WAGES OF OUR FOLLIES
Chapter 1: "The Summons"
A Sailor Moon/Sakura Taisen crossover fanfic
By Bill K.
Sailor Moon and all related characters are (c)2012 by Naoko Takeuchi and are used without permission, but with respect. Story is (c)2012 by Bill K.
The characters of the Sakura Taisen video game, manga and anime, which is ( c ) 2012 by SEGA, are used without permission, but with respect.
Friday, March 4, 2011:
"Thank you for driving us, Ami," Rei said suddenly.
It was almost an afterthought. Minako glanced over at the priest, sitting on the other side of Makoto as the three wedged in the back of Ami's Toyota mid-size. Minako didn't say anything, but it was obvious to her that the late recall of manners that Rei was compulsive about spoke of her mood. Rei never forgot such things unless she was angry or preoccupied with something - - and she clearly wasn't angry.
"I could have driven us," Minako suggested, trying to lighten the mood.
"Like Rei said," Makoto spoke up, glancing wryly at Minako. "Thanks, Ames."
Makoto had risen to the bait Minako had laid out. But Rei just looked out the window.
"You know, if SOMEONE wasn't built like a Shinto shrine, we'd have enough room for three back here," needled Minako, nudging Makoto with her hip. Makoto nudged back, but Rei ignored the banter. "So who were we going to see again?" Minako came out directly. Clearly subtlety wasn't going to work on Rei in this mood.
"Sakura Ogami," Ami said, easing the Toyota onto the road headed to the northern part of Tokyo.
"That name sounds familiar," Usagi spoke up. She was sitting in the front with Ami. "Was she an idol or something?"
"No she wasn't an idol!" snapped Rei. Minako observed the swell of emotion in the priest's face. "Ogami-Sensei is a priest! She may be the greatest priest in the history of Japan! She was the priest my grandfather apprenticed under."
"Really?" gasped Usagi, oblivious to Rei's annoyance once dear departed "Grampa" entered the conversation.
"Well that explains why you know her," Minako posed. "Why would we know her?"
"Ogami is her married name." Ami related. "Ogami-Sensei was also a member of the Imperial Flower Division back in the twenties, when she was known as Sakura Shinguji."
"No joke?" gasped Minako. "I saw the anime about them! With those old steam-powered battle suits? Those were too cool for school!"
"I remember that! Wasn't Ensign Ogami just too cute!" Usagi joined in.
"That was a very fictionalized account of historical events," Ami informed them. "While they did pioneer the science of hard suit technology, those anime took a great deal of - - creative liberties with actual historical fact and science."
"Yeah, because actual historical fact makes for REALLY interesting movie going," Minako scowled.
"But that happened in the twenties, didn't it?" Makoto asked. "That means this Ogami-Sensei has to be . . .?"
"She's one hundred and four years old," Rei finished the thought. "Ogami-Sensei is confined to a nursing home in the north."
"How is her health?" Ami asked, both from compassion and from medical curiosity.
"I don't know," Rei answered pensively. "In spite of our family connection, this is the first contact I've had with her since I was five. I've made attempts, but she's - - very reclusive now. She has been ever since going into the nursing home almost fifteen years ago. The fact that she's summoned me to her now, out of the blue, really has me concerned."
"You think she's," Usagi ventured timidly, "about to die?"
"She's one hundred and four. The thought crossed my mind," Rei admitted. "Maybe she has something she needs to get off of her chest." She shrugged helplessly. "Or maybe she just wants to say 'good-bye'."
"I doubt it's that," Minako suggested. "If she just wants to say 'good-bye', why ask for us to come along? We didn't know her."
"I thought of that, too," Rei frowned. "But that would mean it could be something worse than just her dying."
There was an artificial quality to the facility, though it tried not to be. The staff was pleasant. The walls were painted in cheery colors and the furnishings were comfortable. Decorative flora surrounded the facility and was in good supply inside as well. The people living there put on a happy face and tried to be cheerful. But it all couldn't quite disguise the fact that the people who lived there were there because they could no longer take care of themselves, they had no family to care for them or else no family who wanted to care for them, and they were basically waiting to die. It was knowing that reason deep down that kept Rei from bristling when Usagi stopped to cheer up a woman sitting in the lobby seemingly lost in a mild depression. The priest wanted to get to her destination as soon as possible, but realized that to object would be cruel to the person Usagi was visiting.
"You ever wonder what you're going to do when you get old?" Makoto wondered aloud to the others, but not so loudly that anyone beyond their group could hear.
"Only in my nightmares," Minako scowled. "I'm not ready to do character parts."
"It doesn't have to be a death sentence, Blondie. Your mom is, what, fifty now? And she still looks good. And Rei's dad is still pretty good looking. And Ami's mom . . ."
"All the more reason to take care of your health now," Ami observed. "The more you take care of your body, the longer it will function at peak efficiency."
"This has been a public service announcement from the Japanese Ministry Of Health," Minako groused. "So what's better: Live fast and die young, or die old, but never have lived?"
"There's a third possibility you haven't considered," Ami countered, glancing disdainfully over her glasses. "Live fast and then spend the last thirty years of your life paying for it."
"That poor woman," Usagi said when she rejoined the group. "She has no family who visit her and her only friend just died last week. I wish I could do something more for her."
"Maybe we can give her room number to a few of the guys living here," Minako leered. In spite of herself, Rei snorted out a laugh that put everyone temporarily at ease.
Arriving at Sakura Ogami's room, Rei politely knocked, then entered as the staff said to do. A television was on in the room. Laying in the bed was a frail-looking old woman. Her skin was white and wrinkled and seemed as fragile as tissue. She was barely skin and bones, her body atrophying with each passing day. Long white hair fanned out from her head across the pillow and mattress. Thick black frame glasses with thick lenses sat on her face. An intravenous solution dripped through a tube into one arm. Her head turned slightly at the sound of the door with the most feeble of motion. But her eyes locked onto them and it was clear that the mind behind them was as sharp as any of them.
"Come in," the old woman gestured with a gnarled claw of a hand. Her voice was hoarse and raspy. Rei moved forward, with Ami at her side looking intently at the old woman. The others hung back. "My, but you look so much like Gon's daughter. You have to be Rei. How long has it been?"
"Twenty-five years, at least, Sensei," Rei answered. She was in total awe of this woman and just a little intimidated.
"You don't have to be so formal," Ogami grinned. "You're not five anymore, and I'm not the priest I once was. Sakura will do, if I can call you Rei."
"I'd be honored," Rei nodded.
"Can I get you a drink?" Ami asked.
"Thank you," Ogami smiled, "but I can still do a few things for myself. The raspy voice is more from brittle vocal cords than anything." She turned back to Rei. "Thank you for coming. And thank you for bringing your friends."
"How exactly do you know about us?" Makoto asked.
"I knew you were friends with Rei from Gon - - that's Rei's grandfather. Gon and I kept in touch over the years, at his insistence I must admit. I wanted to completely withdraw from the world after my body began to decline, but Gon wouldn't let me. He always had a way of bending you to his will without you knowing you were being bent until it was too late." Her mood turned melancholy. "He was a good priest. He could have been an excellent one if he could have kept his mind from wandering to girls all the time."
Several knowing giggles punctuated that statement.
"As for your - - other qualities," Ogami continued and chills suddenly ran down the spines of her five guests, "I have had ways of seeing things that aren't always visible to other people. You know what I mean, Rei. It may even be stronger in you."
"Remarkable," Ami said. "Have you ever been tested for PKE ability?"
Ogami waved her gnarled hand. "It's not important now. The reason I summoned you five here is because there are things in my past that connects with your families and ultimately to you." Her brow furrowed. "I don't know why I suddenly sensed this need. But I've learned not to argue with such feelings. So if you don't mind listening to the ramblings of an old woman, I want to tell you about something that happened long ago."
The five visitors found places to sit around Ogami's bed. The old women took a deep breath to clear her mind and strengthen her voice.
"It first started in December of 1945," she began. "Tokyo was four months into the American occupation."
It was a bleak winter for Japan, the latest of several bleak winters. The infrastructure of Tokyo was cracked and broken from the bombings of the US Air Force, and Tokyo had gotten off lightly compared to some other cities. And were it not for that same US military, they'd all be starving as they had during the spring and summer. But on top of that, Tokyo was just now settling back into a routine. The war was finally over.
Sakura Ogami walked through the streets of Tokyo headed for the small cluster of shops and restaurants near the shrine she ran. Her mission was to collect her wayward pupil, Gon Narita, but the walk also gave her the chance to get away from the shrine and mingle with the population. Adorned in her priest's robes and the crimson ribbon that held her long, thick black hair back from her head, she was an impressive figure on the streets in spite of her short stature. Strangers noticed her striking, mature beauty. Locals knew of her physical and spiritual strength.
Her mission was two-fold, for it also hopefully gave her a chance to not wonder about her husband, Commander Ichiro Ogami. Troops had been coming home to Japan for months now, ever since the surrender papers had been signed. It had already been months since she had heard from him or heard of news about the fighter squadron he commanded. Now the fear gnawed at her that she would never hear from him again. So many women came to the shrine telling her stories of husbands and sons who had died in the final desperate days trying to hold off the Americans, or killed themselves under orders rather than be captured alive. So many more came, wondering why their husbands and sons hadn't come home, wondering where they were, wondering if they would ever know if they were alive or dead. As a priest, they looked to her for guidance. But what guidance could she give them when she was in the same boat they were?
On a whim, Sakura stopped by the small grocery shop owned by Suichiro Mizuno. Upon hearing the bell, Mizuno and his wife Sukio, four months pregnant, both hurried out and bowed to their customer. Their faces lit up when they saw the priest.
"Sensei!" Mizuno beamed. "How nice to see you! Is this a social call or did you wish to buy something?"
Mizuno tried to disguise the desperation in his voice, but Sakura could see differently. A merchant who sold food had a hard time of it when there was little food to sell, little money among the neighborhood to buy with, and humanitarian food aide was being doled out by the Occupation Forces in direct competition with him. Suichiro Mizuno, small and thin and unimpressive physically, was a kind man and had been a good friend to her during the hard times she faced during the war. Now he was on hard times.
"Actually I was just looking for my wandering apprentice," Ogami informed him. There was a tug at her heart. She hadn't intended to buy anything. "But as long as I'm here, I'll have some Oolong tea. And maybe three of those radishes."
Bowing crisply, Mizuno limped over to the shelf to retrieve a box of tea while his wife wrapped some radishes in brown paper. Suichiro Mizuno was one of the few men younger than Ogami who had been in Tokyo during the war. Since his lower left leg was gone due to an accident and was replaced with a wooden peg, he had been unfit for military service even during the desperate times of early 1945. Which, Ogami felt, was a good thing, as someone as kind and as gentle as the slight Suichiro Mizuno would have made a poor soldier.
"I'm sorry I haven't seen Narita-San," Mizuno told her as she handed him some coins. "Does he wander away from his duties often?"
"More than he should," Ogami offered.
Mizuno leaned in, his black hair falling across his eyes. "Maybe he's possessed by a demon." Suichiro Mizuno may have been a kind man, but he wasn't a modern one. He still believed all of the old superstitions that had ruled the undereducated Japanese peasant class for centuries.
"He's possessed by a lustful eye," snorted Sukio. Ogami smothered a laugh.
"Now, Mizuno-San, if he were possessed, don't you think I'd know it?" Ogami asked.
"Yes, I suppose you would," Mizuno nodded thoughtfully. Then his eyes grew wide. "Maybe the Americans got him!"
"The Americans don't eat people!" fussed Sukio. "You've never seen one eat a person, have you!"
"They do it at night when no one can see them!" Suichiro hissed back.
"Mizuno-San," Ogami said patiently, her hand on the grocer's shoulder, "I've told you before the Americans don't eat people. That's just a story the government told us - - and they were wrong about everything else."
"I told you!" Sukio scowled.
"As you say, Sensei," Mizuno said, bowing to her. "You know more about these things than I do. Good fortune in finding Narita-San."
"Thank you," Ogami nodded as she turned to leave. "And good fortune to you, too. I'll pray that your business picks up."
"Pray that things pick up for all of Japan," Mizuno countered.
Back on the street, Ogami-Sensei headed next for a teahouse that was a favorite hangout of Gon Narita before he became her apprentice. Sure enough, she found him there, engaged in an animated conversation with Futabara Hino, who was also apprenticing as a priest at another shrine. As she approached, she could hear their conversation.
"It's shameful," Hino argued. He was tall and slender, with black hair and violet eyes. The youth was passably handsome, but not her type. "Selling themselves to anyone who has five hundred yen. It's a sign of how far this country has fallen."
"I admit," replied Narita, a shorter, bulkier man with a moon face and a shaven head, "that desperate times has forced some to desperate measures. But I have to disagree with you in one respect: Surviving is never shameful."
"Come off it, Gon. They're not doing it to survive. They're doing it to thumb their nose at the government. They feel lied to, and they were, but shaming everyone around you isn't the proper response. Just because you like looking at them . . ."
"What are you two so animated about, if I may ask?" Ogami asked, coming up next to their table.
"Ogami-Sensei!" Hino gasped and bowed respectfully. Narita also got up and bowed to her. "We were just debating the implications of . . well . . ."
"Of the Pan-Pan Girls," Narita interjected. "I apologize if I'm late getting back to the shrine, but Hino and I just got caught up in the debate . . ."
"And I'm certain the subject is very dear to you," Ogami replied with a cynical grin. Narita just gave her a guilty smile.
"It's my fault for keeping him, Sensei," offered Hino. "Don't be angry with him."
"I'm not, I guess," Ogami responded. "It got me out of the shrine, I guess."
"Has there been any word about Commander Ogami?"
"No," Ogami said softly and looked down.
"I'll say a prayer for him," Hino told her.
Ogami nodded and turned to go. Narita fell in behind her. Quietly they walked back to the shrine.
"It would be a tragedy if Commander Ogami has been claimed by this war," Narita offered. "Given everything else you've suffered because of it."
"He didn't want to go," Ogami related. "He thought command had gone too far, drawing the British and the Americans into the conflict with China and the Philippines. But he was an officer and he followed orders, even if he didn't agree with them. There was no other alternative to his mind."
"I'm not so dedicated," Narita mused. "I'm glad I didn't have to go."
"Sometimes I wonder if you only became my apprentice so you wouldn't have to join the army," Sakura said, glancing at him with a wry look.
"Not true. I believe in peace and I have a need to guide others along the spiritual path," Narita replied. Then he grinned. "Getting out of serving in the army was just a bonus."
"Remember that when you're scrubbing the floors tonight," Ogami told him.
Then she stopped short. Narita took another step before he realized she had stopped, and looked curiously at her. The priest was staring down the street at two US marines walking down the street. They were chatting with each other, oblivious to everything around them, probably headed back to the marine garrison by the port.
"Sensei?" Narita asked. "What is it?"
Without warning, a Japanese man burst out of one of the buildings and charged the two marines. He was thin and gaunt with the haunted expression that both Ogami and Narita had seen on the returning soldiers. The man stopped for a moment, as if surprised the door had held so little opposition to him. Then he charged the two marines, emitting a blood-curdling howl. A long kitchen knife was in his right hand.
Continued in Chapter 2