A dark cave somewhere . . .

"Um . . . Chigaiko-chan?"

"H-hai?"

"Much that I don't mind the idea of getting a mouth full of a pretty girl's panties, I would prefer to breathe clean air sometime soon."

Hearing that, a red-faced Chigaiko yelped as she leapt off Ataru and got back to her feet. Before she could trip over a large stone that was behind one of her ankles, Ayumu caught her and helped her straighten herself. Nearby, a shuddering Lum – who was doing her best to not allow her jealousy to get the better of her and make her lash out at her husband for being so close to another woman; after all, said husband was a reality-warper and one NEVER got one of THEM angry! – blinked as she gazed on this strange girl who seemed awfully familiar to her . . . but for the life of her, she couldn't remember her name, much less recall where she had met her before.

"Darling, who is this girl?" she then demanded.

Ataru sighed as he got back to his feet, and then moved to brush himself off. "She's a classmate – pardon me, former classmate – of ours, Lum: Inu Chigaiko. She's a forward on the girls' basketball team; she was Number Four."

Lum blinked. "Who?"

Benten, who was standing beside her best friend, looked over. "Inu Chigaiko, Lum. C'mon! Ataru just said her name right now! Didn't you hear him?"

A shake of the head. "No!"

"Hold on a sec' . . .!"

That was Ayumu, who was now shifting herself in front of Lum, her dark eyes glowing for a moment. A second later, she reached over to stab her fingers THROUGH Lum's forehead for a second, yanking out ethereal strings that were tied in knots. As the Oni blinked before she shook her head, the Goddess Who Walks Amongst Men then dispersed the strings with a wave of her hand. "You were still caught by the curse that Chigaiko-chan was being targeted by, Lum-chan," the Kansai-born girl said. "Guess being dismissed from Tomobiki High School before being allowed to graduate didn't disperse it enough."

Lum blinked several times before she peered at Chigaiko . . . and then her jaw dropped. "Wait! I've heard Darling say 'hello' to you loads of times every day we go into school! He's called you by your name every time! Why didn't I . . .?"

"Remember the Red Cloak, Lum?" Ataru asked.

Lum blinked. "That old guy in the tuxedo who came to the Hallowe'en dance last fall?"

"The same," he replied. "Turns out that when he was a student at the school, he scared a budding young magical who decided to get back at him by putting an ugly curse on his then-girlfriend. Said curse made EVERYONE who was affiliated with Tomobiki High – both staff and students – forget her very NAME!" As Lum and Benten both gaped in horror on hearing that, he added, "Because of that, the girl eventually died of loneliness inducing heart failure before she could graduate. And since no one could recall her name, she couldn't be transferred to another school; the curse made sure that none of the teachers could ever find her records." A sigh. "Unfortunately, the witch that made that curse bound its power to the mana node under the Tarōzakura hill on Mendō's family estate. Because of that – and this was triggered EVERY time the Red Cloak came back to Tomobiki High – some poor guy who was despised or hated by the vast majority of the students would be targeted by the curse . . . and whatever girl was in love with the target would eventually die because of it."

"Because of the rose, right?"

He gazed on Chigaiko, who had a stunned look on her face. "Yes." Noting Lum's confused look, he added, "Shortly before Ayone found me, I found Chigaiko in the town park crying her eyes out because some older girls from Butsumetsu High were picking on her. Her older sister Fuchiko had been badly beat up when she tried to defend her. I gave Chigaiko a rose to help make her happy. Shortly after that, I came to live here and . . . " A sigh. "Regretfully forgot all about her. By the time I could recall what had happened, it was just after our encounter with Elle. On remembering that people just didn't seem to want to remember her name, I had Liz scan her. We found out about the curse . . . but because it was tied to that mana node, exorcising it might have ended up causing a rather big kaboom! Especially with what the Niphentaxians had also done. So I put her into the 'Pretty Girls To Be Helped' Annex list in the Book and vowed to get her here as soon as it was practicable to give her an offer."

"Well, she wants it," Ayumu stated. "She actually walked up to Ryū-chan and asked what she had to do to get a Gift from you." She giggled. "Shinobu didn't like that."

"Who cares about her?" he then snarled.

"What the fuck is Miyake's big problem anyway?" Benten then wondered.

"She's a control freak deep down, Benten," Ataru answered as he waved the others with him towards the faint glow of light deeper in the cave. "Miyake-san is of the belief that everything has to be set up in a certain way and that nothing that could shake that up is to be tolerated. I found this out after we first met Inaba and got a chance to visit the Fate Production Bureau's dimension; some of his co-workers sensed what I was and came to talk to me afterward about what had happened."

"What did they tell you, Darling?" Lum asked.

"Would you believe she actually would like it if everything just stayed the SAME?"

Benten jerked as Lum winced and Ayumu shook her head. "Tcha!" the Oni then spat out. "That's the WORST thing to say to someone like you, Darling! It's a wonder to me that you didn't decide to ask Jessica or one of her friends to hurt her bad!"

He chuckled. "That would just simply translate into her – and those who would listen to her – believing that I'm a monster that needs to be put down quickly! I don't want to give the idiots back in Tomobiki – especially Mendō – any impetus to try to do THAT to me, Lum! Yes, there are potential ways to remove my Gift from me . . . but I would rather DIE than lose my Gift and be turned back into a helpless norm!"

"None of us would want that," Benten added.

Lum blinked, and then she nodded. "That was the mistake the other me made."

"Eh?"

"The version of me from Tariko's dimension," the Oni stated. "She probably didn't really understand that every time she tried to make her Darling do what she wanted him to do, she was slowly but surely ripping away what little sense of freedom and control he had over his life. It's no wonder that he jumped at the chance when Destructo came to help him stop that Tag Race the other me tried to force on him."

"Well, at least they're both alive and well," Ataru mused. "And if they find some way to get back together, good for them. If they don't, at least they're living lives that will be theirs to control in lieu of having others control it for them."

Lum smiled. "That's true."

"Welcome, all of you."

Ayumu grinned. "Yo!" she called out as she raised her hand in greeting.

An amused chuckle from the silver-haired, matronly-like woman standing near a bend in the cave, a powerful glow emanating from somewhere past said bend. "Hello, everyone," the current incarnation of the Guardian of Destiny, the Conservator, stated as her eyes twinkled in amusement. "So, Master Tuyuki . . . the second girl in your Book has come to claim her future, has she? Not to mention one of those you've wanted to help for some time . . . but had not the chance to bring her here to explain things before now?"

"They come here of their own free will and desire, Madame Conservator. As it should always be here on Yiziba," Ataru declared as he took her hand and gave her a courtly kiss on her fingers, which made her smile even more. "One is from a land of sames whose inhabitants, for the most part, believe themselves the masters of all they survey, even after our predecessors showed them otherwise in the Mother of All Fight Scenes 250 seasons ago." He waved to Lum in emphasis. "However, she is of the blood and the heart of the eighteenth Tempest, so I believe the Crystal will find her worthy and bestow her that Gift if she so elects to take it." To Chigaiko. "This one is an innocent, victimised by a curse by a magical long since removed from this life. Forgotten and abandoned by all her friends and those responsible for her welfare in the wake of her being so cursed, her health now at horrid risk with no way out for her save either death or the Crystal. She is the ONLY one from my former home town I believe is worthy to make this trip. But if Fate decrees otherwise, that is for Fate to decide."

The Conservator – she was a native Yizibajohei named Tyutu Etorapa at birth; unlike Terrans-turned-Yizibajohei, natives of this world never used her birth-name when speaking to her directly – nodded as her eyes fell upon Lum and Chigaiko. As both younger women tensed on feeling that all-seeing gaze rake over them, the elderly guardian of the Cave of the Future then smiled. "Redet Lum, daughter of Invader and Chim. Inu Chigaiko, daughter of Akira and Kindan. Are you both prepared?"

"We're scared," Chigaiko then confessed.

A hearty chuckle. "That is natural," the Conservator stated. "And know that once you become one with the Great Crystal, the Forge of the Seekers where the Power Jewels were first created many sagas ago, your lives will forever be bound to this world even if you elect to remain on Terra or Uru or elsewhere. But once you are bound to the Great Show of Life, all the binds that have trapped you before now will be shattered forever. Never again will curses inflicted on you from beyond a cold grave strive to strike you down." She gazed on Chigaiko, and then at Lum. "Never again will you be worshipped as the 'marble woman' without a heart and soul by those who do not truly love you. Never again will you be bound by either normalcy or sameness. Is that what you want?"

Both girls blinked, and then they nodded. "I do," they stated as one.

The Conservator smiled as she waved them on . . .


Tomobiki High School, lunchtime . . .

RR-RRIIIIP!

Silence.

More silence.

Still more silence.

And then . . .

"NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO . . .!"

People jolted, and then they turned to look . . .

. . . before gaping on seeing that a beautiful UFO catcher doll in Lum's image that was in Megane's hands had its head just ripped off. As the leader of the Stormtroopers gaped in horror at the sight of this beautiful image he had a local toymaker create for him – much that he had tried to get his hands on it, the original UFO catcher doll that Lum had once made for Ataru was still in the latter's possession – Ryūnosuke looked up from her lunch. "Looks like Lum's getting her Gift right now."

People blinked before they stared at her, and then they looked back at Megane. As he tried not to collapse to his knees and sob at the thought of his beloved Lum-san being forever changed by this mysterious planet that had also changed the lives of Moroboshi Ataru and Fujinami Ryūnosuke, some of the girls turned to gaze once more at the beach teashop café tomboy. "What happens when you get a Gift?" one girl asked.

Ryūnosuke smiled. "Well, it's like this . . . "


Somewhere . . .

It was total silence.

Not even the sound of her very own heartbeat echoed in this place.

She felt as if she was floating somewhere in a warm sea . . .

. . . but she could still breathe air, so she wasn't drowning.

Having closed her eyes when she had touched the wall of meson crystal that the Conservator had been watching over when she had gone into the Cave of the Future, Lum didn't honestly know what to expect when she felt herself drawn into the Great Crystal. It wasn't anything harsh or threatening to her, not like someone being sucked into a trap of quicksand or pulled towards a black hole. It had been soothing . . .

. . . like being pulled back into her own mother's womb.

Was it?

She honestly wished she could remember that far back in her life . . .

Lum . . .

Lum's eyes snapped open . . .

. . . and then she gaped on seeing the glowing figure before her.

"Lady Danu . . . "

An amused titter escaped the living spirit of the eighteenth Mistress of Lightning – indeed, save for a different hairstyle and slightly different facial features, she who had been born Redet Danu in a cold castle north of modern-day Onishuto could have been Redet Lum's own twin sister – as she drifted closer to the still-living Oni . . .


Tomobiki High School . . .

"So the spirits of the Gifts that might be compatible to Lum's soul would seek her out and allow themselves to merge with her?" one girl asked.

"Yeah," Ryūnosuke answered. "Since most lines cross genders between the incarnations, it'll be the female aspect of the Gifts in question that go up to Lum and Chigaiko to allow them to 'try them on.'" She smirked. "Still, the memories of those of my past-selves that were guys sure came in hand, especially when it came to dealing with Oyaji and his stupid ideas concernin' raising kids. Not to mention those of my past-selves who were girls at the time. Wouldn't have learned a damned thing about menstruation and all the things girls go through when they hit puberty; Oyaji wasn't going to help me one damned bit because of that." As the girls all frowned – even if they did often fall into the habit of using the "-kun" honorific when it came to their classmate, they all knew that Ryūnosuke WAS a woman and would have to deal with women's issues even if her bull-headed father clearly wanted things to be otherwise – she then sipped the juice she had made for herself. "Since Redet Danu – she's one of Lum's ancestors – was a previous Tempest, Lum herself will probably become one. Tempest has to be a girl this time around and she hasn't come back to my knowledge, so the chances are pretty good."

"But her parents don't approve of it!" a familiar voice then stated.

Ryûnosuke bit down the urge to walk over to Shinobu and rip the stupid idiot's throat open with her ki claws. "So where the fuck were Lum's parents when her so-called 'most faithful' dropped a bio-bomb on Vos' capital city and killed five million innocent civilians, Miyake?" she wondered. "Where the fuck were Lum's parents when she found out that those lifeless sames were raiding into the personal diaries of her best friends – and after she came here, you and some of the people in class! – and she wanted it stopped? Where the fuck were Lum's parents when she wanted just to be treated like a normal girl and not be put on some fuckin' pedestal and worshipped from afar? Treated all the time like some 'marble lady' like a lot of Urusian trash info-nets often call her? You wanna know why she's NEVER been interested in Mendō or Megane all this time?" She thumbed the two men in question. "It's because these two idiots treated her like that moron Ōgi and all his friends on Phentax Two did! Like she was some THING instead of a person! That's why Infinity said yesterday that none of the idiots here at school really care for Lum!" As all the boys croaked out in shock on being told THAT, she snorted. "She's just a damned idol star to them!"

"Ataru-kun never treated her that way," Marubeya Momoe then stated.

"Yeah," Ryūnosuke breathed out. "And yeah, Ataru wasn't in his right mind for the first six months Lum was here, but he realised deep down what she ultimately wanted. When he WAS able to think straight after what those idiots in the MIBs and the wizards from the ICW did to him, his first urge was to get Lum off Uru and to safety on Yiziba. But then he found out about the Niphentaxians and that bomb that was in the Ginza, so he knew he had to walk very cautiously for a bit. Didn't help matters that Lum's people decided to crawl back behind their borders and hide from the mysterious bogeymen that took Ataru away and put all of these morons in the hospital for a month; that might have started a damned intergalactic war if the Niphentaxians weren't there with their big fleet to put a stop to it." A snort. "Fuckin' stupid sames! Like bullies anywhere; hit them with REAL force and they run away like the cowards they really are in their hearts!"

"But if Ataru-kun just got his friend to destroy the Niphentaxians' fleet, wouldn't that START the war he didn't want to start six months ago?" Gekasawa Kumiko asked.

A smirk. "The Avalonians are now out there."

"Who are they?" Mendō asked.

"Race of bioroids that the Niphentaxians discovered about a century ago," Ryūnosuke stated. "The factory unit that could create them was buried on one of the planets in their home solar system. Only can create girls from six to twenty-five years of age physically. All very beautiful." A whistle. "Instant race of sex-slaves." As people gasped, the tomboy smirked. "Pity that one of the guys who found the factory realised right away what the Avalonians could become and began fighting to help free them all after they started fillin' brothels and all that. Once Ataru got wind of it a month after he got away from that Elle chick, he decided to do something about it." A smirk. "Mother of All Fight Scenes. Wiped out a whole colony of Niphentaxians and freed every Avalonian that was alive, not to mention liberated the factory itself. By then, the poor girls were being used as slave artisans on all the combat ships of the Niphentaxian space fleet. By the time the Weaver sent that bomb back two days ago, those ships were all rustin' away at their anchorage since the Avalonians' 'masters' had long since forgot how to maintain their own fuckin' ships."

"Do the Avalonians have their own spaceships?" Tsuruya Rumiko wondered.

"Yep. They found a starship factory left behind by the race that created the factory that allowed them to exist in this dead system near Spotak," Ryūnosuke said. "They've been building ships faster than what the Americans were doing in World War Two to help them take over thirty-five solar systems close to Earth, thirty to the west of here and five to the east. With that, Earth and Triton – that's where Oyuki's people now live – will be pretty safe from any threats by the Ipraedies and the Seifukusu; they're the Oni's traditional enemies." As people nodded, the tomboy then sighed. "I'll bet that some of those girls might try to go to Yiziba and meet up with some of the local boys; since Avalonians have got meson in their blood, they can mate with native Yizibajohei. With that straightening up the gender balance on Yiziba, Ataru can finally relax for a bit and have all sorts of wonderful pillow scenes with Lum and Chigaiko. A few others, too."

All the boys awked while most of the girls laughed; anything that could punch through the boys' slavish desires for their former classmate from Uru was mana from Heaven to girls like Momoe and Kumiko. A glance to Shinobu revealed that she clearly didn't like the idea of Ataru actually settling down with Lum on a planet THREE HUNDRED LIGHT-YEARS away from Earth . . . and thus free of any influence by Ataru's family or his "oldest friend." Noting that – and vowing to herself that she would talk to Mizuhara Yomi as soon as she could to make sure that Shinobu would be watched over to ensure she didn't do something stupid in the future; with the way Shinobu had been going on and on about what had happened over the last couple days, she had to be watched – Ryūnosuke then turned back to finish her lunch.

"Where's Yon-san?"

Ryūnosuke blinked before she looked at the front door leading into the classroom. Standing there were two members of the girls basketball team, currently in bloomers and T-shirts. "Who the hell are you talking about?" the tomboy then asked.

"Yon-san!" one of the girls stated as she looked around the room. "She's part of this class! She's our forward! We've got practice today; she knows that! Where the hell is she?"

People blinked. "Oi, Ryūnosuke, that's the girl Miss Infinity came to pick up and take to Yiziba so she could get a Gift!" Perm stated. "You know her!"

"Nope," Ryūnosuke stated as she moved to put away her empty bentō box before relaxing in her chair. "I know a girl named Inu Chigaiko. I don't know no 'Yon-san.'" She then gazed on the two basketball players. "So who the fuck are you talkin' about?"

Both girls then winced. "Well, we don't know her name . . . but she always wears number '4' on her jersey, so we call her 'Yon-san!'" one protested.

The tomboy blinked. "And it never occurred to any of you to LEARN her name?"

"Well, we tried! We just couldn't remember it!" the other girl stated.

"And that didn't strike you a little bit strange?" Ryūnosuke asked before shaking her head. "Damn! That girl's put up to this sort of shit all this time? If I was her, I'd quit the damn team! Maybe that's what she's decided to do finally!"

Both players awked. "She can't quit! We need her!" one wailed.

"Nah! What you need is a fuckin' REALITY CHECK!" Ryūnosuke countered back. "Don't you find it the least bit strange that you DON'T know the name of a girl you've played with for however-long she's been on the team? Don't you really want to know WHY that's been happening?" A shake of the head. "Well, if you don't really care about that, it's your fuckin' problem! Think about it . . . and maybe when you finally get a clue, go do somethin' about it! Chigaiko's off on Yiziba getting together with Ataru! Go play your damned game; she's got more important things to do with herself than make idiots like you happy!"

The players gaped at her while all the people in class blinked . . .


Somewhere . . .

Lum had lost all track of time in this timeless place.

But she didn't care.

She was finally learning about – and EXPERIENCING – the life of Redet Danu.

To the members of the Imperial House of Redet alive on Uru and her colonies these days, poor Danu was a kinsman who had been killed by They Who Must Never Be Named right after the attempted "invasion" of That Place by the old Empire in hopes of civilising the wild natives and giving the Urusians an outpost right up against the borders of Vosian space so they could keep watch on events in the Confederation.

Her fate in the wake of the Invasion of You Know Where had never been questioned by historians on Uru, even after the trauma of the Mother of All Fight Scenes.

In the wake of that, it should have been very obvious.

But then again – despite her often wishing it otherwise – Lum knew that her people frequently allowed reason to fly out the airlock whenever something that offended Urusian cultural sensibilities and traditions came up to threaten them in any way, shape or form.

And the Invasion of Yiziba certainly had been THAT!

The traditional Tag Race was meant to be played by Oni, all of whom could fly.

Other peoples, when forced into a Tag Race, often were at a disadvantage.

But not that day in the downtown core of Habitation One.

And not with Lireta Pietbezgu, the fifteenth Rampage of Yiziba.

A tag made in SEVEN SECONDS!

It had been a shock to the Oni leaders over Yiziba at the time.

And while the accusations of cheating were understandable . . .

. . . given that NONE of the Empire's first-contact specialists – people who would have normally spent MONTHS doing an analysis of a potential target world to size up its many strengths and weaknesses – had done ANY sort of detailed scan of Yiziba before Seq Joth had led his invasion fleet there had been nothing short of STUPID!

And given that the Empire had been a feudal monarchy at the time . . .

. . . confronting a race who had long-preserved genetic memories of DICTATORSHIPS that would make even what Adolf Hitler or Josef Stalin had once led on Earth decades ago look like the most pleasant of pastures in comparison – and vowing to CONQUER such a people – showed how utterly ARROGANT the Empire's leadership at the time had been!

Fortunately, the Oni who had gone to Yiziba for the "invasion" had been allowed to live . . . even if their ship had been nearly wrecked by Lireta and his friends and Joth himself put into a body-cast thanks to Danu's future husband.

And that might have just been the end of it . . .

Until homesickness made Danu – then recently Gifted to become the eighteenth Tempest – ask the Academician at the time to help her go visit her family back on Uru.

A family that had been a typical Urusian Imperial aristocratic couple.

A family who – while somewhat relieved that their only daughter was alive and well; news about Danu's "fate" on Yiziba hadn't been good until then – had been horrified to learn that their only child had BECOME a Yizibajohei.

And had MARRIED a Yizibajohei!

And thus, could NOT be made to marry into another Imperial family on Uru.

Women, back then, were just commodities to be traded between families at the whim of the House Patriarch or any of his chosen subordinates.

So their response had been automatic.

Simply inhumane by modern Urusian standards . . . but understandable given the time period and the values held by the Imperial Houses at that time.

Contacting Seq Joth – who had finally recovered from his "failed invasion" of those "ungrateful lessers" from Yiziba – they arranged for Danu to be taken into custody and examined by the Empire's top scientists to learn all the secrets about the Yizibajohei.

Naturally, it was hoped that a weakness could be discovered and exploited.

Danu's life – and her wishes – were totally irrelevant to the matter at hand.

She was just a tool of the Empire.

And in her eventual death, she would be made to serve the Empire one last time . . .


Tomobiki, the Toranoseishin Finances tower, that moment . . .

"Inu Chigaiko?"

"Hai," Ataru called back from the Cave of the Future. "You know her?"

"I remember her from my universe," Tariko stated. "She was a girl that everyone never bothered to remember the name of. Don't recall her fate in my universe, but the chances are pretty good she was dead by the time I got back to Earth. Same here?"

"Yeah. Some sort of weird curse that nailed her sometime before I got my memories back and could sense what was going on." A sigh. "She and Lum are both in the Crystal right now; they went in about an hour ago."

Tariko nodded in understanding. Her own Gifting had lasted about five minutes. Then again, given her experiences – and her desire to remain safe and in control over her life and future – it had been a simple choice to become Wildflower. There had been some others, but the power and passion of the Belle of the Wilderness just seemed right for her, so she had taken the Gift right away. Clearly, Lum and Chigaiko wanted to make the right sort of choice for themselves; since there was no way for anyone to exchange a Gift once a Gift was bestowed, whatever was their final choice was the one they would have to deal with for the rest of their lives. "Do you like her?"

"Yeah. She has a crush on me; I'm the only one who remembered her name all that time. It started when the Red Cloak came by school at a party held last Hallowe'en, but since no one seemed to care to help her – and I had to be very careful about what I was doing – all I could do was put her into my Book as a girl needing help. Liz scanned her when she got a chance; Chigaiko-chan was starting to develop a bad form of leukaemia. If it went too bad, I would have had her brought here right away regardless of the Niphentaxians . . . "

"And all the other idiots around us," she finished.

"Yeah."

She nodded. From what she had learned over the last couple of days, Ataru had – in the wake of his recovering his memories six months before – been forced to play a deadly balancing game between his own desire to see Lum free and safe . . . and making sure that an intergalactic war that would have made the Mother of All Fight Scenes look like a garden tea party in comparison never broke out. He had done all he could to make things right for as many people as he could. The Avalonians, for example; once he had met up with Ganzo dai-Louc and learned the truth of what was going on amongst his people, simple humanity demanded no less from him or his friends. And there were the innocent peoples of the various Federation worlds, including Uru and Triton; if Ataru made the wrong step, those worlds would have faced mad hordes from both the Ipraedies Empire and the Seifukusu Dominion in the blink of an eye. To prevent that, the "Army of Lum" had to be kept intact . . . even though it had lost ALL its skilled artisans and technicians due to the stupid policies the Niphentaxians had enacted concerning their "robot slaves" and would have been exposed to be a hollow sham if the Ipraedies or the Seifukusu had attacked in any decent strength during the last six months.

But now . . .

The news of "They Who Must Never Be Named" living on Earth would get out. Both the Yaminokuni and the Urusians – and yes, the Niphentaxians as well – would see to that, especially now with Lum inside the Great Crystal of Power and most likely meeting up with the living spirit of her own ancestor. Once that did get out, the Avalonians would then go public with the support the Yizibajohei had given and were giving now to their quest to be free and seek out their own destinies on the worlds they were now occupying. With that, the leaders of the Galactic Federation would – hopefully – finally get a clue and expel the Niphentaxians from their alliance, thus leaving them open and vulnerable for the Ipraedies (whose border colonies and a major starbase both lay to the galactic northeast of the Phentax tri-star system) to attack with ease. That would hopefully get Ōgi's people to realise that their actions towards the Avalonians had been in gross error, thus make them very willing to agree to anything to get help from New Avalon and Yiziba.

The One True Church of Lum would be gone in the blink of an eye.

Which would make Lum a very happy woman, Tariko knew.

And with the presence of the Yizibajohei on Earth, the leadership on both Dominos and Ipraedos – atop dealing with the fact that thirty-five solar systems THEY had once claimed were now under the management of the Republic of New Avalon – would probably stop and think. Given that the worlds in question had either not been settled or had been sparsely settled – and that such worlds once had to be protected thanks to ruinous costs in military expenditures by both powers – giving both the Imperial Houses of the Seifukusu Dominion and the Ipraedies Empire an excuse to SAVE all that money seemed logical. Yes, there would be the proud morons who couldn't stand the idea of ALIENS taken over THEIR planets . . . but given that members of the most frightening race in this galaxy were helping the Avalonians stake their claims on worlds like Barsoom, any attempts at launching a retaliatory strike would be stifled by calmer heads amongst the Magate Round on Dominos and Emperor Schwartz's advisors on Ipraedos.

That would make people across the local cluster just as happy, Tariko knew.

Including people on Earth itself . . . once they really learned what was going on in the vast heavens around their world.

That was being arranged right now.

Before Tariko could say anything more, a knock was heard at the door. "Just a sec'," she said to her adopted brother before looking over. "Yes?"

The door opened, revealing Yumoa Reigi. "Am I disturbing you, Hana-sama?"

"Give me a moment," she stated.

He nodded, closing the door behind him. "I'll call you back," Ataru then said.

"Right."

The link with Yiziba was then cut. "C'mon in!" Tariko then said.

Reigi then walked inside. "I'm sorry to disturb you, Hana-sama," he said, bowing to her. "But Mendō Haruka-sama and Mizunokōji Saeko-sama are here to see you."

Tariko blinked. "And the reason they're here?" she asked.

A sigh. "They wouldn't tell me."

A moan. "Alright. Send the idiots in."

A bow. "Hai."

He stepped outside, closing the door behind him. The door then opened to allow two women to come inside. Much to Tariko's private disgust, one of them was being carried on an open-seat palanquin by four Kuromegane bodyguards. Also accompanying the current matriarch of the Mendō Clan of Musashino was her full-time valet and human parrot; Tariko had never learned the moron's name. The other woman walked in herself and had not been accompanied by any of the Kurotenshi bodyguards used by her own family . . . but given how physically powerful Tobimaro's and Asuka's mother Saeko was, she really didn't need such escorts if push came down to shove. Pity she doesn't realise how strong I can be, Tariko mused to herself as she gazed dispassionately at them. "What do you want?"

Hearing that cold question from their current host, Haruka's valet tensed. "Now see here, young lady!" he snapped; Tariko had been quick to note that Mendō's mother had not whispered something to him before he started off. "That is not the way to . . .!"

WHAP!

"Mistress!" he wailed as he stared at a now VERY annoyed Mendō Haruka.

Blushing lightly as Tariko sent her a questioning look, she then leaned down to whisper something into the chastised valet's ear. He then nodded before turning to bow low to the matriarch of the Moroboshi of Mutsu-no-kuni. "I do apologise, Young Mistress, for my impolite outburst," he then said with all contriteness.

"It's about time you idiots learn that the whole world does NOT revolve around you," Tariko then stated. "So I ask again: What the hell do you want?"

Both older women stiffened – though it was utterly hard to tell when it came to Saeko's feelings given the frozen palsy-like smile she projected to everyone she met – and then Tobimaro's mother said, "You made a threat against my daughter."

Tariko's eyebrow arched. "When did I supposedly make this threat?"

"Yesterday when you withdrew your brother and his would-be wife from Tomobiki High School," Saeko stated, her voice not raising a single octave in pitch even if there was a slight battle aura forming around her. "You actually suggested to Haruka-san's son that he seek out that vile Master Happōsai in Nerima for the secrets of some 'ultimate weakness moxibustion' to have employed on my poor child before she married Haruka-san's son! How DARE you make such a threat against my poor daughter, especially after what your brother did to her when they first met months ago? Now you will . . .!"

KK-KKRACK!

"I will what?" the Belle of the Wilderness stated after picking up another diamond that her adopted uncle had found in his explorations and crushed it in her hand.

Both Haruka and Saeko froze in place, stunned by that horrible show of strength . . .


Somewhere . . .

She was cold.

She was in a dark place.

She couldn't hear any noise.

Where was she?

Where was Lireta?

Where were her parents?

WHERE WAS SHE?

Where . . .?

Gasping as the storm of memories from over two centuries before overwhelmed her, Lum tried not to scream out in agony as she felt the naked fear that Danu had experienced when she found herself trapped in some sort of storage tube in a laboratory outside Onishuto. As the still-living Oni warlord's daughter whimpered on seeing how much her ancestor had been made to suffer at the hands of the Imperial Houses of Uru, her body rocked with the real pains of Danu's own body pierced by dozens of probes sending all sorts of chemicals into her body to try to literally freeze her from the inside out, suppress her natural fight-or-flight reflexes to keep the incredible lightning powers of Tempest at bay and to cut off the psionic bond someone had noted she had with the stupid alien lesser that had MARRIED above his station in life.

And no matter what Danu tried to do . . .

She couldn't escape!

She was trapped!

Why?

WHY?

WHY?

"Darling . . . help me . . .!" Lum gasped out.

Calm down, Lum . . .

Lum blinked as the sensations then faded . . .

. . . before the cold vanished.

The darkness became blinding light . . .

. . . that faded into a warm face framed by blond hair and pierced with dark blue eyes.

"Lireta . . . "

The leads were taken out of her body as someone else touched her, allowing energy to surge through her – No! Through Danu's! – body and disperse the chemicals that had come within a hair's breadth of killing her. She was then held by her husband as she wept with relief and joy, glad that she had taken Soul Searcher's offer after their private wedding in the mountains north of the Cave of the Future to form a psychic bond with Lireta so he could be alerted right away in case she got into trouble.

And he had come for her.

And he had brought friends.

Friends who were now gazing upon the physical artefacts of a then-modern version of any self-respecting Yizibajohei's worst nightmare.

To be trapped.

To be enslaved.

To be forced to bow to the will of others.

Never to be given the choice to live free.

Never given the simple right to say "no."

Never to be master of their own destiny.

For those of Lireta's friends who had come to Uru that day . . .

. . . it was the dark days leading to the Dawn of Power all over again.

And their response to what had happened to Lireta's life-mate . . .

. . . was the same as what their first-selves had done seventeen centuries before.

When the Dawn of Power forever spelt the end of normalcy and sameness on their world.

Thanks to selfish people who couldn't see past their own noses . . .

. . . the Urusian people's worst nightmare was upon them at last.

The Mother of All Fight Scenes.


Washington, the White House, that moment (local time: late evening) . . .

"My God . . .!"

A sigh. "It was a very close thing, Mister President."

The President of the United States of America could only shake his head as he gazed upon the written report the Director-in-Chief of the United Nations Special Committee on Alien Activities, Professor Zacharias Rhetor – "Chief Zed" as he was known to his fellow Men In Black – had prepared for him. "The people responsible for this?"

"The ones who were directly involved in Mister Moroboshi being made to forget what he was and where he had been are dead," Zed replied. "All at the hands of Miss Black. Only one agent from my group suffered such a fate; Agent Kay was against it from the start and got his memories of what had happened changed as a result."

"Is he alright?" the British Prime Minister – who had come to America on the pretext of a normal trade visit to enhance the "special relationship" between Washington and London – then asked as he gazed on his own copy of the report. Also present in the Oval Office at this time were the Presidents of France, Russia and the People's Republic of China; all of them had been allowed to travel to the beautiful city on the north shore of the Potomac thanks to their own nations' magical ministries.

"He's fine, Mister Prime Minister. Once he woke up to what had happened to him, he wanted to resign for his not being able to stop Agent Dee." A sigh. "Agent Jay talked him out of it. I was glad for that; Kay's a good man. I'd hate to lose him."

"Well, that's fortunate," the French leader stated. "What of the ICW agents who supported their friends that Mademoiselle Black hunted down?"

A smirk. "Miss Black got the elder Miss Wakefield's help to send their severed heads to their friend's offices via the Discovery," Zed replied. "It got the message out."

Morbid laughter from the other people in the room; the magical section of the United States Secret Service had sealed the Oval Office to ensure the news media didn't catch onto this meeting between the leaders of the world's five most powerful nations. "And Mister Moroboshi's reaction?" the American leader then asked.

"He decided that turnabout is fair play and elected – once he had dealt Miss Lum's so-called 'most faithful' a mortal body blow by taking their bioroid slaves away – to return to Tomobiki to live with his now legally ex-parents; His Imperial Majesty arranged for the man to be made an emancipated minor as a result of this." Zed then sighed. "I'm glad for that. Ataru's mission up to when he went to Tomobiki to seek out Miyake Shinobu is essentially the same as the Special Committee's: Protect all of Earth from alien threats. He just chose to do it the Yizibajohei way."

"Which frowns on any sort of government oversight or structure to muster up metahuman warriors to fight for the people of Earth against any sort of alien threat," the Chinese leader noted; a special translation field was up in the Oval Office to allow the five men to speak in their own language and be understood by all.

"Yes, Mister President."

"Could we find some way to convince these young ladies to come work for us?" the French leader then asked. "Having groups of such beings at our beck and call . . . "

"As long as you don't do anything to remind these people of their own past," Zed warned. "That's always been the big trick when it comes to the Yizibajohei. Almost all of the people who had gained Gifts thanks to Mister Moroboshi – from Miss Kasuga on down – have the memories of a horrendously dark time two millennia ago etched into their very souls. A time that makes World War Two look like a picnic in comparison. Think of all the ugly stories you've all heard about the Holocaust in Europe thanks to the Nazis, the Great Purges unleashed by Stalin, the Killing Fields of Cambodia under Pol Pot – then wrap it all together and expand it to cover the whole planet – and you'll then get a good idea of what the Dawn of Power was ultimately all about."

"Have there been alien species who've got along with them?" the Russian leader asked.

"Many of them, Mister President," Zed stated. "As a matter of fact, many of the aliens now living on Earth that my organisation normally watches over – once they got the initial news about Mister Moroboshi being Tuyuki – were quite relieved that Yiziba has 'extended its protection' over Earth. This means that incidents like what happened when that Bug came to Earth looking for the Galaxy to prosecute their war with the Arquillians will – if not eliminated – be kept to a very dull roar."

"Did the Urusians react when the Arquillians came here?" the British leader asked.

"Their reaction – in a sense – was the Tag Race last year, Mister Prime Minister." The incident with the Bug had rocked New York City two years before. "Even if the Arquillians are from a different sector of the galaxy, that they didn't bother to acknowledge any of the local powers when they came here ruffled a lot of feathers in Onishuto and elsewhere. That, tagged onto what the Ipraedies were planning . . . "

The others in the room nodded. Thanks to the Men In Black, they all knew the Urusian "invasion" of Earth was actually meant as a way to keep Earth free of the influence of any potential "hostile" alien power. The Ipraedies Empire and the Imperial Houses of the Seifukusu Dominion were the two top powers on that list. Lower down were Earth's own closest galactic neighbours, so to speak: The Imperial Dominion of Noukiios, who controlled a world in the Alpha Centauri system about four light-years from Earth. And there were others as well. Given Lum's presence in Tomobiki over the last year – she being joined full-time by her cousin Ten and childhood friend Ran, not to mention visited by her ex-fiancé Rei and her current best friends Benten and Oyuki from time to time – the actual incidents of unsanctioned (to the MIBs) alien intrusions on Earth had died down; the recent incident concerning the Light of Zartha two months before being the only thing that had caught any attention from Onishuto.

Now with the Yizibajohei presence going public very soon . . .!

"So will there be an invasion?" the Chinese leader stated.

"From the Urusian Imperials?" Zed asked. "Doubtful. Miss Wakefield's defensive units at the Ceres orbit line have done much to deter any unsanctioned visits into this solar system by anyone from Uru. However, if the leaders of the Imperial Round do get wind of what Miss Wakefield has been doing concerning their attempts at getting Terran orphans to become slave servants on Uru, they will be put off."

"They should be eliminated, you mean," the American President stated.

A sigh. "Yes, sir."

With that, the "leader of the free world" tapped a switch on his telephone keypad.

"Get Miss Black."

To be continued . . .


WRITER'S NOTES:

1) The scene Ataru refers to concerning what Shinobu confessed to Inaba about her own desires appeared in the Yatsura manga story "Tomorrow Once More" (manga episode #333). This scene – repeated in the anime OVA Inaba the Dream-maker – has long convinced me that Shinobu really doesn't care for Ataru as a friend should care for a friend.

2) Marubeya Momoe and Gekasawa Kumiko were introduced in the manga story "Even Though I Wait for You" (manga episode #27). Their family names are my creation.

3) The abandoned Sagussan fleet in orbit over Den'sha Two near Spotak was first revealed in the TSY story "Great Father Ataru Stage Six: Auction."

4) The Magate Round (the council of princes who rule the Seifukusu Dominion) were first introduced in the TSY/Sailor Moon crossover story Lonely They Who Guard. Emperor Schwartz was first introduced in the TSY story "Enter Space-Hybrid Hazel."

5) Mendō's mother was introduced in the manga story "The Parents' Day from Hell" (manga episode #51). Tobimaro's mother was first introduced in the storyline "That Mizunokōji Girl" (manga episodes #221-224). The given names they have here are my creation, as are the name for the family bodyguards, the Kurotenshi ("Black Angels").

6) Zacharias Rhetor is the name I gave to Chief Zed (as played by Rip Thorn in the Men In Black movies). The incident concerning the Bug and the Arquillians was depicted in the first MIB movie (released in 1997). The incident concerning the Light of Zartha was depicted in the second MIB movie (released in 2002).


The Book of Pretty Girls, Entry 469:

DOCTOR DEATH
The Herald of the Final Darkness

Generation: 33rd
Age at Gifting: 10 years, 3 months

Real Name: Margo Elaine BLACK (née CHAPELLE)
Relatives: Daniel Wilson "Dan" CHAPELLE (father, deceased), Emmeline Karen CHAPELLE (née CARTER) (mother, deceased), Nora Christina CHAPELLE (younger twin sister; Accretor, see Entry 513), Blanche Joanna CHAPELLE (née JACKSON) (stepmother, deceased), multiple adopted parents and siblings (relationships not acknowledged, several deceased)
Affiliation: Self, her sister, Coyote (see Entry 0)
Base of Operations: City of Savannah, County of Chatham, State of Georgia, United States of America
Alignment: Neutral/Heel/Anti-face
Identity: On Yiziba, publicly known; on Earth, Margo is known to the child care authorities of New York and Georgia while her being Yizibajohei as Doctor Death is known to very few in the American government
Race/Culture of Birth: Terran/American
Place of Birth: City of Savannah, County of Chatham, State of Georgia, United States of America
Gender: Female
Height: 168 cm (5' 6")
Weight: 47.5 kg (105 lb)
Eyes: Grey
Hair: Black

Gifts:
Necrosis Energy Control (the "Touch of Death"):
Doctor Death has the ability to create a lethal Grade Three ("ebony meson") mesonium-based toxin in her body that unleashes a deadly necrosis in the cell tissue of any living thing she touches. Regardless of the personal strength and invulnerability of whomever she touches, her power can literally cause a living being her physical size to die and disintegrate into dust and ashes within ten seconds. Magical defences (such as the energy that maintains the life-forces of such beings as vampires and lycanthropes) do not protect anyone she comes into contact with and when she unleashes her power. The only sure-fire defence against the Doctor's touch is to NEVER BE TOUCHED when she seeks to kill someone. Of course, thanks to the Doll programming that she inherited when Infinity (see Entry 1) allowed her to "swap bodies" after her Gifting, Margo has full control over her powers. She could, with ease, STOP someone from dying using her powers . . . though she is normally quite loath to do something like that as such would offend her sensibilities.
Reality Warping: Doctor Death has the power to alter reality to a limited extent, usually when it is within very close range to her body. Usually, this power gives her the ability to negate the natural laws of physics in a way that would allow her to seize control of any deceased or "un-dead" being such as a vampire or inferi, though she has the ability to extend her powers further if required. Her normal range of influence is about ten kilometres from her person; such can be augmented if there is a high concentration of magical or psionic energy the Doctor can tap into.
Psionic/Magical Mental Shield: As an extension of her powers, Doctor Death can also resist any form of telepathic, empathic or magical tampering with her mind. She cannot be possessed by any disembodied spirit or other form of metaphysical entity such as what are termed "gods" or "devils" by others. Atop that, the Doctor can resist all known Terran forms of death magic or psionic attacks meant to induce death such as the Avada Kedavra (Killing Curse) spell. Only those mega-metas such as Infinity have the power to break down the Doctor's mental defences if necessary.
Meta-True Senses: An extension of her reality-warping ability gives Doctor Death a form of "meta-senses" which allows her to perceive anything in any dimension that attracts her attention. She could literally gaze through any form of magical, technological or psionic disguise, perceive ghosts and other non-corporeal spirits, note the shift of the space-time continuum and look at things millions of kilometres away. While not as expressive with this power as Infinity is with her own abilities, the Doctor could act as a living tracker to find anyone that interests her. She could chat with different beings at different levels of omnipotence across the dimensional veils, though she normally doesn't bother such beings unless they "speak" to her first. Given her normal view of life, the Doctor prefers to speak with beings associated with Entropy more than the spirits of Creation that Infinity herself converses with. With her powers, it is virtually IMPOSSIBLE to deceive the Doctor whenever she casts her powers on a particular object of interest; using this ability, she could give the name, origin and history of any particular sentient being with just a few seconds' glance.
Broadcast Telepathy: A limited range telepathy that allows the Doctor to communicate with people within ten kilometres range to strangers or fifty kilometres to friends.
Empathy: A limited form of empathic sensory which allows the Doctor to gauge the mood of people close to him, usually within a kilometre range of his person.
Doll Programming: Shortly after her Gifting, Margo was transformed into a Doll, one of the synthezoids created by the first Infinity to act as replacement bodies for those non-Gifted Yizibajohei children who might have died before gaining the chance to go to the Cave of the Future. With that, she has increased mental skills, a computer-like organised mind and a nearly-eidetic memory. Such helps her when she goes out on a mission to kill someone; this also helps her assimilate the memories of her target so she could use that knowledge to seek out further targets if required.

Personality:

Like Infinity, Doctor Death has a whole slew of nicknames:

The Death-Bringer.

The Herald of the Final Darkness.

The Archangel of Mortality.

The Man/Lady with the Lethal Touch.

The most despised and feared heel throughout Yizibajohei history, Doctor Death is often viewed as the exact opposite of Infinity by many of their countrymen and other beings who know of these two. When the Goddess Who Walks Amongst Men makes something, the Herald of the Final Darkness destroys it. When Infinity saves lives, Doctor Death ends them. When the Infinite One shines with the power of Creation, the Angel of Death is forever darkened with the blackness of Entropy billowing from within her very soul.

And none could fit such a powerful being better than Margo Black.

The elder of twin daughters of a moderately-wealthy shipping magnate from the Atlantic coast of Georgia who lost their mother in childbirth, Margo was a feisty child, always fighting with other children at the barest provocation. Only when she was close to her beloved twin sister Nora did Margo calm down and act with any sort of civility. Their stepmother Blanche soon reached her tolerance limit concerning the wild Margo and – after convincing Dan that such was the best – had the girl dispatched to New York to have her adopted by someone there. The lawyer that assisted Blanche in sending Margo up north into "Yankee" territory managed to get her family name changed from "Chapelle" to "Black" to ensure that Margo could never come back to Savannah in case she wanted to locate her true family.

Once subject to the variables of the New York state adoption system, the former daughter of the South found herself in loveless home after loveless home, being abused by parents who really couldn't make themselves care for her. Over time, a growing caldron of anger and hatred towards the cold world she had been forced to become a part of began to billow within Margo's soul, transforming a nominally feisty girl into a sociopathic monster that – by the time she reached her tenth birthday – had made her kill six people (all adopted parents or siblings) with frightful ease . . . and literally getting away with it as well!

And then a strange boy came into her life.

While at first mistrustful of Moroboshi Ataru, Margo certainly couldn't reject his overtures of friendship . . . especially when it came with good food, a nice place to stay in the country – even if it was on another PLANET! – and the hope that somehow, someway, Margo could reunite with her twin sister and be with her real family again. Of course, a certain offer was made . . . which Margo accepted.

And she became the Herald of the Final Darkness.

Of course, while the current Doctor Death is quite willing and able to end the life of anyone that crosses her path, the fact that she had received her Gift thanks to a kind boy named Moroboshi Ataru has served to soften the harsh edges of this walking, talking human killing machine. That guaranteed that when Margo finally got back together with Nora a year after the former's Gifting – when the latter became Accretor and Margo finally got her revenge on Blanche Chapelle for seeing to it that her stepdaughters had been separated in the first place; Margo used her powers to make Blanche "confess" her crimes before "commiting suicide" – the authorities in Washington finally took notice of this young, lethal killer . . . but decided to not punish her for her past actions given what Dan himself would learn thanks to Moroboshi Ataru and Margo before he himself passed away from guilt over allowing his babies to suffer like he did over the years. To test Margo's loyalty, the President of the United States asked her to kill an al-Qā'idah operative in Iraq who had been responsible for the deaths of several Army servicemen. Margo – who knew that her father had once served their country in the first Gulf War – was willing to go along with it . . . and to the awe of all who were in on it, brought back the severed head of the target and placed it on the President's own desk in the White House.

"Anyone else you need to get rid of, Mister President?"

And since that time, the Herald of the Final Darkness – along with her twin sister – has served as the unofficial professional assassin squad for the White House. Making sure that the deaths of all of Margo's past victims wouldn't cause any problems (to say anything of Blanche Chapelle's relatives, who were all horrified to learn that "crazy Margo" had come back to live with Nora in Savannah . . . and was clearly supported by very powerful people), the President – after becoming the unofficial legal guardian to the pair in the wake of Dan Chapelle's death – arranged to have Margo move back to Georgia to be with her twin sister at the Chapelle home in Savannah. To this day, Margo and Nora live together, undergo private tutoring paid for by Washington and are always ready to go out to "catch and compromise to a permanent end" their homeland's – and recently, their home PLANET'S – many enemies.

Margo, naturally, was happy to ensure those who had attacked and brainwashed Ataru just before Redet Lum (see Entry 2) came back into his life were dealt with as well.

Like many other girls in the Book, Margo does love Ataru. In many ways, her feelings for him are equal to those of her "rival" Kasuga Ayumu. And with her greater sense of self-control over her powers in comparison to past Doctors, Margo knows that any pillow scene with the current Coyote won't end badly. Of course, like Infinity, the Doctor is viewed with wariness by potential rivals because of her feelings for Coyote.

Ironically, Margo Black and Nora Chapelle both bear a striking resemblance to another pair of identical twins, Elizabeth and Jessica Wakefield (the Academician and Rampage, see Entries 531 and 532) of Sweet Valley in California. Such – once Margo's existence became better known by the members of the Boosters of Sweet Valley – made the Herald of the Final Darkness an object of curiosity in the eyes of the Wakefield twins and their friends . . . though, like other sensible people, Elizabeth and Jessica gladly prefer that Margo stays in Georgia in lieu of travelling down I-10 to California!

Where such would lead the Doctor, of course . . .!