"The moment you don't respect this, it kills you."

- Stanley Goodspeed, The ROCK.


"Are you sure you're okay?"

"I'm fine Luna... I've been worse."

Unfortunately, breakfast today did not go very well. Despite Grampa Hino's insistence that I eat something, my stomach did not comply. Oh, I tried to eat, but not only did nothing seem appetizing because of my stomach. But what I managed to down, did not remain there.

So my first hour awake consisted of a few vain attempts to deal with my hunger, followed by panicked offerings to the Goddess.

By about the third time, Luna was starting to look mildly concerned.

"I don't know," the feline whispered. "I haven't even seen Usagi looking this bad."

I glanced over at the kitty from my Place of Worship; I could feel my face drooping from the effort.

"Food poisoning," I stated. "It looks worse than it really is."

Luna tilted her head.

"I'm not buying that."

"I've got an immune system like a rock," I tried to keep my voice down. "It'll pass."

"Like a rock?" the cat let one ear lay flat, but kept the other perked up. It had the effect of looking at an Ironic Smirk.

Please hold: Offering in Progress...

"Ugh..." I continued after a moment. "Trying to force feed myself hasn't really been helping. You can't puke up what you haven't eaten after all."

"Maybe you should stop trying to eat then," the feline whispered.

"Yeah," I sighed. "I think I'll wait until lunch. Maybe by then this crap will have passed."

"I hope so," Luna nodded. "You look terrible."

"That aside-"

I stopped as Luna's ears perked up and she turned her head. A few seconds later, I could hear Grampa walking up before stuck his head in the bathroom.

"Still can't keep anything down?" he asked.

"Eh..." I grunted.

"I didn't think so," he shook his head. "Clean up, then you can go rest next to the fire. It's a bit cold today."

I nodded mutely and he wandered off.

There was a quiet delay before Luna turned and nodded for me to continue.

"You were saying?" she asked.

"I wonder what he's up to..." I continued.

"What?" the feline blinked. "Rei's Grandfather? Don't be sill-"

"He's been way too agreeable," I replied quietly. "Consider all the crap that's happened... The first time he saw me, I put the barrel of a shotgun to his face. That's not something you just pretend never happened."

Luna did her best feline impression of furrowing her brow, then glanced down the hall.

"Now he's being almost NICE," I continued. "He's not even trying to pester me with questions. Like what I was doing there in the first place. Or why I had a SHOTGUN?"

"You're right," Luna continued at last. "First time we met, I didn't even care that you were worn out. I wanted answers. He should too, but he's not trying to get any. The question is... Why?"

"I think he knows something," I pushed myself up and tried to get steady. Still felt weak from all the vomiting, and thirsty.

"Like what?" the advisor hissed.

"I don't know," I sighed back. "Anywhere from nothing to everything. All I know is, he's up to something."

"He might not know anything," Luna whispered. "It might be a trick to get you to reveal something to him."

"We'll just keep quiet then," I stepped into the hall and glanced back and forth. Which way was the fire room? "Unless he cracks first, I know nothing. Come on, let's go get warmed up."

I waited just a moment for Luna to make in the direction of the Fire. Just enough for her turn to point me in the correct direction to take in the hall. She knew where it was from experience, I didn't. But once I knew which way to go, it wasn't hard to find.

When we entered the room, I found Old Man Hino sitting in that god forsaken Seiza position, staring into the flames of the 'Great Fire'.

Honestly, I wasn't impressed. There was nothing 'great' about it at all. I've seen bigger bonfires burning piles of underbrush. Still, you don't disrespect religious practices if you don't want to piss off someone who knows enough Old Master style Kung Fu to break you like Christmas China. Especially when you know that technically, what he's practicing WORKS. So I'm not getting into names here.

For the most part, the fire was a simple affair, arranged in a slight pit in the floor with plenty of insulation between it and the stupidly flammable materials the building was constructed from. The smoke from the fire was vented through a hole in the ceiling, as was the logic for any indoor fire. I don't know if there was a cap above the hole or not, but I idly wondered if this room became a mess every time it rained or not.

But at least it was warm. Despite suit insulation, I was feeling the chills. I really need to get a jacket. That's on my To Do list.

Hino continued to stare into the blaze as I did my best to figure out a way to flop down and warm up without looking too much like a lost puppy. Once I had my spot, Luna likewise found her own nearby.

The old man continued to ignore my presence despite this, and just stared at the flame. He must be trying to duplicate Rei's little fire reading trick. Whether he could do it or not, I don't know. After about four, maybe five minutes of mute staring, he finally grunted before rocking back off his knees and crossing his arms perplexed.

"Anything good on?" I asked. I couldn't help it. I had to say something.

'Mph..." he grunted. "That child is so much better at this..."

That last statement sounded like it was more to himself than to me. But still. I'd love to respond with 'DUH! She's a Sailor Senshi, with, you know... REAL magic backing up her psychic prowess.

"You," he looked at me suddenly.

I glanced at Hino curiously.

"Yes?"

"Can you not feel it?" he continued.

"Feel what?" I asked.

"There's a sense of foreboding in the temple today," he continued. "A feeling of bad omens. Like misfortune itself has arrived."

That would be Senbei. Yeah, you got that in one old man. But I can't exactly tell you now can I?

"I wish I could find out where it was coming from," he continued at me, not knowing that I already had all his answers. "If it was from you, I'd know, but it's not..."

Hino looked at me, then down to Luna, who had curled up and was now sitting there relaxed, the tip of her tail twitching from time to time. But her ears were standing tall, indicating she was more alert than she looked. After a moment, he let his eyes return to the fire, and sighed.

"I don't know," he continued. "Something bad is coming, I can feel it in these old bones. I don't know why Rei didn't notice it. Normally she picks up on these things before I do."

I really don't know what to say really. I'm sure he's just venting his worries since he's got an audience, but he could be fishing. He could be. I still haven't figured him out yet.

Old Man Hino turned his head after a few more moments of silence, then pushed himself to his feet.

"I'm going to go check the grounds one more time," he announced. "Just relax for a little bit."

Sure, sure. Go do whatever it is you're going to do. Go search for Senbei, or pretend to search for Senbei but actually spy on me. I'm not going anywhere or doing anything I think I'd need to hide. Not yet anyway.

"If you catch it, strangle it for me," I commented. The statement literally came out of nowhere from that tiny portion of my brain that churns out the most completely idiotic statements and feeds the impulse right into the language center of my brain. It was a statement that I spat out before I even realized I was saying it.

Hino responded by turning to look at me, then grunted and left the room.

He sure clamed up a lot since Rei left. I don't think he's said two minutes worth of dialogue to me in the last hour.

After a few moments of silence, Luna sat up and looked at me, indicating Hino was more or less out of earshot.

"You know," I began. "If he actually finds Senbei, I'm going to laugh my ass off."

"I would hope not," Luna quietly admonished me. "His senses are strong, but Senbei would pulverize him."

"Yeah," I sighed. "Senbei plays a little rough. Still, he's good with kids."

That, or Su is an unstoppable force of nature.

"He is, isn't he?" Luna laughed a little. "For a demon he's not all that bad. A little funny too. I almost like him, but he's got horrible dress sense.

"Yeah," I continued. "His clothing is a little ta-"

Luna's head shot around and I snapped my mouth shut. A few seconds later, the sound of Hino's footsteps wandered by. Luna waited cautiously before she continued in my place.

"I think I should switch to my human form," she commented. "It might be easier to talk to you if I didn't have to hide it constantly."

"You sure?" I asked. "That switch makes a lot of noise."

"I've already got a story made up to cover it," Luna smirked. "Besides, I've seen how he acts around pretty girls."

"Just remember it wears you out fast," I reminded.

"I'll manage," she frowned.

'POP!'

Dammit, even used to it, I still had to stick a finger in my ear.

"What was that?"

"Just let me do the talking," Luna stuck one finger to her lips, then winked.

"I figured I'd find you here," she continued in a louder, conversational tone. "Nice to see you're not hurt. How are you feeling?"

I waited silently, but Luna made a sour face and waved at me. I responded with a scowl of my own. Don't tell me you're going to do all the talking and not expect me to keep my mouth shut.

"I'm fine," I replied in a slightly annoyed tone, which probably helped to bring the act out. "Feel like crap though..."

"You looked a little off earlier this morning," Luna rolled her eyes but kept up the act with her voice. Better acting than Rei, for what it was worth.

Hino came bounding through the entrance into the room and ground to a halt. It only took him a second to inventory the extra person in the room.

"Young lady..." he began, confusion on his features. "How did you get in here?"

Luna blinked innocently, and tilted her head to the side, trying to milk the 'cute' factor.

"I walked of course," she replied. "I thought you saw me."

I about snorted.

Hino's confusion only increased. Of course, I couldn't help but look off to the side as not to give away the look on my face. I mean, you've GOT to be kidding me... That's got to be the flimsiest excuse I've ever-

"You didn't notice when I greeted you?" she continued.

"No," Hino turned and looked out of the room, then back again. "When did-"

"You looked a bit preoccupied," she continued. "When I asked, you just grunted."

Hino glanced around the room once more.

"And what was that noise?"

"Oh I just knocked something over," Luna waved it away. Somehow, I don't think Hino's buying this.

"And you are?"

Nope, not buying it.

"Can't you tell?" Luna asked, then grabbed me by the arm. "I'm his girlfriend. You can call me Luna."

"Really?"

I inwardly sighed. Luna calls this a plan? She calls claiming she walked right past him and that she's my girlfriend, a PLAN? That's STUPID! That's insane! That's...

Probably going to work.

Oh god dammit, I can't believe its going to work. This is perfectly suitable fodder for a situation like this and its going to work perfectly. Don't ask me how, it defies logic. It defies anyone with common sense. How do people get away with these excuses when they're so transparent? Does comedic causality cause aneurysms? I mean, you can't just spontaneously develop a brain block with a reason.

"Well," Hino began, his eyes flicking to me. I just rolled mine in response.

"That's okay then," he continued at last.

There it is. There it FUCKING is. Insane plan... It works. It fucking works. Now Luna's going to think she can pull this off any time. The problem is the follow through. I can already see half a dozen ways this could go hilariously wrong. Luna doesn't see that yet.

Okay, so teaching her to try insane plans is my fault. I know that now. I'm going to let the kitty know in quite clear detail later that any insane plans should be run by me first.

Old Man Hino changed his posture and quickly bowed, his previous alert expression replaced by a goofy smile.

"I'm sorry for the suspicion," he continued. "It's just that there is some kind of foreboding today. Welcome to this humble shrine."

"Why thank you!" Luna smiled. "It's okay. To be honest, now that you mention it, I can feel it too. It was so bad I thought I might have stepped on a spider on the way here. I'm glad I'm not the only one who noticed."

Spider? What?

"Oh it's been like this all morning," Hino continued. "It's like an evil spirit, but not as sharp. It just feels muddled, like bad fortune. I can't pin it down."

"All morning?" Luna tilted her head. "I hope it doesn't get serious."

"This is a shrine young lady," Hino rubbed the back of his head. "I won't let it get that bad."

"What are you going to do?"

"I'm going to find it and exorcise it," he smirked.

This is stupid.

"Would you like to help?"

This is really stupid. Now he's hitting on her. What's she trying to do? Charm him?

"I'd love to," Luna let her head drop. "But I don't think I should help looking like this."

"Oh that's not a problem," Hino continued. "If you need to use the furo, you are more than welcome to it."

"Really?" Luna asked. "You mean it?"

"I haven't done laundry yet," he continued. "So the water's clean. After that, I'll let you wear one of Rei's hakama."

Wait a second... Did he just offer to let her- Oh, I see what you did there. Luna, you're one slick cat. You're playing him like a fiddle.

"Boy," Hino turned to me.

"Sir?" I asked, trying my best to sound at least somewhat alive.

"You think you can handle heating the water?"

"Wait," Luna cut in. "He's sick though. Shouldn't he-"

"Nonsense," Hino interrupted. "He's fine. Just a little stomach bug from eating something bad. I'm sure he can handle a little bit of fire."

"Yeah," I grunted, forcing my way to my feet. "I can handle that."

"Are you sure?" the catgirl asked. "I mean..."

"I'll be fine," I stated curtly. "But if you hear any screaming... I probably set myself on fire. "

Despite trying to hide it, Luna's face lit up with the most adorable little smile.

"Come on," Hino directed me towards the exit. "I'll show you what to do."

The directions were simple, though the very thought of a wood fired stove in the modern age was just archaic to me. However, I'm not going to argue with the guy over the setup of a SHRINE. It's essentially a historical landmark and tourist trap. Modernizing that would defeat the purpose.

So Hino showed me how to heat the water. Okay, yeah, I've worked a grill like any other Texas male. In terms of practicality, it's all the same. Maximum heat by keeping the flames well ventilated and the fuel together. Of course, I like to cheat. Lots and Lots of lighter fluid. Ever vaporize it and then light it? I have. Had a grill that all the flames went out, so it was just hot charcoal. Doused it in lighter fluid, watched the stuff vaporize. For a bit of a thrill, I shut the grill, and lit the vapor cloud using one of those extended reach torch lighters from the side.

Of course, having a healthy respect for fire, I paid attention to what I was doing. Combustible vapor in an enclosed environment plus spark equals:

'FWOOSH!'

Not only did I keep my face away from it. But I walked around to the side so that the inevitable jet of flames wouldn't try to take my eyebrows off.

And for just one entertaining second, I had a rocket.

Anyway...

Sure, Hino gave me a bamboo pipe to blow air into the little stove. But as soon as he wandered off to deal with some of the first tourists of the morning, I tossed it. I'm not going to stand here like a dofus for that. Instead I just prodded the fuel around and shifted it until something resembling reasonable airflow formed. Convective air currents are your FRIEND.

The morning out here wasn't terribly bright. To tell you the truth, it was downright glum. Looking up, I noted mildly that it was overcast, and chilly. A lot of people would have been bummed out by such weather. Me? I like glum weather. It has a kind of isolating feel that makes the world around you seem smaller, more manageable. I could sure use that feeling the way my nerves have been played with lately.

A hot chocolate would go good with this right about now. If only my stomach wasn't at DEFCON one.

I was just sitting there, soaking up some of the ambient heat from the stove when I noticed them.

Two birds, jet black, sitting on a branch. I never realized Crows were so... BIG.

Phobos and Deimos just stared right back at me, undaunted, unafraid. They were like a pair of oversized grackles. Every few seconds, one of them would twitch, whipping their head around in that way only birds can do. And they would fixate me with one eye. A little bird trivia. Depending on the species, a bird is not looking at something if it's looking right at it. It's looking at something when it has its head turned sideways. Their eyes are more in the side of their head than up front like a human. So in order to get a clear look at something, they have to get a bit of a sideways glance going.

Considering crows are very closely related to ravens, and how ravens are absolutely brilliant as far as animals go. And I knew that Phobos and Deimos weren't just ordinary crows, but smarter.

But...

I still couldn't shake the creepy-crawly sensation as we locked eyes that those two were actually measuring me up. The first time I was here, I hadn't seen them around. They probably hadn't sensed me and then stayed out of the way later.

"Hey birds," I commented at last.

Phobos (or was it Deimos. I don't know, they look identical.) cocked his (her? It?) head to the side, while the other ruffled its feathers a little as if cold.

"Yeah I hear ya," I responded, looking back at the stove.

Deimos (Phobos?) cawed once at this point. A single low, buzzing tone that was louder than expected. Then the bird jumped clear of its branch and glided to the ground a few feet away. Once on the ground, the bird continued to examine me in that way birds do. After a moment, it bounded forward, then sideways.

Phobos (Deimos?) watched its partner for a moment before the former cawed again.

Then it too jumped and glided to the ground as if it had been called down.

Both birds seemed to work out some kind of mutually agreed 'safe distance' from me. They continued to do short, rapid hops on the ground, examining me from all angles.

Phobos (?) got more and more brave as this continued, bouncing ever closer, but paying a great amount of attention to where I was looking.

Then they both bounced back and just stared at me for a moment, motionless. After a few seconds of this behavior, they both cawed at me.

'C-caw to you to," I replied with an inward laugh. "I don't bite."

Deimos (?) cocked its head to the side, then bounced back once with a light caw. Then Phobos (?) suddenly jumped up and took to the air, almost startling me as the bird quickly settled on my shoulder.

At a loss for how to respond, I just kept my head tilted out to give the bird some room on my shoulder, staring out the side of my glasses as the bird turned around and seemed to examine my face up close.

'Caw!' it called once, much quieter than before. Then it spread its wings and took a jump. Deimos followed suit. Both birds took off towards the front of the shrine, before banking around and crossing each other's path before swooping past someone like Mocking Birds dive bombing a cat.

My blood about froze.

That person was none other than Kunzite.

Shit.

SHIT!

What the hell is he doing here? There shouldn't be any reason for him to-

No, you make ripples remember? Don't freak out. He doesn't know anything. With all the 'evil aura' Senbei puts off, combined with your appearance, it should be no surprise. He's probably here investigating it.

Because last time that ripple was felt, 'someone' killed Zoicite.

And that someone, was me. And if he finds out it was me, I'm in for a very painful death unless I can kill him first.

Now, the question is: What is he going to figure out if he hangs around here long enough?

The less he knows the better. And the less time he spends around here, the less he knows. So it would probably be a good idea to run him off before Rei gets home, or before Luna gets out of the bath. Ideally, I should kill him right now if I can find an opening. He'd never see it coming from a random stranger.

But I can't just go and kill him in broad daylight...

As I watched, Kunzite made no motion to hide his presence, or even his nature. He just stood there, in the middle of the walkway, dressed in his gray and grayer uniform with that cape, arms crossed. A pair of tourists entering the shrine caught his attention and his head just followed them until the gaze unnerved the young man, who quickly put his arm around his girl friend or wife, and quickly increased their pace.

Yeah, he just reeks of 'Don't Fuck With Me' in colossal amounts. And that's what makes him so dangerous.

I wonder how close you can get to this guy before he raises his guard.

Poking at the fire in the stove one more time, I turned and glanced again. Kunzite's gaze was still following the couple. I really don't like how that looks.

Fighting a slowly climbing shot of adrenaline making my already unsettled stomach twist into knots, I steeled myself for a plan of action. If anything so much as HINTS at going wrong, I close the distance as fast as I can and try to take his head off before he really knows what's going on. I won't have time to fish mossy out of my pocket. And I won't get more than one shot.

Clicking the dial on the suit, I raised it to four X. If my weak ass self could knock Zoicite down with a strike, I should be able to at least stun Kunzite with four times that strength, long enough for me to try and cripple him.

And don't forget the portal itself is effectively a weapon... One good swipe if I'm close enough and he's headless.

Turning towards him, I began walking at a determined gate.

Kunzite continued to watch the couple for a few seconds before he shifted his gaze to me. Yet he made no motion to indicate he even cared. Closing to what I felt was the right distance to not have to shout, I opened my mouth.

"Can I help you, sir?"

Kunzite didn't answer, though as I closed to just around where I guessed would be lunging range, he uncrossed his arms. That ended up being my indicator to roll to a stop.

"Are you lost?" I continued. "You look dressed for a cosplay shop or something. You won't find one around here."

Kunzite just turned to look up in a nearby tree where Phobos and Deimos were currently perched, watching the situation. After a moment, he let his gaze fall back to me. In that time I had shifted my weight and crossed my arms so as to come across as VERY alert, if not impatient.

"No," he continued at last. Somehow, I was expecting his voice to be deep and resonant, like James Earl Jones. I mean, so far everyone's voice had a slightly different sound than to what I was used to hearing, but not too far off from what you would expect. Luna sounded neither like a little girl the way her Japanese voice actress made her sound, nor that British nanny voice used in the dub. It just somehow, fit.

Yet, instead of some kind of dominating villainous tone, Kunzite sounded... Rather girly. Not female girly, but girly-man girly. Like 'Ahnold' was going to come up the stairs at any moment and go: 'LOOK AT YOU! YOU ARE WEAK AND FLABBY!' But it was obvious visually that he was rather tough and foreboding.

Really though, just hearing his voice for the first time deflated a lot of the sense of dread I was getting out of this guy. And if it was anything I could use at the moment, it was a little extra confidence when dealing with this powerhouse.

"State your business then," I continued curtly. Kunzite flashed me a quick glance again, looking slightly annoyed. I guess he wasn't used to people who'd get right up in his face.

"I'm visiting a shrine," he commented softly. "Is there something wrong with that?"

"Normally no," I continued, fishing for an excuse. "But with everything that's happened around here, now is not really the best time to hang around looking like Mister Sinister. People are already on edge as it is. And that costume of yours isn't helping. Neither is the staring."

Kunzite turned his head, recrossing his arms. He seemed to regard my statement the same way someone would regard the feelings of a mosquito.

"Do you know what happened here then?" he asked.

"Eh," I turned and glanced around the shrine. The couple was up at the rope doing their thing. "Bunch of crazy stuff really. First there was the busses a few months ago. That really spooked people. Then last week there was some kind of big fight."

"Fight?" Kunzite's eyes narrowed.

"Yeah," I nodded. "Big one. And not just any fight either. I hear it involved those Sailor Senshi girls. Got pretty nasty, and there's still a few spots-"

I waved around.

"-Where the damage hasn't been cleaned up yet. That's got people even more on edge. They're saying the shrine is attracting trouble. The shrine keeper even thinks there's an evil spirit left over from the battle. He's around here somewhere, no doubt trying to hunt it down and exorcise it."

I gave Kunzite a moment to process this as the couple from a moment ago finished up their business and turned to leave. As they came by, I could almost feel Kunzite's eyes turn to follow them. When I made eye contact with the young man as he eyed us, I simply nodded and smiled confidently. The young man seemed to acknowledge that I had things 'under control' by returning a slightly relieved smile of his own as he hurriedly helped his girlfriend past.

"So the Senshi had a fight," Kunzite continued once the couple was retreating down the stairs.

"That's what I hear," I continued. Kunzite's scowl simply deepened, and without so much as a thank you, turned to leave. Man, what a jerk. But I guess that was easier than I thought.

Wait a second...

Kunzite just bought everything I said hook, line, and sinker. He didn't even QUESTION the authenticity of what I was saying.

I wonder how much total crap I could feed him... How much complete bullshit he'd believe was the truth, considering his lack of understanding 'modern' culture.

Idea...

As Kunzite turned away, I parsed my brain for something fitting, something absurd and over the top to feed him.

"I heard a Jedi was there," I stated before the idea really formed in my head.

Kunzite stopped and turned, his brow furrowed in confusion.

"A Jedi?" he asked.

"Yeah," I continued, grasping at threads to keep this idea going. Now that I opened my big mouth, I was obligated to follow through, or die trying. "A Jedi."

"What's a Jedi?" Kunzite asked.

And with that simple question, the idea started to snowball.

"You've never heard of a Jedi?" I asked, then snorted. "Where have you BEEN man?"

"What, is a Jedi?" he asked more forcefully.

"You really don't know?" I asked.

"No."

I'm SO going to enjoy this...

"A Jedi is your worst nightmare," I began. "Those Sailor Senshi girls? They're nothing next to one of these."

"Impossible," the general growled, shooting me a look of shock.

"Hardly," I replied. "Those Senshi girls... Far as I can tell, they're just children. A Jedi is more like a living incarnation of DEATH. Most are traveling warriors, hopping from planet to planet, system to system, looking for evils. And when they find something worth fighting, they clean house. And they love their job. If a Jedi chose to reveal itself here in Tokyo, you can bet he'll show himself again... At the very moment he strikes."

Kunzite looked around cautiously. Oh god, he's really buying that story? Hah! If it's this easy, I'm going to leave him a paranoid gibbering wreck. Just give me half an hour. (If I can keep it together that long that is.) After a moment of glancing about, Kunzite took a step closer to me, closer than he'd been before, then leaned in.

After another quick glance around, he asked.

"How does one go about fighting something like this... Jedi?"

This was getting easier and easier to pull off by the second. A million ideas to make this the highest premium nightmare jet fuel possible started dancing in my head. I might as well make this GOOD.

"FIGHT ONE?" I asked in a loud voice, forcing Kunzite to lean away for a second.

"I suppose if you wanted to commit suicide a Jedi would be a really efficient way to die," I continued. "A Jedi's a frickin' MACHINE. Trained in hand to hand combat, trained in magic. Some wield a sword made of pure light. All of them are fast, all of them can teleport. You can hit them with a nuke and it only makes them angry. These guys fight monsters that can level cities, and come out of the fight dusting their hands off. Most people would call it an epic battle. Jedi just call it Tuesday. There's a saying: If you want to kill every last evil thing on the planet, accept no substitutes."

Kunzite was unnerved. I could see it in his eyes as he grit his teeth. I think I might just be able to buy the Senshi some time to get organized if I get him to start jumping at shadows.

"Are you certain they're this powerful?" he asked.

"I haven't even gotten to the really nasty part yet," I replied.

"And that is?"

I looked around, checking how many of the tourists were still around, then wagged my finger. Kunzite leaned in. Man, as close as he was now, I practically had a free kill. Just zip open my portal, bring my arm around while he's still registering the sound. And, as the Queen of Hearts once said 'Off with his head!'

Still, too many tourists. I kill him, and this place becomes ground zero for a full-scale homicide investigation. I don't think Old Man Hino or Rei would appreciate that...

"The worst part," I continued in a low tone. "Is Jedi Precognition."

Kunzite's breath caught in his throat.

"Precognition?" he hissed. "They're seers?" He seemed to recognize at least what it meant.

"They can sense the immediate future," I nodded. "You can't ambush a Jedi, he can sense it. You can't sneak up on a Jedi, he knows you're coming. You might as well paint yourself in neon lettering and run screaming at him for all the good it'll do."

"And a Jedi was HERE?" he asked. I wonder if Kunzite realizes how badly he's blowing his own cover. It's not like he was trying to hide it or anything, but...

"That's what I heard," I shrugged. "I guess all the strange events in the last few months finally got the attention of one. The poor bastard who got his ass handed to him probably never even knew what hit him. A Jedi Knight lives to destroy malicious creatures and corrupted, evil men. You can bet that whoever's behind the weird events as of late is on this guy's hit list. And if that's the case, my only advice to them would be to go crawl under a rock in the deepest, darkest hole they can find. Suck their thumb. And pray to whatever deity they happen to worship that the Jedi gets bored and heads elsewhere to look for demons to fight."

I suddenly had this urge to bust out laughing as Kunzite actually turned away to chew on his glove. I couldn't help it. I had the dark general believing that Zoicite was taken out by some kind of legendary warrior that made Sailor Moon look like a child playing pretend. All because he thought I was just some random gullible human.

Kunzite just looked around again, this time actually looking like he was expecting to get jumped any second. That's right! Be afraid! Be VERY afraid! The BoogieMan is out there.

"This is grave news," he muttered at last.

"What?" I asked, pretending to be dumb. "A Jedi? Only if you're some kind of top general for the forces of darkness. And even if you were, all I really have to say is... Sucks to be you."

Kunzite shot me a completely unmasked glare at that remark. Yeah, he wasn't even TRYING to hide his position. I did my very best to keep a straight face. If he so much as SUSPECTS anything, I'm in deep shit.

"I must report this immediately," he continued, collecting his composure. "Your knowledge was most... Informative."

"Whatever," I shrugged.

Kunzite eyed me one more time, then spun about to leave, somehow managing to swirl his cape in the process. The flamboyance of that act was enough to make me want to take one last parting shot, however childish.

"Hey," I snapped. "One thing..."

Kunzite turned around.

"If you really want to go for the dark commander motif, lose the cape. Only idiots wear those."

Kunzite scowled.

"I'm just saying," I raised my hands. "They get caught on missiles, stuck in doors, sucked into turbofans. Such a wonderful way to die, sucked into a jet engine. Caught by thirty thousand foot pounds of moving air passing over a spinning disk of titanium blades leading into an scorching inferno before spitting your charred and shredded carcass out the back."

Kunzite snorted, then turned to begin walking down the steps.

"Don't be absurd," he commented before he turned the corner. A small hiss indicated something happening, most likely a teleport.

I waited there for thirty seconds, then slowly let the breath I wasn't aware I was holding out.

Then I started to laugh, a short, shallow series of unsteady chirping laughs that sounded more at home coming from a madman than from myself.

Did I really do what I think I just did? Did I just... just. Did I just trick a dark general like him into believing the most absurd load of bullshit since that plan with Hild? Seriously? Was that me? That was the most insane, off the cuff, STUPID, short sighted, absurd, and totally hilarious half-prank, half-information warfare stunt every pulled in the history of EVER. And I should be ashamed of myself for even THINKING about it.

"Heheheh," I continued to gain momentum in my fit of insane giggles. "Oooh... I'm either a dumbass, or a fucking genius... Heh... And if I tell Washu what I just did, she'll probably rule out the latter."

As I continued to laugh, I could feel my body shaking. I had several good chances during that whole exchange where I could have easily eliminated Kunzite before he even knew what was going on. I mentioned once before about how bad a toll restraining myself from such actions really took. Combined with the overall dread, and the fear that he could at any moment, realize I was playing him for a fool. Well, it wasn't quite as bad as when I had that grenade primed in Jail's base. But it was close.

I continued to stand there, trying to relax my breathing. Yeah, okay, I'm better now. Nothing to worry about, everyone's safe for now. The situation is under control, the enemy has moved on, there's no-

Something touched my arm.

My brain blanked. I don't even remember what I did. Only that one second I was upright, the next I was on my back.

"It's okay," Hino snapped from above my head. "Calm down!"

I realized a moment later I must have spun and lunged in my panic, and he must have countered.

The old man looked at me seriously as I worked to sit up.

"I felt him the moment he appeared," Hino continued, motioning towards the main steps. "Evil flows from him like water from a faucet. I was trying to figure out how I could run him off when you intercepted him."

"He looked creepy," I huffed. "He seemed like trouble."

"Creepy nothing," Hino responded. "You tried to take my head off. If I hadn't expected it after watching how bad you were shaking, you might have succeeded. That's not how someone responds to 'he looked creepy', that's how someone responds to 'It's trying to kill me'."

I simply sat there, huffing.

"You know something about him," he continued. It was a statement, not a question.

"Dangerous doesn't even begin to cover it," I admitted.

Hino nodded.

"Come on," the old man continued. "We need to talk."

I rotated to my knees and forced myself up, remembering when I wobbled unsteadily that I was idling at four times my physical strength and running the timer down. Shutting that down, I turned to follow Hino as he walked over to, as best as I could identify it, the 'deck' surrounding the shrine house proper. I don't know if it had a name specific to it or not. After he sat down on the top step, Hino reached over, grabbed a bottled water and tossed it to me.

"Here," he stated as I clumsily caught it. "That's about all you're going to keep down right now, and you need to stay hydrated in that condition."

"Thanks," I broke open the seal and started drink, and like always, didn't realize just how thirsty I was until I was half way through the bottle.

"Now perhaps you can tell me what's going on," Hino stated as I came up for air. "I'd really like to know why you were in my home a week ago, aiming a firearm at me."

"Heh," I laughed. "I was wondering when you'd get to that."

"I left it out of the argument this morning. I didn't want to drag Rei into that."

"Figured you were playing dumb," I looked over to the shorter man next to me.

"You'd be surprised how useful that can be," Hino nodded. "Especially around Rei. Last week was not one of those times though."

"Yeah, sorry about that,' I sighed. "I was a bit paranoid."

"So I noticed," Hino replied. "I'm sure you've got quite the story to tell.

"I wouldn't even know where to start with you," I gave the old man a wry smirk. Really, what would I tell him first about this insanity?

"How about you start with the part where my granddaughter is Sailor Mars," the old man stated calmly.

I paused, for just a second, then glanced at Hino. He just raised his eyebrows.

I expected him to know something, hell I expected him to know... well, THAT. But the way he so casually stated it. I glanced around once just to make sure some of the local tourists weren't really in earshot.

After a moment, I just looked at him again, before letting my head drop into my hands.

"I knew it," I shook my head. "I knew you knew something."

"I know a lot of things," Hino shrugged. "Comes with Old Man Territory."

"So," I asked. "How'd you find out?"

Hino smirked.

"You think my Granddaughter is so slick that she could hide something like THAT from me?" he asked. "I recognized something was up the day she attained her... I guess you could say 'abilities'. A new set of friends, a new routine, a change in her behavior in the last few months."

"Attention to detail," I shook my head.

"Oh I wasn't entirely sure at first," Hino shrugged. "She's done a good job of keeping her newfound status to herself. But I had my suspicions."

"So how'd you confirm it?" I asked.

"She told me this morning," he smirked.

My face screwed up as I turned to look at the man. I recall no such conversation ever occurring.

"Okay," I crossed my arms. "I call bullshit. I may be sick, but I'm not deaf. She said no such thing."

"Do you remember what happened last week?" Hino asked.

"Yeah," I shrugged. "I'd rather not though."

"Neither would I," Hino admitted.

I looked at him, then furrowed my brow and-

"You REMEMBER?" I snapped around.

"All of it," Hino's face had suddenly gone very white. "Every horrifying second of it as I tried to rip my own Granddaughter apart. The beast had subverted my body, but I was awake the entire time. Do you have any idea what it's like to watch your own hands trying to kill the ones you love?"

I couldn't say I have. I've never been subject to mind control, Mr. Hyde transformations, or host to evil demonic horrors. So I'm kind of lacking in experience there, and anything really functional to say.

"I thought it was a nightmare," the old man turned to me. "I woke up in my bed. I figured I had a really bad dream. Rei had gone to school. All this Sailor Senshi business, probably all in my head."

"Except," I shook my head. "Bullet holes, and blast marks, and damaged landscaping."

"You'd be amazed what you can deny when you put your mind to it," Hino shook his head in unison.

So Grampa Hino remembered every sickening second of that firefight I had with Zoicite, as well as the fight we had directly with him afterwards. I thought it all the monsterfied victims passed out and forgot what happened after they got healed...

Maybe it's because he didn't get 'healed'. He got exorcised. Big time. Sailor Moon didn't get there in time to give him his dose of white magic happy fluffy no-monster rays. We broke out the military grade, anti-demon exorcism techniques and triumphed on a wing and a prayer.

"So," I began. "When Rei mentioned that I saved your life this morning..."

Hino nodded.

"I realized," he continued. "That everything that happened, really did happen. Rei, begging me to come back to my senses. That demon-man's laugh. And then the shock in the monster's mind when you opened fire with your weapon. "

"I almost blew it when I hesitated," I sighed. "I've never killed a man in my life."

"That was no man," Hino looked at me. "That was a monster. And he had turned me into a monster. When you aimed that weapon at me, I was screaming for you to do it inside."

"She wouldn't let me," I replied.

"I saw," Hino nodded and turned back. "But you should have anyway. I would rather lay down my life than let my Granddaughter die. Especially at my own hands."

"That would have destroyed her," I replied. "You're all she has."

"She has her friends," the old man commented. "She has you."

I scoffed.

"Me?" I asked. "I'm a good decade older than her, and she barely knows me at all. I doubt she has even a full six hours of contact with me."

Not to mention the ever so interesting measure of my world jumping, and the fact that she's entertainment back home.

Hino looked over at me.

"You went out of your way not to kill me on her pleas alone," he scowled. "Don't think you can out guess this old man, I was watching your every move. If you had run out of options, you would have emptied that weapon without second thought."

Then he sighed, and smiled.

"I may not know much about you, but I know a good man when I see one. So don't pretend you wouldn't have done it if you felt that was the only option. If you really thought she was in danger, you wouldn't have hesitated. And for that, I think I can trust you."

"I'm getting a lot of sappy lines out of people lately," I rolled my eyes. I hope this doesn't degenerate into an emotional dump.

"And why shouldn't you?" Hino asked. "Look at what you did. Who else can claim that? I don't know what you were doing here to begin with, but as far as I'm concerned, that doesn't matter. You've done good boy. That outweighs anything else."

"I didn't do much," I tried to counter.

"You did enough," Hino replied sternly. "Don't cheapen it by trying to be humble."

Humble? Compared to some of the people I've already met in the last week, killing a monster might be the easiest thing I've done.

"You don't even BEGIN to understand the full scope of things," I shook my head.

"Do you?" he asked.

I sighed long and slow. Dark Kingdom, Dark Moon, Aliens, Death Busters, Pharaoh Ninety, Dead Moon Circus, Nehelenia, Galaxia... And that's just THIS universe. Let's not get into my travels in detail, I could make a story out of it.

"Yeah," I continued. "I do."

"Then that's good enough," Hino continued. "I won't ask about the details. But I would like you to do one thing for me."

"And what's that?" I asked.

"Keep her safe," Hino put his hand on my shoulder. "I can't do that any more. I'm too old, and she's already so much stronger than I am. Last week made that crystal clear."

There was a momentary pause before I went back to downing the rest of the water the old man had given me. I needed a few seconds to think. Unfortunately, the remains of the water didn't give me more than a few seconds. This situation was getting more and more complicated.

"I wish it were easier," I replied after swallowing. "I've barely managed to keep myself alive. And I'd be lying if I told you I was any stronger."

"Do your best then," Hino shook my shoulder once. "Sometimes that's all you can hope for."

"I'll promise you this much," I turned and frowned. "It's not going to end badly. I won't let it."

Because if all else fails, I'm a right cheating bastard who refuses to lose to a bunch of generic two-dimensional villains with the collective IQ of a box of rocks.

"Very good," Hino responded, then he seemed to relax a little. "One other thing though."

"What's that?" I asked.

"Don't tell Rei I know," he continued. "Don't tell any of those girls I know. They're not quite professional enough yet. They'll just worry, and that will distract them."

"Yeah that's probably for the better." I agreed. "The situation's complicated enough without them being distracted."

"And don't tell the cat-girl, Luna, either," he added. "Poor dear probably has enough worries trying to keep up with what's going on."

"You know THAT too?" I asked. "How did you even, I don't-"

"Deduction," Hino looked at me. "Usagi has the most peculiar cat. Yellow crescent moon on her forehead. She always follows the girl around. I've never seen a cat that acts like that. Then you appear, disappear, the cat disappears. You come back, so does the cat. The cat follows you around, and then sits at the door like she's keeping an eye on you. That cat acts more human than some humans I've met do. That tends to stand out."

"So how did you?" I continued. "I mean, make the connection between the two?"

"Isn't it obvious?" he asked. "There's that overly human-acting cat in the room when I leave. There's a loud bang, and there's no longer a cat when I run back in there. Instead there's a girl. A girl who claims she walked right past me. I only let her get away with it because I wanted to get you alone to talk."

I shook my head, and examined my water bottle, then tipped it up to try and get a few more drops out of it.

"Here," Hino grabbed up another water bottle and handed it to me.

"Thanks," I nodded, then broke the seal and started downing it too.

After a moment I came up for air and just stared into the chilly morning at some of the tourists.

"So now what?" I asked.

"Eh," Hino shrugged. "I don't know. But if you need help with anything, just ask."

I nodded and thought for a second, then turned to Hino again.

"Know where I could trade some gold for some cash?" I asked. "I need to get some shopping done."

"There's a pawn shop in Shinagawa," the old man replied. "Been there since I was a kid."

"Cool," I replied simply. That's one thing on my list. Gold for money, money for shopping, shopping for necessities.

"Hey one thing," I turned to the old man. "Last week... You recognized how I was holding my weapon."

"I know a soldier when I see one," Hino responded curtly. "It's the way you carry yourself."

"So how do you know that?" I asked.

Hino turned to me, and looked me dead in the eye.

"I was young when the fire bombings occurred here," he stated simply. "I have seen a LOT of soldiers in my time."

"Oh," I looked away. That's not an issue I should touch.

"That was a long time ago," he stated after a moment. "Time heals all wounds."

Several minutes of silence followed and I downed the rest of my water bottle to keep my big mouth shut. The silence was only broken when Luna came padding out.

"Do I have this on right?" she asked.

Hino turned to examine her, and switched right from serious to goofy mode. I almost had to do a double take. I hardly recognized the 'girl'. She was wearing one of Rei's outfits. Those robes with the weird name I forgot. What did the old man call it? Hakane, Hakame? I forget. They were a little off size, I think. Luna's hands didn't quite come out of the sleeves. Luna's hair was also tied back into one long ponytail instead of what seemed to be her default style.

The effect was stunning. Luna was adorably cute in that outfit. I couldn't help but smirk knowing probably hundreds of people who would kill for the chance to be standing here right now. Maybe I should fish my camera out the next chance I get and grab a snapshot.

"My dear," Hino began around that goofy face of his. "You look lovely like that."

"Do I?" Luna blushed and quickly spun around. "I don't think it fits quite right."

Well, it IS Rei's.

"What do you think?" the Felis Sapien asked.

I placed my hand on my chin and pursed my lips as if in thought, Luna's smile faded just a bit as I sat there 'hmmm'ing.

"Yeah," I nodded as if coming to a serious conclusion. Then I inhaled flamboyantly and stuck my thumb up.

"Looks good to me," I stated in a tone that was half way between a whisper and normal.

"Really?" Luna smiled and giggled slightly. I guess that bath really made her feel better than I expected.

"Well," I shrugged, looking around, and found Phobos and Deimos watching from a nearby tree again. "You could always ask the birds."

And with that, I spun to the two crows.

"What do you two think?"

Phobos (Deimos?) turned its head sideways, then craned its neck until it was almost looking at Luna upside down. Then Deimos (Phobos?) bounced a half a foot to the right on the branch.

'Caw!' they both snapped loudly.

"I think we have a winner," I announced as I spun back around. And I almost started laughing again.


For those of you who want a little something more substantial than reading material. I now have shirts up for sale on my Cafe Press account, which is linked in the profile. Shirts such as Dimensional Economics 101, Dimensional Pocket Safety, and Mo Dakka fo Life. More items will show up as I isolate some of the best bits from this story.