Disclaimer: I do not own Love Hina, or anything associated with it. I have written this story solely because I enjoy writing.
Disclaimer: I do not own anything belonging to Marvel Comics or anything associated with it. I have written this story solely because I enjoy writing.
Chapter 7: Shinobu's Confession
What's happening to me...?! Shinobu silently asked, over and over again as she continuously looked back and forth between her own, frail body to Keitaro and back again. Unable to believe that this pale little body that she was now in had once been the shapely, powerfully muscled body that had belonged to the girl that had called herself Jade.
That just a few seconds ago, Shinobu had been Jade. Both in body and soul.
But - how?! Shinobu wailed inwardly as she tried to process the sudden, drastic change that she had just gone through. Why - I - I wasn't - why did I - how -?!
"Shinobu...?!" Keitaro spoke again, the perpetual ronin's expression mirroring the blue-haired girl's own astonished confusion. "You - you're Jade?!"
"No!" Shinobu instinctively protested. Only to wince as she again looked down at herself, at the tattered clothing that the green Amazon had stolen from Naru. At the memories floating through her mind that confirmed that she had been that unstoppable, implacable force of destruction. "I mean - I don't know, sempai! I - I don't understand - I - !"
As Shinobu's voice gave out beneath the enormity of what was happening to her, Keitaro brought his hands to his face, only to run them back over his head as he turned and paced one way, then the other. It was obvious that he felt almost as out of his depth as Shinobu did, and the way he rambled incoherently beneath his breath did nothing to reassure her. "I - oh - okay! Okay!" he finally got out as he turned and bent down to look the girl in the face. "Um - Shinobu...do you...know what happened? I mean...you do remember...Jade, right?"
Shinobu's first impulse was to deny this. She was scared and confused and felt weak and hollowed out, especially after her experiences as Jade. The sheer power that had flowed through her veins, the absolute confidence and fearlessness, all of it gone with her return to her own mind and body. Leaving her to struggle with the memories of what she had done during the time when she had effectively been someone else.
But the truth was that she did remember; she doubted that she would ever forget what she had experienced as Jade. Of having all her fears, self-doubts, insecurities melted away as she had shed the form of Shinobu in favor of the green-skinned Amazon. Of possessing a body that allowed her to act out her desire of protecting Keitaro from his attackers and abusers. Of being able to entice him, of coming so close to...
"I...yes..." Shinobu finally got out, giving a shaky nod as her cheeks colored at the way her thoughts had been drifting. "I...I remember...I..."
"Hey, you don't have to be scared!" Keitaro quickly assured her, though it was clear that he was far from being calm himself. "I'm just...trying to figure this out, that's all. You understand?" Responding with another shaky nod, Shinobu listened intently as the klutzy manager asked, "Now...what happened to you, anyway? How did this...this...?"
"I - I don't know, sempai!" Shinobu sputtered out. "I - after the - Haruka-san and the others...ran off after you..."
"Aunt Haruka was chasing after me as well?!" Keitaro blurted out, his face falling in shock. When Shinobu instinctively nodded in confirmation, the perpetual ronin sagged in dismay. "Oh, no...she must really be mad at me..."
"No, no! Not you!" Shinobu quickly assured him. "She was mad at Naru and the others! She was going after them, not you! She wanted to stop them! Really!" As Keitaro's eyes bulged in clear surprise, the blue-haired girl lowered her gaze somewhat. "Uh...anyway, before she left, Haruka-san told Kitsune to take me to my room, but...she didn't care, sempai! She didn't care that Naru and the others were after you! And later, after I'd - I'd changed, Kitsune was up on the roof with a beer, watching everything and enjoying it! She was acting like -!"
"Shinobu, please! Just and relax!" Keitaro urged her even as some of the rage she had felt from before returned to her. "Now...don't skip ahead or anything. I need you to tell me exactly how this happened. Alright?" When the blue-haired girl nodded once more, he heaved a heavy breath. "Now, you said Kitsune was taking you to your room?"
Nodding once more, Shinobu went on to say, "Yes, but...I didn't want to be with her. She just...didn't care, just...kept acting like what the others were doing to you was nothing..." Again, a spark of anger hit her before she forced herself to continue. "So she went to get a drink, and...I just kept going. But...I was hurting so much and..."
"Ohmigosh, I forgot about that!" Keitaro exclaimed, startling Shinobu into giving him a perplexed look. "Your injuries! I should -!" Then the clumsy manager cut himself as he quickly glanced over the blue-haired girl, scanning her exposed flesh. "Wait - you - you were hurt, and now...!"
"Oh, right!" Shinobu got out, realizing what Keitaro meant. "I...I don't know how it happened, sempai! I - it's like I said! I was hurting and everything, and then...I just couldn't take it anymore! I was so upset about what Naru and the others were doing to you! So I just...started yelling and pounding on the wall, and then -!"
"And...that's when you...changed?" Keitaro gathered. When Shinobu nodded, he asked, "And...is that what healed you?"
"I - yes," Shinobu nodded. "I...Jade...I wasn't really...paying attention to that. All I know is that - all of sudden, I wasn't hurting anymore. I felt so big and powerful, and...I was so mad at them, and -!"
Holding up his hands, Keitaro nodded, "And...that's when you went after them, right?"
"Uh...yeah." Then Shinobu grimaced and added, "I...um...sorta...broke...a few things when I went after them, though."
"Broke a few things?" Keitaro repeated, looking mildly surprised. "What kind of things?"
"Um...like a wall..." Shinobu admitted, squirming about sheepishly. "And...when I saw Kitsune, I - Jade - kinda threw a...tree at her." As Keitaro's eyes bulged in horror, she shrank back from him. "I - didn't actually hit her, sempai! But...I think the tree is still...stuck in the terrace..."
Several seconds passed as Keitaro processed this, only to groan and bring his hand to his forehead. "Oh...I see..." he moaned, doubtlessly imagining the time it would take to make repairs, not to mention the cost of said repairs. Giving a pained shake of his head, the perpetual ronin heaved a weary sigh before again focusing on Shinobu. "So...how did this happen, anyway? I mean...you've never...changed like this before, right?"
"No! Never!" Shinobu immediately protested.
"Then - how did this happen?!" Keitaro demanded. "I mean - people don't just change like this! Something must've caused it!" Pausing to take a long, deep cleansing breath, he gave her a look that was caught between desperation and compassion. "Don't you have...any idea what might have caused you to...?"
"N-no, sempai! I just don't -!" Then realization exploded in Shinobu's mind, causing her to let out a slow gasp before groaning despondently. "Oh, no..."
After a few moments, Keitaro asked, "What? What is it?"
"I...I just remembered something, sempai..." Shinobu got out, again squirming before Keitaro. "I...I think I know how this happened..." As the managed took a sharp intake of air and leaned in closer to study her, she sheepishly began, "You...remember when I went down into Koalla's lab? To find out what she was up to down there?"
"Yeah, I remember." Then his entire face became one big frown as he asked, "Why? Did something happen down there?"
"Umm...yeah..." Shinobu squeamishly admitted. "You remember that green slime that I told you about?" When Keitaro nodded, the blue-haired girl shifted about uneasily. "Well...it's like this..."
"I can't believe this is happening to me...!" Naru wailed for what felt like the umpteenth time. Visibly forcing herself not to fight back as the rescue personnel worked to free her from her humiliating predicament.
Neither can I... Haruka groused inwardly as she watched from a safe distance. For what felt like forever, she had been doing her best to keep Naru from lashing out at her would-be rescuers, using a combination of kind words and outright threats to keep from her lashing out at them even as they liberated her from the cables that suspended her over the streets. So far, they had managed to cut one of her legs free, and were making good progress on the other one. They had managed to wrap a blanket about her, which afforded the volatile brunette some modesty, but did nothing to salvage her pride as people continued to snap pictures and record her humiliation.
Honestly, how can anyone, even Keitaro put up with this kind of bullshit?! Haruka asked herself once more, rolling her eyes at her nephew's idiocy. Even the most hardened masochist alive wouldn't be able to -!
"I see," came the voice of Gai, the police officer that had driven Haruka there. "Well, thanks, dispatch. I'll give her the news." Even as the tea house matron looked about, she saw the wearied officer give her a look that would have soured milk chocolate. "It looks like that crazy bitch's story isn't as crazy as I thought. It turns out that a bunch of people saw this ogre girl running through town. Some folks claim she even threw a car into the top floor of a skyscraper!"
"After seeing some of the stuff I've seen, I wouldn't be surprised," Haruka replied, still unwilling to reveal that she herself had been witness to the green girl and this particular feat. It was painfully obvious that Gai was still having a great deal of difficulty accepting any of this, and given that he had been cooperative and very helpful to her thus far, she didn't want to do anything that might have him lumping her into the same category of crazy as Naru and the others. "What about the other girls? Any sign of them yet?"
"No, no sign of that kendo crazy or that robot freak," Gai admitted. "But I think I should tell you that another girl came down to police headquarters, claiming that this...ogre girl attacked her at the Hinata Inn."
Jolted by this revelation, Haruka looked at the officer with wide-eyed horror. "I-is she alright?!" she quickly asked, fear clenching at her heart as she imagined Shinobu at the mercy of the monstrosity she had seen earlier. "Wh-who was it? Do you know who it was?!"
"Yeah, I know," Gai grumbled irritably. "A bimbo by the name of Mitsune. I've had to pick her up a few times and dump her in the drunk tank." Snorting his disdain, the officer went on to grumble, "According to dispatch, if it weren't for the fact that we've already been getting reports about that ogre girl from credible witnesses, they'd've thought this girl saw that thing in a bottle." A beat passed before he added, "Let's just say she failed the breathalyzer test."
"That sounds like Kitsune," Haruka muttered before focusing on the other issue at hand. "But - did she have anybody else with her? There was one other girl at the Inn; thirteen years old, blue hair..."
"No, the drunk showed up alone," Gai confirmed. "Apparently, that ogre girl put a real scare into her, and she beat it out of the Inn as fast as possible." Growling in disgust at this, Haruka made a mental note to scream loudly and repeatedly at Kitsune for this the next time she saw her when the officer went on to say, "But get this; the drunk came into the station, demanding protection and insisting that we try and find her friends. Apparently, the ogre girl said that she had done something to them, and that after she was done, she would come after the drunk as well."
Frowning slightly, Haruka glanced over at Naru, who was now down on the ground with the rescue workers cutting her arms free of the remaining two cables. "Well, we know that this girl got to Naru at least, so I think it's safe to say that she also got to Motoko and Koalla," she grumbled, feeling not the least bit of sympathy for them. "But that doesn't tell us where they are! Or what happened to my nephew or if Shinobu's safe!" Pausing to consider the matter for a time, Haruka asked, "Has anybody else reported seeing anything happening at the Hinata Inn? Anything strange, or...?"
"'Anything strange?' Ms. Urashima, are you kidding me?!" Gai demanded. "Strange is about the only thing anybody ever sees around there! We got giant robot turtles, psycho samurai wannabes, and your nephew performing his human cannonball act at least once a week, and usually a lot more than that! It's gotten to the point where nobody even bothers calling it in anymore!"
Wincing at the validity of Gai's point, Haruka groaned before again looking over at Naru. "Still...I think we should check the Inn. Make sure that Shinobu's safe, and see if that thing really was there," she soon decided. "Can you drive me over there? Or maybe send a couple officers to check things out?"
"I can take you there myself and look things over. Just as soon as we're done here, and that Naru girl is being carted off to the nearest hospital!" Gai told her, giving the hotheaded brunette a sadistic look of satisfaction.
Nodding to this, Haruka sighed as she looked over Naru. I don't like this. Anybody who can send a car flying that is someone I wouldn't want to pick a fight with. And if she did this to Naru, then... the cafe matron thought, giving a slight shudder. For while Haruka didn't care for the attitudes and antics of the girls Granny Hina had let run wild in the Hinata Inn, that didn't mean she wanted them dead or beaten in this way. I just hope Shinobu's safe! And that Motoko and Koalla aren't any worse off than Naru is!
"So...let me see if I've got this straight," Keitaro began, speaking as carefully as he could as he tried to grasp the situation. "When Koalla's robots malfunctioned, they started attacking each other with tubes of that green stuff." When Shinobu gave a quick nod, he continued with, "And they eventually broke open the tubes, and you got sprayed with it." Again, the blue-haired girl nodded. "Then these other robots came along and cleaned the slime off of you, and that's when you got out of Koalla's lab?"
"I'm sorry I didn't tell you sooner, sempai!" Shinobu hurriedly apologized with a quick bow of her head. "But - I thought I was okay! That is, I felt a little itchy after that, but - that was it!" Then she pressed her lips together, twiddling her fingers as she added, "And...I was afraid if Naru and the others found out about that..."
As Shinobu trailed off, Keitaro nodded, knowing full well what that would have meant for him; Naru Punches and Air-Splitting Swords by the dozen. "I see," he murmured with a thoughtful nod. "I -"
"I really am sorry about all this, sempai!" Shinobu pleaded sadly. "If - if I'd known this would happen, I..."
"Hey, that's alright. You couldn't have known! How could any of us have seen this coming?!" Keitaro assured her. When Shinobu continued to kneel there, a look of sadness and shame on her face, the perpetual ronin decided to move on. "Look...we'll take care of this. I don't know how, but...we'll find some way to take care of everything. But...for right now, I still have a few more questions that I need to ask you." Watching as the blue-haired girl nodded, he took a breath before proceeding. "Now...what happened out there? You - Jade told me about what happened when she fought Naru and the others, but you - she didn't say what she did with them after it was over. And..." Trailing off into a groan as he gestured at the ruined garments that Shinobu currently wore, he cleared his throat before taking a different tact. "So...what happened to the others? And what about Kitsune? Did...Jade, did she...?"
"Uh, no! I - Jade - didn't do anything to Kitsune! At least, not after - you know...the tree?" As Keitaro nodded, again wincing as he thought of what this latest batch of repairs would do to the Hinata Inn's budget, Shinobu proceeded with, "When she - I - brought you back here, Kitsune...she was already gone! I guess she must've...run off somewhere."
Can't say I can blame her for that! Keitaro thought with ill humor, recalling full well the powerful build Shinobu had sported as Jade, as well as her gleeful narration as to how she had bested Naru and the others in battle. "So what about Naru, Motoko, and Koalla?" he asked worriedly. "Jade - she didn't...hurt them, did she?"
The way Shinobu winced at this did not say good things to Keitaro. "Ugh...well...she didn't...hurtthem any more than she...already had..." she hesitantly replied, setting off more alarm bells in his mind. "But...I - she...wanted to...pay them back for...always hurting you, so...she decided to...punish them..."
"Punish them? How?" Keitaro asked, growing more alarmed. "Where are they?"
"Well...Jade, she...left Naru at some street crossing - I don't remember which one," Shinobu admitted, looking increasingly anxious. "When she...got there, she...ripped down the cables for the stoplights. Then she..."
When Shinobu paused to gulp loudly, Keitaro's bad feeling increased several times over. "Then she...what?"
Shifting about on the floor, unable to meet the ronin's gaze, Shinobu again gulped. "She...strung Naru up with them by her...wrists and ankles. And...left her there...naked..." she confessed in a small voice, causing Keitaro's eyes to bulge. "The last I - Jade - saw of her, a bunch of people were snapping pictures of her and...other stuff..."
As his imagination painted the image of such an event in his mind, Keitaro fell backwards in shock. "She did what?!"
"I'm sorry!" Shinobu pleaded of him, practically falling to her hands and knees as she bowed her head. "I - I didn't...!"
Wincing at the sight of the kindly girl effectively groveling for forgiveness, Keitaro felt his stomach tying itself in knots as he waved his hands in negation. "No no no, you don't have to do that!" he sputtered out. "Nobody's blaming you for this! Honestly! I'm just...trying to figure out what's going on, that's all!" When Shinobu remained on her hands and knees, he took a moment to look at her, remind himself that Naru was nowhere around to pummel him for something that wasn't what it looked like, and gently placed his hands on the blue-haired girl's shoulders. "Look, I'm sorry. I'm not trying to make you feel bad or anything," he vowed as Shinobu looked up to meet his gaze. "But - while what's happening isn't your fault, you're the only one who has any idea what happened to the others. And...well, if they're...hurt or something, I need your help to find them. So...please, Shinobu..."
Several seconds passed as Shinobu looked up at Keitaro, her eyes watering somewhat. "I...I'm sorry, sempai. I didn't mean to..."
"I know you didn't," Keitaro assured her in as gentle a manner as he could. "But...please. What happened to Motoko and Koalla? Are they alright?"
Several seconds passed before a drop of sweat rolled down Shinobu's face. "Um...well, they're okay..." she replied, averting her eyes. "But...well..."
"Oh...owies..." Koalla groaned miserably as she slowly rose up to consciousness. With the first thing she became aware of being the monstrous headache that was thundering within her skull. "The big green meanie...what did she - huh?!" The exuberant princess tried to massage her throbbing temple, only to realize that she couldn't move. Surprise spurring her to consciousness, Koalla forced her eyes open, and quickly gasped in shock.
The first thing she noticed was that she was presently surrounded by mountains of scrap metal. Wrecked cars, ruined appliances, and other forms of metallic refuse all piled up as far as the eye could see. It was quite easily one of the most depressing sights that the youthful inventor could have imagined. "Ugh...this place is nasty!" Koalla grumbled as she continued to look about, taking stock of her situation. "But - where - ack!"
One look down was all it took for Koalla to realize why she had been unable to massage her aching head; a large section of pipe had been wrapped about her upper body, pinning her arms to her sides. With this realization returning her to full awareness, she looked down to find herself seated on a large, metal disk of some kind. Then she looked up to see a large, thick cable behind her, one that led up to a large crane.
"Oh, a crane with a magnet!" Koalla realized, continuing to glance about. "That must be what they use to move stuff around here!" Turning as best as she could, she looked down at the machine itself, and more importantly at the cab. "Um, excuse me! Is anybody in there?" When no one responded to her plea, she took a breath and tried again. "Please? I'd really like to get out of heres!"
Again, there was no response. Nothing to indicate that there was anyone manning the crane, or anywhere in earshot. "Oh...guess nobody's here..." Koalla groaned in dismay. "Too bad I didn't bring any gadgets that could -"
The loud rumbling of her stomach cut Koalla off, causing her eyes to pop wide open in dismay. "Oh, no...my stomach's getting rumbly!" the active blonde groaned, once again looking about. Only to find that there wasn't anything that even remotely resembled food anywhere within view, let alone within reach. "Aww...can't anybody hear me?!"
Koalla's pitiful wail echoed throughout the scrap yard, but there was no response to her plea for help. No knight in shining armor coming to her rescue, no sign of Motoko, no policemen or anything.
"Aww...!" Koalla groaned once again, only to furrow her brows as she thought of the one who had to be responsible for her present predicament. "That big green meanie! Why'd she have to leave me here?! It's so boring and there's no one to play with and not even anything to eat!" Her frustrated grumblings were met by yet another growl from her protesting stomach. Growls that she wasn't able to do anything about. "Oh, please! Can't somebody help me?! I'm bored and hungry and lonely and I hate this stupid place!"
Again, there was no answer to Koalla's pleas. Leaving her nothing to do but to continue to wail helplessly.
"Jade...left Koalla...tied to a crane magnet in the middle of the old scrap yard?!" Keitaro gaped in utter astonishment.
"Um...that's...right, sempai..." Shinobu admitted with considerable reluctance. "She...figured that a place filled with nothing but broken machines would be the last place Koalla would want to be, so..."
Unable to argue against the logic of this and not wanting to say or do anything that might make Shinobu feel any worse, Keitaro decided to stick to business. "And...Motoko? What did she do with her?"
Shinobu again groaned miserably. "Uh...well..."
The first thing Motoko became aware of as she made the difficult journey back to the waking world was the monstrous pain throbbing in her head. Groaning fitfully as she brought her hand to her temple, she massaged her aching head as she instinctively propped herself up into a seated position. "Oh...where...am I? What -?"
Even as she asked these questions, memories washed through Motoko's mind. An instant later, she was fully awake even as her eyes flew open. "The demon!" she gasped in shock, immediately whipping her gaze this way and that, searching for any sign of her foe. "Where is she?! I'll -!"
Then the sword mistress realized that the muscle-bound green fiend was nowhere in sight. And more to the point, neither was the place she had faced that monstrosity. Instead, Motoko found herself in a rocky area, filled with numerous ponds and areas of sand. There was no apparent signs of civilization, or that there was anyone else around.
"That demon...she must've dumped me here..." Motoko mused as she pushed herself back up to her feet. "Wherever here is."
As Motoko studied her surroundings, the first thing she did was take stock of her situation. As she looked herself over, she quickly discovered that her kimono jacket and hamaka were in tatters. The sleeves and pants legs had been torn off, and much fabric had been ripped away from the area of her bodice, rendering her once proud garment looking like something a whore would wear. "That green fiend..." she muttered, clenching her fist as she brought her other hand up to the finishing touch to her disgrace; the noble blade of Shisui, still wrapped about her throat. "First she disgraces me, then defiles Shisui, and then the uniform of the Shinmei-Ryu...!" she hissed furiously, tears welling up as she shook her head, scarcely able to comprehend the depths of her dishonor. "How...dare she...!"
For a long, terrible time, Motoko wanted little more than to fall to her knees and collapse into tears. As she fingered the ruined weapon that still hung about her neck like a noose, she found herself flashing back to the day when her sister Tsuriko had trusted Motoko with her favorite sword before embarking on missions for the Shinmei-Ryu Dojo. Since that day, she had carried Shisui with pride, never allowing herself to be without it. It was more than a weapon to her. It was the symbol of her pride as a warrior, of her honor. And now...
No. Shisui is bent, not broken, Motoko solemnly reminded herself. If I can get it off of me, there's always a chance it can be repaired. Can see battle again. Then she glanced down at her ruined garments, she scowled. And clothes...they can be replaced. I've damaged my garments in the past, and it will likely happen again in the future. I can replace these rags. I can restore Shisui. I can reclaim my honor. As the swordswoman fueled her anger over the depravity she had been subjected to, she thought of the arrogant, malicious demon that was responsible for the sorry state of her prized weapon, her clothes, and her honor. Can claim vengeance on that filthy monstrosity...
But before she could do that, Motoko would first have to get back to the Hinata Inn. Which meant that she had to discover where she was, or at least get to someplace where the terrain was familiar or she could ask for her location. So even as she narrowed her eyes in hatred for the creature that had so disgraced her, her school, and her weapon, she started forward. The terrain was somewhat rough, with several large boulders amidst the ponds and other natural obstructions, but it would not deter her. Nothing would stop her from redeeming herself.
Before the kendo practitioner could go more than half a dozen steps, however, a raised voice was heard in the distance. Sucking in a gasp, Motoko instinctively froze and began looked about, scanning for the source of the voice. For if the emerald oni had returned, or some other form of hostile was coming her way, she did not want them to see her.
Not that I'd ever want anyone to see me like this! Motoko grimaced, tensing for action. Waiting and watching as the voice grew louder and more distinct. Still...if it is that demon...!
Images of the brutal savagery she had already endured dancing in her mind, Motoko waited and carefully listened. "- and I hope you enjoy your trip through the nature preserve of the Hinata Zoo!" came the voice. A voice that was most definitely not that of the arrogant emerald fiend. "Let me direct your attention to your right, where you can see some of our big cats! Lions, tigers, and jaguars, oh my!"
Letting out a sigh of relief as she realized that it was not the green demon, or any other hostile, Motoko very nearly mopped her brow. I am in no condition for combat. Not like this, and - Then her eyes popped open as the voice's words registered with her. Wait...I'm at the Hinata Zoo?! At this realization, the swordswoman glanced about at her surroundings. Then...I must be in one of the enclosures! With the animals!
Now Motoko was doubly concerned. While she was adept at unarmed combat, she was nowhere near her peak, having recently been pushed to her limits by her battle with the green fiend. To make matters even worse, she had no idea what animals were in the enclosure the demon had apparently left her in. The man speaking - he must be the guide for a tour - he mentioned big cats! At this, the tattered martial artist again glanced about her surroundings. That means...this might be their enclosure!
As Motoko considered this dread possibility, the more likely it became in her mind. The demon said that she had other plans for us, she thought, recalling the green beast's words before she had knocked the swordswoman unconscious. Apparently, she intended to make our ends slow and painful, and likely as humiliating as possible. So she dropped me her at the zoo, in the hopes that whatever predators here will do her dirty work.
As much as Motoko was disgusted by this glaringly dishonorable tactic, she had to admit that there was a good chance that the demon's hopes were not without base. This raised the stakes considerably, and made it that much more important that she escape her predicament as quickly as possible. Crouching low to the ground, making certain to keep her senses keened for any sign of an approaching predator, the kendo practitioner crept forward, taking advantage of every bit of cover she could find. Passing a small pond, she then made her way to a nearby boulder and pressed herself against it, doing her best to remain undetected by any predatory beasts that might be present.
Let's see now...this is a zoo, which means that, whatever they keep in here, they must have some means of feeding it, as well as tending it when it is sick, Motoko reasoned as she continued to scan her surroundings. Which means that there has to be a way for zoo personnel to get in and out! All I have to do is find it, and then - huh?!
Something was wrong, and as focused as Motoko was on scanning for an exit and potential threats, it took her several seconds to realize what that something was; the boulder she was pressed against was moving. Once she realized this, the tensed warrior flung herself away from it and looked up, certain that this movement meant a predator or some other danger. But even as she braced herself for a potential attack, Motoko realized that there was nothing in sight. No big cat, no other form of predator. Nothing was moving the rock...except for the rock itself.
As Motoko wrestled with this impossibility, she stared incredulously at the large boulder. Only to suck in a gasp as she realized that there were now four legs sticking out of the boulder's sides. "Huh?!" she squawked, too confused and upset to make sense of this. "But - is that -?!"
Even as she was reaching a dread conclusion, Motoko continued to stare fearfully, hoping against hope that she was wrong. Only to have her worst fears confirmed when a reptilian head emerged from the boulder to look at her. Eyes narrowing at her even as a beaked mouth opened, making a sound of annoyance.
It was hideous. Horrific. An abomination. A nightmare made real. Even more terrifying than the green fiend that had crushed Motoko's honor.
And it was staring right at her.
"T-t-turtle!" Motoko shrieked in abject horror, hurriedly backpedaling from the large reptile. Completely out of her mind with terror, she distanced herself from the tortoise until she wound up falling backwards into a nearby pond.
Stunned by the sudden shock of cold and the wetness, Motoko instantly closed her mouth. Only for her eyes to widen sharply when she saw a couple of turtles swimming lazily in the pond. Then one of them glanced her way. Upon taking notice of this strange intruder, the turtle angled itself to investigate.
The instant she saw that the repugnant reptile approaching, Motoko expelled all the air she had in her lungs in one mortifying scream before virtually flying out of the water. Coming to her feet on dry land, the martial artist then whirled towards the pond, gasping for air. She continued to back away, only to back into what felt like a large, smooth stone. Already badly shaken by her earlier encounters, she quickly turned to look at this latest obstruction. And discovered to her mortification that it was another, even larger tortoise.
"Myah?" the tortoise sounded as it looked at this strange intruder.
"AAAAAaaaaaahhhhh!" Motoko shrilled, now too scared to so much as back away. "What is this awful place?!"
As if somehow acting in response to Motoko's scream, the voice she had heard earlier sounded once more. "And over here on your left you'll see our next exhibit. Get ready to enjoy...the wonderful world of turtles!"
This was all the prompting Motoko needed to shriek in horror. I'm in the turtle exhibit?! That miserable, evil, hateful demon left me in the turtle exhibit?! she cried out inwardly, wildly searching for any means of escape. She couldn't have left me to be eaten?! She had to subject me to even more disgrace?! She -?! But just as the martial artist was losing herself to utter and complete madness, salvation came within view; a long, segmented touring cart, loaded with tourists who were snapping pictures and recording videos of what they saw. Even now, she could see and hear the man driving the cart telling the happy customers all about the hideous denizens of the turtle exhibit.
Under normal circumstances, Motoko would have refused to go anywhere near that tour troop. Even if she had been locked in there with the largest of predators, she would have gladly hidden and waited for them to pass before trying to make her way out. It was already bad enough that she had been so thoroughly disgraced. She would have died before allowing anyone else to see her in her current sorry state, let alone risk having her disgrace being immortalized by them.
But Motoko wasn't locked away with predators. She was trapped with turtles. And in her mind, there was nothing more terrifying than that. So without a single thought as to the shame she was about to bring down upon herself, she leapt up into the sky, and started running towards the tour group while still in mid-air.
The trip through the turtle enclosure seemed to last an eternity, and that eternity was fraught with absolute terror. It was as if, now that she knew where she was, Motoko saw turtles everywhere she went. She bumped into them, fell into the water with them, tripped over them, and very nearly collided with them. And each encounter sent Motoko screaming in yet another direction, requiring her to constantly adjust her course so that she was again fleeing towards the tour group and the boundary of the enclosure.
Finally, with freedom for this horrible place finally in sight, Motoko's ears pricked at an inhuman voice going, "Myuh!"
What?! Motoko cried out inwardly, freezing with fear. A drop of sweat rolling down her face as she purpled with even deeper fright, she thought, No...it can't be! Not that as well!
"Oh, look, everyone! We're in luck!" came the tour guide's voice, completely at odds with Motoko's unspeakable terror. "There's a cast of those little wonders of nature, the hot springs turtle!"
"Myuh!" came the voice once more, and this time, Motoko was unable to keep herself from looking.
Then it was all she could do not to pass out in sheer fright.
The voice was indeed that of the hot springs turtle, the same species as Tama, the pet in residence of the Hinata Inn. But as indicated, this hot springs turtle was not alone; there had to be at least a dozen of them, possibly more, moving towards Motoko, beaming happily. The swordswoman could practically see little heart-shapes surrounding them as they closed in on her.
And they were closing in very fast. Courtesy of the fact that the hot springs turtle just happened to be able to fly.
"Myuh myuh!" the lead hot springs turtle gushed as it and its fellows soared happily towards Motoko.
"NOOOOOOOOOOOOO!" Motoko shrieked, what little sanity she had left abandoning her. Without as much as a thought, she shot towards the tour group, fearfully aware of the cast of turtles happily pursuing her. "Get me outta here!"
Motoko was aware of almost nothing. Virtually everything had been obliterated by the mind-crushing terror she was experiencing. All she knew aside from that was that the hot springs turtles were closing in from behind, and that the tour group was growing closer. Even as she fled her personal nightmare, tourists were taking notice of her approach and pointing at her.
Yes! Yes! Here I am! Motoko pleaded to them, begging in her mind to be rescued from this hellish place. Just wait a few moments, and I'll -!
Motoko's pleas were brought up short just as she about to reach the tour group...and was reminded of one very important fact about the Hinata Zoo's enclosures; that they were all fenced off with plexiglass.
Just before she could reach the tour group that had looked like salvation in her panic, Motoko crashed face-first into the plexiglass wall that kept the animals in and the tourists out. Her mind filled with stars and comets from the force of the impact, the swordswoman groaned in pain as she sank down against the transparent wall. Mildly aware of the tourists snapping pictures of her disgrace and the turtles swooping down upon her just before she sank back down into unconsciousness.
"She...ripped up Motoko's clothes..." Keitaro gasped, his eyes rounding as Shinobu described Motoko's punishment at Jade's hands, "...and dumped her in the turtle exhibit at the Hinata Zoo...?!"
Even more uncomfortable than before, Shinobu eventually nodded. "Uh...yeah..." she admitted, sweat rolling down her face. "I - she - remembered how Motoko was when we...had her try on those...fancy outfits. You...remember that...right, sempai?" Issuing a groan of confirmation, Keitaro slowly nodded as the blue-haired girl went on to say, "So...Jade ripped up Motoko's clothes so that they...looked like a skirt and everything, and made her sword look like a bow and ribbon. And...we all know how scared Motoko is of turtles. So..."
"So...Jade decided...that locking her up with turtles would be a good way of getting back at her..." Keitaro breathed, unable to believe he was hearing this.
It was getting harder and harder for Keitaro to believe that Shinobu and Jade were in fact the same person, despite having just seen the latter change into the former. The two of them were so drastically different from one another; Shinobu was so sweet, meek, and mild-tempered, while Jade had been loud, confident, and aggressive.
Then again...Koalla changed a lot when she became her adult self, so... Keitaro thought, reminding himself of another bit of the insanity of his life. Then he pushed the matter away and returned his focus to the current situation. "And...after all of that...that's when you - Jade - brought me back here?"
"That's right," Shinobu confirmed, pausing to swallow a lump of bile in her throat. "I know I - she - should've brought you back right away, sempai, but - Jade - she was really mad, and...didn't want them to try and hurt you, and..." As her voice fell beneath the weight of her words, tears billowed up in the blue-haired girl's eyes as she reached out and wrapped her arms about Keitaro. "Oh, sempai, I'm so sorry! I never meant for -!"
"No no no, you don't have to apologize!" Keitaro assured her, pausing just a moment to remind him that nobody was going to send him into Low Earth Orbit for touching a girl before returning Shinobu's embrace. Doing his best to convey as much comfort as he could, he simply held onto the blue-haired girl for a long time, saying nothing as her tears socked his shirt, as her fearful sobs filled the room. Saying nothing and doing nothing but allowing her to vent her grief, shame, and misery.
When at last Shinobu's sobbing subsided somewhat, Keitaro sighed and loosened his grip on her, adjusting his position so as to look her in the face. "Look...Shinobu...this isn't your fault. If anything, it's mine. You went down into Koalla's lab to find out what was going on, when it's supposed to be my job to take care of everything here."
"But - no! Sempai, you shouldn't have to deal with her!" Shinobu hurriedly protested. "I - you should have heard Koalla when I was talking to her in her lab! She - she said that she wished you'd try and sneak in there so she could shoot you! Blowing people up and stuff, it's all a game to her, and - and -!"
"I know. Koalla, she..." Keitaro began, trying to find some way of phrasing it. Only to frown somewhat as he ran down the various possibilities. Simply chalking up her antics to exuberance or being overly excitable didn't work, especially not in light of what had happened when Kimiaki and Masayuki snuck into her lab. And there was no way he could excuse her idea of 'playtime' as being harmless, especially not after being on the receiving end of an especially vicious helping of particle beams, machinegun fire, and missiles. All of which the Molmol girl happily considered harmless fun.
"She's...difficult to deal with," Keitaro finally said, deciding that this was as a good a way of politely phrasing it as any. "But - anyway, I...I'm not mad at you or anything, Shinobu! I swear, I'm not!" Then he gave her a kindly smile before going on to add, "If anything...I should be thanking you for what you - Jade - did."
This stopped Shinobu's misery instantly. Even her tears seemed to freeze in their trek down her face as she gazed at him in slack-jawed amazement. "What...?" she murmured in low amazement. "But - sempai, she - I -!"
"Don't get me wrong; what Jade did - torturing the others, kidnapping them, trying them up and all that...that was wrong," Keitaro explained to her, his voice more certain now. "She went way too far in trying to deal with them. I understand that she did what she did in order to protect me, but - it should have stopped there. She could have gotten me away from Naru and the others, but instead, she attacked them. And that - that's wrong." With each word, Shinobu's face fell a little more, until she was staring at the floor. At which point he smiled reassuringly and added, "But - I also know that...while she may have gone about it the wrong way, that Jade - you - was just trying to help me. To keep me safe." Waiting as Shinobu slowly met his gaze once more, he smiled reassuringly and added, "And...I really do appreciate it."
Her eyes widening in astonishment, Shinobu simply rested in Keitaro's arms for a long time before sniffing and smiling. "R-really?"
"Really," Keitaro assured her. "Like I said, she went too far, but...I'm sure whatever was happening, it was a side-effect of this...this transformation. And that's definitely not your fault." Continuing to cradle Shinobu, he then moved to wipe the tears from her face. "Now, please stop crying! You don't have anything to feel guilty about! We'll...figure this out, Shinobu! We'll take care of Naru and the others, deal with Jade, and...we'll make it alright. I promise, we'll make it alright!"
The result was immediate; Shinobu broke out in a smile of clear, extraordinary relief even as she sniffed again. "Th-thanks, sempai..." But even as Keitaro was congratulating himself for successfully salving the young girl's guilty conscience, she frowned and asked, "But...how?"
This completely threw Keitaro, who could only blink in confusion. "Huh?"
"How're we gonna deal with...Jade?" Shinobu hesitantly tried again. "We - we don't know what was in that slime of Koalla's, or how it works or anything! And...Koalla's the only one who might know what it did to me, and...if we told her, then...!"
It didn't take Keitaro long to realize where she was going with this, at which he grimaced. Koalla was the only person who likely had any clue as to how the green slime had affected Shinobu, and she was also someone that they couldn't afford to tell about it. Both Jade's and Shinobu's accounts had made it clear that Koalla would have a great deal to be angry about when they finally tracked her down, as would Naru and Motoko. And given the Molmol girl's big mouth, telling her of Shinobu's condition would be as good as telling the rest of the world. And if Naru and Motoko get mad at me for tripping or saying the wrong, then what will they do to Shinobu if they ever found out...?
Keitaro couldn't even finish this dread thought, and to his mortification, he didn't even have to. His imagination gladly provided a montage of horrific images drawn from his disastrous past experiences of how Naru, Motoko, and Koalla would seek vengeance for what Jade had done to them. And it did so with Shinobu as herself, not the powerful Amazon that was more than capable of defending herself.
Blanching at this horrific montage, Keitaro grimaced before trying to think of a way around this. Several seconds passed as he forced himself to think, before he finally came up with something. "I - well, the first thing we need to do is...we need to tell Aunt Haruka about this." When Shinobu sucked in a surprised gasp, the perpetual ronin went on to explain, "We can't let Naru and the others find out that you - that you were Jade. I don't know what they'd do if they did, but I don't want to find out." A beat passed before the blue-haired girl blanched and gave a shaky nod. "Well, I'm sure that Aunt Haruka will help cover for you, and she can help us or the police find Naru and the others and get them out of the messes Jade left them in. Once all that's done, we can get to work on dealing with Jade."
Pressing her lips together in a manner that betrayed her nervousness, Shinobu eventually nodded. "Well...o-okay, sempai."
Nodding in response, Keitaro then focused on the first order of business. "Okay, then. I'll call Aunt Haruka, tell her to get back here as soon as possible. So..." Then he paused to study Shinobu, as well as Naru's ill-fitting clothes that Jade had basically ruined. "Why don't you go to your room and get changed?"
"Huh? Oh, right!" Shinobu bleated, her cheeks coloring as she turned towards the door. But before she exited, she paused and glanced back at Keitaro, asking, "Um...you'll get me when Haruka-san comes, right?"
"Of course," Keitaro nodded, smiling in a reassuring way. "Now, go on. I'll take care of things from here."
Giving a quick bow of her head, Shinobu exited Keitaro's room, leaving the hapless manager to make his way downstairs to make the needed calls. But as he did, he couldn't help but flash back to a short while ago, when Shinobu had been another person altogether. To the body she had worn.
I wonder if Shinobu will wind up looking anything like Jade when she grows up? Keitaro found himself thinking, recalling full well the green Amazon's stupendous figure, the way her ample breasts had strained Naru's shirt to the limit. I mean...I doubt she'd be as muscular or anything, but...the rest of it...wow. Wincing as he felt his body reacting to that succulent image, he then gave a quick shake of his before returning his focus to the task at hand. One thing's for sure; Shinobu's going to make someone very happy one of these days...
"So they've found Motoko?" Haruka gathered as she sat in Gai's patrol car, watching as the officer replace the radio receiver.
"Apparently," Gai returned, a smug smile clinging to his lips. "A girl matching her description was found at the Hinata Zoo turtle exhibit. She was running around like a loon before she knocked herself out, running face-first into a plexiglass wall!" A badly-suppressed chuckle escaping his lips, the officer continued to drive along the streets, heading towards the Hinata Inn. "They've got an ambulance heading there now."
"Good," Haruka nodded, getting a bad feeling about this. "That just leaves Koalla to track down, and my idiot nephew."
"Well, it shouldn't be too hard," Gai assured her in utter confidence. "It's safe to say that that ogre girl was the one who dumped thet kendo nut at the zoo, same as she did with Naru. All we have to do is track her movements, and we'll find the other two, no problem."
Haruka couldn't argue with that. From what she had been able to understand and what she had seen herself, it was obvious that the green Amazon didn't care overmuch about keeping a low profile. As long as there had been someone around to witness her comings and goings, it wouldn't take much effort to figure out where she had been and where she had disappeared to. And with any luck, that would allow them to track down Koalla and Keitaro without any real difficulty.
But where did this girl come from?! And why did she attack the girls?! Haruka couldn't help but wonder, having been given considerable time to ask some nagging questions this situation raised. From what Naru said, it sounds like this green girl is doing this to protect Kei-kun, but why?! How does she know him?! And why would she string Naru up that way and dump Motoko at the zoo?! In the turtle exhibit, of all places?!
No matter how Haruka considered the matter, there was only one way that it added up; that this green woman somehow knew both Keitaro and the others. She had known he was in danger, and thus had rushed off to his defense. And the way she had dealt with the girls not only showed a great deal of hatred, but even more knowledge. This girl set out to humiliate Naru, and she knew exactly how to do it... Haruka thought with a furrowed brow. And Motoko...the only people who know about her fear of turtles are myself, Kei-kun, and the rest of the girls. And, well...I guess her sister would know about it as well, but still...how did this girl know about that? Because only someone who did know would decide to leave Motoko where she did!
All of which led to one conclusion; that this green girl had to know Keitaro and the rest of the people at the Hinata Inn intimately well. And since Haruka was certain that her nephew hadn't befriended any green-skinned muscle girls at cram school, then the only thing that made sense was that this girl wasn't always green. And that scares me...because I've recently seen someone with green eyes! Someone who shouldn't have them! the cafe owner thought, recalling the incident that had apparently set this entire mad situation into motion. Damn...I sure hope I'm wrong about that...!
Desperately hoping that she was imagining things, Haruka was brought back to the moment when Gai announced, "Well, there it is; the Hinata Inn." As the cafe owner looked up and saw that he was correct, the police officer drove up as close as he could to the main stairway. Once he had put his car in park, he leaned in close to Haruka and smiled wryly. "You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy. We must be cautious."
Recognizing the reference, Haruka rolled her eyes. "Cute," she muttered as she got out of the car, with Gai quick to follow. "Just be sure to watch out for anything green. Because I know I don't want to wind up like Naru did."
"Don't worry, I'll be careful. Though to be honest...I feel like I owe this ogre girl a big thanks." When Haruka stared at the officer in surprise, Gai admitted, "After all this time, putting up with these crazies while they do go around, doing whatever stupid thing they want? I have to admit that it's nice to know that karma finally decided to stick it to them!"
Despite the fact that she honestly couldn't blame Gai for feeling this way, Haruka curtly retorted, "I just hope that karma didn't stick it to Shinobu. Or my nephew, for that matter." Watching as this statement sobered the officer, the cafe matron took a deep breath before turning her gaze towards the Inn. "C'mon. Let's just -"
The sound of Haruka's cell phone caused her to fall silent, save for an annoyed grumble. "Ugh...who could be calling now?!" she wondered, glaring irately at the phone, sorely tempted to just ignore it.
"You better answer that," Gai suggested, seeming to read Haruka's mind. Or at the very least, her sour expression. "It could be your nephew. Or one of the girls."
Glancing over at the police officer, Haruka soon decided that he had a valid point, and with a sigh of reluctance, reached into her pocket and pulled out her phone. Snapping it open and pressing the right button, she muttered, "Hello?"
"Au- I mean, Haruka!" came Keitaro's voice, rife with excitement.
"Kei-kun!" Haruka gaped, so overcome with surprised relief that she actually missed how close he had come to using the wrong word with her. "How - where the hell are you?!"
"I'm back at the Hinata Inn!" Keitaro announced, further surprising the teashop owner. "I - uh - it's a really long story, and -!"
"Wait a second - you're here?! At the Inn?!" Haruka demanded, more than a little shocked and not liking it in the least. "When did that happen?!"
"I said it was a long story, and -!" Then Keitaro cut himself off, a frown decorating his next words. "Wait...you said 'here'...does that mean -?"
"I'm at the base of the stairs, leading up to the Inn," Haruka announced, gazing up to the edifice in question. "But - wait. Keitaro, is Shinobu in there? Is she alright?"
There was a distinct pause, followed by a noise that Haruka had heard coming from Keitaro's throat in times of uncertainty. "Well...yeah. Shinobu's - well, she's in her room," he hesitantly responded. Even as alarm bells went off in the Urashima woman's mind, her nephew continued with. "Look, uh...there's something really important I need to talk to you about." A beat passed before he added, "In private."
The alarm bells suddenly turned into klaxons warning of an impending iceberg. Something bad was going down, something that Keitaro wanted to keep under wraps, and Haruka did not like it. Pausing to glance at Gai, she frowned slightly. The police officer was no idiot; if she tried to get him to leave without properly checking things out after spending so much time being concerned and wanting the police here, then he would be the one with alarm bells going off in his mind. "We can talk later, Keitaro," Haruka declared in a no-nonsense manner. "But I should warn you that the police have been hearing a lot of bad things lately, and they want some answers!"
"Wait - the police are here?!" Keitaro cried out in clear alarm. "I - no! I can't -!"
"We can talk about it later, Keitaro! I'll be up in a few minutes!" Haruka declared before snapping her phone shut.
Watching as Haruka returned her phone, Gai raised an eyebrow before asking, "Do I even want to know what that was about?"
"Just me straightening my idiot nephew out," Haruka replied. "He claims that he and Shinobu are here, and perfectly fine. But...well, I'd still feel better if I was sure that green girl wasn't anywhere around. Would you mind looking around the premises while I check in with my nephew?"
A beat passed before Gai shrugged. "Sure, why not?" he finally replied. "Couldn't hurt to look this place over."
Pausing to watch as the police officer made his way up the stairs, one hand on his gun, Haruka nodded to herself before heading up towards the Inn as well. When they reached the level of the Inn, Gai went off to the left while the cafe owner entered the Inn. Almost as soon as she had entered, Keitaro appeared before her. "Aunt Haruka, please!" he pleaded to her. "We - we can't have the police here! We -!"
"And we can't just get rid of them, either," Haruka countered, not willing to let herself be distracted even for the length of time needed to remind Keitaro not to call her aunt. "Not without attracting a lot of attention. Especially since Kitsune already ran off to the police station to let them know that a certain green girl tried to skewer her with a tree!" Sucking in a breath at this, Keitaro seemed to sag in defeat at this. Satisfied that she had made her point, the elder Urashima moved on. "Now, look. Officer Yamada is outside right now, conducting a quick investigation of the area. Which means that you have five minutes to give me the gist of what's going on here, and why you don't want the police here. So I suggest you don't waste any time."
Keitaro opened his mouth, clearly prepared to protest this. But before he could say word one, Haruka skewered him with a look, and the perpetual ronin sagged in clear defeat. "Oh...okay..." Then Keitaro did something that surprised the tea house matron. Her quickly recovered, his features hardening slightly as he gazed at her. "But - Haruka...you have to promise me that, whatever happens, you won't tell the police about what I'm about to tell you! Or Naru or Motoko or anyone else!"
The urgency in Keitaro's voice caused the alarms in Haruka's mind to go off once more. For someone who perpetually allowed himself to be made into a doormat for virtually anyone, the fact that he was actually standing up to her both impressed her, and made clear just how serious this situation had to be.
Taking a brief time to consider Keitaro's request, Haruka frowned before responding. "I'm not gonna promise that, Kei-kun. Not without knowing what it is you want to tell me about." When the perpetual ronin opened his mouth to protest, she held up her hand and continued. "I will, however, promise not to tell anybody without first discussing it with you."
It was clear from the look on his face that Keitaro was not satisfied with this. Grimacing as he tried to protest, only to wind up spouting several bungled attempts at speech as he glanced around Haruka, obviously searching for any sign of the police. Clearly caught between his own worries and the fact that he had no idea how long he had until Gai showed up, Keitaro sagged in defeat once more. "Well, alright..." he finally conceded. He looked like he was about to make some additional demand, but then shook his head somberly before turning. "Uh, follow me, and..."
Nodding as her nephew trailed off, Haruka fell instep behind Keitaro. Watching as he walked with a distinct sense of urgency, she followed closely behind, until at last he stopped in front of one of the rooms and knocked on the door. "Shinobu?" he called out in a mild, gentle voice. "Uh...Au- Haruka's here."
"O-okay," Shinobu replied, her voice so shaky that it sounded like she was going to fall apart. Pausing once to glance in Haruka's direction, Keitaro sighed in a way that sounded like he was consigning his soul to the afterlife before sliding the door open.
As soon as the door was open, Haruka looked in to see Shinobu standing before her, carefully studying the floor before hesitantly glancing up at the cafe owner. "H-h-hello...Haruka-san..."
"Shinobu?" Haruka frowned as the alarm bells once again went off in her mind. Only this time, it took much longer for her to realize what the problem was; the blue-haired girl no longer showed any sign of the injuries she had sustained when Keitaro had been Naru Punched right into her. No bruises, no lacerations, none of the injuries she had seen her nephew so carefully treat and bandage.
Somehow, in the short time since Haruka had taken off after Naru and her cohorts, Shinobu had been fully healed. Her injuries gone as if they had never happened.
"What in the...?!" Haruka gasped as she made her way over to the blue-haired girl. Bending down before her, the cafe owner looked her over, even taking one of Shinobu's hands in her own so she could run her free hand over the unblemished skin. Finding not so much as a hint of the massive injuries that had been dealt her. "Shinobu - ?!" Confusion turning into annoyance, the safe matron then turned her gaze towards her nephew. "Keitaro, what the hell is going on here?!"
Flinching in the face of the Urashima woman's gaze, Keitaro shifted about on his feet for a brief time before asking, "Haruka...you...know that...green girl you were talking about before?" When Haruka automatically nodded, he grimaced fearfully. "Well...you see...she's...kinda...standing in front of you..."
As these soft, fearful words exploded in Haruka's mind with the force of an A-Bomb, she swung her eyes from Keitaro to Shinobu. The fearful possibilities that had been dancing in her thoughts earlier coming all together. The bright, sickly green glow she had seen in Shinobu's earlier, the tattered rags she had seen on the green girl during her rampage through town, her coming to Keitaro's defense, and her harsh punishment of Naru and Motoko, all of them coming together to add up to one horrifying result.
And as this result crashed down upon Haruka's consciousness, she sagged and groaned before slowly turning towards her nephew. "Please tell me this is your idea of a joke..."
Keitaro's answer to this desperate plea was to squirm about helplessly some more before returning, "Umm...sorry..."
This last bit of hope falling away, Haruka again looked at Shinobu, who looked even more shamefaced. Leaving the cafe owner to groan, bring her hand to her forehead, and mutter, "I need a damn drink..."
Author's Notes: Well, I was originally planning on getting more done this chapter, but those who follow me on DA know that I am going through a really bad time right now. And in any case, there's a lot that I need to get done, and I thought that everybody would enjoy at least knowing that I haven't abandoned this story. So please, read and review! And maybe check out some of my other works while you're at it?
Vassman, if you enjoyed the Naru punishment, I hope you love what Koalla and Motoko got this chapter.
alichi, don't worry, I have plans for shaping up Keitaro, starting next chapter.
J.V. Hart, yup, Keitaro is the ultimate fall guy of Love Hina. Kitsune is a possible villain. And as for what Koalla is up to...that's something you're gonna have to wait to find out about.
Wonderbee31, well, it's always been my opinion that a Hulk is basically the summation of everything a person normally keeps bottled up. And the girls will indeed be placing the blame elsewhere, as usual. That's something I'll be dealing with next chapter as well.
Shadowsought, the Inn took some damage, but it can be repaired. The city was damaged badly enough that there is no way that anybody will be sweeping what happened under the rug. Which in turn will have its own consequences. I wouldn't worry about the lack of bodies at this point, though that may change. You can bet this mess will be making the evening news. And yeah, Jade just seemed to work for Shinobu's other self. As for Haruka trying to break that cycle you spoke of...that will be coming up next chapter.
Kirbboy, well, I hope you liked Jade's punishment for Koalla and Motoko here. And I really don't understand how anybody could enjoy such blatantly disgusting abuse, either. I once read a story on DA in which the mother wins a bet against her own son, and spends several chapters outright humiliating him and abusing him, with the author going out of his way to justify her every act of maliciousness, and ultimately having the son forgive everything and let her get away with it. And you're right; Naru's actions would only ruin any chance of a working relationship. Well, I think Motoko at least can be redeemed. Naru...not so much. And don't worry, Keitaro is going to have a very healthy relationship. :D
Electric Eclectic, thanks. That means a lot.
Hektols, indeed. And that agreement will be coming into play in the near future. And don't be surprised if Naru and the others wind up in the news. And yeah, Keitaro's on the spot now. Just wait and see.
Gijinka Renamon, yup, some long overdue justice here!
StraightedgeWingZero, sorry, but a few people, people Keitaro can trust, will be let in on Shinobu's secret. As for her learning to transform...wait and see.
pensuka, well, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde were one of the original inspirations for the Hulk in the first place.
magical fan18, I hope you enjoyed the bashing Koalla and Motoko got this chapter. And yes, sexism is wrong, no matter which gender is being sexist to the other. I will never understand what's supposed to be funny about such maliciousness and cruelty. As for Shinobu, you can bet that she's going to be making her move in the future.
KamehameGadouken, definite possibilities.
Guest, well, another She-Hulk does make for some possibilities. And Shinobu and Nyamo...ganging up, as it were, would be fun. And believe me, Naru's torment and that of the others has only just begun.
The Sinful, what can I say? It's what's known as Suspension of Disbelief. It's little details like Jade's clothes being obliterated that make the overall story easier to believe. And I am familiar with the term flanderization.
mastergamer45, don't worry. Keitaro's going to be toughening up a bit in the near future.
Lazruth, as you've seen this chapter, Haruka is already being brought into the loop. And they're going to be taking the next step only after a great deal of careful consideration. As for Kanako, I'm bringing her onboard. But whether or not she actually gets in on the romantic angle remains to be seen.
Frosty Wolf, you wanted more Motoko-bashing? You got it!