Author's Forward: Hi all, I totally broke this chapter by uploading a corrected version of chapter 11 on top of it. I had to go back and find old versions on my hard drive, and fix it from top to bottom again. I think the original version I published was on my work PC. Hopefully, I can restore it to normal on Monday. Until then, here's a version of 10 that is at least close to the original.
My Love's Flame
A Ranma 1/2 and Sailor Moon Crossover
by Ryan Erik
On a particularly lovely Tuesday afternoon, a schoolgirl in a blue and white seifuku slowly walked up Cherry Hill towards the shrine at the top of it. The sensitive skin on her lithe legs chafed against the blue fabric over her newly-purchased seifuku skirt with each step up the hill. The girl's long, straw-colored hair, which she had tied in a loose knot, only thwarted gravity due to the blue baseball cap she wore over it. She carried a modest, blue bowtie handbag slung over her left shoulder, and a pop culture magazine rolled up in her right hand.
She arrived at the top of the stairs before the gates of the Hikawa Shrine a bit winded after the trek up the stairs from the street below. The air above the suburb was cooler due to the southern wind that blew over it, bringing with it the sounds of birds, most noticeably a pair of ravens staring down at her from their perch atop the sign above the gate. She stared at them curiously as she walked under an archway before the entrance to the temple.
Pausing halfway between the gates and the top of the stairs, she gazed into the shrine's courtyard. It looked like any other, a small, but well-kept Shinto temple with trees, gardens and a general abundance of nature around the gravel paths leading up to and around the shrine's main structure. Inside, an elderly priest performed a ritual for a handful of old women who formed a half-circle around him.
The girl briefly remembered coming here as a child with her parents on Tanabata to scrawl wishes on paper to hang on trees, and at New Year to watch the one hundred and eight ringings of the shrine's bell at midnight to wash away their sins. She had believed as a child that she would reach the stars, and that she would meet a valiant hero, who would sweep her off her feet. Her juvenile mind saw images in her dreams that may have very well been images from her past life.
When all of my dreams have already come true, what's left? she thought wistfully, as she pushed a wisp of blond hair that fell out from under her cap out of her eyes.
Lost in thought, she only noticed the rabble of primary school children run past her when they shouted after running past the gates. Two boys sprinted past her on either side, laughing and yelling, followed by a girl chasing them. She smiled after them, when suddenly she felt a fourth one smack directly into her backside, causing her to drop her magazine in surprise.
"Ouch!" the boy behind her cried out. As he began to pick himself off the pavement, the girl turned to look at him. Between his red backpack, his messy blond hair sticking up everywhere, and his diminutive height, he looked all of nine or ten years of age, at best. His backpack had fallen in the collision, causing it to spill open. "Watch it, lady!"
"Whatever, kid," she said, kneeling down to collect the boy's possessions. She picked up a few manga, one schoolbook and an item that caused her to stare at it speechlessly.
"Hey, don't touch that!" he exclaimed, attempting to take his backpack from her. Upon seeing that she was holding what might have well been his prized possession, he tried to snatch it from her.
"What is this?" she asked him, curious if he knew the significance of a very close replica of her Sailor V mask.
"Sailor V punishes thieves!" he told the genuine article without knowing it.
Minako Aino stood up, towering over him. She was about a head taller than the prepubescent boy, so she used her extra height to look menacing, placing her hands on her hips and glaring down at him. "I'll take that as an apology. Watch where you're running next time, kid."
She handed him the mask, which he grabbed as quickly as he could, stuffing it into his backpack. Rather than showing respect, the boy suddenly bent down and grabbed the end of her skirt. One step ahead of him, she pulled back with a quick step backward, pushing away his hand before he had a chance to flip it.
"Sailor V doesn't like skirt flippers either," she warned him. The boy's eyes widened, locking onto something behind her. As he began to scamper away, she yelled at his back, "You better run!"
"Trouble with the locals?" a small male voice asked from behind her. Despite his sneakiness, Minako didn't jump from the unexpected contact with her mentor.
"Quiet, Artemis," she told him, turning around to face him. "If any of them hear you, you'll be the one having trouble with the locals."
"We're the only ones in like thirty yards," he whined, walking around to face her. The white cat with the half-moon symbol on his forehead had a small body, but had enough attitude to fill a dozen little boys. "You're not still mad about the whole singing contest thing, are you?"
"Mad about entering, or winning?" she quipped, turning her glare to Artemis. "You have it easy here, waiting for me while my agent sends me all over Japan to sing at concerts and not completing my mission."
"I already said I'm not going to apologize for you winning the idol contest," he told her seriously, walking over to her magazine. He pushed it with his paw. "Entering was your duty as a soldier of justice. You only won because you took the singing part too seriously."
"My fault, he says," she whined, bending over to pick up her magazine up, causing her baseball cap to fall off her head, in turn causing her blond hair to spill onto her shoulders and down her back. "You have to reach the finals to uncover the Dark agent, he says. Maybe beating her at her own game will uncover her evil secret identity, he says."
"Hey, it was an honest mistake," Artemis complained, as Minako picked up her cap. "It's been tough identifying them since we lost contact with the Boss. Who could have known it was the host that was causing all of the girls to lose their energy?"
Five months ago, she had used her real name to pose as a wannabe idol for a national televised contest, since her disguise powers couldn't conjure up the proper identification to beat the show's rigorous background check process. The show had been rescheduled twice already due to contestants mysteriously falling unconscious and going into comas. The Boss' last instructions had been to go there to investigate and shut down any agents of the Dark Kingdom.
"I don't want to talk about it anymore," she told him.
"Alright," he replied, sitting by her foot. "I'll change the subject, then. Why are reading about yourself in that rag, anyway? It'll just blow your cover right away if anyone sees the cover with your face in view."
"This is the first time this week I've even had a day to myself," she began, tying her hair up so she could put her cap back on. "I'm not letting some feeling I had at this shrine five years ago get in the way of catching up on gossip on Sailor V. I shouldn't have ever told you about it anyway."
"Are you kidding?" he asked, pawing her as he always did when he wanted her to pick him up, but didn't want to say it. "This is the closest thing we have to a clue. I figure we case the place and see if anything strange happens. Who knows? We might get lucky."
Careful not to lose her cap this time, she reached down and scooped Artemis into her arms. The white cat began to purr as he adjusted his paws over her forearm. She then walked through the gates into the temple. As she passed through the gates, the two ravens who had been watching her the whole time both took flight in unison, squawking as they retreated inside the shrine's grounds.
"Does that count?" she whispered to her passenger.
"Birds aren't strange happenings," Artemis said, disapprovingly. "If they turned into flames and took off with a liquid hot trail, then I'd call it strange."
"Baka," she whispered, shaking her head. "Let's walk around a bit."
The temple courtyard felt entirely different to Minako after entering, as the walls shielded her from the breeze and the warm, late afternoon sun warmed her skin. How much of my mood is colored by the environment? Already feeling better, she approached the shrine, enjoying the feeling of the gravel crunching beneath her sneakers.
"There is something weird about this place," Artemis whispered, wrinkling his whiskers. "I can't put my paw on it, but I think we're supposed to be here."
"Sure we are," Minako teased, rubbing his head. "You're just happy to see me, aren't you?"
"Of course I missed my student," he said matter-of-factly. "There were so many things I needed you to investigate, but couldn't since you were on tour."
"Really?" she asked, raising her eyebrows.
"No," he admitted. "Not really."
"Baka," she replied.
They walked around the temple grounds, dodging kids and avoiding bothering the locals who were praying with the old priest. After scoping the place, she noticed an old lady had sat on a bench on the path around the left side of the garden.
"I'm going to go ask her questions," she told Artemis, using her body to direct his view towards the solitary woman. "You look around back?"
"Roger," he told her, hopping out of her arms. "I'll meet you back at that bench in ten."
Taking the initiative, Minako hurried down the path to the bench with the old woman sitting on it and sat down next to her. The elder smiled at her and bowed her head slightly.
"Hello," Minako said formally, smiling at the old woman. "Do you live around here?"
"Oh, yes," the old woman said, scrunching her wrinkly face in a smile. "Down the block."
"Oh, that's nice," Minako said warmly, looking around the garden. "You must come here often, then."
"Yes, often enough," the old woman replied. She pointed at the priest. "Priest Hino has been a priest here since I was a young woman, with his father before him. It looks almost the same as it did forty years ago."
Minako nodded along with her, trying to keep the woman talking. She continued discussing the handful of changes the temple had seen over the decades. The Hikawa Shrine had been much busier at one point in its existence, occupied by a half-dozen priests and priestesses from the Hino family and from the neighborhood. It had been a place many came to find peace for their soul.
"So it's just the Priest Hino now, alone?" Minako asked, curious how one man could do so much.
"Oh, no," the lady replied vigorously. "There's a young miko who lives here as well. She is a good girl, very pretty, and very talented."
"I see," Minako muttered, looking about the place for a clue as to what to ask the woman. "So, nothing strange goes on here? No people falling asleep mysteriously, or suddenly getting sick?"
The old woman furrowed her brow, staring at Minako with concern. "No, nothing like that. I come here every week, and sometimes I get my fortune told when the girl. This is a place of good reputation."
"Fortune telling?" the girl asked, raising an eyebrow. "Is it normal for Shinto temples to offer fortune telling? I thought that was for carnivals and festivals?"
"Not so much, I guess," the woman admitted, after which she gathered her purse in her arms, and then began to stand. "But I should be going. Take care, child."
After the woman left, Artemis jumped on the bench next to her and wedged up against her leg.
"Anything to report?" the cat asked in between licking his left paw.
"There's some kind of fortune teller here, but that's all I can figure out." Minako opened her magazine and stretched her legs out. "I don't think there's anything to that feeling I had five years ago."
Artemis switched paws without responding, so Minako looked at her own photo spread, which looked really touched up. "Wow, my skin looks like a doll's." Artemis perked up and perched his head on her lap to look. "See, this..."
"You took a bikini picture?!" he hissed, clawing the page. "Those predators!"
"Chill, Artemis," she said, pulling the periodical out of his cat range. "Seriously, my parents signed off on it." She set it back on her lap after she was sure he had calmed down, and then started reading the article, despite seeing the early release of it from her agent.
"Your parents are stupid," he complained, rolling to face the other way.
"You're stupid," she said with a smile, sticking her tongue out at the feline.
"Ungrateful, brat," Artemis said, and then scratched her arm lightly. "You'd do well to listen to me instead. I have your best interests at heart."
"I know, Arty." She grabbed the loose skin behind his neck, and scratched with her nails, eliciting a purr.
A few minutes into reading, Artemis tensed up. She ignored him, thinking he'd probably spotted a bird, and turned the page to her centerfold. In it she wore a yellow gown and held a microphone in her hand. This picture was just as touched up as the rest, giving her slightly larger eyes and perfect skin.
"There's something weird about that guy," Artemis told her quietly, his voice barely audible. Directly afterward, a boy nearby made a chortling sound. "Stay here, Mina-chan, I'm going to go follow this guy."
Minako looked to her left, but Artemis had sneaked away faster than she could notice. Silly alien cats. She then raised her head and looked up to see a cute boy in with brown hair wearing baggy gym clothes. He ranked roughly eight of ten on her kissable ranking, causing her to smile at him.
Who do we have here? she thought, closing her magazine. He even looks my age.
"Hi there," she told him after standing. He stared at her as if he recognized her. She looked at his face closely. He had one of those androgynous faces that would be pretty whether male or female.
"Hi," the boy replied, his voice still not matured yet, confirming he likely wasn't any older than she was. "I'm sorry, but do I know you? You look really familiar to me."
Oh boy! Deflection time! she thought as she shook her head, causing the loose knot she'd tied her hair in to slip, in turn causing her hair to cascade down her back. "No, I'd totally remember you."
She looked him over again, this time noticing that his legs and arms were covered in bruises and scrapes that looked like someone had beaten him up. He seemed to get conscious of her appraisal, as his face got a little warm. Smiling at him, she asked, "What's your name?"
"Kuonji Ukyo," the boy replied, covering his chest with his bruised arms.
"How come you're in your gym clothes?" Not that I mind looking at your legs, but seriously, who goes to visit the shrine at a temple with school gym clothes on? She absently adjusted her red tie around her throat, loosening it.
"My friend who lives here is going to mend my uniform." Ukyo looked a bit nervous, looking about for someone.
He's friends with the miko? she thought. Information gathering time!
"I don't recognize it," she told him, smiling at him pleasantly. "Where do you go to school?"
"Saint Agnes of Assisi School," he told her, shifting away from her slightly.
Se-na-ta what?! she wondered, amazed by the words that came out of his mouth. Was that Japanese?
"We call it SAAS," he clarified.
"Ooooh, I've heard of that place," she said, relieved in understanding. Oh wait, that's the all-boys school! Her face felt warm at the thought. Those are the types of places where yaoi manga begin. "It's supposed to be the most rowdy school in the whole ward. Supposedly, there are fights every lunch, and teachers let it happen."
"It lives up to that reputation."
Wait, his clothes are torn, he's bruised... he's a bad boy! I know it! "Did you get in a fight? Is that how your uniform got torn up?" She took a step forward, her eyes wide with her eagerness to learn every bit about this situation.
"Actually, yes," the boy admitted, his face warming brightly. He looked more bothered by her questions than embarrassed, but his cheeks couldn't hide it.
"Really?!" she exclaimed. Kawaii! Nine out of ten!
Suddenly, her communicator beeped. She looked down to her arm, and noticed her purse wasn't there, and then turned around and walked back to the bench.
"Oh, I'm sorry. Please, excuse me," she told him as she went back to the bench and reached her hand in and pulled out the communicator that also served a dozen other purposes, including its disguise as a compact.
Flipping it open, Minako watched as the mirror suddenly displayed Artemis' image. He then directed his collar cam to show a boy in a school uniform, holding a bike and wearing a giant weapon on his back running away.
"Mina-chan! This guy is not normal! I can't catch him. Need your help ASAP!"
Darn it, cat! I have cuties to talk to! "Fine," she whispered instead of communicating her real thoughts. She turned to see the boy still standing there, uncomfortable.
"Looks like I have to go," she said as she put her compact back into her blue bowtie purse, and then slipped her arm through the handles. "Do you happen to know where the fortune teller is here? I was told there's one that works here who can really tell you the future."
"You're looking for Hino-san," Ukyo explained, pointing beyond the garden to the shrine. "She's the miko at the front of the shrine selling charms."
The miko is the priest's relative, got 'cha! "Oh, okay! Thanks! It was nice to meet you, Kuonji-san!" She bowed her head, and then skipped to where Artemis had showed her as fast as she could without seeming like she was running away.
Behind the shrine, the garden was thick with flowers, vegetable patches and several trees. She ran across it to the other side where she saw Artemis standing near the bicycle, which was resting on a flower bush.
"Artemis, what's going on?" she inquired as she walked up to him.
"He tried to drop his bike on me and then slipped away when I dodged," the white cat told her, jumping up on his hind legs to tap her knee. She scooped him up in her arms. "He was from that all-boys school north of here. He spotted me and nearly bolted, so I gave chase and cut him off. But he was sneaky and kept turning away. It was like he knew me, knew that I was not just a regular cat."
"Or he's scared of cats," Minako offered, looking at the bike.
"Don't be silly," Artemis chastised. "Who in their right mind would be afraid of cats? And fix your hair, it all fell out of your cap."
The pop idol shrugged, as she placed Artemis on her shoulder, rather than try to tie her hair up one-handed. "Let's go look around for him. He couldn't have gotten far. The shrine isn't big enough."
"Alright, let's split up," he told her, leaping from her shoulder to the ground. "I'll go this way, you go back around that way. If you see him, try to block his way, but don't engage unless he turns out to be Dark Kingdom."
Minako went back the way she came. Or he's afraid of cats.
By the time she had walked back to the end of the garden, she heard a noise. She turned and saw Ukyo and the boy that Artemis had been chasing, running on the other side of the garden directly for the building at the east end of the temple compound. She ran to catch up, but Artemis was already hot on their trail. They darted through some trees that provided a natural barrier between the garden and the house.
When Minako arrived, Artemis was outside the door, circling the door mat.
"What happened?" she whispered.
"I saw him, but he jumped directly over me and made a break for the house. He grabbed some girl in a boy's gym uniform and they escaped in there."
Girl? she thought. Oh, he must have meant Ukyo. He does look pretty enough to be a girl.
"Oh well, I'm not entirely sure there's a threat here," Artemis said, walking away from the house. "Best if we let things cool down before trying to approach them again."
"I was talking to the other boy," Minako told him, reaching down to grab him. He protested at first, but stopped once she had him in her arms. "His name was Ukyo, and he's nice. He's definitely not Dark Kingdom."
"She was definitely a girl, and the boy with the weird bandolier and giant metal hammer-thing was definitely suspicious."
Minako shook her head. "Seriously, Artemis. I talked to him for a whole two minutes. He has a boy's name. He goes to an all-boys school. He was wearing a boy's gym uniform, and he's a nine of ten."
Artemis sighed. "Fine, kiss girls for all I care. But that's beside the point. We'll have to come back to investigate them later and in disguise."
They had walked across the garden back to the temple courtyard when she heard a voice echoing in the front of the shrine. It was a girl's voice, clear and brilliant like an angel from a choir.
"What's that?" she asked rhetorically, following the sound back to the source.
"Obviously that miko is singing to those primary school kids over there," Artemis said, pointing a paw at the front of the shrine. "She's pretty good."
More like amazing, she thought in amazement. She should have entered the idol contest and won instead of me, and made my life easier.