A Duet of Pigtails
By Libby Thomas
Based on the characters and storylines of Ranma ½ by Rumiko Takahashi and Magic Knight Rayearth by CLAMP
Additional: Gegege no Kitaro by Mizuki Shigeru, The Addams Family by Charles Addams. Fujikyu Highland is owned by the Fujikyu Group.
Gegege no Hikaru
Saotome Hikaru awoke to the sounds of both her husband and her oldest son trying to sing the old Japanese birthday tune...and going very off-key. While Ranma's cursed form had a lovely singing voice, his normal form wasn't that talented.
Just behind them, she could see the forms of both Ryoga and Nabiki, both chuckling humorously at the Saotome attempt at a special day.
As soon as the torture by vocal cords stopped, Hikaru looked at Ranma, kissed him, then said, "I love you...but please don't do that again. You're awful."
Ranma grinned. "Well, you didn't think so the night I serenaded you on our honeymoon."
"I lied, dear."
"Okaasan!" Akama bounced up and down in delight, jumping for joy and holding an envelope in his hands. Thrusting it forward, he declared, "This is for you. I got it for you all by myself, with just a little help from Aunt Nabiki."
As Hikaru looked over at her sister-in-law, Kuno Nabiki merely smiled. "I paid for the pittance part. Admission, JR tickets, overnight at the Mizuno hotel, since we'd probably best stay overnight in Kawaguchiko, and all the staples. Akama paid for the important part."
Akama beamed. "Yeah, an' Aunt Nabiki said we couldn't get everything without the consump'n tax."
Hikaru opened the envelope. "Wow...four tickets to Fujikyu Highland! You guys are great!" An avid rollercoaster enthusiast, it was one of Hikaru's personal goals to ride every major coaster in Japan, and maybe the rest of the world, when she got around to it. Since Fujikyu was known for Fujiyama II, the world's largest rollercoaster, this was an opportunity that Hikaru could not afford to miss. Between Hikaru, Nabiki, and Akama, the three would have the grandest time. "But Nabiki, who's the fourth ticket for?"
Ranma sighed with some plausible acting; though he was not one for amusement parks, feigning dismay would allow him to execute the rest of his plan. "Nabiki, I'm afraid I can't go. Someone has to teach the classes, and I'll be taking over Hikaru's kendo classes for the day."
A girlish pout settled on Hikaru's features. "I understand, love. If you don't want to be with me...."
A bead of perspiration settled on Ranma's brow. "It's not that, Hikaru, it's that I was planning...arrrrgh!" Ranma shook his head in dismay, and the rest of those present chuckled.
"What Ranma meant to say," Ryoga commented, "was that he and Ukyo are planning to go this afternoon to get your gift. That's why I'm here."
"Oh, that's so sweet of you!" Hikaru bubbled. "Alright, Ranma, you're off the hook. But I do have a plan for this extra ticket if you don't mind, Nabiki, Akama. I had plans to meet with with Hououji Kuu, and..."
"Say no more, Hikaru," Nabiki said. "It's not a problem, as far as I'm concerned. Besides, I haven't seen her since she did the floral arrangement for Kasumi and Tofu's anniversary party. How is she doing?"
There was the sound of a knock at the front door, to which Hikaru replied, "You can ask her yourself, Nabiki. Im sure you two can catch up on old times, ne? Now, if everyone can please get out of here so I can take a shower and change, I'd much appreciate it. Ranma, can you stay here? I'd like to talk to you for a moment."
As the group filtered out of the bedroom, Ranma shut the sliding door behind them. "Yes, love?"
She said it in a firm, resolute voice. "You can relax, anata. I've decided I'm not going back."
Ranma visibly relaxed. "What made you decide that? Granted, I'm thrilled that you're not planning to return, but what about your friends over there--one of which happens to be Kuu's little sister?"
"Something that I thought about last night. Namely, this." She gestured around the room, then patted the futon, beckoning him to sit next to her. "I'm not eighteen anymore, Ranma. I'm a wife, a mother--and a recent one, at that. Maybe if it was just you and me, I would go and take you along, but I can't risk our children. I know what you went through when Akane died, and I couldn't bear to have you worrying about myself and the children all the time."
"But if your friends went so far as to summon you...." Ranma ventured, playing the uncomfortable role of devil's advocate to ensure that his wife was set in her decision.
"And if there were any other way to help Fuu and Ferio, I would. But it's not just me, anymore. It's my family as well, and I will not endanger any of you for anyone." Gazing longingly into his baby-blue eyes, the feeling she got when she stared into them thrilled her. "I love you, Ranma. I married you, and I've had children with you. But I didn't give birth to orphans. I'm not going back, and as terrible as I feel about it, Cephiro will have to carry on without me." She leaned forward and kissed him for a breathless minute or two, before saying, "I just hope I'll like what you got me for my birthday."
"Oh, you will, love. I'm sure you will."
Stepping out of the Nerima-Minami subway station, Michael looked around, noticing that the streets were fairly quiet, just as he'd suspected. Wearing a simple black T-shirt, jeans, and black loafers, he quickly bounded to the rooftops, bouncing from one roof to another as he cleared the distance from the station to where the Tendo-Saotome dojo lay.
Just like old times, he thought, remembering all the times he and the others had done this in their daily fights, their loves and lives together. Nowadays, the only time I do this is when I'm "doing the dirty laundry" for the Company. A person vaguely fitting his description was wanted for the brutal killing of a dozen drug lords in Columbia two months ago, but the paper trail led back to western China--and a Chinese citizen that no longer existed. But that was the life of a CIA spy/assassin that worked for Project Renovation, the government's project to take specially selected down-on-their-luck foreigners and give them a new shot at life...working for the agency, of course. His mentor and recruiter, Donovan, had once been the son of a senior Chinese Communist Party official. Martin was a disgraced former KGB agent. Then there had been Theresa....
Michael paused, took out his wallet and looked at the picture of his dead wife. It had been Theresa who'd taught him the true meaning of love, not the obsessive stupidity that he related to Shampoo. It had been Theresa Park, the illegitimate daughter of the leader of North Korea, a woman who was also a Renovation agent, who had won his heart. It had been over three years ago that he'd married her and finally buried his past. It had been Theresa, the woman that had finally showed him what love had really meant, who had died in a freak car crash in Washington early last year.
That was why he was here now, he realized as he placed his wallet back in his pocket and moved on, thinking once again of the past. In the beginning, he'd initially hated Ranma, for more reasons than he could imagine. During the span of his life in Nerima, he'd been moved to the point that his hate was instinctive, no longer human or even feeling. But in the past six years, so much of his life had changed, he really hadn't even remembered Nerima, much less his hatred for his old nemesis. It was time to put Ranma under fire, and for Michael to finally find out if he'd moved on.
Arriving at a house across from the dojo, he opened the duffel bag that hed brought with him. Pulling out a thermos of coffee, binoculars, and the STAMPEDE file, he began to read again--he'd stopped reading it in the car yesterday, deciding to talk with Martin, instead, and caught up on jet lag the rest of the night. The first part was something he didn't know: despite her death, Shampoo had gotten her revenge--Akane never survived their last encounter, either. The file stated that Ranma had a child from Akane, and had since remarried, but for some unknown reason the file didnt specify his wifes name, though it did say she was pregnant. Saotome was now one of the best known martial artists in Japan, but never competed in tournaments. Among his closest associates listed Kuno, Hibiki, Ukyo, the Tendo sisters, a man named Shidou Satoru, a woman named Hououji Kuu, and an unidentified redhead--clearly the intel gatherers had not discovered Ranmas aquatranssexual curse.
As Michael watched, he noted a woman approach the house. The picture in the file identified her as Hououji. As she continued to head into the house, Michael cursed himself for his impatience in leaving his hotel this morning--hed forgotten the omni-directional microphone setup, and the laser reader that let him scan sound frequencies off the windows. It wasnt like him to normally do that during an op; he figured it was just a freak recurrence of old, bad habits brought on by the situation. Still, it was inexcusable, and hed have to work on that later. Nevertheless, he sat there, watching for a sign, for any clue of what was going on in that house.
About forty-five minutes later, Ranma appeared out of the house, in his cursed form. He was with Nabiki, the Hououji woman, and a boy that the file identified as Saotome Akama, his son. As the four headed in the direction of Nerima-Minami subway station, Michael followed. Something tugged at the back of his mind that something was wrong, not quite normal with a world that had been relatively normal for him in the past six years. But, he knew from experience, anything in regards to Ranma was abnormal to begin with. Besides, he was chasing a Japanese redhead female that just walked out of the dojo. What were the chances of there being more than one in there? Taking care not to make himself seen, he moved on from rooftop to rooftop, trailing the group as they headed towards the subway station.
A minute or so later, Ranma and Ryoga walked out of the house, waiting for Tatewaki, Satoru, and Ukyo. Once theyd arrived, Ryoga and Kuno would attend to the dojo for the day, leaving the other three to take care of Ranmas present for his wife.
Umi screamed in pain as Daimlers whip lashed out against her bare back, tearing the flesh and leaving a new bloodied scar on her back. Shed been putting up with the pain for a while now, and no matter how much she tried to shut it out of her mind, it wasnt happening. She was currently being tortured in a small, dark cell that at the back of her mind reminded her of a million-and-one bad horror films from her youth. Manacled, stripped of all clothing save for a pair of ribbons, ensorcelled to stave off her water powers. However, the whip was real. All too real. As was the pain. As was the filth she was rotting in. As were her broken ribs, eye closed shut from one too many punches, and the various burn marks, scabs, and injuries that covered her body.
"Again," a cool voice responded, as the whip bore down on her once more. "You may as well tell me, Umi. I will get it out of you one way or the other. And if you die, so be it--I will move on to the next person. Remember how many I have of you in captivity, and bear in mind I have yet to touch one of them. They, however, can hear every shriek of pain that you give, every note of sorrow that you utter." Daimler smiled a grin of self-satisfaction. Things were going along as planned, and if he was right, she should cave in right about now.
With great difficulty, Umi managed to turn her head and look at him with her one good eye. "NO. I will not tell you anything about our forces. I would rather die before I betray my friends." She spat at their feet, the spittle red from the Water Knights blood.
Trabant raised the whip again. "We can arrange it, witch!" He raised his whip, ready to strike. His voice belied a sort of glee, Umi noted--this guy was probably the kind of child who relished pulling the wings off flies. She also thought, wincing inwardly, that the next blow was probably going to really hurt.
Daimler yawned. "I tire of this. Come, Trabant. Let us forget about this one for a week. No food, no water. Lets see what song our little bird will sing in a week, correct?" Nonchalantly, Daimler opened the cell door and walked out, his cloak trailing him like the very demon on his back. Trabant gave Umi a baleful grin, then whipped her once more in spite. The hook at the end slashed across her cheek, tearing it open and sending a small spray of blood out. As Umi yelped in pain, Trabant merely smiled and said, "Remember: youre just a woman, and therere plenty of other things we havent done to you...yet." Laughing, he left the cell and closed it, letting no more light into the room.
As their footsteps rang into the distance, Umi finally let herself go. Sobbing in agony, she wondered if this was it for her, was this the end that she would come to. She wanted to see her daughter again, to see the sun shine, to feel the warmth of day once more. And as she sank down in burning, searing suffering, she faintly hoped that Fuu would be able to do something to rescue them. A small hope flared in her chest. If anyone could figure a way out of this, it would be Fuu. All Umi had to do was survive. Survive, and she would be reunited with her only child.
Of course, if she died, there would be one small consolation, Umi admitted. She and her husband would not have to spend one more unbearable moment in each others company...if their lackluster marriage could be called that.
Close to the town of Vauxhall, the battle had been joined, though to a stalemate. The Cephiran forces, under the command of Lantis, managed to fight the unknown strangers to a standstill, but the equipment that the other side had rivaled that of Autozams best. As a result, the small prairie town had been decimated, with few survivors, and with no side of the fighting abating.
At his side was an archer named Sintra. Although not quite as good as Queen Fuu or Cabrio, she was nonetheless deadly, and the fact that she was willing to charge into battle at its thickest spoke volumes about her bravery. Looking at the man beside her, she said dryly, "Lantis, I think we have them on the run. At least I hope so."
Lantis looked back at the young woman, her yellow eyes sparkling out from under her thick mane of lime-colored hair, and a lazy grin that reminded him of her father. Watching the battle from a distance was something that he disliked, but considering the situation, Fuu could not risk any more of the nobility; thus, he and Sintra remained behind, both to their distaste, with a small selection of soldiers and guardsmen, which had quickly disappeared as Lantis ordered them to join the battle.
As the pair watched from the distance of a nearby bluff, gazing at the smoke and sounds of battle rising from the town, Sintra turned to him and asked, "Do you think Her Majesty has come up with a plan to rescue the others?"
Lantis was quiet for a second, then spoke. "Fuu will do everything she can to save Ferio and the rest. She only needs the time to come up with a proper strategy, and when she executes it, she will not fail."
Sintra frowned. "I dont know if we have time, Lantis. Its been over a week now, and we have no idea if they still live."
Lantis looked back at her. "I know that Ferio and LaFarga has survived, and they can protect the others."
"And what of your wife?" Sintra asked, the concern in her eyes clearer than the war-torn sky.
Lantis turned his head away, looking at the raging battle, once more. Just before Sintra was to ask him again, he cleared his throat and said, "I...would expect the Water Knight to either survive or to die defending her friends. That is her duty. But," he said, as his voice grew quiet, "if she passes away, at least she will have been relieved of many of the burdens of life...not the least of which has been our marriage."
The two said nothing further, but simply watched the raging battle below. Hating the inactivity, but not being able to do much more about it.
Fujiyama stood, its broad expanse sitting majestically in the area known as the Five Lakes, a veritable giant of a mountain, dormant but reminding everyone of its status as the symbol of Japan. Its slopes uncovered with snow, it looked nothing more than a plain, dull brown, not holding the normal majesty that it did whenever wintry snow graced its top, but it stood there, imperial and awesome, nonetheless.
Fujiyama II stood, its metal expanse graced by the Guinness Book of World Records as the Worlds Largest Overall Coaster. Rising to a point of 80 meters, and with over a kilometer of track, the speeds on the ride reached in excess of 120 kph. Its purple and yellow rails stood, shining with a grace and majesty that emitted a sort of aura that emitted grace and power.
Hikaru, Nabiki noted, had a look on her face that was, to say, completely in awe: the look of a true believer before Kamisama, the look of a toddler in the presence of the parent. The hand that rocks the cradle is the hand that rules the world, Nabiki thought, and that coasters firmly got its hands on her. She looked over to Kuu and smiled, adding, "Hikarus gotta be in heaven right now."
"Ill say," the other woman replied with a sly wink. "Shes practically drooling."
Akama, currently quelled by a strawberry and crème crepe, merely smiled at his mother and watched how she reacted.
Hikaru stood there, in awe. Still not quite able to fit into her old clothing, she had opted to borrow a set of Ranmas tangs. The red short-sleeve Chinese shirt fit her as loose as it did his cursed form, as did the indigo baggy pants that she wore. With the exception of the eyes and the lack of wristbands, Hikaru passed exactly as a match for her husband. There was a childs gleam in her eyes as she noted the coaster cars racing by at horrendous speeds--absolutely perfect. The young woman had gone back to those halcyon days of her youth, when all she needed to worry about was acting like a little lady, and not having to worry about motherhood or marriage, let alone being the defacto goddess of another world. She, of course, wouldnt give up any of those things for anything, but she missed being a child to a degree, as did any adult.
Kuu looked in the opposite direction. "Hey, isnt that...." The brunette pointed towards an intentionally dilapidated-looking ryokan. "Thats that Gegege no Kitaro haunted house that Id heard so much about. Should we go a little later?"
Nabiki nodded. "Ive loved that show since I was a kid. In fact, Id personally like to hit all three haunted houses at this park. But, since Hikaru probably wants to hop on all the rollercoasters first, I suppose that we should go on those." She turned to the redhead. "Okay, then, Hikaru, lead the way."
The redhead raced off in the direction of the Double Loop, the coaster closest to the JR entrance, Akama in tow, both skipping like the classic kid in the candy store. Nabiki and Kuu, with amused looks on their faces, looked at each other, giggled, then headed in the direction of the yellow-and-red coaster.
Sitting at the Zaboon Bar & Grille across from both the Great Zaboon log ride and the Double Loop, Michael sat, watching the foursome get in line. He noted that Ranma had become good at acting like a female--after all, credit had to go where credit was due. Michael, however, still detested his avian form; while hed come to grips with his other self, he still took every precaution possible. This was why he was sitting at the restaurant, and not by the Zaboon, which was closer. Snapping his fingers, he brought out a camera with a telephoto lens--it wasnt as good as a pair of binoculars, but it was a lot more inconspicuous. If his guess was right, Saotome and the rest would probably be here for the majority of the day, and--
"Mr. Tseng?" a voice asked at his side, a voice that sounded all too familiar. He turned, expecting a familiar blushing, vibrant woman. "Um...hello. What are you doing here?" Sure enough, it was that cute girl with the pink hair and green eyes from the airport yesterday.
Michael, trying not to react, gazed at the girl with a hint of attraction that was not feigned. "Nijirono-san? Oh, hello. What brings you here?" For some reason, he didnt want her to be here in case things between he and Ranma got ugly. Assuming they did.
She motioned behind her, towards a bunch of women her age, all blushing and chattering about Shiki and "that cute guy". She turned and gave them a "I-saw-him-first" glance before answering, "Oh, Im here with a few of my friends, as you can see. Its Marikos--" she pointed to an especially giggly girl with wide, doe-eyes and long orange hair, "--birthday, and she lives nearby." Looking at him and not trying to blush, she asked, "so, what brings you here?"
Fortunately, Michael had a ready answer. "My company...is interested in building a similar park to this one on Oahu," he lied with a sincere face. "There many be a few things that we might have to dispense with--for example, that Kitaro attraction over there will probably have to be replaced with The Addams Family, and some of the rides might require a little updating, but other than that, I dont see any further issues. Personally, I like the park, and Im going to recommend that we build a duplicate out in Kapolei."
"So you work for an amusement company in America?" she asked, trying a coy act.
"Um...its really a multi-business conglomerate," he said, launching into the Agencys pre-fab story. "My company, American Interests & Securities, tends to have their hands in everything, so to speak. Um, just building an amusement park in Hawaii is just one way we can boost the economy and bring in those tourists that would otherwise head to California." He looked through the binoculars, saying matter-of-factly, "Er, dont mind me. Im keeping track of my business associate. She brought her kid with her, and they are almost in line for the rollercoaster."
Shiki took his arm rather aggressively, then dropped back down into demure mode. "Well, why dont we join them?"
Trapped like a rat, Michael saw no way of easily losing this girl. His only hope was that she would get bored of him soon and return to her friends. He looked at this girl, confirming his opinion from yesterday; she was not near his age, but instead quite a few years younger than him! He then looked at her eyes, and felt a tug of something that hed not felt in a long time, a need that was there, with a girl that was maybe no older than 19--nearly a decade his junior. This concern was further confirmed as her giggling batch of friends disappeared into the distance, noting that Shiki had just made other plans.
Oh well, best make the most of it. Michael, arm in tow with the younger girl, made a beeline for the Saotome and company, now headed towards the Mad Mouse rollercoaster.
The first feel that Citroen felt was disorientation. The second, was pure astonishment. She was here, on another world--the world that the Pillar was supposed to have come from. Heaven. Nirvana. Whatever you wanted to call it, she was here. The third was the presence of the Pillar, the beacon that seemed to stream at her soul, tied into the magic that summoned the other.
Using her magic to disguise herself, she managed to walk around, undetected by some of the denizens of the heavens, who looked like they were from her own homeworld, or at least another part of it. Sure, these angels and whatever kept a semblance of what must have been their natural life, but it seemed all too real, all too present. These "people" seemed like people. Still curious as to where she was, she remained hidden and moved on. As long as she remained under her cloak, she would stay hidden, invisible to all around her--another sign that this might not be an afterlife, but perhaps another world...perhaps even her own.
As she wandered around this strange land, she noted things seemed a little too much like her world. The strange writing looked...Japanese. It looked very much like the script of that hole. That would have to mean that either her mind was interpreting these sights and sounds as derivative of that backwards nation, or she was in the genuine article. However, the chances of that were slim. Small. Nearly nonexistent.
It was fifteen minutes later when the truth appeared. In a bookstore in the shopping mall section of what was clearly some sort of amusement park, she found a book in English, detailing the history of things to come for what she had known. Picking it up, she read all about this world. Her homeworld. Earth. And the true horrors that had come. This WAS her home. This was her homes FUTURE, and the future was a bleak one.
It was either that, she thought, or the best defense system shed ever encountered, one that struck at the soul, and not the body. One that truly brought you low in defeat, not merely hoping to extinguish your life. Weapons were meant to kill. An attack such as this was meant to obliterate. She fought back the tears that threatened to destroy her, the truth that she hoped was only an image, only an attack, for the truth would be far too cruel.
Casting her cloak off her shoulders, but wearing it still as to keep herself hidden, she created her plan: if this was an idyll, she could use Sharans creations to kill the Pillar. If this were truly Earth, then the goddess was nothing more than a human...and a traitor, besides. A human could be killed; a traitor SHOULD BE KILLED. If one were capable of seeing her at this moment, they would have noticed the midnight blue bodysuit that she wore, armor-plated in certain spots to protect her from weapons attacks, and the rapier that was sheathed at her side providing at least one form of defense/offense.
She raised her hand, palm up, and in them floated three little vials. Throwing them a few feet from her, she cooed, "Now do your job, as Sharan engineered you to, and kill the Pillar. You will know her." The three vials shattered on the ground a meter or so from her, and a throbbing, pulsating gas wafted up from those shattered bits of glass. In each cloud, floated twin stars, two ruby beacons of light. A second later it was clear that those stars were in fact eyes...eyes that shore with a cruel, malevolent intent.
Knowing that it was not enough, she then turned her palm downward and began chanting in Latin: "Deep Circle of Power, arise and empower me!" Around her, the sky grew dark, as though a storm front had settled in. Beneath her, a magic circle blossomed, its color an angry blood red. Still chanting in Latin, she replied, "Now is the time for vengeance. Now is the time for retribution. Now is the time to do what your natures demand of you." As blood-red mist seemed to see from the ground, she continued. "Feel the power of my quarry. Feel the soul of my prey. Feed on her soul, and you shall be free forever, to move on to the next part of your existence. I CALL TO YOU, GHOSTS, CREATURES, BEINGS!" The mist rose faster and further, and each wisp opened its eyes, two crimson pulses of light filled with an unspeakable, ageless existence. "SERVE ME NOW, AND DO YOUR DEED!" The assembly of spirits nodded at her, then disappeared.
As the sky turned to normal, Citroen laughed. Now it is time to test the mettle of the Pillar, she decided. Focusing on the power of that being, she moved forward, blade in hand and ready to direct her forces. As soon as she moved into position, all she would have to do is to identify the Pillar by sight, wait for the perfect opportunity, and strike.
A few hours later, Michael and Shiki settled in at the Marina restaurant, right across from the Marina Waterboats ride, to have a little lunch. Saotome and the others were getting off the ride, and headed towards that Kitaro haunted house. Since they would be in there for a few minutes, it didnt hurt to have lunch, and since his "date" suggested the restaurant, why not?
So, as the pair sat down at their meals, Michael looked at Shiki. Hed initially asked her about her job at the airport, to which she replied that it was a summer job, to earn money for her college tuition. They bandied a few more mindless subjects about before he started to get reasonably personal. "So," he continued, "tell me about yourself, Nijirono-san."
"Well," she began, "as my meishi said, my names Shikisai, though all my friends just call me Shiki, and despite the name, Im about as Chinese as you are, Tseng-san."
"Just call me, Michael, if you would," he responded, as his mind clicked. That was the missing link, and the clue to her seeming familiarity. It was the facial features of a Chinese woman. Could she be one of those Japan-born Chinese, so prevalent in Yokohamas Chinatown or Osakas Little Canton? Something gnawed at him, saying there was more, but he ignored it. "Well, where are you from?"
She blushed, glad to know that he was actually paying attention to her. "Well, I was born in China, originally, but my mother and I moved here to Japan shortly after I was born, and we changed our names to the Japanese equivalents--she said it was just to fit in, since she didnt want to live in Yokohama. We settle for a couple years up north in Otaru, but a little while after, we moved back to Tokyo. Since then, Im just an average Japanese girl with Chinese ancestry."
"Hmm...I know the feeling," he said, then clarified it with a lie. "My family moved to Hawaii from Hong Kong back in the 30s, and have lived there since." He took a bite of his cheeseburger, then added just for conversation, "Dating anyone?"
"Yes," she replied, blushing. She looked at him, and said, "you."
A bead of perspiration settled in his brow as her word sank in. Michael, however, had run across this smitten sort of girl in many a place before, and frankly used the same answer as always, since it always worked: "Well, that will be problematic, Shiki, since I live in Honolulu, and come to Japan, rarely. I only know Japanese because I learned it in college."
"Easy," she replied. "Im supposed to attend...um...Shamiaado University in the fall."
Chaminade. Great, he thought sans enthusiasm, but instead replied, "Thats nice. But, Shiki, wouldnt you be happier with someone your age? As you saw in my passport, Im 27. Youre what, 19 or so?"
"20," she said, blushing in shame. "I was so bad in school, I had to repeat my fourth year. Besides," she said, hopefully, "I like older men. And we match--the aura machine said so!"
Damn Sega toys, he thought. At the time, he dismissed any thought of that stupid machine that picked couples chances of a happy life together. It had read he and Shiki as 99%. Hed forgotten how much reverence schoolgirls tended to place on those things. "Shiki, I was married once, to a beautiful woman named Theresa--" Okay, so her real name was Tae Sun, but you dont need to know that, "--who died over a year ago. Im still not entirely over her. Do you really want to wait around in my life, playing second string to the ghost of my late wife?"
As expected, her eyes began to water, as she took in his spurning of her advances. What he didnt expect was that the look on her face stung him in a way he could not comprehend. "But I thought you liked me...." she said in a small, sobbing voice, as she began to back away from the table like a scared rabbit.
"Shiki, I--" he replied, looking for a reason...and asking himself why he wanted one. Isnt this what he wanted? To not have this post-pube of a girl following him around in a lovesick daze, which he got to the business of killing Ranma...assuming he even did that?
Her voice barely in control, she managed to sob, "Im sorry to have troubled, you, Tseng-san. I hope you enjoy your time here in Japan." She rose from her chair, the first tear falling from her eyes, ready to bolt.
Michael leapt to his feet. "Shiki, please, dont leave. Let me expla--"
His explanation was abruptly cut off by the sound of a building being ripped to shreds, joined in by the screams of a crowd of people running in panic. A second later, a fugue of unearthly roars filled the air as things that could only be described as exiles of a Japanese nightmare stepped out of the rubble of the Gegege no Kitaro attraction, and began slaughtering people at random.
As Hikaru and the others entered the ride, the back hairs on the redheads neck began to rise. Its probably just the Chickenskin effect thats getting on my nerves, she thought, as the room went dark, after passing the woman at the turnstile. As they moved into the light of the first presentation, it was normal: Madame Oyaji announced that new visitors had arrived, and that it was time to put on a show for them.
Kuu shuddered. "Wow. Creepy."
Nabiki laughed. "Cmon, Kuu. I think you scare too easy." She thought about the statement, then added, "or Ive just been exposed to my brothers antics for too long." The turned a hidden corner, and ran right into a flash of light, an oni-bi. The three women screamed in fright, while brave little Akama charged forward to protect the three from the sinister prop.
Gathering her breath, Nabiki noted her nephews antics, and said, "Hes just like Akane was at that age. Trying to be the best heir to the dojo."
In a solemn voice, Hikaru asked, "Was Akane like that?" Her only reply was Nabikis barely-seen nod.
As the flash died down, the room got pitch black once again. The four moved forward, barely able to make each other out in the darkness. Occasionally, they could hear the unnatural sounds of a creatures breathing. Once again, Hikarus sense of danger flared, but she wrote it of once more due to her combat ability and her mothers instincts. But I can hear something that sounds too real. I can smell something that smells like blood. If I didnt know better, Id swear I was in for a fight.
Screams split the air, and the three women were caught off-guard. Instinctively, Nabiki and Hikaru dropped into combat positions, with Akama following a second later. Hikaru winced as she did; childbirth had still kept her not at her peak shape. Nabiki looked at her sister-in-law, and smiled. "Old habits die hard, dont they, Hikaru?" she cracked wryly as they came out of their stances.
Hikaru groaned softly. "You can say that again," she answered as they began to move slowly around the next darkened corner. "Those recordings are impressive," she observed. "They sounded real."
Kuus voice showed her fear. "A little too real, Hikaru-chan." They rounded a corner once more, catching up to the two groups that had gone in just ahead of them. Hikarus four and the other groups, a young woman and her date, and a family of three, all turned the corner, only to encounter...
...a flash of light, and Tsurara-onna, looking at the assembly with a sinister smile and the one glowing eye. "Welcome to your end," the robotic display said, as the creature Tenjokudari launched down from in front of Tsurara-onna, the space between the realistic-looking monster and the small crowd covered only by metallic bars that prevented the animatronic display from moving past its programmed trajectory.
"Whew," Kuu said with a nervous relief as she looked at the creature, whose robotic hands shook the bars as though it were really trying to get at them. The bars began to shake more and more violently, and the group began to wonder if the machine was short-circuiting.
Then the Tsurara-onna reared her head and bellowed a chilling, inhuman laugh that was clearly not part of the programming protocol. Her eye began to glow crimson, and she stood up, screaming, "YOU WILL NEVER LEAVE THIS BUILDING ALIVE!" At that point, the supposed-prop Tenjokudari leapt down from its supposed-built position and began to tear at the bars, straining them.
No words were necessary. The group began to run. "Hikaru!" Nabiki yelled as they turned the corner. "Do not get involved! Youre out of practice, and though youre good, you have Akama and Kuu to protect!" Turning next to the high school-age guy who had "budding martial artist" written all over him, she ordered, "Get to the front and run interference!" The look in her eyes and the tone of an expert made him back down, and he moved to the front of the pack.
"What about you?" Hikaru roared, as another display light up.
"Place is too confined to maneuver effectively, maybe even for Ranma!" she yelled back, as she could hear the squeal of metal bars snapping in the distance. "Gotta get out of here, and get enough room to fight!" A robot image of cannibalistic Kijo came up, boiling hands and feet. That was scary enough. But the part that chilled Nabiki to the bone was when that ghoul looked at them, turned around...
...and the remains of a little girl could be seen behind him, being cut up into so much pieces of meat for stew. A part of her collapsed; Nabiki and Tatewaki hadnt gotten around to having children yet, but Akama was as much her child as Hikarus or Akanes, having spent a few years raising him alongside Ranma. She looked at the group in front of her as they dashed the rest of the course towards the exit. Some of them were her friends and family. They were in danger. Since Akanes death, she was, for better or worse, the heir of the Tendo Musabetsu Kakuto Ryu, Ranma being the heir of the Saotome Ryu, and Akama the heir to the unified school. Shed better live up to her part of the bargain.
Rounding another darkened corner, she could hear a mans scream, cut off by the gurgle of someone choking on his own blood. The programmed lights kicked in, and the schoolgirl at her side screamed as she saw her boyfriend being impaled on the blade of the bizarre poltergeist known as Zenfusho. Its solid-orb eyes focused on them with a malevolent glee, as it pulled the naningata out of the dead teen, readying to impale the person now at the front--Kuu.
Before Hikaru had time to react, there was a "Kiaai" scream, as Nabiki leapt over them and slammed Zenfusho back with a well-placed flying kick. As she connected, she sprung off him, rolled in mid-air, and upon landing, took the naningata and slammed it into its head, shattering the ceramic pot like nothing. The remainder of the body fell to the ground.
In the far distance, a roar could be heard as the Tenjokudari broke through the final bars and began its charge. "RUN!" Nabiki roared, and the others did, picking up the two children, and the father of the family hefting the now-unconscious girl. Nabiki wanted to pick up the naningata, but thought better of it: it could be a cursed object, and shed had enough dealings with curses in her life, thank you very much.
As they rounded two more corners, the entered the forest mock-up, complete with the ghosts of Shinto priests who had become dark ghosts. The recorded chanting filled the air, and a mist that everyone was sure was not normal began to fill the room, as oni-bi began to wink into existence, everywhere. The eyes of each "ghost" were LED, and it appeared that this room hadnt been...haunted, was clearly the term. Still, taking no chances, Nabiki attacked every mannequin that they approached, lashing out with a palm strike here, or an uppercut there, having the uncomfortable role of having to defend the entire group. Although she was competent--she had, after all, studied under Japans Grand Master of Anything Goes.
As she took out the last one, the mist at the far end of the room coalesced into the horrific Jikitori, the hungry ghost. As it moved, it clearly acted as though it hunted, and spotted Nabikis group. As it slowly began to waft towards them, Hikaru and company increased their pace and moved on, hoping that the Jikitori would sate itself on the "dead bodies" of the "priests"--its traditional fare.
"Can you see if anythings following us?" Hikaru yelled to Nabiki, feeling an absolute sense of frustration. She knew she had to protect her son, but revealing her powers in here could spell disaster. It would unnerve Nabiki, who would then think Hikaru possessed, and it would definitely cause a fire hazard, making the situation worse. Also, as the older girl explained, she was out of practice. She would do no good here. If she were on Cephiro, she could have called upon her powers as the Pillar to try to do something, but frankly, this was Earth, and those powers were questionable at best.
"By the kami, I hope she doesnt," the man said, between gasps of air, "or it could be the end of all of us!" The fear in his eyes was as clear as the rest of them, and that was a bad sign--it could be the first sign of a total breakdown, leaving them open for the monsters.
As a sign pointing to the exit appeared, they had to cross a bridge covered with water, set in a swamp setting. Kuu yelled, "Watch out for the Numagozen!" At one time, the appearance of the Swamp Woman would have been a neat joke. Not now, especially as she rose from the water, making a grasp for the group...and succeeding in grabbing the father. The older man dropped the girl and fought the Swamp Woman, kicking and punching her hair as the follicles began to pull him over the ropes. To capture the others, a pair of kappa leapt out of the water, attacking Kuu and trying to pull her in as well.
Desperately, Nabiki managed to get to the front, and land a crushing blow to the head of the first kappa, then kicking him away from the bridge, where there would be no water...and he would be powerless. Nabiki then began a tug-of-war for Kuu, and managed to pull her back onto the bridge, but was unable to save the man. The Numagozen, screaming in rage at the loss of her quarry, yanked had and pulled the screaming, dying man down to a watery grave--the man-eating toads that were the Numagozens pets would see to that. The mother screamed and nearly went faint, if Nabiki hadnt turned and pushed her off towards the end of the bridge. Nabiki then picked up the unconscious girl and moved on, busting into the sunlight, free from the onetime haunted house that had become a chamber of death.
The true exit of the attraction was through the entry of the Gegege no Kitaro souvenir shop. In between was a garden, and that garden was currently filled with the mangled bits and pieces of a dozen people who tried to escape something. The building in front of them--the souvenir shop--was a complete and total wreck. Hikarus heart squealed at the deaths of so many, a result of something completely inexplicable event happening--and with them in the crossfire.
A roar sounded, and the Tenjokudari burst forth, the Tsurara-onna, and a host of other things that she could not describe. The Tsurara-onna snarled as she raised a sword and cried, "YOULL NEVER ESCAPE, PILLAR! DIE!" Following her cue, the Tenjokudari slowly, mockingly bounded towards them, its eyes clearly signaling its intent to kill.
"GET OUT OF HERE!" Nabiki screamed, practically tossing the unconscious girl into Kuus arms. "Ill cover you!" Knowing there was little time left, she tossed away her camcorder, stepping over bodies and body parts in an attempt to reach a relatively clear combat area.
"Nabiki!" Kuu cried back, "you cant beat that thing! Its a monster!" She turned on Hikaru and screamed in panic, "Take that thing out, Hikaru! You have the power, dont you?"
Hikaru said in an unsteady voice, "You heard Nabiki. Lets move." Hikarus mind spun with a sense of disorientation. She was the Knight, she was the one with the power to stop that thing. But she was a mother, and she couldnt risk Akama. Nabiki was capable of handling the other creatures; the redheads job was to protect Kuu and Akama.
Coward! Hikarus conscience lashed back. I suppose that that will be some consolation when you tell Ranma that his sisters dead. That you stood by, with your power, and let her die. That youre letting the people of Cephiro take their chances. Saotome Hikaru the coward of a mother--some damn role model YOU are!
But I CANT! Hikaru mentally screamed back at herself. Im not a little girl anymore, not the same one who could bound into danger at the drop of a hat! I have a family, friends, and children! I have responsibilities!
And do those responsibilities include watching as your son, best friend, and sister-in-law get slaughtered before your very eyes? Not lifting a finger as hundreds of innocents are butchered? Youre not worthy to be called a Knight, Hikaru! Youre not worthy of your husbands name, much less your own! Youre nothing but a weak, cowardly DOG!
"Kuu-chan, I dont know what to do," the redhead sobbed, sinking towards the bloodstained concrete. "I dont know what to do. " Hikaru set her son down as she dropped to her knees, pacified by her own confusion. She could hear the screaming of others, as it erupted through the park. Hell had come to Earth, taunting the Pillar, the goddess of Cephiro, to stop it. But on this world, she was no goddess. She was simply Saotome Hikaru. And right now Saotome Hikaru was broken by her very indecision.
Meanwhile, Kuno Nabiki didnt bother answering Kuus pleas. She dropped into a battle stance, and snarled, "I am Kuno Nabiki of the Tendo Musabetsu Kakuto Ryu. Here is where I draw the line!" With that, she moved forward, ready to do battle. She took out several of these creatures before, and she could damn well stop this one, too!
So imagine her shock as she stepped forward to deliver a flying uppercut, the monster reached back and smacked her, sending her flying back several feet and slamming her against the wooden post of a broken tori gate. The wind knocked out of her, she gasped for painful gulps of air as the Tenjokudari came closer and closer to her, its malevolent eyes screaming its intent to rip her to shreds to gnaw on her bones, to make her more than dead. Her eyes sank down to her chest, checking the gashes in her shirt. It had been ripped open and the skin had been slashed, but the cuts werent deep. Some consolation, she thought between gasps, if it manages to finish me off.
There was a patter of small feet, and a high-pitched voice that yelled from in front of her: "Get away from my Aunt Nabiki, you meanie, or youll hafta fight me!" Nabiki looked up and saw little Akama guarding her, facing down the Tenjokudari as it stopped right in front of them, looking at both of them as insects about to be crushed.
Nabiki was frantic. "AKAMA-CHAN! GET OUT OF HERE! ITLL KILL YOU!" Still grasping for air, she managed to grab her nephew as the monster chuckled in an unholy sound, snorted, and pulled its fist back, ready to deliver the killing blow.
The Tsurara-onna laughed a chortle of absolute glee at the impending sight of more blood.
"AKAMA-CHAN! NABIKI! NOOOOOOO!!!!!!!" Kuu screamed at the top of her lungs, before fainting as dead away as the girl she held. She fell on top of Hikaru, breaking the redheads reverie.
"Akama?" Hikaru looked up and stared in horror as she realized what was about to happen. Her son had just run to the assistance of his aunt, sealing his fate.
Nabiki stared at the clawed hand of the Tenjokudari as it bore down on her and Akama. There was no time to dodge it, and she clearly didnt have the strength to counter it. They were dead. Holding her nephew in her arms, she covered his eyes, turned her head, and said, "I love you, Akama."
The last thing she expected to her was her nephews voice: "I love you too, Aunt Nabiki."
What she didnt expect was a thunderous roar: "HI NO YAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!" Nabiki looked up, and saw the Tenjokudari, engulfed in flames and screaming like a banshee. A second later, a blast of flame, as thin and straight as an arrow, neatly slashed through its head like a laser, or the precision bullet of a sniper. With a final death knell, the creature toppled to the earth, slamming into the tori and knocking it down as the flames blasted out. Fortunately, Nabiki had had the presence of mind to leap out of the way.
The look on the face of the Tsurara-onna had changed from evil to frightened. But what had changed it? Nabiki followed the line of vision of the creatures baleful eye, and note whom it settled upon. And in that glance, Nabiki's world would never again be the same.
There, standing up by the unconscious bodies of Kuu and the other girl, was Hikaru. Hikaru simply stood there, hands at her sides, fists balled in anger. Understandable. Hikarus face was a mask of rage, her normally sienna-red eyes now sparkling like fiery rubies. Again, understandable, since Hikarus eyes tended to change when she got emotional. What was different was that Hikaru was manifesting a battle aura...on a scale normally associated with Ranma or Ryoga. Stranger still, that aura didnt shimmer and sparkle like a Ryogas aura, or arc and spark like Ranmas; instead, it flickered and crackled, as though it were a raging fire.
"Playtime," the redhead said in a dangerous voice, "is over."
Hikaru raised her hand towards the Tsurara-onna, and called up a fireball into her hand. Throwing it at the Tsurara-onna, she screamed, "SHIMBINOTAMA!" as the sphere of flame crashed into its target, melting her in an instant. As the miniature sun dissipated, all that was left of the woman--the supposed sister to the Yuki-onna--was a puddle of water.
Hikaru looked at Nabiki, and her steely gaze softened slightly. "Are you okay, Nabiki?"
Nabiki, too stunned to voice words, nodded, holding Akama in her arms and refusing to let go.
Hikaru looked at the ground. "Take care of Kuu and this other one. Kuu will explain everything when she comes to, Nabiki."
The older woman finally found her voice: "Wh-wh-who are you?"
The redheads eyes changed their timbre, and Nabiki felt for a second as though she was in the presence of Amaterasu herself. "I am Saotome Hikaru, once Shidou Hikaru," the redhead answered in a commanding, yet gentle tone. "I am a master of the Saotome Musabetsu Kakuto Ryu, and of the Shidou Kendo Ryu. I am the Fire Knight, and Knight Commander of the Magic Knights of Cephiro--" a pause for breath, then: "--and I am that worlds goddess."
"Megamisama?" Nabiki breathed, unable to comprehend Hikarus words.
"Yes, Nabiki-nechan," Hikaru said, in a loving tone. Then her eyes and voice hardened again, and she said, "They came here to kill me. But instead, they threatened my family." Hikaru leapt over the remains of the building, and just before she landed, she yelled back, "And thats the last mistake THEYLL EVER MAKE!" Immediately, the sounds could be heard of the redhead now going on the offensive, turning the park-cum-slaughterhouse into an absolute battlefield.
As Nabiki dully walked over to Kuus side, the only thing she could even remotely form in her mind was a simple question:
Ranma married a goddess. And he must have known, and he didnt trust his sisters enough to tell us. Bad enough my little brother is married to a woman that could pass as his twin sister, now I find out shes an Amaterasu wannabe! Kuno Nabiki slumped to her knees as she looked at the heavens and mentally asked that simple question: Is there anything he doesn't do thats over the top?
Part Four: Mit Brennender Sorge
I would like to thank Rob Barba for his exhaustive information on both Fujikyu Highlands amusement park (a real park at the foot of Mount Fuji, listed in the Guinness Book of Worlds Records for the Worlds Tallest Rollercoaster and the more obscure Park with the highest concentration of Horror-based amusement--three haunted houses, one haunted rollercoaster, and one haunted log ride), and on Japanese monster mythology as a whole. The fruit of the research will proceed during the course of this chapter and the next.