The Twilight Hour [Redux]

By

Samuel Jacobs

In honor of final chapter of the OMG manga, chapters 1-5 of OMGTerran book 2

"OMG: Mortality" to be released July 15, 2014

Synopsis: Takumi Sato came to Japan in hopes of reconciling his past. But a tragic death during the recovery of an object of appalling power sets in motion a series of events which will forever change the lives of the Morisato household. In the dark days that follow, Belldandy must fight to protect both herself and those she loves from destruction. Urd too must choose her path, a path she never could have imagined which will ultimately force her to face her own death in the infernal realm against Hild's demonic forces. Caught in a struggle which threatens them all the goddesses will learn the full measure of Hild's prophetic words, "love may give you strength, but it can also be your greatest weakness." Aided by old friends and a new dark ally, their fight will ultimately change the face of all they hold dear.

This book sets forth a new series of adventures in the phenomenally successful Oh My Goddess! series created by Kōsuke Fujishima.

Disclaimer: The characters of Oh My Goddess! are owned and copyrighted by Kosuke Fujishima, Kondansha Ltd, and Dark Horse Comics, Inc. No attempt is made to state otherwise.

Dedication

We humans lack the ability to bring those lost back to life. But through these characters who speak our hopes, dreams and fears, we can return a measure of that life again and again so long as we hold their ideals in their hearts, retelling their stories to the generations that follow. This book is dedicated to my wife, children, friends who have fallen, and those who continue to seek truth in everyday life.

Contents:

1. Hidden 1

2. Second Sight 21

3. The Dig 36

4. Second visit to Jufukuji 51

5. The Attack of Belldandy 75

6. Tariki Hongan Temple 95

7. Seaside Residence 117

8. Entanglement 131

9. The Dark Visitor 145

10. Wind and Fire 160

11. Northern Departure 176

12. Moonlight kisses before the War 198

13. The Sign 214

14. Aftermath 232

15. Echoes of the Sea 247

16. Light 271

17. Of Love and Goddesses 294

18. Repentance 309

19. Remembrance and Celebration 329

20. The Guardian 350

21. Conclusion 362

...

...

Chapter 1

Hidden

The dark haired young woman moved unnoticed through the double doors of the University library making her way to the back offices. Approaching the reference desk the intern looked up knowingly, "You know better than to find him here this time of day." Sorano continued down the stairs to her left and out the doors leading to the East Lawn. Outside a man in his 30's stood alone, lost in thought as he gazed northward toward the serene twin peaks of Mount Tsukuba. In his hand she saw an object bearing symbols she recognized.

"May I interrupt you Professor Sato?"

"Sorano, always a pleasure to see you," he said quickly placing the object into his pocket.

"Your message said there might be some progress?" she asked expectantly.

"The network program was able to link several recent inscriptions to the historical records in our archives. Together they may point a way toward a possible location of your artifact."

"Great! When can we proceed?"

"Not just yet. There are few more things I need to check before we'll know whether it's worth pursuing."

"Such as?"

"I'd like to visit Narita over the next few days to discuss these findings with a man I believe can help us."

"Then I'll come with you," she said firmly.

"As the museum's representative I expected no less."

"We can go tonight."

"No, that will not be possible."

"As I explained, this project is of the highest priority."

"Yes I know, but I have priorities of my own I need to attend to first. We'll go in two days' time; on the weekend."

Sorano looked to the mountains. "I think we're close."

"I hope so," he said walking past her. He looked up once more, this time to the south seemingly drawn by something. "Tell me Sorano, what lies in that direction?"

"Over there? Umm I don't know, lots of things. You're looking in the direction of Chiba city I suppose. Why?"

Something she could not discern crossed his face. "No reason. I was just curious. I'll see you in two days' time," he replied wandering down the hill to the main lab complex.

"Two days," Sorano muttered. "If he only knew."

Even after all this time Sorano was not entirely sure why she'd been instructed to seek out Takumi Sato to assist her. True he did possess knowledge about an arcane group (in Sorano's view) of Earth myths and histories which might prove useful in her present search. But his primary expertise lay at the crossroads of biology and physics, relating to matters of human life and death, skills whose utility in the current matter were not readily apparent to her. To be honest she didn't even think he looked much like a professor, his angular features having more in common with a day laborer than a scholar. Somehow gave him the appearance of looking younger than his years. It was only his eyes which gave away his true age, possessing a certain sadness or perhaps weariness with the world. She knew from the records she'd been allowed to see that in addition to his academic training he'd spent a good part of his youth living and working in a small dojo, receiving training in what Sorano could only assume was some primitive form of human combat. During that time he'd been schooled in an old system of Earth spiritual beliefs somewhat akin to her own. But that was years ago. Now he appeared to have no affiliation to any of these. Though Sorano had come to trust his judgment, in truth she knew little more about the inner workings of the man now than when she'd first met him eight months ago.

For Takumi Sato, Sorano had come into his life as something of a whirlwind. She had been introduced as a special representative from the National Museum, tasked with recovering a particular artifact, and willing to finance those with knowledge of how it might best be retrieved. Curiously she'd requested that he personally assist her in the matter. Wishing to maintain good relations with the Museum, the University had urged him to help her in any way possible. She was bright, young (Takumi thought too young for such an assignment) and energetic. Her appearance at the lab had caused more than a few heads to turn when she started showing up at all hours of the day and night. The fact that he had developed a rather protective attitude toward her likely did little to help matters. But Takumi Sato never really thought about outward appearances or the proper way to fit in. For him there was only what must to be done, nothing more, nothing less. From his perspective he had an obligation to ensure that young representative stayed out of trouble. From the University's perspective the sooner the artifact was located the better. As for the project, time seemed to be of the essence to her. This suited Takumi since the item she was looking for was thought (at least in myth) to be linked to something he had been looking for for a very long time. Indeed as he explained at one of their initial meetings a principal reason he'd returned to Japan was to hasten its recovery.

. . .

Down in the office Takumi continued to pour over the symbolic correlations and make arrangements for the equipment they would soon need. As he carefully re-checked the iconography from the latest set of inscriptions, his assistant Terry and Professor Aki Sakai burst in, immersed in yet another heated discussion. He nodded. He was fond of Terry, he had a quick mind and seemed to get on well with everyone in addition to possessing a good technical understanding of the laboratories computational systems. Like Takumi he too was an outsider to the University having arrived with him from the West little more than a year ago.

"Sure Aki -," Terry boomed with a wave of his hands, "they're all over the place. Just like that weird group you used to belong to, eh boss?"

And yet there were times Terry's presence could be trying.

"You know I appreciate your skills Terence, but would it kill you to occasionally read more widely than the search subroutines once in awhile?"

He shrugged. "Maybe. Don't know? Why?"

"-Because then you might discover that people in this country don't consider Zen Buddhists to be some 'weird group'. Actually they have a rather a long and considerable -." Aki laughed as Takumi's annoyance as he launched into an overly long-winded explanation of . . . something. She rolled up her shirt sleeves preparing the tea.

"Yeah sure -," Terry replied eventually accepting his cup. "But seriously, aren't most of those places really father-son scams nowadays? You know, set up for the tourist trade?"

"Father-son -what!? No, not the ones that -," Takumi muttered something undecipherable under this breath rubbing his temples. "Are you trying to get me upset?" he said suddenly feeling tired.

"Umm, no," Terry replied shaking his head. He had learned it was reasonable unwise to upset Sato.

"Good! Then go do something useful and help arrange for this upcoming meeting."

Terry wandered to the other end of the room diving for his chair. "I mean you know I think it's great and everything," he said trying to redeem himself. "I'm just saying that stuff you're into goes way beyond meditation; that's all."

"Oh, and how is that?" asked Aki suddenly interested in her colleague's extracurricular activities.

"I mean like you should see this guy! Like this one time we were at a bar in Yokohama, and he just -."

"Terrence!"

"Yes?"

"Meeting!"

"Yeah, yeah, okay . . . arranging for meeting," he said taking a seat behind Aki. "Where, when, and with whom?"

"Naritasan, this weekend, with Sensei Tenori Nukura."

"Two days? Kind of short notice."

"Tell him it's me and that it's important. I have a feeling he'll be able to work something out," he said opening the folder containing a small but very peculiar set of symbols.

. . .

At Sorano's residence preparations were going less smoothly. "No, no, I compleeetely understand!" Michio replied mischievously. "You urgently need to gather the correct clothing for your research trip with Professor Sato… with whom you've been working on this project for the past eight months!"

"Michio," Sorano complained irritably, "I don't control the rate at which things happen here do I?"

"How would I know? You're the one entrusted with the sacred task," she said flopping down at the side of the bed.

Stop doing that! "Remember when you were told to assist me in this endeavor? It's not the same-."

"As what?"

"As irritating me!" she exclaimed. "Now think of everything I might need for such an excursion."

"Yeah okay. You'll probably need your umm - lips," she teased, jumping from one bed to another with unearthly grace. Sorano returned to her packing after throwing the nearest loose object at her. "I mean like clothing you, you clown."

"Why don't you ask your cousin about that, she seems pretty fashion conscious," Michio shot back sarcastically.

"Note to self: do not bring idiot along friend next time, no matter how much she me, if I could communicate with someone other than you at this point I would. By the way have you thought for even one second what'll happen to us if we don't get there first?"

"Don't even joke about that," replied Michio jumping off the bed to land beside her. "I don't want to think about it," she said shivering.

"Then I say again, help me find all -," Sorano continued hurriedly looking through their collective belongings.

. . .

At the appointed hour Saturday morning, Sorano and Takumi headed southeast toward the Narita temple complex. After the rush to get things ready the drive out was a pleasant distraction. The sun shone brilliantly as it warmed the cool morning air. Sorano looked out the window watching the row after row of cultivated fields pass them by as they sped down the highway. Spring is finally starting to take hold in the land, she thought. Indeed the closer they got to the temple the more she could see the power of the plum blossom giving way to that of cherry trees scattered across the plain. It's so peaceful here. If only it could stay that way.

"Well there's our destination," Takumi said as the road arched to the right snaking its way toward the distant temple complex. Once off the highway they began to navigate the narrow city streets approaching the complex. They traveled several blocks before Takumi finally pulled over stopping. "Alright, from here we walk," he said taking up his pack and plunging into the crowd through the myriad of shops. Checking her gear Sorano quickly followed him moving toward the temple's main gate. Up ahead she could see the archway standing at the head of a series of steep sloping stairs. Above them, standing in the shadow of the Niomon gate the man stood gazing back silently, calmly pulling the black kesa over his shoulders. He scanned the ever approaching crowd of visitors, pausing as he caught sight of Takumi before stepping out from the gate to signal them, "Sato sensei!" he called.

Takumi looked up. "Sensei Nukura!" he replied bowing low as he reached him. "Sorano this is Sensei Tenori Nukura of the Narita temple. He is familiar with the historical records of this complex and may be able to help us in some of the background matches we've identified." Nukura bowed patiently. He appeared several years older than Takumi, but there was something about the way he stood and moved that reminded her of him. He put out a hand to her shoulder introducing her, "Sensei Nukura this is Sorano, the special representative from the National Museum of whom I spoke."

"Yes of course. Please come this way," he said taking them through the central gate to the courtyard beyond. Following the central path for only as short distance he then veered to the left leading them past several stands of ancient cypress revealing a more secluded group of buildings tucked off to one side. "I thought we might meet here to discuss the records of interest," he said climbing the steps to the largest of these. Sorano followed them silently, carefully analyzing their gestures and movement. Together they passed down the dim wooden corridor to reach an intersecting hallway at one end. Approaching the heavy inner wooden doors Nukura turned as they continued in conversation, "As I told you, our rules regarding examination of these documents -".

"There is no need to explain," Takumi interjected quickly. "I'm sure Sorano understands the situation completely," he said with a quick glance. They had of course discussed this possibility earlier at the University. "It may be that they allow only one person at a time to view the temple documents," he had said. "Besides, the information we really need may not be in the documents they provide. In either case I think it best if I try to speak with Sensei Nukura alone in order to get the information we need."

"And why should that be?" Sorano asked suspiciously.

"Ah, you know these temple types Sorano. Some of them can be a bit old fashioned – chauvinistic," he had said. Sorano had no idea what he was talking about but had gone along grudgingly. As long as it provided them with the information they needed what did she care? Besides, neither of them had any idea how far she could really see or hear. And so it was that Sorano was led to an adjoining anteroom while Takumi and Nukura closed the doors on what appeared to be a kind of temple library. As she sat alone now in the chamber she couldn't help but feel that something was not quite right. But what could it be? Concentrating she began to replay everything she had seen and heard that morning. Before long she had it. They know each other! This isn't the first time they've met. The revelation made her uneasy. Why would he hide something like that? And why don't they want anyone else to know? She turned focusing her attention on what lay beyond the closed doors. But it proved surprisingly difficult for as she now realized, there were many other thoughts emanating throughout the building. Listening closely she could now hear the dim sound of clashing weapons around her. Creeping from the room to find the source of the commotion, she quietly walked the hallway pressing aside one of the shoji doors. Inside she saw several dozen students, most of them little more than boys seated around a central square. Several older instructors stood in the middle. They all appeared to be clad in some form of armor, with the instructors demonstrating how to perform various blows to the body with wooden sticks. To Sorano's horror a moment later at the instructor's signal the little ones began emulating their actions on each other! What should I do? She thought, realizing that any action she might take could be difficult to explain later. "I'll never understand these people," she said shaking her head, quietly shuffling back to the library. Standing at one corner of the intersecting hallway now she pressed herself against the wall, concentrating all her effort on the conversation inside.

"- And you're certain it's from here?"

"You can read it as plainly as I can," replied Takumi. "The record clearly indicates the bone's origin maps to a pre-war excavation of this site in the 1920's."

"And this piece is the critical match to your database?"

"Yes, the text and several symbols on it are identical."

"How do we make sure it's correct?"

"The records say that the rest of the remains are here. You first need to make sure that information is accurate."

"Meaning?"

"Check to see if you have a set of remains here missing the bones indicated in the records. Also-."

They stopped, hearing movement outside as the teak flooring beneath Sorano's feet creaked in her attempt to move closer. Dammit, she thought. She held her breath staying perfectly still. After a moment they continued.

"I'm listening," replied Nukura.

"-Also check to see if any other remains are inscribed with patterns similar to this fragment."

"Hmm, that may not be easy."

"Don't tell me that Tenori, I know you can do it."

"I'm simply saying that kind of poking around may not go over so well."

"I assume you're interested in recovery?"

"Of course. That's not what I'm saying."

"Good. Then simply do your best. That's all I'm asking."

She heard Tenori pacing. "Anything else?"

"If I'm right we'll need to determine the date of the remains as accurately as possible," Takumi replied pensively.

"And if it turns out this hunch of yours is correct, where would the items be located?"

"I have no idea," chuckled Takumi.

"Oh come on. You're lying. You can't be serious!"

"No it's true. I have no idea. But it would narrow the search region down considerably. In either case you'll know when we've found it, since it'll be registered with the National Museum and brought back here."

"Alright. And these mysterious symbols, the ones you haven't been able to identify. You think they're the key?"

"I'm convinced they are."

"And the girl?"

"She knows things Tenori. Things I don't. She's provided information on the Abyssian myths I honestly don't see how she could know."

"Hmm. And she is helping you why exactly?"

"I believe we need each other to solve the problem."

"Alright. I'll call you when I know."

"Thank you," Takumi said heading for the door.

Sorano stepped back, quietly heading down the hallway. She could hear the tone of their voices change as they came closer to the door.

"You know we have a practice hall here Takumi."

"Several I assume," she heard him sigh.

"Indeed. It's been a long time. Perhaps -."

"Let's see how Sorano feels first," he said cutting him off.

"I'm sure she would enjoy touring the grounds. They're magnificent this time of year," suggested Nukura.

"I'll ask her."

"It's good to see you after all this time Takumi-san. How long have you been here?"

"I've been in Japan almost a year now."

"Strange isn't it? After all this time, each of us returning here."

"Perhaps it's fate."

"Except that I know you don't believe in fate Sato. So?"

"Yes?"

"Have you gone to see him since you arrived?"

The tenor of Takumi's voice changed. "I don't know if he would even -."

"-Can I help you young lady!?"

Sorano jumped as the monk spoke from behind.

"Oh of course!" she replied in an overly loud voice as the monk looked back at her puzzled. "I was just going down this hallway here to find my colleagues who I believe are in this room - right - here," she said continuing to shout.

"I can hear you miss," replied the monk.

"Hah, hah, yes of course," she said as the doors behind her opened and Tenori and Takumi entered the hallway.

"Sorano there you are. Not getting bored out here are you?" asked Takumi.

"No of course not. I was just sitting here. In fact, I was just thinking of having a look around the temple."

"Excellent idea," remarked Tenori. "But first I've taken the liberty of having some lunch prepared," he said directing them to the building across the courtyard.

. . .

Sitting across from one another other now, Sorano and Takumi quietly ate lunch at the low formal table. The East doors of the room had been opened revealing a glorious view of the graceful outer pond and gardens, together with clusters of curious temple visitors. Sorano stared at Takumi silently as he ate.

"Is there something?" he asked without looking up.

"No" she said quickly returning to her food.

"You're certain?"

"Yes… certain," she replied stubbornly.

"You know Sensei Nukura was thinking you might want to have a look around the temple gardens."

"And what would you be doing?"

Takumi looked up taking in waters of the pond. "I think he has something else planned for me."

"And what would that be?

"Exercise I suppose. I think he wants to see if University life has slowed my reflexes, made me soft."

Suddenly Sorano understood. "No. You mustn't go with him!" she said alarmed. "You don't know what kind of things go on here," she whispered to him.

He leaned down. "What kind of things?"

"There are rooms in the back where they make young boys beat each other with sticks," she replied looking around in a conspiratorial whisper.

Takumi smiled patting her. "Yes, I think that's the kind of entertainment he has planned alright." Her eyes widened. "Don't worry. I'll be fine. I'll see you in a little while," he said rising.

"Of course," Sorano replied sullenly. "All the same, I'd like to know what if anything you discovered during your conversation with Mr. Nukura."

"I told him we'd identified a fragment which matches information about our items of interest, and that I believe that fragment originates from this temple. I've asked him to confirm whether that information is accurate and to determine if there is anything else available regarding its origins."

So far so good, Sorano thought. At least it matched what she had overheard; though it still didn't explain why he'd not told her about knowing Nukura.

At that moment the rear doors slid open and Tenori entered. "Well?" he asked expectantly.

"Sorano said she would like to explore the temple gardens. I told her we could meet back here in about an hour's time."

"Excellent," Tenori replied leading them to the outer gardens. When they reached the main path he motioned to Sorano, "The central gardens are in that direction. I understand you are an expert in ancient writing, so you may be interested in the calligraphy museum at the far end of the complex. As for Sensei Sato and I, we'll be in the building behind you. Oh and you should probably give us an hour and a half," he said winking at Takumi.

"I see. Well then gentlemen I will leave you," she said disappearing into the crowd.

Humph! You think I don't know about flowers and trees? As soon as it was safe she darted from the path, springing to a secluded corner of the building adjoining the practice hall. In two swift motions she was up on the roof, crouching behind its uppermost peak. Deftly she jumped to the adjacent building containing the practice hall before reaching down to hang over the roof's back edge like a bat before locating the building's ventilation duct. A moment later she was inside sitting quietly among the rafters 30 feet above the practice floor. Several minutes passed before she heard the sounds of them entering the hall. They had changed now and were wearing outfits similar to the ones she'd seen earlier. As they roamed the hall she saw Nukura pick up a kind of sword woven with bamboo strips while Takumi drew forth a staff some six feet in length. After completing their stretching they knelt side by side for a moment in silence, concentrating it seemed before rising to their feet. Bowing to the front of the hall they then turned to each other putting on their headgear. As they began circling one another she saw to her relief this was not true fighting; rather some ritualized form of combat. Still, these thrusts and blows were much harder and faster than those she'd witnessed earlier. There was something about all of it she found deeply unsettling. Listening from the rafters they seemed to be taunting one another.

"You know I forgot to tell you how cute you looked in that kesa Tenori, though I don't buy it for a minute. How is it the monks let you to get away with that?" Takumi asked.

"Administrators who work for the temple and actively seek enlightenment are given a degree of latitude," he replied simply. "Why, you don't think I'm sincere?"

"Oh it's not that," Takumi said circling. "It's just that I remembered you as being rather more attached to things of the flesh to make such a transition easily."

"I see. Well, 12 years -," Tenori struck instantly causing Sorano to jerk almost falling from her perch. The strike seemed to have been aimed to cut diagonally from his opponent's right shoulder to opposing hip. Takumi, who'd been holding the staff at Tenori's throat parried fluidly in response. Sliding his feet slightly to the rear he moved beyond the range of the Tenori's Shinai, sweeping his staff in an upward arc in response around the oncoming Shinai for a reversing blow to the side of Tenori's head. Matching his movement within their mutual arc, Tenori countered with a reverse swallow cut. "-can change a man," he continued as though nothing had happened. "You're proof of that. Just look at you, grown soft and respectable at the University."

Takumi smiled circling once again, testing the limits of Tenori's willing defense. As his opponent came again Takumi feinted, turning in a tight backward arc to narrowly hold him off.

"You're sure about that are you?" said Takumi.

But Tenori continued, "And as for things of the flesh, now that your young assistant is no longer with us perhaps you can enlighten me as to what she really does for you," he said grinning. Sorano peered down tightening her grip on the rafter.

"Well -," Takumi began but Tenori was ready for him, easily parried his lunging attack. The sound of their weapons echoed in the hall as Tenori struck strongly with a fire and stones cut. Takumi moved quickly to hold him, positioning his staff obliquely against the base of Tenori's Shinai. Though it held momentarily, it was Takumi's stance which faltered first. He dropped to one knee as Tenori continued his downward pressure. "Same old Takumi," Tenori breathed pressing down. "You still don't know when you're beaten. What do you think this is; beginner's class? You never push a bad position like that - or it'll cost you." But Takumi continued resisting as each weapon sought to find its way around the other. As Tenori pressed his advantage, Takumi instantly shifted his grip, causing the Shinai to sweep narrowly in front of him as he moved to his left suddenly rising to his feet. He attempted a shoulder strike but Tenori anticipated him as their weapons slammed together once more. As Tenori stepped back attempting a flowing-water cut, Takumi ducked wide of the blade moving to Nukura's right. As his opponent attempted to counter Takumi reversed his staff yet again instantly sweeping under Tenori's legs taking him to the ground. As he hit the floor Takumi jumped wide to avoid the low defensive sweep of his Shinai replying, "Since you're interested it was she who approached me. Not to mention she's probably 10 years younger than I am. And since when is it such a bad thing to be employed by the University? Patient though you and your comrades might be, I think it would take you a veeery long time to translate, organize and compare all the available information without aid of our computational systems. The important thing -,"

Recovering Tenori feinted a jab at Takumi's throat following by two quick passes at the level of his collarbone. Takumi turned fluidly bringing the end of his Jo up and across in response but Nukura parried. As he moved in once more Takumi's body strike pushed him off, spinning tightly to engage him on the opposite side. Freeing himself from the entanglement Nukura stepped back giving his appraisal. "If we ever have ballet night at the temple I'll know who to call," he said sarcastically. That kind of acrobatic crap won't serve you well. You never turn your back on an opponent," he said stalking him once more.

"Oh is that what we're doing? Your movements were so slow I thought this was the warm-up period," Takumi replied. Sorano winced at the sound of the furious series of strikes, sweeps and counterstrikes which ensued. After one particularly fierce encounter Tenori stumbled slightly only to hear Takumi call, "Mushin," to Tenori's reply of, "Fudōshin."

In time she became all too accustomed to their shouts of "Men, Kote, Do," and "Tsuki," and the sound of their rhythmic clashing echoing in the hall as each moved and adapted to the other's style, each searching for weakness and an opportunity to strike. She watched with a kind of sad detachment. "These creatures are more primitive than I thought, but perhaps it's necessary in the world they inhabit," she mused. As their time came to a close she waited patiently for them to exit the hall before climbing out the ventilation duct to the roof. Walking along the back edge she sniffed the air wafting up from the south. Cautiously she crept to the peak staring down at the temple grounds. Below her the Goma fire ritual had begun. She watched mesmerized as glowing embers rose like fireflies in the late afternoon sun. Folding her arms beneath her she stretched out taking in the scene. Now I would have liked to have seen those gardens, she thought. Moments later she jumped from the roof unseen, mixing easily with the temple crowds as she wove her way past the fire alter waiting patiently for the men to emerge. When Takumi appeared she ran to him, feeling strangely relieved to see him again. She noticed he seemed to be favoring one shoulder. "Are you hurt? Perhaps I can heal that," she said reaching out a hand. Takumi pulled away casting a subtle glance at Tenori who looked on smiling.

"Yes do take care of him. After all he's getting old, frail," he said nudging his friend.

"I'm fine Sorano," Takumi replied stubbornly pushing ahead of them. As the three approached the Niomon gate they said their goodbyes against the setting sun. Takumi bowed low to Nukura. "Remember what we have discussed."

"I will," he replied.

"Then until we meet again." Takumi and Sorano descended the steps to the winding road, making their way past the line of shops (several of which Sorano insisted on stopping in so she might buy gifts for Michio). Returning to the car she sat quietly for a moment before asking, "Did you have fun?"

"Such experiences are - illuminating," he replied pensively. "I'm tired. Let's get something to eat. Besides we need to get ready for tomorrow." They drove east to the coast eventually stopping at a small seaside restaurant. Pulling up Sorano announced her need to make a phone call. "I'll drop you here then and I see if I can't find something for tonight."

Sorano nodded disappearing inside.

. . .

The phone rang several times before Michio finally picked up. Sorano could hear the music blaring in the background and Michio jumped happily between the beds chewing on . . . something. "Hello? Sora is that you?!"

"Of course it's me."

"Well how did it go?"

"Fine, I think. I'm at a restaurant on the coast beyond Narita. We are going to stop for the night and –."

"You're not coming back here?" asked Michio sounding slightly disappointed before crashing into the night table.

"I don't know. I don't think so. We met a man named Tenori Nukura at the temple. He is going to check to see if the remains we matched really came from there."

"Sounds good. What are remains?"

"I have no idea. That's one of the things I want you to find out. I'll call you tomorrow when I know more."

"Okay," sighed Michio. "Stay out of trouble - if you know what I mean."

"Alright," replied Sorano. "And try not to turn our place into a disaster area . . . and you know what Imean."

"Yeah okay," replied Michio. And with that she was gone.

Sorano slid into the booth waiting for Takumi's return. Soon however she began to feel as though she was being watched. Looking around she saw three men approach her. "Hey you, you looking for someone? You alone here?" asked one sliding into the booth beside her.

"Umm no, I was just… I'm fine," Sorano said as the men crowded her uncomfortably. Uncertain of the appropriate course of action in such a situation, she began to glance around the room.

"Making new friends?" said a voice behind her suddenly.

"Well umm -."

"We thought your friend could use some entertainment pops," snapped one.

"She doesn't," replied Takumi.

"Shouldn't she be the one to decide that?" echoed another. They were still standing between he and Sorano.

"He's right I don't," said Sorano firmly. "Besides you smell like beer," she added, not quite knowing what to say.

"C'mon, we'll show you a much better time than you could have with this old man," they continued.

"In case you haven't figured it out yet, playtime's over," Takumi muttered lowering his voice.

"I don't think you know who we are. We're known around here. People respect us and stay out of our way," said one.

"If they know what's good for them," added another.

"It's not out of respect. It's because you're dirtbags," Takumi said irritated. "If you don't know the difference at your age I feel sorry for you."

"You're the one who's going to be sorry," snapped the leader.

"Doubtful," Takumi replied moving to sit down.

They pounced but Takumi had the advantage in speed and experience. He swept the first man from his feet quickly, taking the second with scarcely more effort before closing his fist around the leader's throat. "Perhaps you'd rather entertain me," he said softly, a sudden darkness rising in his voice as he slowly began to squeeze the man's windpipe.

"It's okay," Sorano urged tugging at him.

Yet Takumi did not let go. He seemed somehow different from the man he'd been at Narita. Darker, less in control of his emotions.

"Professor I said it's okay!" she shouted.

Takumi looked up coming out of his reverie. "Yes of course," he replied tossing the man aside. "It's been a pleasure gentleman, but I think it best we do not meet again," he mused grimly. No one in the group seemed to disagree. Their discussion over, he dragged Sorano up from the table. "I think we should take that food to go."

. . .

Together they walked alone down the empty road leading off the main highway. Sensing her unease Takumi threw his coat over Sorano's shoulders to keep the evening chill from her.

She looked back irritably. "You know I can take care of myself," she stated.

"I don't doubt it," he replied keeping pace with her, his hands in his pockets staring straight ahead.

"Seriously."

"Of course. Come on, let's find a place to stay. Tomorrow may be a busy day." But as they approached the hotel he seemed to hesitate. "Umm, is it alright to get a room here tonight? I thought we should be close in case we heard something from Narita tomorrow. But if it's a problem -."

Uncertain as to his meaning she replied, "Oh it's no problem; I do stuff like this all the time."

His eyes narrowed opening the door to the lobby. Before long the evening's arrangements were made and Sorano assumed she had everything well in hand. However entering the hotel room she realized there were several things about human behavior she wished she knew more about. I'd call Michio but I'm sure she has no more idea than I do, she thought.

"Umm so I'm going to sleep in this bed over here," she said trying to sound as authoritative as possible.

"Of course. That's absolutely what I had in mind," he said quickly.

"Oh good. Because you have no idea the energy I give off when I sleep."

Takumi gave her a curious look. "Yes - well I'm just going to have to take your word for that Sorano."

She saw him wash up and get into bed, wondering what the proper thing to do was. "Okay so - I'm just going to tuck myself in," she said hesitantly.

"Sounds good," he replied turning off the lights.

She lay in the darkness but found she could not sleep.

"Are you asleep?" she asked after a time.

"No."

"Do you think we're close?"

"Huh?"

"To the stone."

"Oh. Depends. We'll see tomorrow."

She lay back quietly for several minutes. "Can I ask you something?"

"Uh-huh."

"Why were you angry tonight?"

He grew quiet. "I don't like - certain kinds of problems," he said finally.

"Hmm. I think you don't belong to this age."

"Why do you say that?"

"The rules you live by belong to a different time."

She heard his voice rumble low in the darkness. "Times change, fashions change, what matters most . . . does not change."

. . .

As the morning sunlight filtered into her room at Tariki Hongan temple Urd awoke irritable as she had for the past several days.

"Good morning," Belldandy called to her as she stepped into the hallway. "How are you today?"

"Mmm, mmm, mmm," Urd replied wandering down the hallway in her nightgown.

"Did you have a bad dream?"

"No, not bad, just -," she ducked outside into the sunlight of the courtyard looking east. "There's something, something I can't quite place."

"You feel something?" asked Belldandy coming beside her.

"I don't know," she said stubbornly, staring at the horizon.

"I'm sure everything's fine," Belldandy said putting her arms around her affectionately. "I don't feel anything."

"You're right, it's probably nothing," she said looking at her sister's smiling face.

"Why don't I go and make us some tea," Belldandy offered heading inside. As she reached the kitchen Keiichi stuck his head out from the tea room. "Urd?" he asked.

"Yes," she said lowering her voice.

"She seems kind of out of sorts these days."

"I think maybe she's just, well sometimes I think she gets lonely," Belldandy replied softly.

"Really? She doesn't seem like the lonely type to me," he muttered.

"What?"

"Nothing."

She turned looking at him with her sapphire eyes. Her smile made him feel as though time itself stood still, as though only this moment existed, his body bathed in golden light from her mere presence. Somehow every time he looked at her he felt as though he were seeing her for the first time.

"You know it's possible you just don't know her the way I do," she whispered coming beside to him.

"Umm yeah that's probably it," he replied weakly. Her warmth him made him feel as though he resided in some earthly paradise.

"Hey perv! Could you stop ogling my big-sis for one second?" cried the small irritated voice behind him, jarring him from his daydream. "You know it's really disgusting having to see that kind of stuff first thing in the morning!"

Or rather it would be paradise if not for one thing.

"She has a point," said Urd leaning in from the front doorway. "I mean as one not continuously bathed in a sea of love I sometimes feel as though I need a life preserver around here."

Make that two things, he thought soberly.

"Well I'm sure it's something you'll get used to," Belldandy said handing her sister the tea.

"Hmm I suppose," Urd replied turning back to the courtyard. She sipped her tea slowly, her eyes looking once more to the east. She continued to stare for several more moments before shaking her head. "Ahh this is a waste of time, I have more important things to do," she said ducking inside to join the rest of the household for breakfast.

End chapter 1: For full story search 'omgterran' , 'twilight hour'