Ch 67

V 1.0

A/N 1 – Song is Hallelujah, written by Leonard Cohen, covered by Tiffany Day. On YouTube the best version is under 'girl sings hallelujah down a well in Italy'. A full cover by the same girl is under 'Hallelujah – Leonard Cohen (cover)' by Tiffany Day.

Hinata-sou Dormitory
Hinata City, Kanagawa Prefecture
Metro Tokyo, Japan
early March, early Tuesday afternoon

Sarah was getting nervous about what was going on, but most of that was due to her being kept in the dark.

After Keitaro had stopped her from continuing to sing in the cathedral, they had left shortly thereafter. They barely paused long enough to say their farewells to the assembled clerics and singers, who looked like they had a multitude of questions they wanted to ask. The bishop and oddly enough Father Wesley appeared especially curious, but Keitaro had simply but firmly stated that they had to leave immediately and reluctantly promised to talk to them about what had occurred later. The pair had then left the church at almost a run, jumping into the hired car before the people standing around on the sidewalk realized what was happening. One of the men there appeared to have gotten a photo of them on the move, but Keitaro and Sarah had put on their masks, shades and hood before they left the building.

The drive home was almost silent, once Keitaro had finished making some phone calls. Her guardian had called Seta, Haruka and Kanako and told them that he was calling an immediate meeting at the Hinata-sou that they needed to be present for. With his relatives Keitaro had no trouble convincing them to attend, but he had to get stern with her adoptive father, telling him to cancel his previous appointments, as this situation was that serious. After getting him to agree Keitaro finally hung up the phone and tucked it away before pulling off his shades and rubbing the bridge of his nose between his fingers, suddenly looking much older and tired.

"Am I in some kind of trouble, Keitaro-san?" Sarah did not think she did anything wrong, but people normally did not act this way for something good or pleasant.

Keitaro looked at Sarah, surprise flitting across his face for a moment. "No, you're not. It's not something that's your fault." Giving a sigh, the young man swapped out his shades for his regular glasses before speaking again. "To tell the truth, this is more my fault. I should have seen this coming, things would not gotten out of control like they could."

"Out of control? My singing is causing problems?" Sarah was surprised; she had thought that she had inadvertently insulted someone given how everyone had reacted back at the cathedral.

"I'll tell you once we get home, I need to talk to Seta-sensei and you about this. I don't want to repeat myself." While talking Keitaro flicked his eyes toward the driver and Sarah understood his unspoken words; he did not want to speak about this with a stranger present. "But for now, just try to relax, we've got things to do when we get to the Hinata-sou." Keitaro then tried to take his own advice and leaned back in his seat and closed his eyes.

Sarah had spent the remainder of the car trip rolling the word home around in her mind. It surprised her to realize that using that word to refer to the Hinata Inn felt right. She had not really thought about it before, but since her mother had passed away a few years ago she had never really considered the places she lived in to be home. Not her uncle's apartment in San Francisco, not Koh Tao in Thailand, and absolutely not that hellhole in Roanapur. Even when she, Nyamo and Seta had arrived in Japan and were living in a hotel room due to the lack of space in his rented flat had she felt comfortable enough to call where lived home. But now she was living with a colorful mob of people not related to her and she felt completely comfortable with it; she had even made some friends at school here in Japan that she probably would have never had back in the States.

Before she knew it the car was coming to a stop at the front door of the Hinata-sou. Waiting for the driver to open the door the two passengers climbed out, and while Sarah was straightening her cloak, Keitaro handed the driver something that looked suspiciously like a thick wad of yen notes folded over. The driver looked as though he was going to refuse the money, but then her guardian leaned closer to him and murmured something too low for her to hear that made the man slightly pale before nodding and accepting the money. The driver then closed the rear door before getting in the car and driving off.

"What'd you say to spook the guy, Dork-san?" Sarah was curious; Keitaro was not someone to threaten other people unless circumstances demanded it.

"I just reminded him who paid for his services today, and it would be better for him not to remember anything that he might have overheard." Keitaro glanced at his wristwatch before looked over at her. "It's a little before 1:00 PM right now, go ahead and change clothes and come back to eat. You'll be doing school work afterward until everyone is here for the meeting later." Seeing the unenthused look on his ward's face he continued speaking. "Unless you want to do some physical training instead?"

"No, no, that's okay." Sarah held her hands up in a warding gesture.

"Oh, and make sure that the clothes you wear for the meeting later are those you don't mind getting dirty and that you are wearing sturdy shoes." Keitaro saw that Sarah was confused about his suggestion but otherwise did not say anything about it. "Get going." With a nod the blonde teen turned and walked into the house, with him following behind her.

'Later' turned out to be about an hour and a half after that. The pair had eaten some monster sandwiches that they had slapped together from leftovers in the fridge, and Sarah returned to her room to study. She managed to get two of her assignments done by the time that Keitaro tapped on her closed door and told her that everyone was there. Giving an acknowledgment the blonde teen stripped off the sweats she had been wearing and put on the old clothes she had laid out, or she tried to at least. To her dismay her tee shirt was so tight the lacy pattern of her bra was visible through the thin fabric. The worn and faded jeans were worse; they were so tight on her she had to wiggle to get them over her butt, and the legs were so short that they looked more like capris than regular jeans. It was not because she was getting fat, at least according to the school nurse, but more due to becoming taller and more muscular due to her chi training.

Thinking back Sarah realized that she had bought these jeans a year ago in the States and she had done some serious growing since then. It had been among the clothing and other things that had been shipped to Japan from the US and put into storage until they had finally returned, which meant most of her old clothes would probably fit the same way or worse.

Gritting her teeth, Sarah pulled off the tight shirt and pulled on one of her red striped telnyashka, only this one with long sleeves. The jeans would pass for now, especially since she had put on thick athletic socks that ended up under the leg cuffs and covered what would otherwise be exposed skin.

Picking up her sneakers, the blonde girl opened her room door to see her guardian standing there waiting for her wearing jeans and a faded grey sweatshirt. Keitaro blinked a couple times at her appearance before speaking. "You don't have any other pants you can wear instead of those?"

"No. I've been growing too much for the old stuff and most of my newer clothes are either dressy, school uniforms, or shorts." Sarah explained. "Do you have another sweatshirt or something I can borrow; I don't want to wear my school coat or my cloak if you're expecting us to get dirty."

"Sure, hold on." Keitaro turned and walked away into his room, emerging a few moments later. "This should do," he said unfolding a bundle to reveal a black zip up hooded sweatshirt and handing it to the younger girl. Putting it on, the hoodie turned out to be long enough to cover her butt while the sleeves extended enough to completely conceal her hands. Folding the cuffs back a couple of times made them much more manageable. "Ready to go?" Keitaro asked once Sarah was settled and seeing her nod turned and walked to the main entryway of the house, then through the kitchen and out the back door.

A brisk two minute walk through the grass brought them to the abandoned annex at the end of the clearing. Kanako, Haruka, and Seta were standing near the door leading into the building, and while the two women looked impassive and slightly curious respectively, Seta looked kind of annoyed, at least until he got a full look at his adopted daughter. "Sarah-chan, are you sniffing your sweater?" he asked with an amused look on his face.

The blonde blushed as she lowered her hand from her face; she had noticed a scent coming from the hoodie she was wearing when she had flipped the hood up over her head when they had come outside. She had pulled one edge of the hood closer to her nose and had just recognized the faint scent of deodorant and a not-unpleasant male smell, which should not have been a surprise. Looking up at the three adults and one older teen looking back at her, Sarah could see faint smiles on the two oldest, while Keitaro had a curious look on his face and Kanako had a frown on hers. "It smelled familiar, I was trying to place it. It was missing something though, that's why it took me a while to recognize it." Seeing curiosity on all the faces now, she continued. "The last time I smelled this there was also the smell of spent gunpowder and blood." When the three adults winced the girl changed the subject. "Hi Dad, it's been a while since I've seen you."

Seta winced even more visibly. He had skipped his visit to the Hinata-sou the week before due to some work obligation and the week before that had almost been a thirty second 'hi/bye' deal. "It has been too long, hasn't it, Sarah-chan? Maybe we'll do something after this meeting with Keitaro-kun." His eyes moved from the youngest girl to her guardian. "I hope this is important, I had to cancel a meeting with the department head for this." The older man's irritated expression suddenly froze upon seeing the look that the younger man was directing at him.

"Very important, Seta-san." Keitaro's even words and his use of the formal –san honorific instead of his normal –sensei drew everyone's attention far more effectively than any emotional outburst would have. Turing from the group, the younger man did a short chain of hand seals and pressed his right hand against the door before him. With a pop and a click the door opened slightly and he pushed it open completely.

Turning around, Keitaro spoke to the group behind him. "If you've got any electronics on you, turn them off and leave them outside this door. They're going to get damaged otherwise." Following his own advice he turned off his mobile phone and placed it on the ground by the door way, and the others followed suit. "Oh and watches too." Everyone took off their wrist watch and put them along their phones, with Sarah taking off her ECM wrist band as well. "Follow me, and make sure you do not stray from the path I take unless you want to crash through the floor." Taking a small flashlight that Haruka had handed him, Keitaro walked into the darkened building, with Kanako right behind him, Sarah and Seta after her, and Haruka bringing up the rear with her own flashlight, an electric lantern in her other hand.

"If you had this place sealed shut, why'd you give me the big speech to not coming in here?" Sarah asked as the group moved carefully across the dark rooms, the old wooden floor creaking ominously as they tread on it. The rooms they were passing through were almost empty, with only dust and small pieces of debris that had apparently fallen from the walls and ceiling visible.

"It was not a lock seal, it was an alarm. Breaking the seal would have sent out a burst of ki that anyone who is sensitive to it would have felt." Keitaro replied over his shoulder, his eyes and light running over the floor in front of him. "If you had come in here even if we were nearby neither Haru-chan or I could have gotten here fast enough to keep you from being hurt, especially if we were not on the Sou grounds." Coming up to a stairway leading to a lower floor the young man paused so the group could catch up to him. "This is the really risky part, step only where I step, and keep your hand on the railing. If you break through a stair or if you lose your balance, try and fall backwards and toward the wall if you can. You don't want to go head-first down these stairs." Suiting actions to words, Keitaro was the first down the stairs, then the others. One of the stairs did break under Seta's weight, but luckily he did not lose his balance and fall.

Making their way through some more rooms, the group finally came to their destination. It was not just the slightly steaming pool of water ringed with rock in the middle that made the room different, it was a faintly electric feeling in the air that made the hairs on the back of Sarah's neck stand on end. The weird flickering blue-white light produced by the electric lantern Haruka turned on did not help either.

"So why the big deal to come in here, Keitaro-san? Besides the atmosphere." Sarah gestured at the room around them after pushing back the hood on her sweater, the steam emerging from the pool making the room warmer than the rest of the building.

"You're more correct than you think, Sarah-kun," Keitaro replied. "This is the Annex hot spring that I had told you about some time ago. The chi that it produces interferes with any electronics beyond a light bulb, so this is the most secure place to have a conversation on the property without having people either physically or electronically eavesdropping on us."

"What so special about this spring?" The blonde girl walked up to the edge of the pool and glanced down into it. Even with the light of the lantern the water appeared slightly milky and with an even stronger sulfur smell than the spring back at the Sou proper. "The magic?"

"It turns out it's the terminus of the ley line leading here to the top of the hill," explained Keitaro. "The line goes through the springs back at the Inn, but this is the final stop for it."

"Why a pond? Why not the top of the hill?" Seta now joined his daughter in looking down at the spring.

"Chi energy is a lot like electricity, it travels easier through water than earth." Haruka was the one to explain now. "It doesn't help that most of the geology under the sedimentary soil around here is volcanic granite and a poor conductor."

"You mean we're living on top of a volcano?!" Sarah's blue eyes were wide now.

"A very extinct volcano. More of a minor vent that lead into Tokyo Bay. Mount Fuji is the closest volcano that could be considered active, and it hasn't erupted since the early 1700's." It was Kanako who answered now, a slightly amused look on her face.

"That's good to know." Sarah gave a not-so-fake sigh of relief before look at her guardian again. "So why all the precautions?"

"Because what we are about to talk about is sensitive beyond belief." The look on Keitaro's face was even more serious than it was before. "Normally this information is something that is restricted to only family members, this is something that governments have violated laws and morality to get control of." He turned to look at his mentor. "How much do you know about chi and ki?"

Seta frowned. "Just the basics. It's life energy produced by the environment and living things, martial artists use it to fight and reinforce themselves. The really high level users can do amazing things with it, but it's mostly myths and legends."

"What if I told you many of those myths had a basis in reality?" Both Seta and Sarah blinked at Keitaro's words. "Or that there is a hidden world of people who have access to that energy and they jealously guard knowledge of it to protect themselves?"

"I would say that it is probably true. But why are you bringing this up?" Seta asked curiously.

"There is a subset of life energy that we don't fully understand, it is not one of the energies that is normally generated by living things. Some people call it magic, others call it spiritual energy. I've even heard some of the older masters refer to it as the element of the void, the energy of creation and destruction. But what most of the masters agree on is that is controlled and handed down by beings beyond our comprehension." Keitaro paused for a moment. "Most of these beings are referred to as spirits such as gods and demons." At those words most of the color drained from Seta's face but he otherwise stayed silent.

"You're not going to deny or argue about this, Seta-kun?" Haruka was the one to ask the question. "Most people do."

"In my line of work I've seen things, things that can drive people mad." Seta licked his lips nervously. "Kind of hard to argue with that. But why are you bringing this up?"

"Because it turns out that Sarah-kun has the ability to use some of that power." It was now the girl's turn to turn pale, while the two Urashima females now had grave expressions on their face. "She can't generate it, but she can certainly access ambient energy or words of power."

"How can you be sure of this? She isn't of Japanese blood, I thought that was a requirement?" Seta still looked pale as he spoke.

"Not a requirement per se, and you're thinking Asian blood, Seta-sensei. Don't forget about the Chinese and the Southeast Asians, they can use chi and ki as well." Keitaro smiled slightly before noticing the confused look on Sarah's face. "Very briefly, a person has to have Asian blood in their background within a generation or two to be able to easily use chi. Ki usage even for them requires lifelong training starting in childhood."

"So why can I use chi then?" Sarah responded, bewildered. "As far as I know there are no Asians in my family background for crying out loud!"

"The Japanese are not the only people who had their gods hand down power to them. In the British islands the Celts and the Druids come to mind and they have their own traditions of spirits. I also remember you saying previously that your mother's family is Scottish and Irish, but you don't know about your father's background, do you?" Keitaro's question brought Sarah to a crashing halt.

"I… guess? But look at me, do I look like I have Asian blood?" Sarah waved her hand at her head and chest, indicating her blond hair, blue eyes, and not-insignificant chest.

"Not really, but short of doing a DNA work up on you there is no way to really tell." Keitaro stated. "Did your mother ever tell you anything about your biological father?"

Sarah hesitated for a long moment, her eyes flicking over toward Seta before focusing on her guardian again. "You sure you want to hear this? It's not a happy story." Everyone's eyes moved toward Seta, who nodded hesitantly, then Haruka and Kanako nodded in turn.

"Mom only talked about this with me once, and it was just before she passed away." Sarah paused to take a long breath. "Mom had just come back to the States from Japan, and she had a bad break up with someone she had a relationship with here." Seta looked stricken at her words and Haruka appeared saddened and a little guilty. "She was spending time in San Francisco, trying to decide if she was going to transfer into one of the universities there, when she met a guy in a bar. Mom had too much to drink that night, and the guy had been celebrating a promotion with his friends and was pretty sloshed himself. The two spent the night together, and Mom took off without saying anything when she woke up first the next morning. It took a couple of weeks to realize she was pregnant, and that thrashed her plans to go back to university."

"Sarah-kun…" Keitaro looked like he was regretting asking to hear this story.

"No, it's fine. Mom told me that even though she wasn't that much of a good Catholic, she never thought about getting an abortion." Sarah smiled slightly. "She called Grandpa Alastair and he was okay with her having a baby and he could support us both, so she went back home to Lake Tahoe. I think she was planning to go back to school after she had me, but that never worked out. She got a job in town working at a store there, and we lived okay, up until when Grandpa passed away and then Mom died. Then I started bouncing around until I wound up here with you guys. So happy ending so far." The blonde girl smiled wider as she finished, although it did not look completely genuine.

"Your mother didn't have any information about your father?" Keitaro asked reluctantly.

"Just a couple of things. The guy's name was Eddie, they didn't really give each other their last names, and he was in the army or something. Him and his buddies had been celebrating him getting promoted to corporal." Sarah replied. "That and he was really tall, he stood head and shoulders taller than her, so he's probably not Asian."

"How much of a military presence is there in San Francisco?" Haruka asked rhetorically, and surprisingly it was Kanako who answered.

"Sizable. Until recently it was considered a strategic port and harbor and there were several bases there. Most of the bases were naval, for refueling, repair and resupply, but there was also a large army base there, the Presidio. Most of the bases have been closed down or repurposed since the end of the Cold War." The youngest Urashima noticed that everyone was looking at her in surprise. "I've always been interested in going to see the Golden Gate Bridge, and I did some research of the area around it. Golden Gate Park is part of the Presidio complex, which has mostly civilian uses now."

"That explains the postcards of the Golden Gate Bridge you have up in your room." Keitaro's remark caused his sister to blush slightly. He turned and looked at Seta and Haruka, who did not look happy at what they had heard. "Anything you two want to say?" It was not a secret among the Urashima that Seta, Haruka and Cynthia McDougal had been involved in a love triangle that had ended when Seta chose Haruka. The irony was that the relationship between the two did not last long, as Haruka had been emotionally traumatized while on an overseas school trip and Seta was not the most mature person now, let alone fifteen years ago when the trio was in their early twenties. Seta opened his mouth as though he was going to say something, but in the end merely shook his head. Haruka glanced away and stayed silent.

"In this case Asians are not the only that can use spiritual energy, they are just the most well known people who can." Keitaro had continued speaking. "Most cultures in some way can use life energy, only in their cases they usually call it magic. And that is where the problem came in; there are groups and organizations that don't react well to magic."

"Like the Catholic Church?" Sarah had a feeling where this was going.

"More like fundamentalist Christian churches, along with the Islamic faith and other monotheistic religions in general. It turns out the Bible was correct; their God is a jealous one who doesn't appreciate the competition, especially from what they consider pagan gods." Keitaro smiled thinly. "You've heard of the Catholic Inquisition and witch-hunts that took place in the Middle Ages in Europe. There were also witch hunts in the Americas during colonial times, and even today people are convicted and executed for 'witch-craft' in Islamic countries in the Middle East. Ironically there is a tradition of magic in the Jewish religion with their sung prayers and golems, but it isn't something they really deal with today. That leads to another matter, something that directly affects you, Sarah-kun. Words of power."

"Which are?" Sarah was getting an ominous feeling just from the phrase alone.

"There are certain words and names that have power far beyond what they normally would." Keitaro explained. "Most of these are passed down from the gods themselves, and others have grown in power from all the belief and faith worshipers have given them. What happened in the cathedral today was a combination of several things; you using words that have been imbued with power from having millions of people believing in them and the cathedral itself absorbing power from all the worshipers there. It wouldn't surprise me if a ley line has formed under the cathedral itself, that happens on occasion."

"So praying can cause those effects? I wasn't trying to do anything." Sarah was getting nervous again.

"Some words and names are so potent that it doesn't take much to get them to work, especially those handed down by the gods themselves." Keitaro answered. "Remember how I mentioned golems a minute ago? Jewish traditions hold that it is a being made of clay into the shape and size of a man and it is powered by writing the true name of their God in Hebraic script either on its forehead or on a piece of paper and placing it inside the figure. This would keep the golem alive until part of the writing was erased and changed the meaning of the word, causing the golem to crumble back to dust." Keitaro's eyes moved from his ward to his sister to the two adults and saw that they had all turned pale. "That is why this information is kept so secret, because spiritual energy and words of power have a high potential for misuse."

"Misuse how?" Sarah asked unsteadily.

"In the Christian Bible there is the account of the wall of the besieged city of Jericho being brought down by the sounds of horns and shouts," replied Keitaro. "In France one of their saints helped break the siege of one of their cities by the English during a medieval war there, they say she sang prayers before that battle. The misuse has come when people try to summon spirits and demons using words of power and/or human sacrifice to either enslave them to their will or enrich themselves, but they almost always lose control and get killed as a result."

"Human sacrifice?" Sarah looked horrified.

"Blood has a power almost beyond comprehension. Gaz told me about some incidents involving human sacrifice that the various militaries have come across, mostly in Africa and the Pacific islands of Asia. And Nyamo-chan told me that she and her grandfather had once come across the aftermath of one summoning where the magic user lost control."

"The best known case of the use of chi was the Boxer Rebellion." The young man continued speaking. "At the beginning of the 20th century the European powers in China had been expanding their economic influence and missionary activities and infringing on Chinese sovereignty to the point it was increasingly believed that the foreign powers were going to carve up the country into separate colonies. Nationalist groups formed to fight them, and the most famous were the ones that consisted of martial artists, which the Westerners called Boxers, since that was the closest to what they understood martial arts to be. Most of the Boxers had just basic chi abilities to increase strength and speed somewhat and used swords and spears to fight, but some were what we would consider high level users who could dodge gunfire and have superhuman strength."

"So what happened? I've seen you do stuff like that." Sarah was surprised to hear her father respond.

"They lost, eventually. As good as the fighters were, they couldn't withstand massed modern cannon and machine gun fire," Seta answered. "The foreign powers sent in heavily armed troops and broke the siege of their embassy areas in Peking where their people were hiding from the atrocities and massacres that were happening. Then the foreign powers took advantage and forced massive reparations and concessions from the Chinese government. Atrocities were committed by the foreign troops afterwards as well, but what's ironic is the Rebellion essentially worked. The European powers did not want go through something like that again, so they eventually lessened their influence and activities until there were just two major powers left in China; Great Britain in the Hong Kong area and Japan in Manchuria."

"Ouch." Sarah had not done much studying about China before the Pacific War, but given what the Japanese had done during the war, she did not think they were much nicer before it.

"Yes, ouch." Keitaro was now the one to answer, no humor on his face. "After the Pacific War the American and the Russians tried to research chi and ki because of their use by Japanese soldiers during the war, but they ran into a stone wall; chi affinity was usually passed on by blood and required training from childhood, so they could not just train adult soldiers to use it. That and there was a lot of black operations to keep it that way by certain groups."

"Black operations?" Sarah could guess what that meant.

"You don't want to know. And we normally don't talk about it." Keitaro responded. "The only reason we are talking about this now is because it directly affects you. You were publically seen and recorded using Spirit Song, and it's not that big a secret that you have chi abilities now after what you did in that race at your school. The protections that martial artists have in Japan require a low profile, and the fact that a non-Asian American girl has these abilities is going to draw attention from the wrong people fast."

"Like who?" Sarah was almost afraid to ask, and she was not disappointed by the answer.

"The American government." Keitaro answered with no emotion on his face. "Various other foreign counties that would dearly love to have a chi using martial artist in their hands."

"But I'm hardly trained, how much use would I be?" Sarah protested.

"They could train you, now that you have access to your chi. Once you get up to speed, you could run rings around an American Ranger or SEAL." Keitaro paused for a moment, not wanting to say what came next. "Or they could use you for experimentation." A longer pause, with disgust on his face. "Or breeding."

"Oh." Sarah said faintly.

"So what this meeting is about is how to protect you." Keitaro continued. "Right now you are my ward and my student, but both of those statuses can be attacked legally. The Urashima can fight against efforts to undo them, but it would get public and messy. There is however a couple of ways to increase your protection, and one that I don't want do if I can help it."

"Which are?" Sarah asked warily.

"One is that you become my official apprentice, registered with the civil authorities and the martial arts council. This is a form of unofficial adoption into the Urashima Clan since I am teaching you the family style, and once you completed it would be an associate member of the clan. The fact that I am the clan heir would increase the protection; the only better protection would be you becoming Granny Hina's apprentice." All three Urashima present gave a shudder at the thought of Sarah being run through Hina's training.

"The second option would be formal adoption into the Urashima Clan." Seeing Sarah's eyes widen Keitaro nodded. "It's just what it sounds like; either I or Haruka would adopt you as a daughter and you would take on the Urashima name. Again, it would be better for me to be the one doing it since I have higher status as the heir."

"But aren't you too young to be adopting me?" Sarah protested. "You're only five years older than I am!"

"Keitaro-kun's an adult, that is all that matters," Haruka responded for him. "Adult adoption is common in Japan for inheritance purposes, and sometimes the new 'parent' is barely a year or two older than the 'child'."

At this point Keitaro glanced from Sarah to Seta and Haruka. Given the expressions on their faces they knew what was coming. Looking back at his ward he sighed. "The last option is one I don't want to do unless there is no other choice, because it would absolutely look bad publicly, even though it would give the most protection in Japan, if not the United States." He paused for a long moment. "You would have to marry into the Urashima clan."

Sarah went still for a long moment before speaking. "Let me guess, you're the only single Urashima male right now." Keitaro nodded. "Even though I'm fifteen," she stated flatly.

"Age of marriage with parental consent in Japan is sixteen." Haruka replied to the implied question.

"So why don't you want to marry me? Aren't I good enough to be your bride? Aren't I pretty enough?" Sarah joked after a long moment. It was either joke or go into hysterics or faint. The blonde wondered if this was karmic punishment for teasing Hikari about her parents wanting to get their daughter married to the Urashima heir.

Fortunately Keitaro picked up on it. "Sarah-chan you're like my little sister, I am not going to marry a sibling." Unnoticed by everyone else a flash of pain crossed Kanako's otherwise impassive face. "What's worse is how the American government would react. They would see it as a barely legal cover for sex trafficking involving an under-aged minor. They would demand that the marriage be annulled and you be returned to the United States."

"Um… no. I don't have any family worth mentioning left there. I would probably wind up in foster care." Sarah shuddered. "I've heard stories about those places, they make Dickens look tame."

"Dickens?" Haruka asked, a puzzled look on her face.

"Charles Dickens, an old English writer," Sarah replied. "He wrote a lot of stories set in Victorian England like 'A Christmas Carol' and 'Great Expectations'. The story I'm talking about is 'Oliver Twist', where a kid was born in a workhouse and raised in an orphanage. He got booted out because he had the gall to ask for a second portion of porridge, and he wound up in a gang of pickpockets on the streets of London." The girl saw the look of surprise on the faces of the adults. "What, we studied Dickens the last year I was in school back in the States."

"You have a pretty good memory to recall all of that, Sarah-chan." Seta stated, smiling at his daughter.

"Well, the teacher would show us the movie version of the story after we finished reading the books in class, and then we'd have to compare the two," Sarah replied. "Whoever could come up with the most differences would get extra credit." She then turned toward her guardian. "You really are sweating bullets about this, how likely do you think someone is going to try something against me?"

Keitaro cocked his head slightly. "It depends on how reasonable the people involved are. Right now the only organization that both know what you can do and be in a position to do something about it is the Catholic Church. I know that the Archbishop knows Granny Hina, and she puts the fear of the gods into most people who know her beyond a casual basis. The big question is the rest of the people present at the cathedral today, we have no way of knowing how zealous or dedicated to their beliefs they are."

"Why would their dedication to their beliefs be a problem?" asked Sarah.

"These are the people whose main religious book says among other things 'Do not suffer a witch to live'." Keitaro paused for a moment to let Sarah absorb that. "What I do think they are going to do is try and get closer to you, or more accurately get you closer to them. You did notice that they were very upset to hear that you had not completed their religious rites, what they call sacraments? I think they are going to push for you to do that."

"Push? What are they going to do, ban me from the Church if I don't?" Sarah scoffed.

"Will it be so easy for you to say no if Sister Agnes or Father Pablo were to ask you, if only to pray for and honor your mother and grandfather?" Sarah went very still at Keitaro's words. "Or if Chouko-san was to give you the Anime-Eyes™ and ask you to sing prayers with her again?"

"Shit." Sarah scowled and looked away.

"Sarah-chan…" Keitaro sighed. "I'm not going to tell you what to do regarding your religion, that is your personal choice. What I am concerned about is your physical and mental well-being and your happiness. Unless you are doing something to endanger yourself or someone else you're free to do what you want. I'm just telling you what is probably going to happen, especially since the Archbishop is very interested in meeting with you again."

"Little old me," Sarah said in a sardonic voice. "Pretty good to have all this high level attention for a poor little orphan girl."

"Sarah-chan." Keitaro's flat tone seized the girl's attention. "You are not alone anymore. And the gods willing, not ever again."

Blinking for a few moments, Sarah was finally able to speak past the lump in her throat. "Thanks, Keitaro-san."

"Wait a moment, I have a question." Everyone's gaze swung over to Seta. "How much power does Sarah-chan's singing have?"

"Yes, you haven't heard Sarah-kun sing, have you?" Keitaro asked rhetorically. "Have you at least seen the video online?"

"Video online?" Seta's bewildered response answered that question, causing both Keitaro and Haruka to sigh.

"I did send you a text message about this, Seta-kun, after I couldn't get you on the phone." Haruka stated in a chiding tone.

"I didn't think Sarah-kun singing would be that big a deal," protested Seta. "Kids post singing videos online all the time."

"And if you had watched the video, you would have seen why it's a big deal." Haruka looked toward her nephew. "You think it's a good idea to give Seta-kun an demonstration here?"

Keitaro glanced around the room for a moment, visibly thinking to himself. "If she doesn't push chi into it, I think it would be alright." He looked over at his ward. "Do you mind singing for us, Sarah-kun?"

"Okay." Sarah turned around so she was facing Seta while still standing by the hot spring pool; she had just the song in mind, especially since she was kind of annoyed at her adoptive father for not having realized how serious this situation was, let alone how traumatized she had been at first when she found out about it.

I heard there was a secret chord
That David played and it pleased the Lord
But you don't really care for music, do you?

As Sarah's voice began to reverberate and echo throughout the room everyone's attention was fixed on her, especially Seta and Haruka.

Well it goes like this: the fourth, the fifth
The minor fall and the major lift
The baffled king composing Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah,


As Sarah sang the last melismatic note she suddenly realized that there were green and blue orbs of energy that were rising from the pool and circling around her; Keitaro was now standing next to her when he had across from her next to the others. She raised an eyebrow, silently asking if she should stop, but he just moved his hand in a circle, indicating for her to continue singing, which she did with more passion and feeling.

Your faith was strong but you needed proof
You saw her bathing on the roof
Her beauty and the moonlight overthrew you

She tied you to her kitchen chair
She broke your throne and she cut your hair
And from your lips she drew the Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah,


Looking at Seta, Sarah could see a stricken pale look on his face with a guilty expression on Haruka's. Kanako was trying to stay impassive but emotion was forming on her face as well. Meanwhile the blue and green orbs were increasing in number and speed, to be joined by some spheres that were white in color

Maybe there's a God above
And all I've ever learned from love
Was how to shoot somebody who outdrew you

And it's not a cry that you hear at night
It's not somebody who's seen the light
It's a cold and it's a broken Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah,


Once the melismatic note faded the room was silent; everyone watched as the orbs of energy began to sinking toward the floor. Before she knew it Keitaro's hand had taken hold of Sarah's arm and directed her open palm toward a slowly falling white sphere. The girl almost expected the orb to pop like a soap bubble, but instead it sank into her skin, a warm sensation to rushing up her arm into her chest, causing her to shiver slightly.

"That was void chi, the pure form of natural energy." Keitaro said softly, answering Sarah's unspoken question. "Your singing caused it to form out of the ambient energy emerging from the hot spring and the ley line it is connected to. Normally it takes extensive rituals and a blood affinity to be able to form it; you did it, and I don't want to make light of it, by just singing. This is why I'm so concerned about you and your abilities. There are people that will literally kill for that power."

"What do the other colors represent?" Sarah spoke the first question that popped into her mind.

"Green is for nature chi, generated by the earth and vegetation," Haruka answered her. "Blue is life chi, generated by people and living sentient beings." The older woman paused for a moment. "The other colors of chi are generated by people themselves and are generally emotion based. You don't want to be close to people who are that emotional."

"Yeah." Sarah had a pretty good idea what Haruka was alluding to. She glanced over at where her adoptive father was standing and saw that Seta was still looking pale. "There a problem, Dad?" The girl was sure she kept the sarcasm out of her voice.

"That song," Seta licked his dry lips. "Cynthia-chan used to sing that song."

"Yeah, she did. She would sing it to herself sometimes after I went to bed." And after she had more than a couple of drinks, not that Sarah was going to tell them that. "So what now, Keitaro-san?" Sarah asked.

"Now you have to make a choice on what you want to do. Apprenticeship, adoption, marriage, or none of the above." Keitaro gave a slightly twisted smile. "And I really hope you don't choose marriage."

"I notice you didn't mention sealing my chi abilities this time." To be honest, this thought had barely occurred to her.

"No point," Kanako snapped. "If and when bad people find out about your abilities, they are not going to take our word that you are no longer able to use them."

"And there are ways to forcibly break seals on people," Keitaro added softly, "most of them are agonizing, fatal or both."

"Didn't you break your seals?" Sarah asked curiously.

"Yes. That's how I know." Keitaro answered evenly. "You don't have to make your choice right now, you can sleep on it. But you have to make a decision soon, preferably before you return to school or meet with the Church again. There are no odds, they will want to get closer to you now."

Sarah gave a deep sigh as she bowed her head in thought, and the others stayed silent while she did so. After about half a minute the blonde raised her head and looked at her guardian. "How much of a difference is there between being your student and your apprentice?"

"As a student you're getting the basic training, as well as basic chi training in order for you to learn to control it," Keitaro replied. "As an apprentice, you get the full training, up to and including clan and lethal techniques. You also have to swear an oath of loyalty to the Urashima clan. You don't have to obey our orders, but if you misuse what we teach you or betray us, there will be… harsh… consequences." His lips twitched for a moment. "But on the bright side, by swearing this oath we are also promising to protect you and if necessary fight for you as we would any other member of the clan."

"And if you were to adopt me, my family name…" Sarah's voice trailed off.

"Would have to be given up, at least in Japan." Keitaro responded. "You would be entered on the clan rolls and on the civil register as Sarah Urashima, with your given name spelled S-e-e-r-a. If as an adult you decided to be naturalized as a full Japanese citizen you would have to officially renounce your American citizenship." Seeing Sarah shudder he hurriedly kept talking. "As a permanent resident you would still keep your American citizenship and passport, where your name would be Sarah McDougal-Urashima, with a hyphen."

"Just like I was married." Sarah glanced from Keitaro to Seta, who would looking apprehensive. "What do you think I should do, Dad?"

Seta licked his lips again, his eyes flicking from her to Keitaro to Haruka and back again. "I think it's your life, it should be your decision."

"Gee, thanks Dad." Sarah did not bother to hide her sarcasm this time. "What I'm asking is, what is your opinion?" Seeing him hesitate again she kept talking. "No weaseling, just answer the bloody question," she almost snarled.

Seta sighed. "I think the Urashima can protect you better than I can, Sarah-chan." There was pain on his face as he responded.

"Thank you." 'For nothing' could almost be heard in the following silence as Sarah bowed her head again. After a minute she straightened and looked at her guardian. "I made my decision."

"You're certain?" Keitaro turned to face his student squarely. "You can take as much time as you need."

"Yes I am." Shocking everyone, Sarah lowered herself to her knees and bowed her head. "Keitaro-shisho, will you take this unworthy child to become your apprentice?" She had used the old martial arts term for master.

Keitaro kneeled down in front of her and with one hand under her chin raised her face to look him in the eyes. Seeing she was completely serious, he turned to look at Haruka and Kanako and saw them give nods. Glancing at Seta he could see the man looked sick with anguish but he gave a nod himself. Looking back at Sarah he took out his Emerson knife and opened it; taking her right hand he turned it so it was palm up and after putting the knife in her left hand looked back into her blue eyes.

"Repeat after me." Keitaro said. "By the blood I spill, I swear to learn to the best of my ability, to work my body beyond what I think is possible, and to honorably defend and fight for the Urashima, may the gods and spirits help me."

After repeating the words and seeing Keitaro mime the motion, with barely a hiss Sarah sliced her palm under her thumb and watched as blood welled from the small cut. He then took back the knife and poised it over his own open right hand.

"By the blood I spill, I swear to teach you to the best of my ability, to make sure you are ready and surpass your physical limits, and to defend and fight for you and accept you into the Urashima clan, may the gods and spirits help me." Cutting his palm, Keitaro closed the knife with just his left hand and tucked it in his jeans pocket before he turned his right hand over and pressed the bleeding wound against hers.

"Repeat after me. With this blood and by this oath I do swear, may the gods and spirits give me strength." Sarah repeated Keitaro's words. "And if I deliberately and maliciously betray the Urashima or their teachings, may the gods and spirits destroy me."

"Sarah! Keitaro!" Seta burst out, looking horrified. The two glanced at the older man before locking gazes again after he did not say anything else. Sarah could see in Keitaro's dark brown eyes that she could still back out. It did not take her more than two seconds to make her decision.

"And if I deliberately and maliciously betray the Urashima or their teachings, may the gods and spirits destroy me." With Sarah's words their joined hands started to glow blue with chi, causing an almost overwhelming warmth to travel up her arm and throughout her body.

"So we witness, so it is done." Haruka and Kanako spoke in unison, and the blue chi faded away. Sarah felt weak, so she stayed on her knees as Keitaro came to his feet. He then reached down with his right hand, and to the girl's surprise the wound and blood was gone; all that remained was a thin white scar. Quickly glancing down she saw that the same had occurred to her own hand.

"It is a reminder of our oath." Keitaro answered the unspoken question. "Now rise Sarah-deshi," he said with a warm smile, using the martial arts term for an apprentice. With a smile of her own Sarah took his hand and stood up, barely missing the expressions of grief on Seta's face and of jealousy on Kanako's as they both turned away.

Starbucks Coffee
Kanagawa Prefecture
Metro Tokyo, Japan

early March, early Tuesday afternoon

Junichi watched as the man across from him noisily slurped at his coffee. It was not bad manners on the part of the blogger, but Sano wanted the double whammy of hot coffee and the solid slug of cheap scotch that the reporter had surreptitiously poured into it from his own flask. One mug of augmented coffee had already been consumed and it had barely steadied the other man, so Junichi had ordered another round. This was going to be it though; they needed to talk and having him drunk was not going to help.

"Feel better?" Junichi watched as Sano put down the near empty mug on the table.

"Much better." The blogger held out his hand and it was almost steady now, compared to the shakes he had earlier. "Thanks for the drink."

"Ready to talk now?" It had not been pure altruism on Junichi's part that lead him to walking Sano to this outdoor café; they needed to discuss what had taken place at the cathedral. Seeing the other man nod he continued. "I've never heard singing like that before, and I've certainly never felt those kind of effects either. It was like was holding my finger in a light bulb socket."

"You think you had it bad, I was hearing that song through headphones." Sano scoffed. "It was like someone was shooting electricity into my brain." He pulled off his thick eyeglasses and rubbed the bridge of his nose between his thumb and forefinger. Looking up he fixed his gaze on the other man. "That was the first time I've felt that effect, but I've heard of it."

"Well, don't keep me in suspense." Junichi could see that the other man was hesitating.

"How much do you believe in the supernatural?" Sano's question threw him.

"Seriously, you're not talking about magic, are you?" Junichi almost laughed at the question, only to pause at the look the other man was giving him.

"It is a serious question. Do you believe in the supernatural?" Sano raised an eyebrow as he spoke, and waited as Junichi struggled with his answer.

"I believe there are things out there we can't explain. Some things that seem to be beyond the realm of science." Junichi finally replied. "But I also think that just because there isn't an explanation now there won't be in the future."

"Good enough. Now what I'm going to tell you is nowhere near mainstream thought, but there is some proof of it. So keep an open mind." Sano watched as Junichi thought about it for a moment before nodding.

"When you tear it down to basics, music is sound, and sound is energy." Sano started out saying. "Most music is physically created by instruments, but music created by the human voice had something else in addition, something we can barely quantify. You can't see it on a graph or a measuring device, it is something that has to be felt. Some people call it magic, soul, the X factor, sometimes it is referred to just as 'It'. That is why it is so hard to study, but the one thing almost everything agrees on is that 'It' exists, especially when you hear it yourself. The problem is that it cannot be replicated accurately with mechanical means or recorded and played back. It usually has to be live and in person. You understand me so far?" Sano watched as Junichi nodded again.

"'It' is usually found in either highly emotional or religious music." Sano continued. "What we heard today was a combination of both, since the girl was singing religious hymns."

"Wait," Junichi held up a hand. "We were hearing a whole group of people singing at first, why didn't affect us the same way the last song did?"

"Because when a group of people sing together, while it can boost the power of the song, it also loses some of it's potency, 'It' is buried among all the other sound." Sano replied. "But when the girl was singing alone, we got the pure effect."

"How does 'It' work? How is it generated?" Junichi inquired.

Sano chuckled. "That is the 64 billion yen question, isn't it? Since we can barely quantify it, we are nowhere close to replicating it, except for some really nasty effects through brute force."

"Brute force? Nasty effects?" Junichi did not think those were encouraging words.

"You're heard of sonic weapons, used for anti-riot operations? That's one example of brute force. Sound at some frequencies can be very unpleasant, especially at high volume. It's used to disperse rioters by causing nausea and blurred vision and to broadcast police orders. The infamous Brown Note is the best known version of a brute force attack, it supposedly causes people in its area of effect to lose control of their bodily functions." Sano raised an eyebrow and the reporter understood what he was too polite to say out loud. "Also there are instances of some areas that felt haunted or creepy that turned out to be caused by infrasound sound at frequencies 20 Hertz and below, under the range of normal human hearing."

"So how does this relate to the singing then?" asked Junichi.

"'It' is the polar opposite of the brute force methods." Sano continued. "'It' can cause happiness or joy or feelings of love or attraction. That is why some singers that most people wouldn't look at twice on the street are such famous and popular artists, they have 'It' in their music."

"Wait a minute, not all emotional songs are happy," Junichi protested. "What about all the weepy or depressing songs out there?"

"That is the dark side of 'It'," replied Sano. "If a person is well versed in using 'It' they can emotionally manipulate large crowds of people. That's why concertgoers can sometimes get out of hand, at high volumes it essentially overloads people. You've seen film footage of the early concerts of the Beatles or Elvis Pressley? The fact that it was the early days of electrical amplification of music plus the fact that most people were not used to that effect at that time that was driving all those fans crazy."

"How do you know all of this? This is technical stuff," Junichi asked curiously.

Sano smiled thinly. "You don't think that being a blogger about idol singers are what pays my bills? I have a MS degree in electric engineering and work in audio mixing in the music industry. That is why I am so interested in 'It', I've seen too many idol singers who's only talent is in their looks and dancing, and I'm the miracle worker that has to electronically produce music that will make money for the song companies. More times than not the girls will break glass with their voices without my help," the younger man said ruefully.

Junichi raised a finger in a questioning gesture. "You said earlier that 'It' can't be recorded and played back, why are those singers so popular then? They can't do all their singing at live concerts."

"What I said was that 'It' could not be recorded and played back accurately and deliberately, not that it can't be done at all," Sano explained. "Enough of it is recorded that it can be heard by people, which is why their music becomes so popular. It's when the song is heard being played live at high volume in a concert that you get the weird effects."

"And does this apply only to vocal music, or does instrumental music have the effects?" Junichi asked next.

"Instrumental music can have 'It' too, especially the solos," replied Sano. "You've heard people saying that musicians pour their heart and soul into their playing? That isn't too far from the truth."

"So if we listen to that recording again, are we going to get blasted out of our socks again?" Junichi gestured toward the recorder sitting on the table between them.

"No, probably not. But if you want to find out for sure I can loan you my headphones and play the recording." Sano was smiling as he held out the headset.

"No, that's okay!" Junichi held up his hand in a 'no' position.

"What I do want to know is what the girl was singing about." Sano was looking wistfully at the recorder. "I wasn't able to understand the words, but I think they are probably some kind of religious song."

"That I can help with." Sano watched as Junichi produced a notebook from inside his raincoat and flipped it open. "After I put you on the bench outside the cathedral, I was listening to those young girls that had been there along with us talking, and I heard some interesting things, especially after I started asking questions." The younger man looked up sharply. "While all girls were affected by the songs, some were more affected than other, and you're not going to believe the determining factor."

"Religious belief." Seeing Junichi blink in shock, Sano grinned back at him. "Better yet, the more religious the girl was, the more the song affected them."

"How did you know that?" Junichi asked in surprise.

"The more someone likes the music or the more they believe in what is being said, the more 'It' affects them." Sano motioned with his hand. "They say anything else?"

"Some of the girls mentioned that they recognized the words." Junichi looked down at his notes. "There were three total, two of them got dizzy listening to the singing, and one almost fell down. The two were Christians but not very devout; their parents or grandparents were the real churchgoers and the girls only went every once in a while. But the last girl was the real deal, she was Catholic and goes to church services every week. In fact that girl has attended services at that cathedral, and has received religious instruction, she actually understood the words of the songs."

"And they were?" Sano looked intensely curious.

"The first song, the one where everyone was singing, is one of their standard prayers, only it was in Latin. It's called the Gloria." Junichi flipped a page in the notebook. "There were actually three prayer songs, the second was in a language that was similar to Latin, it might be Italian or Spanish, something like that. It is probably the same as the third song, since it was also a short prayer with the same tone and duration, but the third one she did recognize even though it was in Greek." The reporter looked up, an uneasy look in his eyes. "She said the words of the third prayer were 'kyrie eleison', which translates to 'Lord God have mercy'."

"Some people think that the more people believe in certain concepts, the more power those words have." Sano said quietly. "There are certainly millions and maybe billions of people that are believe that the Christian God will show them mercy, forgive their sins and allow them into the afterlife."

"I take it you're not Christian then?" Junichi was semi-joking as he asked the question.

"Buddhist. And there are words of power in our faith that are repeated and believed there too, with all the prayers and mantras." Sano looked up at Junichi and smiled softly. 'Like the Catholics the Buddhists also have prayer beads to help them keep track of their prayers."

"I'm sensing something else though." What Junichi was hinting was that Sano was not telling him everything, but it was something too rude for even someone like him to say straight out.

Sano sighed. "It's also said that the words that have the most power are the ones that were handed down by the gods themselves. This includes both the prayers they taught us and the form of speech they use. The speech is usually called either Spirit Song or Spirit Speech." He paused for a moment. "There are stories of people that have tried to misuse Spirit Speech to summon supernatural beings." He paused for a longer moment. "It ended badly for everyone involved."

Junichi almost scoffed, but he saw the look in the other man's eyes and keep silent. After a few moments thought he asked another question instead. "So why are you so interested in this? What's in it for you?"

"'It' is the Holy Grail of the music recording industry. If someone can figure out how 'It' works or better yet how to replicate it, there is no limit to what can be done." Sano had a longing look in his eyes. "The engineer that figured it out could literally write their own ticket."

"You said sound technology had been abused before." Junichi fixed his gaze on the other man's face. "You sure you want to open that Pandora's Box?"

"And you said that most of the things that we consider supernatural will have a scientific explanation in the future." Sano replied back. "Science is physical fact, there will be an explanation eventually." He smiled ruefully. "Might as well be me with the name on the paper explaining it. That would sew up a doctoral dissertation in a heartbeat. But what about you, why are you so interested in this?"

Junichi matched the other man's smile with his own. "Because I'm a nosy bastard. And I can make some money off of this too."

"Well, at least you are honest about your mercenary nature." Sano's smile widened.

"Which brings about the question, what are we going to do with that recording?" Junichi nodded toward the recorder. "There are a couple ways to make money off of that right now."

"I think that is something we have to discuss over another drink." Seeing the older man's eyebrow rise, Sano continued. "Of regular coffee or water, my mouth is kind of dry after all this talking. Here, I'll pay for the next round." Sliding a 2000 yen note across the table Junichi nodded and stood up to walk to the counter. The younger man stayed sitting at the table and looked contemplatively at the picture on his phone that the reporter had sent to him via text message. The mystery girl and man in the picture were running toward their car, their faces still covered, their coat and cloak trailing behind them.

Undisclosed Location
Yokohama, Kanagawa Prefecture,
Metro Tokyo, Japan
early March, late Tuesday night

Hands worked their way slowly but surely across the keyboard of the laptop as the report was typed. This was certainly not something that had been taught during their religious education, but there was no arguing that this mode of communication was faster and more secure than the previous ones, especially if precautions were taken.

It was no small thing to disobey orders from the Archbishop, but things had gotten beyond their control now. The American girl was manifesting abilities that were spoken in whispers in the halls of their institution, as well as the results. And to paraphrase an American commercial about kosher hot dogs of all things, they answered to a higher authority.

Especially when they were the ones that had to go and clean up the resulting tragedies. The demons summoned were never there when the 'technical advisors' arrived afterwards, but the heavy cloying smell of spilled blood and torn flesh always was.

…the subject has been observed and recorded using spiritual abilities on two different occasions, the second recording being done from concealment. While the quality of the second recording is poor, the physical effects were greater than the previous occasion where the video recording was publicly released…

…while the first incident was concerning due to the use of pagan song, the second incident is even more so since the subject was using prayers and hymns in common usage with greater effect…

…attached to this email are the video and audio recordings in question; please expedite analysis by both the technical and academic experts…

…contact with the subject will continue through the Archbishop. I will continue to stay close to observe and report…

…due to the subject being the legal ward and emotionally close to a non-Christian party with high levels of political influence in this country and on the local officials of the Holy Mother Church itself, I recommend that communications regarding this matter be restricted only to those with the immediate need-to-know….

…please inquire with both the home parish of the subject's previous residence in the United States and with our intelligence agency to get any available information regarding the subject, her legal guardian and her adoptive father.

…if in the gravest extreme it becomes necessary to deal with the subject in a final manner, it is recommended that the quick reaction unit of the technical advisor group be briefed on this situation and subject and be put on standby for travel to this country…

…In the end, God will know His Own…

Rereading the email and making sure the video and audio files were attached, the encryption program was activated. This one was developed in-house with a key that was changed daily; today's key was based on an ancient Greek passage from a theological discourse, one with several misspelled and missing words. Short of the true random number generated one-time pads used by the high level intelligence agencies, this was as unbreakable as they could get.

Once the Latin text on the screen was converted to so much gibberish, a mouse arrow was moved over to the 'Send' button and without hesitation was clicked. When the email was confirmed to be on its way, the online email client was closed, the cellular wi-fi connection to a virtual private network server shut off and the disk scrubber function on the laptop was activated. After that program finished its task, the laptop was finally shutdown, the green light of the screen fading out, leaving the person in the dark for a moment before lighting a candle and starting their prayers before they finally retired for the evening.

A/N 2: I know, too long since the last update. I don't really want to list the excuses again, since most of them are the same as before, with some work stress thrown on top of it. But I'll just keep slogging on, I guess. I wouldn't mind some encouragement (or prayers) from you guys though.

Part of the reason for the delay is because I am writing another lemon to go with the story. I already delayed posting this chapter to try and get it done, but I can't really force myself to write that way, What some of you won't be happy to hear it that it won't be with who you think it should be. If you like vanilla lemons, you'll probably enjoy it, but part of the reason I am doing it is to show Keitaro in a more fallible/human light and less of a Gary Stu. Remember how he turned down the offer of a night with a working girl a chapter or so ago? Most RL men would not, especially with the situation Keitaro is currently in with his GFs. So all I can say is YMMV.

What I will do is keep working on the lemon chapter and post it to once I am done. I will give the notification to my readers in my next chapter update, but if anyone is interested in reading it before then give me a review on this story and ask to notified when the lemon goes up and I will oblige.

As to the reason that Sarah is singing (again), it is mostly to have her poke at Seta as well as demonstrate her abilities. As you have all noticed, Seta is not a very good or responsible parent, even in canon when Sarah was a little kid. In this story he has pretty much given all his parental duties to Keitaro, and everyone there has noticed. Sarah feels gratitude toward Seta for taking her in, but she is not above snarking at him for barely seeing her. That being said, he does feel guilt about what he has done/not done with his adoptive daughter, but not enough to actually make him change.

I also used that song because Tiffany Day, the girl singing it in the YouTube video (the original clip got over 7 million hits!), is pretty damn good, especially when she used that well for echo and reverb. I've listened to other versions of the same song covered by other artists, and I think they can't hold a candle to her version, which I think is even better than the version in Shrek 2. I hope you all enjoyed it as well.

Comments on Sarah's decision, the little history lesson that Keitaro gave and what the Church is doing is always welcome.

This month I really don't have a plug for SAO, unless you want to hear me going on about another scene where Kirito kicks butt and takes names. I started a board at Pinterest to pin a bunch of stuff with the characters from the show, plus some other stuff I find interesting (760 pins so far in my SAO board, 260+ in the Misc board involving girls and guns among other things, and 270+ in the Anime Girls board, which is mostly girls with guns oddly enough, including one where the girl looks like Sarah in PMC gear). Come over and scroll though if you find that kind of thing interesting, and subscribe if you want to see more, my account is under the user name greydoncreed72. When you see my smiling face you will know you've come to the right place.

Congrats to whoisthissinner for identifying Junichi's appearance as that of John Constantine.

Thanks again to AZ MkII, PCH, and WalkerofDarkness for their help in betaing this chapter, and my apologies for not giving them credit last time.

Winner of the Most Unusual Place Reading My Story this month is Costa Rica, where one person read 43 chapters of this story, and the Runner Up is Norway, site of the World Tank Drifting Invitational. Don't believe me? Go on YouTube and look up 'tank drifting in Norway', where 72 ton USMC M1 Abrams battle tanks are shown sliding around corners on ice and snow at high speed. The better ones have music from Initial D added to them.

As of 2300 PST 08Jan18 this story has 433K Words, 911K Views, 1058 Reviews, 1508 Favorites and 1376 Story Alerts.

Thanks again to everyone for reading and have a Happy Belated New Year (and Christmas as well). *peace sign*