A Duet of Pigtails
By Libby Thomas

Based on the characters and storylines of Ranma ˝ by Rumiko Takahashi and Magic Knight Rayearth by CLAMP

Additional: Gegege no Kitaro and The Legends of Yokai by Shigeru Mizuki. Fujikyu Highland is owned by the Fujikyu Group.

Part Four:
Mit Brennender Sorge

So far the day had gone well. A little after Hikaru had left, Satoru had called to let them know that he would not be able to go shopping for Hikaru’s gift with them; Ranma and Ukyo had left about an hour ago. A little while after that, both Tatewaki and Satoru had called to explain that they would be delayed, or in Satoru’s case, further delayed. As Ranma’s 10:00 self-defense for women course came in, Hibiki had focused on the situation at hand; namely teaching housewives who took the self-defense course for fear of the slightly increasing crime in Tokyo.

Now, as the last of the students exited the dojo, Ryoga wiped an errant bead of sweat of his brow in relative peace. Ranma’s students were a vast change from the lifestyle that he was accustomed to on the Unryu farm. He could see why Ranma preferred a life of teaching rather than making tons of money in tournaments. This life was simpler, more satisfying. It was a world that perhaps Ryoga might consider as a sideline to the farm. After all, he thought, I don’t think there are many dojos in the Five Lakes area, and no one wants to travel all the way to Tachikawa for training. I think I’ll have to ask Akari her opinion on this one.

As he picked up a broom, he heard a voice calling to him. "Hail, friend Hibiki," a calm voice said in Shakespearean tones.

Without looking up, Ryoga continued to sweep and answered, "Hiya, Tatewaki. How goes it?"

Kuno Tatewaki looked at his old friend and gave an appreciative nod for a man who’d once been a bitter rival. "It goes well, for is it not that we should train for this day the students of my brother-in-law Ranma and his dear wife, the beloved Pigtailed Girl?" At the moment, he stood in a business suit, carrying a bag that contained, undoubtedly, his kendo clothing. He offered to train Hikaru’s classes for the day while Ranma and Ukyo attended to their part of the plan.

"Um...yeah. Sure," he said blandly, while inwardly groaning, He still doesn’t get it. After all these years, Tatewaki had finally found the identity of the woman he thought to be the legendary Pigtailed Girl--namely, Hikaru. While it was a relative comfort to Ranma, it was bizarre for Hikaru, when first dating Ranma, to wonder why his sister’s fiancé was paying so much attention to her. Add to the outbreaks of fights between Ranma and Tatewaki over her, and things were rough for a few weeks--the only period that Ranma and Hikaru had difficulties in their flourishing relationship. Nabiki had finally sat Hikaru down one night and explained the whole mess, clearing things up for the redhead. Since then, Hikaru had put up with it with charm and grace, and Tatewaki accepted that Ranma truly did have the heart of the Pigtailed Girl. "What do you plan to do today with the class?"

"Oh, that’s quite simple, Ryoga," another voice commented, as Shidou Satoru entered into the room. "My students will be here in about ten minutes. I thought that it would be interesting to have my sister’s students spar against mine for training purposes, topped off with a match between me and Tatewaki--just to show the students how the masters handle things, of course." Turning to Tatewaki, he commented, "Sorry I had to change it to this afternoon, but I had to tend to a few other last-minute things before I could arrive."

"Never a problem that shall be," Tatewaki coolly replied, "for it is I that am late as well. I had a trifle of a business meeting that went well over the allotted time frame, so it is fortunate that both of us were tardy to our endeavors, correct?"

Ryoga chuckled at that one; since the two kendo masters had met at the Saotome wedding, they shared a friendship/rivalry that was very much the equal to that of he and Ranma. "Ah...I think I may have to stick around to watch that one. But first, I think I could use a shower. I’ve been working up a sweat all day, and Kasumi might use some help." With that, he stepped into the house.

Once in, he passed by the television on the way to the downstairs guestroom. Sure enough, perched in front of the TV, watching her nephew and niece as they slept, was Kasumi. The eldest Tendo daughter had never changed, and though she now lived with her husband Tofu, this was still very much her home and for the most part he couldn’t picture the house without her. Sitting there on a pillow with her nephew and niece at her side and her son Hiro on her lap as they watched some sort of monster movie, she apparently belonged, ever a part of this house as much as anything else. Noticing him, she whispered, "Oh, hello, Ryoga. The babies, as you can see, are asleep, and Hiro-chan and I are watching one of those monster movies." With a strange, wistful tone in her voice, she said, "It reminds me of the old days, for some reason."

Ryoga didn’t know how to answer that, so he added, "Tatewaki and Satoru have arrived, and’ll be starting their classes in a few minutes. I came in to see if you needed a hand with anything."

"Oh, that’s very sweet of you!" she said, her smile as sweet as sunny as ever. "But I hadn’t planned on working on anything until an hour from now, when Ranma and Ukyo get home." Nodding her head towards her child, she added, "Besides, Hiro wanted to me to watch terebi with him, and I love spending time with my son."

Ryoga stared a little more intently at the screen. "Nnn...Musabetsu Sentai Bushiranger. I used to watch that when I was his age.  I see he’s got class." Ryoga bent down to sit with the pair, when without warning, the screen changed to a Fuji TV Special Report. The report showed the aftermath of a horrific, mindless massacre that had occurred at an amusement park an hour ago. It really didn’t catch the attention of either, until the words "Fujikyu Highland" were uttered by the anchorwoman, then confirmed as the video switched to an on-camera scene of the carnage. As the pair watched in shock, the park looked absolutely destroyed, and there were still monsters running around, some apparently in combat with people who could defend themselves. The video cameras showed the grounds, awash in a red, which could only be one thing.

So stunned were they by the grisly display, Kasumi blurted an expletive, despite her intentions not to curse in front of children: "Oh, my." She then turned her eyes instinctively towards the sleeping children, then towards Ryoga. Those eyes, once used to anything that had happened in this household, had been taken down a few pegs by the death of just about every member of her family. Those eyes, looking at Ryoga’s, now registered an immediate fear of what the television had just portended.

Without a second to spare, Ryoga leapt to his feet and scrambled in to the dojo. As the two classes of kendo students were there, watching Tatewaki and Satoru demonstrate combat maneuvers. Although this was a demonstration, and not the promised match, it looked a little too real for Ryoga. Screaming out "Bunretsu!" to the teachers, he foolheartedly leapt into the center of the pair, snapping each combatant’s bokken with a pinpoint Bakusai Tenkestu.

"What is the meaning of this, Hibiki?" an annoyed Tatewaki snarled.

"Stow it, Tatewaki," Ryoga replied. "Both of you, get in the house, now." Then, in a calmer, more restrained voice, he said, "Nabiki and Hikaru may be in trouble. Something bad just happened at the park they were at."


In another part of Tokyo, Ranma looked nervously at Ukyo. "So, do you think she’ll like it?"

"Ranchan, she’ll like anything you get for her," Ukyo assured him. "She’ll especially like this. Haven’t you been saying that she’s wanted one of these for her very own for a while now?"

"Yeah, but it is a little more expensive than the regular one." Ranma looked up from the car, trying to put up with the sticker shock. "I mean, I know Hikaru’s been wanting a car for a while now, and I know she wants this particular one, but considering that I have to pay 80 thousand yen more for this one than the other...I just don’t understand, Ucchan." He stopped looking at the car, then turned to her. "I’m paying 80 thousand just for a name and transmission difference."

"It’s a girl thing, Ranchan," Ukyo replied. "You’d have to be a girl to understand. A real girl," she added in a playful tone. "Honestly, If I was your wife--" To her credit, she did not sigh as she said that, "--I would be touched that you even went this far."

"Yeah, I s’pose," he admitted, "but then again, Hikaru is, y’know, special." Ranma and Ukyo continued to look around in the Mazda showroom, continuing to look at the car that fit Hikaru’s bill. Since their honeymoon in Hawaii years back, Hikaru had fallen in love with the type of the type of car they’d rented, the Mazda Roadster. Normally, that would be easy enough, but there were complications involved--not a surprise, when dealing with the Saotome family. The type that Hikaru had been hinting at wasn’t exactly the Roadster, but the Miata, the faster, more powerful American version with the funny name (the name sounded Japanese, but the dealer had told him that the name was actually German for "gift"). What made it worse was that the color that she wanted it in (cherry red) was only available on the American models. Fortunately, they had recently imported some models for specialty purchases, and one happened to be in that red she so wanted. Unfortunately, this drove the price of the car up, from an already straining 2.4 million yen to a staggering 3.2 million. And unlike what they’d heard about American dealerships, there was no price haggling here in Japan.

For the most part, the dealership was empty. The majority of the sales clerks were sitting around in the rest area, watching something on the terebi. I wasn’t aware that there was a basho going on, he thought. Maybe the Giants are playing. Turning his attention back to Ukyo, he commented, "Well, it is for my wife, and I do love her, so I guess that it would be for the best."

"You betcha, Ranchan," Ukyo piped in. "’Sides, with the kids, it’ll be easier for her to get around in the long run with a car. While tolls may be more expensive than a JR pass, it’ll make up in the long run. Besides, you want your children to be safe, right?" Ranma merely nodded his agreement.

As they stared at the car long enough, one of the dealers, a slick elderly man, came back to talk to them. "So, have you and your wife settled upon this fancy little number?"

"Oh, she’s not my wife," Ranma replied out of habit as Ukyo rolled her eyes out of her habit of hearing that, "just my best friend. She’s just here to help my choose a car for my wife’s birthday."

"That’s obviously sweet of you, miss," the dealer replied, his eyes twinkling in professional smoothness. "Such devotion to your friend is to be commended."

You have NO idea how devoted I am to my Ranchan, she thought, though she instead voiced, "I guess. Hikaru seems to prefer your Miata models to the Roadster model, so I guess that’s the one you’re getting her, Ranma?"

"Yeah," he replied, his mind made up. "It is for her, and I do want to make her happy. I just can’t wait to see the look on her face when she and Nabiki get home from Fujikyu tomorrow and--"

The dealer’s face blanched. "Y-y-you wouldn’t happen to mean Fujikyu Highland, would you, sir?"

Ranma’s innate sense of danger kicked in. Eyes narrowing dangerously, he bit his words. "Yes, yes I do. Why?" Although he hadn’t seen it, Ukyo sensed upon his change in attitude and knew, from experience, that the world had just gone hellishly wrong.

The man, now somber, said, "You’d best come with me, sir. I believe I have something to show you that you may not like." Ranma’s discomfort went higher as the man pointed to the lounge area, where the dealers were all looking at the terebi.

A second later, the showroom split into a cacophony of rage as Ranma screamed out a cry of anguish. Watching him as he raced towards the exit of the showroom, Ukyo watched her friend in despair, thinking, Not again, please, not again. Sweet kami in the earth, don’t let this happen to him again.... Knowing that her friend needed her more than ever, Ukyo bolted outside, hoping to catch up with Ranma before he went out of control.


The first thing that Saotome Hikaru noticed as she landed was the mindless slaughter going on. There were dozens of creatures of the ancient legends of Yokai bouncing around, and all of them were killing dozens of people. A few minutes ago, this had been nothing more than a happy, jolly amusement park. Now, this was a graveyard, a killing field.

The second thing she noticed, was the pain that blasted up her legs as she impacted on the ground. That’s what I get for being out of shape, she mentally snarled. She heard a scream, and looked towards her left. About five meters from her, over by the Angler ride, was an unidentifiable monster, terrorizing a pair of schoolgirls. The beast swatted his hand at the nearest one, decapitating her, and splashing her blood on the remaining girl, who froze in terror and shock. Knowing that she was the only one who save that poor child, Hikaru put the pain to the back of her mind and charged.

As she raced forward, she thought about the pluses and minuses of the situation. The minuses were that she was out of shape, and calling upon her armor and sword might make her even more of a target than she wanted to be--she'd heard the earlier monster's comment of "Pillar".  The pluses were that being out of shape for Saotome Hikaru simply meant that she was in good enough shape to practice martial arts, just not at the blackbelt-plus level that she was used to; additionally, she still had her fire magic.

And she certainly still knew how to use that. Screaming, "HONO NO YA!" she loosed her firebeam, the massive gout of flame knocking the furry creature away from the remaining girl. As she reached the girl, she moved her body in between her and her charge, yelling, "GET OUT OF HERE! YOU CAN’T DO ANYTHING MORE FOR YOUR FRIEND! SAVE YOURSELF!" As the terrified girl took the clue and bounded up the steps, Hikaru snarled at the creature, "It’s just you and me, buddy-boy. Let’s dance! HI NO YA!" Her sniper arrow blasted forth, slamming into the creature’s shoulder and knocking him for a loop. Taking advantage of that distraction, she raced towards him, leapt up, and delivered a reverse slice kick to the creature’s face, breaking off one of his massive fangs.

The creature recovered quickly, however, and swiped at the young woman, but she danced out of the way. Ignoring the pain as she moved at an angle that would not have normally elicited complaints from her body, she resorted to a variation of one of her kendo moves. Crying out, "Hyakujikoryuken!" she moved forward and launched a high-speed palm strike attack, her hands glowing with the flame of her pyromancy. Each spot she connected with scorched fur and skin, and made the beast roar in anguish. As the creature finally backed up, she finished off her move, a rising backhand that knocked the creature flat on its ass.

As Hikaru alighted on the ground, the creature bounded towards her, and she barely managed to avoid its teeth. The beast then lashed out with a paw, and nearly managed to tangle one of its massive claws in her braid. As a result, she landed off-kilter, and the monster was able to backpaw her back, sending her flying back a few feet, to crash up against a soda machine.

As the creature charged in, Hikaru saw that she had no other way to take it down. A few years back, she wailed against every life she’d ever taken in the course of her duties. A dozen years later, she still felt the internal anguish, but sheathed it in a confidence and inner strength that was reminiscent of her husband’s. Pulling her hands back, she summoned a sphere of flame into them. The ball changed from a fiery red to a strobing, pulsating crimson. As soon as the creature got close enough, she bellowed, "TAKE THIS, YOU BASTARD! AKAI INAZUMA!"

The blast of plasma that she released from her hands was the Scarlet Lighting, her most damaging spell. The slash of force slammed into the creature, and with a roaring clap of thunder, the creature burst apart like a melon, body parts and such casting to the four winds. Hikaru, thinking quickly, held out her hands and muttered, "Hotarubi Reikizhoheki!" As the splash of dark blood splashed harmlessly against her light shield, all Hikaru could see was a wash of blood...another, though very necessary, life she’d have to take. A "monster-san," as Fuu so often referred to them, was no longer a part of this world.

Fuu, I’m so sorry. I was wrong. I was so, so wrong. Your signal wasn’t a plea for help, it was a warning to me, and I ignored it. Hikaru then shelved her sorrow; there would be plenty of time for brooding after she’d taken down her would-be assassins. As the blood cleared away, she dissipated her shield, and idly noted she stood in a fairly deep puddle of crimson. Sitting in front of her was the charred, smoking remnants of the creature, filling the air with its stink of deep grilled flesh and burnt hair. The entire front section of the body had been blown away, and there was a massive hole that could be seen through the chest of the creature where the blast of lightning had made its exit wound. The blast had also tore deep into the Angler’s external dome, leaving molten steel where the bolt of plasma had drilled through.

Faced with the sight, initial adrenaline drop, and the nauseous stench around her, Hikaru turned and threw up. Still feeling woozy, she turned and heard a roar. Suddenly bursting from the Angler’s dome as if the metal were nothing more than tinfoil and tissue paper, was the Kraken-like animatronic beast that was the "villain" of that ride. As it stood, its beak was bloody, and in two of its tentacles, it held the corpse of a person that it had just been munching on. Throwing its carrion away, the denizen of the deep stared at Hikaru with a mindless, animal demonism that was somehow more than the simple fury of a shark.

Hikaru returned that baleful stare, sure and confident as a Saotome, as a Shidou. With a sloppy grin, a mannerism that she’d picked up from Ranma, she looked back at the Kraken and drawled, "Oooh...ika. I could use a little seafood." She then dropped her smile, adopting a determined look and motioned towards the behemoth before her. "You think you can take me? Let’s see you try."

As the Kraken leapt from its perch down to ground level, Hikaru charged up her power. The smell of carrion was still in the air, and she was about to add a new, rubbery scent to the grisly aroma already pervasive.


Just as Shiki was about to bolt away from the table, a huge, wet stinking monster exploded out from the Marina ride in front of them, looking at the pair with baleful eyes. It was dark green and slimy, with a hard shell covering and a body that was reminiscent of the creature in the old movie The Creature from the Black Lagoon. It focused on Shiki instantly, and sucked in a mighty breath. As it sucked in, a small sphere of light converged just in front of its maw. Michael, knowing instinctively that there was no time, leapt forward and tackled her just as the creature shot its head forward and breathed.

The ball of energy erupted into a wave of energy, boring through the place that the pair had been just a second before. The beam cored the building, vaporizing a couple of innocents in its wake and causing a grease fire to erupt in the kitchen. That, combined with a few other things, caused the entire backside of the building to shatter in a fiery conflagration as people who’d hid in the building for safety began to flee for their lives.

Getting back to his feet, Michael wasted no time attacking what was clearly--though inexplicably--a Gyodai-gappa, a heavily mutated form of the kappa that had featured in that anime series from when he was younger--Mermaid Forest. Fortunately, he was an expert on it because of Theresa’s fondness for Stephen King-style horror; she took the time to learn Japanese from him just so she could read the classic horror tales of Mizuki Shigeru. He knew its traditional strengths and weaknesses, and was surely bent on exploiting them.

Bounding into the air, he brought his hands towards himself, then thrust them at the kappa. The result was a hailstorm of knives that blasted out from his hands like so much grapeshot from a cannon. The blades impacted, slashing away at some parts of the creature, some bouncing harmlessly off its shell, but having the objective of backing him away from the immediate vicinity of Shiki. As the freak of nature staggered back, Michael snapped his fingers and brought out the item that would surely take the creature down.

As the .44 bullets ripped away from his Magnum, each hollow-point round boring into the creature and leaving considerably larger exit holes, he looked to his side to note that Shiki had not recovered. Poor thing; she’s in shock. Not every person in this world had the strength of will to fight things like this; he’d even met some "combat-hardened warriors" who paled when the real thing dropped in their laps. Well, Michael had to protect this girl, and the only way to do that was to pull the trigger...

...and watch as the last round in the clip bored into the kappa’s brain, leaving a trace of red in between its eyes.

"Shiki!" Michael shouted as he pulled her to her feet. "Get out of here!" In a smooth motion, he emptied the clip and slapped a new one into it, pulled back the slide, chambering a fresh round. "Leave, before you’re in any more danger!"

"No!" she retorted. "I can fight! My mom taught me some martial arts as I grew up, and I’m very good at it. I’m not leaving your side!"

Before he could answer, the floor exploded beneath them, knocking Shiki back to the floor and Michael over the corpse of the kappa, into the water. As she stood back up and looked at what had just knocked her on her ass, she looked up...and up...and up, straight into the face of a nightmare. As her eyes widened in surprise, she blurted, "You-you-can’t be real!"

Before her stood the Japanese version of the Greek Gorgon, the Kiyohime, and it stared at her with eyes of pure hatred. With the body of a snake and the upper portion of a woman, its body was entirely covered in scales, though the scales in the human portion were at least the golden brown skin of an Japanese girl. Girl, however was nothing that could describe that hag-like face, the fangs, the reptilian eyes, that meter-long tongue, or the oni’s horns that were at the top of the creature’s skull.

The creature reared back to strike, even as Shiki composed herself, dropping into a low combat stance. Giving it her fiercest glare, she snorted, "C’mon, ugly! They don’t call me ‘The Fist of Kawagishi High’ for nothing! Do your worst!" However, as the Kiyohime was about to attack, it screamed in pain as though something had attacked it. It whipped around, turning to face an opponent. As it turned, Shiki noticed that its back was covered in a series of shuriken that seemed to have come out of nowhere.

"Michael?" she called out, grateful that he had saved her. Yep, she thought, couldn’t have timed it better. We’re definitely made for each other. It was to her surprise, then, that she heard a raucous series of quacks as a white duck took to the air, heading in the opposite direction, almost as it was trying to lead the Kiyohime away from her. However, there were no complaints, because the thing decided to follow the bird.


The scream caught Shiki’s attention as the Kiyohime inexplicably chased that duck that came out of nowhere. The scream came from over by the carousel, and Shiki noticed, with horror, that a bunch of strange creatures were advancing on the carousel, bearing down on their victims--none other than two of her friends, and one of them injured! Calling out, "I’m coming, Michiko!" she bolted towards them, concentrating. Those things were fast, and Shiki only had a limited amount of time left to save her friends. As she bolted on, she said a whispered prayer of thanks to the innocent duck that inadvertently saved her, and a hope that Michael and she would survive, so she could be with him again...

...not to mention ask where the hell he’d gotten such a powerful handgun in a country where they were clearly illegal.


"Kuu," Nabiki said, as she put her in what appeared to be an undamaged portion of the Souvenir shop, "you’ll be safe here. Akama, I want you to stay here and protect Hououji-san and the other woman, understand? I have to go help your mother."

"Hai, Aunt Nabiki," the young boy said, as he climbed into the dark room with the other two women.

As Nabiki shut the door, she heard Kuu’s whisper for Nabiki to remain safe, all the while trying to prevent that high school girl from going into hysterics. As she bolted from the nearly demolished building so no one would see where she came from, she mentally snarled, Someone’s going to have to explain this. Hikaru’s a goddess, there are tons of mythical beasts running around turning this place into a killing zone, and here I am, rushing into the middle of thi-- Her words were cut off in mid-stride as she tripped over a body. Quickly gnashing her teeth to bite off the relapse of pain that flared from earlier, she kippuped back to her feet, and did a quick look-around to ensure that she was not under attack. Only then did she look at the obstacle she tripped over.

With dread, Nabiki noted that it was the remains of the woman who’d they’d been in the Kitaro ride with, earlier. Her face and a good portion of her front had been ripped away, and it looked as though someone had chewed off one of her arms. Not a person familiar with such sights, Nabiki turned and threw up lunch. As she did, she heard an unearthly voice waft towards her, the whisper of leaves tumbling over gravestones: "Ahhh...fresh meat. And how long I have hungered for such."

Something triggered the danger instinct in Nabiki and she cart-wheeled out of the way, as a blast of sharp wooden spears lanced through the space where she’d been a second ago. She turned and faced a monstrous creature, potentially worse than the one she faced earlier. It was a semi-solid ghost with demonic eyes, a hideous leer, and black teeth that was currently chewing on a head. A second later, Nabiki inwardly flinched as she realized it was the head of the young boy. Something in the back of her mind, from the darkest recesses of her childhood memories, gave the ghoul a name: Kubikajiri.

The Kubikajiri looked at her with its sinister eyes, and spoke, "Are you ready to give yourself up as carrion, girl?"

Nabiki narrowed her eyes as she snarled, "Only one of us is walking away from this, demon. I’m the one with feet. Get a clue." As she concentrated, the flicker of a crimson aura came around her...then guttered out just as quickly. She’d yet to learn how to use ki-strikes--it was apparent that the Tendo family was not that great with ki attacks--and if she survived this, she was going to make sure that her little brother was going to teach her. However, now was not the time to have to worry about that.

Screaming the banshee wail of the undead, the spirit raced towards Nabiki. As it approached her, she ducked under the bloody claws of its hand, and rolled away. Springing back to her feet, she took the advantage and slugged the thing in the back of the head, feeling a squishy sensation as her fist connected with the back of its pate. As the thing lashed out with its tail, she leapt back and dropped back into a combat stance once again, only pausing in it long enough to regain her balance before moving into attack.

The creature merely pointed at her, and from its finger blasted a shaft of wood, a spear that aimed straight for her heart. Instinct took over Nabiki, and she quickly bent over backwards, just managing to duck under the shaft in time--

--but then screamed in anguish as the Kubukajiri sank its teeth into her shoulder blade. She threw a punch in its face, and it backed off, but not without having drawn some blood and spitting out cloth and flesh. She managed to leap back a few meters or so, but nowhere near what she was used to as clearing distance. In the interim, the creature licked its lips, rasping, "Ah, yes--such sweet flesh. You’ll be glad to know that when I bit you, my teeth injected a toxin in your veins. You’ll be paralyzed in a second, and I’ll have the honor of eating your brains from your skull as I rip out your eyes so you can watch." It moved slowly, sure of its intent and eager in its next meal.

Nabiki felt her veins turning to ice, her body not moving, not responding, even as the creature slowly approached her, as leisurely as a cat playing with its food. I could use some help now, she thought, some chance of surviving! In her mind, she railed. Tatewaki! Ranma! Hikaru! Somebody, help! TASUKETE! She failed to complete her next thought as a clawed hand slapped her back viciously, raking her cheeks and spilling her blood even as she was knocked back a few feet into a nearby trash can, knocking it over.

As she stood there, trying to use every bit of her flagging strength to move, the oddest thing popped into her head, something that Ranma had once said to Akane, during the days she trained before her fatal encounter with Shampoo. Akane, you can’t do ki attacks because you never focus. You’re always so angry, you never search for your inner sense. You never take the time to look. If you do one thing in your life, look at what fuels you. Those words rung in her ears now, as though it were a mystic talisman: look at what fuels you. So, taking a chance, she ignored the creature slowly bearing down on her and focused.

She began to focus, closing her eyes, going deeper within, searching for her inner self, what truly was at the core of her being. Within her mind's eye, it was as though she were walking through a deep forest, hearing faint music, seeing faint light.

She thought about it for a second. I always wanted to be successful, to make a bundle of cash, to be rich and famous. Those were the goals that any person wanted, but why were they so important to Nabiki? As though a symphony of light and sound erupted around her, she was hit with the revelation, something that she knew in a sense, a truth that she’d practiced for years, though she never quite admitted it.

A tingling sensation began to alight throughout every cell in her soul, turning it into a bonfire of light. And in that bonfire was the Truth, the Maxim. I’ve wanted money, so I could take care of my family--so the medicine that we couldn’t afford for my mother would never happen again. So the years we lived in near-poverty would never happen again. But even now that I have money, it’s not the cash that’s important. It’s the love. It’s the love that my husband and I share. It’s the love that Kasumi and Ranma have for me, and I for them. It’s the love for my nephews and niece. Angels sang in her ear, a joyful chorus, and she felt giddy with a power that she’d never felt before. Ranma was right...he was right all along, and his attacks have proved it. His and Ryoga’s. We all knew, yet we never realized.

Her eyes snapped open. She stared at the creature, just mere centimeters from her face, slavering like a man about to taste the world’s finest meal. She smiled, and whispered, "Thank you, little brother." She then glared at the creature, then brought her hands back as a dark pink sphere of energy coalesced in her hands.

"You are mine," the Kubikajiri whispered in orgasmic delight as it opened its mouth far wider than the norm, as though it planned to swallow her head whole.

"I don’t think so," she whispered, her voice as dry as a tomb, as unsettling a hiss as his own. Then, her voice rose to thunder as she thrust her hands forward and roared, "TENKA ATSURYOKUHA!"

The world exploded in a blast of ki.


From her perch above, Citroen watched, directing the battle, examining the situation with a clinical eye. Most of the spirits that she’d summoned apparently were of the bloodthirsty type--not what she’d planned for, but that was life. However, one of her little surprises that she’d brought with her from Cephiro had yet to infest a nearby life form. One already had, and had subsequently been destroyed by the Pillar. Unfortunately, Citroen had not seen that, and thus missed who the identity of the Pillar was. However, she’d narrowed it down to three: the small redhead with the attitude that was currently fighting the Kraken, the brunette who blew apart the ghoul, or the girl currently racing towards the carousel and fighting the creatures along the way. She knew the Pillar was female, and those were the only three females fighting, the remainder of the combatants being men.

She decided to sit there and wait. Sooner or later, one of them would use the powers of the Pillar, and that would expose her. Once that was the case, then Citroen herself could either attack, or she could notion her little familiar towards attacking, assuming that it infested a body. It would be perfect; the Pillar would die, and the Vanden Plaz would once again have its foothold back on Earth. Hopefully, there were still descendants of the followers of the Leader, and so they would rally them.

All in good time, however. There were more important things at hand...like killing a goddess. And a second later she noted that her second familiar had infested a creature after all, and was in combat with the Pillar--the redhead. The Pillar confirmed her identity a second later, when the goddess used a fire spell in a method that Citroen had never seen before. Certain of her victory, the sorceress called the power into her hands, and blasted massive lighting bolt down on her opponent. It would not fail, and death would rain down from above, like the owl swooping down on the mouse.

The goddess was as good as dead.


Shiki knew that she had little time left to save her friends. Strange creatures, a bizarre cross between a bird and an alligator, scuttled their way towards the carousel, and Michiko, who was holding a bloody and whimpering Mariko. Both looked seriously injured, and in almost in shock as the Itsumaden began to come closer and closer to the pair, their feathered jaws snapping, their sharp teeth showing, their reptilian eyes cold and unthinking. As Shiki approached, the nearest three turned with an extremely fast gait and pounced towards her. While their bodies were not ideal for flight, their winged forearms, similar to that of a flying squirrel, allowed them to gain extra distance. The raptors opened their jaws, ready to eat.

Shiki began to glow with a light green energy and called out, "Gurenken!" Her hands blurred into a flurry of motion as she executed a rapid-punch attack that scattered the Istumaden to the four winds. Then, still having to catch the attention of the others racing towards her friends, she shouted, "Unsanmushodama!" There was a blast of green energy from her palms that quickly disappeared into nothing...

...only to detonate right in the center of the creatures, blasting them away like a stick of dynamite thrown into a pond of barracuda.

Michiko looked up through her tears and fright, saw that although the Istumaden were still advancing on them but then had to turn away as an unexpected explosion of light threw the monsters away as though they were rag dolls. When she turned her eyes back to the scene, she saw Shiki charging in, as strong as brave as ever. Despite her generally soft demeanor and quiet nature, Shiki’s mother, the owner of a Chinese martial arts dojo in Tokyo, taught the girl how to be a martial arts monolith. Shiki always commented that she was probably the best martial artist in the Japanese high school system, and probably all of Japan. "Shiki! Help!" the girl screamed, her voice belting out a desperate cry of panic and all encompassing fear.

Unfortunately, Michiko caught the attention of the next group of Itsumaden. Worse, although many of the creatures had been removed by Shiki, the others continued to approach the girl, jaws ready to rip the life out of the pair, even as they might already have with Mariko. A scream of "Dokyogyaku!" in the distance, alerted Michiko that her friend would be arriving shortly, but would shortly mean the same thing as in time? Already the creatures were advancing, and it didn’t appear that they were going to give up their pursuit any time soon. In short, things were looking bad...

...and it didn’t improve any as Shiki abruptly changed plans and ran towards the back of the carousel, apparently either in retreat, or more likely seeking some assistance of some kind. In any event, it was the wrong thing to do as the Istumaden that were stalking her retrained on the two helpless girls, now apparently consigned to their deaths...

...only to see Shiki run around the other side of the carousel, shouting, "Michiko-chan! Hold on to something! Do it! NOW!"

Michiko screamed out, "But if I do, Mariko will die!"

With what was probably the last of her strength, Mariko painfully looked up and said, "Please...do it, Michiko. I don’t want you to...die, too."

Before Michiko could answer, Shiki shouted, "Neither of you are going to die, but only if you hold onto something! Crawl into the carousel and hang onto one of the horses! NOW!!!!!!" With that, Shiki began to murmur something in Chinese, as a soft emerald halo of light began to envelop her. "Hope I remember what my mom taught me about this trick...."

With no time left, Michiko pulled Mariko out of the range of the snapping jaws of the Itsumaden, crawling up alongside one of the horses and grabbed on for dear life. The Itsumaden, noting the rise in the elevation, tensed their powerful back legs, ready to spring up to the carousel and feast on the girls.

Thirty of the half-bird, half-alligator mutations leapt.

Their mistake.

The leap was exactly what Shiki had been waiting for. Focusing all of her concentration on the creatures, she roared out, "Time for you guys to really hurt! Nijirono School of Martial Arts Ultimate Mystery Attack! HIRYU--"

...a breeze began to coalesce as it built within less than a second into a dust devil, then filled with angry verdant energy...


...tendrils of energy in the building cyclic gale slammed into the Itsumaden, who were rendered helpless as the energy either bored right through them or blasted them into so much feathers and gore...

"--HA!" Shiki stood, her fist in the air, controlling the Dragon Ascension Wave, an ultimate attack so powerful, it was limited only to her family and her family alone--no one else could hope to master it, much less use it at will. It was Shiki’s hope that someday she would be able to be powerful enough to not only use it at will, but to refine it to the point where she could just summon the force, and not have to prime it by running in circles. But, she admitted, she had an awful lot to learn still about the Art, and though she was the best, there was always something she could stand to learn.

As the creatures were tossed about in the whirlwind like nothing more than extravagant toys, Shiki broke her concentration and raced towards her friends, hoping that they would be alright. If they weren’t, every monster than that reared its head at the moment would have to face the mighty fury of the Fist of Kawagishi High.


I’m either really out of shape, Hikaru mentally moaned, or this thing’s tougher than I expected. So far, the Kraken had taken a dozen of her shots, and was still standing. True, it had burn marks and carbon scoring all over it, and even one of its tentacles had been vaporized by an Akai Inazuma blast, but it still stood. Hikaru reflected on this as she bolted at full speed towards the Fujiyama rollercoaster, hoping to hell that she’d think of something to do to the thing before it did something to her.

She looked at her options. The thing was huge, about the size of an oil tank. She was throwing as many shots as she could without worrying about harm coming to what few innocent bystanders there were, and if she cut loose with some of her better attacks, there was a good chance that someone was going to get really hurt--as it was, she’d limited her Akai Inazuma attacks to as much as she could. However, it was looking as if she was going to have to go all out and use some of the most powerful spells she had. But that presented problems, and that would have to be dealt with.

Using the advantage of space, she raced up a set of stairs, darted into the food court building on the farthest end, over by the Moon Shot rollercoaster, then while inside the building, bolted like a rabbit for the far side of the building, went down the stairs, and double-backed toward the first floor exit. Noting idly that her trick had momentarily bought her time, she continued on her path, hoping to reach Fujiyama. If she were able to get to the top of the coaster, she might be able to rain multiple fire spells down on the monsters, picking them off one by one as easily as--

Her thoughts were cut off as the floor exploded underneath her. Propelled into the air with minimal preparation, she could only turn to minimize the impact as she painfully slammed into the metal fence that covered the perimeter of the rollercoaster’s range. As flesh and cloth met metal and paint, the air was knocked out of her lungs, and she whimpered in pain as she landed in a clump on the hard pavement. Pulling herself back to her feet and ignoring the scimitars of pain that were lancing up and down her body, she wondered how it could get any worse than fighting an enemy that didn’t know when to quit.

To her side, she heard multiple howls. As she turned, she noted a bunch of indescribable, inhuman things shuffling for her. She didn’t study myths and legends when she was younger, but they looked like something that would have easily been immigrants from the Forest of Silence or the Lovers’ Cave that Ranma had once told her about. They were primal evil, and worse, they were coming her way. Her only fortune at this point was that the Kraken had not been able to operate in confined quarters, and would have to slowly lumber around the building that she had raced through in order to make it to what she thought was the safety of Fujiyama.

Without warning, the creatures stopped. With an instinct for danger that had stayed somewhat sharp despite the years, Hikaru leapt to the side as a powerful blast of lightning turned the space she was into so much heated concrete and slagged metal. Knowing that multiple opponents were in the area, and more than she’d dealt with in a number of years, she didn’t let go of her defenses for a second. Once, she and Umi had faced down several dozen monsters over a decade past. If anything, time had taught Saotome Hikaru a few new tricks and a nastier disposition from years of association with her husband.

Umi.... Hikaru shook off her memories, and fast. Now was not the time to get maudlin about someone she still hadn’t resolved her feelings for, and to do that now would probably be a bad thing. Snarling, "Looks like I’m gonna hafta get a little tough," she thrust her hands forward and released a Shimbinotama. The fireball blasted forward, slamming into the body of one of the creatures and shattering it like it was so much glass. Not letting up, she called up a second one, hoping that she would be able to take out enough to clear a pathway to the entrance of the amusement park. After all, they were all lumbering towards her, waves of them that stood between her and the path to the inside of the rollercoaster. She had to get through, or there would be no chance, no chance at all.

Her concentration was further interrupted by the peal of laughter that came from above, as sharp and staggering as a bell ringing out a death knell. A voice from above rang out, "This is your twilight hour, Pillar, your finest moment! You will die in a blaze of glory!"

Well, that voice spoke in Cephiran, Hikaru thought glumly. I guess that confirms where the problem’s coming from. Without looking up, Hikaru screamed back, "I don’t know who you are, but if you think I will easily fall, then you are sorely mistaken! I am Saotome Hikaru, a master of Anything Goes and my family’s school of Kendo. I am the Fire Knight, the Knight Commander, and the Pillar of Cephiro! If you think you have any chance of beating me, YOU’RE SADLY MISTAKEN!"

Time to prove it, she realized. Whispering to herself, "Ranma, I love you," she then called up her fire aura, but did not charge up a projectile, instead readying for hand-to-hand combat. "C’mon, boys," she seethed to the monsters that opposed her. "I’ve beaten better than you, and I’m not losing to a bunch of second-rate beasts such as yourselves." As if runners released from a gate, they swarmed in on the young woman en masse.

Like a wolf on the hunt, Saotome Hikaru swung into action. Leaping towards the nearest two ghouls, she grabbed a head each and slammed them together, crushing the two heads as though they were melons. Not bothering to wait for them to fall to the floor, she sidestepped and engaged a third, throwing an elbow to its chest, then bringing her hand up in a backhand smash, and completing it with an uppercut. Three were taken out of the issue, but three were a minimal number when one was dealing with a menagerie of inhuman beasts and undead creatures.

Despite the ferocity of her attack, the creatures decided to move towards her en masse. She bolted forward, a blur of red, black and blue launching out against her foes. Unabated in her fear, she moved onto a pair of molding, half-deteriorated skeletons. One of the bone brothers came close to impaling her with a sharpened bone spur. However, she dropped into a crouch, then executed her flying backfist, taking the thing out. Not wanting to lose her momentary advantage, she grasped the skull and threw it at the second cadaver she’d fought. The skull moved like a bullet, hitting the osseous framework square in the chest and blasting it apart as though it were no more than a 3D jigsaw puzzle.

The next creature--a Heike ghost--moved in quickly for the kill, but Hikaru was much faster. She spun as he struck, feeling as the metal blade tore through the back of her shirt and drawing blood. Leaning forward, she hit the floor and rolled away before he could recover for a second strike. As he pulled back, she raced forward. As the Heike thrust, she caught the shaft in mid-stride, ripped it from his hands, then used it on him as a bo staff. Still swinging the staff, she used it on her next three opponents before breaking it upon the rock-hard pate of a fourth, a yamagami. Although the golem-like creature was merely stunned, she flung the remains at him as a distraction, and as he ducked, she executed a footsweep, knocking him in the air for a second long enough to execute a vicious flurry of high-speed kicks that pulverized him before she charged up her roundhouse, setting him ablaze with a vicious swipe to the jaw.

As Hikaru dropped back into a defensive position, she took a second to relax. At the moment, she was holding her own, having defeated several of the monsters without sword or serious martial arts exertion, but they kept on coming, and frankly, things weren’t looking too good. Her body, now being taxed to its current limits, screamed for her to take a furo and a nap--the longer, the better. While she was still in very good shape, pregnancy had taken its toll on her, and she hadn’t expected to exert herself this hard this soon. Worst of all she was taking on numbers far greater than the power that she was willing to expend at the moment. No matter what, the prognosis for Hikaru did not look too optimistic.

No time for that now, the redhead berated herself as she took a breath of air and crouched low, tensing her body and readying to spring. I can’t allow anything to cloud my thinking, or I’ll die, and my family could be next. She looked at the location where she was aiming for, and with a literal leap of faith, made a long-distance jump that would have been her chance to make it away from the growing horde bent on killing her, her only hope to catch her breath long enough to regain some kind of offensive.

That hope was lost when a piercing whistle rent the air, as if signaling incoming objects. Without warning, a machine gun effect of small black ki spheres tore into the air, catching her in a crossfire that she hadn’t expected. A series of the dark orbs ripped the ledge she was aiming for apart, giving her no chance to complete her jump. With her escape route cut off, all she could do was ricochet of the wall, and hope for a decent landing with minimal pain. She hit the ground hard, but managed to stay on her feet and turned to face the second wave.

In the lead of the second wave were ten amorphous, barely homonid shapes that were as inky black as night, save for glowing red eyes that burned like the stars of hell. Something primal triggered in Hikaru, and she didn't even take the time to announce her attack, instead opting to incinerate all ten with a massive burst of her Hono no Ya firebeam. Unfortunately, her safety turned to become a ruse, as four more of the beings leapt at her, their arms turning into solid spears, maws appearing on their featureless heads with sharp teeth ready to gnash the flesh of the living creature that dared to oppose them. Knowing she had no other choice to oppose them, Hikaru waited until they were in striking position, then shouted out, "Hono Maryoku Dankyaku!" as she began to execute the Ring of Fire Slash Kick attack.

If it were it only so easy.

"Don’t forget me!" the voice from above rang out as another slash of deep crimson slammed down hard onto the pavement, taking out a much larger chunk of the floor. Both Hikaru and a quartet of the monsters that she’d been fighting had been tossed aside by the blast. Hikaru picked herself off the ground, and noted that all four of her opponents had been turned into so much goo. Hikaru noted that the creatures of hell were standing off again, reassessing their attack plan, so she chanced a look at her new attacker. She looked up, and saw a woman who looked like a native of Cephiro, but without the kind demeanor that was instinctive of the native citizenry. "Excellent work, Pillar," the woman called down. "I see you are a master of more than just the mystic arts. Is that karate that you were using, or some other form of Oriental fighting?"

"Why don’t you come down here and find out?" Hikaru snarled back in Cephiran, using the language for the first time in years and in the back of her mind surprised that it came back to her so easily.

"My, my, what a temper. It’s bound to get you in trouble if you’re not careful," the woman said. Looking at her creation, she called out, "Take care of her, my pets! Kill the Pillar!"

The response that Hikaru heard was the sound of a mosquito buzzing followed by the sound of a muffled firecracker. A split second later, the rapport of a rifle went off. A meter or so in front of her, one of the shadowy creatures teetered and fell, its head now featuring a gaping entry wound caused by a bullet. Another few microseconds went by before three more were felled in the same manner. A voice called out in Japanese, "Looks like you could use some help," and then everything went into the deafening sound of an automatic rifle screaming at full bore, releasing multiple rounds into the small army of creatures below. As Hikaru followed the path of a tracer round back to its source, she noticed a man dressed in a black T-shirt, jeans, and loafers, carrying a military-style automatic rifle. Calling out to Hikaru he cheerfully responded, "Now, don’t go anywhere. I’ll be down in a second, miss." With that, he leapt into the air, still firing the rifle in a sweeping pattern, the metal slugs raining down on the creatures, tearing them apart like a buzz saw that had just snapped its support.


Michael looked back at the still, slightly stinking corpse of the Kiyohime, lying there with several puncture marks in her body, the result of multiple rounds fired into her. Not that far away, a burst pipe steamed as hot water came out of it, a lucky break that had allowed him to change back and retake the offensive from the monster at the cost of her life. As Michael took to the air again to land beside Saotome Hikaru, he came to a threefold conclusion: one, he couldn’t kill Saotome Ranma. Mousse had been a blind, idiotic fool bent on revenge against a man whose wife was merely defending himself from a Fatal Attraction-esque spurned would-be lover. Michael Tseng, however, was a man who believed in his ideals, and in the end, murder was not one of them, especially since it was unfounded. Mousse died the day that he accepted Donovan’s offer of a new life and identity. Michael had no intention of resurrecting such a pathetic soul.

The other fact, he now realized, was that Murphy’s Law, that grand controller of the universe, had blessed the Saotome household once more. This Hikaru woman was a dead ringer for Ranma’s female half, until you stared into those sienna eyes of hers; until you listened to her voice. This person was born a woman, had always been one. The chances of their being another redhead in the Tendo dojo had been played, and Michael had ended up hunting the wrong person. Said person was now in dire straits, and he now felt honor-bound to help Ranma’s wife out of her spot, lest these things kill her.

Which brought up reason number three: why would someone send an army of undead after what apparently what was nothing more than a fair martial artist? Michael remembered that while the battles between their small group of "friends" had lasted roughly for four years, no one had ever got to the point to raise the dead to kill one of them. True, there had been Gosunkugi, but he was useless anyway. But this was different, and it not only repulsed him but also felt it was pretty dishonorable to let creatures do your killing for you.

So, he did the only thing he could: broke out the Kalashinkov Bizon-2 autorifle he borrowed from Martin, and let the rounds fly. Even in mid-air he was basically turning them into so much sushi, a dilapidated mess of gore and bone that spread in larger pools of ichor and blood, he knew that this mess was not only not anywhere near over, but that the redhead would have to end it. As he alighted upon the ground, he got his first real good look at the current wife of Saotome Ranma.

As Michael stared, there was only one thought that entered his mind: Angelic. True, she was a dead ringer for Ranma’s cursed form, but where Ranma’s cuteness had an undertone of sexiness to it, this woman’s had the tone of something else, something not immediately describable. In a sense, it was like trying to describe an angel or a kami--how would one describe a moment of perfect beauty? Additionally, there was an ageless quality in her sienna eyes, as though the secrets of a universe were locked in those reddish-brown jewels of hers.

Then she spoke. Looking at him, she ventured, "You okay?"

Michael snapped out of his reverie. "Yes, why?"

She took her eyes off him, refocused them on the army of the undead that had begun to regroup. "You’ve been staring at me long enough that I thought something was wrong."

Michael hit the trigger again, and was rewarded with a dry click. "There is. I’m out of ammo."

She smiled in a rakish manner, a look more suited to another redhead he once knew. "So much for the rescue, ne? It worked anyway; you managed to give me my second wind." She placed her hands in close proximity to one another, and a ball of pulsating ki sparked into life and danced in the space between. "Well, it’s us or them," she sighed.

Michael noted her tone as he snapped his finger, producing an Uzi this time. Reaching behind him to place Martin’s rifle back into subspace, he then commented, "What’s that tone for? Surely you don’t feel pity for those things, do you?" His old familiar rifle in his hands, he depressed the trigger, the muzzle flash nearly as bright as her fireball, the depleted rounds nearly as hot as her ki as they bored into their targets.

"No--they're evil and deserve what they get. I’m afraid of any innocents who may get caught in what I’m about to do." The ball between her hands instantly got brighter and whiter, a sign of the immense power poured into it. "May the kami forgive me if I hurt an innocent." Thrusting her hands forward, she roared to the undead, "Not nice to piss off a Saotome! Eat this! SHIMBONO NO YA!!!!!!!!!!!!!" At that point, her attack initiated.

Michael nearly dropped his rifle, stunned at what he saw. From what little he had seen earlier, this woman was a capable fighter, but other than minor level ki attacks, nothing more than what he dealt with when he was a teenager. Hikaru’s next attack had changed his mind about that in a heartbeat. A tremendous torrent of energy lanced from her outstretched palms, an attack that easily rivaled anything that he’d seen Ranma or Ryoga throw at the worst of their rivalry. Furthermore, he realized as the creatures were either incinerated or turned into so much flaming chunks, that all her attacks had not been ki--it was magic. Magic flame was blasting from her palms, turning the grounds into a virtual outdoor kiln.

Above her, the voice laughed. "For all your worth, Pillar, you’re only delaying your inevitable death!" Out of the huge wall of flame, the silhouette of the Kraken appeared, charred and scorched, but still on its tentacles and lurking menacingly. "And as you can see, my pet is still around!" Citroen, noting the look of barely controlled rage on the redhead’s face, laughed all that much more. To prove her point, she casually loosed another bolt of energy that came crashing down to the ground, nearly hitting both Michael and Hikaru. Only a quick leap backwards saved them from becoming as charred as the creatures Hikaru had just dispatched.

"I have no idea what she’s screaming, but she’ll have to do the rest of her screaming six feet under!" Michael drew a bead on the mage, but was stopped short by Hikaru.

Before he could comment, the redhead snarled under her breath, "She’s mine." The snarl turned into a scream as the redhead roared into the air in the language Michael failed to comprehend, "Just you and me, whoever you are! No more innocents! NO MORE!"

"Come and get me," her challenger dared.

"Damn straight!" the redhead yelled. As she readied to move, she grunted quietly in Japanese, "Wish I had a katana or something...."

A snap of the fingers, and one was being held out to her by her erstwhile partner. "This what you’re looking for?"

"How did you...?" she asked as she grabbed the scabbard like a child handed a favorite plaything.

"Too long to explain," he replied. "Now, don’t you have something more important to do? I have crowd control to attend to."

Nothing further to be said, she fastened the katana on and began to race towards the entryway to the roller coaster, ignoring all the aches and pains her body was screaming at her. Her opponent above noted this and began the gauntlet for her, raining down bolts of lighting after repeated bolts of lightning. Chunks of wood, plastic and metal exploded or caught aflame around her, pelting her with small bits and pieces. The air became warm--too warm. She felt something bite into her legs. But Hikaru continued her charge up the walkway, knowing that the woman had to be stopped and now.

The minute she entered the lobby section of the waiting area, there was a massive explosion, as the area behind her disintegrated in a shower of plasma. Hikaru was thrown forward, off her feet and into a pile of what were once living, breathing people, now nothing more than body parts. As Hikaru recovered, she stared straight into the lifeless, unblinking eyes of a little redhaired girl, a girl that would never see another day.

"No...." Rather than tears, something snapped inside the soul of Saotome Hikaru. Something from deep within her howled, screamed at what was happening. She didn’t understand any of it, save that people all around were dying, because of her, because of what she was. It was the worst thing that could ever be thrown in front of her. A goddess of another world, and here she was on her own, not able to do much of anything other than stare at the child, utterly powerless to do anything other than wonder how the fates could be so cruel to her to make her possibly omnipotent in one universe, yet so weak and frail in this one.

Words flashed like neon in her mind: A Martial Artist must protect those in need, must use the Art for more than mere personal gain, lest he becomes nothing more than a well-trained bully. Those were words her father had taught her the first day she began her training, and the words now rung like hot metal, searing in her mind.

Some one was going to pay for all of this. And as Hikaru brought herself back to her feet, absently wiping a rivulet of her blood from her brow, she decided that the idiot throwing the lighting bolts, for better or for worse, had been elected. With a soundless scream of rage, she leapt over the safety rails and straight onto the coaster tracks, more than eager to fight.

However, as soon as she leapt onto the entry track, she was met by a huge column of lightning streaking her way. Having no time to move, it rammed into her with enough force to fling her forward, slamming her against the front of the unmoving car train. She felt like a rib or two snapped, and her spine was being remodeled by Dali. Plopping onto the track again, sparks showered around her as the melting fiberglass of the coaster car began to splatter against the electric rail. She vaguely smelled something burning, felt something hot against her skin, could barely see past the red beginning to smolder in her eyes. The only sense that seemed to be working was the faint laughter of a woman hell-bent on killing her and as many innocents that got in the way.

Automatically, mechanically, Hikaru ripped off the scorched tang, fortunate that the black T-shirt underneath had not been ruined. Stoically getting back up to her feet, she made a fist and screamed, "I'VE HAD ENOUGH! NOW WE PLAY MY WAY!" She raced towards the access stairway, so enraged that she ignored the blasts of energy coming her way, a rainstorm of plasma pain and death directed towards her. However, she was a woman that had been pushed quite a ways past her limits, and so she neither cared or worried about what was coming her way anymore.

As soon as she hit the accessway that led to the 80-meter plateau where the idiot was raining destruction, Hikaru moved into action. Ignoring the screaming sensations that said her body was no longer conditioned for this type of punishment, feeling herself weighted down with the alphabet of debilitations from A scored leg to a doZen lacerations, she called a ball of fire magic into her hand, and made an insane gamble. Once upon a time, back in the innocence of her teen years, she had taken gymnastics in addition to her kendo practice. A much better kendo artist than a gymnast, she was still fairly good at that, even though she knew that she would never be able--then or now--to compete against an Olympic-level gymnast like Suzuki Nae, Kagayaku Ikuko, or Kuno Kodachi.

Still, it was that skill level, combined with a hefty dose of her husband’s stupidity-cum-bravado that she loved about him that led her to attempt the deranged. Still racing up the gangway while building up the courage to commit to the deed, she screamed, "MOEAGARUDENKYUMURE SHUKKA!" and released a swarm of baseball-sized fireballs in a shotgun pattern, straight at her opponent. At the same time, she leapt to her left, off the coaster framework and into boundless air.

Counting on the same Saotome knack for insane stunts that her husband had, the minute she cleared the safety rail, she spun and twisted her body to hopefully catch the rail that would vault her into phase two of this demented scheme of hers. She remembered that she was usually prided on not being exactly the overkill member of the Knights, but that was the better part of a lifetime ago. This was the here and now, however, and if she didn’t make the catch she was going to hit the pavement 70-plus feet below and end up like one of Ukyo’s dinner specials--

--YES! Barely able to grasp the metal structural pole, she nearly ripped her arms out of their sockets as several aerodynamic forces protested her creativity in this. Still, she was able to hold on, and using her momentum, launch herself towards the other end of the ziggurat, grab the matching pole on the other side and launch herself back into the air, doing the same on two more bracing poles and picking up speed. If she timed it right, and luck was on her side, she’d be in business. And as she noted that she was now approaching striking distance of her quarry, she smiled a feral grin.

This woman was expecting a Hikaru that always played fair, that was right and just and believed in what was right. Well, she was going to get that Hikaru...

...and all the bad habits and attitude she’d picked up since she lost her innocence.


Shiki stood there, bloodied and bruised, but still moving on willpower. Although she’d handily defeated the Istumaden, they’d been replaced by Toragumo, creatures with the size and heads of tigers, but the bodies of spiders. These things were faster, a lot more agile, and a lot more lethal. She was giving them all that she was worth, but they kept on swarming, and being the size of tigers, they weren’t exactly easy to squish. But she kept fighting, even though her strength was now flagging and the chances of her not surviving was becoming more and more apparent. But while she was willing to live with the honorable death of a Martial Artist, Mariko and Michiko were next, and their deaths were not an option. So, she fought on, despite the mounting odds. But, as she turned and caved in the thorax of one Toragumo with a well-placed snap, an unnoticed one to her side decreed her fate.

Slamming into her with the speed of a Nissan, she felt the wind knocked out of her as she crumpled to the pavement, gasping for breath. In the corner of her eye, she could see a trio of the creatures leaping into the air, on a clear trajectory for her throat. Despite the fact that her life was about to end, she didn’t have the strength to do more than watch as they came closer to her.

"SEIFUKUSHA TENKYUSHO!" The air around Shiki exploded in crimson energy as a woman moved into range, her fist glowing with a radiant power as she reached the apex of her flying uppercut. Upon reaching that zenith, she roared, "TENDO SCHOOL OF ANYTHING-GOES MARTIAL ARTS SPECIAL ATTACK: SENSUIFU HADOKYAKU!" Her body became electrified with waves of ki, and as she slammed into the pavement scattering chunks of concrete and mythical animal alike upon impact. Upon that foolhardy maneuver, the attitude of the beasts changed from brave to fearful as the woman got up and snarled, "Lunchmeat." She maneuvered in front of Shiki, her aura set somewhere between fluorescent and searchlight, and clearly in the mode of a martial artist with extreme talent--if not as good as her, that was.

Inexplicably, the creatures, so hell bent on killing a second ago, seemed to sense the woman as a larger predator, one THEY should fear; their wolf pack tactics having proven useless on her. Slowly, the creatures began to slowly back up as the woman called up a fireball into her hands, and as they began to turn around, she yelled, "TOO SLOW!" She released the fireball, roaring, "TENKA ATSURYOKUHA!" and the crimson ball of energy leapt from her hands, blasting into the hurriedly departing throng of creatures. The ball impacted on the second one, charbroiling it on impact and scattering the others like tenpins. As the others continued their flight, she turned to Shiki.

Shiki got a good look at her rescuer. An older woman, she looked like she’d been through hell. Her shirt was in tatters, and her pants were scored and shredded to the point that with a couple more adjustments, they could probably be turned into decent cutoffs. She was bloodied and bruised, and probably was on the same last reserves of inner will that Shiki was on. But she stood there, with a viperous look in her eyes that she would have normally associated with the Emperor than with a woman.

Then her face softened as she smiled, offering Shiki a hand up. "Are you okay, miss? You were able to handle half of them pretty well, but not all of them. Still, not bad for an amateur." Nodding her head, the woman continued. "By the by, I’m Kuno Nabiki of the Tendo Musabetsu Kokuto Ryu. And you are...?"

Shiki was about to give the woman a snarling response--"Not bad?" Who does this woman think she is?--when she heard the outbreak of hysterical crying and screaming. Kuno-san forgotten, Shiki raced towards the inside of the carousel’ boundaries, fearing the worst--the inevitable. When she arrived, she saw the worst. Hunched over Mariko, Michiko was a heartbroken, despondent soul. It was clear from Mariko’s closed eyes that she wasn’t merely asleep, and that what should have been her happiest day of the year had turned out to be the worst of all.

"I...Shiki...I tried...." the look in Michiko’s eyes was that haunted look that would never leave, the sort of look that she would wake up screaming from nightmares a dozen years from now. The tears began to run down Shiki’s face, even as Michiko grasped the deceased girl closer to herself, sobbing, "I’m so sorry, Mariko, I’m so sorry...."

Shiki slumped to her knees in defeat. To have fought all this time, and to have failed her best friend, to have allowed Mariko to suffer and die on her birthday was unconscionable. She failed. She. Failed.

From her perspective, Nabiki didn’t know what to do. While the fighting, the combat and pain had become what been somewhat de rigeur in her life since she met Ranma--and more so, when she took up the mantle of the Tendo family martial artist--this was above and beyond what she was accustomed to, what she could live with. A tear traced its way down her cheek as she moved instinctively to Shiki’s side, wondering if this was what Ranma felt when he beheld Akane’s body, her soul having moved on. There was nothing that could be done here, except to help these girls as much as she could. And once that was done, she had to find the others, and fast. Her mind began racing again--if she was in this kind of mess, what about Hikaru?


Kuu and the girl she was with looked at the man with fear. Akama had the defiant look on him that he’d mastered from his father, and was going to protect Hououji-san and the other woman with what ever it took. The man was dangerous, clearly, and anyone running around with a pump shotgun in Japan during whatever the hell was happening, had to be someone obviously not worth messing with.

As for the guy with the shotgun, Michael pointed it at them, unsure of whether they were going to turn into some melting creature, or grow wings and fangs or something of the like. While attempting to hunt down some of the quarry that he and Saotome rounded up, his instincts told him to head into what appeared to be the center of the maelstrom, despite the fact that he would be at ground zero. Not that this would have been a first; that sobriquet went to his assassination missions in a dozen places. But his ammunition was close to gone, he gave his katana to Saotome, and although he could go hand to hand if the situation called for it, he’d already decided the best place to keep these horror movie-rejects was at least past arm’s length. With that thought in mind, When he stood there for a few minutes, awaiting a transformation that did not come, he lowered the gun. "Come with me," he motioned. "Let’s get you out of here. There’s a big, bad, nasty looking thing the size of a building that’s going to be on us in a second, and--"

A wet, slurping sort of shriek sounded behind Michael; at the same time, the brunette screamed "Look out!" More annoyed than enraged, he took care of it in the easiest way he could. Not even bothering to look, he pointed the shotgun behind him and fired. As the shotgun rocked him due to the recoil, he used the momentum to spin on his heels and, pumping the shotgun again halfway through the motion, fired again as soon as he completed the motion. He felt hot, wet blood splashing on his back, slightly acidic, but it only stung rather than burned, so he could live with it, though he was going to have a problem explaining this mess to the hotel’s laundry service.

As he moved into position and reloaded, he absently noted two things: one, that what he had cut in half with the shotgun was a half-woman, half-butterfly, and not of the pretty fairy variety, either. From what he could tell of what was left of its upper torso she would have been cute if the head had been human. The other thing he noted was that there was a group of them coming right at him, and at least one of them was almost fully human insofar as these butterfly women--again, the term "fairies" just didn’t seem to apply--were. As he backed up to protect his new charges, the Queen B-fly stared at him imperiously through a pair of translucent, faceted eyes.

"I am the Kocho-denkyo," the creature announced with a voice that sounded like the swarming of wasps, "and you have killed one of my followers. For that, I should kill you, but I think that I might have other plans for you." She licked her lips invitingly, with a tongue that extended to the length of a proboscis. "Be honored--not every man is offered this sort of choice, to rule at my side and be the father of a race that will take over the world."

Michael stared at her with a cool demeanor. "What of the women? And the boy?"

"They are carrion, as far as I am concerned," the Kocho-denkyo responded, with an offish manner. "The boy will be allowed to grow to adulthood, and will make a fine mate for any female offspring I bear."

"Hmm, I see. Give me a second to explain things to these folks, if you will." He turned around, facing the fully human group once more. As an aside to the one woman seemingly in control of the trio, he offered the shotgun, saying, "Take this. If what I have doesn’t work, you have two rounds left in it to get yourself clear."

Kuu took the shotgun like it was a live cobra, but looked at him with a grim understanding. "Wish this was a bow and arrow," she murmured. "At least my sister and I were in our school’s archery club."

He grinned at her. "Sorry, but I left them in my jacket back at the hotel." No lie, that; he had no idea that he was going to need this much armament for such an occasion. I’ll have to plan better next time, he thought, then added, if there is a next time.

Kuu saw the look in his eyes, and knew it instantly. It was the combative look on the face of the man before her, a look that was found on many a person she knew. From the times when she saw Fuu with that look on her face, to most recently Hikaru and Nabiki, she knew what it meant and what it heralded. "What do you have in mind, sir?"

"Two words: feather grapeshot." His eyes steeled, and for a second, it seemed as though he was about to rage at her, though she knew that wasn’t the case; still, the level of focus was so deep, so entrenched in his eyes, that she subconsciously stepped back, and slowly aimed the shotgun at him. Still either he hadn’t noticed, or he was extremely focused, because he said nothing about that, instead ignoring her and the unintended threat she represented.

"You are taking too long," the Kocho-denkyo said in that buzzing voice of hers. "I will have your answer now, male, and I will have their heads."

"Shoo fly, don’t bother me," he said, turning and giving her a defiant, go-to-hell glance. "Personally, I prefer my significant others less flighty, and frankly, you just don’t fit the bill."

Despite the inhuman eyes, the face of the Kocho-denkyo was a mask of rage, the visage of death coming from on nigh. Trembling with an uncontrollable rage, the creature roared, "DIE!"

"SORRY TO DISAPPOINT YOU!" he shouted. "QUILL FLECHETTE!" He pointed his hands forward, and the world got gunmetal gray as every weapon in his arsenal slammed full force into the Kocho-denkyo and her court. His entire inventory, from throwing knives to cyanide vials and everything in-between, pounded into the butterfly-women with the force of a tsunami. His hands were an untraceable blur as he loosed everything he had, throwing things with an incalculable speed that rivaled the best that Ranma could throw. The veritable fog of metal and iron ripped through the Kocho-denkyo and her henchwomen, boring into her and out the other side, cutting them apart as though they were caught in a sandstorm in the middle of the Sahara. The metallic rain continued, unabated, and the abrading zephyr of blades gnawed into and through the exposed flesh and bored through the exoskeleton that was present, through gossamer wings and compound eyes, through silken fabric and bits of hair, and sent them to the four winds, a sanguineous spray of chunks and horror as the creatures screamed from being flayed while alive.

When Michael stopped, there wasn’t even enough of the creatures together to bury one being whole much less the baker’s half-dozen that clumped on the floor. His whole front was covered in a dark blood that wasn’t that of a normal full-human. His clothing was soaked and stained, and behind him, he heard someone turn and vomit.

Turning back to him, he saw the blonde leveling the shotgun at him, fear embedded in her eyes, her hands shaking like the Tokyo fault-line as she tried to point it at the beast who had just casually killed, who had just done so without batting an eye. Despite the intent to protect her and the others, she was terrified of him, and had to protect Akama and this innocent woman from this.... "You-you’re...a monster!" she gasped, her voice filled with at the tremor of terror. "You...you...."

Michael gave her the most sad, genuine look he could. "Miss, I won’t even begin to tell you how many lives I’ve taken in defense of my country or of others." Reaching out and taking the shotgun from her trembling hands, he said, "And every time I have to do that, I feel less and less human." Hefting it with one hand, he said in a somber tone, "Be glad you’ll never have to pull this trigger. Every time you do, it takes away from your humanity, just as much as it saves you. Don’t let yourself be caught by this. Never let yourself be caught by this." He turned away from them, lest they see the sorrow in his eyes, though the neutral mask that was his face hid that sorrow well.

As he turned, however, something new caught his eye: the monolith Kraken, headed straight for the giant purple coaster. Not only that, but the two people engaged in the middle of a sword fight. Spitting out a foul-mouthed expletive, he turned to the three he was with, and knew the choice had to be clear. He had to get these three innocents out of harm’s way, even though it left the redhead at the top of the coaster without backup. As Michael told the trio to follow him to safety, he thought that he’d failed in his vows to protect the innocent. Worse, that Mousse, if he’d still existed, would have gotten his so-called "revenge" against Saotome. And deep within Michael Tseng, that thought chilled him most of all.


Thanks to the benefits of luck and Newton’s Laws of Physics, Hikaru was launched into the air, and above her opponent, getting a clear glimpse of her for the first time. Not bothering to call out her attack while at the zenith of her arc, she launched a fireball straight at the monster--human or not, anyone cruel enough to slaughter dozens of innocents for no reason other than attacking one person, didn’t rate treatment in the human factor.

However, the sorceress proved to be fast, as she whipped out a nasty looking serrated scimitar and easily swatted away the pyrotechnic as though it were nothing. However, this left her open to a second, attack, which Hikaru was only too eager to initiate. As the end of her arc brought her close to the woman, she lashed out with her right foot, slamming the calico-haired woman across the chops and sending her spinning back. As the arc ended, threatening to take her over the railing again, Hikaru grabbed the safety rail, twisted, and hopped onto the metal platform. Her feet hadn’t even touched the ground as she unsheathed the katana and went into an offensive position.

Getting off the floor and rubbing her jaw, Citroen looked at her opponent, eye to eye. "Well, if it isn’t the all-too-mortal Pillar of Cephiro." She raised her sword into an attack stance. "Are you ready to die, ‘Goddess?" she asked, her voice dripping with challenge.

"Hajime," Hikaru snarled between clenched teeth.

They began to size up each other, readying for a conflict that would end in the death of one, maybe both of them. The pair circled each other, sensing the other's moves, probing for weaknesses, observing the other's strengths. Save for the fact that Hikaru had already received numerous injuries, both women were ready for a fight to the finish, and neither one expected or would grant the slightest bit of quarter.

They continued this for a minute or two then stopped, long enough to look at each other in the eyes, expressions of hatred and disgust in their faces. The whole world seemed to quiet with the sounds of only feet softly padding on metal deck plating, of soft breathing, of a bird chirping, of a multitude waiting as a goddess and a sorceress prepared to wage conflict against one another.

The world charged back in to fast forward as Citroen leapt in for the attack, screaming, "PREPARE TO ENTER YOUR HEAVEN, OH GODDESS OF CEPHIRO!" The sorceress slammed the blade home with such force that it rang against the metal of the second sword, a high crescendo that could be heard at the very top of Fujisan itself.

However, Hikaru had expected that move and parried, then brought the blade down, slashing into the cape of the sorceress, and eventually into the metal armor underneath. The blade glanced off it even as at Citroen leapt back. She tapped her shoulders and the cloak fell free, wrapping around Hikaru, obscuring her vision. Citroen took advantage of the distraction and raced in, stabbing as she went. Hikaru moved by luck as she freed herself from the cloak, and Citroen’s blade missed her side by inches. With the other so close, the redhead made a counterattack, initiating a rapid sword thrust almost as fast as Kuno’s Tembatsu Da.

To counter, Citroen dived on the floor, rolled free of the area then commenced a lightning attack, sending a great blast of energy towards Hikaru. Hikaru leapt to the side, however, and channeling her fire magic into the katana, executed a wide slash that sent a wave of flame towards the sorceress. The stream of flame slammed Citroen and flung her to the floor. As Hikaru raised her sword for a downward slash, Citroen countered with a lightning blast. The jagged tendrils of plasma nailed Hikaru squarely in the chest, flinging her back several feet, and giving the sorceress the time she needed to recover. With that split-second past, the pair leapt at each other again. This time, the redhead executed a rising slash in mid-air while Citroen followed suit. The two attacks countered each other, and the force of the blows threw the two apart like rag dolls; Citroen was pounded into the safety railing and almost knocked over, while Hikaru crumpled to the floor, her head impacting against the metal with a loud clang.

She got up, ignoring the stars in her head that were currently doing a swing revival and all her body parts that were begging for mercy. Her left arm was heavily abraded, and she was bleeding from a nasty little gash on her right cheek. Oh Kamisama, does this hurt, she mentally moaned, suppressing a wave of nerve-pinching pain. This was quite different than anything she’d dealt with in quite a while. Although she’d kept up in her kendo skills over the years, and picked up the School of Anything Goes along the way, she was more of a practitioner than an actual combatant. It had easily been years since the last time she’d gotten into combat of any serious degree, and this "day at the park" was not turning out as planned. Bringing herself back to her feet, she knew it was crunch time, and that more than just her life at stake, more than just that of the thousands in jeopardy; the lives of her son, best friend, and sister-in-law were at stake--and there was no way in hell that Hikaru was going to allow that one more second. Dashing towards her enemy, sword down low and ready for another special attack, and aura blazing, she screamed an incoherent curse of fury.

Citroen clambered back over the railing, lucky that she was able to grab it before her momentum carried her to a tragic end. She ignored the ringing headache and the nasty scorch on her arm, instead using the support of the railing to stabilize herself. So the Pillar has some skill with a sword. Interesting, I suppose--she is not one of those all-peaceful goddesses that so many of these lessers believe in. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if this "deity" is pretty new at her job, as though the mantle of the Pillar were some job title, rather than a name for a god. Reconciling her strength once more, she saw as the redhead began to get back to her feet. There has to be a way to counter her. Whatever she may be, she’s better at the sword than I am. Looking out of the corner of her eye, she noted a familiar tan shape slowly moving towards the coaster, as though it were a lapdog, awaiting the response of the master.

I can kill this Pillar, if I play my cards right, Citroen mused. But it’s going to take a little more subterfuge that I’m not one for using. Best give myself a tactical advantage--true that it is unfair to this cretin, but it is just so. Slowly, surely, she pumped small, barely noticeable magic into her scimitar, hoping that the redhead wouldn’t notice. Her opponent leapt into the air for a strike, and the Vanden Plaz mage followed suit.

The pair clashed again in mid-air, Hikaru putting her strength behind a power strike while Citroen loosed a small lightning blast. The plasma scorched Hikaru’s already injured arm, but her strike rang true, slashing her target across the chest, just enough to bit through the metal and draw a gout of blood. Both, however, got back up and went at it once more. This time, however, Hikaru did a flying kick and nailed Citroen in the head, but unfortunately jarred her ankle on landing and bit off a scream. Citroen snapped to rapidly enough that she caught the redhead off-guard, landing a vicious slash to her back. Hikaru screamed as she stumbled forward, but managed to turn in time to block what would have been a fatal blow. Hikaru moved from that parry into a nasty slash that cut open both Citroen’s forearm gauntlet and the flesh underneath. With Citroen springing back, both women dropped into defensive positions once more. The two stared at each other for the longest time, both wondering: were they charging up their magic for another set of mystic attacks, or resting for another fierce round at each other?

Citroen laughed, the sound of contempt clear in her voice. "Ah, the brave Pillar. The all-too-human Pillar, it seems. Or, the about to die Pillar, as I should say. All those people died, just because they were in the way of me killing you, did you know that?"

Hikaru tried to hide the sick shock and shame clearly on her face. "How...how could you? All these innocent children...." Hikaru winced as fought off the wave of anguish at the sense, holding onto her rage, not saying anything--her actions would speak for her. The pair stared at each other between the meters that separated them, and from the staggering gulfs that made up the souls of each other. It’s now or never, Hikaru. The all-consuming thought was the only thing running through her mind at the moment, the only thing that pushed her on despite the pain. She did have to admit that she’d had better days, those being the kind where she wasn’t saddled with a grocery’s list worth of injuries: bleeding profusely via a ton of lacerations, a black eye, burns on a couple parts of her body, and enough sweat and blood to make the wounds sting like a regiment of knives being stabbed into her as she took every painful step. Her clothing was bloodstained, ripped, or burnt in various places, and she didn’t quite look the kawaii redhead that everyone was used to.

Noticing that her opponent was awaiting another strike, Hikaru slowly moved her blade into position. Hikaru wasn’t sure how long she stood there, but all she remembered was Ranma and their children, living a mournful life without her, and she knew that such an event would never happen while she still had breath to draw. Love will see me through--it has to. She tensed once more, ready to race in, when the odds changed. The framework rattled for a second, and without even taking the time to guess, she knew instantly what it was, and what it would spell. Simply put, she would have to win decisively if she were ever going to see her husband and children again.

Focusing on one last strike, her plans became twofold. Springing once more into the fray, she swung the blade in a feint, at the same time, allowing the momentum of her attack to carry her low. As Citroen counterswung to meet the attack, Hikaru rolled under the strike, the mage’s blade splitting the air with a high-tone whistle as it almost sliced off her pigtail. Twisting herself despite the pain, Hikaru swiftly changed tactics as she jabbed Citroen in the stomach with her elbow, then leapt for the nearest rail, ricocheted off it with a perfect bound, and shouted, "Shidou-ryu Special Attack! Shinzakura Kazezan!" while launching herself straight at Citroen.

Hikaru’s blade slammed into Citroen’s with a force that she hadn’t expected. Oddly enough, the world went literally silent and dark, as though the force of sound no longer existed, and an instant eclipse occurred. As though willed into being by the force of the connection between the katana and the odd scimitar, a soft spray of sakura petals fluttered by, spraying outward in a conical fount, carried on by a slight breeze that seemed both to come out of and go nowhere. As time slowed to nothingness, the pair of combatants passed each other and moved on, as though nothing was happening. The pair eventually reached the range of their movements, turned and faced each other.

Hikaru stopped at the platform, closest from the center of the rollercoaster. She could feel the vibrations getting stronger as the Kraken made its way up. Soon, it would be time to execute stage two of her plan, and she’d only have one chance at that. Anything else would mean never seeing her family again.

"Nice floral display, Pillar," Citroen sneered.

Hikaru nodded with her head. "Look at your blade," she replied in the same tone. Citroen looked at her scimitar, noticing with a shock that all she held was the handle. "The Shinzakura Kazezan is an old Shidou family move that is rarely used, but I thought in your case it would be ni--"

A vibration shook the platform, cutting off her words and strong enough to nearly knock her off her feet; Citroen braced for the shock, clearly indicating that she expected the event. Another wave rattled the coaster’s frame, and a whiny roar came out of nowhere. Almost time. Still facing her enemy as though nothing was wrong, she said, "Give up. The police will be here soon, and they can take you into custody." Hikaru looked at Citroen and said in a tight, controlled voice, "Please don’t force me to have to kill you."

Citroen’s eyes narrowed as she commented, "I don’t think it is me who will die today, Pillar." Right on cue, the Kraken appeared over the ledge, just behind its master, towering over the sorceress as though it were a dangerous, menacing mountain, as though it were a demonic Daibutsu, tensing to strike down the redhead. Knowing that Hikaru’s hand was played, the woman said, her voice dripping with acidic sarcasm, "I'm terribly, terribly sorry it had to end this way, Pillar. You’re very formidable, and perhaps in another life, maybe we could have been allies. But you belong to a group that needs to be wiped off the face of the earth." Citroen raised her fist, and a blur of energy appeared in it, shimmering an aura of doom upon Saotome Hikaru. Grinning like a person who’d accomplished one of life’s major goals, she said, "Prepare to meet your gods, O Goddess of Cephiro." Without turning her head to her murderous pet, she cooed, "Kill her."

Inexplicably, Hikaru sang out a siren’s call of her own: "You lose." Feeling the edges of exhaustion and unconsciousness crushing in on her, she nevertheless closed her eyes, calling to the absolute last iota of strength, stamina, and willpower she had. She had no choice but to command the remaining stores of her deepest well of pyromancy for this, something that she knew would pretty much be suicide if she screwed up. There was the sound of a roaring fire, and her whole body began to glow with a fiery blaze as she called out, "SAOTOME FINAL ATTACK, STEP ONE! HIKARIMUSUME!" Flame burst out from her, incinerating her clothing, but not burning her; rather becoming a part of her, merging flesh and flame into one. The katana she held melted into slag in her hand, but she didn’t feel the splatter on her, merely feeling as slight wetness as the blade incinerated. The ground began to warp and woof with the heat she was generating, but she remained standing, glowing eyes focused on Citroen, who was apparently unimpressed by the light show. Hikaru stood there, transfigured into what almost was a living ball of flame, and whispered in a voice that sounded like the crackle of a bonfire, "And now you die." Without explanation, reason or rhyme, she fell backwards towards her death.

Citroen giggled with a child’s glee--she not only won, but had also made the Pillar so humiliated, she chose to take her own life! Racing to the edge of where the redhead had been, she peered over the artificial precipice, grinning at her handiwork, and knowing that nothing stopped the Vanden Plaz from conquering Cephiro now.


…the smirk on Citroen’s face turned to a puzzled look of confusion, then blanched into a mask of fear as she suddenly realized what the other woman had done. She stood there for a second, unmoving and frozen in time as though the Daguerreotype of fate hadn’t quite finished her yet; she couldn't act, duck, or even talk as she finally realized the Pillar’s attack.

Finally, as the flames rose, melting everything, she screamed out a teleportation spell, hoping that it would save her. It would be the last thing she would ever do.


Stepping off the platform, Hikaru arced into a dive, a human torch that torpedoed towards the ground below. She had one chance and once chance only to make this work. This was insane, and something that under the best circumstances, even Ranma wouldn’t do. Then again, he had been the one who had told her about it. Long ago, when he was a teenager, he’d fought an opponent more powerful than he. With the threat of being forever trapped in his female form, he’d attacked with the Hiryu Shoten Ha, but Herb (or whatever his name was) took control of the move. However, Ranma had expected this and revised his move, riding the ki-typhoon up to the top, then coming down on the Dragon Prince with a mammoth blast of ki. He’d called the move the Hiryu Korin Dan, and had only used it once or twice, as it was an extremely dangerous move, similar to a controlled nuclear detonation.

Well, this wasn’t exactly the same thing, but if she played it right...

As more and more of her willpower and life-force was changed into her fire magic, it flowed within her, making her begin to feel giddy. She opened her eyes briefly, and noticed the ground rushing towards her at an obscene speed. Her body drunk from a level of power that she’d hadn’t channeled quite some time, and exhilarated from pulling off a stunt that her husband would be furious at her for, she idly wondered at the back of her mind if this was, quite possibly, the most stupid thing she’d ever done.

Oh well, too late for that now.

Cocking her arm as far back as she could, she could, she screamed a roar that shook the heavens, her voice echoing like the commandment of the very goddess that she was: "SAOTOME FINAL ATTACK, STEP TWO! HIRYU KORIN DAN, REVISED--MEGAMI NO KYOUKAIIKI!!!" She slammed her hand into the ground, and an immense donation of flame occurred, an unstoppable explosion of magic that rippled outwards like a fiery shockwave that burned all. The world seemed to explode in an incandescent flash as Hikaru’s powers streamed out through her hands, the onslaught boring through everything in its path as though it were an unstoppable juggernaut on speed, a power that should not have been unleashed on an unsuspecting world. She was certain that she screamed, because the output of power felt like she was literally being ripped in half, molecule by molecule.

A blast of red engulfed the mighty violet rollercoaster, incinerating it in a flash. The blast wave rolled outwards, flattening buildings and attractions, and anything in its path. Monsters and creatures from hell burned in a pure, holy flame that couldn’t be described. Innocents felt a soft, caressing warmth, even as they saw the world around them turning into a blazing patch of hell. A few hundred feet away, the JR train that passed by derailed, slamming into the nearby 7-11. The ground rattled, and a good portion of the town of Kawaguchiko shook from the trembler of what as first thought to be an earthquake, until they looked in the direction of the amusement park.

The expansive wall of flame that rushed out from where the impact had occurred grew more intense, and the mystical flames seemed to howl with the banshee shrieks of a young woman and mother, executing a final attack she felt was the last chance to survive. The flaming shockwave eviscerated each monster it alighted upon, incinerated each demon it came into contact with, but pretty much left untouched the innocents and harmless. The raging inferno continued, unabated, rushing outwards like a voracious pack of wolves hunting prey. The blasting, searing flames grew into a dome of fire, slowly consuming the entirety of the park. The umbra burned into everything, an unstoppable, all-conquering force that could not, would not be denied.

Just when it seemed as though the blast had reached critical mass, the dome of flame burst like a bubble, and a shockwave strong enough to kick off the Richter scale pummeled the area, ripping apart everything in the blast radius, oddly still sparing the innocents, as though the flame were still controlled by a force of will. Finally, as though it signaled that it was complete, the explosion reached into the sky, an angry red mushroom cloud of the like that had not been seen in Japan for decades, and no one hoped they would have, since. The roar echoed throughout the Five Lakes area until it died out, and as the deafening onslaught died away, a nation knew that something climactic had occurred, but that the answers would probably never be known.


Nighttime fell on the town and the majority of the National Police, as well as every local law enforcement agency and a company of troops from the JGSDF, stood over the remnants of the park. Overhead, a wing of police choppers flew overhead, bathing the ashen, sooty remains of the location in an odd, eerie light. Search teams had gone in and out several times into the blast crater that was once Fujikyu Highland, and although a few people had been pulled out safely, most of those recovered from what little wreckage there was were mostly bodies, some of them grossly and bizarrely maimed. The deduction was clear that the monsters had slaughtered most of the people at the park, but no one knew where the volcano-strength detonation of flame had come from, or why so many people were spared, when the should by all rights have been turned into so much charcoal.

Kuno Nabiki was one of those lucky enough to have survived what the news agencies were calling "The Fujikyu Firestorm". Right now, she was leaning against a police cruiser, a blanket around her shoulders and holding onto her nephew Akama for dear life, as though she would be damned if she would let anyone or thing come to harm him. Both he and Hououji Kuu (currently asleep in the backseat of the cruiser) had survived the turmoil, thanks to an American who was currently under questioning by authorities, probably filling out a statement. The girl that was with them was taken to the hospital for shock, and Nabiki absently wished that she would be fine. Of Hikaru, search teams had recovered nothing so far, and Nabiki was hard-pressed to fight back a terrified and sick fear of what was the fate of her sister-in-law.

Akama looked up and said, "Aunt Nabiki, where’s Okaasan?" He hadn’t asked where she was earlier, as he knew that his mother was a fighter, almost as brave and strong as his father, but as the hours had passed, even he realized something was wrong. It took Nabiki all of her inner will to face him and lie--at least she hoped it wasn’t a lie--that she would be here soon, that Hikaru was probably helping the police search for people. The truth was, she was very afraid. Despite what Hikaru had commented about being a goddess of another world, this was reality, a place where things like that didn’t happen. Did Hikaru mean what she’d said about being a goddess? Was that possible? In a world where people changed forms by water, blew apart landscape with their bare hands, and lived a nightmarish teenhood, was it possible for Nabiki to have a deity as a sister-in-law? And if so, was it possible for a deity to die? Nabiki wasn’t sure that she wanted to know the answer to the former question, and she sure as hell dreaded the answer to the latter.

Vaguely, she noted the sleek black helicopter landing, its side emblazoned with the Kuno Industries K.K. logo. She did take note of the five people that had hopped out of it the moment the aircraft had touched down on the ground, and as calmly and stately as she could, she and Akama walked over to join Ranma and the rest. Automatically, Nabiki reached out for her husband and grasped onto him for support, unashamedly breaking into tears in front of everyone.

Meanwhile, Ranma grabbed a hold of his son. "Akama, where’s your mother?" When young Akama had answered in the negative, Ranma immediately turned to Nabiki, his eyes showing a complete and utter terror that was not at home in his eyes. Nabiki couldn’t answer him, couldn’t say a world. As she watched her brother crumple to the ground in a dazed shock, she let go of her husband and held onto Ranma, feeling guiltier and dirtier than any other time in her life. She’d failed her brother, her nephew, her family. What good was she?

Meanwhile, Ryoga did his best to do what he could for Satoru. While Nabiki and Ukyo could intercede on Ranma’s behalf, there wasn’t anyone really there to comfort Satoru for the loss of his only sister. The martial artist patted the kendo master on the shoulder, looking for signs of deep, black depression. If there was one person in the world who had been to the deepest pit of the darkest expanse of melancholia and returned unscathed, it was Hibiki Ryoga. He’d been there and found in the end, he didn’t care for it. He’d be damned before he allowed any of his friends or family to suffer the same fate. To his side, Ukyo simply stared into space, refusing to believe that history was playing itself before her eyes again, that she and Ryoga, witness to Akane’s death, should have to bear witness to the end of Saotome Hikaru; worse, to have to watch Ranma go through that torture once more.

As for Ranma, he slowly slid into shock, barely feeling anything as Nabiki’s arms slid around him. Hikaru, gone? He felt a part of him ripped out, as though he wanted to die. This was worse than Akane’s.... No! There was no need to think that way, no need to think that way at all! She had to be alive! There was no way she would abandon him and their family like that! "She’s not dead," he mumbled into Nabiki’s shoulder. "She can’t be...." he mumbled as his eyes watered and stung. He felt like he would die--and with Hikaru gone, perhaps a part of him had died already. He was part of the living dead, no longer one with this world. Fate had taken two of the women he loved most in this world, and cast nothing but emptiness at the martial artist.

Around him, people began to feel the weight of what had happened. Akama looked confused, and was starting to get a little frightened. Ukyo turned and tried to blink away the tears, even as she gave Ryoga a stare that he knew he’d understand in a heartbeat. Ryoga saw it, nodded mournfully, then inclined his head towards the fallen martial artist.

And in the arms of sorrow, miracles can be borne. Tuning himself off, shutting himself deep within his own soul, away from the spaces of the world, Ranma heard something at the barest corner of his mind, something that he didn’t quite realize in a conscious manner. Was it whispering, or was it clairvoyance, he neither knew nor cared to bother. He only knew that he heard the voices of people drifting over the ill-breeze that spread like a blanket over the slaughter fields:

"Yeah, Kasugano. No one can explain it. Ground Zero’s still so hot, no one can step near it. And I don’t mean radiation-hot, I mean fire-hot!"

"Fire? But there’s nothing left to burn, Fujimori! Are you sure?"

"I’m telling you, there’s one area there still flaming! Like the flames of hell itself, I tell ya!"

Fujimori was about to reply to his colleague when he suddenly found a man half his age gripping him as though he was a lifeline. "Where?" the man rasped, his eyes a mixture of pain, despair, anticipation, and hope, his voice signaling as though the firefighter were the last thing in the world holding him onto sanity. Looking into the tense blue eyes of the man, Fujimori was so struck to his core, he couldn’t elaborate. Finally, after managing to tear himself away from the baleful eyes of the pigtailed man before him, he turned and pointed to an angry red blip in the distance. "Th-there."

Ranma needed no further encouragement. Letting go of the man, he turned and bolted like a shot into the distance, racing deep into the dust and desolation, ignoring the stench of burnt everything. With the exception of Akama, who stayed with Kuu, the rest raced after the martial artist, hoping to catch him before he did something rash in his grief. Kicking up ashen dust as he bolted, Ranma raced for the center of the conflict, sidestepping or bypassing the destroyed debris, approaching the red glow in what was deemed to be the center of the explosion.

As Ranma approached the center of the blast, he saw what was apparently a geodesic made out of flame. Sparks showered throughout the vicinity of the crater, though there was nothing in any danger of being set ablaze. A fire truck stood by, with a team of firefighters blasting the dome with everything they had. Someone shouted that despite the water, the flames and heat were getting stronger, and that if they didn’t stop it soon, the heat would reach a critical mass, threatening the entire town of Kawaguchiko. Should the dome burst, a heat wave could lash out that could be worse than the first blast.

Odd, Ranma noted idly, because he didn’t feel any of the heat that the others mentioned. And clearly it was there, because even through the moonlight, heat waves were warping the appearance of the air, running reality through a sort of stained glass. Then it hit him.

He wasn’t feeling what must be obscene levels of heat. There was a dome of fire that the firefighters were attacking, which seemed to get stronger, as though by magic.

Hotarubi Reikizhoheki.


Without stopping, Ranma relied on hope and love and leapt over the heads of the firefighters, who only realized that someone was approaching, even as he cleared their heads in the leap. Without even thinking twice, he plunged headfirst into the fiery dome, into what could be certain death, even as the firefighters leapt back in shock, even as the rest of his friends rushed towards the scene, even as Nabiki and Ukyo screamed in fright over Ranma’s apparent suicide.

There was a flash as the huge firedome flickered, then guttered out like a candle in the wind. There was a slight heated breeze, and then the dome dispersed. What was revealed was either truly horrifying, or very touching.

In the center of a secondary crater created by the firedome, stood an apparently dead squid-like thing that looked like one of the monsters from one of the rides. Standing just away from it was Ranma, who held a seriously injured Hikaru. She looked like she’d been through hell. First and second degree burns, cuts, gashes and bruises littered her very much nude body, but at the moment, she didn’t care. She was cradled in her husband’s arms, kissing him with what strength she had.

Breaking off the kiss for breath, she opened up the one eye that wasn’t swollen shut, gently caressing his cheek. "A-are...A...kama...and--"

Ranma gently kissed her again, silencing her. "They’re safe, Hikaru."

She rasped, "They...they came to kill me, Ranma." As the firefighters set up a stretcher, she said, "They...came from Cephiro. Did all this...just to kill me."

As he gently set his wife on the stretcher, then took the blanket and set it over her, he said, "I won’t let them, love."


There was a burst of movement behind them as the Kraken got up and pounced towards the group, its bloody and murderous eyes showing serious intent on killing the Pillar of Cephiro if it was the last thing it would do in its unearthly life.

Ranma spun on his heel, faster than humanly possible, it seemed. "KACCHU TENSHIN AMAGURIKEN!" A wall of high-speed punches met the Kraken head on, rebounding it from its attack. Ranma ducked low and roared, "AKANE BAKUDAN!" A short range, intense burst of ki met the monster head on, tearing it to complete and utter shreds, spreading the ashes of the creature for the one-meter range of the attack.

Hikaru weakly smiled as she saw what Ranma had done. Seeing Satoru standing beside her, she said, "See, oniisama? He was definitely a find." Finally, her energy spent, the redhead drifted off to a well-deserved unconsciousness.

Satoru bent over and kissed his sister gently on the forehead. "Yes he is, imouto-chan." Satoru then looked to his brother-in-law and said, "Ranma, we’ve got to get going to the hospital."

Without looking back, Ranma replied, "You go on ahead, Satoru. I’m going to stay here for a few more and find out who it was that attacked Hikaru. The bastards that did this." He turned and his eyes narrowed in rage. "They hurt her, Satoru. They were trying to kill my Hikaru."

Satoru nodded; he would probably do the same in his place. "I’ll go with her to the hospital, and you can just meet us there, Ranma. Be careful, because they could be hunting you, too." With nothing further to say at the moment, Satoru and Kuno accompanied the injured redhead as she was carried to the ambulance. Ukyo, Ryoga, and Nabiki chose to remain with Ranma.

"Whatever you need, I’m with you, Ranma," Ryoga said in earnest.

"You can count on me, Ranchan," Ukyo answered as well.

Moving to his side, Nabiki said, "That’s three of us, then--no one hurts my family and gets away with it. What’s the plan, little brother?"

Ranma turned to her. "That’s easy, guys. We hunt them down. Where they’ve run off to, they haven’t run far enough." Screaming to the nocturne sky, Ranma bellowed, "GET THAT? YOU’D BETTER KEEP RUNNING, ‘CAUSE IF I FIND YOU, I’M GOING TO PUT YOUR SORRY ASS IN A COFFIN, D’YA HEAR ME?"


Daimler sat in his personal chambers, brooding, staring at the one item that Citroen brought back from her mission. It had been a failure, strictly speaking, but Citroen had brought back critical information that they needed to know about the Pillar and her secrets: namely that the so-called "Goddess of Cephiro" was as human as he, though a traitorous, sniveling strumpet of a Japanese.  But the Pillar was from Earth, and that meant that she had weaknesses, fatal weaknesses.

Citroen had been given a hero’s burial two days ago. Between the heavy amount of burns she had sustained, the amount of blood lost, and the shock of an unprepared trans-dimensional teleport, it had proven too much for her. She had died in the arms of her brother Sharan, who was now personally holding the Cephiran nobility responsible, due to their link to the Pillar. Already Daimler had to keep him away from the Water Knight, for fear of killing her before her usefulness to them was done.

"My Lord, " a voice said, interrupting his meditation.

Without looking, he replied, "Yes, Sharan?"

"Everything has been set, Lord Daimler," the man said. "Our forces are in place, and Barina has now officially taken over as our guru-mage." The last sentence was hard for the tech-mage of the VP to say, Daimler noted. Sharan had loved his sister dearly, and with her gone, the emptiness inside him would only turn into a deeper hatred, one that would be advantageous, but hard to rein in if they were not careful. "The city of Mondeo has been razed off the face of the planet."

"Good, good," he said, turning to face Sharan. "Dacia and his forces left nothing alive? None of those flying vermin?"

Not in the town, no, Daimler, though there’s been a complication that shall soon be corrected," he said. "In fact, he asked me to give you this." From within the folds of his robe, he pulled out a small display box, wrapped in a red satin cloth. He looked at Daimler, his face appearing calm and serene, even though Daimler in truth knew of the seething rage just underneath. Looking very similar to--and only slightly more male than--Citroen, Sharan excelled in technology. Very skilled even back before they’d begun the Cephiro campaign, his skills leapt into multitude upon multitudes when they’d come across the remains of a crashed Autozamian ship--which was now the newly-restored OPEL. Sharan would have been the perfect soldier, if it were not for certain...peculiarities that could not be proven about him.

No matter. "Where is Dacia and his assistants at the moment?" Daimler asked.

"Why, paying their respects to the lady Knight Umi as gentlemen should, of course," Sharan said in a neutral tone. Again, another change. With the war now in full swing, the torture of the Water Knight, the only female prisoner, had begun. Some of what Daimler’s men were capable of could be...messy, but as long as they did not kill or seriously injure her, he was accepting what they were doing to such an inhuman traitor. Originally, they had made the male prisoners watch, but that little entertainment ended when the archer, Cabrio, managed to break out of his cell and attack one of the soldiers involved with Lady Umi at the time. It was a shame, as the VP soldier, a true hero of the homeland, had been killed by the Cephiran before he was taken down and beaten to death by Private Panoz’ compatriots. Since then, they were no longer allowed to watch in person, but Sharan, always the thoughtful one, arranged to have the entertainment shown to them through monitors placed in the cells of the prisoners.

Soon, the Water Knight would be nothing more than a half-dead husk. In fact, with the constant amount of "entertainment" that she was being made to provide for the men, it was a miracle that she was still alive as it was. Daimler idly wondered who would be the next one to be a comfort woman for his troops. Perhaps Lady Caldina, or General Presea. Maybe even Queen Fuu herself. He smiled at that. If he were to make her the comfort woman for his entire army, it would still be better treatment than she deserved.

"What is this complication?"

"There was one escapee from Mondeo, the spawn of the village leader, a female named Minica. We have a patrol after her, and we do not believe that she will make it to Cephiro Palace alive."

"See that she doesn’t. Mondeo is an important town to them. If one has survived, then a small hope survives for them. I want that hope crushed."

"As you wish." With that, Sharan departed, leaving Daimler to his thoughts once more. Daimler sat for a second, then reached over for the nearby bottle of wine and a glass, pouring himself one. It was not as good a vintage as that of his homeland, but then again, nothing was. With that, he unwrapped the box, and decided to look for himself. Ah, perfect. Not only proof that Dacia had carried out his orders to the fullest, but with his usual artist flair as well.

In the box were the earthly remains of the leader of the village of Mondeo, the village of fairies. Pinned and mounted like a butterfly inside the box was their now-deceased leader, Primera. The look in those now-still eyes of hers was one of pain and shock, as though she never expected to be killed by being impaled by a nail, and mounted onto a display box. What disturbed Daimler about this display case was the features of the...creature. She looked human, and if she had been, instead of some thing, Daimler would have found her attractive. It scared him that a world as beautiful as this could be populated by demons and monsters--and worse, such as this lesser.

This world needed to be cleansed, to be made pure for its own sake and survival.

Whispering to the dead fairy inside the box, Daimler cooed, "I’m glad the box was large enough for two. Soon, your daughter shall be pinned right beside you, Primera, and if I have my way, all of the Cephiran royalty, and all of the lesser races as well." He made a toast to that bright future, one that he would soon see in his grasp.

Part Five: Shock to the System

Duet Index

For those of you who don’t know that little fact of Mazda trivia, believe it or not, it’s true. It is called the Miata in most of the world because, Mazda wanted a name that sounded Japanese, but they couldn’t think of a name. One of the members of the marketing department came across the old German word for "gift"--Miata--and the rest, as they say, is history. The reason it is called the Roadster in Japan, however, is because the syllables mi-a-ta was found in only one word: miataru (to find), which at the time of the car’s inception was a term used by Japanese criminals (yes, Virginia, they do exist) for theft/carjacking. Due to the obviously negative connotations, the Roadster name (the code name for the car prototype) was retained. This information was obtained from an article that I once read, and if the above is wrong, well, it’s not my fault. ^_~

For those of you who are curious, K. K. is the Japanese equivalent of Co. or Corp.

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 World’s Records for the World’s 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.

I’d also like to thank the Eternal Lost Lurker for pre-reading me through some pretty rough spots. Life has been difficult for me as of late, and sometimes I just feel like I’m not quite myself. ^_^;;