by Jared Ornstead
Devil Hunter Jared leaped down from above and with a grand overhead slash decapitated a youma team leader, then whelmed into the rest of the pack, destroying them piecemeal with broad slashes they could not seem to avoid.
These 'alternate selves' of his would last only ten minutes. But it made sense to use that in the best means he could. And since all of him were excellent fighters...
The Devil Hunter turned like a pinwheel, cartwheeling over the roof of a stalled limo, taking out another youma with a deep chest slash, then vaulting back, rebounding off a wall to catch the last with a thrust that went on and on, stabbing through it and including several feet of street.
That took care of *this* gathering team!
His Mage persona, the spellcasting one, had cast Aura while flying over Tokyo. That spell revealed good or evil by area on a town-sized scale, if a little indistinctly. But youma stood out like beacons. Elsewhere, his superspy guise and veritech pilot were also doing what they were able, which consisted mostly in destroying concealing lies and exposing youma so they could be scared out of more-or-less permanent gathering situations and into fights with either the Devil Hunter, or the Mage, who would then sweep by.
He glanced back up over his shoulder to the not-far-distant floating island of rock, where his 'normal' self was trying to get Nodoka to her home. Interesting how each part of him was aware in detail of what the others were doing. He glanced back at what he was doing. Finished up here, at least.
Jared dismissed the sword of spirit back into the Devil Hunter ring he now wore, and made as if to leave, silently congratulating himself on how easy the sword was to call the second and subsequent times. Apparently all that energy had been startup cost. But found when he was about to bound away his way was blocked by a tower of dark-suited flesh.
"I have someone who needs to talk with you." The block of Japanese muscle informed him, motioning to a nearby little official sort of figure.
Jared shook his head, attempting to dodge around. "Sorry, gotta go. Demons to hunt, you know how it is."
"It is about that he wishes to speak with you." The blocky mass informed him, once more stepping into his way.
Jared had to look up and crane his neck to see anything but a wide chest, when he did he saw chin. Okay, strong. But this guy couldn't be all that fast and didn't look like he'd give him much, if any, real trouble. However it often paid to be polite, at least a little. He could afford to spare a minute, the spell wasn't about to end *that* early!
Besides, the Pheonix Mage's magically boosted speed and spells were doing a fine job of roasting youma, this Devil Hunter self could afford a few moments. He idly waved a hand. "Okay, whatever, bring him on."
The wiry old official didn't shuffle forward far enough, the youth had to strain to listen to hear him ask. "Who are you?"
"Hm? Me?" Jared began to think fast, running all possible excuses through his mind and running into the idea that the obvious was also a semi-plausible one. "I'm just a perfectly ordinary Devil Hunter."
The official nodded, seeming distracted.
~Oh dear, thoughty officials. I'd rather face Queen Beryl.~ Jared edged away, hoping that would forestall further comments. "Yeah, I've trained most of my life for things like this. Anyway, gotta go!" He made ready to leave.
"You will train others in this Devil Hunting." The official interrupted him with a brusque command, sure of his authority and turning to go to his own car. "I will send men to you to train."
"You can't." Jared retorted automatically.
"You *will* train them." The official repeated. "Disobedience in this will not be tolerated. Our country requires this."
Jared made a deprecating noise. "No, it doesn't work like that. Devil Hunting is in the bloodline, and not even all the kids of the established families qualify. They've got to be trained, know the secrets, have the purity, and above all the karma of Devil Hunters is really weird. Your soldiers aren't very likely to pass the exams just because nobody who's any good at anything else is likely to *become* a Devil Hunter."
"You are the first of your line. You can train others. You will do this." The official stated in an orderly voice as he continued to command.
The redhead rolled his eyes and wondered what unkind spirit made stuffy officials in the *first* place. He hung his head in his hands. "You still don't understand. Becoming one without being born into a family requires such a massive effort of will that they wouldn't need my training in anything special. They'd figure it all out on their own, and doing that they'd be the first of their *own* new Devil Hunter lines. When I have kids they'll be potential Devil Hunters, and their kids, and so on, and even then they'll have to be ready for it. But being the *first* isn't something that anyone can be trained for!"
His knowledge seemed to push the official back. Jared was *very* glad he'd seen so much of the appropriate series, though where all this extra stuff was coming from so easily he wished he knew.
The Devil Hunter shot the official a glance. "And you'd know without anybody telling you or the slightest doubt if any of your ancestors had it. They'd have their own artifacts and everything, all of which are made by the founder for their descendants. I can't train anyone in Devil Hunting if it's not already in their genes. My kids will be the first I could really teach with any hope in any degree of their becoming the real thing."
A retort failed to materialize.
~There, put the guy off by a dozen years at least. That'd be all the peace I'll require to finish up here and be long gone before anybody started asking about my progeny, or rather lack thereof.~
"What was your training in?" The stony official inquired of him.
Jared made a vague noise that might have been rude. "Combat, fighting, stuff like anybody might learn. It all comes to a point along with philosophies and stuff that just kind of gel. Oh, and you have to be a virgin or you'll never harness any of the energy you'll need. That's up until you become one, once you're an actual Devil Hunter you can have kids, obviously, or else there would never be any family clans of 'em." He finished off almost to himself.
"What else is there of Devil Hunting to learn beforehand?"
Jared sighed, putting his arms behind his head, dangling the sword. "I dunno. Brawn and sheer strength, agility, none of that means anything if they aren't of a Devil Hunter clan, and if they don't find their own style they can't ever be one. But one thing shines out pretty clearly: we're all pretty abnormal."
The politician was nodding. "Yes, there must be great nobility for..."
"Uh... no." Jared cut him off. "Like I said, our karma's pretty weird. You're not likely to be good at much else if you'd make a decent Devil Hunter. We're all pretty unconventional, have lotsa character quirks, that kinda thing." He sighed. "Fact is we don't often fit in very well."
The redhead flashed the official a quick victory sign. "Still, we do what needs to be done, and do it well. Sorta like Samurai started out, huh? Anyway, gotta go!"
He hopped over a wall.
The official turned to his guards, thinking. Moments later, they were heading to the capital.
Nephlite ground his teeth.
He was going to get blamed for this.
He knew it.
The general couldn't *take* it anymore! This failure had been blamed wholly on him! As idiotic an idea as it'd been, Beryl had made *him* responsible for Zoicite's last try. Now Zoicite had dropped the blame firmly in his lap and then taken off, and Queen Beryl had spent over an HOUR contemplating punishment, wearing that wicked grin of hers!
Beryl was watching Slayers for the fourth time, still trying to decide who to root for. For one, Lina had obvious qualities worth admiring. She brooked no interruption from lesser mortals and frequently called on the powers of Darkness. But she was a true amateur as far as treachery or manipulating others. Then, the Dark Lord, who had obvious qualities worth admiring; disdain for the lives of others, infinite power... HE got himself killed by a pipsqueak of a girl! Oh, the decisions!
"Aaaarghhh!" Nephlite arose from his kneeling position, screaming in agony of frustration. "I can't take it anymore, Queen Beryl..."
Beryl tuned back in to the world around her. Nephlite? Oh, yes. He'd failed and she was still trying to determine a proper punishment. Wasn't he going to grovel for another chance? It was expected. Ooh, look, there was that new Crunchy Flakes ad again! It was too bad they'd not had TV a thousand years ago during the *first* war with the Moon Kingdom.
"Queen Beryl," Nephlite continued. "The Pheonix Mage cannot be slain! I don't know how I can be held accountable for it! As we've already proved even if a youma kills him he regenerates from as far as total destruction!"
Beryl scowled. How *dare* he interrupt her cartoons for another useless excuse like that? It was as bad as the news. "Oh, Nephlite? Do tell me you've thought of something."
"But, Queen Beryl..." He pled, hands held helplessly open before him. "What is it that can be done?"
"Imprisonment, entrapment, conversion..." Zoicite's smug voice listed from her position, floating in the air behind and flanking him.
"Really, Nephlite, I'm disappointed in you." Beryl actually drew her attention away from an ad for a Sailor Mercury doll with live-action growing hair! Due in stores near you! ~Though I'd make a general out of a shop owner to *actually* open a proper outlet store here in the Negaverse!~
Nephlite began to realize it was hopeless. His mistakes, even ones not rightfully his own, would never be forgiven. The vision of the Mage was coming true after all. If Zoicite were even now lurking behind him...
The dark general decided then and there that he would cheat death. But he was also a student of the Dark Kingdom, he would act when it best suited him to do so, and betraying Queen Beryl in her own throne room seemed unwise.
However, it hurt less to grovel with that decision behind him. He clutched a fist to his chest, bowing again more deeply this time. "Queen Beryl... perhaps I was wrong in doubting Zoicite's scheme. If you'll but allow me this one last chance?"
Queen Beryl looked up from her crystal. What should she be doing? Oh, yes. Punishing Jedite. No, that one had vanished. What was Nephlite doing here? Oh yes, groveling. It was about time, too.
"Very well, Nephlite. But your performance had best be exemplary. I want you to destroy those Scouts and the Pheonix Mage..."
Her eyes turned a dark red.
She tore her attention away from the Sailor Team Panties commercial. "Prepare a trap for them. Hold a beauty contest, with prizes for the winners, and judge solely by what we know the Scouts and their hero to look like."
"As you will, Queen Beryl." Nephlite vanished from the throne room.
The current master of the Negaverse shifted her fingers to change channels, then switched back again immediately. Was it? Yes! It was!
"Zoicite. Nephlite's mission is sure to be interrupted if it does not end in failure. I want *you* to prepare a suitable trap for them outside of Nephlite's efforts." She took a long moment to lick her lips free of drool over what she saw in her sphere. "You may take one of the new youma to assist you in occupying the Mage while you ensnare him."
Zoicite smiled smugly, bowing with one hand across her chest. "It shall be done, my Queen." She disappeared, confident in her rising favor.
Beryl's eyes glittered in that dangerous way.
The Sailor V Video Game Two was on its way to stores! The Pheonix Mage had been a last minute addition, yet Sailor V got to glomp him on successfully completing each level!
She had to have one!
The Avarice Girls appeared, their leader stepped forward with a bulging set of shopping bags. "We've completed our mission, Queen Beryl. They even had a Unicorn Wand." A bag was opened and a cheap, plastic replica of the Crystal Unicorn Scepter which had only minor cosmetic flaws was produced.
"Good, now get me that new Sailor V game, a full set of Sailor Team underwear in my sizes and an action poster of that new Devil Hunter. A naked one if they have it."
Prince Darien coughed in the background.
"Yes, what is it?" Beryl snapped at him, possession having reduced the savor of her victory of gaining him. If only she'd *taken* him from someone, if the struggle had been more dear...
Anything but Jedite stumbling across him in a shopping mall.
The Prince strode forward. "My Queen, as much as I know you enjoy looking at any man except me naked, if you'll grant some scrap of your attention I might have a suggestion on how to turn the tide against this Pheonix Mage."
Beryl's expression softened. Her smile revealed teeth. "Perhaps, Prince Darien. But first, who let you out of your Pikachu costume?"
Devil Hunter Jared leapt up with a superfluous twist across the hundred feet or so to the surface of the floating rock island. Thanks to combining with that veritech pilot of his, he'd inherited scads of martial arts powers, sufficient that his leap distances were now greater than the effective range of most pistols. Grand martial arts experience was how he'd stored a veritech in stuff space, something even Mousse couldn't do.
He'd have to find out, under controlled and less desperate circumstances, what a chi blast did to a youma. He'd hesitated because they *did* feed off life energy and he didn't want to risk making one stronger.
You don't face the kind of odds he had on Mars without needing more than your average basic training would give you for martial arts. The funny thing was his partner for more of that battle than anyone else had survived was a Drunken Kung Fu master. Not only did his Destroid continually stagger about and seem helpless, it had always been falling over, discharging randomly.
And it took a keen eye to note those 'random' discharges had hit key targets.
~About a minute left.~ The Devil Hunter thought, crossing his arms and leaning up against a wall. ~All I've got to do now is stay out of sight. Let's see, my other self is awash in a flow of friendly Sailors. Mom's reeling as if stunned, Lita's...~
Devil Hunter frowned. ~Who'd left Lita alone? That was a BAD choice.~ Already she looked in danger of getting ground under by the milling, fear-crazed crowd. A fat man actually stepped on Lita's arm and made his decision for him. His plain, ordinary self was out of sight, sooo...
Swift as a bullet, he leapt in, grabbed her pale form, and leapt away again. Lita came awake in high arc as he carried her away. Laughing, he looked her in the face. "Lita Storm! I am Jared Saotome - Devil Hunter, pilot and Pheonix Mage. Lita Storm, you are Sailor Jupiter, and I have come for you."
"Me?" She squeaked. The cyborg's words resounding again in her head.
He began to shrug confidently as they landed, saying close to her to increase the intimacy of the statement. "Lita Storm; orphan, age thirteen, birthdate of December 5, 1978, 5' 6" tall, blood type O, favorite foods are cherry pie and meatloaf, favorite hobbies include cooking and falling in love with boys. Just how many other girls here do you know who fit that description?"
She fainted again, in bliss.
Grey sat back, as inconspicuously as an eight foot tall cyborg in the park could do, and hefted the tiny device up again. Settings okay for return jaunt to Mimir's Well. He stood and pushed the button at the end of the device.
Air cracked open in a swirling rip, and the cyborg shouldered his pack and stepped through.
Only to experience a thrown object clanging off his cerametal armored skull a moment later. On spotting a badly dented bonbori on the ground, he groaned even though there was no physical pain.
Two legs wrapped around his neck as someone leapt onto his back, and there came the sound of a metal mace repeatedly slamming into his head.
Grey switched the datapak translator to Mandarin. "Enough! I'm here to see Cologne, Matriarch of the Joketsuzoku!" Well, it wasn't *quite* a lie. He hadn't intended to be here, but as long as he was, he *would* like to see if Cologne was around.
The clangor stopped momentarily. "You know Great Grandmother?"
"I would like to exchange information with her." The cyborg, being completely honest this time, temporized.
"I won't let you!" Clanging noises began again.
"That's it." Grey brought up his left hand, slapped the palm against the fifteen year old's leg, and commanded the hypospray to release a full adult dosage of Sleepy-Bye. He caught the snoring teenager before she hit the ground and carried her in both arms. ~This really sucks. Hmmm. Village is there. i would expect the Elder's House to be about... there.~
The jet pack snarled to life and he leapt, using the jets to assist the leap and then slow descent. Flight he could do, but wasn't too good about the turning or landing parts. Jumping, that he had down cold.
Landing brought another series of clanks and tinks, and he had to hold the little girl away from the direction of the arrows to keep the Amazons from killing one of their own.
He engaged the loudspeaker. "Cologne! i desire an exchange of information!"
"How dare you steal my Shampoo!"
Grey wasn't fond of the concept of childbeating. Children who come rushing up with a sword, he was a little less reluctant to flatten. KICK!> "Cologne! i bring news of great importance to the Nichieju."
"So talk already," said Cologne as she eyed the robot, found its Breaking Points and, being at range to use them, relaxed somewhat.
Jared was reeling.
What was *really* getting to him was he KNEW these film guys! The man on that mike! He'd been with him from almost the very first, a splendid archer and a mage with an ever-ready wit. That one! recruited from the burning town of Friarsbury, saved by a use of Jared's own healing spells and opted to join up, became another fairly adept mage and a passing fair warrior as well.
Those two! The twins! They'd been peasant lasses on the verge of being sold into prostitution by their destitute father when he'd passed their town. Jared had his character, Ashida, stop and...
His mind was going haywire. None of these guys were more than notations on a sheet of paper, not even worth being named! Yet their histories were now firmly lodged in his head intersecting his own.
When a D&D character hits a certain level, most of them attract a body of those who'll serve out of loyalty, friendship and honor. They were called followers, and he'd just written them down like all the other things he'd gained.
But here... These men, these women had pasts! They had hopes and cares and wishes and dreams and...
The redhaired youth shook his head, no longer sure which part was more real, Jared Saotome or Ashida Sanzennin. Jared knew nothing of these men, these women, save for their arms, experience level, and general equipage. Ashida looked over them and knew friends whose lives he had saved, and who would lay down theirs in turn for him.
*People* who were willing to fight and to die for him.
Men and women who might do just that.
Suddenly Jared/Ashida was very glad that he'd always insisted on seeing his followers were decently trained. No zero level peons here! Every man and woman in his service had been trained in a class and more often two. The majority of them had some spellcasting ability. Limited to be sure, nothing compared to his own...
But then, they'd never been there to fight things on his scale of power. They had always been there to clear away the underlings of his foes, and as minor as their spell abilities were, it gave them a distinct edge against stuff on their own playing field.
Though against youma... he was uncertain. They seemed heavily outclassed.
He signaled with Battlesign that he would link up with them later, watched as one gave an acknowledgement, then went to retrieve his girlfriends. His 'split self' spell had expired, and the one of him to have been left was the Devil Hunter, Lita still in arms. Fire trucks were pulling up with ladders, so the crowd was soon going to get down. What was going to happen with the studio vans was another question entirely. The guys were unpacking and seemed sure of themselves, though.
He'd help, but his plate was full. Lita bobbing slightly as he shifted her weight over his shoulder.
Jared stopped when a young lady touched his arm.
The girl let her face go slack in surprise. Beside her, Nabiki whistled. Both were looking much younger than they ought to.
"Wow, sis, where do you know *him* from?" Nabiki asked of her sister.
Jared caught sight of his mom disappearing from view as the crowds pressed away, shifting as the first ladders began hitting the island. Visibly, he calmed himself. He knew where she lived. He could leap down and beat her to the bottom, and if that failed he could catch her at her home.
Plus, he doubted she'd let any of the girls who'd been with him go so soon.
He turned more calmly to regard the Tendo sisters. "I'm sorry, Kasumi. You had a question?"
She nodded. Was that a blush? She fidgeted. "Um, well, you see... I saw you fighting youma..."
He had to laugh, lightly. "Yes, I do that." He admitted, realizing that he was still in full Devil Hunter getup, just as when he'd begun his spell.
Nabiki elbowed her sister slightly, in a companionable way. "Get to the point, sis. I think he likes you."
Kasumi blushed and stammered to an utter stop.
Jared rolled his eyes. "THANKS, Nabiki. You *know* how your sister reacts to embarrassment, why'd you have to goad her?" He stopped himself. "Actually, you're Nabiki, how could you not? Goading others is what you live for."
Both girls were now just staring at him.
He sized them up and made an educated guess. Uncomfortably aware of the girl laying limply over his shoulder, he made a bow to Kasumi and a sweeping gesture to indicate her dress. "My apologies, Kasumi. You were about to ask my help out of an embarrassing situation, weren't you? I understand. While truly a lovely dress, climbing down a ladder dressed like that could be mortifying. Might I be allowed to assist you?"
As he bowed Lita's arm flopped over his head. He adjusted it back to her side.
Jared grinned abashedly, returning upright. "Just someone I was taking back to her friends. The crowd was stepping on her and I feared for her safety." He explained, and sighed in mock hardship. "Ah, a hero's work is never done."
Kasumi giggled. Nabiki was still registering shock. Sensing this as a somewhat agreement, and all that he was likely to get in so short an amount of time, he juggled Lita carefully about his neck, grabbed a Tendo sister in each arm, and leapt down over the side of the floating island. His ears filled with shrieks. Oddly, not from the ladies he was carrying, but from the ones looking on. Kasumi and Nabiki were too busy clinging to him out of fright to get to the job of shrieking, much though they wanted to.
Before landing he threw all three women into the air above him. He landed and rolled, coming up to catch Lita and lay her gently aside, then catch Nabiki falling to him next and place her gently on her feet just in time to reach up and take Kasumi in a two armed, cradled grasp, skirt nicely tucked up and modest.
"Ooof." Quoth Kasumi, quite startled.
Setting her to her feet to his side, he tipped her a salute, grabbed Lita, and sped away. "Good day to both of you!"
The two girls stood staring after him for the longest while.
Kasumi turned to her sister. "I guess he *doesn't* need to study at our dojo, does he?"
Nabiki shrugged. "We've got to rustle up customers *some* way, sis. Even if he doesn't want to learn maybe he could teach! We'd fill every class if he came to instruct at our dojo. Dad could stay retired. *We* could even retire!"
Kasumi was a light strawberry, examining her feet. "I think mostly girls would sign up."
Nabiki smiled at her sister. "What gives you that idea?"
Kasumi took her sister's hand, dragging her off. "C'mon, let's go see if Akane or father had any luck finding students." They took about five steps before she asked. "Nabiki, why is your palm so warm?"
There was another set of shrieks as one of the SkyWing film crew tucked in and cannonballed off the edge of the island, rolling in mid-air before the line tucked and securely tied around his ankles went taut and bounced him away a few feet from hitting the pavement.
Two others of the film crew took running jumps off the floating island. Work at the fire ladders almost ceased to watch them as now three, then five, of the crew bounced to stops and swiftly untied themselves, dropping to the street.
A steady tide of people continued to inch down the fire engine ladders, but more slowly as the studio crew unintentionally put on a daring show of acrobatics just doing what they viewed as an ordinary task.
Ropes that secured jumpers had one set of knots released and hundreds of extra feet played out, as the ones who'd jumped now ran with the ropes to a chosen, distant point and secured them, the angle working out so that the lines now ran at what was at first a decent slope, getting steadily less severe as one neared the ground.
A natural braking mechanism.
More elves, with headbands obscuring their ears and mighty backpacks stuffed with all sorts of heavy gear, casually leaped out and grasped the lines, not with their hands, but scissored within their arms, metal bracers sliding them swiftly down the silk ropes until, near the ground, when the lines relaxed to such a gradual slope that they drifted to an easy stop, they released their holds and stepped casually off.
The center line out of five was filled with a steady stream of elves climbing hand over hand right back up to the island. As the equipment got moving, a small group had stayed up at the top while their brethren below were making certain their lines were properly braced.
That being so, pulleys, hooks and harnesses ready, they ran a van out over the side of the cliff. The ropes tied along its roof and sides took up the slack and yanked on the four descending lines they were secured to, swaying slightly but swiftly sliding the van to a slightly bumpy yet comfortably soft landing on the road below. Waiting elves untied key knots, drove the van aside, and got ready to receive the next one, which wasn't long in coming. The equipment had now been backpacked fully down and the elves arriving began to repack their studio vans.
It wasn't long and the last van had touched down with a slight bump on its tires. The elves up top began blithely jumping out and grasping lines, sliding to swift and typically casual landings.
The last elf up untied four ropes, pocketed the devices used to secure them, and retied the last and final one to a telephone pole. At his signal, the elves below leaned into a steady pull on the remaining line, pulling it taut.
The last elf up grabbed the line and slid down with his bracers, using his boot heels to pinch the silk and slow his fall as, with it being taut, there wasn't the slack and gradual slope to do his braking for him. At the bottom he hopped off and the others released their pull and the line came untied above and began to descend to the road below like cut kite string.
They packed up their rope and drove off.
Jared smirked. Who said that you can't traverse mountain, canyon and forest and still bring your elephants along? The mastodons they'd practiced that maneuver on had struggled, too.
Kasumi and Nabiki had stared at the spectacle all the while it had gone on, nor were they remotely alone. Cameras had flashed in wild flurries that not even youma assaults would merit anymore.
The activity resumed of people descending the ladders.
In a darkened room, secretive men met to decide the fate of the world. And a certain thing called a 'Devil Hunter'.
The bishonen was cooking when a single word from the television penetrated his cooking focus.
*CRUNK* The single customer stared as the normally calm and focused chef did something unexpected. In this case, crumpling a spatula against the surface of his grill. That the boy's eyes were changing sizes was almost as upsetting.
"Uhm, is something wrong, Kuonji-san?"
The boy's eyes refocused. "Did they just say 'Saotome'?"
"Yeah," the salariman nodded, not a little fearfully. "It's been in the news for over an hour now. That new hero, the Pheonix Mage up in Tokyo, has been getting some new allies. More Sailors like Sailor V, some sorta Boomer, and 'Jared Saotome - Devil Hunter' so it's kinda..." The salariman began to edge away as a blue aura began to flicker around the chef.
"At last! I have a lead now." Ukyo went to the Righteous Declaration pose, then noticed her customer edging towards the door. "Uhm. Sorry about that. Where was this going on?"
"Azabu Juuban," said the man, giving the proper name for Tokyo's tenth district. "Near the Crown Arcade shopping mall. The morning paper's got a map with all the locations of the Pheonix Mage sightings. Oh gee, look at the time, gotta run!"
"But..." Ukyo looked at the half eaten plate of okanomiyaki. Vengeance was a dish best served cold, or so Genghis Khan had said. The same didn't hold true for okanomiyaki. Maybe food and vengeance didn't mix so well. So she had better go get her vengeance so she could concentrate. Yeah, that was a plan.
Mr and Mrs Lovejoy strode into their house in a rush, scaring their cat off the sofa. They noticed the TV was running and turned it off.
"Did you *see* that?" Mina's father emphasized.
The wife nodded, glad they were alone now and could talk about it. "YES! And that superspy boy did a change of costume right there before us! At first I thought he was going to go into a disguise, but all THAT ended when he said his NAME!"
The husband nodded enthusiastically. "Yes, I thought I couldn't recognize his features at first too, but that ended when he just up and announced who he was! I'm sure he must have had a higher purpose about it, though."
Mrs Lovejoy put her hand to her lips to stifle a gasp. "That's it! He's here on the identity of a movie star! I'd almost forgotten that, but Mina was quite insistent, and the film crews were all there! With those skills of theirs they HAVE to belong to the Agency! So somehow this has to all tie in to that disguise of his as a popular film star!"
The husband nodded wisely. "Tell ya what, I'll call up the paper I work for and help propagate that cover story right away, that he's an actor here to film youma."
"It ties in with what he was doing." Mrs Lovejoy agreed. "Oh!" She clapped her hands in glee. "How about we say that they're going one step beyond Jackie Chan? That their moves are not only going to be authentic in doing stunts with the real actors, but that they're going to be here fighting *Actual* youma who'll *really* die!"
Mr Lovejoy reached for the phone. "My editor will LOVE this!"
Wife stopped husband. "Wait, they'll want to know how he does it. *We* know that it is because he is a superspy and has technological devices and tricks that he's able to do it. But he wouldn't want that secret to get out!"
Husband nodded sagely, then snapped his fingers in discovery. "I've got it! I'll claim that he's a *real* Devil Hunter, just using his special abilities to make a little cash on the sly. That will enforce his cover and let him slip by all sorts of real spying against the bad guys! AND the filming youma explains why his film crew has to be so rough-and-ready!"
Mrs Lovejoy clapped her hands together in glee as her husband dialed. "Oh, I approve of our daughter's choice of who to marry! Just think, we're going to have that dear boy for a son-in-law!"
Artemis peered on from beyond his cover of a furniture leg.
So this confirmed it, the boy *was* a spy, just like the film had been saying! He'd not gotten very far in that film, but the cat knew one thing for certain.
Queen Serenity had never trusted spies.
Soun Tendo did a spectacular spit-take that sprayed one of his daughters with tea. In true comic fashion the geyser carried a lot more tea than anyone would've thought possible.
"Thanks a lot, Dad!" Akane managed as she started wiping her face.
"Oh, finally! What a happy day!" Soun began weeping tears of joy. This wasn't unusual. Just having rice futures go up (he owned stock but wasn't sufficiently good to get rich) was cause for tears of joy. Kasumi leading the Middle School Cooking Club to victory over their rivals was enough for him to require therapy for dehydration.
"What is it, father?" Kasumi swept into the room with her fraternal twin sister Nabiki, wondering if one of their daddy's "get rich quick" schemes had actually made money this time.
Soun's gaze focused on the article dealing with "Jared Saotome, Devil Hunter" through his copious tears. "At last, at last. Now the Houses can be joined!" (After all, if he's a Devil Hunter, and a Saotome... Devil Hunting had to take martial arts, didn't it? It must mean that old sly fox Genma had another son. Maybe born on "the wrong side of the sheets" - which is why he's only mentioned Ranma!)
"The houses will be joined?" Nabiki thought about this. "Do you mean one of our neighbor's houses is up for sale then, and we're going to expand? I don't know about this. Where are we going to get the money? So far our plans to restart the dojo have been a spectacular flop."
"And no one seems interested in buying lunches at the usual offices anymore." Kasumi felt the need to put in the real cause of their recent financial woes.
"Oh WOW! What a *spectacular* BUTT that guy's got!" Akane had found a TV channel that was carrying replay coverage while her father still played with his paper.
"Pervert." The Tendo twins, Nabiki and Kasumi, muttered in unison about their older sister, who was presently adjusting her glasses to get the VCR controls going.
"Now Akane..." Soun Tendo began. "That's our only blank tape."
He was met with sorrowful eyes, as the teenager still went on with loading the machine. "But Daaaaad...?"
Soun sniffed. He was losing. "But I was going to use it to tape that documentary on the California wine industry, or that samurai film, or..." There were so *many* things actually.
"But... but..." Akane whined. "But dad! He's got the best pair of..."
Kasumi coughed over the next words. Akane scowled at her. "You don't want me to get in another of my moods, do you?"
Suddenly all the other Tendos were huddling frightfully in the farthest corner of the room, shaking in fear. "No, no! That's alright. Why don't you tape him? Then you can use the rest of the time to record more from the boy's locker room?" Soun stuttered in sheer terror, his other two daughters quavering beside him.
"Okay!" Akane chirped, turning back to the TV. "But I might have to find another public bath, though. I've got enough of the boys at my school already. They're starting to bore me." She gestured to the shelves packed with recordings.
The rest of her family relaxed.
Akane had suffered badly in the start of school. Her poor eyesight had made her an object of ridicule. So emotions had built and built until finally, studying some secret martial arts techniques to assuage her loneliness, she had stumbled across a store of the master's hidden scrolls and...
...become a complete and utter pervert.
It had been time to flee the scene.
Nodoka had gotten the Scouts down the ladder, and Jared joined up with them in a far more normal guise, having briefly ducked into the bushes to change out of first his Devil Hunting gear and then the RDF flightsuit he'd been wearing all morning.
He still held an unconscious Lita in his arms as they joined up.
Nodoka sized him up, a 'my son is so manly' grin in place as she noted the girl in his arms. But there was a hint of steel in her voice as well. "So, my son. Just how did you become a Devil Hunter?"
"Yeah." Echoed four girls.
Susan reappeared from wherever she'd been to. "I have an idea. Why don't we discuss this at Rae's shrine?" She motioned nearby to the not-far-distant temple.
"A good idea!" Jared enthused, starting that way so the inertia of the group would be moving instead of static.
"Mmm," Lita stirred in his arms. "Yes, Hunter-san. I'll be a love-slave for you."
Eyes popped open. Nodoka's jaw hit the pavement. Then hearts shone in her eyes and a glad smile grew wide on her face. She began to dance around waving victory fans.
"Hey! Me first!" The youth was once again plastered in females.
A small shriveled monk chose that moment to wander by. He paused and clapped his hands twice, solemnly proclaiming. "It is Fate."
Jared briefly considered running for his life. What dream was Lita having? "C'mon mom. Let's go home. We can explain everything there."
He did *not* want to be in a place where his mom could just conveniently 'leave them alone.'
It was, after all, now past time to flee the scene.
"So why should *I* or my village get involved?" Cologne said, sitting back and sending smoke rings out. "Japan is a long way off. I don't even see why *you* are involved considering your story of multiple timelines."
"You are, of course, familiar with the feng shui, and the 'weak points' in Reality," the cyborg said as he looked at the tea with a certain degree of longing.
"You don't get to be 300 years old without accumulating a certain degree of knowledge."
Shampoo blinked as she tried to figure out what was going on.
"They attack Tokyo because of its tie to their own power. It is slightly easier and therefore more energy efficient to invade Tokyo first. Once they have established a beachhead there, they will swarm out over the planet. Even the vaunted Chinese Amazons cannot stand against them when that point arrives."
"Years off," Cologne made a brushing off gesture. "Not to mention a logistical nightmare. I might be able to send a war party, but how much they could accomplish..."
"Don't worry, you've got time before Ranma shows up."
Shampoo's brow furrowed. What was a Luan Ma?
"Who is this Ranma, and why should I be concerned?"
"In 1992, during a tournament when Shampoo is sixteen, an Outsider Girl and her Panda show up. They start eating the first prize, Shampoo challenges her, loses, and gives the Kiss Of Death. Not realizing that the 'girl' who defeated her was actually a guy with a Jusenkyo curse. He defeats her again in guy form, but by the time she realizes the problem she's already blown her chance of winning him as a husband. Chasing him/her around while yelling death threats, followed by trying to win him in the terms of HER culture without considering HIS, well, it pretty much fouled up THAT relationship."
Shampoo stopped writing all this down as she realized that both her Great Grandmother and the Metalman were staring at her. The fifteen year old grinned sheepishly and hid the notes behind her back. "Eh-heh." Maybe she ought to learn Japanese... she hoped he was cute!
"So... the boy is a fair martial artist?" Cologne considered. If the outsider were correct and honest, and his body language DID read that way, then this information could head off a great disaster. All she had to do was keep Shampoo from challenging this Outsider when he showed up.
"You could say that. If a bit cocky, self absorbed, and much less adept at Life than at the Art. Of course, he did kill Saffron and defeat Herb, with a bit of training from you to prepare him." The cyborg shrugged. "If the village survived until then, it would help. But supposing it does..."
Cologne's eyes boggled and Shampoo considered fainting. ~A Great Warrior? Talk of demons in far off Japan was one thing, but mention two griefs close in to home and threats to the tribe...~
Shampoo started to consider faking a defeat. No, he wouldn't NEED her to do that. Hmm... She began scribbling more notes.
Cologne started considering as well when a beeping noise arose from the large sack that the cyborg had carried in. "What is that?"
The cyborg took out a small box. "Incoming message. Maybe Urd's come up with a way for me to leave this timeline. Computer: play message in Mandarin dialect."
to: Grey, Guardian Daemon Trainee, Fourth Class
from: Asgard, Punitive Labor Assignment Division
Assignment: Reconcile the Pheonix Mage and Queen Serenity as your First Labor.
Have Fun - Ares
They arrived at the Saotome home to find a truck waiting on the curb before the home, their detective Keihatsu waiting beside it. In short order he'd taken out a forklift and brought a crate to the front door of the household. Before anyone knew what was up, he'd popped the lid off and started handling boxes and folders to Nodoka, who handed them to Jared, who handed them to Mina, and eventually Amy stacked them up in the dining room while Susan was filing them.
Keihatsu had an almost gleeful summary, which he rattled off while handing up boxes. "One hundred fifty pages, Genma supporting himself through petty theft and larceny during the period of a year while Ranma is enrolled at reform school in Chiba. Ranma's grades are the last five pages. He just left that area, and apparently skipped a fight if Hibiki-kun wasn't mistaken."
The detective had a grin on his face. Finally, an *interesting* client! Enough of this 'track down their lineage' garbage! This kind of dirt is what a detective lived for! Everywhere he *looked* there was evidence against this guy! He went on with a smile. "Two hundred thirty pages, details on dowries, engagements, and one skipped wedding. Interesting how most of the arrangements involved food in some manner... Seventy five pages from the Yakuza Taskforce report detailing Genma's working with *them.* Forty-four pages from certain contacts I have in the darkside (using a Japanese euphemism for criminal elements) which indicate that Genma has cheated THEM, but promised his grandsons or daughters to them as payment on those debts. Seventy nine pages, his 'vacation trip' to Izu, though your husband really shouldn't wear a speedo, ma'am. No offense. Then we've got a few temple thefts in Kamakura, only eighty seven pages. Apparently there's a curse about 'like moths to a flame' that was laid upon the two after Genma stole a small gold idol. The small gold idol, a kami of food preparation, is in with the papers. I picked it up at a pawnshop in Shinohara. Eighty-five yen, your husband should really learn how to bargain, ma'am. It was worth a hundred times that without the value of the gold. You might want to hold onto it, the bill for it is enclosed, but apparently the curse will only be lifted if one of the two in question returns it to the temple from which it was stolen. Report of a mysterious fire in Okayama, a sighting of Genma running from the shrine where it occurred, six pages. Six hundred seventy four pages, a food warehouse in Toyama - Genma Saotome seen racing away. Forty seven instances of dojos being destroyed, one included the death of a Kumon-san, all linked in some manner to Genma or his training trip, nine hundred and twelve pages. Reckless endangerment charges, uhmmff, watch it - that one's really heavy. You don't want to know how many pages."
There came a *thump* as Nodoka finally gave way and passed out from the load of shame. Several people moved to help her, but Jared help out a hand, counting aloud.
"Three, Two, On..."
His mother shot to her feet, shaking a fist and screaming aloud to the heavens while seeming to be covered in an aura of yellow flames. "GENMA SAOTOME YOU HONORLESS SON OF A DISEASED SWINE HOW *DARE* YOU MARRY INTO MY FAMILY!"
"...e" Jared finished.
He cocked both hands behind his head. "Well, I guess this means that I don't have to respect him any more, doesn't it?" He replied jauntily.