Thank you all for your support! I was quite surprised. I hope that this next chapter doesn't disappoint.
As always, if you find any glaring mistakes, inconsistencies, or details that don't quite add up, please let me know.
"Be quick about it, would you? The owner was nice enough to let us use it even though we're not customers," Mousse said, opening the door to the men's room. "If you can't find your way out of the stall, just give a shout. I'll be right here." He said. "Oh, and… you don't really need your pack with you in here do you?"
Ryouga sighed and adjusted the traveling pack on his shoulders. The convenience store's actual customers were poorly hiding the fact that they were staring at and muttering about the two teens, and he was sure it was because one of them looked like he was about to go camping in a bathroom.
"I don't like being separated from it," He said. "You understand, don't you?"
The other teen gave him a small, pitying nod.
"I… suppose," He said.
"Thanks…" Ryouga grumbled, before walking inside the bathroom. The door shut behind him, and he rolled his eyes.
Like hell was he going to sit on that bench all day and wait for that withered old bat to lead him around. He needed to find Ranma now, and then figure out what they were going to do about this whole mess.
He quickly surveyed the restroom, and then walked over to the wall opposite the door.
After the ensuing explosion, the door slammed open and Mousse rushed in.
"Hibiki! Are you under attack?!" He quickly spotted the hole in the wall leading outside and dashed out through it, into a dirty alleyway, looking around for the escapee. "Oh, for the love of…"
Ranma stepped into her room, freshly bathed and clad in Teriha's flannel pajamas. She only wore them in the few seconds after taking a bath, since that Kajiwara woman would die before allowing her to wear a simple T-shirt and boxers (especially borrowed ones) and she was quick to discard them (and the silk panties and bra she wore underneath) the instant she entered her room.
"Ugh." She shuddered as she let the articles drop to the floor. She walked over to her closet, where she'd hidden her stash of boxers, and opened it.
And then she was crushed by a heavy weight.
Ranma fell back, completely caught off guard by the sudden falling body that landed on top of her. She cried out as she landed on her back, then groaned and blinked her eyes open, looking up at what had fallen on her.
"What the… Ryouga?!"
"I'm so sorry, miss! Terribly so…" Ryouga's apology was cut short as he recognized the girl beneath him. Her hair was let down, and actually seemed to shimmer in the room's artificial light, and that'd thrown him off, but there was no mistaking the face. "R…Ranma!?" Suddenly his expression changed to one of triumph. "I've done it! I've found you! On the first day, no less!"
As tears of happiness began welling up in the not so Lost Boy's eyes, Ranma favored him with a half-lidded stare as a bead of sweat began pouring down her head.
"Okay, yeah, so… would you get your hands off my boobs?"
Ryouga's blubbering was cut short as he looked down and saw that his hands were exactly on Ranma's breasts, covering the most sensitive parts from sight.
Suddenly the door slammed open and Mitsukoshi rushed into the room.
"Young Miss! Are you… al…right…"
Ryouga and Ranma both looked up at the man whose face was quickly turning red. After a moment, his expression quickly turned into a snarl.
"You beast! Unhand her atonce!" The man yelled as he charged into the room.
Ryouga quickly jumped off of the downed Ranma, holding his hands up in defense.
"I-It's not what you think!" He shouted, before glancing down at Ranma. "You! Say something!"
Ranma screamed and covered herself up with her arms.
"Oh, Mikkon! This terrible pervert climbed in through the window! He was trying to take away my purity!"
Ryouga's eyes widened and he turned to face the newcomer again. Mitsukoshi narrowed his eyes as his expression took on an icy deadliness.
"Is that so." The man asked as the room's temperature seemed to drop very quickly.
Ryouga jumped to avoid a blurred knife-hand aimed for his throat.
"Whoa!" He shucked his pack as he scrambled to avoid blindingly fast strike after strike.
"Thought you could take away Ojou-sama's purity right under my nose, hmm?!" The man roared. "Well think again!"
Ranma watched, shocked, as the butler/chauffer engaged her prime rival with bona-fide martial arts, and very quickly overwhelmed the teen with sheer speed.
"Ranma, you lying little-!"
"Be silent, foul craven!" Mitsukoshi roared as he slammed a palm-thrust-uppercut into the boy's chin. It was superbly controlled – rather than get sent flying, Ryouga was gently lifted off of his feet into the air – and the elbow to the chest and chop that followed sent him crashing down to the floor, angled so that the base of his skull hit it first - again, with just enough force that he didn't break the floor.
Ranma found herself staring at Mitsukoshi in mute shock. She'd read in Teriha's diaries that Mitsukoshi knew "karate", though she (Teriha) hadn't been interested in the details. She'd taken that to mean he was your average practitioner. Maybe he had a black belt and practiced a kata or two every day, at the most.
The man before her was a Master class martial artist, moving with the speed and grace of one who lived and breathed martial arts. No different from her father, or even how she had been just a few days back. She could feel his voluminous chi coiled up inside his body, like a snake waiting to strike with deadly, deadly force. The fact that she hadn't noticed it up until he was raining down blows on aconfused Ryouga meant that he was an expert at hiding it, too.
"Uhh, Mikkon! I was joking! He's a friend! A friend!"
Mitsukoshi blinked as he looked down at the fallen Lost Boy, who was groaning in pain. Ryouga shook his head as he sat up, somewhat wobbly.
"A…friend?" The man asked, quite confused. "Might I ask, then, young miss, what a male friend was doing in here with you naked… and… his hands…" The man trailed off and he lowered his head. "Young miss… I… suppose you're at that age, but-"
"IT'S NOT LIKE THAT!"
Mitsukoshi stared at Ranma – now wearing her flannel again – and Ryouga, his arms crossed, as they finished their story. Several maids had gathered at the door by then, and were listening in as well, peering in through the crack.
"...And you truly expect me to believe that this young man simply has a sense of direction so bad that he ended up in your room – and your closet for that matter - by pure accident?"
"Yes!" Ranma snapped. "If Ryouga finds anything, it's not because he was trying!"
Ryouga sent her a sharp glare, then lowered his gaze.
"I pull through when it really counts…" The teen mumbled.
Mitsukoshi looked down at him.
"Young man, I'm going to have to escort you off the premises," He said. "I hope you understand."
"Look, can he at least set up camp on the front yard or something?" She asked. "I don't want him to disappear for ten weeks again."
The butler raised an eyebrow at her.
"You see that huge pack?" She asked, gesturing Ryouga's massive rucksack, on the ground where Ryouga had dropped it. It was filled to the brim, as always, and his umbrella was strapped to its side. "It's always overstuffed like that because his sense of direction is so bad, he never knows when he'll need it. You'll find nothing but camping gear in there, honest."
The butler narrowed his eyes in suspicion, then approached it.
"May I?" He asked, kneeling over it.
Ranma looked over at Ryouga, who sighed.
"Sure… just… make sure you put everything back the way it was… never know when I'll need it…"
The butler nodded and opened the pack. A quick glance inside and he frowned before scratching his head in confusion.
"Huh… I… see…" He muttered something else, then shook his head and stood up. "I humbly apologize for the misunderstanding then, Young Miss, Hibiki-San. Still, I'm afraid the young gentleman can't be allowed to stay in your room…"
Ranma nodded. That much was obvious; these people thought she was a girl, after all.
"So you'll let him camp outside?"
The butler chuckled.
"Heavens, no! We have numerous guest rooms," The man said, standing up. "Your friend can use one of them for the night."
"Here? In this giant place?" He asked. "Oh, no, I couldn't possibly-"
"You should make sure there's always someone by his door." Ranma said.
"Of course there will be someone there," The man said with a chuckle. "It would be inappropriate for the young man to suddenly find himself in your room again, now wouldn't it?" He flashed an icy glare at Ryouga.
"We're not like that, how many times do I have to tell you!?" Ranma growled.
"Yeah, blech," Ryouga agreed, making spitting sounds. "How could you even think I'd want to do those things with a disgusting, selfish jerk like hi…uh, her?"
Mitsukoshi blinked, while Ranma turned to glare at him.
"Hey, if anyone's disgusting, it's you! Pigdisgusting!"
"Why you…" He turned to glare at her. "You wanna go right now!? Huh!?"
Mitsukoshi chuckled as he watched.
"Yeah, I was just thinking I could use a work out!" Ranma spat. "And you'd make a real nice punching bag!"
The lost boy let out a deep, throaty rumble as his eyes took on a dangerous glint.
She took a defensive stance and beckoned him.
"Any time, pork rind! Or are you just going to stand there and squeal!"
"That's it!" Ryouga growled, taking a step towards her.
Suddenly Mitsukoshi appeared between both of them, holding his hands up in a placating gesture.
"I can see you're both good friends indeed," He said. "As a matter of fact, I'm surprised the young miss has a friend this close to her that I wasn't aware of. But I'm going to have to ask that you keep any… roughhousing to a minimum."
Ranma and Ryouga both blinked at that, then Ryouga frowned at him.
"Says the guy who was just beating me up a minute ago," He grumbled.
"I can continue if the young sir would like." Mitsukoshi said with an emotionless stare.
"Bah, maybe later," The teen said, waving it off. "Anyways… um, erm…" He suddenly recalled the situation. "Oh! I uh… I don't mean to intrude or anything," He said. "You don't have to give me any special treatment. I'll be just fine camping outside."
"Nonsense," Mitsukoshi said, his expression lightening once more. "I'm sure you haven't eaten any real food in a while. As a friend of the young miss, you deserve at least a good meal." He said. "I'll have one of the maids go to your room later, just let her know what you want."
Ryouga stuttered as he bowed his head nervously.
"Oh, um… you're too generous…" He said. "I don't know how to thank you!"
Mitsukoshi laughed again.
"It's really not a problem," He said. "Unless the young miss would insist that you camp outside…"
"Ehh, who cares," she said with a shrug. "But Ryouga, why were you looking for me anyway?"
"I was hoping you could take me home," He said, looking down at the ground. "I… wanted to know if everything was the same there."
Ranma raised an eyebrow.
"Oh yeah? Well, alright. But it'll have to wait till tomorrow."
"I figured," He said. "Well… that's it, really."
"Alright, well, I'm gonna let them take care of ya," She said. "Go on, get lost."
He glared at her, but then turned to face Mitsukoshi and bowed deeply.
"Words cannot describe the gratitude I have for your hospitality, sir." He said.
Mitsukoshi chuckled, reaching up and scratching his head.
"Well, it's not really mine, it's the young miss's…"
Ryouga remained bowing towards him.
"Thank you, sir. A thousand times, thank you."
Ranma rolled her eyes. As Mitsukoshi ushered the boy out of the room, he turned to look at her.
"So, Young Miss… why, exactly… were you naked?"
She stared at him.
"Uh… I uhh…"
"And exactly why…" He began, turning and walking towards her closet, "do you have these?" He asked, reaching in and retrieving a pair of boxers.
She stared at him, frozen.
"I… uh… well…"
Mitsukoshi looked down at his boxers, before "realization" struck.
"I… see…" He said, furrowing his brow. "Well… you are a young woman now. I respect that. And, really… I've suspected you've felt this way about me for some time, and while I'm, erm… flattered… though it's not… my business what you do in your… private time… I need these. For wearing. Instead of… whatever it is that you use them for." He cleared his throat as he gathered them up and glanced at her nervously, then started walking towards the door. "Just… let the maids know when you need new sheets, alright? And… let's forget this ever happened, shall we?"
Ranma simply stood there, brow furrowed and mouth half-open as she watched him go. What was this guy think-
And then it clicked, and her face went beet red.
"No! It's not what you think!" She shouted. "Ryouga must have done that!"
"Of course, Of course." The man said with a quick nod. "I'll see to it that he… knows not to do such things in the future."
Ranma grit her teeth as he quickly stepped out and closed the door behind him.
She cursed. Loud.
That had gone about as badly as it possibly could have. And now she was stuck wearing panties.
Usagi sighed as she lay in her bed. The light was off, and Luna and Chibi-Usa were both fast asleep. She could hear Chibi-Usa's faint snoring, and the occasional murmur. Usagi smiled; If she listened long enough, the pink haired girl would occasionally talk in her sleep, either calling for one of her parents, or the Senshi, and sometimes the names of people she assumed were friends. It was really quite… heartwarming, to have evidence – indeed, the result of – her loving marriage with Mamoru, come back from the future and share space with her. It was reassuring that the future had good things in store for her and her friends. This time around, of course, she planned to be ready for Prince Diamond and Wiseman or whoever else threatened Neo Crystal Tokyo. She would protect everyone it was in her power to do so for.
Her smile faded away. Right now, though, she was faced with a tough decision regarding the present.
At first it had looked like an easy one. Sacrifice the free will of two people in exchange for the safety of an entire city? Even as little as Usagi paid attention in school, she'd heard the phrase "the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few" enough to know that sacrifices had to be made sometimes. But where would she draw the line? Was it okay to brainwash someone for some things and not others? If so, at what point did it become not okay?
What was to stop her from doing it to other people if she could do it to her own parents? Once she crossed the line, there would be no going back. No amount of justifications could right a wrong, and even if it had been with the best possible outcome in mind, the guilt and hypocrisy would weigh heavily on her.
She buried her face in her pillow and moaned, careful not to wake the other two.
'This is so hard. Why do I have to do it? I'm just a kid for crying out loud!'
Most of the time she just wished there was someone else who would tell her what to do. It would be so much easier to just follow someone else's orders and not have to think about it. But she knew she couldn't do that. If someone told her to do something she felt was wrong, she wouldn't.
She rolled over in her bed and stared at her ceiling. Right and wrong weren't nearly as straightforward as manga and anime made it seem. It seemed like the only choices available had some of both to them.
There's always an alternative. Always.
The words echoed in her head suddenly, as she recalled the conversation from two days before. On that topic she had agreed, and fervently. And if there was always an alternative to killing people, then there was an alternative to brainwashing her parents, too. She just had to look for it.
'Well, it looks like I've got my decision on that.'
She wouldn't brainwash her parents into letting her stay. It was just wrong. And she couldn't call herself a defender of love and justice if she was committing such brazen injustices as mind control in her own home. That was that. So that meant she now had to figure out just what the alternative was.
"Mama… stop that… you're gonna… shave me bald…"
Most importantly, she had to set an example for all the good children in the world, her daughter included.
The next morning, Ranma climbed into her bedroom window. She was once again wearing her iconic pigtail, along with the sports bra and yoga pants combo, with the addition of a white towel hanging over her shoulder; the former had been washed by the maids the previous day. The sun was just barely rising over the horizon, but she already had a fresh sheen of sweat clinging to her body. Even without Akane and the old man to wake her up all the time, her biological clock had been conditioned to wake her up at the same time every day in anticipation of their treachery.
Treachery she was honestly starting to miss. This Juuban place had its share of trouble, but she just knew she was going to soften up here. Especially with the maids and butler.
Even as she toweled herself off, though, there was a knock on the door to her room.
"Young Miss?" There was a second knock. "Young Miss, it's time to wake up. You have to get ready for school."
"I'm up, Mikkon!" She called back.
There was a momentary pause.
"You're… up already?"
She walked over to the door and opened it, and found herself staring at a rather perplexed looking Mitsukoshi. He blinked several times, then looked down at her in the dim morning light.
"I… see," He said, regaining his composure. "You've been… working out?"
"A little a' this, a little a' that," She said. "Is my bath ready?"
"Kajiwara-san is preparing it as we speak," He said. "Would you like some water in the meanwhile?"
"That'd be great," She said. "Thanks."
He made a sweeping bow with one arm behind his back.
"I live to serve, young miss." He stood back up. "Oh, one more thing. I regret to inform you that your friend, Hibiki-san, disappeared overnight."
She groaned and rolled her eyes.
"Does he at least have his pack?"
Mitsukoshi shook his head.
"Unfortunately he seems to have left it behind."
"Well that sucks. Poor bastard."
The butler frowned.
"Young Miss, I notice your language has become quite vulgar of late." He remarked.
She blinked, then held up a hand to her mouth and laughed.
"A-aha, o-oh, really? Uh… perhaps that uncouth rogue's churlish manner hath rubbed off on me more than I was aware! Oho, oooohohohoho!" She finished with her best impression of Kodachi.
Mitsukoshi's brow crinkled in confusion, and he shook his head before turning and walking off.
"Well, as long as you don't let it become a habit…" He muttered. "I'll bring your water to the washroom. Please go wait with Kajiwara-san. We'd hate to be late again like on your first day, especially after yesterday's absence."
She nodded sharply, even though his back was turned.
"Verily! Duly noted, good sir! Ohohoho!"
Mitsukoshi glanced back at her in confusion again, before shrugging and continuing on his way.
Later, Ranma sat in the back of the limo, staring at her phone as Mitsukoshi navigated the streets. She'd finally figured out how check her inbox, and there was a backlog of messages - both text and voicemail – from people she didn't know. Some of them she recognized from the diaries, but the others were total and complete mysteries to her.
'Oh boy…' She scrolled down the list of text messages and sighed. 'This can only mean trouble.'
She looked up at the front, glad for the distraction.
"Tally ho, what what?"
"How long are you going to keep up that strange manner of speech?"
She chuckled nervously.
"Whatever dost thou mean… Mitsukoshi-san?" She asked in as airily a manner possible.
"Okay, okay," He grumbled. "If you're going to be sarcastic, then just go back to talking like a crude jackanapes."
She sighed with relief. She'd been honestly trying, but that was the best result she could hope for.
"Whew. Was killin' myself there, Mikkon."
He shook his head.
"More importantly, have you been practicing martial arts in secret?"
"Oh! Uh, yes! I… uh…" She trailed off as she tried to think of a good excuse for her sudden musculature. It came to her all of a sudden. "Yeah! See, I found some really neat self-help guides on the net, and… well… I was a little embarrassed because of my figure… so I practiced where no one would see me…" She said. "Why, Mikkon? Did you notice how sexy I became all of a sudden?"
The butler/chauffer/master martial artist coughed.
"Erm, well, Young Miss is as beautiful as always, but I was just wondering…" He trailed off. "Wait, did you say self-help videos?" He frowned. "That's not the sort of thing you should do by yourself. You could end up learning the techniques incorrectly without a proper sensei to tell you whether or not you're doing it wrong."
"Oh? Well then, maybe we could spar sometime? I'll show you what I've learned, and you can tell me if it's wrong."
He smiled, which she saw in the rearview mirror.
"I'd be delighted to help."
When they arrived at the school, she stepped out of the limo on her own, rather than waiting for him to walk around and open the door for her. She slung her backpack over her shoulder and turned to look at him; he had already stepped out of the car and looked a bit surprised.
"Thanks for the ride, Mikkon," she said with a wave. "Lookin' forward to that spar later!"
"I'll be back here for you when school is out." He said.
She nodded back, and he climbed into the car as she turned around and started walking towards the school building.
Ranma turned to look at the voice. It took a minute to see its owner heading towards her through the crowd of students, but there Urameshi Yusuke was, waving at her. She made her way through the crowd towards him.
"Yo yourself," She said. "What's up? I didn't figure you for the 'goes-to-school' type."
"I'm not. I just wanted to see if you were interested in punching some youkai assholes out tonight." He explained.
She raised an eyebrow.
"You got yourself some action, eh?" She asked, her expression turning to a devious grin. "Count me definitely in. They better be some tough bastards though," She grumbled.
"I 'onno, but I do know they need stopped bad."
She narrowed her eyes.
"What's the deal?"
He sighed and looked around, then led her over to a secluded area by some plants.
"Look, you're not gonna like this one bit, but these youkai, right, they've taken over a slaughterhouse, and they're churning out human meat."
"No shit?" She asked. "Why aren't we taking care of these assholes now?"
"I 'onno, didn't ask. Probably shoulda." He frowned. "Well, I don't know where it is, and the lady who's taking me along said to meet her at midnight."
"Where? And should we bring those other girls along?"
"The alleyway besides the Azabu Police Station," he said. "And do you really wanna split the fun up with that many people?"
She blinked, then shrugged.
"Alright, then I'll be expecting ya," He said. He started walking backwards and gave her a two-fingered salute. "See ya!"
She gave him a lazy wave, then turned and started walking towards her classroom.
Yusuke pushed open the door to the disciplinarian's office and walked in with his characteristic swagger, each hand stuffed in a pants pocket.
The woman – Mei'ou Setsuna if the name tag on her desk was accurate – looked up at him from her work, thoroughly unamused.
"Hello, Yusuke. Back in school, I see?"
"Not really," He said. "I need to know if there's a kid who goes here, her name's Hasebe Misaki. Freshman year maybe?"
She raised an eyebrow at him.
"And just why should I tell you that?"
"None of your business," He said with a frown. When she rolled her eyes, he sighed and shook his head. "Just… just tell me, okay? It's personal."
She leaned back in her chair and looked up at him.
"I'm not in the habit of giving out my students' personal information, even if for personal reasons," She said. "And I'm not telling you anything until you explain to me just why it is a straight A student drops out of school so totally and completely, and very suddenly at that."
He blinked at her.
"Straight As?" He parroted.
"You were number one in your year for two years straight," She said. "Here you are, two months from graduating and getting a free ride into Tokyo Uni, and you just stop showing up?"
He blinked again.
'Holy hot damn.'
"Uh well, I can explain…" He said. "You see… it's…" And as his mind wandered, trying to pull a reason for his sudden shift in behavior out of his ass, it all came together, piece by piece.
He forced a serious look onto his face. Roughly half of what he was about to say was going to be bullshit.
"Meiou-san… I'm not sure where to begin. This… this isn't going to be an easy story."
She stared at him for a bit, then motioned for him to sit down and sat up in her chair.
"I've got time, Urameshi-san."
He blinked – then realized she had access to the school's registry and shrugged before closing the door and sitting down.
"You see… it's like this. A few days ago – the first day I missed, actually… while walking to school, I came across a gang of unruly thugs beating on a poor, innocent girl. Of course, I couldn't just walk by it – I mean come on, who could?" He said the last bit with a questioning hand gesture, and she nodded. "So anyway, I was caught in a… con…conundrum? Yes, that. Anyways, I really wanted to get to school… but… well, I couldn't just leave her. I didn't really know what to do, and while I was standing there like an idiot, they just kept wailing on her. My body moved before my brain could come up with a conclusion."
She stared at him.
"You intervened." She said.
He nodded. That sounded like a good word, may as well use it too.
He took a deep breath.
"I don't regret it, even now. I know I'd make the same choice every time, even if faced with that same situation. I'm no karateka or anything, but… I live in a tough neighborhood. I know how to defend myself."
She nodded her understanding. If she'd read his profile, she would have known where he lived, too.
"It didn't end well." He said, sitting back. "Of course it didn't – it was me against what, five, six guys with chains and brass knuckles?" He chuckled and shook his head. "Anyways, I bet you heard the ambulances back then, right? In the middle of the day?"
Her eyes widened and she gasped.
"That was you?"
"The hospital let me go a couple of nights ago. I've… been better, but they said I should be able to manage now. You know how they need their space. Anyways, it's been a slow recovery. I was a bit cranky with you yesterday, I know, but… well… I was having a bad week."
She nodded her understanding.
"The girl they were beating up," He began. "I met her a while back. She seemed like a good kid. And I've seen her around my 'hood too. So I got to know her a little."
She narrowed her eyes.
He nodded and she frowned and looked down at her desk.
"Is that right…" She murmured.
"I have a feeling she's deep in something pretty bad," He said. "I don't know where she lives, and I was hoping to… speak with her parents about it."
After a moment she looked up at him again.
"If you were in the hospital, why didn't they contact us?"
"Um, well, you see, I didn't have my school ID on me at the time, and no one else lives with me or anything… and I didn't think to have them contact you because I was just so out of it," He said.
She stared at him.
"Is there a doctor that I can contact to confirm your story?" She asked.
"Eh? Oh, well, I didn't really bother remembering their names," He said. "But I'm sure they have me in their records or something…"
"I see. Well, I'm glad that you're doing better, and I appreciate your concern for your fellow students, but I'm afraid that pursuing this matter with Hasebe-san is not up to you. As outstanding a man and model student you are, if you were to get involved again, I'm afraid it would only end up with another trip to the hospital… possibly worse."
He grit his teeth.
"However, I will follow up on this information. You have my sincere thanks, Urameshi-san. If necessary, I will involve the police."
"Y-yeah… no problem." He grunted.
This was not going how he'd planned.
"Are you well enough to attend class?" She asked, looking up at him.
This was definitely not going how he'd planned.
He forced out a cough.
"Uh, actually, my ribs are killin' me," He said with a pained wince. "I'll, uhh, need a few more days to… recuperate."
"Well then, I'll let your teachers know." She said. "I'll get in contact with the hospital so we can get an official statement… it was the local general hospital, right?"
He grit his teeth, but nodded.
"Yeah. I'll uh, get going then." He said, standing up. And then he turned and walked out of her office, her eyes lingering on him until he closed the door.
Setsuna stared at Hasebe Misaki's profile on her computer with a furrowed brow and a hand on her chin. Roughly half of what the young man had said had been bullshit – which felt rather incongruous with his profile – but she had a feeling that he'd been forthright with regards to Hasebe Misaki.
And thus it was an hour after her meeting with him that the girl in question walked into that same office.
Setsuna took in the girl's appearance as she stood there at the door. She had shoulder-length pink hair, but it wasn't styled or even groomed very well; as a matter of fact, the girl seemed to go out of her way to look plain. Her hair was cut unevenly in some places and had visible tangles and in it, and her clothes, while clean, were ruffled and worn looking. Despite this, she had an unearthly natural beauty; her face and body were perfectly proportioned, her pale skin was flawless, and she looked to be the ideal weight for her height (which couldn't have been more than one hundred and sixty-five centimeters) and slim build. Her eyes were lavender, and held an obvious nervousness – one that wasn't uncommon for any student called into her office.
The Senshi of Pluto narrowed her eyes. The girl's beauty was indeed unearthly – even out of her Senshi form she could sense the passive, spell-like glamour effect on her. Though she already had what many would have called a perfect body, the glamour would keep eyes glued to her, perhaps even instilling a desire to see… more of her perfect body. She had seen this several times before, in her many years of service to the Moon Kingdom.
The girl was a Cambion.
"U-um, did you need to see me?" She asked. Her voice, even tinged with uneasiness, had a mellifluous quality to it.
"Yes, Hasebe-san," She said. "Please, sit down."
The girl did as she was told.
"Hasebe-san, how are you?" She asked. "Does the day find you well?"
Misaki smiled pleasantly and reached up to brush some stray strands of hair out of her eyes. Though the smile would have seemed genuine to the common observer, Sailor Pluto's millennia of experience wasn't fooled in the slightest.
"I'm just fine," She said. "I've been better, but it's more or less good."
"I see." Setsuna said with a nod and a smile of her own. "That's good. I can only hope it continues to be so."
Misaki inclined her head at her.
"And how are you, sensei? The delinquents must keep you busy, hmm?"
Setsuna chuckled. She was sociable enough, and it didn't feel like an act.
"Yes, they make their fair share of trouble." She folded her hands on her desk. "Anyways, as you might have imagined, this was not a social call, Hasebe-san."
The teenager bit her lip.
"Um, yes," She said. "Have I done something wrong, sensei?"
"Unfortunately." She stared the younger girl in the eye. "Our database generates a list of students with consecutive tardies and absences. Hasebe-san, your name is on that list." It wasn't a lie.
The girl winced.
"A-ah… I see…"
"At this point, the next step would be a mandatory home visit."
The girl reacted slightly, only a minute twitch in the face and a slight creasing of the brow.
"However, I would be willing to hear your explanation, as to why you were late to or missed school on the following days this last month…" she said as she turned to look at her computer screen and began reading some of them off. After about ten seconds, she stopped. "As you can see the list is rather extensive." She returned her attention to Misaki and waited.
"A-ah… yes, well…" She trailed off. "I… erm… well, we have a family business… and I… work there…" She immediately closed her eyes and mouthed a curse. "I'm sorry, that's wrong. Actually… I was just out because… I… I just… can't find the motivation to go to class anymore…" She chuckled miserably despite herself, then looked up with pleading eyes. "Please, don't tell my father! I swear I'll come more often! Every day, even!"
Setsuna raised her eyebrows.
"Hasebe-san, I'm sorry, but these policies are in place to help our students succeed…" she trailed off, noticing something on the girl's face.
Misaki nervously shifted under her gaze. Ever so subtly did the movement cause some more of the fringes of her hair to drop down and cover that same part of her face.
"You've got a black eye." Setsuna said with a frown. It was covered up with a bit of makeup – and well at that – but she could still see it.
"What happened? If you've been fighting on school grounds, I'll have to inform your parents. We may have to take further disciplinary measures as well."
Misaki looked up at the woman and stuttered for a bit.
"I-I… I… I walked into a pole. While texting some friends."
Setsuna stared at her.
"Hasebe-san. I want you to know that you can be completely honest with me." She said. "If you're having trouble with bullies, then tell me now, and I will take whatever steps I can to ensure it doesn't happen again. You don't have to endure this alone."
The teen shook her head.
"You've got to believe me, I haven't gotten into any fights." she said desperately. "I don't like violence, ma'am. I just want to come to school and do well like everyone else."
"Of course." She closed her eyes for a brief moment, then opened them again. "Hasebe-san, I'll be scheduling a meeting with your father for some time this week. Normally it would be done by your homeroom teacher, but I think I shall personally conduct this visit."
"That is all, Hasebe-san." She said with a neutral expression. "I want you to go see the nurse, and tell him about your eye. And any other… accident injuries you may have."
"Wait," The teen said. "My… my father is on an extended business trip." She explained. "He… couldn't possibly meet with you."
Setsuna remained neutral. Her father's information was all that her profile had.
"Is there any way I could get into contact with your mother, or another guardian?"
The pink haired girl winced and looked down.
"I… no, I don't have anyone else."
Setsuna stared at her for a moment.
"Then I'll conduct my business with your father over the telephone. Do you live alone right now?"
She shook her head.
"I live with my father, but he's always busy with work."
"I see. Then I'll have to work myself into his schedule. Off to the nurse with you, now."
Setsuna watched her leave, then turned to look at the girl's profile on her computer screen.
'If they had weapons like Urameshi said, it's possible she's gotten on the wrong side of some delinquents, possibly worse.' She narrowed her eyes. 'But that doesn't explain the absences. Hmm…'
When lunch time came, Chibi-Usa walked into Setsuna's office with a big smile on her face.
Setsuna looked up at her and the smile melted away.
"What happened?" The time-travelling Senshi asked. "Trouble?"
Setsuna shook her head.
"Nothing you need to be concerned with. Just some school matters." She chuckled. "For a part-timer, I put in a lot of work."
Chibi-Usa shrugged and sat down in the chair before the woman's desk.
"Expelled anyone today?" The teen asked, leaning on the desk.
"I can't just hand out expulsions. Unless it's a really bad case." she said. "And well enough. I've a few trouble students who are giving me a headache, but other than that, fine."
"Oh?" The pink haired girl asked. "Are you holding up alright?"
Setsuna nodded and smiled.
"I'll be fine. Thank you for the concern." She shook her head. "Did you know this country's reputation for bullies was as bad as America's?"
"Worse in some ways, actually. Organized gangs of bullies dedicated themselves to tormenting their peers. They could number in the double digits. High double digits. Incidents often went unreported, and sometimes even when they were, it was ignored or swept under the rug. It was… I suppose is, since we're here now, one of the reasons for the high suicide rate, even amongst middle schoolers."
Chibi-Usa let her shock show openly.
"What? Why haven't I heard about this?"
"It was probably caught up in the tide of world altering changes that follow the current era."
Chibi-Usa shook her head.
"Well that sucks. Thanks for the history lesson, anyway."
Setsuna leaned back in her chair.
"I'm guessing you didn't just come here to see me, though."
Chibi-Usa sat down in the chair.
"Yep, well, see, some stuff happened… You remember when we took out that giant kaiju?"
"I didn't hear the news until it was already over," She said with a frown.
"It's complicated, but my methods for coming across that sort of information are… limited at the moment."
Chibi-Usa stared at her for a bit, then slowly nodded.
"Uh, okay. Well… we kind of need you to show up at the next group talk."
Setsuna raised an eyebrow.
"Puu, have you noticed something strange recently? Within the last five days maybe?"
Setsuna raised an eyebrow.
"You mean the shifting of timelines? Yes, Small Lady. I'm not daft, you know."
"Oh. Right… um, that's bad, right?"
"It was unforeseen," she said. "So yes, it's quite bad."
"Well, mo… Sailor Moon and the others wanted you to show up so you could maybe explain why it happened, and why it's not already reversed."
Setsuna closed her eyes and sighed into a hand.
"Remember those complicated reasons?"
"Well, long story short; I'm on suspension."
The Senshi of Time nodded.
"But… What? Did mom-"
"Not by your mother's decision. By Chronos's."
"Chronos… as in… the Chronos?"
"Yes. The Chronos."
The pink haired girl leaned back in her seat as she let that sink in.
"Well… that's… not good…"
Kenichi poked at his lunch. He grabbed a riceball out of the box and half-heartedly took a bite. The previous night had been very awkward, after that surprise revelation from konakona. He'd quickly feigned his parents needing him for something or other, saying it was serious, before logging off, but he'd forgotten that she had his phone number and she'd already sent him several texts since then.
He really had no idea how to deal with her.
After their conversation he'd figured out how to check "his" message history and did just that, to find that… this world's Kenichi and konakona were… close. Very close. His face heated up as he recalled that he'd accidentally seen some… pictures that kids their ages really shouldn't have been trading, as far as he was concerned. There was even talk about moving in together after high school. They mostly spoke in internet slang, of course, but it was obvious they were deeply in love.
So now, he had to decide to either play along, and trick this girl somehow (which was probably going to be impossible)… or tell her the truth (which was impossible to prove).
On top of that he had to retrain… figure out where Sieg, Freya, Ukita, Takeda, and the others were - and his Senseis for that matter - and deal with whatever other surprises this world had waiting for him. All while handling school. It was quickly piling up and he had no idea how he was going to tackle it, or even in what order. If only he could get some help on all of this…
It was then that his phone rang, only once. He instinctively reached into his bag and pulled it out.
There was a text message from konakona.
He sighed heavily, and almost stuffed it back into his bag, but then decided to at least read it.
konakona: Are you alright?! Is your family okay?!
He blinked. For once she'd used proper speech patterns instead of shorthand. She was probably worried since he hadn't gone back to her the night before…
strongest_in_history: I'm fine, sorry I didn't say anything else
konakona: ah, okay
konakona: when I heard about the earthquake I got super worried
Kenichi stared at his phone. Earthquake?
strongest_in_history: What are you talking about? Earthquake?
konakona: un, they said it was mostly felt in Juuban, but a slight tremor everywhere else
konakona: that's why we didn't feel it up here in Saitama, but you're closer, so I was worried
He blinked. So she was in Saitama. That wasn't very far at all, actually.
strongest_in_history: I haven't heard about it yet, sorry
konakona: hmm? Haha what are you apologizing for, it's not your fault
konakona: though you should pay more attention in news
He chuckled. If it was a minor earthquake, though, it couldn't have been too import-
konakona: they said a poorly maintained corporate building was totally destroyed and another one suffered heavy damage when it fell
konakona: lots of people died they say
konakona: I saw pictures of the streets and it looks like everything got squished by falling debris too
Kenichi stared at her words for a moment before it finally clicked.
She was talking about Sunday. But… there hadn't been an earthquake on Sunday. So… why did she think… no, rather, why was it being reported as one? And why just now?
Someone was controlling the media? Was it Yami?
But why would they do that?
He was overwhelmed with thoughts and questions, but his phone beeped once again.
konakona: okay well I'm glad you're safe, class starting
konakona: byebye!（*＾＾）＾*） Chu！！
He winced. He knew at least that that emoticon meant she was 'kissing' him. He had no idea how to respond, so he didn't. Hopefully she'd just assume that meant he didn't want to hold her up. He narrowed his eyes as he put his phone away.
'Why would Yami do something like that?' He frowned. He really couldn't see any possible reason for them to do that. So… maybe it wasn't Yami.
But then who?
The government? An enemy of one of those other people he'd met the other day?
Or someone else they had no idea about yet?
Whatever the case, it gave him a bad feeling.
Ranma sighed as she set her bento box back in its place. Lunch by a master chef was always delicious, but she was really starting to miss Kasumi's cooking. That said something about the young woman's skill.
"Okay, I saw her."
She looked up and saw Chibi-Usa walking towards her. Haruka, who was still eating her lunch, looked over at her as well.
"So, can she come?"
"She said she'll come, but… well, she already told me why things are still as they are."
Both Ranma and Haruka raised eyebrows at that.
Chibi-Usa sat down in her place behind Ranma.
"I'll let her tell you," The pink haired girl said with a sigh. "It's better to go over it once, when everyone's around."
"Then, it'll have to be today, because Michiru's doctor gave her the okay to do a rehearsal tomorrow this morning, and I don't know how long that will take."
"I'll grab her when we're ready to leave then. Should Ranma and the others come?"
Ranma looked up on hearing her name.
"No, I think this is something that pertains strictly to us." Haruka said. "No offense, Ranma."
Ranma blinked, then shrugged. Haruka was a good guy – err, girl – so she trusted her judgment. If she felt Ranma didn't need to know, then she probably didn't.
"No prob," she said, waving it off.
Suddenly, all three of their cell phones rang, just once. They all shared a look, then retrieved their respective phones from their bags.
There was a text message from Shirahama Kenichi on all three.
Media is being controlled. Sunday was reported as an earthquake outside of Tokyo. Don't think it's Yami.
They each stared at the message for a long moment before their eyes met once again.
Ami stared down at the phone's screen with narrowed eyes. Indeed, it didn't fit the description of Yami that he and the girl had given her before to interfere with something like that. This was the work of someone who had a vested interest in keeping the public from finding out about the kaiju. Of course, there was no way to know how Yami's M.O. had changed since the shift, but she had a feeling it wasn't them.
She reached down to scratch her leg, only to rub her fingers against a cast. She mentally cursed, then looked back down at the message and started typing a reply.
Mizuno_Ami: Don't mention them by name. They may have listening software in phone networks that triggers on certain words.
Kenichi winced. How was he supposed to know something like that? He had no idea what people could and couldn't do with computers anymore. For all he knew, they could hack into his computer at home and use it blow his family to smithereens. If monsters and magic were real and martial artists could do the crazy crap that his masters could, it wouldn't surprise him, really. Oh well, with Yami, more caution was always better.
Suddenly the bell rang. He looked up; other students were filtering into the room, including Miu. He instinctively waved as she entered the room, but it took her a moment to notice, and her only response was a small smile and wave of her own. She wordlessly sat down behind him and he turned around to say something, but then-
"Alright, everyone, lunch is over," Said a woman dressed in business formal who strolled into the classroom. It was their fourth period teacher.
Kenichi sighed and turned back around, sliding his phone away.
Yusuke watched, leaning against the wall by the school gate as students poured out through it. Ranma walked by him and jumped into her limo, which took off into the traffic, and he did see one pink head – but it was a girl with twin-tails. He ignored her and waited for the next pinkette to show up – the hair color wasn't exactly common. Though a few girls with dyed hair fooled him, eventually he saw her walk out.
Hasebe Misaki turned towards him as soon as she was out the gate. He looked away, and she walked right past him without noticing. When she was far enough away he started walking after her.
A few others trailed after her as well, so he was able to blend in for the first few blocks. When they started getting closer to his neighborhood, however, they had mostly dispersed and he trailed an entire block behind, using her youki trail to follow when she turned corners. She seemed to have realized that she was being followed, having glanced back a few times, but he always managed to duck behind something when she did.
Finally she stopped and looked around before turning into a familiar alleyway. He ran to catch up as quickly as he could, slowing down to quiet his steps as he neared the alleyway, when he suddenly heard her voice.
"…can't switch schools again! I've only been in this one for a few months!"
There was a pause. He peeked around the corner of the building to see that she was talking into a cellphone. When he saw her head begin to move as she looked up, he quickly moved back and was gone before she could see him.
He narrowed his eyes.
"Why can't I just quit?"
He could hear the man yelling through the phone from as far away as he was, despite the distance.
He waited some more.
"Okay, okay, fine. But I can't be expected to graduate if I have to learn new stuff every few months."
There was another pause.
"O-oh. Of course… haha, silly me…" Another pause. "Y-yes, I'll get to work right now…"
There was a beep.
"Hahaha…" He peeked around the corner to see her shaking her head and trembling. "A fuck toy… a fuck toy?" She laughed again before squeezing her phone. She made to throw it, but then stopped and hung her head instead, still shaking. "What does a fuck toy need a diploma for… hahaha…"
"He called you a fuck toy?" He growled as he walked around the corner.
She screamed and looked up at him, holding her arms up in shock.
"Holy shit!" Recognition hit her and she frowned. "Don't scare me like that you asshole!"
"Answer the question," He said with a scowl.
"You were listening in on my conversation?!" She demanded.
"I just happened to be walking by," He said. "Did your father really call you a fuck toy?"
She narrowed her eyes.
"It's none of your business. Go home, Yusuke."
"Like hell it's not my business!" He snapped. "How the hell am I supposed to ignore this shit?! How!"
She turned around.
"By leaving me alone and going home!" She shouted. She started walking, further into the alleyway. "I mean it! Get out of here! If Seita or the others see you they'll slit your throat!"
He watched with narrowed eyes as she walked away.
"Don't follow me," She said, turning to glare at him.
He shook his head and walked away, shoving his hands in his pockets.
'To hell with this. If she don't want my help, then she won't get it.'
Kenichi shrugged his backpack further on his shoulders with a grunt. It was hard, getting used to the fact that a few books were so heavy again. The trek from school to home, while toting said books, was also a huge drain on his stamina, and left him exhausted before his evening training. And carrying a heavy backpack didn't build muscle properly, the way that Koetsuji-sensei's methods did. In fact, it was more likely to cause back damage.
Speaking of which, he was going to have to replicate those silly inventions somehow…
He sighed as a car passed him by.
'What should I do about that konakona girl?'
It probably wouldn't hurt to find out what her real name was. He'd already seen her naked (if by accident), and usually you knew a person's name before you did that. Or so he liked to think, anyway.
In any case, it looked like he wouldn't be able to get away without breaking her heart. They'd known each other for four years in this world, but he couldn't recall having met her in his own even once. He didn't love her; he barely knew anything about her, aside from the fact that she looked pretty athletic for someone who was supposedly on the computer and video games all the time, and her hair was naturally blue (a thought that made him blush). Deceiving her would be cowardly and wrong, and he just couldn't take advantage of someone like that.
The best he could hope for was that she'd buy the truth.
"Well, well, well… if it ain't Weak Legs Kenichi!"
Kenichi sighed again, more heavily this time, and looked up. Ahead of him were three rather delinquent looking high-schoolers.
His eyes widened. One of them was Takeda Ikki.
"Takeda-san!?" He cried out, forgetting himself. "Oh, Takeda-san! I thought I'd never see you again!"
The boxer – at least, he was wearing bandages on his fists, so he was a fighter of some sort – raised an eyebrow, obviously confused. He was wearing a school uniform like Kenichi's, as were the other two thugs. One was stocky and had short brown hair, while the other was more lanky and had short, combed back black hair.
Takeda's confused expression turned into a grin.
"Oh, so you're happy to see us too?" He exchanged looks with the other two delinquents, neither of whom Kenichi recognized. "Of course, of course. Even a weak little slug should be happy to know his place in society!"
They approached him and he suddenly remembered that this… was probably not his Takeda.
The moment they were near, one of the thugs threw a punch. Kenichi avoided it easily, stepping back at the same time.
"Ah-aha… er, no… I think there's been a misunderstanding…" He said, holding up his hands in peace while laughing nervously.
The thugs looked momentarily surprised that he'd dodged at all.
"What," One of them snorted. "You want to give us your money peacefully?"
"Yes, yes, that's rig—No! No. I ah, Ahem." He cleared his throat and looked up at them defiantly. "I will not be giving you my money." He didn't have any money to give them in the first place.
The three thugs shared a look, then laughed again, as one.
"Looks like we get ta teach you all about your place in the world again,"
Kenichi frowned as they each sneered and made violent gestures, like pounding their fists in hand.
"I'm sure we can resolve this without resorting to violence…" He said nervously as a bead of sweat poured down his head. Despite his training, big thugs always frightened him. Takeda made the situation awkward, but the other two looked downright scary. And there was the real possibility they could hurt him now.
"So did we, but you refused. Too late now," The stocky thug said, walking towards him.
He threw a sloppy punch, which Kenichi easily dodged, then another, and another. After a few seconds of this, the thug looked down at him in confusion.
"The hell… when did you get so quick…" The thug muttered before throwing another punch.
The young martial artist deflected his attack that time, then took hold of his arm and turned around, throwing the much bigger (and heavier) teen over his shoulder.
He readjusted his backpack and turned to face the other thugs, who were staring at him in shock.
"What… the…" the lanky teen muttered. He scowled. "You little punk!"
He charged at Kenichi, who easily sidestepped his attack and tripped him – using the very same Ba Gua technique that Miu had taught him so long ago. The teen fell straight into his hefty companion, who had been starting to get up, only to fall back down.
"Guys… come on," Kenichi said, a little bit of his confidence returning. "Can't you just let me go? I don't like hurting people."
"I see, I see. So you went and learned some judo or something." He smirked. "Ain't gonna save ya from me, weak-knees."
Kenichi narrowed his eyes at other teen.
Was this Takeda as strong as his? He had a feeling that this one hadn't received training from Shiba, but Takeda had been a formidable boxer even before then. Though the one in this world couldn't have possibly met Koetsuji-sensei and gotten his arm fixed, it was possible his left arm hadn't ever been hurt to begin with.
His suspicions were confirmed when Ikki took up a boxer's stance and began his approach.
Kenichi closed his eyes for a second, then took a deep breath as he drew in his energy, and re-opened them with fierce determination.
"Please, Takeda-san," He tried one last time as he took up a defensive stance of his own. "Is this really what you want to do with your life? Beat up and torment people just because you can?"
"What do you know, you little punk!" The boxer shouted, throwing a punch.
Kenichi easily moved around it and punched the other teen in the solar plexus, earning a surprised gag as the boxer took a step back. When he recovered, he narrowed his eyes at the other teen and snarled.
"I'm going to make you regret that."
Kenichi sighed and moved to take up another stance – and nearly tripped when the two other teens quickly wrapped their arms around each leg and held him in place. He quickly glanced down at them and grit his teeth before raising his gaze to meet Takeda once more. The other teen's fist was already flying at his face, and he ducked to the side to avoid it, but the boxer pulled away before Kenichi could take hold of his arm.
Kenichi saw his fist coming in again as if it were in slow motion. Compared to his masters and all of the fighters in YOMI – and especially his own Takeda Ikki, whom had become one of his better friends and rivals – it was in slow motion.
But Kenichi was even slower.
It crashed into his nose straight on, and an avalanche of pain rushed over him.
One blow was all it took.
He was dazed.
But Takeda didn't stop there. There was another punch, and another, and another, until finally that Illusionary Left Straight came flying in –
Kenichi roared as he snapped to attention and willed both of his arms to move. And move they did, as he brought them both up in a blur and caught the other boy's arm in his hands.
But it didn't even slow Takeda down.
The next thing he knew he was flying through the air, his jaw ringing out in pain. An instant later Kenichi landed hard on the ground. His glasses landed on the sidewalk beside him and cracked.
"Heh heh heh… that'll teach you, you little shit." One of the other thugs growled as they both stood up. "You don't like hurting people? Well we do!"
Kenichi struggled to stand, but dizzying amounts of pain throbbed in his head. He could taste blood. His vision was blurry, even more so than it normally was without the glasses.
"T-Takeda-san…" He groaned as he saw their blurred forms approaching him. "This… isn't you… you're better… than this…"
He saw one of the teens pull his foot back for a kick.
Pain was the last thing he knew before everything went black.
Ami sat up in her bed, looking down at her Mercury computer. All of the Senshi sans Setsuna were gathered in her hospital room herself and Michiru, were all wearing school uniforms. The inner Senshi were all squished onto the sofa, talking amongst themselves, while Luna and Artemis lay/sat in on each arm of the sofa.
"Nice wheels," Haruka said as she sat down on the wheelchair next to Ami's hospital bed. "We should race some time." She popped a quick wheelie before gently dropping back down to the ground.
Ami giggled, while Michiru joined them, sitting in one of the other two chairs beside the bed.
"Now, now, dear… don't get too ahead of yourself. Or you may lose like last night," the aquamarine haired teen said.
"I didn't expect an old muscle car like that could drift so well," She said. "Gotta give it to Dom, he knows how to drive."
"Dom?" Ami asked, raising an eyebrow.
"Haruka's new best friend," She said.
Haruka raised an eyebrow.
"What? We just share an interest in cars, that's all," She said.
"So you brought him home and talked about cars – many of which I'd never heard of before - long into the night, despite the fact that you were running on fumes yourself," Michiru scoffed, "because you just share an interest in cars?"
"It was men's talk, honey," Haruka said with a shake of the head. "You wouldn't get it. And besides, he's going to help me modify the Ferrari."
Ami and Michiru both shared a small giggle at that.
It was then that Setsuna walked into the room. After a glance around, she shut the door behind herself.
"Hello, everyone." She said.
They all looked over at her, and Usagi jumped up from the sofa.
"Er, hi! Welcome, Pluto-San!" She said. She gestured towards the empty seat next to Michiru. "There's a seat just for you!"
The woman chuckled as she nodded and walked over to sit down.
"Well then, I'll take it."
"Okay!" She cleared her throat and clapped her hands together, and the chatter around the room died at once. "Ahem. Thank you all for coming. This is the first time our entire group has met up like this. I'm sad that it couldn't have been a happier occasion, but all the same it warms my heart to see all of our allies gathered in one place."
"The pleasure is all ours, princess." Setsuna said with an inclination of her head.
Usagi nodded back.
"Thank you, Sailor Pluto. Okay, so…" She glanced at Ami, who mouthed a few words, and then nodded. "Onto our first order of business!"
She turned to look at Sailor Pluto once again.
"Sailor Pluto, I, and I think the rest of us were all under the impression that the Time Gates, which you guard, are the only way to modify history," She said. "But, uh…" She paused for a moment and her eyes rolled up as she tried to recall the words. "Oh, right. Um, however, today we… er, here we are, in a world where history is not as we remember. Can you offer any… er… insight, on this?"
Setsuna shook her head.
"Unfortunately, your highness, I cannot. I'm not sure if Small Lady has told you or not, but I have been suspended from my post as Guardian of the Gates of Time."
All eyes were on her.
"I'm… I'm sorry, I don't think I heard you properly?"
Setsuna shook her head.
"You did, I'm afraid."
"You're suspended?" Rei asked. "But… what? Why?"
Haruka and Michiru shared a troubled glance.
"I believe I might know," Michiru began.
They all turned to look at her.
"During that incident with Pharaoh Ninety, the three of us were nearly destroyed in a helicopter explosion. Pluto used a forbidden ability to save our lives."
There was silence for a bit, and then…
"What ability would that be?" Ami asked.
"I stopped time." Setsuna explained.
The inners gasped.
"You can do that?" Asked more than one them.
"Yes and no. Normally the punishment for that would have been death, but I suppose Chronos has a soft spot for me." She said.
Usagi gave her a confused blink.
"Chronos?" She repeated. "Who… I'm sorry?"
Both Luna and Artemis let out exasperated sighs, while Ami, Rei, Haruka, and Michiru all had shocked looks on their faces.
"Chronos, as in the God of Time." Luna explained. "Sailor Pluto's father."
All of the Senshi (save Chibi-Usa) turned to look at the Senshi of Pluto in stunned silence. She offered them a neutral expression in return.
"G…god? God!?" Makoto repeated.
"You're the daughter of a god!?" Minako demanded.
Setsuna closed her eyes.
"It's true that I am his progeny, but our relationship is strictly formal." She said. "At least, it seems that way… but I suppose if that were true, I would be dead." She chuckled. "It's nice to know he cares."
Ami brought her gaze down to her lap, as her mind raced with the implications of that revelation.
"Then… that would make you a sort of… demigod, would it not?"
"I suppose you could say that. I am immortal," The woman reminded them.
The Senshi all continued to stew in the realization that Pluto was the offspring of a god, when Luna sat up.
"Something strikes me as being odd, here." She announced. "Neo-Queen Serenity sends her one and only precious daughter to the past, to a period where she knows that the ability of the one person who can ensure - and indeed is necessary for - her safe return, can do neither?" She looked over at Usagi. "She may be ditzy, but she's no fool. Not when it comes to important things like that."
"I'm not… okay so maybe I am a little ditzy…" She muttered the last part. "But yeah! I agree! Something's fishy!"
Artemis looked over at Setsuna.
"Yeah, and, if you're suspended, then who's guarding the Time Gates?"
"I am." Setsuna said.
They all stared at her.
"Suffice it to say multiple instances of me exist in a single timeframe, due to time travel."
"So the you guarding the gates is a different you?" Usagi asked.
"Yes and no. It is the same me, but from a different time."
They stared at her for a bit, before Usagi shook her head.
"I'm not going to pretend to understand how that works…" she muttered. "But, then why hasn't the other you fixed it yet?"
Setsuna shook her head.
"I… do not know. In any event, I am sorry, but I cannot do anything to directly influence our current situation. However, I will assist in any manner possible."
Usagi blinked, but then nodded.
"A-ah… well, that's very reassuring." She said. "Do you at least have an idea who could be behind the shift or merging of timelines?"
Setsuna shook her head again.
"I could list off several possible culprits, but I have no idea which one in particular it would be, and the only quality I have to go on at this point is the sheer amount of power it would take to do something like that. There's just one thing…"
They all waited.
"…All of the possible culprits I can think of, are gods. And higher ranking gods, at that. Chronos being one of them."
The rest of the Senshi all stared at her in silence yet again.
"You're telling me…" Minako began.
"We're up against a god?!" Makoto demanded. She immediately winced. "Ow… ah, gotta take some more pain meds…" She mumbled, a hand rising up to her chest.
Setsuna shook her head.
"That it was one of them, I'm not certain. What's happened doesn't fit any of their usual methods. They're just the only ones I can think of powerful enough to do what has been done."
Ami glanced at her.
"So, that it was a being with the amount of power that belongs to a high-ranking god, is certain." She posed.
Setsuna shook her head.
"It could have been someone with a powerful artifact, or rather, a collection of powerful artifacts, which gave them temporary godlike power. It may have been a wish, granted by one of the gods. For all we know, it could have been an accident."
"An accident? If it were an accident, wouldn't the gods have fixed it by now?"
Setsuna shook her head.
"They won't intervene if they don't see a reason to. Gods are generally selfish beings, concerned only with their own affairs and politics," she said. "We cannot count on them to aid us. The Norns are generally a bit more understanding than Chronos, but they won't do anything that interferes with The Almighty's wishes. Or rather, they're not even capable of it."
"The Norns?" Usagi asked.
"A trio of goddesses," She explained. "While Chronos is a God of Time itself, the Norns are goddesses of Past, Present, and Future, and they might be able to help us. Verthandi – the goddess of present - especially might be sympathetic to our plight, but she can't intervene without orders from above."
"I'm sorry… what? Beru…" The blonde narrowed her eyes as she struggled to pronounce the name in her native tongue. "Belldandy?"
"That will suffice, princess. Anyway, as I was saying, we shouldn't count on them helping us. If we can contact one, however, they may be able to share some information."
"Then we'll try to do that," Usagi said. "In the meantime, Sailor Mercury, you had something to add?"
"With your highness's permission, I've added visor capability to everyone else's Senshi forms via the Mercury Computer." She said. "Since I won't be able to participate in direct combat for a while, you're all going to have to record the data for me. I'll be analyzing it from a safe location, and providing you all with tactical information, if possible."
Michiru, Haruka and Rei all nodded, but Minako frowned.
"Do we all need to wear visors?" Minako asked with a groan. "I don't think it'll complement my face…"
"Yes, you do," Ami said. "Any one of you could be alone in a battle. We need all the tactical data we can get, and I can only help you if I know what you're up against." She said.
"So," Rei asked, looking up. "Anything we see, you'll see as well?"
"As well as any vital data and statistics your visors record on your enemies. It all reaches me instantly," she said. "We can use any of Earth's existing satellites to relay the signal if you're too distant for a direct feed, though I'd like for us to get some of the old Moon Kingdom satellites up and running again. Their… our old technology is several orders of a magnitude faster and more sophisticated than any technology on Earth. I'd be studying its mechanics, but I've been busy wading through all of the logs on enemies we've encountered in this world, and readings gathered since the timeline phenomenon began." Ami sat back in her chair. "Anyways, like I said, I'll be doing what I can from here."
"What? How are we supposed to even do that…" Makoto muttered.
"Well, anyways, thank you." Usagi said. "But don't push yourself, Mercury."
"Is that all, then?" Usagi asked.
The Senshi of Mercury shook her head.
"Actually, I had something else to say."
They all turned their attention on her again.
"Remember how we made up a pretend organization to explain our relation with the Senshi?" She asked.
They all nodded, save Setsuna.
"Yeah, Usagi and Chibi-Usa were the mascots," Rei snorted.
There were some giggles amongst the inners, while Usagi pouted.
"I was thinking, perhaps we could have an organization of some sort like that. An organization that would assist us in combating these Yami people and youkai alike."
"Assist us how?"
Ami looked over at her.
"Well, for one, intelligence gathering," She said. "I may be smart, but to be completely honest, I have no idea what I'm doing with these Yami people. I've never had to investigate an organization like that," She said. "They cover their tracks well, and there isn't a shred of public information on the net about them. They are, after all, a secret organization."
Haruka shook her head.
"That we aren't even sure exists," the blonde said. "I mean, okay, so there's no obvious reason for those people to be lying to us, but it's possible that the Yami they knew is quite different in this new timeline."
"They seemed rather certain of their information…" She said.
"Haruka is just pointing out the possibility," Michiru said. "We're not throwing the idea out. After all, better to be prepared for the worst possible case scenario and have nothing happen than to be caught off guard."
"And even if they do exist, that doesn't mean we should start our own secret organization…" Haruka said.
Setsuna raised an eyebrow.
"Excuse me? What exactly are you all talking about? An enemy secret organization of some sort?"
They all looked at her.
"Well, we ran into some people who claimed to be from other timelines that had been merged with ours." Haruka began. "There seems to be an evil organization of martial artists and demons who want to… what was it they said, take over the world?"
"Their goals are unclear," Ami said. "But they are allegedly responsible for various crimes, including murder and corruption. We can't afford to not act if they do exist."
"Agreed," Usagi said, taking on a more authoritative air. "I know you're having a hard time trusting people we've only just met, Uranus, but still. My decision on this was made clear earlier. We fight these brigands, whether they aggress us directly or not."
Haruka looked over at her.
"I never said we shouldn't fight them. Just that our first step should be confirming their existence. We should meet up with those people again, and ask if they wouldn't mind sharing more of what they know, as well as their sources."
"Okay… what else?"
"How do we fight them?"
Everyone turned to look at Rei.
"These people are supposed to be master martial artists. Sure our transformation magic toughens us up and makes us stronger, but how do we make up for skill? I'm pretty sure that not all of us are trained," She said. "Do we use our magic against humans, then? They'd die!"
"We can tone down our weakest spells," Minako said. "It will just take some getting used to. I've done it before."
"I'm sure we'll manage," she said. "We've fought genocidal monsters with the power to wipe out worlds before. A few martial artists shouldn't be a big problem. I'm more worried about the Youkai working with them."
Minako and Rei sounded their agreements.
"I… wouldn't be so sure about that."
They all turned to look at Setsuna.
"There have been men and women capable of fighting toe-to-toe with us without the use of magic before. And that was back in the Silver Millenium, when your previous incarnations were all trained fighters yourselves, at that."
"We were all trained fighters?" Rei asked, creasing her brow.
"Of course. The Senshi may be an elite royal guard, and made up of royalty, but we are still military – your old incarnations all had officer ranks, at that. You were all trained in the use of various weapons, piloting various vehicles, and empty-handed fighting styles. The only reason I haven't insisted on it in this time period is because Queen Serenity wished you all to have a fulfilling youth this time." She sighed. "If circumstances demand it, however, we may be forced to return to those Spartan ways."
They digested that bit for a while before Usagi continued.
"…Alright then," she finally said. "What do we do when we… confirm whether or not these people exist?"
"That's where my idea comes in," Ami said. "We're all busy people. We have lives outside of being Senshi, as Pluto just mentioned. But this Yami organization doesn't have to deal with that. They are Yami 24/7. Anytime they interact with the rest of the world is likely to be a façade or integral to some sinister plan. We need to be able to keep tabs on them, as well as all of the Youkai attacking people at random. And we can't do that if we're going to school or working. So we get other people to do it for us."
Haruka stared at her.
"And just how are we going to do that? Pay them? How does the selection process work, then? How do we know who we can trust? Can we be sure we're not hiring Yami's own operatives?"
"I've thought about all of these questions, I assure you." She looked down at the blonde. "And that's why I wanted to bring this up here." She looked around. "Any suggestions?"
They all stared at her.
"You mean you don't have any ideas?" Haruka asked with a sigh.
"Like I said, I'm just a fifteen year old middle school student. Genius or no, there's a limit to my knowledge and experience. I was hoping you three might be able to do something with the idea."
Haruka and Michiru glanced at each other.
"Hmm, well," Setsuna began, earning the group's attention, "Exactly what sort of organization are you going for here? I believe you said something about intelligence gathering?"
"Yes, I was thinking something like an intelligence agency, perhaps even a militia made up of people aside from us capable of fighting either martial artists or youkai?"
Setsuna raised an eyebrow.
"That's rather ambitious."
"I don't really see how else we can fight them," She said. "They span the entire world, but there's only nine of us. Ten if we count Saturn, but she's… well…"
"Indisposed," Setsuna said with a nod. "However, for any kind of organization, we'd need something to bring in money. None of you girls are quite old or experienced enough to manage such an operation."
"And you?" Usagi asked.
"…It would mean abandoning my current persona, but that's a nonissue. I already know more about physics than every professor on the planet, I'd just have to prove it to get a degree and qualifications. And working part-time as a school counselor won't really be necessary either. I'm actually the only one who could dedicate all of my time to such an undertaking."
"So then… you'll do it?"
Setsuna shook her head.
"I haven't said that yet. It would be… grueling work."
"So then you won't?"
"I haven't said that either. I'm undecided at the moment," She said. "Calm down. We still need to work out some details."
"Details like what?" Makoto asked.
"Well," Haruka began, "most companies and corporations have one goal; make as much money as possible, through whatever means possible. Our goal is to provide a free public service. It's not exactly economical. We certainly wouldn't be able to pay our bills, and instead of paid employees we'd have to enlist volunteers…"
"Indeed." Michiru added with a nod. "The way I see it, there are three main options available to us; approach the government and propose working with them in return for government subsidies and access to their intelligence – and in effect be paid for by the citizenry – or start a privately owned company. Last, we could start a non-profit organization, funded by donations, but as we'll be liable for any property damages caused during our fights, I don't see donors going for that."
"We could include a stipulation in contracts about that," Haruka pointed out. "And for that matter, we'd probably need a legal team…"
"True on both counts. Anyways, there are pros and cons to either approach. For one, if we work for the government, there will be a lot of restrictions on what we can and can't do. We would also have to go where they tell us, when they tell us. We would lose a lot of personal freedom. At the same time, we might be considered law enforcement and gain some official authority and clearance with that. As a private company we would be more autonomous but have less authority, and we'd also have to procure funds on our own. Either… we'd have some kind of front company that does normal things and funds us under the table, or we could offer our protection as a paid-for service. We could draw up protection contracts, act as personal bodyguards or security…"
Most of the Inner Senshi made confused faces as they listened to her spiel.
"It sounds really complicated…" Minako muttered.
"I'm guessing this is why most super heroes keep to the whole secret identity thing." Rei grumbled.
"We aren't going to protect some people and leave others to fend for themselves," She said.
Michiru tilted her head.
"Then, we could give priority protection to those who have the money to pay for it, while giving a host of free services to everyone else. Private bodyguards versus a district patrol."
"That doesn't work for me," Usagi said with a shake of her head. "We can't prioritize the protection of the rich over the poor, in any way, at all."
"Well, we certainly won't make money if we continue to protect people for free."
Usagi bit her lip. There was no way to refute that.
"And we need money for this to work at all…" The blonde mumbled with a sigh. "Ugh…"
Ami turned to look at Chibi-Usa.
"You've been awfully silent," She said. "Did you not have anything to add?"
"I can't." She said.
The inner Senshi all frowned, then collectively recalled the first day she'd been back, when she said she couldn't interfere with certain events even if she wanted.
"I see." Ami muttered.
"How about this," Haruka began. "We can let other agents… would they be agents? Well, operatives, whatever you want to call them, do the personal body-guard kind of work. We ourselves will be working to protect the world – and her highness - from greater threats, but specially trained individuals contracted through us might be able to provide the protection that certain high profile individuals need, in addition to whatever bodyguards they already have."
"Perhaps we can replace those with our people as well." Michiru pointed out.
Usagi turned to look at them.
"What about you two? You both have money, right?"
"You want us to finance this little… -ahem-, this… project?"
Usagi stared at her with a neutral expression.
Haruka and Michiru shared a glance.
"Well… we do make more money than the average person," Michiru admitted. "But I don't think it's quite enough for what you're thinking. We could provide capital for a more suitable operation, like one of the ideas we've suggested, perhaps keep things running for a while, but eventually such an organization's bills would run even us into the ground. It would have to be self-sustaining past a certain point."
"That sounds good to me. What's capital again?"
There were a number of groans from around the room, while Setsuna only smiled and shook her head.
"I'll tell you after the meeting," Ami said with a sigh. "Are there any other ideas?" She asked.
Everyone looked around the group, waiting for some answers or suggestions, but none came.
"We can think about it until the next meeting," She said. "Just try to look for some good ideas."
"A little at a time," Setsuna said. "We can draw up a business plan to focus our thoughts, next time. Is that all, then?"
"Actually, no. Everyone… there's something I would like to say."
They all turned to look at her.
"I have decided against using any form of mind control to force my parents into allowing me to stay in Juuban."
While Setsuna remained impassive, there were a few gasps. Haruka was quick to recover.
"Okay, so then, you're going to run away or something?"
Usagi shook her head.
"I will try my best to convince them, but in the end I shall do as I am told," she said. "They are my parents, and it is wrong for me to twist their minds and force them to do something against their will."
She had to admit it was a rather ironic statement, considering what they were doing to her.
"But princess," Haruka said with a frown, "What if lives depend on it? As they do in this case? Would you turn a blind eye and let people die, just to protect your own sense of right and wrong?!"
Usagi leveled a determined stare at her.
"No... no. I am not a perfect creature, Sailor Uranus. I know there will be a time when I can't come up with the alternative. That won't mean it wasn't there, though. That will just mean that I failed to figure it out in time."
Haruka opened her mouth, but Usagi cut her off.
"And in that case, I will do what I must. What duty calls for. And I will accept all responsibility for the results of my actions, whatever they may be."
Michiru favored the younger teen with an apathetic expression.
"Even if it means killing another human being?" She prodded.
Usagi closed her eyes as some familiar words echoed in her head.
There's always an alternative. Always.
If only she weren't the leader.
She opened her eyes and glared at the aquamarine haired girl, but the other teen remained unfazed.
"For the continued safety of my people, I would do anything." She said, earning shocked gasps from the Inner Senshi. "I have destroyed the enemies of the Moon Kingdom once before, and should another rise up against all that is good and right with this world, I will do so again. But until that time comes, I will uphold the virtues that we champion so fiercely. Using a corrupt power simply because we have it makes us no different from the monsters we fight."
She softened her features.
"And while it is true that lives depend on me here, there are evil creatures in Saitama too, and it would be selfish of me to favor the people of Juuban over them. We don't know that the next time that creature we fought on Sunday appears, it will be here in Juuban. If there are gates all around the world, then it could appear across the ocean. That is why, should I be forced to leave, I am entrusting you all with this district. With my home. With my parents, whose love for me is the reason they want to send me away."
She shared a look with Ami.
"And it is also why I have decided, now, that we must use Sailor Mercury's idea."
The senshi all shared looks at that. Ami in particular looked surprise.
"Your highness?" The blunette asked.
"I agree with you, Mercury. We absolutely must form an organization of our own, to rival the evildoers of this world. We are only ten - nine if you count Saturn, but she's not a conventional soldier in any sense. We need allies. Ranma and the others are a good start, but they alone cannot help us protect the entire world."
Several brows raised and all eyes widened in shock, save Setsuna, who listened with a small smile.
"The entire world?!"
"Even if Yami doesn't exist in this timeline, there are others who would seek to pervert the world with their greed, through violence and corruption. We cannot sit idly by and ignore mundane evils; there is no suffering that is beneath our notice. The people of Earth may not be of our kingdom, but they are worthy of our protection all the same. That is why we will do everything we can to assist others who carry love and justice on their shoulders." She said with a determined look. "It won't be easy. The world is big, and there will be mistakes made along the way. But I know I can count on you all to pull through where it matters most, and that together, we can realize a better era for all mankind."
The senshi all stared at her.
Haruka and Michiru broke the silence by standing up, kneeling and bowing their heads to the princess of the Moon Kingdom.
"I serve at the whim of your highness." They said in unison.
Haruka grit her teeth.
"Your highness, I… I apologize for my outburst. I was rash. I will not question your judgment again."
Usagi shook her head.
"No, Uranus. You were following your own sense of justice when you spoke your mind just then. I would thank you to do the same in the future. I can't be sure that my decision is right if no one questions it."
Setsuna stood up and joined them as well.
"I've heard all I needed to hear." She said. "I'll do what I can to get things going tonight."
"That would please me greatly. But like Mercury, I ask that you do not overwork yourself, Sailor Pluto."
The Inner Senshi all shared looks, before, sans Ami, they followed suit as well.
"You can count on us, Serenity." Minako said.
"Yeah, we'll do whatever we can." Makoto added.
"As I knew I could. Thank you. All of you." She said. "Please, rise. You'll make Sailor Mercury feel bad."
They all laughed at that – and Ami blushed, as Usagi had been right - but they did as she said.
"My allies. My dear friends," Usagi beamed as they stood. "Today begins a new chapter in our lives. Today begins our renewed effort to right the wrongs of this world, and stop those who would selfishly impose their vices on honest men and women who want nothing more than to live, and be happy, whether it is with their friends, their lovers…"
She glanced at Chibi-Usa, who wore a knowing smile.
And then Usagi remembered her own parents.
"…or their children."
Kenichi groaned as he came to. Immediately he was overwhelmed by a strong stench, like that of rotting food and garbage, as well as aching pain all over his body.
The pain he ignored. His senseis had done much worse to him in the past. His adversaries in YOMI had done worse. There were no broken bones, just bruises.
He slowly blinked his eyes open. It was dark and everything was blurry, but he had the distinct impression that he was staring up at the night sky. Light from a distant street lamp made it possible for him to vaguely make out the edges of buildings above him.
His body wasn't flat; his knees were folded, as hanging over a rail, and his back and neck were up against some piece of metal. His muscles felt tense and knotted up from sitting in this awkward position for so long. He groaned again as he tried to move, but that sent pain shooting throughout his body. After a minute of lying there, he tried again, heaving his body up, and surveyed where he was.
He was sitting in a half-full dumpster, in the corner of a dirty alleyway. There was a door leading into the buildings to his left. He exhaled and blinked his eyes a few times.
Without a word or even a thought, he hopped down from the dumpster, landing on his feet. He swayed for a bit, but caught himself on the dumpster wall. His hand stuck to whatever dried up gunk was on it, and he managed to steady himself. Once he was sure of himself, he looked around, and spotted his backpack. It was open and his textbooks were splayed out along the ground, some of their pages ripped apart. He sighed and began to gather them together, shoving what he could into his backpack. When he was sure of everything that was in there, he stood up and slid it onto his shoulders.
After adjusting it, he shambled out of the alleyway, taking care not to trip over the man sleeping on the ground.
Kenichi opened the door to his house and walked in. It was all thanks to his familiarity with the neighborhood that he'd been able to walk home in the darkness, without his glasses.
"Kenichi? Is that you?" Came his mother's voice. "You're late! You missed dinner!"
He ignored her and made his way up the stairs to his room.
Kenichi shut the door to his room, dropped his book bag, and stumbled over to the middle of the room, which he had made into his personal training area. It was clear of all debris, from books, to the figurines and videogames that this world's Kenichi was so obsessed with. He assumed a karate stance and closed his eyes, ignoring the smell as best he could.
If he didn't train his body, he'd never be strong enough to prevent a repeat of the day's earlier events.
'Senseis,' He thought, as each of their faces came to mind. Sakaki-shisho's embarrassed laugh… Koetsuji-sensei's polite neutrality… Ba-sensei's perverted grin, Apachai's innocent smile, Shigure's shy gaze, and most of all, the Elder's prideful smirk. 'Give me strength.'
He punched, ignoring the pain.
He punched again.
Ranma narrowed her eyes as she peeked around the corner. She was wearing her familiar sports bra and yoga pants combo again.
She was in one of the mansion's extensive hallways, on the second floor. So far, she hadn't seen a single trace of the maid that had been in Mitsugu's office the previous day. She didn't know which maids were assigned to which rooms, and she'd checked every one of them so far, but she couldn't find the woman anywhere. She wasn't amongst any of the maids on duty, either. Ranma had learned the layout of the manse to the point that she could systematically check every room in just over ten minutes now – if she moved as fast as possible - without being noticed, at that.
Every other maid, and Mitsukoshi and other staff for that matter, was accounted for. The mystery woman from before, however…
'She's hiding from me.' The teen thought with a frown. She stepped around the corner and started making her way along the hall. 'Either she's not here at all, or she's actively avoiding me.' Her search the previous evening had yielded similar results before she'd given up and taken her bath, which was even more suspicious given she'd just seen the woman then.
Ranma cried out in surprise when her foot suddenly slipped and flew up from under her. She landed on her bum and winced, reaching down to rub it.
"Ow…" She groaned, before looking down at what she'd slipped on. There was a small plastic card – like a credit card, almost, but without any numbers on it. It was colored gold and the words Member's Card were written on it in several different languages.
She picked it up and stared at it.
The sound of rapid footsteps caught her attention, and she jumped up to her feet and quickly went under the familiar cloak of the Umisenken.
A maid turned around another corner in the corridor and ran, huffing and puffing, towards her. She was a young Caucasian woman, with brown hair tied in a bun, and glasses. She watched as the woman's eyes darted around the hallway.
"Where is it? Where is it?!" The woman spoke perfect Japanese despite her ethnicity, earning her a surprised and prolonged stare from Ranma.
She watched as the woman stopped for a moment to search, then quickly moved on.
"Cripes! If I don't find it, I'm going to have to order my supplies off of Maho-Net until it's replaced!It'll take weeks for anything to get here!"
She blinked as the woman continued running and turned around the corner, out of sight.
Ranma blinked and looked down at the golden card.
'Couldn't be this she's looking for, is it?' She asked, tilting her head. 'Naaaaahhhh…'
With that she shrugged and continued on her way.
Usagi stared down at her plate. It had been the first day since Chibi-Usa's return that her mother had cooked dinner. There was a nabe pot in the center of the table, with cooked sliced beef, various vegetables, udon noodles, and tofu in miso stock, and an empty bowl and a bowl of rice before her. Despite her rumbling stomach, she had yet to even pick up her chopsticks.
"Mom… Dad…" She began.
Her parents glanced at her as they filled their plates with food.
"What's wrong, Usagi-chan? Not hungry?" Ikuko asked.
"Well I'm hungry but… I… I just…" she bit her lip. "I know you two are decided on this Mahora thing, but can't it at least wait until the term is over? I mean, I'm graduating from middle school in two more months. If I go to this new place, I'll have to learn all of their new stuff and it could really hold me back!"
"That was our original plan," Kenji said with a shake of his head. "But Sunday changed everything. If monsters that big can appear out of nowhere, then we have no choice."
"Usagi! Enough. We've gone over this too many times already! We cannot, in good conscience, keep you here while that is going on!" He pointed at the television screen for emphasis.
On the screen, a reporter was standing before a the ruins of a building – it looked like a restaurant that her family had eaten at several times in the past - and talking, presumably about how or why it had, though she couldn't hear it because it was muted. There was a subtitle though, that read, "Juuban under attack!"
She winced even as the picture shifted to a convenience store whose bathroom wall had been utterly destroyed.
"But, but it's not like we're not in danger wherever we go," She said. "We could get hit by a car! And there's murderers and terrorists and rapists and stuff out there too!"
"Yes, but there's no chance of a hundred meter tall monster appearing and stepping on you just because you were there!"
"You don't know that! We don't know that Juuban is the only place that has monsters like that!"
"Do you see news like this coming from any other place? Any other city in the entire world? No! These things, these nightmarish creatures, they only attack Juuban!"
Usagi's eyes widened.
"No... no they don't."
"Yes they do!"
"No, listen!" Usagi shouted. "You know that the monster attack here was reported as an earthquake outside of Juuban, right?"
"She's right," Chibi-Usa said, pulling their attention to her. "They're saying that the people who think it was a monster were simply suffering from the psychological effects of a traumatic experience."
The magazine editor shook his head.
"Yes, yes, I know…" He grumbled.
"So," Usagi continued, "Don't you think they might be doing the same for other places? Reporting strange incidents as something else entirely?"
There was a pause as her parents both considered that. They looked at each other for a moment, then at Usagi again.
"You don't know for a fact that this Mahora place is safer than Juuban," She continued. "It might just as bad! Or worse!"
Kenji stared at her for a moment, then nodded to himself.
"The keyword being might." He said finally. "Usagi-chan. I'll admit it's possible that other places, Mahora included, are just as dangerous. But we know for a fact that there are monsters rampaging through Juuban without a care in the world. I'll take my chances, and I think your mother agrees."
"No buts, Usagi! It's just plain irresponsible, and selfish of us, as parents, to keep you here. We have the money to send you to a place that is safer. In that respect, we're a lot more fortunate than the families who are stuck here, forced to endure constant terror! I'm not going to just squander that away and let you end up getting killed!"
Usagi cringed away from the force of his yell.
"You are going to Mahora – all of you, and that is final. This discussion is over."
Usagi pouted as tears gathered at her eyes.
"B-but… I don't wanna go to some stupid boarding school! I wanna stay here with you!"
Kenji and Ikuko exchanged looks as she sniffled loudly.
"U… Usagi-chan…" Kenji began, but his daughter interrupted him by breaking out into loud sobs.
Usagi jumped up from the table and ran out of the room, towards the stairs.
"Usagi-chan!" Ikuko called out. She sighed and shook her head. "Excuse me, dear."
Kenji nodded as his wife stood up and followed after their daughter.
Shingo shrugged as he reached over and grabbed some more sliced beef with his chopsticks.
"You know she's faking it right?" The boy asked, looking at his father.
The man sighed and leaned back in his chair.
"I've known her longer than you have, Shingo." He said. "That wasn't fake. But she's going to have to get over it. It's for the best."
Shingo stared at his father for a bit, then shrugged.
"Well, I've heard rumors that they have wizards at that school, so I'm cool with it."
"Where did you hear those sorts of rumors?"
"Internet," The boy said.
Kenji shook his head and groaned.
"They better just be rumors… that place is expensive…"
"Hmm…" Chibi-Usa stood up. "I'm gonna go help auntie."
Later that night, Usagi sat on her bed, staring out the window. She'd gone back down to eat dinner earlier (she was very hungry, after all), but afterwards she'd had gone back up to her room. The light was off, and she was alone in the darkness, hugging her legs to her chest.
Could she really abandon Juuban?
She'd made that great speech in front of the other Senshi earlier (with some coaching from Ami before the meeting), but the truth was, she still wasn't sure if her decision was the right choice. Was that what it meant to be a leader? Always doubting yourself, always wondering if you were making a mistake? Would she go to this Mahora place and then learn of her friends and parents' deaths the very next day, all because she wasn't there to save them?
Should she take Haruka's suggestion? Run away from home?
But if she did that, where would she stay? She wouldn't be able to show her face at school, or anywhere in the district for that matter. She'd have to live in hiding, only going out when Sailor Moon was needed. Worst of all, her parents would be even more worried about her, and she didn't want to do that to them.
She closed her eyes.
'If only there was someone… someone who could tell me what is the right thing to do…'
The door opened.
Usagi opened her eyes and sighed.
"You're the last person I need advice from…" She grumbled as Chibi-Usa walked into the room.
"Well excuse me for being concerned." Her future daughter scoffed, but joined her on the bed anyway.
"Usagi-chan," Luna began, jumping onto the bed with them. "It's not too late to change your mind. You can still-"
"No," Usagi said with a shake of her head. "I won't be a hypocrite. Not… not if it can be helped."
"But we don't have any other choice," The moon cat prodded. "Juuban needs Sailor Moon… And she needs her family."
Usagi buried her head in her knees.
"I know, Luna. I know… but… what gives us the right to punish others if we can't hold ourselves to our own standards?"
Luna shook her head.
"Circumstances change things, Usagi-chan. The greater good is at stake, here."
Usagi sighed and looked up at Chibi-Usa.
"What do you think I should do?"
The other teen blinked.
The blonde nodded.
"Well… I… I don't know either," She admitted. "But look… Usagi. My mom…" She trailed off and winced as she tried to figure out what to say. "My mom… inspires people with her leadership and her devotion to justice. She's an amazing person, and everyone respects her, and trusts her judgment, no matter what her decision. She's done a bang-up job as far as I know, and though she has, and continues to make mistakes, when she does, she does what she can to make up for it. Like you said earlier, she's not perfect, but… but…" She blushed and looked away. "I love her, and so does everyone else."
Usagi blinked, then smiled and wrapped her arms around the pink haired girl and hugged her.
"Aww, that's so cute! I love you too, Chibi-Usa."
Chibi-Usa sputtered as her blush intensified.
"H-hey look, I'm trying to say something cool here!"
Usagi giggled as she released the other girl.
"What are you trying to say, then?"
Chibi-Usa grit her teeth as her eyes darted around the room.
"You're… you're not alone, I guess?" She groaned. "I-I don't know! Just… stop moping, okay?!"
Usagi laughed as she hugged her daughter again.
"You're so sweet!"
"Sh-shut up! Stop hugging me, fatty!"
Usagi's demeanor did a 180 as her daughter pried her off.
"What?! Who are you calling fat!?"
"You, thunder thighs!"
"You little brat! You must want a spanking!"
"Pah! A fatty like you couldn't even catch me anyways!"
Luna watched the familiar scene of two girls running around the room, Usagi swinging a pillow at Chibi-Usa, who was sticking her tongue out and making faces at the blonde. She sighed and lay down, closing her eyes.
'Queen Serenity… please give me the strength and wisdom to guide your daughter…'
Yusuke turned into the alleyway, each hand in a pants pocket. He stood there for a moment, searching. Though he couldn't see Hikari, he could sense a reiki-endowed presence.
Hikari walked out of the shadows and he blinked. She was wearing an all-black combat uniform, complete with steel-toed boots and black gloves, but there weren't any identifying symbols or the like.
"Where's your friend?" She asked.
"She'll be here." He said. "Yours?"
The woman chuckled.
"She'll be here." She gestured for him to follow her into the alleyway, and he did. As they walked, she held out an 8x11 photograph to him, and he accepted it. It was an aerial shot of a complex of buildings, shaped something like houses with adjoining faces, and situated at the end of a road. The complex was surrounded by a brick fence, beyond which were other buildings, housing on one side of the road and industrial on the other, while behind it were rails for the local trains. It just went to show how crowded the city was.
"This is the place," Hikari said. "During the day, they run a standard operation, but at night, kidnapped human victims are brought in for the slaughter instead."
"When did you find out about this?" He asked, glancing up from the picture.
"I received a tip that the place was teeming with youkai the day before yesterday." She said. "Speaking of which, the person who notified me is the one that's going to be joining us tonight, along with her companion. I investigated the plant that day and the day after, and by the time you came along we'd already hatched a plan. Having extra fire power never hurts, though."
He nodded. It was nice to see she hadn't been slacking off.
"So what exactly is the plan?" He asked.
"I'll explain that when the others get here." She said, stopping before a large chest covered up by junk, mostly broken wood and metal.
As she cleared away some of the debris, a figure dropped from the sky, landing beside them in the alleyway, the sudden arrival accompanied sounds of bare feet slapping down hard against pavement and flapping clothing.
Yusuke turned to look at the newcomer and raised his eyebrow.
It was a silver haired man… no, he wasn't human; the guy had youki, but it wasn't quite the same as a full-blooded youkai. He was wearing red outer clothing over white – it looked like something out of a feudal era painting, but Yusuke had no idea what the hell each part was called. The two triangular, silver-fur covered ears on his head gave away his inhuman heritage more obviously than the youki did.
Riding piggyback on him was a young woman, about Yusuke's age, maybe a year older. She wore a plain black t-shirt, black sweats, and unlike her mount, a pair of socks and running shoes. Her black hair went down to her back, though some rough fringes hung over the front of her face.
"Red?" Hikari asked with a frown. "You're going to be moving around at night in bright red?"
"That's what I said." The young woman on the silver haired man's back complained.
"Bah," The silver haired hanyou snorted as he let his passenger down. "I'm not going into combat naked. I couldn't put anything on over it, and there's no human armor you could possibly have that would be as good as this, I didn't have much choice now did I?"
Hikari shook her head as she knelt down and started inputting numerical combinations into the locks on the chest.
"Please excuse his stupidity," The other young woman said with a sigh as she walked over to stand with Yusuke and Hikari. She stopped before Yusuke and bowed. "My name is Higurashi Kagome, and my companion is called Inuyasha. I look forward to working with you."
He mirrored her bow with one of his own and a nervous chuckle.
"Aha, er, yeah, Urameshi Yusuke. Same to you."
"And I'm Saotome Ranma, nice ta meet'cha."
The three who were standing jumped at the sudden appearance of a small redhead beside Kagome and Yusuke.
"What the hell!?"
Inuyasha's hand quickly went down to his waist, as if to draw a sword, but he grasped at nothing and looked down, then grit his teeth.
"Heheh." Ranma chuckled with a wide grin. She was wearing a muscle-shirt and cotton-tights, both in midnight blue. The clothing hugged her curves and showed off her lean musculature. On her feet were a pair of slippers that she'd picked up on her way.
"What, you didn't notice? I've been here since before those guys." She said.
"Where did you come from!?" Yusuke demanded.
Ranma raised an eyebrow.
"I just walked right on in, same way you did." She said.
Hikari glanced up at them.
"Really, Yusuke, I didn't expect you to be friends with a shinobi." She went back to what she was doing. "For those who don't know, my name is Kiyohara Hikari. I'm your run-of-the-mill police officer."
"I'm no ninja." She said. "These guys are just blind."
The pink haired woman returned to opening the chest.
"That's what they all say." She said. There was a click and the chest popped open, and a dim green light lit up the alleyway.
The other four looked inside, and three of them did a double take.
"What the hell?" Ranma murmured.
"Guns!?" Yusuke added, eyes wide.
"To be exact, this one is a combat rifle." Hikari said, pointing to the weapon in question. "This here is a carbine. And this is a rocket propelled grenade launcher. These are concussion grenades… smoke bomb, flash bang, C4…"
Yusuke looked at all of the weapons stuffed inside the chest in shock.
"You're a reiki user, aren't you? Why would you need all of this!?"
"You can never be too prepared. If I run out of energy or come across one immune to reiki, then conventional weaponry makes a nice backup plan." She looked at Kagome. "You said you use bows, right?"
Kagome nodded, before glancing down at the weapons cache warily.
"Erm, yes, that's… right… I can bless the arrows to make them more effective against youkai and demons."
Hikari retrieved a compound bow and a full quiver, and handed it to her.
The young woman accepted them with a surprised blink and stared at the pulleys.
"Oh, thank you. I didn't think you'd have one." She said. "Erm, I've never used this kind before…"
"It's not much different. And also… this," The pink haired woman continued, grabbing a semi-automatic pistol. She handed it to the young woman, who accepted it with a startled expression. "Start blessing the ammunition. I'll show you how to load it and fire in a bit. The bow too."
"Er, erm, I c-can't possibly use this… thing…" Kagome stuttered.
"Just keep it in case of an emergency." Hikari said.
As Kagome stared at the gun dumbfounded, the pink haired woman grabbed a revolver and started looking it over.
"What do I get?"
"I don't trust you two boys enough to keep it in your pants. And I'm sure Saotome-san doesn't need one."
Yusuke frowned and opened his mouth to retort, but Ranma spoke first.
"Wait a second, why don't you let her bless all of the bullets?"
Hikari looked at her, then at the pistol in her hands.
"Hey, that's not a bad idea." She looked over at Kagome. "Do you mind?"
"Um…" Kagome looked up from her pistol. "I… sure, I guess…"
The next thing Hikari grabbed out of the chest made Yusuke frown.
"Bulletproof vests?" He demanded. "Are we really gonna need these against Youkai?"
Hikari looked over at him with a raised eyebrow.
"Of course we are. You think I'm the only one packing heat in this city?"
"Yeah," Kagome said with a sour frown. "If they didn't have guns, I'd have sicked Inuyasha on them the moment we noticed the damn place."
"I still don't see why we didn't." Inuyasha growled.
"Inuyasha, I've told you time and again, guns are a lot stronger than they used to be." She complained. She looked over the group, and sighed. "Inuyasha has this crazy idea that all guns are the same, see. He's never fought against automatic weapons though."
Hikari and Ranma rolled their eyes while Yusuke just stared at the vest that she'd had given him.
"Youkai with guns?" He muttered.
"Not all Youkai are S-class monsters. For the powerless grunts, automatic weapons are an easy way to boost offensive power against people like us, up to a certain point." Hikari said. "Otherwise we'd just chop through them like fodder. It just means whoever is behind this has at least half a brain."
Yusuke blinked. He had to admit, she had a point. There was one thing bothering him, though.
"Aint no regular cops go around packin' this kinda heat." He remarked.
"I'm not a regular cop," she said. "I'm a demon hunter cop. And you'd be surprised what local law enforcement has access to."
"No seriously, what the hell are you? Some kinda secret agent?"
"If I told you, it wouldn't be a secret, now would it." she said, picking up a sawed-off shotgun. She looked it over for a bit, before nodding to herself and setting it down on the ground. She reached in and took out belts with kunai and different types of shuriken on them, which she held out to Ranma. "Unless you're of the Ryuu no Ichizoku or the Chigumo Ichizoku, these are probably better than anything you've got."
"I'm not a ninja," She said.
Hikari rolled her eyes.
"But you can use them, right?"
Ranma crossed her arms.
"I can use any kind of weapon. So what? I prefer my hands."
Hikari tossed the belts at her.
"Just hold on to them, then. For my peace of mind."
Ranma caught them and sighed, shaking her head and shrugging.
A minute later they followed her in through a door on the station, into a garage. Amongst the cruisers was a navy blue minivan, which Hikari approached.
"So, what is the plan?" Ranma asked. "You said you'd explain it when we were all here."
Yusuke frowned as he tried to remember if Ranma had been around for that, then shook his head.
"Ninjas…" He muttered.
"I'm not a ninja!"
"Well, on account of us having a shinobi, I'm adjusting the plan accordingly," Hikari said. "Really, you're an unexpected boon, Saotome-san."
"You guys aren't gonna let that drop, are you?" She grumbled.
Hikari stopped before the car and reached into her pocket. A moment later the car beeped and the locks came undone.
"Get in." She said, walking around to the driver's side. "The overall plan hasn't changed. We need to stop their operations immediately, kill as many of them as we can, and confiscate sale records so we can see where the hell their… product is going. The original plan was that we'd charge in, killing whoever got in our way, while freeing captives and trying to get to the documentation before someone could get it and escape, but now I was thinking you could sneak into the base while we focus on freeing any captives."
Ranma groaned while Yusuke on the other hand, grinned.
"So we're gonna bust some heads open then?"
"Man, I wanted to bust some heads too…" Ranma growled.
"You'll have to wait until you find the documentation," She said. "Confiscate any computer equipment you find too. Discs, flash drives, portable hard-drives if there are any. Destroy anything you can't take with you. If anyone interrupts you while you're doing that, then you can bust their heads. Can you do it? We really need to know who else is connected to this operation."
Ranma sighed and hung her head.
As they drove along the expressway, Ranma stared out the window, her forehead pressed up against the cold glass. They passed by brightly lit city sections as Enka songs played on the radio. She was in the left back seat, next to Yusuke, with Inuyasha on Yusuke's other side. In front of her sat Kagome, who was similarly looking out her own window.
"How much longer?" Inuyasha asked, annoyed. "I could have gotten us there alreadyif you hadn't insisted we check in with you first!"
"Inuyasha, shut up." Kagome said.
As Inuyasha grumbled, Ranma's attention was caught by a very brightly lit and tall wall in the distance. The wall extended on in both directions, as far as she could see. Beyond the wall were numerous skyscrapers and the like, all of them as brightly lit as those in the special districts.
'The heck is that wall there for?' She wondered.
"Say," Kagome began. "Just how… big is Academy City?"
Hikari glanced at her.
"Hmm? Didn't you learn that in high school?"
"Erm, I… was out sick a lot… ahaha…"
Hikari raised an eyebrow, but returned her focus to the expressway.
"It divides Tokyo Metropolis in half, and even took some space from Saitama and Kanagawa, so it's pretty big, I suppose. I'd say it's got a bigger land area than the special districts." The driver said. "Why?"
"Five days ago, there wasn't even…" She stopped. "Erm, no, nothing. Sorry."
Ranma and Yusuke shared a glance.
"Five days ago?" They both blurted out. They glared at each other, but then Ranma continued. "What happened five days ago?"
Kagome glanced back at her.
"Nothing, nothing." The young woman said with a nervous smile. "Don't worry about it."
Ranma and Yusuke shared a look, but neither pressed the young woman further.
Eventually they turned onto a dark road. There were no lights on any of the buildings along the street, save for the complex at the end. The road had a shallow incline, and they could see more of it as they approached. As they neared, Hikari turned the car's lights off and slowed their approach to a crawl. When she was satisfied they were close enough – about a hundred meters or so – she pulled to the side of the road and killed the engine.
"Hard to believe this shit is going on right under our noses," Ranma muttered as they all climbed out of the minivan.
They were at the border of an industrial area and residential area. Cars were parked along the roadside, and a bed of flowers – all the same kind – grew along the sidewalk before the industrial buildings
"What the hell…"
After locking it up, they quietly approached the building. As they neared, they could see it was exactly as shown in the picture, but only it was now teeming with men, all dressed as guards. There was an iron-bar gate to admit entrance through the brick fence, protected by uniformed guards; others patrolled areas within and outside the fence. More could be seen on the rooftops of the complex, with high-powered searchlights pouring over the streets. They all ducked behind a car to avoid a light that was swinging towards them.
"The fuck? It's like some kind of military base," Yusuke complained. "They have this kind of security at every slaughterhouse?"
"No." Hikari said simply. "Their official reason for having armed guards is due to their previous workers going missing so suspiciously. Worker Safety must be a priority, or so they say."
Yusuke grit his teeth while Hikari took a quick survey of the area.
"So why didn't you try telling your bosses or whoever?" Ranma asked, looking around.
"The bureaucracy would have taken ages, during which time they'd have been tipped off." Hikari explained. "Add to that that I'd have needed some kind of proof of my suspicions, and they don't exactly give tours. Anyways, we'll ambush them and take as many out as we can in the first few seconds. We don't want any of them to escape, and we want to save as many captives as possible."
They all froze at the sound of an eerie groan. A second later, a pale, naked man flashed into existence before them, standing slouched over in the street. His form fizzled again, like a bad picture on an old television, before solidifying, albeit slightly transparent. He had greasy, short hair, and his eyes were sunken into his skull. He was staring in their direction, but it seemed as if he were looking through them.
The most alarming aspects of his appearance were that his torso was sliced open, revealing an empty cavity, the metal chain that extended out from the back of his ribcage and hung down to the ground before him, and the fact that, at each of the major joints for his limbs there was a deep slash, and a gaping wound on his neck, from which blood poured like a fountain.
"Gods," Kagome gasped, her hands rising to her mouth. She quickly turned away and closed her eyes.
"What the fuck?" Ranma whispered.
"It's a ghost," Hikari said with a wince. "A spirit of one of the people slaughtered for meat."
"Guhh…ahhh…" The dead man looked up at them, finally seeming to notice their presence. One of his mutilated arms rose up towards them. "H…help… me…"
He took a step towards them, but the movement caused his head to fall forward, and it hung from his neck by only a small piece of skin as blood fiercely gushed out from the wound.
Hikari brought her hands together in a meaningful gesture.
"There's nothing we can do for you now. I'm sorry." She said. "Reikon Taisan."
She let out a burst of Reiki.
The spirit flashed out of existence.
Ranma blinked and looked around.
"D…did you put it to rest?" She asked.
Hikari shook her head.
"Normal people can't send spirits off. I put him into remission, to slow down his Chain of Fate's decay."
Ranma and Kagome looked confused by her statement.
"He'll reform later. Hopefully the Shinigami will be around here by then and notice it. If not…" She growled and shook her head. "We'll worry about that later. For now we have to stop them from killing more people. Higurashi-san, you're used to fighting with Inuyasha as a pair, yes?"
Kagome nodded, regaining her composure despite the encounter.
"We've fought together for some years. In both meanings of that statement…"
"In that case, Inuyasha, carry Higurashi-san to the rooftop. You two will clear out the guards up there, then Higurashi-san can provide long-range support from above while Inuyasha protects her." She looked over at Yusuke. "You and I will storm the ground troops in a full frontal assault." She narrowed her eyes. "Don't hold anything back. We're not taking any prisoners tonight."
Yusuke nodded grimly, as the police-officer-slash-demon-hunter turned to face Ranma.
"Saotome-san, as I said earlier, you will infiltrate the base while we're attacking from the front. Kill any youkai you come across, as quickly and efficiently as possible while seeking out the documentation we need. We can't let any of them escape, or they might identify us to their bosses."
Hikari raised an eyebrow.
"Have you never killed anyone before?"
Ranma clenched her eyes shut.
"I… sort of, once, but… it was… circumstances, and…"
"Saotome-san. Anyone participating in this systemized massacre has long since forfeited their rights to fair and equal treatment. We don't have the resources to capture them and give them fair trial anyway, and on top of that the sentence would be death regardless." She put a hand on the younger girl's shoulder. "We have the power to stop them from killing more people. We must use it."
Ranma bit her lip.
"Pfft, you've only killed one person before?" Inuyasha snorted. "What an easygoing world you live in, Kagome. Even your shinobi hardly have any blood on their hands!"
Ranma rolled her eyes while Kagome punched him in the face.
She then turned to look at Ranma.
"Don't worry, Saotome-san. We're doing the right thing, here." She said with a solemn grimace. "Believe in that, alright? You saw what they did to that poor man."
Ranma nodded with a determined look.
"Okay. But… I'm really not a ninja, you know."
"Of course, of course. No such thing as ninjas. Anyways, good. Does everyone understand their jobs, then?" She asked.
They all sounded their agreements and she nodded again.
"Good. I don't expect there to be any enemies strong enough to cause this team trouble, but if for whatever reason you find yourself in a losing battle, fall back and regroup. We don't need anyone dying unnecessarily. And no large-scale destruction either, not until we're certain we've saved all of the human captives. This is a real battle situation with our lives on the line, so don't expect any quarter from the enemy."
"I've been dealing with life and death battles since I was right out the womb." He snarled and held up a hand and clenched it, popping the bones into position loudly. "Let's just go kill them already!"
"Remember, blitzkrieg is the name of the game. We hit them fast, we hit them hard." Hikari said, turning around. "Let's g…Wait a minute… the hell… who's that guy?"
As Inuyasha mumbled to himself, they all looked up to see a figure walking towards the guards at the entrance. It was a young man wearing a yellow tunic, black trousers, and a familiar bandana.
Ranma's jaw hung open. She groaned and brought a hand up to her face, shaking her head.
"Oh come on. You've got to be kidding me…" She groaned.
The two gun toting men turned to face him immediately. They raised their weapons and pointed them at him, and Ryouga held up his hands as a gesture of peace.
"Who the hell are you!?" One of them called out.
"I-I'm just a lost traveler!" Ryouga cried out. 'Ugh. Guns? It looks like I've crossed back into America… I'm surprised they speak Japanese, though.'
The two men shared looks as he approached.
"I was hoping you could tell me where I am," He said with an exasperated sigh. "I've been traveling all day, you see…"
They lowered their weapons as he stopped right before them, and he sighed in relief.
"I'm trying to get to Tokyo, specifically Azabu Juuban. Or well, I suppose it doesn't matter at this point, I may as well try to get home…"
As he muttered the last part, the two "men" licked their lips as they surveyed him.
"Is that so," One of them said. "Well you're in luck! We're in Tokyo. But you look pretty tired, traveler-san. Here, why don't you come on inside here and rest? You can leave in the morning."
Ryouga's eyes widened.
"Oh, truly? You'd let me stay the night?" He closed his eyes and clenched a fist. 'This world is filled with kind people! Unlike that oafish lout, Saotome!'
"Yeah, go on in!" The guard said with a chuckle, pressing a button. There was a loud buzzer as the gate started to open automatically. "They'll be happy to see ya."
"Thank you ever so much, kind sirs." Ryouga said with a bow.
As he stood up, he was treated to the sight of Ranma suddenly appearing before one of the men and slashing man's throat out, followed by a sharp blow to the chin, sending him flying back so that his head slammed into the brick wall, instantly knocking him unconscious as blood spurted from the gaping wound in his neck. By the time the other guard took notice of her appearance, she was already repeating the attack on him.
Ryouga stood, speechless, as Ranma replaced the blood-soaked kunai on a belt strapped around her leg, and turned to face him.
"R…Ran…ma?" The lost boy asked, blood draining from his face. "D…did you just… murder them?"
"They… they aren't people, Ryouga." She said, looking down at the corpses. "Look."
As blood spurted from the two unconscious men's necks, their bodies shifted. The first one's body grew, his clothing with him, and sprouted large fangs and claws as his skin took on a pasty yellow sheen, his blood similarly turning green. The other one shifted into a more canine shape, his face warping as a wolfish snout grew out from it, gray fur growing over every inch of his body.
"Wh-what the… youkai?"
"Yeah. And they're using this slaughterhouse to put out human meat."
Ryouga stared at her in shock as a group of people quickly ran over to join them.
"Good job, Saotome-san."
Ryouga looked around, confused.
"Who are these people?"
"They're helping me take out these guys," Ranma explained, jerking a thumb at the building. "Look, Ryouga, can you help out? We need every pair of hands we can get. They might have some people that are still alive in there."
Ryouga surveyed the group for a moment, before turning to look at the small complex.
"I… think I get the gist of the situation," He said. "But yeah, I'll do whatever you need."
Ranma nodded and turned to look at Hikari.
"He's a tough guy, really strong too. Let him soak up some damage for you," She said.
The woman nodded and turned to face Ryouga.
"You can come with me and Yusuke then. We don't have a vest for you, so try not to get shot." She said. "But really, it's quite the coincidence that your friend just happened to be around, Saotome-san."
"This guy is always where you least expect him," She grumbled.
Ryouga cleared his throat.
"Um, my name is Hibiki Ryouga," He said. "I'm not entirely sure what's going on but I hope I can be of help."
"I'm Kiyohara Hikari, this here is Higurashi Kagome-san, and that's Yusuke over there. We're short on time, so that'll have to do. Let's move."
"Oi! I have a name too, bitch!"
"Commence operation," Hikari announced. "Let's go, now!"
And then she charged in through the gate. Yusuke was quick to follow, and Ryouga glanced at Ranma.
"Go with her, and… don't hesitate." Ranma said, before suddenly vanishing.
Ryouga grit his teeth as he glanced down at the two dead guards, then turned and ran after Hikari.
"Stupid bitch." Inuyasha growled as a sniggering Kagome climbed up on his back.