"I built a little empire out of some crazy garbage called the blood of the exploited working class. But they've overcome their shyness now they're calling me your highness and the world screams... kiss me, Son of God." -Son of God, They Might Be Giants

Villainy. The word is used throughout history to describe men and women who strive above and beyond the call of duty to be downright nasty and mean. Be they kickers of puppies, destroyers of worlds, or telemarketing clerks, one and all, these proud few understand the true nature of the struggle between good and evil. Evil wins when good does nothing... this is accepted as fact. Philosophically, this could be considered a point in the favor of villains... perhaps they are acting in tune with the natural order of things... the furtherance of Entropy, the eventual breakdown of any system to its basest form. Selfishness, greed... these emotions are powerful, more powerful perhaps, then love or honor, because they are more intertwined with our own instincts. Survive. Multiply. Thrive. Eliminate competion. Dominate. At any cost.

What more basic outline of a villain's motivation do you need?

Of course all of this reflection on the state of villainy is rather pointless, because the subject of our examination does not consider himself to be a villain.

In point of fact, those who surround him look to him as a hero and leader.

Katsuhiko Jinnai.

***

"Damn that Mizuhara!" Jinnai (or as he would prefer, God Emperor Jinnai) exclaimed as he brought his clenched fist down on the Bugrom serving as a sort of mobile table. The Bugrom in question took this abuse stoically (of course, this could have been due to the fact that its back had the equivalent armor of a half inch of steel, but who knows... perhaps his feelings were hurt... it's hard to tell with Bugrom) maintaining its hunched, scuttling gait in an attempt to keep up with Jinnai's pacing.

This was somewhat thwarted by the fact that the God Emperor in question was prone to sudden shifts in direction as dictated by whatever paranoic fantasy entertained him at the moment, thus making the Bugrom's plight something along the lines of a lost cause.

"Damn him! What is he up to?" A sudden warble from the direction of one of the expressionless Bugrom got his attention and he rounded on the offender.

"Of COURSE it's him, Groucho! Who else could have created such a strange explosion over Roshtaria? Who ALWAYS does this just as MY plans are nearing fruition?"

The bugrom in question shrugged. Humans looked pretty much identical to him.

"You idiot! Who have I been talking about all this time?" He narrowed his eyes and he hissed the hated name through his teeth, as though simply uttering it caused him pain. "Mi. Zu. HARA!!"

He stood still panting, hands clenched and forehead veins bulging. A human observer might have been concerned about his blood pressure, had there been anyone around to witness the phenomenon. The bugrom however, don't understand the concept of blood pressure, nor really much of anything else that what went on in the bodies and minds of any creature who so garishly hid the hard parts of their anatomy INSIDE their flesh of all places. They did, however, understand their General's fury.

They'd certainly seen enough of it.

So they watched passively until he let out a long sigh and closed his eyes, running his comb through his slick hair. His expression smoothed into an easy grin just as his hair did, (smoothed, not grinned) and he shook his head.

"It doesn't matter. Operation Get-Into-the-Castle-and-Destroy-That-Idiot-Mizuhara-and-All-His-Simpering-

Little-Friends (Operation GICDTIMAHSLF for short) is already too close to completion to be thwarted now. Speaking of which...

"Harpo! Give me a report on Operation Gicudtimas... Gicudutin.... Gucdti... On the Operation!" He scowled... he'd labored long and hard for a name that fit so glorious and cunning a plan... and in the end had come up with a name that was also long and hard to remember (even for him) but it was the only thing he was able to come up with that truely displayed it's majesty.

Jinnai is, after all, a born politician.

The Bugrom in question saluted and warbled on and off for approximately five minutes. Jinnai nodded resolutely and cackled at all the right places, even though he already knew everything the unfortunate Bugrom had to say (after all, he was the General, and the General knows everything) he let the report drone on while his mind drifted to the moments after his most crushing and dark defeat at the hands of... of that.... cheater. He scowled for a moment then smiled. He had been reborn, after all... rising in phoenix-like splendor from the ashes of defeat like... er.. some very phoenixy... thing. This, he reasoned, was proof that if there was a god out there, he was on Jinnai's side. Of course his rebirth had not been without it's hardships... the incident with Kalia... that OTHER alternate world... repopulating the Bugrom empire-

Well... repopulating the Bugrom empire hadn't really been all that much of a hardship... but it HAD been... draining.

Still, none of that mattered now. He'd finally come up with a scheme that fool Makoto wasn't going to see through... at least, not unless he could see through miles and miles of dirt. He'd reasoned (correctly) that the only possible explanation for his defeat had been the overwhelming amount of ancient weaponry arrayed against him. Namely, Ifurita, and the Eye of God. Ifurita was no longer a threat, having disappeared off the face of El Hazard (probably sucked into the Eye of God, which served her right, the traitor) but much to Jinnai's consternation, the Eye Of God still floated blissfully in the sky like some cursed Sword of Damacles.

Then it occurred to him that perhaps he'd gone about this all wrong. Taking the land in a massive Blitzkrieg operation had worked, for a time, but only because the Roshtarians had been unable to operate the Eye of God without the missing princess. The Roshtarian army, while pathetic and no match for the mighty Bugrom Horde, had still been tenacious enough to hold them off long enough to activate that cursed Eye. It stood to reason that it would be again. The key, then, would be to secure the city Roshtaria before the Eye could be activated... sieze it, then hold the entire population hostage. The enemy was pathetically squeamish about civilian causualties (they did not understand as Jinnai understood that in war, all people are combatants, though they might not all be ARMED combatants) and Jinnai felt reasonably sure they would not fire the Eye upon their own kingdom.

Once he'd determined the objective, it was relatively easy for his cunning tactical genius to come up with a way to accomplish this goal. His solution was so elegantly simple, there was no way it could possibly fail. The Bugrom were insects, adept at digging... why not simply DIG into Roshtaria?

So, having determined the objective, the strategy, and the logistics, Jinnai had simply turned to the next obvious step in any plan of his.

The deception.

The rebuilt Bugrom Fortress sat imposingly in the crater that once housed its predecessor, manned twenty-four hours a day by tireless and fearsome Bugrom... dummies. flying Bugrom made round the clock patrols around the fortress as well, but this was simply to keep up appearances. For all intents and purposes, the fortress was simply a hollowed-out shell that appeared far more dangerous than it actually was. The Bugrom, and consequently Jinnai, hid their true intentions by simply appearing to be building forces in the same old fashion. In truth, the entire society of the Bugrom now nestled deep underground several hundred miles closer to the Roshtarian border. The massive, seemingly endless tunnels stretched far into Roshtarian territory, several miles underneath the Holy River of God... and a few months away from resting directly beneath the castle itself. In addition, advancements in Bugrom archetypes had made massive spying operations possible... camoflagued Spyrom really just variations on the tiny messenger type bugrom kept a vigilant eye on all major locations of Roshtarian activity.

Which explained how he was able to receive his recent spat of troubling reports.

The Spyrom in question had witnessed a strange dark explosion in the sky, followed by a rain of several strange objects. Various odds and ends... strange currency, bits and pieces of machinery... and a cash register had rained upon Roshtaria for a few short moments. A few strange objects had streaked out over the horizon, like dark comets headed for who knew where. Then even more disturbing... something had screamed as it dropped into the castle itself, though the Spyrom had been unable to report what that was. Hopefully it was dead. Jinnai didn't need any variables in his equation of conquest. Still, he supposed it hardly mattered.

"You can't stop me this time, Mizuhara... You won't even see me coming until it's far too late. Who's laughing now? Who's laughing NOW!?"

As if to punctuate this, his laughter echoed noisy all the way down the tunnel, to the reach the receptors of toiling Bugrom.

***

Makoto Mizuhara paused in his deliberation to sneeze, politely covering his mouth then grinning sheepishly.

"Excuse me." He offered, politely.

"But as I was saying, I'm not entirely sure what went wrong. One moment I had the device locked on to what could only be Ifurita, the next moment, the screen just went wild and well..." he looked down.

Londs stroked his beard and looked sternly at Makoto, though his eyes betrayed his concern. The boy toiled endlessly to save the lost Demon God. Still...

"Though I sympathize with you Sir Makoto, I must ask that you refrain from unauthorized experiments in Ancient technology. It is not in Roshtaria's best interests to reach blindly into alternate worlds."

"What about Ifurita's interests? She's all alone out there!" Makoto exclaimed, standing up. He was prepared to continue his passionate argument when a gentle voice that was nonetheless full of quiet authority stopped him dead. He sat down.

"Sir Makoto, I understand that you want to do what is best for Ifurita." Princess Rune Venus watched him quietly, her eyes also full of concern. "Certainly I would much rather see her here and safe than all alone in the dark. However, as the evidence shows, random probing into the unknown is frought with peril. The ancients made the Eye of God so difficult to activate for a reason."

Makoto sighed tiredly. "It's all a pointless argument anyway. I don't think I could fix the Microportigenesis device even IF I had all the right parts. I don't even know what all the right parts are... it was badly damaged when I found it."

Londs nodded, secretly glad. "All the more reason not to tamper with such things. The ancient technology is just that... ancient. There's no telling if it will operate as intended..."

Makoto looked up. "I'm not giving up. If there is some way to save her... I will find it."

The princess smiled. "No one is asking you to give up, Sir Makoto. We ask simply that you show a bit more restraint. Asking permission would have been nice."

Makoto winced, then grinned sheepishly and rubbed the back of his head. "I'm really sorry, your Majesty."

"No apology is necessary, Makoto." Rune smiled gently at him. Such a nice boy.

Londs cleared his throat. "Now, on to other business... what are we going to do with our... uninvited guest?"

Makoto shuddered, remembering the earlier events. So much had happened... he was unsure what, really HAD happened. One thing he was certain of, however. This Ash character was dangerous.

"I don't think he means us harm personally... those things were trying to kill him. Me too, for that matter. Still... I'm not sure he's... well... completely sane."

Londs sniffed, irritably. "Raving lunatic, as far as I'm concerned. The man made a complete mess of the Library. Was it absolutely necessary to rend his enemies limb from limb? Not to mention his endangerment of you and the lady Nanami... simply unforgiveable."

"Now Sir Londs..." Rune chastized quietly, "it would be wise to show some tolerance given the situation. The man spent God knows how long in the void with those things. One can imagine he was a bit... distracted."

Sir Londs shook his head. "I don't know if we can afford tolerance, your highness... we don't know anything about him. For all we know, he could have been put there for a reason."

Makoto shook his head. "I have some theories... but the best course of action would be to ask him when he wakes up. I'm sure he'll listen to reason. As to not knowing anything about him, I'm almost positive that he's from the same world as us."

Londs snorted. "But he's nothing like you!"

Makoto shook his head. "Just like not every country here is Roshtaria, there are different countries in the world I came from as well. His... attitude and demeanor suggest that he hails from a country called The United States of America."

"A..mere...e...ca?" Rune sounded out the difficult word delicately. "It must be an... interesting place." She reasoned.

"Probably full of barbarians." Londs growled under his breath.

"It certainly is... different from Shinonome." Makoto agreed.

***

Ash woke up from his head trauma induced slumber into a head trauma induced headache. Blinking irritably at the piercing white light surrounding him, he fervently cursed whoever had decided a skylight belonged in... where ever the hell he was. He lifted his good hand to cover his eyes, then discovered much to his dismay that he could not LIFT his good hand. Looking himself over, he was none too surprised to see that he had been securely bound to his bed.

"Well doesn't this figure." He muttered aloud. He cranned his neck in several directions to look at his surroundings. He was being treated in some kind of hospital, given the sterile smell and the whitewash of his surroundings. However, this was not your average hospital, as evidenced by the primative nature of the walls and ceiling, and the lamps that hung unlit overhead. All in all, he'd been in worse hospitals (that ill fated trip to Baja came to mind, he shuddered to think about that particular incident. Go in for food poisoning, come out with an infection. How did THAT work?) but this definately wasn't an American hospital.

That ruled out a bottle of Wild TUrkey being the culprit in this particular nightmare.

Unfortunately.

He began a careful check of his personage and discovered that he'd been bound in much the same manner as one would bind an individual in a hospital who might thrash an injure himself or others, but whom you don't see as a great threat. In other words, bound securely but not too securely. He was comfortable, just unable to move. Of course, only his arms were bound, and at the wrist. Even considering the fact that he was missing one hand, whoever had done this was no fool, at least, not when it came to tying people up. If anything, his stump was bound even more securely then his good hand. Good attention to detail, that. If he wasn't mistaken, his belongings were stacked by the door, which meant either whoever had bound him was absolutely sure he wasn't going to get loose, was unaware of their potential for destruction, or was simply convinced that being near his possessions would reassure him.

Unfortunately they were wrong on all three counts.

"HEY!!! HEY IS ANYBODY THERE? I WANT OUTTA HERE, YA HEAR ME?" He shouted, the veins in his neck flaring.

"HELLO!! BAD PERM GIRL!! LITTLE JAPANESE KID! GET IN HERE!"

He frowned.

"I'M FEELIN' A LITTLE UNLOVED HERE!"

Nothing.

"WHEN I GET OUTTA HERE, SOMEONE'S GONNA BE THE PROUD OWNER OF A NEW A-"

With a suddenness that shocked him into silence, the door opened. He blinked as what was obviously a nurse ducked in with a tray, turning quickly to set the tray on the counter next to him. He cranned his neck at as awkward an angle as he could without breaking his own neck, but he was unable to see the woman in question.

"About time somebody showed up." He groused. "Why am I bein' kept tied up?"

A cool, seductive voice answered back. "Why sir... you are being kept restrained for your own protection... and that of others."

"I ain't gonna hurt nobody!" He said indignantly. Well, maybe that old geezer who called him a blackguard. He wasn't sure what a blackguard was... maybe some kinda deoderant, but that wasn't the point. Him and his goons deserved a beating.

Not that he said any of this out loud.

The nurse did not respond to his reply. He sighed.

"Look, I ain't plannin' on goin' nowhere... there's no reason to keep me tied up." he said reasonably.

"You're right." She said simply, fiddling with the tray.

He stopped short, blinking. "Well... ok then... if you'll just untie me..."

"You're right, Ash..." She giggled insanely, raising a rather sharp looking knife.

His eyes widened. "Oh fu-"

'YOU AREN'T GOING ANYWHERE!!!" The deadite shrieked, dropping its human mask to reveal a wizened, ugly corpse in a nurses outfit.

Ash began to shout.

"AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA-"

***

Now... bearing in mind that amazing feats of strength have been mentioned before in this story, it's no surprise that Ash should find himself capable of what he did next. One might have said that this was what set him apart from your average citizen, what made him a hero. You could say that when the cards were down, when the die was cast, when there seemed no escape, Ash will always pull out that ace, or throw that seven, dodge that flying head, or whatever other analogy you wish to use. Simply because that's the kind of tenacious bastard that Ash is.

You could say that, but you'd be wrong.

The truth is, it was simply because Ash was scared shitless.

***

"-AAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!"

Ash bellowed in the kind of terror that only someone about to be probed in the face with a sharp metal object can produce (he'd made the same noise the last time he'd gone to the dentist, but then, haven't we all?) and somehow managed to free himself and throw himself off of the bed.

Well, almost.

It turned out that the bindings securing his stump actually WERE better done than his other hand. The bindings securing his right hand snapped right off, but the bindings over his left wrist held stubbornly, turning his sudden dive to a jerking halt. The sudden shift in balance upset the bed (really more of a slightly sturdier than average cot) that he was secured in, falling with him to the ground and placing an impromptu barrier between him and the deadite, who had descended with such bloodthirsty glee that she had fallen to the floor, jabbing the surgical knife deep into the floorboards. It shrieked in rage and began to pry the deeply entrenched knife from the floor to try again.

Ash wasn't having any of that.

Standing and drawing up the bed with him, he flipped it around (no easy feat considering the fact that he was still secured to it) and settled it squarely down on top of the irritated dead thing, which responded with a series of obscenities that would have made a crack whore blush, had any crack whores been present.

This was the scene that the two guards who had been standing outside the room burst in on.

Of course, their perception of the situation was somewhat different than Ash's.

"Get off of her, you maniac!" The more quick witted of the two shouted.

Ash stopped shouting and stared at him like he'd grown a second head. The bed beneath him jerked up and down with amazing force, punctuated by animalistic grunts that would have made that girl from the exorcist proud. "You gotta be shittin' me."

As the two guards levelled their spears at him, the second of the two chimed in. "Get off of her, you fiend!"

The tear-stained face of a frightened young nurse appeared from under the bed. "Please get him off of me, I'm so scared!"

Ash blinked. "Oh... you dirty rotten bit-!"

The rest of his expletive was lost as the guards proceeded to beat him off of the bed.

"Ow! Ow! Quit that... Can't you see she's... dirty rotten son of a.."

Ash had been stick beaten before, and he hadn't particularly care for it then, either. Of course, as was the case then, he didn't have much choice in the matter.

Fortunately (or unfortunately depending on who's side you're on) the beating was stopped (or possibly just postponed, this is Ash we're talking about) when the deadite under the bed popped up like a jack-in-the-box, and without looking at the two stunned guards beside her, thrust out her hands to either side, squarely into both of their slack jaws. The unbelievable force behind the blows was enough to send them both careening into opposite walls with wall and bone cracking force. They slumped with a groan to the floor and did not attempt to regain their footing.

The deadite picked up her knife and grinned at Ash. "Dinnertime!"

Ash shook his head. "Not this piece a' meat."

Throwing his secured left hand violently towards the deadite stalking him, he used the bed in a manner it was most certainly not intended (namely, beating the stuffin' outta someone) and swept the deadite's feet out from under it. It hit the ground hard, then rolled over the bed, over Ash, then to his other side, bringing the knife down in a vicious stab for Ash's chest. He rolled the other way, over the bed (hitting his head on one of the legs and paying no attention to the pain) then pulling the bed up on its side to make a wall between him and the Deadite. It screamed at him and launched itself up several feet into the air over Ash, beginning a screaming descent that would end with an Ash-kabob. Ash rolled over further, dragging the bed to a standing position, and watching dismally as the knife tip penetrated the bed to rest less then a foot from his face.

"This sucks." He bitched.

The next few minutes proceeded comically as the Deadite tried to slash and stab him, and he kept moving the various endangered limbs out of its reach. Losing whatever patience he had left, he kicked up at the bed, throwing the deadite off and into the nearby wall. Getting out from under the bed, he stood up and glanced around dazedly. His gaze lit on his belongings stacked near the wall, and the shotgun resting with them. Behind him the deadite stood up and hissed at him, green ichor dripping from its ruin of a mouth.

It saw the shotgun too.

Ash made a break for it, somewhat hampered by the bed still strapped to him, and the deadite chased him mercilessly. Hopping over one of the prone guards (more by accident then design) he feinted left, then juked right, throwing the deadite momentarily off his tail. Screaming incoherantly at him, it jumped on top of the bed, and the sudden change in weight jerked Ash off his feet. The thing grinned evily and crawled across the bed towards the now prone Ash, hissing in anticipation as it leaned over the end of the bed to gaze down at...

Both barrels of a sawed off shotgun, and the grim, determined face of it's quarry.

"Surprise, bitch." He quipped, then pulled both triggers.

***

"I really don't think it's necessary to-" Makoto started, when he was interrupted by screaming.

The three of them stopped, momentarily shocked into indecision, then all at once jumped to their feet. They looked at one another in dismay.

"It might not be-" Makoto started to say, when he was interrupted again.

"He's crazy!! Run for your lives!" A nurse shouted as she ran past the meeting room.

Makoto sighed and followed as Londs and Rune ran for the infirmary.

***

"What is going on here!?" Londs bellowed as he arrived on the scene. To say it was chaotic was somewhat understated. A trio of scared nurses cowered in a corner, and not one, not two, but three troops of guards waited cautiously just outside the door to the infirmary. Several small holes peppered the wall on the other side of the doorway, which was currently being blocked by a bed, or several beds. One guard sat on the other side of the door, clutching his shoulder as blood seeped through his white fingers. He glanced up at the shout, then struggled to stand, grimacing in pain.

"Sir... the... intruder somehow got loose, then killed one, possibly three people and barracaded himself into the infirmary... he has some sort of projectile weapon, and he says he'll-"

"I swear ta god, if one of you primates so much as comes NEAR that door, I'll give you a new ventilation hole. I tried ta be nice about this, but I guess you don't want nice Ash. Now you're gonna get asshole Ash, and believe me... I'm a bigger asshole then ANY of you assholes!"

Londs closed his eyes and shook his head. "I feared it would come to this... it appears we have little choice. Get the men ready... shields and swords this time. We'll rush him all at once. Hopefully the majority of his fire will be stopped by the shields. In any case he can't get us all."

The man nodded. "Sir." He saluted then ran off to get things ready. Londs shook his head again.

"I'm... so sorry." Makoto mumbled, leaning against the wall heavily.

"This is not your fault Makoto... It is mine. I should have trusted my instincts and had him thrown into the dungeon." He sighed.

Makoto sighed and closed his eyes. -But I brought him here in the first place- he thought dismally. Something scratched his pants leg and he looked down, blinking.

"Makoto... no kill loud man."

He blinked again. "Ura... what?"

"No kill loud man. He no kill."

He reached down and picked up the strange animal that had loyally protected him time and again. The guardian cat stared unblinkingly into his face.

"Ura see. Man no kill. Bad come. Bad try kill. Trick guards. Hit guards. Man kill bad. Not bad." It said plaintively.

Makoto blinked, this was quite a speech for the little thing. Of course, it was often in a position to see things, since it was so small, but what if it was wrong?

Had it ever been wrong before?

He set it down and looked at Londs. The older man had drawn his sword and now stood with a borrowed shield at the head of a contingent of palace guards. Makoto frowned.

"Sir Londs... wait just a moment."

Londs turned to look at him and shook his head. "Now is not the time, Makoto."

Makoto put himself between the contingent and the doorway (but not in the path of the crazed gaijin's fire) and spread his arms. He shook his head.

"There has to be a way to resolve this without anymore bloodshed."

"Makoto, stand aside." Londs ordered. "Now is the time for action."

He didn't even blink. "I'm going in there. After all, this is all my fault. Maybe I can reason with him."

"out of the question. I refuse to put your life in any more danger today." Londs scowled.

"You're not putting my life in danger, Sir Londs. I am."

"Ura too!" The guardian cat squeaked, then wrapped around Makoto like a furry breastplate.

Makoto grinned. "Ura too, I guess."

Londs massaged the bridge of his nose. That boy.

"It's my fault, Sir Londs. I'm going in there." Makoto stated.

"I already said it's not your-"

"It's my fault he's here." Makoto finished, again, not wavvering in the slightest.

Londs sighed. "I suppose I have little choice in the matter."

"Be very careful, Sir Makoto." Princess Rune Venus said quietly, then smiled. "And good luck."

That pretty much sealed the deal.

***

Ash watched the doorway intently from behind the bed he'd upturned in the center of the room. It had sounded like the guards were getting ready to bum rush him a second ago, but all of that activity had stopped.

It was quiet out there. Too quiet.

"Don't try anything stupid! Me and old double barrel here have a really good home remedy for stupid."

"Please don't shoot, Mr. Ash sir... I'm coming in." A shaky but clear voice floated in from just outside the doorway.

"Like Hell you are!"

"I'm unarmed... I swear! I'm coming in now..."

"Don't be..." he stopped as the boy arounded the doorway, momentarily surprised by the boy's courage. -you got balls kid.- He thought grimly. -Not too bright, but definately a big set on ya.-

Nevertheless, he pulled back both hammers.

"Stop right there." He ordered, freezing the kid with one leg over the barracade at the door he'd set up. "I thought I told you not to..."

He trailed off, looking at the... thing wrapped around the boy's chest.

"Uh... were you aware that you have... a cat on your chest?"

Makoto glanced down, then back up quickly. "Um... he's not a cat, well, not an earth cat anyway. His name's Ura, and he's a guardian cat. Nothing can hurt him."

Ash raised an eyebrow. "That's... pretty fricken weird."

"Shooting me won't do you any good, Mr. Ash." Makoto said quietly.

Ash narrowed his eyes. "That thing ain't gonna save you if I unload into your head, kid..." At this, the boy gulped. "But you're probably right about it not doin' me any good." he allowed grudgingly.

Makoto used his hesitation to step completely into the room and show both hands. He glanced around and saw the two snoring guards (both tightly bound to one another with their own boot laces) and... a nurse lying very still and very dead. She appeared not to have a head. (nor any bread... quite full of lead... her name is not Ted... sorry)

"Why did you kill her?" he asked in a near whisper.

Ash's eyes flicked to the corpse, then back again. "Not a her. An it. It was one a' them."

"How do you know?" Makoto asked.

Ash rolled his eyes. "Don't know many people who bleed green, kid."

Makoto blushed and sat down on the barracade.

"What are they, Mr. Ash? Why are they after you?"

Ash sighed. "Don't really know for sure, but I think the Book calls 'em Kondarian Demons. They possess people... turn em... bad. As to why they're after me... I dunno. I guess I just pissed in their cheerios one too many times."

Makoto blushed at his "colorful" metaphor, then looked him squarely in the eye. "And you had to shoot her?"

Somewhere in Ash's tired soul, another trickle of pain flowed into an already almost overflowing pond.

"It was her or me, kid. I didn't have a choice. Once those things get into ya, it's pretty much all over but the kicking and the screaming. Lots... of kicking and screaming." his voice was gruff, and quietly full of regret.

Makoto sighed. "I'm sorry Mr. Ash."

Ash closed his eyes. "Yeah. So am I, kid. So am I."

He lowered the gun tiredly to the ground, not really giving a rat's ass what they did to him now.

He was just too damned tired.

***