," she said in English, gesturing imperially at the nearest enforcer. "I'm assuming you can read?"

The man nodded mutely.

"Can you be so kind as to tell me what it says then?" Jun continued, in her sweetest voice.

The man gulped. "Nevada… Gaming… Commission."

"And what does that mean?"

The four bouncers who were left standing exchanged long glances, then backed away fearfully from the diminuitive girl before them. "It – it means you and your friends are free to do whatever you like ma'am," one of them said. "Our sincerest apologies."

Ignoring the men, Jun motioned towards the doorway and led the three speechless Far East Gatekeepers into the Casino. It was only when they were safely away from the bouncers that Jun let herself smile.

"You're scary Jun… You know that right?" Ukiya said.

Bancho nodded enthusiastically. "You would have made a good gang-boss I think."

The black haired girl let out a throaty laugh. "Well that's the first time anyone's ever told me _that_, but I think I'll take it as a compliment."

Ruriko started laughing then as well. "All I can say is, I'm glad you're on our side Jun-san… I'd hate to have you for an enemy…"

At those words, Jun turned her face slightly away from her three companions, and the fall of her long black hair masked the guarded, serious expression that flitted briefly across her face. She found that she liked the three younger Gatekeepers, especially Ukiya and Ruriko. During her time with them she had come to see that they cared deeply for each other, despite their frequent denials. She truly hoped that the time would never come when she would have to fight them.

But orders were orders, and besides, they had more pressing concerns right now.

"Let's split up," she suggested. "We'll find her easier that way – we'll meet back at the entrance in thirty minutes then move to another part of the casino if none of us has succeeded by then."

"Roger!" the Japanese youths called out, before heading out in separate directions. Jun stood her ground a moment more before beginning her search. The sooner they were done here, the better.

==[AEGIS]==

"We really appreciate your showing us the way to he monastery," Francine said to the old monk as he led them up a narrow mountain path towards their destination. "We were getting a bit lost…" the blond girl continued, studiously avoiding the accusatory glares leveled at her by Kaoru and the others.

"Oh it's no problem really," the elderly monk said in a scratchy voice. The group had encountered him while arguing amongst themselves after they had discovered for the sixth time that they had been going in circles. "I'm on my way there myself, and although I haven't been back here in years, I still know how to find my way home."

"You were gone a long time?" Francine asked.

"Yes," the old man replied as he playful kicked a stone into the river that meandered next to the mountain path. "On a pilgrimage to another monastery. It's been seven long months…," he said wistfully. "It feels good to breath in the fresh mountain air one more… It does my old lungs good. And it will do me even better to see my old friends. Yessir, there are no kinder, gentler people than the monks of Saint Nichols…"

Kaoru and the others smiled at the old monk. He was an affable old fellow, and Fei in particular seemed rather taken with him. She would have liked to converse with him, but it would be too much of a coincidence if he knew Japanese as well. They continued on in companionable silence, slowly but surely ascending the mountain path. The old monk however seemed to be growing more weary with every step, and finally he stopped to lean against a nearby tree.

"Mister!" Francine cried out in alarm as Fei and Kaoru rushed to his side. "Are you alright?"

The old monk waved them off. "I'm… fine…" he huffed. "Just… a little… winded…" He took a deep breath, then straightened with an effort. "You girls go on ahead… The monastery is only a little ways to the north… just follow the river."

"We can't just leave you here!" Fei cried out in Japanese, her alarm making her forget that the monk couldn't understand her words. Her intentions seemed clear to him however.

"Don't worry about me," he chuckled. "I just need to rest a moment. There are no wild animals or the like in these parts if that's what you're worried about… Go on, and make sure to ask the others to show you how we make our wonderful cheese! We're famous for it you know…"

After the old man resisted their entreaties, they reluctantly took their leave of him, resolving to send one of the monks to check on him once they reached the monastery. The old man proved to be right, and within fifteen minutes after leaving him, the trees thinned out and they came upon the old stone monastery. As luck would have it, a group of monks were nearby, moving towards one of the larger buildings, and the Gatekeepers decided to approach them for information.

"Excuse me," Francine said. "We're the representatives sent by AEGIS. We were told to see Father Aloysius about one of your young acolytes?"

The monks paused, then as one turned to stare penetratingly at the blond Gatekeeper. Francine let out a little yelp and stepped back a pace. The Gatekeepers couldn't see much of the faces of the monks from beneath the shadows cast by their hoods, but there was an eerie 'sameness' to the way they moved that set Kaoru's teeth on edge. The monks continued staring at the Gatekeepers for a moment, then turned to look at one another, then back at the girls, all in unison.

"Father Aloysius passed on recently," one of the monks stated in an emotionless voice. "We shall now take you to our new superior." After saying these words, the monks turned and moved simultaneously towards the largest building visible.

The girls exchanged puzzled glances, then followed.

"Maaaybe its not sooo good to be all allooone out here," Reiko whispered.

Kaoru nodded. "They certainly seem anti – social."

The Monastery grounds looked pristine, with well tended gardens and a goat pen. Running parallel to the path that the monks were leading them on, Kaoru could see the wide, blue river, sparklingly clear in the rays of the sun. The buildings were built with white-reddish stone, topped with dusty, orange shingled rooftops. Although the grounds looked well maintained, Kaoru couldn't get over the fact that the place looked… deserted, aside from the monks they had met. Even for a monastery, the place seemed just too quiet…

Eventually they entered a tall, slender tower which proved to be the entrance foyer to a large chapel. Standing in front of the altar was another monk, taller than the others, who had his back turned to the Gatekeepers. Wordlessly, the other monks took positions against the walls of the room, and when the last had taken his place, the tall monk turned to face the four girls. His face too was mostly obscured by the hood, but the Gatekeepers could see that his mouth was quirked in a slight smile. Somehow, this only increased Kaoru's unease.

"And how may we help you, daugthers of the Lord," the monk intoned, in a deep voice.

Kaoru nudged Francine, who gulped, then began to speak. "Uhm… yes, we're the representatives from AEGIS? We're here to see you about the possible candidate you reported?"

"Ah yes…" the monk said. "The AEGIS candidate… Father Aloysius mentioned something about that before he passed away. We discovered we had been in error."

"Error?" Francine asked.

"Yes… The boy was not a suitable candidate after all."

Kaoru's brow furrowed at that. "Ask him if it would be alright if we saw the boy anyway – sometimes its difficult to tell a Gatekeeper from an ordinary person…"

Reiko nodded. "Like with Bancho-san."

Almost before Francine had finished relaying the question, the monk cut her off. "We have already sent him away – he was unsuited for monastic life."

Francine blinked, taken aback. "But… But then where did he go?"

"Do I look like his keeper?" the monk snapped. "We no longer have any contact with him. Your journey has been in vain." The monk seemed to get a kick out of saying that last bit, for the slight smile returned to his face.

Something was definitely wrong. These monks were far from being as 'kind and gentle' as the old monk had described them. They were hiding something, that much Kaoru could tell… At the back of her mind, something that the old man had said tickled her memory. She leaned towards Francine and whispered something in the blond girl's ear.

Francine gave her a strange look, then turned towards the tall monk once more. "Alright, I guess we made a mistake then…" The girl gave a despondent shrug. "Can we at least get a tour of your famous wine making facilities? We've heard you're famous for them throughout the region…"

The monk hesitated for an instant, then replied dismissively. "The wine presses are unavailable at the moment. Perhaps in a week or so -"

He didn't get to finish, for in the next instant he was lying flat on his back, Kaoru's feet planted solidly on top of him. He struggled at first, until Kaoru wrapped her hand around his throat.

"Kaoru-chan!" Reiko shouted. "What are you dooooing?"

"Watch your back you guys!" The athletic girl called out. "These people are imposters – they didn't even know that the monastery was famous for cheese and not wine!" She glared at the prone form of the monk before her. "Who are you? What have you done with the people here?"

For some reason, the monks smile only grew wider. "If you haven't figured that out yet Gatekeeper," the monk continued, in a voice that now sounded more mechanical than human. "Then you're not as smart as you think you are!"

With that he clasped Kaoru by the waist, and with inhuman strength hurled her against the nearest wall. She hit rock hard, and slid down, slightly dazed.

"Kaoru-chan!" Fei shouted, just as the monks each removed a pair of shades which they placed upon their faces in one swift movement.

A second later, their enemy stood revealed.

"Invaders!" Francine hissed, as the three girls took up a defensive formation.

"Subterfuge has proven ineffective," intoned the Red Invader who had been the tall monk. "Identity has been compromised – shifting to alternative strategy."

The clicking sound made by the Invaders as they armed their weapons was ominous in the silence of the chapel. Kaoru grit her teeth and readied herself for battle.

"Initiate termination of targets… Now."

==[AEGIS]==

Back in Las Vegas, Shun Ukiya scratched his head in mild bewilderment as he surveyed the mass of people clustered around the gaming tables of the casino.

Geez," he muttered. "How am I going to find _anyone_ in here?"

He let the enormity of his task sink in for a moment, then he sighed and began circulating amongst the tables. It was going to be like searching for a needle in a haystack – except that both the needle and the hay had the ability to move. The fact that most of the patrons were larger than him and had no qualms about elbowing him out of the way made things even more difficult.

He went from table to table, from game to game, and in none of them did he see anyone remotely resembling Miyu-chan as she had appeared in the picture. He thought momentarily of calling out her name, but then he realized that he would be calling too much attention to himself – and besides that, the din from the crowd would drown out anything but his loudest shout in any case. Ukiya had never quite seen so many people shouting and gesticulating, not even during those car races he had sometimes gone to see with his father.

At one point during his search he caught a glimpse of Rurippe. She had been acting strange ever since they had found out that it was Miyu who they would be going after, and he thought he knew why. Shun Ukiya had a reputation for being dense, but he wasn't _that_ dense. Obviously she was still thinking of the time the three of them had been forced to part ways, and of his final words to her before he left with his family. Truth be told, he could hardly remember why he had said those things… It wasn't as if he had been thinking romantic thoughts at such a tender age. He had been more interested in running around and raising hell than in becoming any girl's 'special friend'. That was probably why, although he had actually spent more time in actual 'conversation' with Rurippe, he had possessed a special bond with little Miyu-chan. Where Ruri and he would talk, he and Miyu would run, and jump, and roll, and chase. Theirs had been a very kinetic friendship, partly driven by their desire to get the better of each other in various contests, contests which Ruri, while she enjoyed them very much, rarely participated in. He had cared for them about equally during that time, contrary to what he told Rurippe. Truth be told, he had probably only said what he had when he had parted from Ruri for the sole reason that the thought of anything 'mushy' still threatened to give him cooties.

That was then of course, and this was now. He and Ruri were grown up, and closer than they had ever been before…

Still, he couldn't quite suppress the feeling of anticipation that was building up over the chance to see Miyu-chan again. He wondered how she had changed through the years…

His thoughts were diverted by a particularly loud shout coming from a nearby table. There seemed to be even more patrons clustered in that direction than normal, and they were a rowdy bunch. A couple of the men were actually angrily waving their fists in the air, and every other word seemed to be a curse word. Intrigued, Ukiya decided to take a closer look. He laboriously made his way through the press of bodies, squeezing and bumping and elbowing his way forward until he could see clearly what was going on at the table, within the circle of spectators.

A strange sight filled his eyes then. Amidst the ranting and raving male adults, a single young girl sat at the head of the table, the serene expression on her face marred only slightly by a knowing smirk. She was dressed in what appeared to be a leather biker jacket, zipped up to the top, her legs sheathed in army style cargo pants. Her hair was cropped short, falling just short of the nape of her neck, raven black except for two streaks of white over her right eye, which was currently twinkling with a mischievous glint. It was a look that Shun knew well, a face that he'd have recognized even without having seen her more recent photograph.

Miyu Tanaka.

"Alright gentlemen," his old friend said in English, as she calmly placed her cards on the table. She was surrounded by three older gentlemen, each with their own coterie of friends and sycophants around them, or so it seemed to Ukiya from the way they fawned over the players. "Shall we end your misery?"

"You little brat!" Roared a competitor to her left, a bearded American who seemed to be on the verge of an apoplexy. "You're cheating aren't you?!? _Nobody_ can be this lucky!" His tirade stopped abruptly when he suddenly found Miyu's face a scant few centimeters from his own.

"In the first place," the girl hissed. "If you call me a brat a second time, I'll kick you so hard you'll be peeing through your nostrils. And second," she continued, in a slightly mollified tone of voice, her smile returning to her face as she resumed her seat. "You can't even _begin_ to guess how lucky I am. I'd suggest that you try your own luck at some other table, but since you seem so bent on 'donating' all your money to me, I'll be more than happy to oblige."

Before the bearded man could start again, an older, more dignified gentleman intervened. "Simmer down Morris… All you're going to do is get yourself thrown out of the club." He looked at his cards, then gave Miyu a strange half bow. "If the young Miss is cheating, then she's the best I've ever seen, for I can't tell how she's doing it. And if this is pure luck then, well…"

"You should listen to your friend, dear Morris," Miyu drawled. "Besides, its not even your turn yet…" she finished, turning to the fourth player, a thin, greasy looking fellow with a monocle over one eye.

The greasy looking man said nothing, merely staring intensely at the cards he held in his shaking fingers. Several times he seemed about to play his cards, but would always just shake his head and go back to staring at his cards, mumbling inaudibly all the while.

"Well," Miyu asked finally, one eyebrow arched at the other player. "Time is money – and you don't have much of that left."

Finally, almost as if in a spasm, the greasy looking man through five cards on the table: three aces and a pair of tens. "F-full H-house!" he cried out, in a voice that seemed equal parts jubilation and desperation. "H-how's that girlie?"

Miyu's eyes widened, as if in shock – the operative words here being 'as if'. Even though Ukiya hadn't laid eyes on her for more than a decade, he could see that she still hadn't lost her knack for over-acting. "Oh my…" she said, in a breathy gasp that had her opponents a hair's breadth from elation. "A full house… and with aces too… Whatever do I have that would beat such a wonderful hand…" She paused then, drawing out the moment for all it was worth – before dropping her bomb.

"All I have is this little thing called a 'royal flush' – I wonder what that means?" she said in her best 'little girl' voice, fluttering her eye lashes at her suddenly stunned opponents.

The table was dead silent for a full five seconds. Then the screaming began.

"That's her fifth Royal Flush in a row!"

"She's cheating! She has to be!"

"My money! She's taken all I had!"

As her opponents and their friends began to scream obscenities at her, Miyu was already gathering her winnings and preparing to leave the table. As she was turning however, her eyes swept the crowd, and for just an instant, they met Ukiya's own. Her gaze moved on, as if unseeing – and then, a few seconds later, she stopped, and slowly turned back to Ukiya. This time there was no mistaking the look of recognition that flashed through her dark eyes, which had widened in surprise. They stared at each other for a good long time, both oblivious to the peculiar sound rising in the background, and the fact that Miyu's three opponents were beginning to clutch their heads in pain.

"Shun?" she whispered, almost half unbelieving.

"Hello Miyu-chan," he said, his voice almost a whisper as well. And perhaps he would have said more at this point, but as fate – or luck – would have it, Ukiya caught a glimpse of the bearded American who had been so vocal in his opinions earlier on. It took the Far East Gatekeeper a full second before he realized the significance of the black shades that the man was in the process of putting on, and another full second to leap across the intervening table and tackle Miyu to the ground.

That was when the shots began to ring out, and when Ukiya's reunion turned into a fight for survival.

==[AEGIS]==

"Move!" Kaoru shouted as she leapt towards the Red Invader. She had to give the others time to escape – they were smack dab in the middle of the trap that the Invaders had laid for them, and if they opened fire all at once, there was little chance that the Gatekeepers could emerge unscathed. All this passed through her mind in the instant that it took for her to decide on a course of action.

Taken by surprise, the Red Invader hardly had time to raise his arms in defense before Kaoru's fist impacted with his body. The blow sent him crashing through the back of the chapel, leaving a gaping hole just above the altar. She hoped that the others had the presence of mind to act on the opportunity.

"Gate – Open!" Francine cried out, and an instant later a resounding 'boom' echoed through the air as the very foundations of the chapel itself were rocked by a resounding explosion. Through the thick clouds of dust that were blown into the air by the blond girl's use of her Gate of Explosion, Kaoru could see the others drop through a jagged hole at the bottom of the chapel. Covering her eyes against the dust and trying to stifle her coughing, the brown haired girl swiftly followed her companions into the hole.

"This *cough* way," she called once she found the others, and they made their way past the billowing fog of dust deeper into the basement of the building. After a minute or two of running, Kaoru called for a stop to allow the others to catch their breath. They found themselves in a dark room, surrounded by numerous wooden containers – barrels, crates and boxes of all sizes.

"Ayaya," Fei breathed. "That was close…"

Reiko nodded mutely, still trying to catch her breath. "Can… we… rest…now…?" she finally managed.

Kaoru shook her head. "No *cough*, they're still out there. I don't think I *cough* managed to kill their leader yet… They're crawling all over the place looking for us by now." The brown haired girl turned to Francine. "That was awesome Francine! I didn't know your Gate was that powerful!"

The blond girl blushed. "It was nothing really – I wish I could have used it on the Invaders, but I didn't know how many might be waiting in the wings. I'd heard that most of these monasteries had extensive cellars honey- combing the areas beneath their buildings so I thought it would be a good idea to use those to escape instead of fight."

Kaoru shook her head. "Nothing to be sorry about – it was the right decision."

Reiko looked around slowly, blinking her eyes in the darkness. "So we're in a cellar? Is that like an attic? We had one of those in our hoooouse…to store the stuff we didn't use…"

Fei shook her head. "It's the opposite of an attic really, since its underground," the diminutive Chinese Gatekeeper said. "But you use it to store stuff too, so in that way they're similar I guess."

"In monasteries the cellars are usually where they keep the wine…" Francine added. "Although the old monk we met said this place was known more for cheese than for wine…"

Reiko approached one of the canisters and hesitantly opened one. She reached inside and came out with a glop of something yellow. "This doesn't look like cheese to meeee…" she said, licking the glop before the others could stop her. "Yum! Butter!" she said, then proceeded to lick her fingers clean.

"Reiko-san!" Fei scolded. "Stop that we've got to- " the tiny girl stopped then as she saw a group of silver faces seemingly floating towards them in the blackness.

"Reiko get down!" Kaoru screamed, but Fei was already acting.

"Gate Open!" the Chinese Gatekeeper screamed as her Gate filled the room with its red light. The Invaders, sensing a new target, began to move towards Fei instead, but they had hardly taken two steps before they were incinerated by Fei's 'Fire Panda'.

"Aya aya," the black haired Gatekeeper said, wiping her brow before turning to scold Reiko once more. "You really have to learn to be more careful Reiko-san – the Invaders could attack at any moment!"

The taller Gatekeeper bowed her head in shame. "I know Fei-chan," she said in a contrite voice. "I'll try to do better. See, I'm even taking out my piano-flute from the pack!" she continued in a bright voice, oblivious as the roof above her caved in to admit five more Invaders.

"Reiko-san!" Fei called out, but before the other could move to help the tall girl, more Invaders burst through the roof.

"Really," they heard Reiko say, in a peeved voice. "I was talking to Fei- chan! All of you just – go away!"

With that shouted command, a Gate opened before Reiko, and reality seemed to bend around the group of Invaders, Suddenly, where their compatriots had stood, all they saw were the human children they had been tasked to eliminate. After each had fired on the perceived enemy, the four girls were the only things left standing in the darkened cellar.

"Wow," Kaoru said, surveying the damage. "You're getting pretty good at using your Gate Power without an instrument Reiko-san…"

The tall girl blushed. "I just… don't want anyone getting huuuurt…"

Francine laughed. "Keep this up and that attitude's going to win you lots of friends that's for sure," the blond girl said, then turned to look for an exit. "We'd best be gone before- "

The rest of her words were drowned out as something explosive slammed into the floor just before the Gatekeepers, sending the four girls sprawling. Once more the air filled with dust and debris… Kaoru began coughing again as she heaved aside a piece of rock that had landed on top of her, her head still ringing from the sound of the explosion. As her hands scrabbled for purchase amidst the debris, they encountered wetness, and she saw that water had began to leak from above them. They must be under that river they had seen earlier. The fact that the only thing that separated her from the gallons of water above was a cracked and battered stone roof was a cause for concern, but not as much as the fact that she had yet to see her companions. Much to her relief she saw her the three girls picking themselves up not far from her position, looking for the large part dirty but unscathed.

"What the heck was that?" Francine asked, shouting to be heard over the ringing in everyone's ears.

"I don't know," Kaoru replied. "But whatever it was, I don't want to be around when they try it again…"

"Too late," Fei hissed. "Look!"

They turned to where the Chinese Gatekeeper was pointing and saw a line of Invaders steadily advancing towards them. However, instead of their usual briefcase-type weapons, each carried a much larger, shoulder mounted weapon, with a barrel roughly the size of a human head.

"Geez!" Francine exclaimed. "Since when did the bad guys start packing Bazookas?"

Almost as if alerted by the mention of the word, the Invaders stopped, and as one trained their weapons in the direction of the Gatekeepers.

"Damnit," Kaoru cursed. "Everyone – scatter!"

The blasts hit an instant later, and Kaoru found herself being tossed through the air like a rag doll. She found herself careening towards a wall and managed to twist so that she took the brunt of the impact on her feet and legs rather than her body. In this way she shielded herself from most of the damage, but her landing left much to be desired, ending with her lying face down on the floor, her mouth filled with the crushed rubble that her abrupt entrance had created. She coughed violently and tried to stand up, her body aching all over.

Suddenly she felt a pair of strong hands grip her firmly under her arms and lift her to her feet. She turned to see a kindly looking young man in monks robe, staring down at her with concern etched on his European features. His head was shaved clean, and his nose looked like it had been broken once too often in the past, but his blue eyes radiated calm even as they expressed concern over her condition.

"Are you alright?" The boy – he seemed roughly her won age – asked as he braced her back against his chest.

"*cough* Ye- yes, thank *ahem* thank you," she said, her voice low and raspy in her throat. Gods, all that dust had her sounding like a man! She cleared her throat and tried again, but there was only a slight improvement. "Who are you?"

When he merely studied her in puzzlement she realized her mistake – she could understand him perfectly well because of the Translator, but he had no such device. Instead she just smiled at him and freed herself from his grasp. As she looked behind the young monk, she saw that there were numerous others like him in the room which she had crashed into. Though some of them were young like the first, most were old, many with the face and posture which indicated advanced age. One of the older monks hobbled towards Kaoru and her new friend, his gnarled hands holding tightly onto a mahogany walking stick.

"This has gone too far Brother Leal," the old monk said. "It was one thing to detain us in the cellar – it is quite another for them to be threatening the lives of innocent pilgrims."

"I couldn't agree more Father Abbot," replied the young monk who had first approached Kaoru. "With your permission, I shall go and teach these heathens a lesson."

"Wait!" Another monk shouted. "You aren't wearing your glasses Brother Leal!"

The young monk shrugged. "I lost them when the girl crashed through the wall – I'll have to make do without them for now."

The Abbot nodded. "Go with my blessings my son… But make sure that no innocents will be hurt in the process of your actions."

"Of course Father Aloysius," Brother Leal replied. Then he turned to Kaoru and asked: "Can you take me to those who did this to you?"

Unable to communicate meaningfully in another way, Kaoru just smiled and nodded – although she wondered what this young man thought he could do. Perhaps he was the Gatekeeper candidate they had been sent to pick up?

As the two of them passed through the wreckage of the wall, Kaoru could see that a fierce battle was already taking place between the Invaders and the three other Gatekeepers. Things didn't seem to be going too well however – apparently there had been many more of the Invaders than they had originally assumed, and with the aid of their new artillery, they had Fei, Reiko and Francine pinned in a corner, sheltered only by a few piles of debris.

Leal turned to the other Gatekeepers, then squinted as if he had difficulty making them out. Kaoru remembered what the other monk had said and assumed it meant that the young monks eyesight was less than stellar.

"Those, um, patches of color there," he said, turning towards Kaoru. "They wouldn't happen to be your companions would they?"

Kaoru nodded, wishing she could elaborate more but realizing the language barrier was too great.

Leal smiled. "Is that all of them? There aren't any more unaccounted for?" When Kaoru nodded her head the young monk heaved a sigh of relief. "That makes things simpler then… It's a good thing you seem to be able to understand me." Leal smiled, and cracked his knuckles in a very un-monklike fashion. "Okay then… let's do this!"

At that the young monk seated himself on the floor and began to pray.

Kaoru blinked once, then twice. Then she rubbed her eyes.

No good – there he was still sitting on the floor and chanting to himself, his hands folded together, his eyes closed, totally oblivious to the world.

She couldn't believe it! She'd thought that maybe this guy was the Gatekeeper candidate they were looking for… It seemed as if Leal and his abbot both believed the young monk had the power to do something about the Invaders – but if all that meant was that Brother Leal could _pray_ better than the other monks, it wasn't going to achieve much in the way of results. Kaoru was about to throw herself back into the fray when a large crack resounded from the roof above them.

She turned her gaze upwards in time to see the river come crashing through the roof.

Before she could react though, she noticed something strange – the water wasn't flowing downwards. Instead it seemed to be pooling in mid-air, growing in mass and volume as the waters continued to flow down from above.

It was then that Kaoru saw the ocean blue Gate swirling in front of Brother Leal. The young monk seemed oblivious to the Gate Power, but there was no doubt that he was the one who was controlling it. He was the Gatekeeper candidate they had been searching for.

When it seemed that even Leal's power could no longer keep the waters from cascading upon them, the young monk opened his eyes.

"Begone!" he cried out. And then, in a smaller voice: "And may God have mercy on your souls…"

With that the waters came crashing down – not uniformly, but in a swooping wave that engulfed the Invaders and their weapons, masterfully skirting around the place where the other Gatekeepers were hiding – almost as if it was alive. Alive and hungry. Despite their struggles, the Invaders could not resist the force of the water, and soon they were crushed between the force of the river and the unyielding bedrock of the monastery, their bodies dissolving into brilliant green crystals – and one red one – before disappearing into nothingness.

"Amen." Leal said with finality. Before attempting to stand – and almost falling flat on his face from exhaustion. In fact he would have fallen – if Kaoru hadn't been there to catch him.

"Merci good pilgrim," the exhausted monk said. "Doing God's work takes a lot out of a man…"

Once she had made sure that Leal could stand on his own, Kaoru made her way towards the other Gatekeepers, who were picking their way through the water and debris towards her position.

"Woooow," Reiko whispered in an awed voice. "That was somethiiing…"

"I'll say," Francine agreed. The blond girl turned to Kaoru. "So you found our candidate did you?"

The brown haired girl nodded. "Yup. C'mon I need you to help translate so I can communicate with more than just body language." She herded the three of them before her towards the place where she had left Leal.

As they approached, Kaoru could see one of the other monks handing Leal a pair of large, round-framed spectacles. The combination of their size, shape, and the way the young monk blinked rather owlishly from behind them resulted in a rather comical sight and both Fei-chan and Francine broke out into girlish giggling. Seemingly startled by the sound, Leal blinked once more, and turned to look at the girls.

"Good Lord…" he whispered. "They're… they're… _girls_!"

The Gatekeepers exchanged looks, then their faces assumed various affronted expressions. "Of course we're girls!" Francine exclaimed. "Your eyes must be pretty far gone if you mistook such pretty ladies for anything else."

Leal cringed backwards a bit. "Er… I meant no offense, and my eyes _are_ pretty bad. It's just that… I thought… I mean, well…" The young monk was actually starting to sweat. He gulped a few times before continuing. "Monks really aren't supposed to look at girls you know… So uhm, I'd really appreciate if you didn't come any closer."

Francine shook her head in perplexity. "What's with this guy?" she asked, turning to Kaoru who was partly concealed behind her. "Did he give _you_ the same reaction a while ago Kaoru?"

"No not at all," Kaoru replied, stepping forward. "It really seems strange…" Then her expression clouded. "Unless…"

As if validating her suspicions, Leal had turned pale once Kaoru had become clearly visible to him. "You're a… You're a… You're a GIRL!" A trickle of blood emerged from the young monks nostrils as he said that and he began to swoon. "I… touched… a… girl…" he stuttered, in a strangled voice.

Then he fainted.

"Aya aya," Fei tsked. "This is going to be a bit of a problem…"

==[AEGIS]==

"Ukiya!" Miyu screamed as she and Ukiya held themselves flat against the floor, the sound of deadly projectiles whizzing in the air keeping them in their positions. "What's going on?"

"It's kind of difficult to explain…" The boy replied, rather lamely in his opinion.

Miyu seemed to agree with his assessment. Her dark eyes narrowed and she gave him the same look that she had given him whenever he had criticized one of her 'brilliant ideas'.

"Try." She said, in a deceptively calm voice.

Luckily for Ukiya, it was at that moment that the sounds of attack ceased, and he seized the opportunity to roll away from Miyu and come up in an attack stance from a position where he could get a good view of the enemy. Or at least one of them, for Ukiya was fairly certain that all three of Miyu's opponents had turned into Invaders.

What confronted the Gatekeeper however was no ordinary invader. While having certain similarities with the mechanical looking men-in-black type of enemy, this one had what appeared to be roulette tables attached to each hand, each ending with what looked to be the barrel of a gun where the top end of the rotating axis should be.

_Fukuoka Type_ Ukiya thought as he labeled the Invader, and immediately he placed himself on a higher level of alertness. The Fukuoka types had always seemed more 'human' than the other types of Invaders – and while this made them a good deal smarter than the average Invader, experience had taught Ukiya they were a good deal more powerful as well, with forms that took the deepest desires of their hosts and used them to transform them into monstrosities.

As Ukiya watched, the Roulette Invader pointed one of its barrels at his head, and the Gatekeeper barely avoided the solid steel ball that shot like a bullet from the Invader's 'hand'. "Ukiya-kun!" he heard Miyu shout.

"Stay back Miyu-chan," he ordered. "I'll handle this."

With that, Ukiya drew his wooden kendo sword and willed it to unfold to its full length. He pointed it at the Invader and let the power course through his veins.

"Gate… Open!"

He heard Miyu gasp as the blue-green spiral of his Gate opened up before him, but he didn't have time to explain it all to her just yet.

"Synchro Missile!" he yelled as he hurled an arrow of gale-force directly at his opponent. The Invader dodged the first, but the second caught it squarely on the chest, sending it flying into the air, to come down hard against another one of the card tables that had become abandoned as people quickly fled the site of the battle.

Miyu was standing now, and was looking at Ukiya with a mixture of confusion and wonder. "Shun-kun? That _is_ you right?"

Ukiya gave her a slight smile. "In the flesh," he answered, his eyes searching for the two other Invaders… They couldn't have just vanished.

"Then would you mind explaining to me what the HELL that was? The light, the monster, that thing you did with the sword -" the girl ranted, her voice getting more strident with every word.

"Miyu, calm down!" Ukiya ordered. "I'll explain everything to you later, but right now the important thing is to - " he began, then broke off as he sensed movement to his left. He dodged in the nick of time, and what appeared to be a barrage of coins ricocheted harmlessly off the floor where he had been standing moments before. Before he could even catch his breath though, an sword seemed to come from nowhere to slice him across the shoulder, leaving a deep gash and sending him tumbling to the ground.

Wincing in pain he looked up at the two other Invaders. One of them seemed to be a fusion of an Invader and a slot machine, with a wide horizontal slash taking the place of the mouth, and serving as an exit point for the coins that it used as a weapon. The other Invader Ukiya could only catch a fleeting glimpse of… It looked more like a gigantic card than an invader, and it seemed almost 2 – dimensional, only fully visible when it wasn't turned on its side. Ukiya readied himself as the two moved towards him. This would be a tough fight… Or it would have been if a certain burly gatekeeper hadn't crashed the party.

"Ora ora ora!!! I'm coming my friend!" shouted Bancho, leaping over a few startled observers to land directly in front of the two Invaders. He reached for the nearest one, the Slot Machine Invader, and lifted it above his shoulders.

"Gate – Oyabun!" the big man shouted as he began to twirl himself around. "Hyper Inner Circular Throw!"

With that Bancho hurled the Invader away with all his considerable might, sending it crashing against the wall of the casino and making an Invader sized hole in the process.

Before Ukiya could turn his attention to the other Invader he heard a familiar voice behind him.

"Duck Ukiya-kun!" Rurippe said, before drawing back her bow string. Once Ukiya was out of the way she opened her Gate, and pointed her arrows straight at the Card Invader. "Arrow of Light!" she said, sending a barrage of arrows towards the Invader, which turned on its side to make itself invisible, then apparently beat a hasty retreat.

"Are you alright Ukiya-kun?" Rurippe asked in concern, but before she could reach him, she found Miyu standing in her path.

"Ruriko-chan!" Miyu exclaimed. "You're here too?"

"Hello Miyu-chan," Rurippe said warmly. Whatever her other concerns, it was obvious that she was still happy to see her childhood friend. "It's good to see you."

"Oy oy!" Bancho interrupted, pointing at himself. "Isn't anyone happy to see Bancho?"

"Where's Jun?" Ukiya asked.

Rurippe shook her head. "No sign of her… I hope she's ok."

Before anyone could say anything else however, a barrage of steel balls announced the return of the first Invader, the one that Ukiya had knocked aside with his synchro missile. As the three Gatekeepers formed a protective circle around Miyu Tanaka, they saw that the two other Fukuoka types had emerged as well. And were moving towards them.

"This is bad," Rurippe whispered.

"What's going on here?" Miyu demanded. "No need to baby me you guys, I can take care of myself!"

"Not against these guys Miyu," Ukiya warned. "Relax… Leave this to us."

"Since when have I ever let anyone do my work for me Shun Ukiya?"

"Miyu…" Ukiya warned with a pained expression on his face. "Now is not the time…"

Then suddenly the Invaders were moving – but instead of attacking the Gatekeepers, they instead leapt at each other, coming together with an intense flash of light…

And when the light subsided, the Gatekeepers were left with a bigger problem than ever before.

"Hey!" Bancho cried out. "That's not fair!"

It was a monstrosity, three times as tall and three times as wide. It had four arms, each with topped by a roulette gun, and its body was festooned with slots for the coin barrages. It was encircled by several small, card shaped satellites which swooped and buzzed like bees robbed of a hive. The new Invader surveyed its surroundings for a while, then after locating the Gatekeepers began to advance towards them menacingly.

"See what I mean Miyu-chan?" Ukiya asked. Hearing no reply, he turned to look at the black haired girl only to find her… gone.

"Miyu-chan?" he called out.

"Over there!" Rurippe said, pointing in the direction of the Invader.

Sure enough, there was Miyu, standing atop one of the gaming tables, and clutching what appeared to be a hand gun in one of her hands. She had the gun pointed at the head of the onrushing Invader, and rather than a look of fear, her face held an expression of determination – and anger.

"I don't know who the hell you are," Ukiya's friend began. " But no one tries to bite Miyu Tanaka without having her bite back: not men, not women, and not even stupid ass robots like you!"

"Miyu!" Rurippe screamed. "Get back! Its too dangerous!"

Miyu laughed, and a strange light began to glow in her eyes. "Since when have I ever let that stop me?" she said before firing her gun.

As expected, the bullet bounced harmlessly off the armor of the Invader. But then – it didn't stop there. The bullet continued ricocheting, from metal surface to metal surface, zigzagging across the room until finally, miraculously, it entered one of the Invaders coin slots just as it was about to disgorge its coin weapons. What happened seemed to be a chain reaction, as the Invader began to convulse, shooting madly in all directions, before finally – in another burst of light – separating once more into the three original Invaders, who lay on the floor, seemingly stunned.

Ukiya looked from the Invaders, to Miyu, to the gun in her hand… and blinked in disbelief.

"Ooookay…" Miyu was saying. "I know I'm good, but I'm hardly _that_ good."

"So that's her Gatepower I guess…" Bancho said.

"What?" Rurippe asked. "Being lucky?"

"Gate Power?" Miyu interrupted. "Is that what you guys used a while ago? Does that mean I have it too?"

"Well, maybe…" Rurippe said. "It might take a bit more time to determine- " she began, but she was cut off by Ukiya's enthusiastic shout.

"Of course!" he said, giving Miyu a thumbs up. "It only makes sense that all three of us would have the Gate Power doesn't it? You'll make a great addition to the Gatekeepers Miyu, I'm sure of it!"

"Ukiya-kun!" Rurippe hissed. "You're not supposed to do it that way…"

"Gatekeepers?" Miyu asked, sounding amused. "Is this some new club that you've founded Shun-kun?"

A roar interrupted Ukiya before he could answer, and he saw that the Invaders were up – and angry – and heading straight for Miyu-chan.

"Oh please," the black haired girl scoffed, all confidence now. "You don't stand a chance." With that she pulled the trigger of her gun.

Nothing.

Frowning, she pulled it again.

Still nothing.

"What the hell?" Miyu cursed. "I don't believe it! It jammed! This has _never_ happened before!"

"Miyu!" Ukiya cried out. "Get out of there!"

The girl turned and gasped, but could do little to avoid the sword arm of the Card Invader as it came swooping down. Miyu closed her eyes and braced herself for the blow –

-which never came. Cracking her eyes open, Miyu saw that the Invader had been thrown back, its body still crackling from the electrical current which was all that remained of the lightning bolt that had hit it face on.

"Jun-san!" Rurippe said, as the dark skinned American gatekeeper emerged from hiding.

"Let's finish this quickly," Jun said, in a no-nonsense voice. "I'm going to use my lightning to keep them separated, then each of you take one of the Invaders out. Does that work for everyone?"

At their nods Jun opened her Gate, and unleashed jagged bolts of lightning, which cut between the Invaders, and kept them from approaching close enough to fuse together.

"Now!" she said, and the Gatekeepers leapt into action.

Ukiya found himself facing off against the Card Invader. He fended off the first few blows easily, but when the time came for him to strike, the Invader would turn and become 'invisible', and his Whirlwind Slashes ended up cutting nothing but air. After a few more attempts, Ukiya grew frustrated and decided he needed a better plan.

"Fine, if I can't get the 'slash' to work, how about I try just the 'whirlwind'?"

With that, Ukiya opened his Gate and surrounded himself with a gale force wind. The Card Invader, which had been trying to keep its profile towards Ukiya during the battle caught the wind like a sail on a boat and found itself buffeted into the air. Unable to control which side was facing Ukiya at any given moment, the Invader was helpless – which was just how Ukiya liked it.

Gripping his wooden sword firmly in his hands, Ukiya leapt high towards the Invader, now clearly visible as it spun in the winds. "Ultra Hurricane Slash!"

The wind reinforced sword cut cleanly through the Invaders thin body like scissors through paper, and the Invader reverted with a flash into a red crystal, which shattered into pieces as it hit the ground.

Ukiya's own landing was hardly more graceful though. Off balance because of the winds he had summoned, he barely managed to land on his feet, stumbling as his inertia carried him forward. He would have crashed into the ground had he not been caught and held by a pair of strong, feminine arms, his face cushioned by soft mounds of flesh. The Captain of the Far East Gatekeepers began to sweat rather profusely at this point.

"S-sorry Ru-" he began, but then stopped as he saw that it wasn't Rurippe who was holding him, but Miyu.

"Hi there," the black haired girl said, her eyes twinkling mischievously. She whistled appreciatively. "My how you've grown since we last saw each other Shun-kun."

Ukiya gave an embarrassed laugh. "So have you Miyu-chan."

The girl grinned in a slightly predatory manner. "Oh… So you've noticed that have you?"

Before he could reply he heard Rurippe's voice behind him. "Ukiya-kun are you all ri- " she began, but then trailed off in mid-sentence, before beginning again, in a snippy tone.

"I hardly think that's a proper position to be in _Captain_ Ukiya…" he heard her say.

"What's the matter Ruri? You sound… odd. Almost as if you were… jealous perhaps?" There was a pause before Miyu continued, in a slightly harsher tone. "Could it be that while I was gone you've been out poaching _my_ territory?"

"Territory?" Ukiya winced as he heard Rurippe's voice rise in pitch. "Ukiya's not… I mean, I'm _not_ jealous! And besides I was talking to Ukiya- kun!"

"Oh I don't know Ruri-ruri," Miyu answered, cutting off Ukiya's own explanation. "Shun's a big boy don't you think? Big enough to make his own decisions yes?"

Ukiya looked up to see Rurippe and Miyu glaring at each other over him. He really didn't like the way that Rurippe was fondling her arrows, and he was sure that the hand that Miyu didn't have possessively clasping his arm was holding her gun. He decided that it would be best for all parties if he straightened up from his – admittedly comfortable – position.

"So um, Miyu-chan," Ukiya babbled, as he took a position between the two girls. "I know that this is kind of sudden, but the reason we came here was to ask you to join A- "

"I'm in."

"Er… what?"

The dark haired girl tossed her head to one side, her eyes never leaving Rurippe's. "I said I'm in."

"But you don't even know what you're being asked to join!"

"You'll be there right? Part of this group?"

Ukiya blinked. "Er… Yes, I'm - "

"Then I'm in."

"Glad to have you Miyu-chan," Rurippe said in a bland monotone.

"Oh I'm sure you are," Miyu replied, in the same tone of voice. "It'll be just like old times."

"I wouldn't be so sure about that…" Rurippe said. "I've changed a lot since we last met."

"Really?" Miyu asked, her voice laden with meaning. "I haven't changed at all."

"Um, well then," Ukiya said, his hands twitching nervously at his sides "I'm glad we're all… um, together again."

_Hoo boy…_

"Why does Ukiya get all the women?" Bancho sobbed at Jun, but the American Gatekeeper ignored him.

"Ukiya," she called out. "Get over here. Looks like we're about to receive a priority message from Headquarters…"

==[AEGIS]==

"Another mission?" Fei asked. "Already?"

The Far East Gatekeepers were gathered around Kaoru, who had been contacted by Headquarters through her wrist watch. Francine was with the Abbot and the newly recovered Leal finalizing his transfer to AEGIS, and the three Japanese Gatekeepers had been taking the time out to catch their breath when Shirei had called.

"We had planned to wait a bit longer, to give you some time to rest," Shirei explained. "But circumstances have forced our hand. An… incident regarding this particular candidate has occurred, and if we do not act quickly, it entirely possible that either the Military or the Police, or even so-called Freedom Fighters might reach him before we do. If that happens he could be killed… Or worse."

"What could be worse than getting killed?" Reiko asked.

In answer Shirei merely shook his head. "Let's not worry about that for now. What's important is that we get to him before the authorities do – or before the Invaders."

"Is he a criminal or something?" Kaoru asked. "Why is everyone after him?"

==[AEGIS]==

"The boy is… Not in complete control of his Gate Abilities yet, and the nature of his power is such that it causes harm to those nearby."

"So he accidentally used them in a populated area and people got hurt?" Rurippe asked. "Is that why they're after him?"

"I know just how he feels," Bancho said, great tears streaming down his cheeks.

"Yes," the Far East Commander replied. "Although in truth we don't know if his use of the Gate was accidental or intentional."

"So we find him and get him out before anyone else does?" Ukiya asked. "That sounds simple enough."

"Don't be a dunce Shun-kun," Miyu said. "First we'd have to find him, and finding someone who is avoiding the cops is going to be pretty difficult." She paused then to peep at the face of the Commander in the monitor. "Hello there," she said cheerfully. "I'm Miyu Tanaka, your newest recruit. Pleased to meet you! So where are we off to next?"

Shirei looked a bit flustered by the brash approach and the rapid-fire speech of the young Tanaka, but he managed to nod politely in her direction before clearing his throat to continue.

"The candidate was last sighted in Israel, somewhere along the Gaza Strip. Both local military activity and Invader activity have been reported to be on the rise in the area, and as such extreme care will be necessary."

"Does this candidate have a name?" Miyu asked, and Ukiya thought that Rurippe was about to do the black haired girl physical harm, so incensed did she seem because of Miyu's bossiness.

Much to everyone's surprise however, it was not Shirei that answered but Jun, who had been quiet during most of the briefing.

"His name is Eliezer Snow," she said, then paused. Her eyes had a far away look that said that while she was physically present, her mind was somewhere – and somewhen – far, far away.

"His name is Eliezer Snow," she repeated. "And his is the Gate of Torment."

==[AEGIS]==

Author's Note: Whew.

That turned out to be much longer than I thought it would be.

I'll probably think twice about having two different missions going on in the same chapter – it makes things considerably more difficult. Well, at least I gave you guys all the action that I promised you ^_^

I hope you like the first two of the three new 'cast' members I have planned for this fic. The other Gatekeepers I created (to fill out all the slots in the 'official' list) will play bigger roles later, but Leal and Miyu will be hanging out with Ukiya and the gang from here on out.

Leal I think is my reaction to the overwhelming number of females on the Far East Gatekeeper squad… I think a somewhat woman-phobic monk would be an amusing addition to the cast.

Miyu is… Well, Miyu. Parts Asuka, Misao and Dirty Pair (both of them) I think she adds a certain amount of recklessness to the mix – and of course adds spice to Ukiya and Ruri's relationship.

As for the final cast member… Well you'll meet him next chapter, and he'll be adding a pair of elements that Gatekeepers lacks but which Evangelion has in abundance:

Mystery and Angst. Watch for it! (Though I have a Vandread Fic to finish first…)

Comments and criticisms welcome as always…