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 SM: Omoi: Inquision: Inferno 
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Joined: Wed Mar 17, 2004 12:54 pm
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Location: People's Republic of Maryland
Post SM: Omoi: Inquision: Inferno
Well, some of you may remember this, but its been a while since I was last here. So here goes. Comments and stuff are welcome, and the whole monster will be posted here in five parts. If its too big, please let me know you wonderful admin people you... Note that this is a beta-ish version so don't hold back. I like commentary!

Thanks: My brother, for kicking my ass into finishing this monster. My mom for her encouragement. My ex-girlfriend for breaking up with me and giving me the time to work (joke). :wink:

To Hotwire for letting me muck with his character, who is tons of fun for everyone! (Subliminal message: READ SM2 AT HIS SITE!

To Fiss and Senie: We the Brotherhood of Amnon Salute you (salutes). Happiness to both of you.

To Fiss himself: Thanks for letting me into your universe man. I owe you one.

WARNING: SPOILERS FOR SM: OMOI (up until the Missionaries Arc) AND SPOILERS FOR SM2 (by Hotwire. Read them first, or you won't get some of the characters and their powers (Lee Ward...))

You have been warned. Now it is time. Let loose the Frogs of WAR!

"Everyone in my neighborhood had left to vote. I have no feeling of fear--Allah has won."
-Umm Ali, Duhra, Iraq

Cthulthu Construction Corporation and Ry'leh Real Estate:
Bringing Non-Euclidian Geometry to a Suburb Near You!

Sybil of the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy

Board Member of Evil Conservative Industries

Thu Jan 20, 2005 12:41 pm
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Joined: Wed Mar 17, 2004 12:54 pm
Posts: 152
Location: People's Republic of Maryland
Sailor Moon Omoi: Inquisition


Part 1

If he exalts himself, I humble him
If he humbles himself, I exalt him.
And I go on contradicting him
Until he understands
That he is a monster that passes all understanding


Chapter 1: Welcome to Crystal Tokyo/The Gathering

January 3001

Crystal Tokyo. It all started here, and it would end here as well. The Senshi discovered their powers here, both the Japanese and the North Americans. It was the root of two nations and the nexus of unimaginable mystical powers. Armageddon, the fall of Tumbler, the coming of the darkness, the rebirth. There were many silent witnesses to all of these grand events, many of them just normal people, living out normal lives in a time of turbulence. Hoever not all of these witnesses were so benign, nor were they inactive...

In the years following the release from the Ice and Armageddon, the world reformed itself. The Senshi and the Omega Web were the first people to realize that magic had returned to the world, but they were hardly the only ones. Practitioners of mystical arts across the world suddenly felt the jolt that they had been given. Shamans, priests, and monks all felt the power growing within themselves at a prodigious rate. But so did murderers, thieves and con-men. In addition, creatures that had slept for millennia were arising from their slumber. All of this created even more chaos and turmoil. Mystical power could be as easily misused as any other kind of power, and so it was. But there were those who foresaw this coming of chaos, and who took measures to prevent it.

One of those groups was the Sailor Senshi, in both Japan and in North America, although there were so many other concerns pressing down on them in these times that they were vastly more handicapped than they should have been. In addition the Omega Web did do some monitoring of mystical energies, but again their efforts were hamstrung by the sheer size of the problem. However, there were other groups, older than many imagined, who also hunted down and eliminated the scum who hid in the darkness. Some were good, some were bad, but all in all, they were quite necessary in such chaotic times. The most powerful and influential of these organiztions was the Brotherhood of Amnon.

This is the story of the men and women, young and old, who gathered under the banner of an ancient order that had just gained new leadership and a renewed purpose. To find and deal with the arcane and powerful darkness. To be an avenging shadow, that hunted what even paranormal divisions of police departments would not be able to trace. To root out evil mages and criminals, as they had in times long past. They were the Inquisition.

January 1, 3004 00:15

The streets of Tokyo these days were not the kind of place where one would like to hang out after the sun went down. The place was infested with miscreants and trouble doers. The pro-democracy movements that had sprung up in the wake of the Senshi?s inauguration, and the damage that they had inflicted upon both the image of the Crystal Tokyo government, which prided itself of personal freedom, and the new organizations that the said government had tried to construct had drawn in other vileness like a magnet.

Nowadays, the downtown residential districts were to be avoided by all but the most hardened policeman. In fact, the Internal Security troopers had taken to naming the worst neighborhoods The Jungle, in homage to the hellish neighborhoods of L.A. and New York, and the similarity in many ways was remarkable. Things were handled here without laws of any kind save for the two laws of Power and Association. These were both the currency and the grease that allowed people to survive in the Jungle. The Senshi had long wanted to clean up these neighborhoods, but they had painfully discovered that the neighborhoods did not want to be cleaned up, thank you very much.

So, they festered here at the heart of Japan?s greatest city. It was here that The Blood Blade Yakuza made their home. One of the families that had been the most successful in recent times, they controlled all of the business, both legal and illegal, in no less than three large neighborhoods. For more than a third of The Jungle, the word of the Blood Blades was The Law.

The Blades, as they were called in casual conversation, had set up their headquarters in a dingy little restaurant in the heart of their territory. The place was only two stories tall, its windows barred and grimy. The food was bad, and the service was worse, but it was very secure from outsiders. It was the sort of place that everyone in the Jungle knew about, but none particularly wanted to visit. Bad juju and whatnot.

So it was with great surprise that the patrons of this particular establishment noticed that on new year?s, just as the clock was striking midnight, a lone man walked in from the night. He was strangely dressed for the weather, wearing nothing but a normal business suit despite the biting cold outside. He was tall and had a strikingly golden complexion, his black hair combed back conservatively. He was obviously Oriental, but if you were to later ask those who were present, none of them could have identified his nationality.

Immediately the Yakuza became suspicious. Only an idiot walked into their home uninvited, and only a complete moron would come dressed as he had. The Blades drew their coats tight, some of them even audibly growling at the man. Two huge bouncers walked up to him and made as if to push him back, but before they could reach him, he held out a hand in a stopping gesture. The bouncers stopped made eye contact with the outsider as he looked up into their faces. And stopped. None present who looked into his eyes could forget them. They burned with the fury of a forest fire. Napalm explosions, burning torches, and flickering candles, all were encompassed in his dark brown orbs.

Many people believe that criminals have very little sense and awareness of their surroundings. This is sort of true. Many people will miss the subtle hints of body language and non-verbal communication. However, violent people are oftentimes more sensitive to primal signals, especially those that involve fear and strength. Looking into the blazing brown eyes of this man, they knew at the deepest level that this was a man who would not be trifled with.

Warily backing away from the man, the bouncers took up their position, leaning against the doorframe again. He walked into the restaurant and took a seat at the bar, leaning his elbows on the worn wooden surface. He signaled the bartender with a slight wave of his hand. The bartender cleaned his hands on his apron and walked slowly over the man. The man?s strange and beautiful blazing eyes bored like lasers into the barman?s gaze.

?What do you want here?? mumbled the bartender, looking away quickly. The man smiled a slow smile at the bartender?s discomfort and finally leaned back into a straight sitting position.

?I will speak with Nakamura,? he said confidently. It was hard to describe the effect of his voice. It was quiet and yet it carried a power that compelled the listener to pay very close attention, the voice of authority. The bartender nodded slowly, still looking away. He turned to his phone behind the bar and dialed four digits, an internal line that was hardly ever used.

?Greatest apologies respected sir,? the bartender said into the phone, his voice trembling a little. ?We have a... guest that is here to see you, no appointment sir.....yes sir.....yes sir....? The bartender hung up the phone with effort, his hand shaking slightly. He turned back to the visitor and bowed. ?You are expected upstairs sir.?

The stranger stood up without even acknowledging the bartender?s statement. Standing up he pulled down on his jacket, straightening it. He next stretched his neck, rolling it to the side and tightening his black tie. He strode purposefully to the back of the restaurant, his arms swinging freely, seeming to know exactly where he was going without having any directions or even hesitations.

The tangy smells of vinegar and the greasy odor of fried food wafted around, just the two strongest smells in a powerful assault on the nose. He passed the bustling kitchen workers and the various stoves and cabinets, neatly weaving his way between the islands of the grubby room. He reached an innocuous door at the back and pushed on it, revealing a set of dingy stairs, which he ascended in short order.

At the top was a final door of an older style, which slid away easily, pulled aside by a large man in a cheap and ill fitted suit. The stranger barely stopped walking, forcing the guard to move out of the way very quickly. The sight of the upstairs of the establishment was at such odds that most would have wondered if they had suddenly entered a different world. The odors of the bar and the kitchen were replaced with the mild wafting scent of incense. The floor was wooden, and the interior walls seemed to be constructed of rice paper in a very ancient style. The polished hardwood floors gleamed and were obviously well cared for. The lighting of the place was indistinct, looking as though it was coming from behind the walls, giving a golden glow to the entire room. The floor of the room was bare save for a low table, behind which a single man sat.

The table held two incense burners where two gently rising wisps of smoke danced in the air currents. The only homages to this century were the pair of impassive guards whose eyes watched the newcomer extremely carefully, hands never straying far from their sidearms, and a small open laptop on the table. The stranger noted all of this, but his eyes never left the man sitting behind the table.

The man behind the table was calm, his facial hair trimmed into a neat goatee, and his hair a deep brown color, styled into a short ponytail behind his head. He wore a pair of loose pants and a long shirt, cut in a Chinese style and buttoned up to the high collar. The black silk was a fine material, and stitched in very dark grey were almost imperceptible scenes of game hunting and battle. His face was slightly worn, but his age was indeterminate. Most people would tell you he was between thirty five and forty five, but some would say younger and others older. The man behind the table looked up, his own brown eyes meeting those of the stranger in front of him.

The two men?s gazes locked, and stayed this way for almost a minute, before the stranger began to laugh, a deep sound that seemed to suck in the air in his vicinity. The man behind the desk?s mouth quirked into a grimace, and he shook his head back and forth a little. The guards tensed up, but a tiny hand motion stilled them quickly.

?They call you Nakamura?? The stranger asked, looking vastly amused by it.

?Yes, they do,? Nakamura responded in annoyance. ?And you??

?Just call me Yen like you used to,? the stranger responded. ?It has been a long time since we met last.?

?It has,? Nakamura nodded. ?If I recall exactly... Oh yes! It was right before your brother kicked you into the dust and buried your corpse.? He looked at Yen with a wide smile.

Yen frowned and narrowed his eyes and the temperature in the room seemed to jump a good three degrees. The intensity of the clash of wills between the two men made both of the guards take an involuntary step backwards, their guts telling them to get the heck out of the room. Preferably about five minutes prior to now.

?Do. Not. Mention that,? Yen said through clenched teeth. ?That is something I don?t think that you want to talk about. Besides, if I recall correctly, your own people tried to kill you, why was it? Oh yes! Because of your negligence. Your own hedonism got you expelled here, and don?t forget it.?

?Is there any point to this?? Nakamura asked, his own irritation showing once more.

?Yes. As you can tell, the power has returned to the world. My brother?s work has been undone and the keys have been broken,? Yen said, his grimace changing back into a smile. ?You can feel it too, can?t you??

?Of course I can, you old fool,? Nakamura responded. ?But we aren?t the only ones who realize this. No doubt your brother also knows. I always thought that he was the smarter of you two.?

?Yes, but here is the nice part,? Yen said with a death?s head grin. ?He doesn?t know that I?ve returned. I can move freely without worries.?

?Fine and dandy for you,? Nakamura said, with an slight shrug. ?Why should this bother me now??

?Come, you wish to return,? Yen retorted. ?Don?t lie to me, you want to go back to your home as much as I do.?

?Be that as it may,? Nakamura said slowly. ?I have reconciled the fact that I cannot go back, no matter how much I want to. It would be most difficult to convince me.?

?Bullshit,? Yen said with contempt. ?You are nothing more than a petty crime lord. Gods once feared you! You miss those days and you want them back more than anything. Besides, I think that you?re going to like this. Wouldn?t you like to see this horrible little island burn?? Nakamura narrowed his eyes at this. His presence seemed to fill the room. The room seemed to grow around the bodygaurds, causing them to look around themselves in astonishment. Nothing seemed to have changed, beside their stature, the stranger standing what seemed like miles above them. Again the guards winced away as Nakamura stood up. And up and up. He seemed to be so tall, his head reaching into the clouds near the rafters of the building.

?You really believe that you?re onto something, don?t you?? he asked, a faint tone of hope rising in his voice, the sound rumbling in the now immense room. ?What are you planning Yen??

?I found a way back, Yi,? Yen said triumphantly. ?I can get us home. And then my brother and all of his servants will pay.?

Nakamura leaned back a little bit, and motioned to his two guards. The men, who had been quaking with fear, shook themselves and looked around in shock. The room was the same as it had always been, and they were looking at two men who were staring at each other, the outsider wearing his strange grin, and their boss, whose eyes were now glittering in a way that his two most trusted men had never seen before.

?Go and tell the leaders that I will convene the council of the families,? he said levelly. ?I think that we are going to have a great deal of business to discuss with all of them.?

The two men nodded quickly and bowed, scurrying out of the room as fast as they could. Even such hardened men were terrified after such a strange experience. Yen made a kind of mocking bow to Nakamura and smiled.

?Now let me tell you, my good marksman, what I have in mind...?

Crystal Tokyo, January 1, 3004 10:00

A young man glanced out of his window, high above the city. The massive jet that carried him banked as it pulled down towards the airport. The new airport that had to be constructed after the last one had been obliterated by a bunch of terrorists trying to unseat the Senshi. The man laughed, causing the passenger next to him to look over at him with an inquisitive expression. He noticed the other passenger?s attention, but studiously ignored him. It was a sad fact about his life that his mind always wound up thinking about the worst of all possible worlds. So much for being optimistic.

He considered the implications of what he was doing, possibly the riskiest venture of his entire life, to set up his operation in this kind of a chaotic hell hole. Yet, on the other hand, it allowed him to keep tabs on one of the most important figures that had come onto the world stage as of late. The man reached into his suitcase and pulled out a folder placing it on his lap. It was nothing secret, not in the least, but it was just newspaper clippings of the Neo Queen and her guardians from a dozen different sources. A fascinating bunch, these Senshi were. Just waltzed in and took up their posts. Amazing.

The power they wielded, well, that was certainly real enough. The young man had seen it first hand in New York what seemed like a lifetime ago. Through some fluke, or quirk of his nature, he had been quite aware what had happened when the Silver Crystal had been unleashed, and had driven back the ice for the first time. It had been awe inspiring to say the least. Now they were in charge of Japan. A hefty responsibility, and from all the information that he could glean they seemed to be doing a good job of it, save for the rioting.

He chuckled at his own wit, now drawing an annoyed stare from his traveling companion. It was fascinating to him how many problems those women had endured since taking over. He wondered what it would be like to be a truly normal person with superpowers, and upon whom the rest of the world depended for protection. To eventually find one?s self in charge of a nation and maybe one day the entire Solar system. Massive responsibility to say the least. He gave himself a mental shrug. His responsibility was crushing at times, but it had to do with far fewer people. He had never wanted a nation or a world to govern, just to fulfill his mission.

The engines of the jet screamed as they reversed thrust to come in for the landing. The man once again looked up and out of his window. He always felt a kind of primal rush when he landed in a plane. The acceleration pushing him back in his chair caused his blood to pump and a fierce grin broke out on his face. Then it was over, and they were down. It took about fifteen minutes for the jet to dock at its appropriate gate. The man got up and stretched languidly, placing his papers back into his black briefcase and smiled at his fellow passenger. The Japanese businessman looked haggard, and as well he should. It was a damn long flight from San Francisco. He departed from the plane, thoughts and plans whirling through his head.

For now the San Francisco project was running at full steam, and the subsidiary offices across the southwest, from the Republic of Texas to Colorado, all the way to the Pacific coast were able to be set up without much effort. The network was at long last being connected. With his friends setting up the East coast offices fairly rapidly, it had only been a matter of time before they would expand overseas. Jennifer had suggested that they expand into Europe, with the growth of the cults putting a major pressure on the people of that continent. Japan had been his first choice, and the other Grandmasters had been in full agreement. The Senshi were far and away the biggest players in this new world and they had wanted to keep an eye on them, just in case. Europe could wait for a little while.

Plus, with the place being such a basket case lately it would be nearly impossible to establish any kind of operation there without it being swept away by rioters and rebels. Asia and Africa were similar problems, although his conversations with the people of South Sudan had been most encouraging. Perhaps they would be the exception rather than the rule.

So Mitsugi O'Gannon had returned to Japan, along with a crew of their best and brightest straight from the school in order to establish a new outpost. Hopefully the basic infrastructure would be up and running by now, and they could start working on real cases.

He walked off of the plane with a noticeable spring in his step, his bags slung over his shoulder. He always liked to work on new projects and this one certainly looked to be one of the more interesting that he had been involved with lately.

Mitsugi stood at the gate, waiting for his new appointee?s arrival. The clock said 10:30. Damn. With another 15 minutes to kill, he leaned back in his seat, causing the entire linked series of them to move slightly. Straightening his suit and tightening his tie with practiced motions, he contented himself with looking over the reports that he was going to give to his business partner.

Mitsugi was a big man. Of Japanese and Irish descent, topping out at over two meters, and weighing something like 300 pounds, he would have been incredibly intimidating if he cared to be. However, he was possessed of a gentle spirit, and a deep rumbling voice. Many mistook him for a bumbling giant because of it. While it was true that he was soft spoken, there was nothing bumbling about him. He had a keen mind, and was excellent at organizing both infrastructure and people.

In his late high school years he had been relatively inactive, more interested in his computers and games than in his physical shape. That had changed when he had gone to St. John?s College. Although the place was a small philosophy college where he would never have thought to find anything resembling an active lifestyle, he had come to be friends with another young freshman, named Richard Caine. Richie was a very active man, and so Mitsugi had taken to working out with him in the mornings and practicing martial arts with him in the evenings. By the time that they had graduated, the summer before the ice came, Mitsugi had achieved excellent physical shape, and was terribly strong. Since that time he had continued to lift, and train, becoming, if not exactly graceful, at least steady on his feet.

He thought about those times with a little smile. So different from the way things were going now. After he had graduated, he had planned to take a year off, to find his bearings in the world, but suddenly everything had been turned upside down in a hurry. The dark times of the year 3000 were still not something he wished to think about. He had drifted for a time, but then he had once again run into his old friend, only this time he had a job for him. What a job it had turned out to be. The conversation had gone something like the following:

?Hey man, how have you been??
?Pretty crappy, but I?m still alive.?
?You need a job??
?How about helping to organize a secret society for the hunting of magical threats to humanity??
?What the @#$%?!?

It had gone from there. The Grandmasters had been pretty impressed with Caine?s proposal for the creation of a team of operatives whose sole responsibility was moving into new territory and setting up offices. Sort of like the green berets, only with street smarts and magic as opposed to wilderness survival techniques. His first six months of training had been pretty hard, but there was a lot of freedom in the development process, since they were basically coming up with an entirely new way of conducting investigation, and their former methods were sorely in need of updating.

One thing had led to another, and he had eventually become team leader, and was assigned to harder and harder posts. So he had spent the last ten months in Japan, helping to recruit locals and set up an appropriate infrastructure. It had taken a lot of work, and his social life had suffered greatly, but they were finally ready to begin standard operations. The directors were pretty happy about that actually, and the new recruits were quite good at their jobs. Maybe he would be able to shift some of the workload over to the new guy.

A quiet bell tone distracted him from his reverie, and he looked up with satisfaction.

?Flight 8754, arriving from San Francisco, has docked,? a young woman?s voice proclaimed over the intercom. Mitsugi stood up and stretched bringing his hands over his head and cracking his neck. Hopefully the new guy would be better than some of the other new guys from what was left of the States. He secretly figured that they had been lowering their standards as of late.

?There is no calling so noble that it will not attract assholes,? he said softly to himself, with a slight smirk.

He leaned against a nearby column, waiting as men and women filed out of the plane. It was then that his eyes caught a familiar looking face. He shook his head again, his smirk become a genuine smile. He waved incredulously to the other, who waved back out of the crowd. Mitsugi forced his way foreward, not particularly caring that people scurried out of his way like ants. He extended his hand, and burst into laughter as the return grip was as strong as it ever was.

?Richard Caine, what the hell are you doing in Tokyo, boy?? Mitsugi rumbled as he drew the man into a brief hug.

?I heard that you needed a little support, and since I had just finished up on the Tucson project, they decided to send me,? Caine replied with a grin to match Mitsugi?s.

Mitsugi nodded in acceptance. ?Well, damn if it isn?t good to see you here. I don?t know if we have any projects that would require a slayer of demons though. Except for the paperwork demons. Those little bastards have set up quite an infestation hereabouts.?

?Yeah they do seem to be everywhere, don?t they?? Richard laughed. ?Well maybe, just maybe I can lend a hand with that.?

?So,? Mitsugi asked as he turned and they walked out to the car. ?Why didn?t they tell me who was coming? Do they just make these kind of decisions at the drop of their hats??

?Well, this time it was a little more complicated. The person who was going to be assigned to you decided to resign, and there was a lot of problems selecting a person who would want to come out here. Most of us don?t really know Japanese you know...?

Mitsugi turned to look squarely at Richard and gave him a measuring glance.

?It wasn?t just that, was it?? he prompted. Richard looked at him nodded slightly. Quickly turning his head around and looking, he saw no one close enough to be a great concern. Looking back at Mitsugi, his mouth compressed to a thin line.

?It?s the Senshi,? he said quietly. ?They are really beginning to scare some of the conservative Grandmasters. A lot.?

?Well, the Grandmasters aren?t the only ones they scare,? Mitsugi said, frowning. ?They sometimes scare the hell out of me too. Their security gets better every day. When Rei Hino returned the damn Internal Security efficiency improved dramatically. The woman has both the gift and the drive to do it well. She?s a scary lady.?

?Yeah well, they?re afraid that we?re going to get caught and extradited back the good old USA...? Richard said.

?...Which would jeopardize all of our American operations,? Mitsugi finished, thinking intensely on the subject. ?What I can?t understand is why we would be extradited at all.?

?Rumor has it that the Senshi are working on a tighter screening system for all immigrants and government licenced aliens,? Richard muttered. ?And maybe even the humans too...?

Mitsugi laughed at the feeble joke. ?Well, I?m not too worried about it, since technically I am a Japanese citizen. They can?t get rid of me even if they want too.?

?Yeah well, don?t be so sure. I wouldn?t be surprised if they started exiling Japanese troublemakers too,? Richard said darkly. ?They are warriors and they are probably damn tired of dealing with these riots and terrorists. Plus, from all that we can figure out, they ruled pretty autocratically back in the day. They are Princes and Princesses after all. I just wonder if they are going to snap out and cripple their state while they try to clean up the garbage.?

?Your philosopher side is showing Caine,? Mitsugi snorted. ?Besides, this is Japan, not America. You are going to have to figure that out sooner, rather than later. The people here are far less concerned with what I think is a mostly imagined freedom back in the US. Order is a higher concern here.?

?I don?t buy it, but now is not the time for this debate,? Richard countered. ?Though I think that from a purely practical corner it will make our jobs a hell of a lot harder to get done if the Japanese Internal Security is breathing down our necks all the time.?

?True that,? Mitsugi admitted. ?Well at the very least it explains why they sent you. You?re the original smooth operator.?

Caine made a rude gesture towards his towering companion, and continued walking.

?What?? Mitsugi asked innocently. ?Is it my fault that you have a tendency to blow up whatever comes within arm?s reach? Or that you have an annoying habit of calling all sorts of trouble down on your own head?? Richard looked up at Mitsugi and laughed.

?My friend, I don?t call down trouble from on high, I hunt it down and eliminate it.?

Mitsugi just shook his head as they got into the car. Some people never change.

Chapter 2: Setting up shop/Hotaru?s day from Hell

January 1, 3004 10:00

As Mitsugi took him on a tour of downtown, Richard was constantly amazed by all of the life that the city contained, even on New Year?s day. People milled along the streets in the light snow that had fallen the previous evening dressed in all colors of the rainbow. Advertisements were posted everywhere, electronic billboards and recordings proclaiming the virtues of their respective products. It reminded him painfully of New York, but at the same time there was a different vibe to the streets. They hummed to a slightly different beat than his old home, as if syncopated in some way.

The blend of western and eastern architectures was another amazing sight, along with the beauty that was the new Crystal Palace. The dome was clear and pristine looking, and its presence was calming and intimidating. What did these aliens stand for anyway?

Oh well, he thought shaking his head. It was not the time for such idle thoughts.

Instead he bent his attention to memorizing street names and building locations. This was difficult for him to do, but he knew it would be vital later, when the agency began to truly send out its investigation teams. It took about an hour to take in most of the downtown area, the traffic on the streets thankfully light. The two pulled into the local headquarters at about 4 o?clock.

Richard was very surprised at the choice of location for the Tokyo offices, for they truly were offices in the traditional sense. The base was located on the thirteenth floor of the Nakatomo office building, in the bustling heart of downtown Tokyo. Richard waited with ill disguised glee at the prospect of looking at his new office, despite their strange location.

?Well,? commented Mitsugi as the final chime in the elevator sounded. ?Here we are.?

Here indeed. Mitsugi took out a small key card and inserted it into the lock on the elevator. The doors opened up into a relatively high ceilinged hallway. There were solid walls to either side of him and a receptionist desk about twenty feet away. The place oozed drab office space, and at least a little part of Richard wondered if they had gone to the wrong floor. Mitsugi saw his puzzlement and smiled.

?Camouflage,? he said simply, leading the way around the front desk to where the hallway ended in a T. ?It keeps UPS from getting too curious.?

?Figures,? Richard laughed. He shook his head slightly. His ears felt almost as though they were stopped up, or something. Shrugging it off, he followed Mitsugi, who had taken off again.

?Did everyone have the day off?? Richard asked, gesturing expansively with his left arm.

?Yeah, I gave them the day off,? Mitsugi said. ?After all, once we start operations, there is going to have to be someone here all the time.? They took a left at the T and Mitsugi gave him a rundown of all the rooms.

?Nearest to the west wall we have a dojo, armory, shooting range, gym, and melee practice room. In the next section we have our offices and meeting rooms. Further east we have the labs, back up generators, and the archive system. And finally we also have the chapel, located all the way against the north wall.?

?You know, this brings up a big question. How the heck did you find soundproofing good enough to have a bloody firing range in the heart of an office building?? Richard asked, looking confused. ?I mean, it isn?t exactly easy to get a gun over here anyway. I?d have figured that the slightest slip would give us to the cops.?

?That would be true,? Mitsugi admitted. ?If it weren?t for the stuff that the Nemesis labs sent over with me. It?s only about a quarter inch thick, and it can deaden an entire room, just put them over the walls. I saw you shaking your head a minute ago. That?s why everything sounds so weird in here. We figured, since we had some left over from the noisy rooms, we would coat the hallways too. Makes it hard for visitors to overhear something they shouldn?t.?

Richard nodded, taking stock of each of the rooms as they passed by. The archives were a simple amalgamation of computers, which hummed in their dark room. Richard noted the locked security doors, and the lack of any kind of external connection. Nice and secure, at least for now. Leaving the archives behind, went to check out the crime labs, which were more impressive than the ones he had seen at the San Francisco P.D., even though they were smaller. Well stocked and well organized, even though they were perhaps a little cramped.

Nodding his approval after a few questions, Richard continued his tour, looking in at the meeting/classrooms, and the office spaces. Fairly standard, but comfortable. Probably a good idea, he thought wryly. I?m going to be living here for eighteen hours a day. His office was actually fairly spacious, larger than his last one. The carpet was light blue and the walls were a harsh white. The desk was simple and wooden looking, but Richard suspected it was made of something else entirely.

Richard took his briefcase full of papers and set them in his desk, checking out the locks and the security system built into his door. Nodding his approval, he left the notes there. There would be plenty of time to look over those later anyway.

The dojos, gym, and the armory were very impressive, stocked with all kinds of training devices, most of which he had seen before. It would be nice to have your own private gym, he mused. Back in Tucson, they had to work out in the local one, and it just hadn?t been as fun. After all, you couldn?t swap work stories there. People would give you some seriously strange looks. When they reached the firing range, Richard held up his hand and looked up at Mitsugi.

?Did they Fed Ex my babies here?? he asked, doing a pair of puppy eyes. Mitsugi?s eyebrow twitched, almost escaping Richards notice.

?Yeah, they did,? Mitsugi sighed. ?I take it from your completely innocent expression that you want to test out the facilities.?

Richard simply smiled at his old friend. Mitsugi unlocked the armory cages and pulled out a black plastic box that was about the size of a small briefcase, and handed it carefully to Richard. Richard then placed it on the table, opening the catches and putting in his combination. The box opened with satisfying pop.

Richard?s eyes widened and his fake innocent expression faded as he reached into the container and withdrew his prizes. They were two matt black 1960's era PPK pistols, gifts and legacy of his father. They were small, their geometry smooth and curvy, and fit comfortably into the palms of his hand. Inscribed on the slides in silvered lettering were the words Thing 1 and Thing 2, an old joke of his father?s. Placing the pistols with great care upon the rest table near the shooting range, he pulled out his custom gunbelt, rigged with four magazines, two on each hip, in strange looking holsters. Richard smiled as he put the belt on, and snugged it up to his waist.

While Richard was completing the ritual of loading his magazines and making sure his weapons had not been damaged by their overseas trip, Mitsugi set up a paper target and hit the button on the side of the wall, the railing on the ceiling causing the target to spring back about 20 meters. By this time, Richard had donned his ear protectors and goggles and had drawn both of his pistols. Mitsugi walked behind him and picked up another set of ear protectors and watched.

Richard squeezed of two rounds out of each gun, one at a time, sighting carefully. Each shot was well within the target?s chest area, but Richard still frowned. He brought up the pistols and squeezed off another two rounds each, this time in tandem. Each bullet hit within two inches of one another.

Richard placed the smoking pistols carefully on the table next to him, flicking their safeties. He popped out the old magazines and inserted new ones, and then he stood for about thirty seconds, his eyes closed, breathing lightly. Mitsugi shook his head silently. He had expected better from one of the Inquisition?s foremost critter catcher. He was just finishing this thought, when Richard?s hands moved in a blur, picking up both pistols, aiming them and triggering their safeties in one motion. He squeezed off ten more shots, one after another, both pistols blazing, the smell of gunpowder filling the room. He stopped when the hammers clicked down on empty chambers. Richard calmly ejected the magazines and put the pistols down on the table, smoke still rising from their barrels.

?Safe,? Richard said, his voice quiet. Less than twelve seconds had passed.

Mitsugi, who had nearly jumped out of skin when Richard had started shooting, calmed himself as quickly as he could manage. He hit the target return, and the paper target moved back to them. He took it off the hanger. The heart of the target had been entirely torn out, a grouping of ten bullet holes less than one inch from the center. Mitsugi handed the target over to Richard soundlessly. Richard looked at his first shots and compared them to his second. He smiled a little.

?Guess I was just thinking too much.?

After spending a good hour at the shooting range, both Mitsugi and Richard had worked off a little of their nervous energy. For Mitsugi it was the still echoing stress of his position. In Richard?s case it was the long flight, for which he had been cramped up for far too long. After picking up his cleaning kit bag and slinging it over his shoulder, Richard decided that he would clean his guns later at his apartment. There was only one place left to visit in the offices. Mitsugi gestured to the door of the chapel with a smile.

?Go on in.?

Richard pushed open the door and was greeted with an amazing sight. The interior of the chapel was as long as half of the entire office building. Here there was no soundproofing, nothing to dull his steps. The entire surface of the room was covered in black marble sheeting, and the long sides were buttressed by simple decorative gothic arches of black marble. He walked slowly into the interior, the soft lighting catching the glittering veins in the walls, floor, and roof. Between each rib was a small shrine, dedicated to different things. He walked ahead, noticing a Buddhist, Hindu, and Jewish alcoves along with others he didn?t recognize. But his eyes were still fixed straight ahead. At the back, past the last set smaller alcoves was a final one, only a little bigger than the others. There was a simple table, a simple bronze cross on a wooden stand stood on a table with a black table cloth.

Richard crossed himself, dropping his bags just outside the arches that delineated the alcove. He stepped in and knelt on the hard stone. Dropping his head in front of the simple symbol, his hand reached into his shirt and withdrew the object that never left his body. It was a silver cross attached to a sturdy chain, covered with Celtic symbols, one of his three most precious possessions. Tarnished by wear, it still gleamed in the golden light of the chapel.

?Father, bless this place and my work here,? he whispered. ?I want to ask for your aid in the times to come, and for the future of this project.? He waited for a moment and gave a ghostly smile. ?And may the world cease to have need of the skills that we have to offer. Amen.?

Gradually he slid the cross back under his shirt. Standing slowly, he bowed and crossed himself a second time. Mitsugi stood up as Richard walked out of the chapel, shutting the door quietly behind him.

?Well, what do you think?? he asked, quirking his eyebrow at Richard. Caine smiled at him and exhaled deeply.

?It?s really nice Mitsugi, really nice,? Richard said, stretching. ?I want to thank you both on behalf of the council and me personally. You?ve done a great job out here with the facilities.?

?Well, save your thanks until you meet the crew,? Mitsugi cautioned. ?You may change your mind.?

?Don?t sell yourself short,? Richard snorted. ?I know you, you?ll have done as well with them as you did with this place. I look forward to meeting them. Now, where the heck to we go to get food around here??

?Somehow I figured you?d work your way around to that,? Mitsugi said. He gestured with his left arm. ?Lead on Macduff.?

January 1 09:30

Hotaru Tomoe was having a bad day. No, scratch that. It was a living hell. She had awoken this morning in her suite in the palace with a headache the likes of which she had never experienced before. Stumbling around the large room ornate room, she had managed to get to the bathroom and get a drink. Leaning heavily on the sink table, she looked into the mirror, seeing herself clearly. Her short black hair hung limply around her head, and her violet eyes had impressive black circles under them. Her black pyjamas were rumpled. She didn?t even remember getting into them. The drinking last night was a real mistake.

Speaking of drinks, she was going to kill Haruka and Michiru. Have some champagne, they said. It will be fun, they said. Come on and celebrate the New Year. Yeah. Right. The last thing she remembered from the night before was taking Usagi?s crown and dancing around stupidly singing something about how she was the real queen. A none to sober Usagi had tried to take it back resulting in some kind of a scuffle that she could barely remember. The pulsing dehydration headache pounded the back of her eyes, and she closed them, trying to regain her balance.

It seemed that her healing powers would not be able to get rid of this either, which was probably the most annoying part. Damn this having to suffer hangovers, Hotaru thought to herself. The only real coherent thought in her mind right now was the urgent need to get rid of this pain. She levered herself up and tottered over to the shower. A few minutes under the water had her feeling almost like a human being again, and the headache had faded somewhat.

Grumbling some quite creative curses to herself, especially considering the circumstances, Hotaru got dressed and headed down to breakfast. The suite that she lived in was connected to Setsuna?s and Haruka and Michiru?s bedrooms. Setsuna sat at the moderately sized breakfast table, dressed and looking ready to take on the world. She looked up from her morning tea and smiled at Hotaru as the younger woman walked into the room.

She didn?t say a word to Setsuna as she plopped down in her customary seat, but she was generating such irritation that the elder woman didn?t bother trying to talk to her. Almost as soon as she had sat down she sprang up again and went into their personal kitchen. After Hotaru had fixed herself something to eat in the kitchen, and poured herself some tea, she returned to the table and sat down with a grunt. Setsuna, who had up until this point been reading today?s paper, looked mildly over in Hotaru?s direction, a slight expression of distaste on her lips warring with a smug grin.

?So,? Setsuna remarked lightly, turning back to her paper. ?Did you enjoy yourself last night??

?Oh,? Hotaru replied lightly in return. ?I had fun up until the two darling aunts of mine tried to get me more intoxicated than the rest of the party combined.?

?Mmm...,? Setsuna remarked. ?How much of the night do you really remember??

?Well,? she said squinting a little and taking a sip of tea. ?I remember dancing around like an idiot singing how I was a fairy princess and stealing Usagi?s crown, but after that, nothing.?

?Oh,? Setsuna said, her face breaking into a large smile. ?Then you probably don?t remember how you hit on Mamoru....?

Hotaru?s eyes screwed up and her face altered hue to match that of a tomato. She looked incapable of speech for about thirty seconds, and then hissed.

?I?m going to get those two.....ohh......I?m going to kill them and then....?

?It?s going to have to wait dear,? Sestsuna said, cutting off the rant. She pointed with one elegant finger to the headline she had been reading. ?It looks as though there was another magical attack last night, maybe early morning. And guess who?s on duty for this one?? It took a few seconds for Hotaru?s poor abused brain to catch up, but when she did, it took all of her effort not to swear some more.

?We drew the straws for this one, didn?t we?? Hotaru asked with glum certainty, rubbing her temples.

?That?s right,? Setsuna said, finishing her tea. ?Tokyo P.D. will be waiting for us at Sixth street and Eighth avenue.?

Hotaru?s head jerked up, and she gave Sharon a strange look. ?That?s in the middle of the Jungle isn?t it??

?Yes,? Setsuna said with a tight smile. ?But apparently this was so horrific that the locals called it in. Interesting change of pace for them.?

Hotaru stood up and stretched. She finished her tea and toast quickly, and looked over to her adoptive guardian.

?Well, hopefully my headache will go away.?

January 1, 3004 10:00

It didn?t.

Sailor Saturn and Sailor Pluto stood in front of what had been a building a few hours previously. At first glance Hotaru had not understood why they had been called in at all. It looked like a straightforward arson case. The building, or what was left of it, had been burned at extremely high temperatures. The only things left standing were the four outer walls. Everything else was simply ash. While this was very unusual, in fact downright weird, it could be done with normal chemicals and incendiary explosives.

What the fire investigators had explained to them when they arrived was that there was no evidence of any accelerants whatsoever. As if that wasn?t unusual enough, two other pieces of strange information had trickled in.

The first was from a mole in one of the local Yakuza families, who had tipped off the central offices that there was to be a high level meeting of all of the Tokyo area bosses last night. All of the best intelligence that they had been able to gather centered the meeting here, or nearby.

The second little tidbit had been that one of the local bums, their only eyewitness, had claimed that a spear of fire had descended from the heavens and annihilated the building. Of course the man was so hopped up on something that it was unlikely that this was the case, but at this point the arson investigators shrugged and admitted that it might as well be fire from the sky. They had never seen a fire so utterly thorough.

As Hotaru walked closer to the devastated building she could still feel the residual heat radiating off of it. The walls of the building were a pitch black color on the inside, as if flash burned by an intense heat. She watched as one of the firemen stuck his pick into the wall, testing its integrity. It still looked quite solid, the interior members untouched by the strange flame. Sharon walked up beside her and looked at the growing hole in the wall.

?The supports aren?t burnt Setsuna,? she said softly. ?You know this is looking worse and worse.?

Setsuna nodded silently. They both watched in silence as the work crews went about their business. After almost a minute Sharon spoke up.

?I think that I?m going to check the perimeter and the neighborhood for any traces. Would you check the building??

Hotaru nodded and walked to the center of the destroyed building. She noted the twisted lumps of metal in the uniform dark grey ash that was all that remained of the interior. Wrinkling her nose at the stench that emanated from the ruins, she knelt down in the doorway and pressed her hands down into the still hot ashes.

They were a less uniform gray up close, and soft to the touch. Closing her eyes, she expanded her awareness, trying to feel for anything unusual. Suddenly she felt an alien power give her the equivalent of a psychic slap. Jerking herself upright, she looked at the ashes with a new respect.

Something had used magic here. A lot of magic. Hotaru?s head began to pound again.

She sat down at her desk in the heart of the Internal Security building, putting the collected files and information down on the table. Pursing her lips, Hotaru spread out the photos in front of her and rifled through them one at a time, looking for anything that might give her a clue as to what was going on here. After an hour of pointless looking, she finally gathered up the pictures and returned them to their folder and leaning back in her chair with a sigh.

Her position was one that was rare in any kind of bureaucracy. She had the formal title of Mage Inspector, although all of those that she worked with knew her as Sailor Saturn, or Ms. Tomoe. Basically every strange thing that the police came across would be referred to her for inspection. If it was big enough, it would be brought to the attention of the other Senshi. Technically she only reported to Rei and Usagi, but in practice she was so involved in Tokyo law enforcement that she worked very closely with the chief inspectors and the precinct commissioners.

So far her work had been fairly light since taking this position after two years of training. Her love of history and analysis had suited her well in the field of investigation, and she had learned quickly. It had also initially been light enough to continue with her studies, but the pressure had been growing lately. In the last two months the number of unusual deaths and injuries in the greater Tokyo area had skyrocketed. Multiple bodies had been found all around the city, each looking as though it had been consumed by flame, burned alive.

Hotaru shuddered in the privacy of her office. She thought at the time that it had probably just been the work of some sick serial killer, but she had been unable to shake another kind of uneasiness around those poor people. Now, a building was so burned that it had been reduced to piles of ash, leaving the walls intact. On top of that, there was an incredible aura of magic around the remains of the building. It was almost as if it were an invitation, or a calling card.

Pushing her chair back she stood and yawned. Looking at the clock on the wall, she sighed. It was getting late now, and the Tokyo city lights were coming on, a string of brilliant lights strewn across a snowy plain of a city. It was beautiful and calm. From where she stood, looking out the windows of the thirtieth story office, she could feel the weight of responsibility crushing down on her shoulders. All of this was hers to protect, and to nurture along with the other Senshi.

She walked over to the window and pressed her delicate hand against the window, her breath leaving a steam on the pane. Hotaru had vowed to herself that she would not rule again. The others, while they didn?t like their jobs a whole heck of a lot, took it up as their duty once more. Most of the Senshi back in the Silver Millennium had not had the misfortune to have started a civil war. God what a mess that had been. It had nearly been her death, and countless others had truly died in that conflict. She and her brother had been such fools.

Usagi had said that she understood, and had let Hotaru pick this position, leaving her to her own devices. Part of it was how much younger she was than the others. The time shifting had left her feeling old and young at the same time. Half remembered courts of unsurpassed beauty mingled with her old life with her father, whirling into a confusing maelstrom.

When her adopted brother had returned, she had begun to pick her life up again, but that had turned out to be a mixed blessing. Though they had managed to reconcile their past differences, much to Hotaru?s relief, it had also brought a new wave of trouble. And the Tumbler.

Pushing the memories out of her head, she shivered again. That was the real reason that she knew that she could not rule again. Not when she had seen such terrible things in her mind. She shook her head, trying to clear away the nightmares, but they clung on, watching from the corners of her mind, waiting. No, the others couldn?t understand what she had seen, just like she couldn?t understand their hells. At the level at which that damned creature had worked, it was far too personal.

Yet, at least a part of her felt that Setsuna understood, even if the others did not. She had never told her guardian about what she had seen, but it was almost as if Pluto could read her mind. And she had been there to see the original hell that Hotaru had wrought. Hotaru secretly believed that Setsuna had somehow convinced Usagi and the Inner Scouts not to put any pressure on her in this area, and for that Hotaru was grateful.

So now she had the position of a relatively lowly inspector. Not a queen, not a princess. No, she was just plain old Hotaru unless there was a need for Sailor Saturn, and then she was a guardian. It was a great relief to not have to shoulder such a responsibility as the others had.

She removed her hand from the glass as she turned back to her cluttered desk, stretching in a catlike manner. I should probably go home, she thought to herself. I think that I?ve done all that I can do with this tonight. She put on her coat, hat and pink mittens. The clothing was actually pretty funny, considering that it made her look like someone?s twelve year old sister, but she enjoyed it. Her thoughts turned towards home and dinner. Her revenge on Haruka was going to be soo sweet....

But as she turned off the lights, she spared a last glance at her desk, and the sinking feeling returned. The file sat on her desk, and she could almost feel it mocking her inability to do anything. She turned to go home, little niggling doubts itching away at the corners of her mind.

"Everyone in my neighborhood had left to vote. I have no feeling of fear--Allah has won."
-Umm Ali, Duhra, Iraq

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Sybil of the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy

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Thu Jan 20, 2005 12:45 pm
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Chapter 3: Interviews/Introductions

January 2 09:00 hours

?Are you sure this is a good idea??

Mitsugi turned to look at Richard with a slightly lifted eyebrow. ?Of course I think it?s a good idea. How else are we going to get any work done around here? Besides, it helps to know what the cops know. We?re not in a competition here.?

Richard shook his head in a gesture of ambivalence as they walked into the Japanese Department of the Interior, dressed in their business best. Mitsugi had informed him of the plan last night, and for all his particular reservations, Richard couldn?t argue with his friend?s logic too much.

They were here to negotiate a deal with the local authorities. Richard had a great deal of success with this approach back on the west coast. It was an accepted practice for certain private detective agencies to maintain a close relationship with the police. Scratch my back, I scratch yours kind of mentality. But what they were attempting to do here, well, this was a little bit different.

This time they were trying to sell themselves off as consultants, experts in the field of mystical investigation. So they had come here today to meet with the head of Internal Security. It had taken a two month wait on Mitsugi?s part to get here, but finally it had come about, just as their offices were really ready for business.

Following the labyrinthine hallways, they finally arrived at the office of the minister. It was fairly unassuming from the outside, just a pair of wooden doors with two guards dressed in a typical Secret Service manner. They took a long look at the pair as they walked down the otherwise empty hallway, their hands moving ever so slightly towards their weapons. Mitsugi walked straight up to them with a genial smile and bowed.

?Good morning sirs,? he said in his most gentle voice. ?I believe we have an appointment with Lady Hino. We are from Caine Securities.?

The guards did not even respond verbally but nodded, and eased their hands away from their side arms and opened the doors wide. As Mitsugi and Richard walked into the room they took in their surroundings with a feeling of slight awe. The room was large and spacious but had a definite minimalist touch. The ceilings of the room must have been at least twenty feet tall, and the wood work was most impressive. The walls were lined with antique bookshelves containing all kinds of volumes, both in Japanese and a dozen other languages, as well as binders and notebooks.

The floors were carpeted and towards the back of the room were several tall windows which looked out over Tokyo. The furniture of the place was dominated by a single large European desk with a huge blotter. There were only two chairs in the room, one in front of the desk, and one behind it. It was the occupant of this chair that drew both Mitsugi?s and Richard?s attention.

Mitsugi had seen her once before, but this was Richard?s first time meeting her in the flesh. The pictures in her dossier didn?t really do her justice. She was slight and thin, but athletic looking. Her long black hair was brought back in a tight ponytail, cascading down her back. Her single piece red dress was tight, but covered her from the neck down. Currently she was bent over a paper signing something with a slight frown on her face. As Mitsugi cleared his throat she looked up with a sharp jerk of her head.

Rei Hino was a busy woman these days. Charged with monitoring and executing the security policies of Queen Serenity, she had an enormous amount work to do. Sitting behind her expansive desk which was littered with reports and assignments needing her personal attention, she radiated the responsibility of her position. As she looked up at them, Richard felt slivers of ice moving up his spine. Her face was beautiful and well proportioned, but it was her eyes that drew him in. They were hard and calculating, and bored into him with an intensity that he had rarely felt.

Richard felt his own eyes hardening in response and he met her gaze head on, blue eyes blazing. But somehow, in her presence, he felt a great deal out of his depth. Those eyes were old, very old, and in such a youthful face they were absolutely terrifying.

Richard and Mitsugi both walked up to a few feet from the desk, and Mitsugi bowed deeply. Richard inclined his head slightly, but never broke eye contact with the woman. For a few seconds she stared into his eyes, then cocked her head to the side, acknowledging Mitsugi?s bow.

?Well, mister O?Gannon is it?? Hino asked, an expression of curiosity crossing her lips. ?Who is your companion??

?My name is Richard,? he said, inclining his head once more. ?I?m one of the head investigators from the United States.?

Sailor Mars seemed to take this into account, but gave him a slightly suspicious look. Looking back to Mitsugi, she waved her hands. ?I must admit that when I read your proposal, I was intrigued to say the least. But not all of it was in a good way. I have a few questions for you.?

As she spoke her voice grew colder and suspicious, but if Mitsugi was rattled, he gave no sign of it, simply nodding respectfully at her comments. ?Ask away your Grace.?

?How are you able to track the things that you claim to be able to?? she asked, a note of real interest creeping into her voice.

?Well,? Mitsugi responded thoughtfully. ?A great deal of it has to do with technology that was developed in the last three years, but isn?t really available on the open market. Things like field detectors and other forensic equipment that Caine Industries has been developing, but is still in the testing phase. Once they have the bugs worked out, they will be made available for purchase by any police department that wants them.?

Rei Hino nodded at this, but her gaze remained skeptical. ?So in essence, what you want to do is to give this stuff a field test with the Tokyo Police Department??

?Sort of your Grace,? Mitsugi responded carefully. ?We wish to have a kind of... consulting relationship with your Grace?s Police concerning any kind of magical investigation. What we want to do is really bring investigative procedures and practices into the realm of magical events. Many at Caine Industries think that this would be a very important step into the future.?

?Well your relationships with the United States and Republic of Texas are quite interesting, and you give a good speech,? Hino said with a wan smile. ?But you want to be given licence to work as an independent investigative body, don?t you??

Mitsugi?s left eye twitched slightly. ?Well, your Grace, to be honest and straightforward, yes we do. We feel that a close relationship with the Tokyo P.D. will be very productive, but we essentially wish to remain private detectives and consultants.?

?I?m glad that you?ve been so candid,? she said, her smile turning shark-like. ?It is a rare pleasure to have someone lay out their proposals in such a straight forward manner. However I fear I must decline your request.?

Mitsugi said nothing, privately expecting this, but Richard stood up straighter and leveled a piercing gaze at Rei Hino.

?What capacity do you have to detect and prove magical crimes, Lady Hino?? he asked, his anger causing him to speak in chopped tones.

?We are Sailor Senshi,? Hino responded, her voice raising. ?We have been dealing with supernatural threats for longer than you?ve probably known they exist.?

Richard laughed at her, his gaze never wavering. ?And how can you expect to deal with magical threats from behind a desk? Wouldn?t you like to have your own police able to both investigate and prosecute magical perpetrators??

For a second it looked as if Hino would throw them out of her office, but she leaned back in her chair, multiple expressions warring for control of her face. Finally the grimace won out and she leaned forward, picking up a folder and tossing it to Mitsugi.

?Fine. I?ll give you people a test run,? she said, her grimace turning into a tight smile. ?But it won?t be easy. I want you to track down the Jungle Arsonist. I want that man?s head on a platter. He is suspected to have murdered more than fifteen people, twelve of them on New Year?s Day. The police and the Senshi have no leads, so you had better find them. You will, of course, be working with Internal Security and the Tokyo P.D.?

Richard looked down at the folder and back to Hino. ?Who will be our liason with your Grace and Caine Security??

?I was wondering when you were going to bring that up,? she stated, turning to the side and pulling out a slip of paper and handing it to Mitsugi. ?That is the time and address of the meeting that I scheduled for your investigators and our primary magic enforcement agent. Her name is Hotaru Tomoe.?

Richard looked back at her, and he felt his lips pulling into a smile to match hers. ?Sailor Saturn, eh? So, you were planning to give us a test run all along??

?Most likely, but I wanted to conduct the interview first,? she admitted, leaning back in her chair and putting her arms behind her head. ?I wanted to see what you were made of. I see that you don?t disappoint, Mr. Caine.?

Mitsugi sat up a little, but Richard did not twitch. Indeed he had been expecting something of the sort as soon as she had handed them the appointment. Instead their staring contest resumed, and the intensity of the clash of wills was impressive, to say the least.

?Well, your Grace, I have to admit that I?m impressed,? Richard admitted. ?You are a formidable woman, and your intelligence information is quite good.?

?You?re an interesting person as well,? Hino said, switching over to English. ?But I ask that your company deliver to us what you promised in your sales pitch. It?s no easy claim to say that you have forensics that work on magic.?

?Don?t worry,? Richard replied with a grin. ?You will get our full efforts on this case. I hear that this guy?s a real sick one.? He nodded to Mitsugi and both of them stood and bowed to her. She nodded in return and waved a dismissal with her left hand. Just as Richard was about to reach the door, he stopped and turned to face Hino, regarding her levelly.

?Oh your Grace, just out of curiosity, what was it that gave me away??

?Your name and your appearance could very well have given you away,? Rei said as she smiled a genuine grin at him. ?But to tell the truth, it was your eyes. You never looked away and always looked at me with the gaze of an equal. If you want to be incognito Mr. Caine, I think that you should adopt a little more humility.?

As the two men walked out of Rei Hino?s office, the hallways echoed with their combined laughter.

January 2, 3004 14:20

Hotaru sat at a table in the Nakatomo building coffee shop, sipping idly on her tea and reading her latest assignment from her Western Studies course at Tokyo University. Her passion for history and a need to better understand both Americans and Europeans had prompted the decision, and she had not regretted it, despite the intense workload. Because of her unique status, she had a private tutor who worked his schedule to fit hers, and this pleased Hotaru quite a bit.

She was here to meet with the people from Caine Security, but Rei hadn?t told her who she should expect to meet, only when they would get here. Hotaru checked her watch, but realized she had a good half an hour, so she got back to work. She placed her cup down, pushed her reading glasses up her nose and concentrated more on the text. Dang this Aristotle, she thought squinting. What in the heck was entelechy anyway? She was so immersed in the book that she did not notice when a blonde man in a business suit walked into the shop.

Richard rubbed the back of his neck, and walked over to the counter, ordering what he hoped was the strongest coffee that was available. He turned to look around, and noted with a grimace that most of the tables were taken. Shrugging to himself, he looked around for a place to sit down and wait for his contact. He walked over to one of the tables that looked promising, when something caught his attention out of the corner of his eye.

No way, he thought to himself. That can?t be. He looked over to where he saw a slight young woman reading a book. She was dressed casually, a simple skirt and white blouse, and her book was blocking his view of her face. But it wasn?t her figure that riveted his attention that way, as pleasant as the sight of it was. It was the book that she was reading.

?I?ll be damned,? he said, shaking his head in disbelief. The girl was reading the complete works of Aristotle. In English. This was too good.

His curiosity getting the better of him, Richard walked over to where the woman sat and cleared his voice gently. Getting no response from the girl, he looked around, and pulled up a chair next to her.

?Excuse me, miss?? he asked.

Hotaru looked up with a startled expression. She hadn?t noticed the blonde foreigner who had pulled up a chair across from her. He was not very tall, and he was wearing a standard kind of business suit with a red shirt. His eyes were blue and his hair was pulled back into a short ponytail. Taking all this in quickly, Hotaru?s surprise began to give way to annoyance. Couldn?t he see that she was reading?

?Yes?? she asked pointedly looking over her glasses at him.

?May I ask what book you?re reading?? Richard said, taken aback by her seeming hostility.

?I?m reading Aristotle?s Physics,? she said, cocking her head to the left. ?Why??

?Oh, nothing, I just studied that book when I was in college,? he said. ?Aristotle, Plato, and the rest of them.?

?Really?? she asked, slightly more interested. ?Well, what did you think of Aristotle??

?I think that he?s a lot smarter than me,? the man replied cautiously. ?But that doesn?t mean that I?m going to let him push me around.? Hotaru?s arched eyebrow prompted him to continue.

Laughing a little nervously, Richard leaned back in his chair. ?Well, I guess I should explain that. I don?t really buy his extrapolations back to the first, or final, causes. Don?t think they?re quite right. Although a lot of what he has to say about motion is a lot closer to modern physics than most of what followed him for quite some time. Leibniz thought that the idea of inherent forces in bodies was actually correct, even though Newton thought he was full of shit.?

Hotaru looked at him for a good twenty seconds without speaking. Then she began to giggle hysterically. Richard looked around and over his shoulder, looking for the cause of her laughter. Pausing for a moment to catch her breath, Hotaru looked at him with an amused expression. She leaned back in her chair and put her book on the table, crossing her arms over her chest.

?Well, that was unexpected,? she said, her eyes sparkling. ?Where did you learn all of that??

?Like I said, at college,? he said his lips beginning to curve into an answering smile. ?I had what you might call a diverse education.?

Hotaru leaned back in her chair as she listened to him tell stories of his college life, and the various things that he had studied. It was really quite a laundry list. As they bantered on, Hotaru found herself relaxing just a little bit in his presence. This guy was definitely disarming in his conversation. The topics began to drift around, to everything from politics to social trends.

Hotaru was not the most conversational of people most of the time. Introverted tendencies from her young life ran deeply in her, but still she found that whatever she had to say, he listened to her with attention. They talked for quite some time, Hotaru telling him various amusing anecdotes about her life, most especially regarding Usagi, who was a never ending font of amusing stories.

? she tripped over her own feet and caused all of them to fall down the stairs?? he asked, with a raised eyebrow.

?Yeah,? Hotaru giggled. ?It was just after she had been trying to convince all of us how ?graceful? she was. Poor klutz.?

The man laughed out loud, tipping his chair back on two legs and letting it settle back down. He absentmindedly checked his watch as he resettled his chair, and his eyes widened.

?Uh listen miss...? he said, with a grin. ?I?ve had a lot of fun talking to you, but I have to go to a meeting now. I?m pretty late. Maybe we could talk some other time.?

Hotaru looked at her watch, and with a start realized that a whole hour had passed. ?Well, I have a meeting too, so I better head out. It was nice to meet you. Uh, what was your name again??

?Never said it,? he replied with a smile. ?But it?s Richard. Richard Caine. Oh, here is one of my business cards. Give me a call sometime. Oh yeah, your name??

?Hotaru Tomoe,? she said, taking his card carefully. It was at the moment which she said her name that she noticed Richard?s eyes widen. She flipped over the card in her hand and read it, looking back up at him with no little surprise.

?We were supposed to have a meeting,? they said in tandem. Shaking their heads simultaneously, they looked at each other again. After an awkward silence, Richard broke out into laughter, Hotaru following suit.

?Well, I guess that worked out pretty well, didn?t it?? Richard asked, wiping a tear from the corner of his eye. ?I just spent an hour talking to the woman I was waiting for. You don't look much like your PR photographs. Not exactly what I was expecting after talking to Lady Hino, but welcome anyway. Nice to meet you Lady Saturn.?

?Please,? she said calmly. ?Just call me Hotaru. I don?t have a title like the Inner Scouts do.?

Richard arched his eyebrow, but nodded anyway. ?Well, I guess you?re here to talk about our consulting services, right? Well then, follow me down into the rabbit hole. Erm, well, the rabbit hole that?s twelve floors above us that is...?

Hotaru smiled, as Richard turned and pointed stiffly with his left hand, his nose high in the air like some kind of aristocrat. She followed him shaking her head at his antics.

January 2, 3004 18:45

Rei put the papers down on her desk and rubbed her temples to soothe the tension that was building behind her eyes. The sheer volume of her paperwork pressed down on her like a ten ton weight, but even in the face of her wavering reserve of energy she picked up yet another document and began signing.

"You work too hard."

Rei's head snapped up and she found herself staring at Hotaru, who looked at her with her soulfull eyes, measuring her older partner with a careful calculus.

"I know," Rei said putting the paper down. "But somebody has to do this work and I'm the most qualified. Besides, its not always so bad..."

"Yeah, only when your country is on the verge of a breakdown..." Hotaru commented. "I think that you should take a little vacation, maybe relax and see your family sometime."

Rei smiled a sad little smile. "Doesn't look like I'm going to get another opportunity for that anytime soon. So how did your interview with those Caine Securities people go?"

"It went pretty well actually. They're a really friendly bunch over there, but they guard their secrets pretty tightly. Most of the place was wide open to me, but they were careful to only show me what they thought was necessary. I think that in this case though, they really are capable of doing what they say that they can."

"Really? Did you get a look at their so called 'magic detectors'?" Rei asked with genuine interest, her fingers idly twiddling with her pen. "I mean, that was the hardest thing of all for me to believe."

"Yeah, I saw it alright," Hotaru said, walking over to Rei's huge desk. "It was one of the strangest looking things I've ever seen. They're only about the size of a bulky palmtop, but they have some kind of wraparound antennae that apparently are able to detect any kind of magical field, and more importantly they can identify the field patterns of individuals."

Rei inhaled and her face broke out into a genuine smile. "Magical fingerprints huh?"

Hotaru nodded solemnly. "Yes, more or less. They ran a test on me and let me look at my own aura. It was actually pretty scary to look at. When I was shown a normal man's aura, I couldn't believe the difference between them."

"Well, you should know just how much power you have at your disposal Hotaru," Rei said with a shrug. "What did it look like?"

"It was kind of like looking at a twisted magnetic field. Pretty benign actually, until you took into acount the size," Hotaru said with a deep breath. "It was something on the order of ten thousand times stronger than the amount of mystical energy that the normal human is surrounded with. And I'm not as powerful as my brother, Usagi, or Sharon. It's humbling."

"You're still a human," Rei commented. "Even if it were nice sometimes to shelve all of that. It would make my job easier."

"Huh," Hotaru mused. "You know, one of the guys who gave me the tour told me something interesting, and kind of opposite that. He was talking about why he joined up with Caine Securities and I asked him why he took a job like the one he has now. He said that he took it because he knew that he could do it, and that in the end some part of him knew that the suffering was worth it. He also said that the willing endurance of hardship was a precious gift to others and to yourself."

"Sounds like he's a masochist at heart," Rei commented. "Of course he may not be entirely wrong there. After all, Kami-sama knows we've sacrificed a lot to get where we are today."

"Yeah, Richard is a pretty strange guy," Hotaru said sitting on the edge of Rei's desk and letting her feet dangle. "But he can be really perceptive."

"Richard Caine?" Rei asked, lifting an eyebrow.

"Yeah, that's the one," Hotaru replied. "I asked him why he was doing such a menial task for an heir to a coporate empire."

"What do you think of him?" Rei questioned, leaning back in her chair and resting her arms on its antique wooden frame.

Hotaru looked lost in thought for a second. "He is almost as strange as my brother, but very different. He is...hard. He really seems to be a nice guy and he tries to be polite and entertaining, but he is a dangerous man. For all that, he really does seem to be honest. Everything he showed me seemed to be on the level."

Rei was silent, and Hotaru looked over to see her looking at her necklace. She tilted her head up and looked at Hotaru with a sad little smile. "I agree with you, but I don't trust his motives very much. Back in the U.S. Caine Industries is one of the most vocal proponenets of free markets and democracy. He is nearly a card carrying member of their Neo Libertarian Party. They have also criticized many of the oppressive governments around the world, which is fine by me. But I think that he might group us with them, no matter what we try to demonstrate to the contrary. I worry that he might not be here for entirely business reasons, so I want you to keep an eye on him. Any funny stuff, and you bring it back to me or Usagi."

Hotaru nodded and Rei's level gaze turned back to her desk. Hotaru rose to her feet again with a little kick of her legs and walked out of the room, leaving Rei to her thoughts, dreams and paperwork.

The same time:

"Do you trust her?"

Caine looked over at Mitsugi from his work with an interested gaze. "I think that I trust her more than Lady Hino. She seems... more down to earth, and less concerned with her position as a Senshi."

"That was pretty much what I thought too," Mitsugi mused, tipping back his chair. They were seated in the back of the firing range and the armoury. Currently Mitsugi was polishing his massive No-Dachi, a greatsword that had been in his family for quite some time. The blade must have been at least two meters long, and the grip and guard were proprtionately huge. The ancient weapon had saved Mitsugi's life once and he always kept it near.

At the milling table Richard was making bullets, which was usually an occupation undertaken by the armourer and his interns, if they could be said to have such a thing. However Richard was a paranoid man and besides these were special weapons. Mitsugi watched as Richard carefully lifted the slug and began to carve what looked like circutry patterns on the entire body of the projectile with a very sharp file. Next he fitted the propellant charge, the casing, and the slug together with expert care. After examining the shell closely, he gave a grunt of satisfaction and placed it on the table next to the others he had constructed this evening.

Watching the whole process begin anew, Mitsugi shook his head in bafflement. "Where did you learn to do that anyway? You didn't used to make your own bullets."

"My brother taught me," he replied distractedly, making a right angle cut with his file. "And while I don't really understand exactly how it works, I definitely know that it works. Quite well in fact. Something about field dispersal."

"Hmm. You know we owe him a lot for all the work he did for us," Mitsugi mentioned, going back to cleaning his sword. "Where does he work now?"

"To tell you the truth," Richard said with some sadness tinging his voice. "He...well, I don't really know where he is. He kind of just disappeared one day about six months ago. Said he had some really important stuff to do. Wasn't really specific. Besides, I think Mom's death really got to him."

"Oh," Mitsugi said, a little embarassed at making his friend think about such things. "Well, does he still keep in contact?"

"Well, he does from time to time, and occasionally he sends a package to the R and D people back at Nemisis. Usually blows their stuff right out of the water. Some of it is really advanced research. But he's pretty anti-social these days."

"Huh," Mitsugi said, putting his blade back into its sheath. Some moments of silence followed, until Mitsugi couldn't take it anymore. "Well, I think that the project is going much better that any of us expected, don't you?"

"Basically yes," Richard said absentmindedly. "Although I do want to get better tabs on the Senshi. Hotaru Tomoe may prove to be the best way to get that. You wouldn't believe the number of personal anecdotes that she mentioned to me."

Mitsugi's deep laugh caused Richard to look up with a degree of surprise. Mitsugi placed his scabbard back up on the rack that held his personal gear, shaking his head. "You know why she was so open with you boy?"

"Why is that?" Caine asked, lifting his eyebrow.

"'Cause she likes you," Mitsugi said. "She, for whatever reason that I can't figure out, trusts you a lot."

"I don't know why she would," Richard remarked mildly, picking up one of his pistols lying on the bench and sliding a magazine home into the butt. "I'm not exactly the most approachable guy, to be honest."

Mitsugi shrugged. "Well, whatever her reasons she trusts you. Now, I think that you should work to deepen that trust. It will help us intereact with the official bueraucracy here and it'll sure help our information sources. Besides it may give you that insight into the Senshi that you've wanted for so long."

Richard nodded, sliding his pistol home into his chest holster.

"Just one thing... and remember this," Mitsugi cautioned, turning to look Richard straight in the eye. "Don't get too close."

Chapter 4: Investigations

January 3, 3004 07:00

Richard groaned and rubbed his eyes, reaching over to smack his alarm. He rolled off of his futon with a subtle murmuring of curses and stood up. Groaning as he felt under his ribs, the soreness of his scars returning to him full force. It was one of the reasons that he wore long shirts and pants most of the time.

Wincing as he reached over to turn on the lamp, and squinted as the bright light struck his eyes. With a sigh, he bent over and began stretching, easing out all of the kinks in his back and shoulders slowly. After a few moments he stood up and walked over to his shower and turned on the hot water full force.

After a few minutes, he began to feel more like a human again, the last fuzzyness of sleep fading. Washing up quickly, he went about his routine, pouring out his cereal into his bowl, and getting half dressed. After a quick breakfast, he finished putting on his clothes and pulled back his hair into a ponytail.

His apartment was hardly spacious, and in fact it could almost be considered spartan, were it not for the quality of the furniture that he had collected, the only real concession to his wealth besides his clothes. There were two low couches that lined the walls of his living room, and a low table set into the middle. His small bedroom and kitchen/dining room completed the ensemble. Not that he had a whole heck of a lot of a need for a big house, not like back home.

He was distracted from his reverie by a light knock on his front door. With a sigh, he stood up and walked over to the entrance to the house. He opened the door, and almost gasped in surprise, and his hands involuntarily twitched towards his guns, only to realize he wasn't armed yet.

It was then that he realized that the pale apparation wearing a beret, black shirt, slacks and overcoat was actually his current working partner.

"Good morning," said Hotaru with a smile. "Hope I didn't catch you out, but we have a lot of work to do today. I figured that we should get an early start."

Richard shook off the remainder of his surprise, motioning for Hotaru to come inside. "It'll only be a minute, I have to get a few things."

Hotaru nodded politely and stepped inside taking a look around. Not too bad for a bachelor pad, she mused. She waited as Richard went off to get whatever it was he needed. He was back in a minute, a suit coat placed over his shirt. She couldn't help but notice the very slight bulges underneath each shoulder, and the bulky belt, but she decided not to give him any trouble about it. After all, they were in a pretty dangerous business.

She watched as he picked up a duffle bag sitting on one of his leather couches with an embarrased grin. "Sorry, had to make sure I had the detection equipment that Mitsugi issued to me."

"He called me about ten minutes ago," Hotaru said. "He said that he would meet us there, and to tell you..... oh yes. He said to tell you that you shouldn't have such exciting late nights before work."

Richards laughter boomed through the small apartment, and Hotaru gave him a puzzled look. Waving his hands at her Richard gave a little grimace. "That's Mitsugi's way of telling me that I need to get out more. Don't mind him."

Seeing her look of continued confusion, he continued. "Mitsugi knows that I hardly had an exciting night last night. Just his way of poking fun at me, that's all. Thanks for the message."

"I kind of understand that," Hotaru said, thinking about Haruka and Michiru. "Yeah, I understand that pretty well actually."

"Well, we might as well get a move on," Richard said, tossing his duffel bag over his shoulder with a grunt.

And so they did. The first site that they visited was the burnt out resturant. Although the damage had been done three days ago, it looked as though no one had ventured too near to the burnt out wreck. Richard looked at it with a practiced eye. The feeling of the place caused chills to run up and down his spine, and that was always a bad sign.

Richard also took in the appearance of the surrounding neighborhood with an upturned lip. The place was poor, but it was also dirty and unkempt. The buildings were covered in graffitti and those without barred windows had broken panes. The snow had turned into a brown slush that covered the sidewalks. There was also a conspicuous lack of activity, which Richard had seen more than once in bad neighborhoods. It was the sign that the locals had smelled 'cop' and had decided to go to ground till the predators passed through.

Richard turned back to Hotaru's car, where she stood, her coat drifting slightly in the wind. "You were right. This place is damn creepy."

Hotaru nodded in agreement, and pointed with a gloved hand over to Mitsugi's van. "How are your teams doing with their set up?"

"They look like they're doing okay. The more sensitive detectors take more time to calibrate, and I think that we're going to want a really good reading off of this place."

Motioning to Hotaru to follow him, he walked over to the van while he watched Mitsugi connecting cables to the monitors in the back. Two or three technicians worked on the placing the heavy antennae posts in place in a circle around the arson site.

They were funny looking things, Hotaru thought, gazing at the sturdy little platforms. About a meter tall tube, with a battery and transmitter at the tripod base, they had an intricate spool of wire wound around the core in a seemingly random spiral pattern. According to Richard and Mitsugi, the multiple sensors gave them the ability to create a three dimensional model of any magic patterns in their overlapping sensor area. The only real downside to the devices was their limited range. They were only good out to about a hundred meters, but they gave a very accurate picture.

Mitsugi looked over from his work with a grunt, typing a few commands into his keyboard, then nodding in satisfaction. Waving Hotaru and Richard over, he pointed to the monitor in front of him, where a three dimensional grid was layed out.

"Well," he said, cracking his knuckles. "The system is up and running. Now we just need to take the data sets. This stuff could take all day, so you guys might want to find something else to do for the next five hours or so."

"Hmmm," Richard said, rubbing his chin and turning to Hotaru. "Is there anything that we should check up on related to this case?"

"There is one thing," Hotaru responded softly. "I happen to think that a few murders over the last few weeks might have been connected to this, although the police are a little sceptical. Maybe if we could check out the medical examiner's office. Especially if you bring some of your portable detectors and see what your machines think."

"Sounds like a good idea," Richard said, giving the nearby crewman a crazy look. "Corpses anyone?"

"Uh, I Think I'll pass on that one sir," the man responded warily. "We have plenty of work to do here."

Richard looked downcast, and gave a little sigh and looked over to Hotaru. "Oh well, guess we'll just have to do this one ourselves."

"That's okay," Hotaru responded. "I somehow don't think that the dead people are going to mind."

January 3, 3004 09:20

The Jungle district Medical Examiner was an energetic young man in his thirties named Hijo, who obviously recognized Hotaru, and walked over to embrace her whole heartedly. Richard was stunned by his appearance, a short whirling dirvish of lab coat and tweed pants. Taking into account Richard's surprise, he bowed to the stunned man, smiling.

"He's just like that," Hotaru said as Hijo walked out of the room to get the keys to the morgue. "He tends to be very open with others, and he sees me fairly often. Maybe it's working with the dead so much. They don't talk back very much."

Hijo bustled back into the room and led them cheerfully back into the freezer room. It was a vast vault of stainless steel, the drawers marked with identifying plates. After pulling out the first drawer and drawing back the plastic. Richard inhaled and his lips involuntarily barred his teeth in a snarl, cold fire dancing up and down his spine.

The remnants of the man before him had been burned badly, third degree over most of his body and the smell, though duller than it must have been earlier made his stomach curdle. The lips of the man were curled back, and almost all of his features charred and obscured by the damage.

"Yes, this gentleman," Hijo said cheerfully, marking off something on a clipboard he'd picked up in his office. "We were able to identify him as one Sato Takeda, apparently a well known Yakuza thug, wanted for possession and assault. Nasty fellow he was."

Hotaru nodded her agreement. "We were able to determine that he was not killed by the flames, but what exactly the cause of death was is still pretty uncertain."

"Actually Ms. Tomoe, I've managed to locate the cause of the problem," Hijo said, putting a pair of gloves on and leaning over the cadaver, pointing to its neck. "I was able to locate some damage to his throat that the primary examiner misssed. The night shift can get sloppy you see."

"Uh, I see," Richard said, putting on his most stoic face. "What, uh, really caused his death?"

"He was stabbed through the throat and bled to death," The examiner said. "While he was burned alive. By all rights he shouldn't have even been alive to get stabbed, but he was."

"Well, thank you sir," Richard said. "Is it alright if I do some scans on the body here? I don't need to move him or anything."

Hijo looked at Hotaru, who nodded. With a shrug he walked back into his office, telling them to seal up the body when they were done.

Hotaru watched as Richard took a sensor out of his duffle bag an began to run it over the body with practiced care.

"Does dealing with dead people ever bother you?" Richard asked quietly as he continued to scan.

"Never has," Hotaru responded. Her eyes grew unfocused "I guess death is an old companion of mine."

Richard stopped his scan for a second and gave her a measuring look. "Death had followed me around a bit too. I honestly don't know just what I think of it, but I don't think that I'm scared of it. It still feels a little strange to be around it. Take this poor guy for example. He freaks the hell out of me."

"That strangeness never goes away," Hotaru said, with a wry smile. "You can appreciate entropy, but it's pretty much impossible to be friends with it. After all, it wouldn't be much fun at tea parties."

Richard looked at her for a moment and then started to chuckle. His laughing abruptly turned into a curse as he felt his uneasiness jump through the roof. He could feel the air beginning to crackle around him. Hotaru felt something also, although less distinct. Her hand gripping her transformation pen, she narrowed her eyes, looking around the morgue.

Yet the silence was complete. There was nothing there. Richard drew his pistols with a snarl pointing them both vertically, and looking over to Hotaru. She made eye contact and nodded. A muttered phrase and flash of violet light later, she stood as Sailor Saturn, her glaive balance lightly in her hands. Richard's expression of shock at her transformation was one that Hotaru would treasure for some time to come.

Richard saw her dressed in her fuku and the purple light dancing around her. More than that though, he could feel her power now, a living breathing presence that whispered around him. Richard was not a man given to a whole lot of sentimentality, but it was like seeing an angel given mortal form. Yet even her presence could not drown out the negative feeling around him. It was as though some kind of pressure was building up in the room, and he had to resist the urge to try to pop his ears.

Lowering his pistols slightly he waited for the other shoe to drop. It didn't. After about thirty seconds he was beginning to feel a little silly. After all they were alone in a morgue, what the heck would be in a morgue anyway? After all they were surrounded by dead people... Then the realization hit him like a hammer to the head. He began to turn back to the cadaver when a claw like hand shot out and grabbed his arm.

The body on the shelf exploded into action, leaping up onto the table and hurling him to the ground. The impact was so jarring that the wind was knocked out of him. The horrible mockery of a man stood over him, but instead of blank eye sockets, the face of the body blazed with an unnatural fire. Staring into the creature's burning face for a second he thought that he was going to join most of the other people in this building until a shining glaive smashed into the chest of the creature, sending it sprawling.

Leaping up on the table Hotaru flipped and brought her spear down on where the creature had been, but it was fast. Hotaru's overhand strike caused the floor to buckle and crack. Rolling out of the way with an unnatural grace, it rose to its feet and lunged for Hotaru, only to be knocked out of the air by a half dozen bullets slamming into its chest.

Richard's pistols were smoking in his hands as he lay on the floor, the barrels pointing at the creature's chest. The cadaver landed deftly on its feet, red light seeped from where Richard's bullets and the Silence Glaive had pierced it. With a crackling roar, the beast prepared to lunge again, flames beginning to wreathe its hands. As the beast prepared to lunge at him, Richard rolled to the side and his feet. Fast as he was, he wasn't fast enough. He had only risen to his knees as the creature barreled towards him, bringing back its fist for a burning left hook.

Hotaru pointed her glaive at the creature, violet light crackling around it, but she didn't have a clear shot. Just as the creature reached him, Richard looked up into its face and a roar of pure hatred echoed through the room. As the fist descended on him, time seemed to slow for an instant, and Hotaru looked on in shock. The fist which was moving at an incredible rate stopped as though it had hit a wall in front of Richard.

On his chest the silver cross began to glow with a blue light. The creature recoiled in surprise, bouncing off of the invisible barrier. Turning its bounce into a sommersault, it landed with one burning hand planted on the metal floor in front of it. Hotaru let loose, violet bolts of energy ripping into it, as Richard released another stream of bullets.

Their combined efforts slammed the being into the far wall, and it collapsed, a lifeless marionnette once more. Richard finished standing up, his aim never wavering from the creature. He walked over slowly, holstering one of his guns and pulling a strange looking knife from his belt. It was curved and the color of unpolished obsidian, as though it gathered all of the light that dared to touch it. With a precise motion Richard stabbed it into the chest of the creature, where its heart would have been. The corpse twitched once and stopped moving.

Hotaru looked at Richard as he stood over the corpse whispering something. Suspicions warred with curiosity as she watched him working. Her intuition told her it might not be a good idea to interrupt him anyway. Then she felt the twist in aura of the room, almost as if something had been restored, or taken away. Richard gently pulled the knife from the body of the corpse and stood up, crossing himself.

"...In nomine Dei," he finished, taking out a hankerchief and wiping the mess off of his blade. He turned to look at Hotaru with a tense lopsided grin.

"I hate zombies."

Richard knealt on the ground looking at the readings that he had managed to get off of the body before it had become animated. It was pretty disturbing. The aura looked almost like an otherworldly creature, but it was not like anything that he had ever seen before.

Hijo had been quite upset when he had walked in after hearing all of the ruckus. Since it had lasted for about a minute it was fairly hard for him to believe that a corpse had magically decided it wanted to kill whoever was in the room with him. Richard figured that he would really have been in trouble if Hotaru hadn't been there to calm the man down.

On further reflection, he would probably be a dead man if Hotaru hadn't been there to get his rear out of the fire. He looked down at his hands and watched them shaking of their own accord. Shaking them he tried to calm himself down, but it was really hard. He had never had to fight something like that before. Whatever it was, it didn't seem to like exorcism, so he knew at least that would work if he ever ran into more of them, but that was cold comfort. To do a proper exorcism the thing had to be immobilised first.

Hotaru finished helping Hijo lift the corpse back onto its plinth, and slid the thing back into its cubbyhole. With another few apologies to Hijo, she walked over to where Richard was kneeling, looking at him with concern. He had hardly moved since ending the fight, and she had a million questions for him. He looked up at her as she approached and rubbed a hand through his hair.

"Are you alright?" she asked carefully.

"" he responded with a little chuckle. "A possessed corpse tried to kill me with his bare hands and almost succeeded."

"Okay," Hotaru admitted with a smile. "Unfair question. How were you able to stop it when it came for you like that?"

Richard looked away for a moment, and Hotaru almost thought that he wasn't going to respond, when he started talking. "I guess I should explain that, since you're the ones who run this place. Don't want to get unnecessarily arrested."

He gave his cross a wan smile. "My Mother was...special. Even in the pre-Armageddon world she was able to work magic. Pretty funny because she was a devout Christian as well. Heh, irony and all that."

"Well anyway, when I was young she gave me this cross," he said holding the siver cross in his hand carefully. "Told me that as long as I had faith, it would protect me from bad things. At the time I was just a kid and thought she meant the monsters under my bed, but I think that it's much more than that. Ever since the Armageddon incident the cross seems to have grown more powerful, but I don't really know how much."

He paused for a moment and looked deeply into Hotaru's eyes. "I've seen evil Hotaru. Bad things that creep in the night, especially since I started this investigation work. I don't really know what she or God did to this thing, but whatever it is those bastards are scared shitless by it, even though she's gone."

Hotaru looked at him with a sad look. "I'm sorry."

"Don't have to be," he said with a distant little smile. "She's one person that I know is in a better place or on her way to being reincarnated. Even though she could drive me crazy sometimes."

"Then I wish her luck," Hotaru said. "Just one more question. What did you do to it? I've never seen anything like that before."

"Oh, that. I performed an exorcism on the thing. Most possessed beings rely on an imbalance to stay where they are, whether artificial or natural. I just balanced the equation again. Poof, no more niche for mister demon."

Hotaru nodded, taking in his assessment. "Makes a lot of sense. I would have just annhilated the body though. Probably would have been easier."

"Yeah," Richard said with a laugh. "Well the next time I have the power to destroy the planet, I probably will too."

Richard watched as Hotaru blanched, and he drew back in surprise. "You mean you actually can blow up the planet?! Shit, that was a joke!"

"Um... well," she temporized. "I...sort of can."

Richard drooped and looked at her with an exhausted expression. "Well hell. What a morning. I hope things aren't always this, hmm, interesting around the Senshi."

Hotaru walked over to him and put her hand on his shoulder, patting him lightly. "Don't worry, I'll look after you."

Richard smiled. "That's a first."

Hotaru lifted her eyebrow in question.

"First time that anyone said they'd look after me instead of vice-versa. Its a weird feeling."

"Well, its what we're here for," Hotaru said offering him a hand. Richard grabbed it and hauled himself up. Straightening his coat, and tying his hair back again he gave Hotaru a nod.

They drove to the other morgues and checked out the other bodies, scanning them very carefully, but there were no other incidents. Richard performed exorcisms on each of them just in case, and one or two manifest similar feelings of shifting that the first had, but none of them sprang to life. The puzzling thing about it was that there seemed to be no real reason for one of them to spring to life as opposed to the others.

"What do you think of all this?" Richard asked as they were driving back to meet up with Mitsugi and his team. It had taken them the better part of the day to track down all of the bodies and they were both fairly tired.

"I think that we're not seeing something here," she replied. "I mean there should be some kind of reason behind the incident. I wonder if the first subject just had a higher sensitivity to demons."

"It would make sense if he were alive," Richard admitted. "But the thing is, he's not. Whatever makes some people more sensitive than others should be linked to that."

"Why is that a necessity?" Hotaru asked pointedly. "I don't really know, and I think that's our problem. We just don't have any leads."

"Yet," Richard countered. "There is still plenty of stuff to do. First of all we have to analyse the readings that we took off of those dead people and what Mitsugi has done."

Hotaru nodded with a grimace. They pulled in front of the resturant and she put the car in park, turning off the engine. They got out of the vehicle and walked over to where the van was parked. Knocking on the door, he gave Hotaru a little smirk.

"Caine Pizza Delivery," he said loudly. "You orderded the pepperonni and anchovies with extra crazy right?"

Richard smiled as it was opened from the inside. Mitsugi looked down at them from his impressive height, twirling a pen through his massive fingers. "Actually I orderd the artichocke and lemon pie with a heaping pile of sarcasm. Sorry."

"Drat," Richard said with a downcast expression.

"I expected you guys a little earlier. What was the hold up?"

"Got held up by a Case 3," Richard said with a shrug. "Hotaru here saved my bacon over there."

Mitsugi nodded sagely, but with a look of interest. "Fucking zombies."

"Amen," Richard said, jumping into the van and giving Hotaru his hand. She took it and jumped into the van as well. Seeing as she was looking at the floor, she missed the veiled look that Mitsugi shot the both of them. With a sigh Mitsugi turned around and pointed at the screen.

"We took the readings here, which is partially why I wasn't too surprised that you were held up. I wasn't expecting anything as bad as a possessed, but then again this stuff is weird. No, scratch that. I've never heard of anything like this before."

"To be fair," Richard countered. "This is a pretty new area that we're working in. Surprises are part of the game."

"Yeah well not like this they're not. This pattern has absolutely no resemblance to anything I've seen before. I mean, at the most basic level if a normal aura goes right this thing goes left. Its that bad. Anyway, I'm curious. What happened with you two?"

Hotaru spoke of what she and Richard had discovered. As the crew listened to Hotaru's retelling of their discovery of the zombie they grew even more tense and focused. As she finished her report she frowned and crossed her arms deep in thought

Richard and Hotaru frowned at this, considering. Hotaru finally looked up from the screen that Mitsugi had gestured to. "Well, I think that we should compare readings from the morgue to that thing. If they're similar, and I have a hunch that they are, we've got a lot of work ahead of us gentlemen."

The crewmen, Mitsugi and Richard could only look on and nod in agreement with her thoughts.

End Part 1 Inquisition and Revolutions

Author's Notes:

Well, I think that my first Fan-Fiction is off to a decent start here. Will Richard and Hotaru find the source of the mysterious deaths? Will Mitsugi, Richard and the Inquisiton turn on the Sailor Senshi? Will Hotaru turn into a pumpkin and dance in circles? Will Strike Fiss even let me publish this? Will the author ever stop this nonsense with the questions?

You'll just have to tune in next time to (dramatic drumroll)
Sailor Moon Omoi: Inquisition: Inferno


Six things to do in Tokyo involving guns, burning and hot chicks!

"The world is made of Love and Peace"
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Original concepts and characters Copyright William Lamar Wells, Caine Industries, January 2005. Other content belongs to T.L Webb and Strike Fiss. Sailor Moon and all characters derived from the manga or anime series are property of Naoko Takeuchi's wonderful employers. If they so desire, this will be taken down immediately.

So It is Written.

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All Rights Reserved.

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Sailor Moon Omoi: Inquisition


Part II

"We can understand nothing of God's works unless we accept the principal that he wished to blind some and enlighten others."

-Pascal, Pensees

Chapter 5 Inferno Gate/Gruntwork

January 3, 3004 22:00 hours

Yen Ti sat by himself, dressed in crimson silk pants and shirt, legs folded in a full lotus position and his eyes closed. The room which he was inhabiting was by most standards plain, but well designed. The classical Japanese architecture was about the only pleasing thing that he found about this miserable island, and so he indulged himself a little when choosing where to live.

The small house had rice paper interior walls and hardwood floors. Several oil lamps cast a soft light around the room, bathing the entire area with their golden glow. When he had requested this as his living quarters, Nakamura had agreed, although with a little skepitcism. After all, if everything went according to plan, the entire island would go up in flames. Still, there were things that were worth preserving.

In his current state, he was far to weak to truly put his plan into action and it irked him that he had been forced to turn to Yi in order to put his plans into action. The man, though powerful, was also unpredictable and dangerous. He had once been the ruler of an entire kingdom won by his own ingenuity. Yen knew better than to underestimate his 'ally'.

Yen himself had wanted little to do with Yi, especially the first time that he had escaped from this island. Then his brother had banished him once more, despite his cunning and trechary. He had caused almost half of his brother's retainers to turn on their master, and with his own power and surprise on their side, he had figured that it would have been a fairly easy thing to do. That had turned out not to be the case.

Somehow his brother had gained wind of the planned coup had turned the tables on him. When it came time to spring the trap, the crafty bastard had put all of the disloyal retainers together and they had been slaughtered with ease. In the chaos, his brother had caught him and after another severe beating had tossed him back to Japan, weakened and crippled. Even after so long, he could feel the injuries that had been inflicted, for they cut the very soul, and such injuries do not heal quickly.

Now he vowed that there would not be a third banishment. This time it was all or nothing, which was why he had enlisted Yi. The archer had many more contacts among the humans than he had ever had, and now those contacts were paying off. The two of them had united the feuding Yakuza clans in one night of bloodshed that would go down in the history books, were books ever to be written about such scum.

All ten family heads and their most loyal retainers, all in one spot and all vaporized in seconds, with the police none the wiser. Oh, they had poked and prodded at the ruins, but it was clear that they had no idea what had caused it. Fools. It was best that they were not involved anyway. They could have been quite the nusance.

Then there were these Senshi. Damned women, what did they think they were doing running a country? They should have let their husbands handle it. Yen had barely repressed his shock upon discovering their rise to ascendence during his long sleep. Of course he knew of the civilizations that had once flourished throughout the solar system. He had actively hated them in fact. It had given him a great deal of joy to learn that Serenity's great experiment had failed so miserably.

He had thought them entirely destroyed in the surprise assault on Serenity's palace, yet here they were. The last remnants of a dead civilization, poising themselves to create it once more. It would not have really bothered Yen, had they not been in a position to block his attempt at power. As such, they were probably the greatest threat to his plans.

Yen opened his eyes and rose to his feet. He was not at all sure whether they would catch on to his plans. He knew that direct confrontation with the Senshi was probably the fastest way for him to die the Final Death which all of his kind feared. Even the Destroyer of Eternities had fallen before them, and he was not even a mote compared to that monster. However, his area of operations was one that the Senshi did not frequent, nor their meddlesome internal security. Secrecy was his greatest asset now, and he intended to preserve that as best as he was able.

Despite his planning however, he felt a sense of unease grip him. His ties to the sacrifices had been severed today, and with those ties had gone the power that had been given to him. On top of that his pet had been killed, which was no mean feat, although it could have been an accident. Yen was not willing to take that chance though.

He needed to meet with Yi soon. He would need to speak to him about the sacrifices, for he knew that something was amiss, and he suspected the meddlesome Senshi might be involved. Also their grip upon the Yakuza clans was still solidifying. Besides, they had to take great pains to make it appear as though there were still disparate factions among the familes, and that meant stirring up the flames of competition.

Yen smiled a slow and ugly smile. He was very good at stirring up flames. After all, it was his job. He walked out of his room and out into the cold of the street, the lamps going out one at a time as he passed them by. Standing in the cold he was surrounded by a sheen of steam and ice crystals that seemed to condense out of thin air. Or it could have just been a trick of the street light, for like many things about Yen, it was insubstantial.

January 4, 3004 01:20 hours

He stood in a sea of flame. It consumed everything but yet there was no pain. Everywhere he looked there was burning, writhing fire, his eyes straining to see through the intense red light that surrounded him. His effort was beginning to pay off though, and his environment became clearer.

He stood on the precipice of a mountain, looking down into the heart of Tokyo. He could see everything from the Crystal Palace to his own office building burning, choking the sky with clouds of toxic ashes. He watched as people ran through the streets, burning alive, their skin and hair melting as it was caressed by the inferno.

It was then that the screaming started. That was more horrible than any of the visual input, more than the smell of burnt plastic and over cooked meat. It was as though he were listening to the entire city scream in agony all at once.

Falling to his knees on the rocky ground he curled up, closing his eyes to block out the sight and covering his ears to block out the sound, yet it did not help. The interior of his brain was wracked with agony as the sound reverberated in his skull. He thought that he would die from the pain of it.

Then it stopped. Blessed silence descended upon him, and he slowly uncovered his ears.

?You can see it, can?t you Caine?? a soft voice asked him. The burning city was quickly fading into a great darkness that seemed to envelop him. ?The city is burning.?

?Who are you?? he asked standing up slowly and looking around. He tried to make out any shape or form in the darkness around him, but it was impossible.

?Not for you to know, Richard Caine,? the voice continued. ?It should be enough for you that we care greatly about your welfare.?

?Yes, indeed we do,? the voice spoke, but this time Richard swore it was from another direction.

?It is here that you were brought in order to see what occurs before you,? said the first voice. ?There are many who would greatly desire to see what we have given you.?

?And what is that, a glimpse of the future?? Richard asked, turning around in circles within the darkness.

Ethereal laughter echoed in the emptiness. ?No, we show you something far more important that the future. We show you the now.?

?Yes, the now,? continued yet another voice. ?Do you not appreciate it Caine??

?Why should I?? Caine retorted. ?I don?t even know what you are, or why I should trust you.?

?We simply are, Richard Caine,? the voice countered. ?You were not even our concern, at least until one who was close to you requested our service. Much we owe to them, so we in turn give service to you.?

?Who would that be?? Richard asked. ?I do not traffic with daemons, nor do my associates. In fact, I banish your kind for a living.?

The voices were silent, and for a moment Richard wondered whether they were thinking, or had simply left. Then he heard it, echoing from the depths of the dark plain. Laughter. Incredible, terrible laughter.

?We somehow doubt that you could have the strength to banish us nor are we daemons,? the voices said, this time in unison. ?You do not even know what we are, do you not? And we will not give you our name, for we are not so foolish as that.?

?Then I suppose we have nothing more to discuss,? Richard said to the darkness. ?Release me then.?

?This is not the first time that we have gone unrecognized for our charity,? the darkness said. ?But perhaps it is for the best. However, we have a duty to fulfill. It matters not that you trust us, but only that we do what we are asked.?

?Indeed,? a hissing voice replied. ?Let us give him a reminder to keep fresh in his mind of the obstacle that he must face. Let us show him the truth of what lies beneath the surface of his world.?

Richard suddenly felt the vision coming back full force, as the darkness slowly drifted away, revealing the burning image of the city. The screams and smells were just as vivid, but he had prepared himself, and the effect wasn?t quite as painful. This time he floated above it all, and looked down into the heart of the city where he could see that the flames were moving in a pattern. It took him a moment to understand how the fire was moving, but soon he realized that the entire inferno was swirling in towards itself like a hurricane. He strained his eyes to see exactly where the center was, but just as he had begun to focus on the target, he suddenly felt himself begin to fall towards it.

Terrified, Richard tried to stay aloft, but he was unable to. As he hurtled towards the ground, he heard the voices once more whisper to him.


Richard sat bolt upright in his bed, sweat covering his body, his heart pounding so hard he thought that it was trying to escape from his chest. After a few minutes of trying to calm himself down, his breathing settled.

What a strange nightmare. He had never had a dream that was so coherent before. The presence of those? things was almost overwhelming. Which inclined him to think that it wasn't really a dream at all. He wiped his face with his hands trying to clear his mind. He looked over at the clock with a grimace. One in the morning. Shit. He sat up and swung his legs out onto the floor. He wasn't going to get anymore sleep tonight anyway.

In the dream, a young woman with wavy red hair, which reached past her shoulders, sat in the darkness, lying against something that no eye could see, and yet remained supported. She was not exactly thin but she was fit, and waspishly curvy. She was dressed in a loose robe of red silk. Her pale, nearly pink skin showed on her face, her ankles and her wrists, but nowhere else.

She looked far away into the distance, her cold blue eyes without any kind of emotion. ?Did you do as you were told??

?Yes,? the emptiness replied.

?Good, then we have done all we can for him,? she said. ?He will be important in the coming times.?

?We have done all we can,? the emptiness agreed. ?Only time can show us what he is capable of, and if he will do what must be done.?

?Oh, I have no worries,? she said lightly. ?Remember that he is a Caine. They are notorious for their stubborn tenacity, and their relentlessness.?

?Indeed,? the voice remarked. ?You remind us of it incessantly.?

The young woman laughed. ?You sound annoyed with me, my old friend.?

??You can be a frustrating creature,? the voice said after a slight pause.

?Just as well that I am, or else you would not be so intrigued by me.? The young woman stood up in the darkness and cocked her head to the side, her red hair framing her features. ?But for now, we have other work to do.?

With a clap of her hands, the young woman was enveloped by the darkness, and inky blackness crawling up her skin inch by inch until finally she faded into the night.

January 4 3004, 07:30

Mitsugi walked into his office, his eyes nearly glued shut. He had not had a very pleasant evening. The damn neighbors had been playing their music quite loudly until about 2:00 in the morning, and it was really getting on his nerves. The temptation to punch his sword through the drywall was growing in strength. Maybe he should contact his superintendent about this.

He placed his coffee on his desk, next to his blotter, and put his sword case down, leaning against the far corner of the room. He was just about to turn around and sit down when he heard someone clear his voice behind him.

He jumped and whirled around in surprise. Richard had to admit it was rather impressive to watch a guy who was about six and a half feet tall jump like that. Mitsugi glowered down at him with an impressive frown.

"How come you look so fresh?" Mitsugi asked.

Richard laughed at his old friend's gruff tone. Mitsugi had never been a morning person. "Because _I've_ been here since about three in the morning. Had a dream and I couldn't sleep."

Mitsugi bobbed his head once and went behind his desk. Putting his feet up and leaning back in his huge chair. "That sucks. Well, since you've been here since three, how about you get me up to speed."

Richard nodded. "Well Hotaru and I are going to take a few of the crew down and look for any suspicious arsons in the last few months. You know, things that would slip below the radar. Also, I got word from the U.S. that the Caine Survey's magnetic detection satellites will be up and running soon. You know what that means."

Mitsugi gave him a feral grin. "It means that we're going to have satellites that can track things on the ground."

"With accuracy," Richard said, also breaking into a smile. "In about two weeks we'll be able to get within a quarter mile of our targets. Since this guy is so strange, I think we might even be able to do better than that."

"Nice," Mitsugi said. "How about any other business?"

"Well, we got a few calls for some minor clean ups and such. Mostly minor possessions and annoying spirits. Mage activity is pretty much null over here so far. Wonder if the Senshi have caused them to go to ground."

"Probably not a bad theory," Mitsugi mused, taking his feet off of his desk. "But at any rate we have our hands full with this arson case."

A knock at the door distracted both of them, and Mitsugi shouted to whoever they were to come on in. A young and distracted looking man walked in and bowed. Mitsugi nodded in acknowledgement and gestured with his hand.

"Sir, we have the results from the tests taken yesterday," the man said. "I think that you might want to take a look at it yourself."

Mitsugi and Richard looked at each other with raised eyebrows. Interesting.

" you see sir, it's really a dead match," the technician continued. "All of the patterns are almost identical."

The three of them stood in front of a very large and detailed monitor that displayed the patterns in an overlapping format. Indeed the tech was not exaggerating. They were pretty much identical, save for the slight warping that indicated different spell usage.

"Well crud," Mitsugi observed. "Not that this was unexpected, but what do you want to do now?"

"I think that checking out the arsons would probably be a very good idea," Richard replied. The technician nodded in agreement.

"Sir, if I may say so, I think that it would be a good idea," the technician ventured. "These patterns, well, I've never seen anything like them, from any of the information that was gathered in the States. Heck, they don't even look like what we gathered from the Senshi sir."

Richard looked at the tech and Mitsugi and gave a sigh. "Well, guess its time to do some gruntwork."

January 4 3004, 09:00

He was in trouble. A lot of trouble, in fact. Richard realized this as soon as he tried to walk through the metal detectors in the front lobby of the Internal Security building. He had been in such a hurry to get the results to Hotaru that he had completely forgotten just how well armed he was. The blaring sound of the metal detector had reminded him just in time to get himself in a rather awkward position.

"Don't move or I'll shoot!" the young officer warned him, his automatic trained on Richard's chest. The other three officers seemed to be itching for an incident too. Richard held his hands above his head, well away from his guns. And knives. And various other hurty things.

The three other Caine Securities people had walked through the gate without incident, being analysts they had no need for weaponry. They watched the event unfold with a great deal of concern. One of them decided to take action, and sprinted off down the hallway, accidentally running into the person he was looking for.

"Please officer," Richard said. "If you'll let me explain, I was here to have a meeting with..."

"Quiet!" the policeman snapped. He motioned to the two other men, and they circled around behind him. "You have the right to remain silent. Anything that you say can and will be..."

"What is this?!" snarled a soprano voice, and the policeman trailed off in confusion, risking a darting glance over his shoulder.

To see a rather pissed off looking Hotaru Tomoe barreling straight for him being trailed by a nervous looking analyst.

"Uh ma'am we have an unidentified intruder who is well armed and dangerous."

She rolled her eyes and looked over at Richard. "You seem to have a Senshi's talent for getting into messes!"

"Sorry," he said mildly, giving her a sheepish grin. "I kind of forgot that I was carrying all of this..."

"Stow it," she said. "We'll talk later. For right now though, here I have something for you." She walked over to the policeman and handed him an I.D. card. "That belongs to him."

"Um, oh, er," the poor man stuttered. "I'm sorry Special Investigator Caine. I didn't know."

"Can I put my hands down now?" he asked sincerely. The officers nodded and put their weapons away. He gave a tired smile as he walked up to the officer, and the man handed him the badge.

"Sorry to inconvenience you sir," the young man said, examining his feet.

Richard laughed. "No harm done, you were doing your job and doing it well. For what its worth, I would have arrested me too."

Hotaru motioned to the analysts and sent them down to the records facility. She turned to Richard with a sour expression and nodded towards her office. Hotaru beckoned to him with an annoyed look and he followed, cowed by his recent experience. As they wound through the corridors to her office Hotaru kept up her frown, but as soon as they walked in through her threshold she burst into laughter. Richard was not so amused.

"You...should have seen yourself," she gasped between giggles. "You looked like a fish surrounded by sharks. Dare I say...panicky!"

This caused her to devolve into even more laughter. He looked at her, his lip twitching and waited for her to finish. Finally the laughing died down.

"Sorry," she apologized. "Had a late night. Still a little loopy from my sleep deprivation. Guess that's something that Chris and I have in common."

"Seems like everyone had a late night," he remarked. "What is it with you people and insomnia?"

"Holdovers," Hotaru replied. "When you fight crime all night and go to school all day, you get used to no sleep."

Richard nodded with a little grin. "So what is this about me being a Special Investigator? I mean, I'm glad you saved me from the humiliation of a strip search, but my curiosity is aching to know."

"Oh that," she waved her and airily. "It was just something that I cooked up to allow you to carry weapons. Rei wasn't too happy about it, but she saw the necessity after yesterday's incident. I mean, you know how strict our policy on personal weapons is. It's been that way ever since the fall of the samurai."

"Well thanks," he said, giving her a little bow. "I owe you one."

She smiled back at him. "I'll remember you said that."

As Richard briefed her on all of the things that he had discovered, most importantly the similarity of the fields surrounding the homicide victims and the building, her good humor faded and she became impassive. The two of them went down into the Police Archive system and began to sift through the massive stacks of reports that the archivist had flagged for them.

They spent the rest of the day going through old arson records, starting from about a year ago and moving forward. The reports themselves were interesting, but usually not very productive. Also, ever since the Senshi had risen to power four years ago, the number of arson cases had shot through the roof. It was a draining task, for they were sifting sand looking for gold. The tiniest details could be the most important.

Despite this, however, they moved at a breakneck speed. They were both so focused on the task at hand that they worked through lunch and almost through dinner. Despite the difficulty of the work, they had managed to work through the last three months of arson reports with a fine-tooth comb. Richard had sent the analysts home at five, figuring that they needed a break. It was when Richard looked at the clock and it read seven o'clock that they decided they had to stop or they would likely go insane.

"Well son of a bitch," Richard said without much feeling. "I guess that's all for today."

"Yes," Hotaru said, rubbing her eyes. "Three months is my limit for one day."

Richard gave her a grin and stretched out, easing the kinks out of his body. "Heck, I was shooting for four months, but it seems as though people in Japan have been pretty burn happy lately."

"Tell me about it," Hotaru mumbled. "It's been driving everyone crazy, but Rei most of all. I think she takes it too personally."

"That's a shame," Richard said standing up and bending over to plant his hands on the ground. "But I guess it comes with the responsibility. I used to take everything personally, but now I hardly take anything personally. Sometimes I wonder what changed."

"Maybe you grew up," Hotaru said softly. "I guess we all need to eventually."

Richard noted her tone and stood straight once more. She seemed to be lost in thought, and he knew all about where that could lead. There was only one option left to him. Shock her out of it. "Hey, what are you doing for dinner tonight?"

"Uh, what?" she asked, shaking herself out of her funk.

"I just asked what you were doing for dinner tonight," he said, shaking his head at her.

Her cheeks colored slightly at the question. "I, uh, well nothing really."

"Then would you care to join me?" he asked with a friendly smile. "I think that neither of us really wants to go home yet after such a boring day."

"I don't know," she temporized, fiddling with one of the files.

"Think of it as cashing in the favor you did for me today," he said. "Anyplace you want, my treat."

"Sure, I suppose," she said slowly. "Where are we going?"

"Well," he replied, dragging out the syllables. "I don't really know any of the restaurants in the area, me being new here and living here for all of three days. Maybe you could show me around town?"

Hotaru thought for a moment, then a somewhat evil grin danced across her lips. "I think that I know juuust the place..."

Chapter 6

The Perks of Royalty/Harnessing Fools

"...are you sure that this is the place?" Richard asked his voice hushed with slight awe.

The sight before him was indeed an impressive one. The high celings were butressed with ornate wood carving in a Western European style. The d'ecor of the place was an amazing confluence of cultures. Japanese mixed with Chinese which in turn mixed with Europe in an elgant and very extravagant way.

Crystal chandeliers cast a glittering white light around the entire entryway in a prismatic display of flaunted wealth. The sheer scale of it almost blew Richard's mind. If the resturant itself was opulent, then the customers were even more so.

Furs and silks in all of the latest fashions from Paris to Hong Kong to New York. The obvious wealth of all the patrons was making Richard feel just a little underdressed. Despite their well made business atire, the two of them looked shabby in this place. The line in the foyer was also impressive, showing just how exclusive this resturant really was.

"I'm sure," Hotaru replied, a small tight smile gracing her features. She walked ahead with purpose in her stride, bypassing the line entirely. Richard had to hurry to keep up with her. He noticed the patrons staring at them with a various combination of surprise, amusement and contempt. He was becoming more and more irritated under such heavy gazes.

Hotaru completely ignored them and walked up to the desk where a young man in a tuxedo was writing in a massive appointment book. She rapped her hands on the desk and leaned forward just a little bit and grinned.

"Table for two please."

"Your reservation Madame?" the young man asked in a bored voice without looking up.

"Tomoe," she said. The man began flipping through his book and his lip curled slightly.

"I'm sorry Madame, but we have no openings and no reservations under that name."

"Oh," she whispered. "I think that you do."

It was then that the man looked up and realized what the rich patrons behind them had not. The look of surprise on his face was worth all of the scorn that they had to wade through to get to the desk. Richard almost thought that the boy's eyes would fall out of their sockets. He quickly waved down a waiter who was walking by.

"Oh, I'm so sorry Lady Saturn," he gushed. "I didn't realize it was you. Yoshiro! Come and take the Lady to her usual table please. Quickly now! They've wasted enough time this evening."

As the man babbled on, Richard glanced quickly over his shoulder at the assembled aristocarcy of Tokyo. Their expressions had quickly changed from one of contempt to one of awe, anger, or maybe even a few veiled glances of hate. Yet in all of them there was a common and basic emotion. Fear.

The waiter turned to look at them and bowed deeply. "I humbly apologize for my negligence my Lady."

"Its nothing, really," Hotaru said, giving an aristocratic air to her speech. "You are forgiven."

The man gave them a brilliant smile and bowed again, turning to his book as the waiter led them to the back and a private dining room. The waiter seated them in a small corner table. Richard stepped behind Hotaru's chair and pulled it out. She sat down with a grateful nod, and the waiter gave them their menus and water glasses and left with an unusual speed.

"Well," Richard said, sitting down comfortably in his chair. "That was an interesting display."

Hotaru gave a little laugh. "Well, I do like to keep people on their toes from time to time. Besides, sometimes those people need a reminder."

"A reminder of what?" Richard asked, quirking his eyebrow at Hotaru.

"Well, a lot of those charming individuals are coutiers at the Palace," she said, taking a sip of water from her glass. "They are ever so friendly in front of Mamoru and Usagi, but I know that a great many of them are ruthless and ambitious scum. If we were to ever grow weak, those jackals would turn on us in a heartbeat. I think that it pays from time to time to remind them of where the true power lies."

"So in essence," Richard said in a slow and measured tone. "You are teaching them just who's really in charge?"

"Exactly," Hotaru nodded.

"Well, pretty Machiavellian," Richard said with a shrug. "But far be it from me to stop you from teaching a lesson to the vultures by cutting in line at a fancy resturant just because you can."

Hotaru grimaced and winced a little at his acidic tone. "I guess I deserved that, didn't I?"

Richard picked up his glass and took a sip, examining it in the light as if it were a fine wine. He placed the glass down carefully and gave Hotaru a wide smile.


The dinner was probably one of the best that Richard had eaten in years, and the company was just as enjoyable. They swapped all kinds of stories from incidents in their teenage years to college stuff. It was amazing to Richard as he watched her when she talked. She would make the most interesting little hand gestures when she spoke, and her tone was lively and engaging. Oh yeah, and she was almost heart stoppingly attractive. That never hurt.

Hotaru for her part also enjoyed the meal, depite the fact that she ate here quite regularly. She would almost always eat alone, for she still enjoyed solitude as she always had at some level. But Richard was different somehow. He didn't ignore her like most people did. Even the most inane stories and topics saw him laughing right along with her.

So the evening passed away and saw them finishing off what had been a two hundred dollar bottle of wine. It was worth every penny.

"So how do the people here at the resturant know you so well?" Richard asked, waving in the direction of the kitchen.

"Well, I am an important individual in Usagi's government," she temporized, swirling the wine in her glass. "But the truth is I've come here since I was a kid. My father used to take me out to dinner once in a while and this was always the place."

"What is he doing now?" Richard asked. He nearly swallowed his tounge as he saw her expression darken, her violet eyes narrowing. There was an extremely uncomfortable pause.

"He's...dead," she said slowly, turning to look at her wine glass with an intense focus. "I, well, when I was a kid he used to take care of me. Heh. Well, he owned the house where I lived at least."

Richard watched her and listened intently, her voice containing such a bitter tone that it triggered all of his mental alarms. He thought she might have stopped there and was about to interject and change the subject, when she lifted her glass to the light, swirling the red liquid slowly.

"He was a biochemist and a good one at that," she said, her voice hushed. "We were very wealthy, but I didn't really get out much, at least not unless it was for school. I was a weak and frail little child. I also had the ability to heal myself whenever I was injured. Kind of neat, until kids began to beat me up just to prove that it was real."

Hotaru brought the wine glass to her lips and emptied it in one motion. "Well, my father was so busy with his experiments that he never spent any time with me. The bastard neglected me when my mother died, wrapping himself up in his work. I hated it so much. I felt like I was worthless and that I was a burden. I didn't even know enough to be as angry as I should have until later."

Hotaru put the glass down on the table with a careful fluid motion. "Then he sacrificed himself to save me. Talk about turning your world on its head. And now he's gone."

Richard reached out and put his index finger under Hotaru's chin and lifting her head to look her in the eye. Their gazes locked for a moment and she saw his smile and sad gaze.

"I'm sorry that he didn't appreciate you until the end," Richard said calmly. "I know how that can be. My father was pretty much the same way. He was very critical of all my work, constantly losing patience with my childish bumbling. He would never cut me a break, always pushing and prodding, expecting greater and greater performance. So one day I just snapped. I walked out the door and wandered for about a month after my twenty first birthday."

Richard's smile had disappeard by this point, and his eyes were distant. "I never got to see him or my mother alive again. About that time the New York Riots prior to Tumbler had occured, and it was a nasty sight. My parents were killed in broad daylight by a mob of bastards who wanted to punish anyone they could get their hands on. I never really knew whether or not my father just hated me, or whether he was just screwed up, but I'm inclined to think that the latter is more true, and this is why."

Richard drew one of his pistols from his shoulder harness and flipped it around placing in gently on the the table across from Hotaru. He pointed to the writing engraved upon the slide of the weapon in silvery letters.

"He gave these to me and my brother, and wrote his pet names for us on them," Richard said giving her a smile once more. "He gave it to me to allow me to protect myself and my family. He thought that it would be funny to call the weapons Thing 1 and Thing 2 in homage to the Cat in the Hat. I think it was his hope that I would be able to cause more mayhem than even those two put together."

Richard put the gun back in his underarm holster. "He told me that it was important to remember that the only real power that you have is violence, and that in the end it is the only thing that you can rely on."

"That thought can't be true," Hotaru objected softly. "Why do we fight otherwise?"

"Sure it is," Richard said. "Look at you, you're almost an angel of death and destruction as well as life. Why do so many of the Senshi's powers center on combat? Especially Sailor Moon. She is the avatar of love and justice, I suppose, but she still is backed up by a _hell_ of a lot of force. Besides, force is just that, force. It isn't good or bad, it just is."

Hotaru gave him a skeptical look.

"Well," Richard said leaning back in his chair. "I didn't say that I agreed with him all the way. Violence may be the only power that a man has over another, but somehow I don't think that force is the only thing in the universe that I can rely on. Call it... a hunch."

"All I know is this," Richard said with a little sigh. "My father gave me this weapon in order to allow me to protect myself and others. Despite his pettiness he has given me strength, drive, energy. So even though I still think he was a bastard, I love him anyway."

Hotaru's mouth quirked upwards in the ghost of a grin. "Thanks."

"Anytime, Hotaru," he said with a little grin. "Anytime..."

January 4, 3004 23:05

Yi was a very happy man at this moment. He was standing at the entrance of a smoke filled bar in the heart of the Jungle. One of his recent 'aquisitions' that he had garnered in the last few days. There were pool tables populated by drug dealers and alcoholics. Unhealthily thin prostitutes stood out front in their tawdry finery, beckoning to any who cast a glance their way. The place was dirty, the clientele were unsavory and the quality of the beer was poor. However, what the place lacked in ambiance it made up for in revenue. It was one of the primary heroine smuggling hubs in Tokyo, and probably in the top ten for all of Japan.

This was one of the crown jewels in the Yakuza treasure hoard, and it had given its previous managers an impressive bankroll. Yi now watched the money that would be flowing into his coffers. He took in the sights sounds and smells, and smiled at it all. The scent of urine and cheap beer flowed into his nostrils, but he could have cared less. To him it was the smell of the one thing that had mattered most to him. Power.

The amount of work that had to be done in order to secure this little empire was daunting, but Yi was enjoying every minute of it. It had been so long since he had to do anything of consequence. He had been inactive for so long, and he had almost forgotten the power that he had wielded in the age of legends and heroes so long ago. However it had returned to him with the force of a freight train.

Yi flexed his hands and motioned to the two guards who had followed him into the building. This place was one example of the petty difficulties he faced. Like many who had done well under the old system, the proprieters of this place had yet to fully accept his leadership, so he would make an example of them. When the mightiest of the challengers to the throne had been subdued, then he would be free to do what he wanted. It would be nice to be King once more, even if it was of the Underworld.

He strode towards the bar, his black suited companions following him, the dingy overhead lights reflecting from their mirrored sunglasses. Yi's entrance had not gone unnoticed by the various patrons, and most of them moved out of his way, many of the scrawnier and seedier people began to quietly file towards to door.

Only the hardest of the men and women remained. There must have been at least twelve of them, most likely armed to the teeth. The man who appeared to be in charge lounged behind the bar, wiping a glass with a greasy rag. He was ugly, and on top of that quite fat. Yi smiled to himself. It wasn't even fair.

"I'm here to speak with Katsumota," he said to the bartender. Yi's voice rumbled deeply, carrying to the far corners of the expansive room.

The bartender looked him up and down, unimpressed. "Aren't you going to introduce yourself?"

"I am Nakamura," he said, and gave the bartender a wide magnanimous smile. "And I own this wonderful establishment now. I wanted to talk to Katsumota concerning his, ah, rent."

The bartender stared at the strangely dressed man in shock, then he began to laugh, his belly shaking. "You must be joking. With old Ketsu dead, we're going into business for ourselves now. No man can just walk into here and tell us to pay up, even if you are Nakamura. What in the seven hells do you think you're doing here anyway? The stories I hear about you don't involve you being suicidal."

Yi stroked his beard thoughtfully. "Well, what if I were to offer you a rather good deal. Say, 10 percent."

"Are you deaf, idiot?" the bartender exploded. All around the room various thugs stood a little taller at the tone. "I told you, we don't work for anybody anymore. Ketsu is dead!"

"Consider me to be the heir to Ketsu's resources," Yi said with an expansive gesture. "Just think of me as the kind uncle that you never had. Now I won't give you the offer again. Would you accept 10 percent?"

The bartender's face became a most fascinating shade of violet and his hands began to shake with fury. With a grunt he waved his hands towards the corners of the room. A half dozen men walked out of the shadows, drawing knives and several guns and moved slowly towards the center of the bar where Yi stood.

Yi shook his finger at the bartender. "You should have given me 10 percent. I don't ask for much."

The bartender looked as though he would begin to curse at an intolerable volume, when Yi moved. It would be hard to describe exactly what it looked like, but the effect was something to the following. In one motion he leapt up onto a nearby table, a bow of ebony and ivory appearing in his hands from thin air, a quiver of arrows at his hip. The bow was long, almost two meters tall. The arrows, if one were close enough to observe them, were carved from the hardest oak, the tips glittering, cruely barbed steel. The thugs watched in amazement, their surprise giving Yi more time than he needed.

His fingers touched the bowstring and fired a half dozen arrows in the time that it takes most men to raise a gun and pull a trigger. Arrow followed arrow so quickly that it almost seemed as if the bowstring never ceased its motion. Each of the long shafts pierced an eye, bringing instant death to whomever they touched. In less than a second every man who had a projectile weapon was dead. The rest followed in the following second.

Yi's bodyguards drew their pistols and aimed them at the shell shocked face of the bartender, who blinked his eyes as though trying to clear them of the impossible feat he had just witnessed. Yi leapt down from the table and leaned over the bar.

Katsumota was completely unable to move as Yi moved closer, looking straight into his eyes. The bearded man raised one hand gently and gripped Katsumota by his prodigious jowls and pulled him forward effortlessly. The man quivered in terror, all other emotions fleeing his damned fleshy body before it was too late for them to escape.

"I warned you," Yi said. Katsumota could almost thought violet light glowed behind Yi's brown eyes as he spoke in hushed tones. "I am not an unfair man, but yet you chose to dispute my leadership. I'm afraid that there is only one thing that scum like you understand. Death. So that is the payment I give you Katsumota. You should thank me for giving you what you asked for."

He let go of Katsumota and began to stride away from him. The man fell back onto his barstool, still not fully comprehending what Yi had said to him. With one fluid motion, Yi turned around, drew an arrow and fired it, piercing the greasy man's heart. The arrow hurled the bartender with a speed beyond all reason into the wooden construction behind him, impaling him against the wall.

As the light consumed Katsumota's vision, it was almost as if he saw double. Before him stood the neatly dressed Yakuza, but also the same tall man in furs. The regal bearing, quiver, and bow remained the same, glowing with a kind of golden light in the rays of an unreal sun. The disgusting scent of the bar mixed with the smell of spring winds, the dimly lit pool hall with a rolling and green steppe.

It was with his dying breath that Katsumota truly came to grips with what he saw. Beyond all reason and sanity he found the truth. Standing before him was no man, not in any normal sense of the word. No, this was a god.

January 5, 3004 07:00

Mitsugi looked around the alley with amazement, trying to restrain the rolling in his gut. Before him were laid out sixteen corpses that had been murdered last night. It was an unusual size for a murder, especially in such an ordered country as Japan. Normally the deaths would have been chalked up to the recent gang warfare, but there was something unusual about these deaths, which had been the reason that they had been called in.

Every single one of them had been killed by an arrow. Not only that, but it looked as though the arrows had been fired at such an extreme velocity that they had nearly shattered their target's faces entirely. In almost every case, the arrow hand penetrated the skull enough to break through to the other side.

The police who had been working on the site since dawn this morning had recovered only one example of the weapon used, but it looked upon initial observation to be of exactly the same type. The arrow had been found, buried up to the fletchings in the corpse of a man who had been identified as the proprieter of one Lucky Drinks, a seedy poolhouse in the Jungle.

It was almost certain in the minds of both the Vice and Homicide divisions that this was gang related, but it was so unusual that they had called Hotaru, and she had asked him to come out with his analysis crew and do some scanning.

He couldn't blame her. This was one of the weirdest things that he had ever seen. To kill sixteen men with a bow and arrow in this day and age was nothing short of errie. With a tired sigh, he motioned to his work crew who came foreward to join him.

"Alright ladies and gentlemen, we need to go sweep this area with a fine tooth comb. All artifacts should be analysed, all forensic evidence taken into account. You know, the usual. Start with the area scans. I'll go take a look at what the P.D. has picked up. Everyone hop to it."

"Everyone in my neighborhood had left to vote. I have no feeling of fear--Allah has won."
-Umm Ali, Duhra, Iraq

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Sybil of the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy

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Thu Jan 20, 2005 12:52 pm
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Chapter 7 Surprise!/In Vino Veritas

January 6, 3004 17:50

It had been another grueling two days of looking through the piles of arson reports, but still Hotaru and Richard were no closer to finding any leads than they were before. The combination of the understaffed police agencies and the sheer number of incidents had proved to make their task nearly impossible.

After fruitlessly spending another twenty hours, both today and yesterday, Hotaru had called it quits, and had sent the analysts home in a frustrated mood. Now both them walked through the silent halls of the Department of the Interior, working their way back to Hotaru's office.

"I still don't understand," Hotaru said glumly. "All that work and we didn't even turn up a hint of our culprit."

"Yeah, well, maybe the guy is just that much slipperier than we thought he was," Richard said yawning. He had been working on the task since seven this morning, without a single break. "Or maybe he's new in town. I kind of think that's a possibility. For instance that murder that Mitsugi's investigating is something real strange."

"Mmmm," Hotaru assented, extending her arms into a stretch. "Oh well, maybe he'll turn up something that will help us with Mr. Torch the Bar."

Hotaru pulled out her keychain as the two of them approached her door, and she slowly moved to unlock it. Twisting the metal in the stubborn keyhole on her doorknob, she felt the tumblers click into position. She turned back to Richard with a grimace.

"The damn door keeps getting stuck," she said. "I should really get them to replace it sometime."

"Well," Richard said as she pushed the door open with a jab from her hip. "You are one of the closest to the Queen. Just pull rank."

"You know I hate that," she countered, walking into the dark office and tossing her keys onto the desk. Richard followed her in, stepping carefully. "I just wish that they would process requests a little more quickly. Is that too much to ask?"

Apparently it was, for at that moment, all hell broke loose. Suddenly there were lights and loud voices completely surrounding them in the office. The stunning swiftness of the commotion nearly caused Hotaru to jump out of her skin, but that wasn't the only thing.

One of the most interesting quirks that many people never realized about Richard Caine was that he was very high strung. Though he hid it behind a facade of an iron will and an unflappable exterior, he was quite prone to spastic intervals in which he would come completely unglued. His twitchy nervous system made him an excellent quick draw and his discipline made him an excellent pistol marksman, even though his eyesight was less than perfect.

However, this particular quality also had the annoying knack of surfacing at the most inconvenient times. For instance, at this moment in time the primitive reptilian brain which controlled his reflexes only felt one thing. Fear. And the response to fear was to kill it. Preferably very very quickly.

So it was that Richard found himself levelling his pistols at a rather startled looking bunch of Sailor Senshi dressed in party hats who were gathered around them in the room. Sailor Moon crossed her eyes as the barrel of a PPK pistol pointed right at her nose, her expression just as shocked as Hotaru or Richard's. She gulped audibly.


* * *

After a few moments of heart stopping terror, all of the rest of the people in the room had started laughing hysterically. Richard had not. It had taken him five minutes to recover from almost having blown away the soverign ruler of the country he was staying in. Once his nerves had settled, Richard had discovered that today was Hotaru's birthday, even though she had apparently forgotten about it.

Usagi, once she had shaken herself out of her shocked state, had promptly invited him to come to the party at the palace, even though he was not a close friend. She had muttered something about keeping her husband happy, and left it at that. Besides, even though he had almost shot her, she was the Queen and who was he to disagree?

The Crystal Palace was a sight to behold, even though it was still under construction. The dome reached into the heavens, completely encircling the main palace grounds. It displayed all of the glory that he thought it would, and he was surprised at just how well engineered it appeared to be. He wondered at the dome which reached for the sky, and how much it was powered by magic rather than conventional construction techniques.

The party was being held in the common room of the Outer Scout's suite, a luxurious room, but not nearly so ostentatious as the room in which he had dined with Hotaru not two days ago. There was a big table set up in the center of the room, but already the guests were clustered around the room in small groups making conversation.

Richard stood to one side, still trying to gather his thoughts and calm himself. Hotaru had been dragged off and the only other person here that he knew was Lady Hino and he didn't feel like talking to her anytime soon. She was a bit too intense for his taste.

So, instead he reflected on his position here. It was the second time since he had arrived in Japan that his life had been in dire danger. He was beginning to wonder whether he should just move back to the States and let some other Order Knight take care of watching over the Senshi. This country definitely seemed to have it in for him.

He was so engrossed in his thought that he failed to notice a pair of people who wandered up to him with curious looks in their eyes. He stood back against the wall looking at his hands, until a he heard a soft voice clear its throat.

Richard looked up with an embarrased jerk of his head and saw an attractive woman and a... man? The former was dressed in an aqua blue dress which matched her hair tones almost exactly. The man was a short haired blonde and dressed in a black suit that looked like it belonged on a general, complete with golden epaulets. The coat seemed to have every medal but the kitchen sink on it. Strangely though, there were no tour of duty bars.

"Welcome to the party sir," the woman said softly. "Our earlier introduction I'm sure did you very little justice. You seemed a little distracted at the time."

"Yes," the man said in a surprisingly high voice. "We all thought that your little display was, well, amusing, I suppose you could say."

Richard stood up straighter at their welcome and smiled a little weakly. "I, uh, I want to apologize for the almost killing Sailor Moon thing...It was really out of line. I'm sorry, but sometimes my nerves do get the better of me. My name is Richard Caine."

The willowy woman with the aqua hair, who was clinging to the arm of the man smiled gently. "Well, it really is okay, now that everything is settled. By the way, my name is Michiru, and this lovely lady is Haruka." Michiru extended her hand with a smile.

"Ah," he said, looking at her hand carefully, then taking it. At this point Richard's mind was racing, and by ducking his head to kiss her hand he managed to cover his surprise. He could have sworn Haruka was a man...maybe... He pressed Michiru's wrist to his lips, bowing before her. "Lady Neptune, I'm pleased to meet you. I'm surprised you're comfortable with our custom."

"Well of course Mister Caine," Michiru said after Richard released her hand. "It pays to study up on one's allys."

"Or enemies," Haruka said darkly, glowering at Richard. "That was a rather inventive twist on a handshake..."

"Oh do be quiet," Michiru scolded, snugging her arm even tighter to Haruka. "The poor dear does get rather jealous you see."

"Ah..." Richard said, at a complete loss for words. He had of course heard of the rather passionate relationship between Sailor Neptune and Uranus, but to see it was a whole new level of unnerving. Richard was just about to attempt speech again when Hotaru walked up, wearing a grimace and a party hat with equal grace.

"Hotaru, so good to see you enjoying yourself," Michiru said with a wide grin. "We had hoped that you would."

"Yeah," Haruka added, her grin far more mischevious. "We thought that a surprise party would help cheer you up a little. Kind of like New Years."

Richard, intrigued, turned to ask Hotaru about it, but as the grimace she had worn had transformed into a look of pure hatred, every male instinct in his body screamed at him to stay quiet. In fact, she was so irritated that Richard fancied he saw steam coming out of her ears.

"Well, they certainly are a matched set, don't you think dear?" Michiru asked demurely, surveying Richard and Hotaru levelly. "They are both such stunning conversationalists."

As neither Richard, nor Hotaru, had spoken for several seconds Haruka began to cackle at them. "And they are so cute together, what with the frantic looking around and weapon pointing. Too bad he isn't a girl. With that hair he'd be pretty good looking...."

Richard and Hotaru turned, almost as one and looked at each other, then turned back to look at the two troublemakers, then at each other again. They both blushed furiously, turning their gazes towards some interesting spots in the carpeted floor of the Outer Scout's suite.

"Well I'll be damned," Haruka said, both eyebrows lifting in surprise. "I think we just caught a nerve on that one dear!"

Michiru nodded with mock seriousness. "Oh yes indeed! Well, just as long as they don't make too much noise in the suite, I don't think I'll mind. Even if he is a man..."

"How would you know?" Hotaru asked pointedly, finally getting her balance back. "After all, you pretty much keep up the whole palace. For the life of me I can't figure out what makes that much pounding..."

The two women blushed furiously. Richard looked at Hotaru with a little amazement as a wicked smile did a jig on her lips. Haruka looked as though she might actually explode, and Michiru seemed like she desired to shrink into a very small corner. Haruka opened her mouth, and for a slight moment Richard thought that she was going to yell. A lot. But instead she began to laugh heartily, and after a second Michiru joined in.

"Proper as ever," Haruka said, between guffaws. "I'm glad to see you're still giving as good as you get. Well it really is good to meet you Mister Caine. Our Hotaru will look after you when you get into trouble."

"Actually m'Lady, she already has," Richard said, with a smile and nod to Hotaru. "She saved me from a burning zombie who wanted to strangle me."

"Really?" Michiru asked with lifted eyebrows. "Well then, I see you already have a standard track record for spending time around us. Although a burning zombie is a new one on me. Tell us a little more about this... thing."

Richard smiled at her and did a little bow of deference. "I'll do my best, M'Lady."

Rei leaned against a pillar watching Richard and Hotaru talking with Haruka and Michiru, her eyes narrowed. Currently it looked as though Richard was trying to show what a mage field looked like with his hands, which was fairly amusing. However, Haruka and Michiru seemed engrossed by the display of arm waving.

It was difficult to figure out what game that Richard Caine was up to. On the one hand, he did seem to be aiding the investigation as he had promised, and he had been working tirelessly for the past week. She still didn't get his angle though. Everyone had an angle.

"Still being suspicious Rei?" an amused soprano asked from behind her. Rei rolled her head to the side, giving Mina a glare.

"It's my job to be suspicious," Rei retorted with a frown. "That is the billionare tycoon Richard Caine, son of Andrew and Jennifer Caine. The man who controls about a fifth of the United States advanced heavy industry as well as a host of other concerns around the entire globe. Caine Industries employs more than thirty thousand workers in the United States alone."

Rei turned to look at Richard once more. "And now he's here, in Tokyo, not pursuing a great corporate merger or takeover. Instead he's basically doing police work that any number of other people would be almost as qualified to do."

Rei sighed and slumped against the pillar shaking her head, and massaging her temples. She had been doing a lot of that lately. "Maybe he's here because of Caine Securities, but I really don't think so."

"You are stressing yourself out too much again Rei," Minako said with a brilliant smile. "He's as friendly and curteous as anyone we've ever had at court. On top of that Hotaru trusts him. Hotaru. Don't you understand that? She is probably the least trusting of all of us except you."

"That just makes me more suspicious," Rei said with a giggle. "But, you may be right. Whatever his aims, he is pretty helpful."

"Listen," Minako said wearily. "If you really want, I can talk about him with Dave. Maybe, maybe, the Omega Web has something that the normal security checks haven't picked up on. Is that good enough for you?"

Rei arched her eyebrow. "That should probably just about cover it, thanks."

"Now go enjoy the party!" Minako said with mock harshness pointing over to where it appeared that Usagi was getting into a drinking contest with Ami. "Dinner hasn't even been served yet! No moping until later!"

As Richard had suspected dinner had been fantastic. The Sailor Senshi themselves were also a fascinating bunch. For living like they did, they were surprisingly forthcoming, especially Sailor Moon. Though she was graceful, she was extremely straightforward and to the point. Richard, who had been dragged from political function to political function as a young teenager found the attiudes of the Senshi most refreshing. He just hoped that their upbeat approach would survive the next few years.

Being seated next to Haruka and Michiru on one side and Hotaru on the other, he was well looked after. Haruka and Michiru shared the wry sense of humor that his brother had, and Richard found it quite charming. Hotaru was, well, Hotaru, and that was enough for him. It was funny how much more relaxed she seemed here than in her workplace. It was almost as though she could shed personas just like he could shed clothing, and he marvled at her skill. Some of her companions could use more of that.

As dinner finished up, the females dragged Hotaru off for some purpose while she struggled feebly in the grasp of Haruka and Minako. Usagi turned to the gentlemen and politely told them to entertain themselves for a while.

Richard shook his head as he stood up along with the King and two other men whose names he hadn't had a chance to gather. Mamoru waved them over to a circle of overstuffed chairs with a smile and they all sat down comfortably.

"Well, perhaps I should introduce you to everyone Mr. Caine," the King said, relaxing into his recliner. "This is Dave Reinquest, an important advisor to the Crown. And this is Lee Ward, a late addition to the Senshi, but welcome nonetheless."

Richard nodded at each introduction and smiled when Lee was introduced. "Well, so you're the one who saved Dallas from becoming a smoking crater? That was some impressive work."

Lee shrugged with a crooked smile. "Yeah well, it wasn't as much me saving the city as me nearly getting killed. I'm just glad everything worked out okay and that I lived through it."

"I guess that's all that you can ask for really," Richard said with an answering expression.

"Really?" interjected Reinquest with a curious stare. Richard shifted his gaze to meet Dave's eyes. "So tell me, with all of your Securities work, have you ever been in a position like that?"

Richard didn't move for a second, and then chuckled a little. He took a sip of brandy from his snifter, shifting the glass from palm to palm. "Well, I guess not quite that bad. There's only one thing that really came close. It was a hit down in Arizona, some bastard using Navajo witchcraft to frighten a neighborhood into submission."

"The man was pretty well armed, but we knew that. I personally decided to go in there. It was one of the most dangerous thing's we'd ever really done. Anyhow, we basically bust in the guy's door, only he's used some of his precognitive powers which we didn't know existed to set up an ambush."

Richard took another gulp from his glass, the liquid burning on the way down. "He was waiting, you see. Killed the first two men through the door in about three seconds. I was next. The only really good news was that I could use their bodies for cover. Only thing that really got hit was my shoulder and my left leg. Eventually his Uzi ran out of ammunition, and I put a nine millimeter slug between his eyes."

"The bastard had murdered children, at least three that we were later able to confirm. He used their bones in his ceremonies. I can't really talk about them," Richard finished, draining what was left in his cup. "The less people know about the effectiveness of those ceremonies the better."

Reinquest was silent, and Mamoru had a grave expression. Lee mostly looked curious.

"When was this?" Lee asked carefully.

"It was on the 8th of July, 3002," Richard said, leaning back in his chair and closing his eyes. "It was a Tuesday."

"I think I heard about this from some friends back home," Lee said with a distant expression. "That one made national news."

"Yeah it did," Richard said. "I'm just glad that the press didn't get the whole story. There are things that out there that people just aren't ready to face yet. Now Mr. Reinquest, I think it's only fair to ask why you wanted to know."

"Yes it is," he replied, crossing his legs. "I wanted to get a better understanding of you Mr. Caine. I hope that I didn't pry too deeply."

Richard smiled tightly. "Well, I answered, didn't I?"

After that, the Senshi seemed to relax a little more around him, and the next hour and a half was pleasant. It was also nice to be able to talk in English for once. Richard missed his old language already.
However, the hour and a half of peace ended quite abruptly with a door bursting open from the room that the women had retreated to.

At that moment a tremendous clang echoed through the suite. Richard and the others all leapt to their feet. For a second, Richard thought that he saw Lee's hands crackle with electricity, but it faded just as quickly as it had come. He filed away the incident in his head for future reference.

It was then that the source of the noise became apparent. A very intoxicated looking Haruka and Hotaru stumbled out of the room, apparently nearly in some kind of fight. Richard leapt up and ran over to where they were entangled and reached down and wrenched Hotaru away from Haruka.

"What in the name of God are you two fighting about?" Mamoru asked levelly. "Is this some kind of ritual?"

"Itsh her fault," Haruka said, struggling with the words. "She shaid that I wash..."

"Was what?" Richard asked slowly, holding Hotaru's slender body up.

"Wash....Yeargh!" Haruka said. At this point Hotaru had curled up a little, and looked as though she had almost passed out. "The bitch..."

Richard left Haruka sprawled on the floor. He hoisted Hotaru into his arms. The fact that she seemed to hardly weigh anything helped his effort a great deal. Richard turned back to Haruka with a smile.

"It looks like she's out for the night," Dave said quietly. "I think that you've had enough to drink tonight Lady Uranus."

"Meeh," Haruka replied slowly getting to her tottering feet. "Maybe she wash right."

"I'm sure dear," Michiru said, walking out carefully behind the mess that Haruka had made. She didn't look too sober herself, but she seemed able to help Haruka stand up. "I'm sorry mister Caine. She doesn't get like this very often."

"No imposition, my Lady," Richard said with a sad smile. "I know how it can be. It's why I almost never drink more than three glasses in an evening. I'm kind of unpleasant."

"Now, where can I put the sleeping princess," he asked wryly, turning around to look at the men. Mamoru smiled and gestured towards a room on the left.

Richard nodded his thanks and walked slowly towards her door, trying not to jar her limp form too much. Mamoru moved in and opened it for them with a wry smile.

"I should probably collect my wife and put her to bed," he said in a gentle tone. "The Queen can occasionally forget herself when it comes to parties. We all work so hard and we really don't get to play enough. Besides, Rini takes up so much of our time anyway. Being a mother changes everything. Some days I wish we'd had more time to ourselves before all this happened."

Usagi poked her head out of the door and gave a little whoop. "Maybe the rum shots were a little too much for them, but I'm doing great!"

Mamoru sighed and walked over to his wife, giving her a hug and guided her gently towards the Royal Apartments.

Richard nodded to him and to the other two men. He navigated his way through her great room, placing Hotaru gently down on her bed. He carefully nudged her and her head snapped up, bleary violet eyes meeting sharp amused blue ones. "I think that you had too much to drink."

"Meh," she muttered.

"Do you want to throw up?" Richard asked. "It really helps a lot."

"Meh," she nodded. He helped her over to the bathroom, and made sure that she could stand. When she was finished he forced her to drink as much water as she could. By this point it was rather difficult to get her to even stand up, and Richard nearly had to pick her up again to get her back to her bed.

"Well, there you go my Lady," he said quietly, tucking her into her bed. "I hope you feel a little better in the morning."

"Yeh," she mumbled. "Thanks. You're nice."

"I try," Richard said standing up. With surprising quickness a small hand grabbed his wrist. He turned around once more.

"I like nice guys," she said. "You're a nice guy. That means I like you."

Richard stood still for a moment, his mind racing. "I guess I kind of knew that already. Well I like you too. A lot."

"Then why're you so sad?" she asked in mumbled tones. Richard raised an eyebrow. Perceptive, even drunk.

"Because I worry too much," he said in reply, resting his hand on hers. "Now get some sleep, we can talk soon."

"Promise?" she asked, her voice trailing off sleepily.

"Promise," he said.

Richard left the palace soon after, but on his way out he stopped at the gate and looked up to the Outer Senshi's apartments. He looked down at his hands, and then with a snarl, punched the stone wall next to him. It was going to be a very long night.

Chapter 8 The Storm of the West/The Power of the People....

January 7, 3004 08:00

Dave Reinquest strode purposefully down the corridors of the Omega Web, the conversations of the previous night still fresh in his mind. Minako was right to wonder about those Caine Industries people, he thought to himself wryly, but they were probably not going to be what she expected them to be. He wondered if he should tell her the whole truth about them. Well, in due time everything would be revealed, and frankly the Point Calculator would be better used on something a little more pressing.

Still, it wouldn't do to just let the situation sit until something potentially volitile occured. It would be best to set one of his watchdog programs on them at the very least. Or perhaps... yes, that would do nicely.

Instead of heading down the left corridor to his office and the command headquarters, he took a right towards the personal offices of the newer Omega Web members. Striding down the hallway all the way to the end, he looked at the final door at the end of the corridor.

Unlike the futuristic facacde of the other doors on this hallway, this door appeared to be made of some kind of wood, probably oak if he examined it intensely. Not only that, but there was a frosted glass panel set into the upper third of the door which loudly proclaimed that this was the office of a private eye. Complete with a picture of a large disembodied eye and a magnifying glass. On the doorknob hung a crudely painted sign, proclaiming, 'The Detective is In' in cheerful red letters. It was definitely a new addition since the last time he had checked up on this particular individual, but then again, this person was infamous for his eccentricity.

Dave smiled and knocked three times on the door. After the third rap on the door, it swung open with a creak of hinges, revealing an open front office. The paneling on the walls looked like cheap imitation pine, and the back wall was split, again half frosted glass, half wood with a very similar door in front. The office was complete with an elderly woman secretary who was smoking and pounding rapidly away on what appeared to be a 1920's era typewriter. Dave quirked his eyebrow a little at the sight of her as she looked up at him over her half moon spectacles and smiled.

"Good morning sonny," she said in a quavering voice. "How can I help you this morning?"

Dave blinked and scratched his head. "I'm here to see the detective, if he's available."

"Oh, well then, let me check his schedule," the old woman said, opening a drawer and pulled out an incredible stack of paper, almost four feet high. Leafing through it more quickly than he would have thought possible, the woman nodded and smiled once more.

"Well sir, it appears that he is available now. I'll buzz you through now." She reached down and pressed hard on an intercom button.
Her face suddenly contorted into a stern grimace. "Wake up you lazy lout. We have a customer!"

"I'm awake, thank you Doris," muttered an irritated and distracted voice on the other end of the line. "Go ahead and send him in."

Again the secretary looked to Dave and nodded to the door. Dave smiled and shook his head, crossing over to the other side of the office, and seeing just the man he was looking for.

He sat behind a shabby looking oak secretary which was covered with stacks of paperwork in a beaten looking leather chair. He was wearing a well cut dove gray suit, with a white shirt. His black, well polished shoes were casually resting on his blotter. On one of the stacks of paperwork rested a dove grey fedora, with a tall phesant feather stuck racily into the headband. An ashtray on his desk held a smoking cigarillo, and an open bottle of tequila rested carefully on the other edge of the desk.

He ran a hand through his short but slightly poofy blonde hair, scratching the back of his neck as he looked at Dave. His face betrayed no emotion, but his blue eyes watched every move that Dave made with sharp precision and a twinkle of good humor.

He uncrossed his legs and stood up, reaching over to shake Dave's hand. He was probably about six feet tall, but he slouched a little, so it was hard to tell. Dave gave a little laugh as he shook the man's hand.

"You know Zephyr, strange as it sounds, this place really does suit you well."

"Yes it does," Zephyr replied with the tiniest of smiles. "Though the programing of the secretary's AI was so hard that I had to ask William to do it, I think it was worth it. She can handle an incredible workload."

"So she's a hologram then?"

"Yeah," Zephyr said with an annoyed glance towards her office. "But I think that Will was a little too zealous in the creation of her time management protocols. I'm sure it was intentional. I'm going to get him for that one day. Maybe I'll drop some clothes eating nanites in his replication systems."

"I heard that young man!" a thin voice called out.

"And her hearing is also too acute..."

Dave laughed, but Zephyr continued to gaze intensely at him. "So, what brings Dave Reinquest, head of the Omega Web, to this humble detective's office?"

"To the point as always," Dave said. He took out a data card and handed it to Zephyr. "I want to add a detective operation to your other one. These are the current records we have on a company known as Caine Industries. You know them of course."

Zephyr nodded.

"Well apparently Richard Caine has moved his little operation into Japan. Now the Senshi are beginning to ask questions about him and his organization. I don't think that it would be appropriate right now to reveal anything about them, but I promised Mina that we would keep an eye on them."

"I'm the most qualified, I take it?"

"Well, you certainly have the best chance of watching them with the least additional effort. I simply didn't want to allocate the Point Calculator resources to something that for now is both beneficial and so small."

"What will you require me to do?" Zephyr asked, picking up his cigarillo and puffing on it. "You know that there are certain things that I'm not really allowed to do..."

"...but you would like to do anyway?"

"Yes," Zephyr said around the burning tobacco hanging from his lip. "I guess I'd like to know just what level of jurisdiction I have on this."

"For the most part, this is just survelliance," Dave said slowly. "Why were you wondering?"

"I like to plan for the worst," Zephyr said calmly. "You know that."

"Well, I guess you're cleared up to Omega 2 actions if something big happens," Dave said, scratching the stubble on his chin. "But that is really unlikely."

Zephyr merely nodded. Dave looked at him and sighed.

"So, how goes the Hunt? Anything new to report?"

"Well enough. I've tracked down Bartholemew, more or less. It's going to be a few weeks before I get him, but don't worry. He'll be delivered to you, hopefully in one piece. The last three however have shown a degree of cunning that I wouldn't expect, even from academics,"
Zephyr's smile became a little more sharp. "They are most likely holed up somewhere in Iraq or Afghanistan, but I couldn't tell you for sure right now. My personal belief is that they're in Baghdad."

"In the middle of this upheaval? When the old Mustache himself has finally caught the bullet? I know the balances are upset, and it makes them hard to track, but still it doesn't seem worth the risk."

"It isn't, if all you want is to survive. You don't think like scum Dave," Zephyr said quietly. "That's why you have me, remember? They're not going to just sit there. They're going to become power brokers. With even a hint of Omega Web technology, they could easily become the secret masters of such places. And they will, if I don't catch or kill them first."

"It fits their ethos," Dave mused. "I hope that you or the others catch them first. We could use a lot less chaos right now."

"Yes," Zephyr nodded. "Well, I imagine you have a lot of work to do Dave. I won't keep you any longer."

"Thanks," Dave said. "Keep me posted."

Dave stood still, a look of concentration on his face, but nothing seemed to happen. Zephyr looked at him with a slight grin. Dave narrowed his eyes and looked at the other man with a suspicious gaze.

"Why did you put up teleportation blocking fields?" Dave asked.

Zephyr shook his head. "If I didn't have them, I'd probably be a dead man now. I'm paranoid, but in this case they really are out to get me."

Dave gave him a sad smile. "I'm sorry about that."

"Don't be," Zephyr said. "I volunteered, remember."

"That doesn't mean I don't feel guilty about the whole incident," Dave said. "I just wonder if it could have been prevented."

"Oh, perhaps it could have been, but what would be the cost?" Zephyr asked mildly. "The Omega Web needed that kind of change anyway. The rebels and power grubbers needed to be weeded out. This was just a lot more rapid than it could have been. Besides, the conflict has ensured that anyone with lacking morality has been targeted, and can be stripped of their powers and responsibility. I will assure you Dave, on my watch there will never be another Ckay."

Dave nodded. "I'm just glad you're on our side."

"Bartholemew won't be," Zephyr said with a carnivorous smile and a wink. "And don't worry about the Caine Industries thing. I'll look into it."

January 6 11:00

Richard sat on the training mat, rubbing his hands on his temples. He hadn't yet slept, instead he had traveled to his office and made a major dent in the paperwork which had been piled on his desk from the past three weeks. Mitsugi had done an excellent job with most of it, but there was still so much that he had to do, including several things from other branches of Caine Industries.

Besides, he didn't really feel like resting now anyway.

He rose to his feet and walked over to the heavy bag hanging in the corner and began to practice his hand and foot strikes, placing each one with careful and regular precision. He tried to loose himself in the repetition. Punch, kick, punch, kick. But even though his body performed the regular motions, his mind raced around focusing on the biggest problem in his life. Hotaru Tomoe.

The Grand Masters had sent him to Japan to be their eyes and ears with regards to the Senshi and any kind of magical disturbances. They said that they had their reasons for not trusting the Senshi, and they were probably very good ones. But Richard was on the ground with them and that made a big difference.

He had not seen any of them do something that he felt the Inquisition should be up in arms about, straight and simple. They were lawful and as compassionate as their circumstance allowed. Hell, he had even seen them in action. They were like forces of nature, elemental beings, when they were transformed. At least Hotaru was.

The fire fly. He shook his head, and kicked the bag a few times for good measure. Mitsugi had been right, and he'd made the worst mistake he could have made. He got too close to her, straight and simple. The Inquisition had been his father's secret life, and it had been his as well for the past four years. All of his effort had gone into trying to make a difference in a war that nobody ever saw too closely, and that few would ever remember.

And then, suddenly, she was there. It wasn't as if she were the most amazingly beautiful woman on the planet, but his heart felt like wrenching out of his chest every time he saw her. It was driving him crazy. His duty told him that one day there was a decent chance that the Inquisition and the Senshi would come to blows.

For now, the Inquisition was happy to have the Senshi fight off the swarms of monsters from other dimensions and horrors from the times when magic was rampant. However, as the Inquisition regained some of its strength, that was becoming less and less the case. For the past seven years, ever since the appearance of the Senshi, the Inquisition had begun to rebuild.

Prophecies that had been handed down since the days of Zarathustra had pointed to a time when the Moon Goddess would return, and with her a horde of other myths and surrealities. And if Queen Serenity wasn't the incarnation of the Moon Goddess, Richard vowed to eat his guns.

He hadn't been the only man to realize this either, and thus the rebuilding and recruitment had begun in earnest. Not since the days of Ceaser had the Inquisition had so many members, nor been so active. When initiates learned that for the first time, it always amused Richard to see their expressions. For the Inquisition was far older than Christianity in its modern form.

No, theirs was a society that had existed since the time of Zoroaster, and possibly even before. They existed to hunt the demonic and the magical in all its forms, a defense and bulwark against the darkness. King Solomon the Wise had been one of their greatest Grand Masters, and there had been many other reknown names as well, although for the most part the servants of the council were mostly unknown. The people who led uneventful lives were far more effective servants and warriors.

But now they were emerging from almost a millenia of relative inactivity, at least as far as their main goals were concerned. So now the power play had begun, even though the Senshi didn't know that the Inquisition existed. Just as peace was a luxury between nations, Richard worried that it was the same with the Grand Masters and the Senshi.

Richard gave a snap kick which would have been at about head height and followed up with another two punches, his gi snapping like canvas in the wind. Already Hotaru was putting pressure on him, though she didn't and couldn't know of the truth behind his being here. On the flip side though, he was enjoying every minute of her company and he was as human as the next man. Dammnit. Richard's fist impacted on the bag again.

"So, are you going to hit that thing all day, or would you rather I leave you alone?" a voice called from behind him.

Richard ceased his striking, and turned to look at Mitsugi who sat in his own gi with his knees folded underneath him. Richard panted for a second, fixing Mitsugi with a blank stare.

"I decided that since you looked like you were having so much fun that I'd join you."

Richard nodded, coming back to his senses. "Well, freestyle then?"

Mitsugi didn't even bother to answer, and leapt up throwing a punch that could have shattered a telephone pole at him. Richard weaved around Mitsugi and tossed him aside, where he hit the mat rolling. Richard charged him as he got back to his feet, but he barely moved, and grabbed Richard in a hip throw and tossing him a good three meters.

At this point, various subordinate members in the dojo and gym gathered around to watch them. First one would throw or attempt to pin, only to be thwarted by the other. Punches and kicks abounded, but neither of them was quite good enough to penetrate the other's defenses.

Then Richard slipped up. He zigged when he should have zagged, causing Mitsugi to get an arm lock on him, dropping Richard to the mat almost instantly. He slapped out, the pain from the pin a not so subtle reminder of the damage which Mitsugi could have done to him. Mitsugi released the pin and Richard stood up, strands of his long blonde hair falling into his face. They bowed to one another, and then Mitsugi cocked his head to glare at the various other employees who had been watching them.

The others scattered quickly, and Mitsugi gestured towards the mat, sinking down on his knees once more. "Well, that was shorter than usual. You're distracted."

"Yep," Richard said, sitting down as well with a sigh. "I guess you were right Mitsugi. I've fucked up, and I'm already too close to her. It's driving me crazy."

"In my all seeing wisdom, I figured that this would come up," Mitsugi said casually. "To be fair, I did think that it would be beneficial to us to get as near them as possible. After all, that's really why you're here, isn't it?"

"I know, but dammnit, I didn't count on them being so...." Richard trailed off, trying to think of the right words.

"By them, of course, you mean her," Mitsugi said in his rumbling bass, stretching out his wrists. "I have to admit she is not a girl I'd pass up lightly."

Richard gave him an evil glare. Mitsugi shrugged.

"You know that I warned you about this kind of thing," Mitsugi said contemplatively. "But did it ever occur to you that I could be wrong?"

Richard raised an eyebrow, gesturing for him to continue.

"Personally, I don't happen to see why a Knight of the Inquisition couldn't date a Senshi," Mitsugi said with a grin. "After all, its not as if the Grand Masters have declared war upon them. I personally don't think they ever will either. Our spheres of action are too different. Besides, its not like you're going to marry her tomorrow."

"Maybe," Richard said slowly. "I worry though. I mean Arithos and Zeranil are pushing really hard to have the Senshi assassinated. So far the rest of the council has told them to shove it, but I don't know how long it will last."

"Then you can be their advocate," Mitsugi replied. "Tell the council the truth, and about how necessary the Senshi are. We both know what the stakes are now. If they were evil, it might be a different question, but they're not."

"You know," Richard said, straightening out his gi. "You make it sound halfway decent."

"Well, you should take your own advice more often," Mitsugi said, rocking back up to his feet and offering Richard his hand. "How many times have you talked me out of stress? Everyone gets their turn on the wheel of torment you know."

"Thanks," Richard said, pulling himself up.

"Anytime," Mitsugi replied easily. "Now that life is out of the way, we can get back to business. I see that you didn't fill out form 234589 in triplicate...."

Yen Ti paced in the empty warehouse, his hands clenched tightly behind his back, and his brow furrowed in thought. He was getting closer to being in a position of acting, and he could almost taste his freedom. Only a few more days, maybe a week, and then his chains would be broken. First, the flames would consume this wretched city, and then finally, the entire island. Only then would he be free to take back his rightful place.

He missed the mountains of Tibet, and even the fields of the Yellow River valley, home of his accursed brother. Too long had he slept, chained in the fires of Mt. Fuji. But for now, he couldn't let his impatience get the better of him. If it did, it could easily spell the end of his escape attempt, and possibly even his immortal life.

The attention that Yi had been garnering due to his consolidation of the crime families was distressing. Yen knew that he needed their support to start the chain reaction which would feed his strength enough to break free, but he still had a dislike of such scum. Yi insisted that they could be trusted to a point, but Yen felt no such certainty. Criminals were liars, and thieves. He needed some other way to ensure that the fires started without a hitch. A distraction perhaps.

Yen ceased his pacing, inspiration striking him. He walked over to a table that had been layed out for his use, flipping through papers that Yi had given him. Leafing through them quickly, he came to the page that had mistakenly been inserted into the pile. Yes. This would do quite nicely.

Yen let the page flutter to the ground, and strode out of his warehouse. As he walked past, the lanterns which adorned the walls were snuffed out one at a time. But just before the light faded completely the paper hit the floor, coming to rest, and light reflected off the bold letters of an advertisement.

"Join us on January 16th for our Protest against the Opressive Regieme of the Senshi. Sponsored by the People for a Free and Democratic Japan."

End Part 2 SM:Omoi:Inquisition: Inferno

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Sailor Moon Omoi: Inquisiton and Revolutions

Part III

"Evil is easy; it has countless forms, while good is almost unique. But a certain sort of evil is as hard to find as what is called good, and this particular evil is often on that account passed off as good. Indeed it takes as much extraordinary greatness of soul to attain such evil, as to attain good."

Pascal, Pensees

Chapter 9 Inquests

January 7 10:00

Hotaru awoke with a massive headache. Again. Although it wasn't nearly as bad as what had happened last time it still had her head spinning. She should give up alcohol. Definitely.

She half crawled, half walked in a daze to the bathroom where she turned on the shower, running her hand under the cool water. She began to take stock of herself mentally, one item at a time. First, her clothes. They were the same clothes that she had been wearing last night.

She picked at her clothes a little, and then last night came rushing back to her, the details slightly disjointed, but nonetheless intact. Hotaru sighed, and got into the shower. Well, she had probably blown that attempted romantic move. She cursed her own weakness, as the water gently washed away the remaining fogginess in her mind.

Getting out of the shower and drying herself off, she felt a stinging sense of bitterness. One guy that she actually might like, and then she goes and hits on him while intoxicated. How do you look a person in the eyes after that?

She walked out of her room and into the suite's dining room to see Setsuna pounding away at a laptop with a concentrated expression on her face. For a second, Hotaru smiled, forgetting her blues for a moment. That laptop had been her gift to the technophobic Setsuna for Christmas this year. It was Omega Web designed she was still adjusting to all the features that it held.

It had taken her almost an hour that first day to get Setsuna to even turn the thing on. Only a few weeks later, it seemed as though it was becoming melded to Setsuna's hands. Hotaru walked through the room and into the kitchen, where she poured herself a cup of tea from the pot that she assumed Setsuna had made. She took the steaming cup and walked back out into the living room, pulling up a chair at the table.

She stared glumly into the glass, thinking about how embarrassing Haruka had been last night as well. She hadn't meant to start a fight, she really hadn't, but when she had a bit to drink the control that she normally kept on her tounge went away. The whole incident had been frustrating and foolish.

Hotaru felt frustrated and angry. The Senshi had become her family since her father had died. Setsuna had looked after her, and Haruka and Michiru had been the aunts that she'd never had. Yet, last night they had been more of an obstacle than anything else to her. Hotaru shook her head. No, they weren't really the obstacle. She was mature enough to realize that the true obstacle was herself.

She just didn't have the guts to go out there and tell him that she was interested. At least until she was almost passed out in her bed. Oh well, it wasn't like she would have had much of a chance with him anyway. She had never looked fondly on her figure, which was quite skinny and brittle looking despite her abnormal strength.

All these thoughts and more besides were spinning through her head, when Setsuna cleared her voice gently from across the table. Hotaru looked up at her guardian with a sigh, and Setsuna could see the dark circles of exhaustion and stress underneath her eyes.

"Good morning, Hotaru," Setsuna said. "I take it that you had a rough time last night."

"You could say that," Hotaru replied, her tone glum and cheerless. "But you're the one who can see through time. Why don't you tell me what happened?"

"Hmphh..." Setsuna murmured, as she took a sip from her tea cup and set it back on the table. "I don't need to be able to see through time to be able to tell that something is bothering you."

"Perceptive as ever," Hotaru said bitterly. "Well, for starters, I got into a drunken cat fight with Haruka, I collapsed onto the floor and nearly passed out, and then I hit on a guy who I like. I don't know, but it doesn't sound like much of a fun birthday to me."

"Ah," Setsuna mused. "So its the boy who's the problem."

Hotaru nodded.

"...And this boy," Setsuna said calmly. "Did he seem to return any of the affection?"

"I was smashed," Hotaru retorted. "How can I know if he wasn't just being a nice guy to a crazy drunken woman?"

"You could ask him," Setsuna replied with a shrug. "The only thing that you have to loose is your pride."

"And my dignity," Hotaru continued. "Here's the deal, I said what I did because I was drunk. Really drunk. I'm not the least shy of people Setsuna. I tend to let things go by me."

"Which I believe is a mistake," Setsuna commented. "I think that if you went to him and actually asked him to go with you for coffee and to talk about something non work related, he would definitely do it."

Hotaru said nothing, staring into the depths of her teacup.

"If you don't give it a try, you'll never know what he would have said to you if you were sober," Setsuna said, finishing her tea and then standing up. "Well, I'm afraid I have to go, appointments are calling my name. Have a good day Hotaru."

Hotaru nodded, thinking about what Setsuna had told her. It was all sound advice. She just needed to figure out how reasonable she was going to be about this. It was funny. Killing a monster the size of a building held no fears for her. Death itself was at her command. And yet here, doing a small thing like going out for coffee was testing all of the resolve that she had.

Yep, she thought, finishing her own tea. This world definitely had a warped sense of humor.

January 7 12:00 hours

Zephyr walked through the halls of the Nakatomo office building, 26th floor. It was a fairly unremarkable place as you walked out of the elevator, but Zephyr was an observant man. He tipped the brim of his fedora back, studying the bland hallway with care. It was trapped, he was sure. He looked around, waiting for a few minutes. Finally someone stepped out of the elevator behind him and walked puposefully forward.

The woman walked passed him, not even noticing his presence, in what almost seemed to be a drunken stagger as she crisscrossed the small hallway so much, but Zephyr knew much better. With a swish of his coat, Zephyr walked behind her as she zigzaged down the hallway, placing his feet exactly where she had placed hers. When the hallway made a T, he began to walk in the opposite direction of the woman who had resumed a normal walk, humming a little to himself.

Zephyr wandered all through the floor checking every room with a practiced eye, but though he was dressed in his customary flashy suit no one even seemed to notice him. He leisurely strolled up to the main armory and watched as half a dozen men and women fired off rifles into dummy targets behind the plexiglass screen. Yes, these Inquisition people were quite skilled, he thought to himself as he watched them go about their daily business. They seemed to have a real drive for their work.

All around him, reports were being filed, crimes were being analyzed. In some ways it was not too different from his own work, and he appreciated the professionalism that he was surrounded by. It wasn't every day that you saw a group that was this efficiently run, although they probably had to be. Crystal Tokyo was a huge city.

As he walked around, from time to time he would place small devices on the outside of walls and on any communications cables he could find, tapping into their network. He knew that there was no way that any of the systems that they had been working on would be able to remain encrypted in the face of Omega Web technology, and the minature stealth fields on each tiny unit would prevent anyone from noticing them.

When Zephyr finally finished his tapping job, he wandered around for a good extra hour, just listening to the people who walked by him, taking in their conversations, mundane or otherwise. Wherever he went, no one could see him, their gazes simply sliding off of him, unable to focus on his form. It was fascinating to watch the human interactions, as well as all of their electronic communications. Oftentimes, Zephyr found he could understand a target's motivations more easily if he spent time around them, just listening.

It's amazing what people will just say out of the blue, especially if they think they're alone. Currently Zephyr was watching two technicians who were sitting in front of a wide array of monitors, watching what appeared to be a rocket booster being set up on a large platform. Zephyr leaned over one of the technician's shoulders, squinting his eyes at the missile.

"...Yeah well," one of the techs babbled. "It was all well and good until the Yankees beat them out. The damn Yankees always win."

"Oh, quit your whining," retorted the other. "You're only sore cause you lost fifty on the deal. Now, can you give me an update on the Cassandra launch schedule? Those NASA bastards have been yanking me around all of yesterday on it and the boss wants an update ASAP."

"Oh hell," the other tech muttered. "I hate those guys... well, let me pull up the records and see what we've got. Hmm... interesting."

"Well don't leave me hanging here," the second tech griped. "Just tell me what the schedule is John."

"Looks good," John said, chewing his bottom lip and pushing his glasses up his nose. "I think that we're going to be good to go in only about a day and a half. Then Cassandra will be up and operational. Testing should be ready by oh eight hundred on Thursday."

"Finally," the unnamed man said with a sigh. "The project has been delayed for too long as it is. We don't have the manpower to keep running around Tokyo like we've been doing. It'll be one hell of a relief, and maybe the police'll stop bugging us to go after every paranormal pocket picker in the greater metropolitan area."

Zephyr sniggered at that, taking out a small palmtop and typing a few words into it as the techs resumed their innane banter. This Cassandra system looked like a very interesting find. It looked almost as though they were some kind of observation satillite. Zephyr's mind raced faster than any normal human's as he thought about the possibilites. It took him less than a second to come to his conclusion.

"They must be magic detectors," Zephyr muttered to himself. "They can't be anything else. If they were normal spy satillites, then they would have just tapped into the existing network. They're good enough to do it..."

His reverie was interrupted by a door opening behind him, and the imposing figure of Mitsugi O'Gannon strode into the room purposefully. Zephyr took a moment to study the man, cocking his head to the side and bringing an unlit cigarillo to his lips.

"Well boys," Mitsugi thundered, causing the two technicians to jump. "What have you got for me?"

"Well sir," John said, recovering from the surprise. "It apppears that Cassandra is right on time sir. The launch will be at oh eight hundred on Thursday and the command room will be up and operational at 16:00 the same day. Looks like NASA bumped the launch up by a day."

"Good," Mitsugi said, turning around to walk out. "We needed the damn thing a week ago."

Zephyr watched him go, bringing a match to his cigarillo and lighting it. After a few puffs, he took it out and tapped the ash on the floor, looking deep in thought. The consequences of allowing this particular group of people to have a system of this magnitude was no problem to him, but perhaps Dave and the Senshi would disagree, especially if the satillites were over Japanese airspace.

Zephyr tapped his wrist idly with his fingers and brought the cigarillo to his lips once more. It was something at the very least. He would let Dave know, and besides, his little minions would quickly let him tap into the Inquisition's communications. It would only be a matter of time before he knew all the specifications of their programs and goals and Zephyr was a very patient man about some things.

However, there was something that was nagging at him, that his logic couldn't quite put together. He'd have to go check a few things out streetside. God, he hated going into the Jungle. It always got his clothes so dirty. Oh well, it was better than going to Syria, he mused to himself.

He snapped his fingers and disappeared in a flash of light. The two technicians noticed no flash, but they did catch a hint of tobbaco smoke and John found a little bit of ash on the floor when he got up a few minutes later to go on coffee break.

"Damn smokers," John muttered as he looked down at the floor. "I wish they'd clean up after themselves..."

January 7 13:50 hours

Richard sat behind his desk shuffling forms. He swore to himself that it had to be the 235780 QT and not the 234780 QF, but he just couldn't remember...

He let the papers fall to his desk with a grunt of exaspiration. How in the hell did Mitsugi do it all in a day? He must be some kind of paperwork god. Richard leaned back in his swivel chair and put his feet up on the desk and grabbing up the papers once more. The damn devil was always in the details with these government documents. It was then that a rap on the door distracted his attention, and his head jerked up with an irritated expression. "Yes, what is it?"

"A visitor is here for you sir, down in the cafe," replied the voice of one of the noviates standing outside of the door. Richard scrubbed his face with his hands and shoved back on his desk. Standing and stretching out, he walked over to the door and opened it with a jerk, leaning on the doorframe.

The young woman outside blinked at him and then shrugged. "She says that its fairly important for you to see her sir. Something pertaining to the arson case."

"Hmm, alright," Richard sighed. "Tell her I'll be right down."

"Yes sir," The young girl replied. "Will you be ready in ten minutes?"

"Yes Kristen, I will," he said tiredly. "Just go on and tell her. Oh yeah, and pour me another cup of coffee, from the strong pot. I have this feeling that I'm going to be in for a really long day."

As the noviate walked away, Richard cursed to himself. Why did she look so young? She was probably older than he was. He sighed and looked back at his desk. So much for finishing up the paperwork this afternoon. The stuff just never seemed to end.

Richard walked into the cafe at the bottom of the Nakamura office building, drawing his suit coat towards himself. Despite the Starbucks like d'ecor, the room was cold, he thought to himself. The young aide walked in front of him, winding her way through the tables to the back of the room. In a corner of relative isolation a tan skinned woman sat reading a newspaper and drinking delicately out of a small cup.

Her hair was dark, but in the light it had an almost greenish tinge. It was tied back to her head with a garnet clip of intricate workmanship and a pair matching earrings completed the set. She was dressed in nice slacks and a loose red sweater. All of these physical details Richard took in quickly, but what struck him the most about the woman were her mannerisms. She made no unnecessary motions when she took a sip from her cup, and the fluidity spoke of much attention to detail. She was definitely an affluent woman, despite her ambiguous clothing.

At their approach, the woman continued to read her paper, but a tiny smile creased her lips. The assistant cleared her throat, but the woman waved her off with a dismissive gesture. She rose gracefully and bowed to Richard, who returned the gesture and proceeded to sit across from her.

"Well, it is finally nice to meet you, Sir Caine," she said gravely. "I'm afraid I had previously been away when you had come to visit us. My name is Setsuna Meiou, and I'm pleased to meet you."

Richard stared at her for a second, the wheels in his head turning as fast as they could. What the heck was she doing here? And how did she know his title?

"My Lady Pluto, it is an honor to meet you," he said after a moment. "I'm surprised that you know my title, My Lady. It is a rather personal matter."

"You don't have to worry about me Sir Caine," Pluto said, cocking her head and looking critically at him. "I know all about your organization and its... colorful history. I also know that you happen to be working along the same lines that I've been wanting the Senshi to do for some time. I suppose we just never had the time to set up an organization."

"Well, My Lady," Richard said slowly. "I know of at least one Senshi who has had more than enough time."

"Touche," Setsuna said, narrowing her eyes. "Not bad, although if you knew the details, you would probably think differently."

"I know just enough to get myself hurt, My Lady," Richard said with a wry smile. Setsuna laughed at this.

"Ah, and you have a sense of humor, good," she said, before pausing to take a sip from her teacup. "Unfortunately you are not far from the truth with that comment, Sir Caine. Indirectly that is what I wanted to see you about today."

"What did you have in mind, My Lady?" Richard asked.

"I've come to give you a warning," she said, closing her eyes for a moment. "It pertains to the Arsonist, just as I told the young lady. I have the feeling that it would be wise for you to look into obtaining some more allies for yourself and your organization."

"Really?" Richard asked curiously, raising an eyebrow. "I was under the impression that we have the situation relatively under control. I can tell you with some certainty that we should be able to track down the culprit within a week and a half. It will only take a little time."

"Excellent," Setsuna said. "But unfortunately I think that it won't be soon enough to stop the next rash of murders."

"Well, My Lady," Richard said. "I know enough about you to think that you don't give advice in vain. What would you suggest that I do then?"

"Well there are a few suggestions that I have for you," Setsuna mused, sitting up in her chair. "Right now, the Inner Senshi are going to be unable to aid you in any meaningful way. They're too obsesed with running the government, and that's fine. It keeps them out of trouble."

"Was that a problem in the past My Lady?"

"Oh yes, but now is not the time. At any rate, Haruka and Michiru are also quite busy with their own personal projects. Michiru has been working over the Finance Department's records of the past few years, and Haruka is supervising a quiet overhaul of the Self Defense Force."

"Ah," Richard said, rubbing his stubble covered chin. "I had wondered about her uniform."

"Hmmm," Setsuna nodded. "Perceptive too, a good trait for a detective Sir Caine. And that of a politician."

"I'm too open to be a politician," Richard said with a laugh. "My mouth tends to get me in trouble."

"Indeed. Somehow I don't quite believe that Sir Caine," Setsuna said, inclining her head towards him. "But at any rate, that leaves you with one of the Outer Senshi available to help you, although she is one of our strongest."

"What of yourself?" Richard asked. "If you think that we're going to need the extra help, why aren't you going to be available?"

"For the next month or so, I'm afraid that I'm going to have to be in Europe and China on some pressing ambassadorial business," Setsuna said. "I didn't want to leave you here understaffed, which is why I'm going to suggest that you talk to this charming fellow."

Setsuna dropped a card on the table, which had an address for a Shinto temple in Tokyo. "I believe the gentleman that you wish to talk to is the groundskeeper."

"Ah, would that be Sir Ward?" Richard asked, leaning forward to pick up the card.

"Yes, actually," Setsuna replied. "He's a bit eccentric, but I feel that he would be most useful for your endevor should you have need of an ally with a bit of power to spare. He's also quite an accomplished detective. Perhaps he would be even more useful in assisting your search for this Arsonist than you might think."

Richard nodded. "Well My Lady, I will certainly keep him under consideration. Right now, however, I don't know how quickly we can bring him in on this."

"Sir Caine I suggest that you move with all haste," Setsuna said softly, rising to her feet. "You should always take seriously the advice of those who have your best interests in mind. Especially if those people are blessed with the gift of precognition."

Richard snapped his head towards her. "My Lady?"

"I don't ever give warnings lightly, Sir Caine," she said. "I also hate to waste my time. If you are unwilling to listen, however, that is your own perogative. Well, I'm afraid I really must be going. I'm due at the Palace in half an hour. Good day to you Sir Caine."

"And good day to you my Lady," Richard said, standing up and giving a bow which Setsuna returned. "I hope your business goes well."

"As I hope your's does," Setsuna replied. "Good luck Sir Caine."

Richard watched as Sailor Pluto, holder of one of the Keys of Solomon, and queen of a dead empire walked out of the Nakatomo office building and into the street. With a slight shake of his head, he walked back towards the elevator, thoughts whirling about in his head as he considered her advice.

As he was about to open the door, the young aide ran up to him and handed him an envolope. "Sir! The lady left a letter for you, she said that you should have it after she left."

"Really?" Richard asked. "She didn't mention anything like that to me? Oh well, hand it over."

He waited until the elevator doors closed, and then opened the letter carefully with his thumbnail. Flicking open the envelope, and unfolding the stationary, he began to read. By the time the elevator door opened and he walked out, he didn't know whether to blush or start swearing. A lot.

Setsuna walked out into the winter sunshine, putting on her sunglasses and looking up at the partially cloudy sky. Well she had done her best to warn him, she thought to herself. He was a bright boy, and he had a healthy dose of paranoia. It might even keep him alive through the coming storm. Although she doubted it, she hoped he would make it. It was a shame when decent people had to die, but death was just one of the constant forces in the world.

She wondered to herself, as she got into her limousine, whether or not she should have interfered in this particular way. The only reason that she could get away with it was because she wasn't going to be directly involved in the equation. However, now that technicality seemed even more tenuous than ever before.

The more that she meddled, the more the time streams shifted around her. Most of the time, the streams were very close to static, guiding the lives of everything in the universe in an orderly fashion. More or less. However, with any action, came consequence. So when she had warned Caine, the streams around her had shifted ever so slightly, and she had taken note. Setsuna scolded herself lightly for her worry. Time was tough, and it could look out for itself.

She pondered this as the vehicle snaked through the streets of Tokyo. One would think that after thousands of years of a given task that it would eventually become familiar and easier to cope with. However, Setsuna had found that to be patently untrue. Every day was a new twist and a new turn. She smirked to herself, as the limousine pulled into the palace gates. It was probably why she still loved her job so much, even now.

The driver got out and walked around to open her door, and she stood gracefully and nodded to the burly man. He nodded back, his expression unreadable behind his sunglasses. As Setsuna wandered past the guard and up the steps to the main foyer, she wondered what Richard Caine would make of her little letter.

Chapter 10 What It Takes

January 7 16:00 hours

Satsuo Haketashi sat nervously in the foyer of the Caine Securities lobby, fiddling with his keychain. He was an average looking Japanese man, in all respects. He was relatively short, had conservatively cut hair, and was dressed in a shabby suit. All of this was well calculated on his part, and it aided him in his chosen profession. That of a private detective. The only thing which might have been remarkable about him was a slight shiftiness to his eyes that was amplified by the way his gaze darted around the room constantly.

Satsuo considered himself to be a very successful man in his business, which was at times a very distasteful one. At this point in his life he had lost count of the number of cheating husbands and wives he had pulled surveillance jobs on. It wasn't glamorous, and it wasn't always fun, but it definitely payed for his living, which was much better than most detectives in this city seemed to be able to do.

Even when he was young, Satsuo had prided himself on his observation skills. In school he had been able to run quite the information racket, playing the spy agent for a dozen different relationships. He made pretty good money doing it as a kid. Finally, his sister had suggested to him that he take it up as a career.

When he had first started out, he had worked for an agency, and the work had always been a disappointment. He had quickly mastered the art of the watcher, and the truth was that it was hardly a challenge following bimbos and loosers around, watching for their amaturish slip ups. He had grown so bored that he had gone on to found his own private practice which catered to wealthy uptown patrons, figuring that they would have more interesting cases, but he had been wrong there too.

The rich had more money, but they were hardly anymore challenging than the average fool to follow. The Happy Go Lucky motel was replaced by the Tokyo Hilton, that was all. He had begun to dispair of a challenge, even though he was making quite a good living, when he had recieved a letter from these Caine Securities people. The letter had been vague, but it had promised that he would be well paid.

The foyer was well constructed, but bland. The walls were arrainged in a trapezoidal fashion, with chairs along them. The room was wide towards the elevator, but it narrowed considerably as it reached the front desk.

A young blonde American woman sat behind the desk, idly typing away at the keyboard of her desktop, but every minute or two her glance would carefully flick over to where Satsuo was sitting, watching him with a careful gaze. Behind the front desk was another barrier which fell just short of intersecting the approaching side walls, cunningly preventing one from seeing anything in what Satsuo supposed was the hallway behind.

It was simple, but it showed an interesting degree of foresight. The most disturbing thing about the room was not the d'ecor though, but the sound. Noises just weren't the same in here. Everything felt muffled, as though he were listening to things through cotton balls. It was really beginning to get on his nerves.

He was just about ready to call this job quits and walk out the door from sheer annoyance, when a young man walked around the corner. He was a massive specimen, well over two meters tall, and who looked to be about three hundred pounds of muscle and bone. His suit was well tailored, causing Satsuo to revise his opinion of the man somewhat. Either he was a very powerful gaurd, or he was some kind of manager. Whatever the case was, Sstsuo knew that suits of that sort weren't cheap.

"Good morning Haketashi-san," the man rumbled, stopping and bowing to him. "My name is Mitsugi O'Gannon, the man who sent you the letter. I apologize for keeping you waiting, but some unfortunate issues distracted me."

"It is good to meet you sir," Satsuo replied, returning the bow. "I trust that we may discuss what the letter was pertaining to?"

"Certainly," O'Gannon replied cheerfully. "Come with me to my office, and we can discuss the matter more fully there."

O'Gannon made a gesture for him to follow and proceeded to walk back behind the secretary. As he passed by her, Satsuo could swear out ouf the corner of his eye that she relaxed a little, and that her knee moved just slightly away from the front of her desk. He also caught a flash of metal, before he passed through into the next hallway.

Satsuo's mind began to race. What kind of place armed their receptionists? He followed O'Gannon now with even more attention, pulling his suit jacket tighter around him. He also noted that as soon as he had passed out of the hallway leading to the foyer, the stopped up feeling in his ears suddenly went away.

With the change in sound, suddenly he felt as though he had walked into some sort of intelligence agency. He saw a dozen people scurrying around with files, darting into offices here and there. The walls were institutionally bland grey, but somehow they felt more alive. Satsuo was a very intuitive man, who trusted his hunches a lot, and this place was one of the most energetic offices he had ever been in. However, his curiosity and apprehension were growing by the minute.

After a quick series of turns, Satsuo found himself in a private office, along the same lines as the rest of the building. He noted the various items around the room. Set up on some pegs was an enormous sword, and there were various other human touches, including a set of fake plants. Other than the sword, this could have been the office of any number of mid-level bureaucrats.

Mitsugi gestured to a solitary chair in front of his desk, which was covered with paperwork. Satsuo sat down and looked at O'Gannon, waiting for him to begin.

Mitsuigi sat down on his chair, and pulled a file out, placing it on his blotter. He opened it and leafed through carefully, his large fingers deftly moving the pages. "Well, Hakitashi-san, you've made quite a name for yourself in the independent detective market. A lot of very powerful people recommend you."

"Thank you sir," Satsuo responded. "I offer the best services that money can buy in this city."

"Interesting," Mitsugi said calmly, closing the folder. "Well, I have a job for you that I can guarantee will be a little different from your usual contracts. If you're interested, of course."

"Well, I'm here sir," Satsuo said, trying to appear calm and collected. However, his stomach felt as if it had been inhabited by carnivorous butterflies.

"Very well," Mitsugi said with a smile. "You've been living in Tokyo for the past few years, have you not?"

"Yes sir,"

"Then I suppose that you've noticed the increase in the number of, well to put it bluntly, magical goings on then?"

"Yes," Satsuo said carefully. "What does this have to do with me sir?"

"I'm getting to that," Mitsugi replied calmly. "Have you personally witnessed any of these events?"

"Yes sir, but I'd rather not talk about them," Satsuo replied, growing even more uneasy.

"Well, be that as it may, no doubt they've been at least a passing interest to you," Mitsugi continued. "There are those around, Hakitashi-san, who have more than a passing interest in these events. We are one such group. We have full sanction from the Japanese government; just think of us as a consulting branch for the Federal government."

Satsuo nodded.

"What I'm wondering is whether or not you are interested enough in such things to do a task for us. I won't lie to you, it will be dangerous, and there are a great many uncertainties, but we will try to make it as safe for you as possible."

Satsuo sat for a moment in thought, painful memories racing through his head. Finally he looked up at Mitsugi. "What do I have to do?"

Mitsugi grinned a little. "Before I tell you anything, you're going to have to sign a non-disclosure agreement. Some of this is quite confidential."

Satsuo nodded, and leaned forward, signing the document that Mitsugi handed him. Mitsugi watched him hand the document back and meet his gaze head on.

"Well, now that we have the contract out of the way, here's the deal. You probably know about the Jungle arsonist, right? Well here's the catch that the police aren't releasing to the public. Whoever this arsonist is, they are not just killing people with fire, but they're using magic fire."

Satsuo blinked at Mitsugi.

"Yes, well, that was pretty much the Tokyo PD?s reaction to the situation also,? Mitsugi continued. ?The real point of all this is that the Tokyo Police don?t have the resources to do the kind of magical detective work that we need, and we lack the kind of on the street knowledge of what is happening in the Jungle. That is where you come in.?

Mitsugi stood up and walked over to the pegs on the wall where his blade was hanging. ?Let me be frank with you sir. What we are requiring of you is dangerous, although we are willing to compensate you quite well for your work. We need to know what you know, the contacts you have in the worst places in the city.?

He turned around to look at Satsuo with a patient stare. ?We need to get our fingers to the pulse of the Jungle, and we need to find its heart. There are those here who are quite afraid that time is simply running out, and that we?re due for another rash of murders soon. Within two weeks at least. I?m not optimistic that we can find him, her, them, or it in that time, but I want this to be the last bunch of people that this thing kills. Does that make sense to you Hakitashi-san??

Satsuo said nothing for a moment, taking all of this in. ?So, you?re telling me that you are a sanctioned organization by the government of Japan??


?...That has been newly formed to look for magical comings and goings??


"...and that you need me to help you get contacts on the ground in order to hunt down the serial killer of the last fifteen years.?


Satsuo couldn?t help himself, he started to laugh. ?Oh boy, this is a good one. You?re serious aren?t you??

?I won?t take that as an insult Hakitashi-san,? Mitsugi said a little more quietly. ?Just give me a little while to prove to you what I say is true.?

?Alright,? Satsuo said jovially. ?It can?t be any weirder that what I?ve already seen so far.?

He quickly realized that he was wrong. As they toured the office floor, he saw things that would never be in any normal kind of building. The miniature pistol range and the dojo both had people actively practicing with live weapons. Satsuo noted that they weren?t half bad either.

He was made privy to the various labs and offices, looking in on the people as they worked. It was amazing. The rooms were surgically clean, and all of the technicians were working with remarkable speed. Although he could barely understand O?Gannon?s explanations of what they were doing, he was left with a feeling of amazement. It was almost as if he had tumbled down the rabbit hole and ended up in a military instillation.

Mitsugi moved quickly, and the Caine Securities people had managed to put an amazing amount of stuff into the space that they had on this floor. But the high tech equipment wasn?t what really had him feeling weird. It was all of the occult looking things that they were dealing with.

For example, in one lab he had watched as an older man and a young woman performed some kind of experiment on a piece of cloth that actually seemed to glow. At first he had thought it a trick of the light, but when one of the people had picked up the rag and moved it out from under the examination lamp, it had continued to exude a faint golden light.

As he saw more and more, he quickly realized that if this was some kind of practical joke, the scale was far too large to be just for his sake. The clincher for him had been when they had finished the tour, all except for one wing of the floor. Mitsugi, who had been leading at a breathtaking pace, slowed down and gestured with his right hand toward a large set of rectangular double doors that appeared to have what looked like Western angels playing, captured by the mahogany carvings in a striking fluid dance.

?Now, all of what I?ve just shown you is really just a foretaste,? Mitsugi said casually. ?The real stuff, well that?s behind these doors.?

Satsuo by this time had ceased with his humor, and now looked as though he had been rudely awakened. He could do nothing but nod to Mitsugi to continue.

?Very well, welcome to the heart of our operation,? Mitsugi said. ?Welcome to the Chapel and the Vault.?

He walked up to the doors and opened them with little effort. What lay behind them was nothing less than jaw dropping. The room was big, covered in a fine black marble. Lit candles marked a path between two sets of gothic butressess which led down the hallway to another door with similar carvings to the first one. The black tiles of the room were such that almost ten people could walk through side by side. In a city like Tokyo, this was an unheard of luxury for a business. What kind of practical application could this room have? Slowly at first, Satsuo took a step into the room, then another. Mitsugi walked closely behind him.

When he had entered the room and the door had shut behind him, Satsuo began to feel an incredible presence, almost like he had at the temples he had attended in his youth. There was kind of silence that somehow was more intense that the loudest of sounds. He felt himself trying to make as little noise as possible as he walked through the room, as if he were trying not to mistakenly awaken some sleeping divinity.

As Satsuo stepped through he noticed that the pillars were set such that they created small alcoves along the length of the room. Into each alcove was set a tiny shrine, and he was intrigued to find that all kinds of shrines were there. Shinto, Buddhist, Christian and others were tucked away every few meters down the hallway. Here and there a few people were kneeling before the alcoves, praying or perhaps doing something else.

At the Buddhist shrine, Satsuo felt an almost overwhelming urge to stop for a moment, but Mitsugi kept him from it, gently steering him forward with a massive paw.

?There will be time for prayer in a moment,? Mitsugi whispered. ?There is one last thing that you need to see.?

Satsuo jerked in surprise. He hadn?t really been thinking about prayer, had he? He wasn?t a very religious man these days, but still. He had just wanted to look at the statue for a moment. Hadn?t he?

As they walked towards the end of the hallway, Satsuo?s tall companion stepped forward and pushed on the door. Holding it open, he gestured for Satsuo to enter. With a growing sense of wonder, Satsuo stepped through the door and was greeted yet another sensory overload.

The room was a large open space, covered in the same black marble. In the center of the room was a large circular dias that was perfectly inscribed into the floor. It was covered with intertwining symbols engraved in a silvery metal, which seemed to make an unending web across the entire floor. The steps of the dias which were right at the door were covered with a simple red carpet, leading up to the main plateau of marble.

Light from what must have been nearly a hundred candles set in various ornate stands cast a warm glow about the room. Recessed into the walls of the room were over a dozen different alcoves which were empty of items.

The walls of the room appeared to be butressed, though why Satsuo couldn't understand. His eyes followed the graceful arches as they led towards the roof. His gaze became goggled when he beheld the roof for the first time. Set into it was a painting of the Earth, upon a field of stars. So finely crafted were the stars that it seemed as though there was no end to them.

The continents and clouds were layed out with painstaking detail. So careful was the artistry that it appeared to be almost photographic. The world had been painted in such a way as to make the terminator line snake around the planet. Satsuo thought that it was almost as though it were a serpent. That was, at least, until he identified the trademark swirl that marked it as a stylized representation of Yin and Yang. The pitch black of one side of the sphere, darker than the star field behind it, contrasted amazingly with the blues, browns and whites of the world.

Through this image of the Earth, a great broadsword was thrust, hilt at the north pole, blade tip through the south. Around the Earth a shroud of pure white lay, loosely coiling. Satsuo could hardly believe that such a work was sitting in the heart of an office building. He reluctantly tore his eyes away from the image, and turned to look at Mitsugi, who nodded to him. Mitsugi stepped up to the dias, carefully not stepping into the center, and beckoned Satsuo to follow.

He numbly obeyed, climbing up the three steps and walking over to Mitsugi. This was the first time that he had noticed another man standing there. He was about average height, with long blonde hair tied into a ponytail. His charcoal grey suit was expensive and well tailored. He had pale skin, and blue piercing eyes set into a full face, glasses perched upon his nose, with archetypal English features. He tilted his sharp chin slightly as he looked at Satsuo, the candlelight causing his glasses to flash, and for a second Satsuo wondered if all this was some kind of strange test. Perhaps this was a cruel twist on a job interview, for the man's eyes were weighing him, judging his worth.

In his hand he held the massive sword that Mitsugi had kept in his office on a rack. He idly handed the sword over to Mitsugi with a slight bow. When he straitened up, he turned back to Satsuo and resumed his quiet staring. Satsuo looked at the man for a few more moments before giving a polite bow to him. The man smiled a little and returned the bow. He turned to Mitsugi and nodded.

"Well sir, welcome to the Vault," the man said in a quiet voice. "I expect that this must be a bit much for you, and for that we wish to apologize. My name is Richard Caine, and this is the heart of the operation that we run in Tokyo. Not the brains perhaps, but the heart."

"This is where we store any kind of magical device or cursed artifact that we recover. As we're fairly new, there aren't really any items here that fit the bill. That's the purpose of the inscriptions below you feet actually. They act as a kind of Faraday Cage for magical energies. Thus, in here, all items loose their mystical oomph."

"Now, you must be wondering why of all the men in Tokyo we're looking for you, correct?"

"Hai," Satsuo said, the effort of squeezing that single word out of his mouth in this place almost more than he could bear.

"Well, the truth is that we've been looking at you for at least a month now. We here are good at our science and our investigation, but what we really lack in this city is contacts," Caine said, his lip curling a little. "So far the police have been...reticent, shall we say? with giving us acces to their street contacts. And in this case we need our own sources and badly."

Richard fixed Satsuo with a sad smile. "We're getting nowhere with this investigation as it is. We need your help, and I'm sorry if this is overwhelming to you, but I feel as though you're professional enough to deal with it. The fact is that we would have approached you slowly over the next few months, slowly trying to work out contracts for more and more important cases, bringing you into this world gradually."

"Then I would have approached you with a proposition. Help us to help Humanity."

Satsuo blinked, trying to understand what Caine was saying.

"I'm sure O'Gannon-san has given you a good idea of what our problems are, so I won't repeat them. What I need is for you to help us save lives in this city. You're good enough to do the job, sir. I've looked at a great deal of your previous work over last few hours. You have restraint, professionalism, and most of all a good survival instinct."

"Thank you, Mr. Caine," Satsuo whispered. "But I have to wonder sir, can you deal with these things? I've seen the Senshi fight. I even saw them fighting that black beast before the coming of the ice. It was one of the most terrifying moments of my entire life. How can you sir? Unless you are also supermen?"

"A good question," Richard said with an impressed expression. "Straightforward and honest. Let me say that there are various methods of conflict. There is that of battle and head on collision, and there is that of trickery and craft. We specialize in the latter."

Richard made a hand gesture towards Mitsugi who drew the long No-dachi from its ornate sheath. Richard pointed at the blade and gave Satsuo a wry grin.

"This blade was made during the Sengoku Jidai for one of the heirs of the Shimazu clan. It has, over the past four hundred years or so, gained a reputation as a blade that is a killer of Oni and demons. Spirits fear this sword, with good reason. I've seen it cleave an insubstantial wraith in two. But then, ask yourself why."

Richard walked up to the sword, and gave it a quick flick with his finger, causing a slight resonating tone to be emitted. "This blade is not magical. In fact, while it is a decent specimen of the period, it is not the finest of this kind of weapon created either. So then, why can it slice a demon in two?"

Mitsugi lowered the blade and Richard motioned for Satsuo to come forward and look at the blade. Satsuo stepped up slowly, looking at the interesting ripple patterns on the ancient weapon. Richard pointed to leading edge of the blade, and continued.

"What someone realized when they finally put the weapon under X-Ray Crystalography is that it has a somewhat unique and abnormal crystaline structure. It actually acts sort of like a tuning fork for mystically based beings. When struck, it actually causes enough magical vibration to rend any kind of energy that we've so far encountered."

Richard laughed, the soft sound echoing around the room. "It's not some kind of magical weapon. It is not enchanted, nor is it all that durable. It just happens to vibrate a frequency that shatters demons. Imagine that. Just steel."

Satsuo looked at Richard with a dawning comprehension. Richard nodded to Mitsugi, who re-sheathed his sword. "Now I think you're beginning to understand. This blade is a fine example of the way we think. Magic is part of nature good sir, it always has been."

"The thing about nature is that it has rules," Richard commented. "And those rules can be put to advantage by the cunning and the wise. Magic just has different rules, that's all. I won't be so arrogant as to claim we know everything, but each day we learn more, understand better. We may not be able to fight against gods, but we'll stand a good chance against a demon or a spirit."

Satsuo nodded with a little smile. "That is a good answer sir. Thank you. Well, I'll have to think on your proposal. I cannot give you your answer now."

"I understand," Richard replied. "Nor would I want it now, not here. Give it some time, but do realize the constraints we're under now. The sooner that you can reply, the better."

"I understand sir," Satsuo replied. Richard walked down off of the dias with the private detective and gently opened the door to the Vault. Outside, a man who looked to be in his forties in a grey shirt and slacks stood patiently waiting.

"This gentleman here will see you to the door," Richard said. "Think well on it."

"I will sir," Satsuo said, taking a final bow. "Good day to you."

"Good day to you as well," Richard said, and the officer led Satsuo out of the floor and into the elevator.

"Hmmm," Mitsugi said, coming up behind Richard. "Do you think that he'll want to work with us?"

"Oh, I think that he's a good prospect," Richard said. "He's definitely got the drive. Look how successful his business has been."

"Somehow I don't think that the detective aspect of the job is going to be the big selling point to him," Mitsugi pointed out mildly.

"Yes, I believe that the fact that Tumbler killed his sister accidentally about five years ago will be the clincher," Richard said. "Don't you?"

"Yup," Mitsugi replied. "I think that he'll do nicely. He's pretty unflappable. Most people would have been worse than speechless after that. I just wonder how long it will take for him to get back to us."

"Not long," Richard said confidently, looking at the door Satsuo had exited. "Not long at all..."

Richard was right.

At 8:00 the next morning they recieved a phone call, and Satsuo Haketashi received his first assignment.

"Everyone in my neighborhood had left to vote. I have no feeling of fear--Allah has won."
-Umm Ali, Duhra, Iraq

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Thu Jan 20, 2005 12:57 pm
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Chapter 11 The Knight/Relationships....

January 9 12:00 hours

Lee Ward was a fairly busy man these days, but he would hardly call his full time job an exciting one. He laughed a little to himself as he paused from shoveling snow in the front area of the temple. Even though it wasn't all that much exercise for his intellect, it was a good way to focus on his movements, and become aware of his body. Besides, it was nice to think of things besides his upcoming wedding, which was stressing him out greatly, and how he was going to take care
the cat girl, Pi, that he had brough back from Jupiter.

With a wry expression, Lee turned back to shoveling the snow, trying to clear his mind once again. The mind was a tricky thing, he mused for a moment. It would always be waiting to jump you if you weren't careful. He slowly worked his way back into his snow tossing meditation, when he saw a black sedan pull up to the front of the temple. It was not unusual to see vehicles there, and this wasn't what Lee was most surprised about. In fact, if he hadn't caught sight of who was getting out of the car, he would have let it pass by completely.

He watched as Richard Caine got out of the back seat of the car and walked up the long front steps towards the temple front. Lee stopped where he was, leaning on the shovel and looking intently at Richard as he slowly worked his way towards him. After a moment, Richard reached the top of the stairs, standing close to Lee, and giving him a quick once over.

"Well, Mr. Ward," Richard said, taking off one of the gloves that he had on his hand. "I'll be damned if it isn't a good day for shoveling snow."

He extended his hand, which Lee took and pumped once. "Mind if I join you?"

Lee raised his eyebrows in curiosity. "Somehow Mr. Caine I don't think that you stopped by just to shovel snow with me."

"Call me Richard," he said with a smile. "And you're right about this not just being an excuse to get out of the office, but I like to have something to do when I talk. Especially if I'm disruptingy your work here. Oh, and do you have another one of those shovels laying around?"

Lee shrugged at this. "Only as long as you call me Lee. Huh, well you asked for it. The shovels are in the back of the shed."

Lee watched with curiosity as Richard trudged over to the shed off to the side of the building and walked back with the shovel in hand, balanced on the shoulder of his expensive looking long coat. He took a deep breath and started shoveling the snow off the steps next to Lee. Nodding to himself, and figuring that if this rich guy wanted to shovel some snow for him, who was he to argue, Lee picked up his shovel and joined in the effort.

"Now," Lee said after a moment's pause in the work. "What brings you out to visit a humble man like me on such a beautiful day?"

"Well," Richard said, tossing some snow over his shoulder. "I had a talk with an interesting woman the other day, who said that I should speak with you about certain...flammability problems that the city's been experiencing lately."

Lee nodded. "Would that woman happen to have dark hair, tanned skin and be roughly two thousand years old?"

"Remarkable guessing," Richard laughed. "How'd you know that?"

"Well that certain lady stopped by the other day," Lee said casually. "And told me that you were going to be stoppin' in. She told me that I should listen real well to anything that ya'll had to say."

"Damn, that woman is good," Richard said with a smirk. "Those clairvoiants. What a trip."

"You're telling me," Lee said. "I've been spooked out something fierce by them before. But they've saved my life at least once, so I'm not complaining."

"Huh, then I guess I should get to the point," Richard said. "To put it blunt, I think that we're going to need your help with this case. Your history tells me that you're a good detective, and that you have a knack for being in the right place at the right time. We need that now."

"The Jungle arsonist has been screwing with all of our usual ways of getting to the point of an investigation, and frankly we're stuck. The problem is that he's so damned thorough that we can't seem to track his work. Plus there's all those possessed and or destroyed corpses, who's nature and cause we can't seem to figure out. The picture's lookign pretty bleak, unless we get some kind of a break real soon."

"Well, sounds like ya'll are in a bit of trouble then," Lee commented. "Don't know how I can help with that though. I mean, superpowers don't mean jack if you don't have a target for them."

"Actually, I don't think that I was supposed to meet with you just because of your abilities," Richard said. "I really think that I was supposed to find you because we need more detectives, and fast. Now I've managed to pick up a guy, you might have heard of him, Satsuo Hakitashi?"

"Actually, yeah," Lee said. "Pretty famous guy. How'd you get him on the bandwagon?"

Richard smiled wanly. "Trade secrets."

Lee's answering smile was one of understanding, and respect between professionals. "Ah, I see."

"Yup, he's working for us now, and doing a bang up job," Richard continued. "He's only been with us for about a day and a half, and already he's made a few inroads into the Yakuza structure. But what I really want is an outside perspective. How are we doing things, what could be done better, are there connections that we've missed. You know, typical consultant things."

"Hmm," Lee said, thinking a little. "Well, tell you what, I'll look over what you've got, and tell you if anything comes to mind. I have responsibilities here, but that doesn't mean that I can't do a little consulting on the side."

"Thanks," Richard said. He reached into his coat and pulled out a CD. "This here's what we've gathered so far on all of the things that we might think are related to this. However, I'm afraid that we might have a pretty incomplete picture here."

"Well, I'll see what I can do with it," Lee responded, extending his hand to Richard, who shook it.

"That's all I ask Lee, that's all I ask," Richard said, and then turned around and walked back to the shed to put up his shovel.

January 9 14:00 hours

Richard sat behind his desk, the seemingly infinite amount of paper that he had to shuffle in a day was slowly being ground down by an intense effort on his part and that of his staff. It was a real pain, and the part of his job that he hated the most, but it was a very real necessity. Of course, some of these documents would get him thrown into prison if certain officials ever got their hands on them, but that was just part of the trade.

He was reading a report that Mitsugi had sent to him concerning the status of the Cassandra system, when he was interrupted by a knock on his door. He cursed to himself. It was just his luck that he'd become so popular recently. Maybe the Queen herself had come to call on him. That would certainly jive with how the rest of his life had been going recently.

"What is it?" he barked at the door, trying to reign in his temper.

"Sir, a visitor," his aide chimed. "One Lady Hotaru Tomoe."

Richard's eyes widened instantly. "Well, for crying out loud James, send her in. You know that she's cleared for almost all of the stuff that we've got running now.

"Yes sir," the aide replied. "One moment."

Richard stood up and paced around, thinking to himself. What the hell was he going to say to her? Oops, I'm really sorry Hotaru, but I want to jump you right here and now? Or maybe that I just want to hold your hand and I can't? He cursed at himself again for his weakness. He'd been stressing even after the talk that Mitsugi had given him earlier. The problem for him was that it wasn't just their respective positions, although that was part of it.

It was that he still wasn't really certain that she had meant what she said. It had happened to him before, and the prospect of facing something like that again curdled his stomach. Without honesty there was nothing. Demons and specters of his previous relationships sprang up, but Richard pushed them to the back of his mind.

"Later," Richard said softly to himself. "Not now..."

"Not now what?" asked a soft voice from behind him. Richard started, realizing that he hadn't even heard anyone come in, but that there was only one person who this could be.

"Hello Hotaru," Richard said. "How are you doing today?"

"Oh, I'm okay," she said a little awkwardly. "I was just in the neighborhood and wanted to stop by... well I actually wanted to thank you for the other night."

"Ah," Richard said. "Well, I don't know, I guess that it was just what I would have done for anyone. But I accept your thanks anyway."

Hotaru nodded. "I guess so, but thanks anyway."

An uncomfortable silence descended then. Neither of them spoke for a few more moments, until Hotaru began to giggle a little. Richard looked at her curiously.

"Hell, why is this so hard?" she asked him. Richard shrugged. "I mean, I know what I wanted to say, it took me a whole day just to figure it out, and now I can't do it."

"I, er, was thinking the same thing," Richard said cautiously. "But why don't you go first."

"How brave of you," Hotaru smirked nervously. There was a trace of real humor in her smile though, which caused Richard to relax a little. "Well I just wanted to say that... that I meant what I said to you the other night. I may have been drunk, but that doesn't mean it wasn't the truth."

Richard gave a little sigh of relief. "Damn, well, that's a load off of my chest. I wanted to tell you... well I wanted to say that I meant what I said too. I just was a little worried that you didn't mean what you said."

Richard snorted to himself. "Guess I just think things through too much."

"You know," Hotaru said, with a little smile. "It's really scary how alike we are."

Richard laughed some, and rubbed the back of his head sheepishly. "Guess human silliness will always be a trait that I've got."

Hotaru laughed. "Hmm. If you have a case of silliness, then I've got a case of terminal buffonery."

Richard looked at her with a raised eyebrow, and then suddenly bent forward, his arms dangling towards his knees. Then he began to caper about the room like a fool. Hotaru couldn't help herself. She began to curl up with laughter. After all, seeing a man in a thousand dollar suit do an impression of an ape performing the Macarana was not an everyday occurrence.

Richard jumped into one of the chairs, completing a dramatic move, when someone opened the door. Mitsugi stood behind it, staring at Richard for a few moments, and blinking. Richard froze in position, only his eyes moving like magnets to where his friend was standing.

"Um, I think that I'll come back later," Mitsugi said, backing out of the room slowly, as if Richard would pounce on him any instant, and closing the door slowly. By this time Hotaru was nearly howling with laughter. Richard stepped down from the chair and straightened his suit coat a little.

?Drat,? Richard said. ?Well, hopefully this won?t get around the office. I have a reputation to maintain which doesn?t include me acting like a monkey. Usually, at least??

Hotaru wiped a tear from her eye as she uncurled and gave him a dazzling smile. ?You?re really strange sometimes, you know that??

?Yep,? Richard said, tucking his tie back into his coat. ?But usually I?m only weird around people I know and trust, or when I?m really nervous.?

?Well,? Hotaru asked, still grinning. ?Which one do I qualify as??

?Both,? Richard said. He was about to say more, when Hotaru crossed the distance between them and grabbed his tie.

?You gave the right answer,? she said with a devious expression. For a second, Hotaru's violet eyes seemed to sparkle with a fraction of the strange magic that Richard had seen only once, but already had been impressed deeply upon him. But then the violet flicker was over and she gave his tie a sturdy yank, pulling his face down to hers and kissed him.

This was not a normal peck either. This was the full deal with all the works. She parted her lips and her tongue wandered into his mouth. Richard?s arms slowly encircled her and pulled her closer to him. After all, his body remarked to him, why should you pass up a good thing?

They stood like that for almost a full minute, until Hotaru backed off of him. He looked down at her questioningly, and she blinked.

?Whoa,? she said in a slight daze. ?Not bad, Mr. Caine.?

?You weren?t all that bad either,? Richard said to her. ?Ms. Tomoe.?

She sighed, and relaxed into his chest, hugging him tightly to her body. It was a particularly touching sight because Hotaru came up to roughly where Richard's chin was, and so he placed his head on top of hers, staring vacantly out into space. After some time had passed, Hotaru reluctantly let go of Richard and stepped back from him.

"Well, I'm glad that worked out so well," she said softly. "To tell you the truth, I'm still scared witless."

"That makes two of us," Richard replied. "I...well, would you like to go out to dinner sometime? I mean, within the next few days or so?"

"Sure," she said. "Just as long as we don't talk about work."

"You'll get no arguments from me," he replied. "I'm getting so sick of paperwork that I'll be very happy to leave it all behind."

"Good, a week from today then?" she asked. "It'll give you a whole week to prepare and clear your shedule. Just stop by the office, I'll be there..."

"...because you're always there. You got it," Richard said with a smile.

Hotaru turned to go, but as she did, she felt a light touch on her arm that caused her to turn around. Richard leaned in and kissed her gently, and backed away with a smile. His grin and his eyes promised that there was more where that came from, and Hotaru felt herself answering his smile with one of her own.

"Have a good day Richard," she said in a sing-song voice. "I'll see you on Friday, if not before..."

And with that, she swung out of the office, a noticeable spring in her step. Richard stood stunned, still wondering if this was some sort of dream, or whether it was real. Shaking his head to clear away the cobwebs, Richard shrugged and walked back behind his desk.

He carefully unfolded the letter that had been given to him by Meiou and began to read through it again. He shook his head at the paper, and folded it back up and put it in one of his desk drawers. He frowned to himself and crossed his arms, deep in thought.

?Damn woman?? he muttered to himself, with a tiny grin. ?She has the gall to tell me not to take advantage of Hotaru, even before Hotaru talked to me about even dating... And I thought I was an arrogant know-it-all. Hmph.?

January 9 17:00 hours

Lee Ward sat at a table in his and Ami?s suite in the palace, his laptop placed before him. He was dressed in a housecoat and sweatpants, his blue eyes scanning the screen quickly, and scrolling down the raw data that Caine had given him. It was really quite fascinating, and almost as impossible to untangle as what he had personally dealt with all those years ago on Sol.

He scratched the slight stubble on his chin and got back to work. There was a pattern in this mess, he knew there was. Lee took a sip from a cup of coffee that he had placed beside him and got back to work. His fingers flew across the keyboard as he tried to reason his way to what had been going on.

Lee creased his brow in thought as he contemplated something. Taking the data from all of the corpses which Richard?s people had analyzed in addition to the big fire in the Jungle, he placed the events which must have created them in a kind of timeline. The pattern didn?t look like any kind that he had ever seen before. The distances were too sporadic and the timing was not any kind of linear pattern that he had ever seen.

Humming to himself, Ward began to look at the data in an even more detailed way, this time looking for some kind of algorithm that matched the murders. The computer took his query and matched the sets as best it could. It took nearly half an hour, but finally the little machine spat out the answer. There was some kind of a pattern here, the computer at least agreed with that, but it was seemingly so random that he was having a hard time making heads or tails of it.

With a growing curiosity, he began to check the numbers against a gift that April Foxglow had given him after their little ?trip? to Jupiter. It was an index of all of the different spiritual calendars of every religion that April or her organization had ever heard of. There were so many different versions of the holy days that Lee?s head had swam the first time that he looked at it.

Although there were some interesting categories that were very close to the pattern of the murders, none of them fit quite right. After a while it just looked as though the killings just rapidly departed from any of the religions that April knew about. Growling his frustration, Lee then tried his next trick.

Opening up the Central Japanese Government Database that Ami had given him access to, and began to run correlations between the murders and any kind of natural phenomena that they had records for. He watched as the numbers scrolled past him yet again.

It wasn?t uncommon for mages to try to work with natural cycles, Lee thought to himself. He had seen it himself several times, but he usually thought of things working in terms of a set calendar for most mystic practices. Still, it might be a long shot but his experience in this life and his previous one had taught him not to take chances with off the wall ideas.

It took about an hour and a half, with the Mainframe at the Palace helping his computer to run through the categories, but it was then that he hit pay dirt. A pattern emerged, and the computers, which suffered from no human failings such as incredulity or shock, calmly gave him the answer he?d spent the past six or so hours trying to find.

Lee stared at the screen blankly for nearly a minute before his mind could make sense of what he was seeing. And he had seen some very strange stuff in his life. Still, it matched what data he had so perfectly that it would be hard to question the validity.

After blinking for a few minutes, Lee then ran the algorithm backwards through time cross referencing it with any and all arson related crimes in the past five years. The results were staggering, but they were also progressive.

At first it was just houses catching on fire, and house pets being immolated, but as Ward traced the pattern from the past three years the scale of the damage had escalated more and more as time went on. Other than the algorithm and the fact that there seemed to be a scaling of the damage that marked the events. The targets were widely varied, with everything from heavy industries to residential apartments. Apparently the bastard was also good at covering his tracks.

Ward continued to look through the various events that the algorithm had tagged. It was only in the past year that people had begun to die, that these incidents had begun to be more distinct. Ward cursed to himself, looking at the date on Ami's wall calendar, and then back to the screen. Sonofa bitch.

"Well Sir Ward of Enochos, Io," a voice said from behind him with a dry tone. "It looks as though you've stumbled onto the key to the whole problem of the Jungle Arsonist. And in only a quarter of the day. Good work."

Lee spun around, preparing to transform, when he took sight of who was sitting on the floor, knees folded underneath him. He was dressed in a white suit, well cut, and upon his head was a white fedora, with an intricately patterned feather stuck through the band. The hat was pulled low over the man's face, sheilding his features, but Ward could make out a ghost of a smile on the man's lips.

"Who are you," Lee asked, his hand preparing to grab for the Nyoi-bo on the belt of his housecoat. "And how the hell did you get in here?"

The man stood up, and Lee realized that they were about the same height. He tilted back his fedora with his left index finger, and Lee got a better look at his face. Intent blue eyes, ringed by dark circles blazed out at him from an otherwise normal European face. His right hand pulled out a holographic badge with and interlinked OW on the front from his white suit coat. "I'm Zephyr, a not so humble servant of the Omega Web."

"Zephyr, eh?" Ward said, relaxing a little. "I assume that you have something to tell me then."

"Patience, Sir Ward," Zephyr responded, taking out a small flask from his hip and taking a swig of whatever was in it. "I'll tell you all about it in a moment. Do you have a light?"

Ward watched with amazement as the Omega Webber pulled out a thin cigarillo from a golden cigarette case and put it between his lips with a grin. "I'm afraid it's one of my more visible sins, Sir Ward."

Soundlessly, Lee walked over to the kitchen cabinet and tossed a box of matches at the young man. Despite Lee's experience of the Omega Web, what happened next was remarkable. The box of matches sailed through the air, only inches away from striking him. Suddenly Zephyr became an indistinct white blurr and his hand was perfectly in position to catch the box, despite the fact that it had been sailing towards the back of his head. Ward was unsure whether the man had teleported, or simply moved so fast that normal eyes couldn't follow him.

Deftly drawing out a match, Zephyr struck it against the bottom of his shoe, and put the match to his cigarillo, puffing slightly. "Thanks. I've always prefered matches myself. Preserves the flavor."

Ward watched him for a moment. Zephyr pulled the cigarillo out of his mouth and looked at it intently before turning to give Lee an intense gaze. "Mr. Ward, I've been ordered by Dave Reinquest to check in on what Caine Securities is doing currently. Some of your sisters in arms seem to have their doubts about just how... reliable they are."

"There are some tidbits that I've happened upon that I think both Rei, Hotaru and Usagi are going to be very interested in, but I dislike giving out information without the whole picture. When I've learned more, I'll send it to them and see what they think of it. Their reactions should be amusing."

"However, there have been developments that have caused me to mildly reasses what my job should be," Zephyr continued with puff. "It comes down to what's really the best interest of both my organization and your adopted country."

"What would those developments be then?" Ward asked. "I'm pretty sure Dave wouldn't have sent you here if he didn't think it would be necessary."

"Well, Dave gives me a bit more... freedom than some are allowed," Zephyr said. "These developments mostly involve what the nature of the arsonist is, and what impact he will have on Tokyo. Which means that I'm interested in helping you out Mr. Ward. However, it looks like you managed to beat me to it. I'm sure Mr. Caine is going to be very interested to see what you've put together here."

"No doubt," Lee said, giving Zephyr a careful look. "But you didn't answer my question."

Zephyr gave Lee a piercing look, which caused him to pause for a second. "I have my reasons. I've just discovered what's going on actually. However, because of our non-interference clause, I can't tell you what to do. Which means I have to help you figure it out for yourself."

"Ya'll really need to work on that clause," Lee said. "It could have saved a lot of heartburn, you know."

"Preaching to the choir," Zephyr responded, finishing his cigarillo and putting out the butt on the bottom of his designer shoe. "I'd love to just go down there and take care of business, but I can't actually get around the clause until something happens. Which means that I have to wait until the bastard tries to do something, and he's not very obliging. Near as I can tell, he's been silent since that fire which consumed the Yakuza bosses. So anyway, would you like to get some sleep? I can take the a copy of the files to our office and return it to you in the morning with all the data entered and the cross corrolations that you seemed to be starting completed."

Lee shrugged at the strangely dressed man. "Well, I haven't had any reason not to trust ya'll since I got these powers, so whatever."

"Good," Zephyr said. "Take it easy Ward. I'll drop these things off early in the morning by your PC here. I wouldn't want to disturb you and Lady Mizuno."

Lee gave him a strange look. "Thanks, I think..."

Zephyr looked off into the distance for a moment as Lee handed him the CD. Lee was certain that he was deeply concerned about something, but said nothing. Zephyr took the disk with a smile and a nod. He gestured for Ward to join him as he walked out onto one of the Palace balconies, looking over the glittering carpet of Tokyo.

"You know," Zephyr said. "With all of this intellect and power that I have, some problems never change. It's what makes us humans, and brothers you know."

"Yup," Lee said in agreement, also watching the city. "Superpowers don't really get rid of those things. Just make 'em even more recognizable."

Zephyr sighed a little. "The human instincts never seem to leave, even if we have to act against our inclinations."

Lee nodded with some level of understanding. "Still have a reptile part of your brain huh?"

Zephyr gave him a wild eyed look, and a tight smile. "Actually I'm infamous in the Web for my reptile brain. The ladies have no complaints. But that's just between you and me."

Lee burst out laughing, and Zephyr did a sweeping bow, taking his hat off of his head in one smooth motion. "Take it easy Ward."

Placing the hat back at a jaunty angle, he perched himself on the balcony railing and turned to look at Lee, before leaping into the abyss. "I'll be back."

His Austrian accent was flawless.

Chapter 12 The Hunter of the Hunted/Revelations

January 12 7:45 hours

Satsuo Hakitashi sat in a dingy corner of Sixth Avenue, sprawling against a wall with an open bottle of the cheapest liquor he could find open in front of him. He had spilled much of the bottle over himself, and he smelled like a very cheap distillery. His clothing was ragged and worn looking, and he looked as though he hadn't slept in nights, smeared with dirt and grime. He looked like a bum, who'd probably drunken himself into a complete stupor.

At least that was what he appeared to be on the outside.

Under the ragged and torn coat and outergarments, he wore a thick layer of heat absorbent fabric. Though he appeared to be stoned or drunk out of his mind, he was actually carefully percieving all that occured around him with a keen eye. The comings and goings of the various Yakuza were laid bare before his eyes.

When he had first been given the folder that Mitsugi O'Gannon had created for him, he was interested to note that the biggest action by the arsonist so far had involved one of the biggest events in the history of the Yakuza. It was the first time since the 1950's that Yakuza leadership had been so thoroughly eliminated. The police investigation into the results of this on the Yakuza structure was still ongoing, but Satsuo had managed to learn quite a bit on his own.

He had discovered over the past few days only that there appeared to be one remaining Yakuza boss still left in the entire city, which was a real shock to him. He was the head of one of the most notorious gangs in the country. The Blood Blades were a nasty bunch, and their chief, Nakamura, was said to be an implacable enemy. The word on the street was that he had visibly ensured that all of the Yakuza bosses were killed in a suitably spectacular way and then single handedly consolidated all of the remaining families into one huge organization.

At first he had been very skeptical of this, however the deeper he looked into the situation, the more it sounded convincing. For one thing, while there had been quite the upsurge in gang violence, it all appeared to be more or less business as usual, except for one or two exceptions. One of them was a strange murder case that the police had grudgingly handed over to him when he had shown them his Securities I.D. After looking over these massive murders, Satsuo had come to the conclusion that this Nakamura character was tightening his grip on his new realm. It appeared that Nakamura really was making a big push for ascendancy.

But Satsuo had also found that the word on the street was prone to exaggeration, especially about things like a massive takeover. He personally suspected that Nakamura had probably allowed the underlings to continue doing what they were doing, and just shifted who gave money to whom. He suspected that Nakamura just recieved about ten or twenty percent of the profit from all illegal activites in the Jungle. That was still a huge income, but it wasn't something that was unmanageable. Probably, business was being conducted as usual all across the board. Such a plan had all of the benefits of taxation, with none of the responsibility.

So after that first day of research, he had asked O'Gannon if he could go undercover to watch the Yakuza, and see if he could find anything more about this Nakamura. He certainly seemed to be organized enough to have hired someone like a mage. Perhaps an unstable elementalist of some kind had decided to aid in Nakamura's takeover. It certainly didn't sound outside of the realm of possibility, especially where the Caine Securities people were concerned. Having apparently seen similar things in the past, they had vigorously approved his plan, and wished him the best of luck.

After he had learned of the location of the Blood Blade's home turf, he had begun survelliance. He had been siting here for hours, watching the Yakuza scurry about. What he had observed had been most remarkable, and true to his original thoughts. The resturaunt that served as headquarters had a steady trickle of Yakuza moving in and out, dressed in all manner of styles and clan colors. Many times they just stopped by for a few moments, probably taking orders and then going back out to their respective places of work.

It appeared that Nakamura was running a tidy little shop here. After watching for a further thirty minutes, the business seemed to quiet down in the face of the growing light of morning. When there were no further visitors, and the resturant appeared to be cleaned, and locked up, Satsuo got shakily to his legs, dropping the empty bottle to shatter on the street. He had to act the part after all.

The photos that he had taken with his small camera would probably be very useful to Caine and his people. The police also might want to have it, considering they were always interested in the Yakuza. Besides, as soon as he'd looked at the work that Nakamura's people must have done, especially at the Lucky Drinks, he had no problems with bringing the man down.

January 12 11:00 hours

Mitsugi and Richard sat at the head of a conference table, a series of papers and files stacked in front of them on the black plastic surface of the table. The rooms blank white wall offered little comfort to the eye, and the furniture was austere, but the room was quite functional. Currently they were waiting for their guests, and the reason for the meeting. Ward had said that he'd figured out the pattern days of murders days ago, but Richard and Mitsugi had been so swamped with details of other assignments that had come up that they'd been unable to arrange a time to meet.

It seemed that lately spirit activity in the city was rising. More and more minor possessions and ethereal crimes were being committed every day. But that wasn't the only problem. The police had noticed a disturbing increase in the number of domestic disputes in the month of January. Nearly a twenty percent increase since the last week of December, and the month was still young. The police had been grateful that they could shift some duties off onto Caine Securities. The extra work load had been swamping them as the police began to shift more and more cases to them.

In any case the Senshi were on their way here, as was Satsuo Hakitashi. Apparently he had also discovered something of great interest that he wished to share with them concerning the local criminal element, but Satsuo had been quite vague on the phone. Neither Richard nor Mitsugi could blame him for that, however. It was probably a good idea not to talk about many things over such an open line.

So now they waited for their companions. Around the table the heads of each branch of the Tokyo office sat in their respective positions. Investigation, Research and Development, Holy Matters, Analysis, and Enforcement were all represented. But there were also other, more unusual members of the organization present. Around the table sat a handful of Inquisition strike team leaders, hand picked men from America and Europe who had been already tested in the hardest of situations.

The Tokyo office had three strike teams in total, under the auspices of the Enforcement office. To the uneducated the teams didn't seem too different from SWAT teams of any kind of police force. They were the ones who would confront problems that couldn't be solved peacefully or without heavy firepower. However, if one were to check out their equipment, one would find some disturbing things. Most SWAT teams didn't carry pure iron short swords, or have their bullets inscribed with hexagrammic wards.

The strike teams were the section of the Inquisition where Richard Caine had made his name. He had proven time and again that he had an excellent tactical mind and that he pushed his men hard, but got real results. Mitsugi looked out at the gathered men pensively. It had not been Richard's otherwise stellar combat performance that had gotten Richard his current position, but also his understanding of how organizations work, and structures were created. Mitsugi privately figured that the Grandmasters really wanted to have an idea of just how good Richard was at really running an office.

In any case, all of this meant that Richard was especially sensitive to what the strike teams had to do, and what they had to be prepared for. He had invited them here in order to get their input as to how to construe the data that they were all about to recieve, and it was a sign of how seriously he took Ward and Satsuo's findings to be.

They had been seated for only a few minutes before Ward, Hotaru, and Satsuo walked through the door at nearly the same time. In fact, Satsuo was in such a hurry that he bumped into Hotaru by accident from behind. She whirled irritatedly and gave him a stern look. Satsuo, who had not realized that he was face to face with a Senshi until she faced him, paled amazingly. Hotaru said nothing to him, but gave a slight grin and a narrowing of the eyes. After watching the detective cower for a moment, she took a seat next to Lee. Satsuo pulled up a chair on the opposite side of the and attempted to appear as innocuous as possible.

Richard watched the entire sequence with amusement, but he could feel tensions in the room that had nothing to do with embarrassment. He cleared his throat loudly.

"Well, ladies and gentlemen, welcome," Richard said. "I'd like to introduce you to the Senshi that we've been working with on this project. Lee Ward, Knight of Io, and Hotaru Tomoe, Lady Saturn, the Senshi tasked with magical enforcement. You probably met her when I introduced her a week and a half ago."

Hotaru's face twitched for a second as Richard said that, and she shot him a barely perceptible glare, but he ignored it and continued.

"Also, we have with us today Mr. Satsuo Hakitashi, who's been contracted to work with us on this matter, and hopefully others. Now that we've settled that, onto the real show here. Mr. Ward, if you would be so kind."

"Thank you, Mr. Caine," Ward replied with a wry expression. "Ladies and gentlemen, I was approached a few days ago and presented with this data that you've gathered. It took a lot of power from the Palace mainframe and some special data consultants who work with us occassionally, but I think that I've managed to stumble onto what ya'll are looking for."

Lee took a CD out of his pocket, and took his lap top out of its case, plugging it into the projector which rested on the conference table. While the system warmed up and Lee, went about accessing the data, he continued his monologue.

"Well, I ran this stuff through a whole bunch of different arcane data bases. Stuff that multiple organizations have collected about the phases of the moon, various celestial events, other things of a natural and cycling nature. None of that junk worked."

There were suspicious looks from Enforcement and the strike teams, but Investigations and Analysis were nodding their heads. Their frowns spoke of a similar frustration.

"Well, when that didn't work, I went for the long shot," Ward smiled widely, punching up the graph of the systems. "Here's the box of kitties ladies and gentlemen. Take a looksie."

The screen brough up an image of two graphs. One was in red, and traced out a jagged pattern. The other was in orange and traced out exactly the same coordinates. Lee smiled, before hitting the button which revealed what the data sets actually were. The surprise was universal. Richard actually dropped the pen that he had been idly flicking through his fingers. Mitsugi actually raised his eyebrow a full half inch.

Hotaru, who had already been informed of what the data contained, smirked at their reactions.

"That's it ladies and gentlemen," Ward said, leaning back in his chair. "The arsons have a corrolation to a physical phenomena alright. Directly varies with seismic activity near Mt. Fuji. Directly. There isn't a single incident on here that hasn't."

Ward gave all of the people around the table a serious look. "This guy's a real sick puppy. However, this isn't everything. The incidents have been increasing in the magnitude of their damage over time. Near as I can tell, the cycle probably started almost three years ago, as far as notable arson is concerned. And then it just gets worse, starting during the fall of 3003."

"According to the data that we have from this charting and from the projected activity of the volcano, we should also see something major in the next week or so. I have no reason to believe that this is in any way wrong. Also, we might want to consider that the magnitude of this is going to be much bigger. I honestly don't know what to expect. Other than burning, that is."

Richard sat back in his chair and crossed his legs. His fingers beat out a familiar rhythm on his legs as he considered what Ward had discovered. It was too strange. But on the other hand, he hadn't seen much better corrolated data in his life.

"Do we know whether or not these seismic events are being caused by these arsons, or whether they just happen to coincide?" Mitsugi asked with a frown.

"Good question," Lee said. "And I've got no answer for it. Near as we can tell, they happen pretty much simultaniously. But that doesn't really help much."

"No, and on top of that, we still have another major problem," Mitsugi commented, folding his hands together pensively. "We don't know where the guy is hiding."

"Sir, I may have something that could help with that," Satsuo replied quietly. "It has to do with what I've managed to discover in the past few days."

"Number one, when the Yakuza meeting place was burned to the ground, not all of the major bosses were inside. In fact, to be blunt, only one escaped the destruction there. Convenient, is it not? The sole survivor is a man who goes by the name Nakamura, although I haven't found out what his first name is. It seems almost like he doesn't have one."

"Anyhow, he became the leader of the Blood Blade Yakuza some time ago, although the details of that are still murky. The key though, is that over the past week he has been pulling consolidation efforts in order to strengthen his empire. The second clue is that everything that those consolidated bosses had now more or less seems to belong to him. The word on the street is that he is the new lord of the Jungle, with no real challengers."

"I regard this as more than just a coincedence," Satsuo said confidently. "I think that we should obtain proper authorization and move in on Nakamura. I believe that he may have hired the mage who did this, or may even be the mage himself."

As he spoke, Satsuo passed a pile of photographs around the table, showing various men and women coming and going from Nakamura's restaurant. In addition to a few photos of Nakamura himself, there were photos taken at various times of day, and some were better than others, but it looked fairly clear that Nakamura was indeed entertaining a large number of guests.

"How do we know these aren't just patrons?" Hotaru asked. "Have you identified any of these people?"

"Yes, I have," Satsuo replied. "I've run most of them through various wanted posts and Japanese Central Justice. They're all more or less involved with the Yakuza. Some of them are fairly petty, but there was at least three well known hit men mixed in there too."

"Why would Nakamura make a target of himself like that?" Lee asked. "It seems like it would be awfully inconvenient for his security to have people coming and going like that. I'm surprised the cops haven't noticed this too."

"The police, I'm afraid, have more pressing concerns," Satsuo said, biting his lower lip. "It seems with the current unrest, they're going to have problems hunting down even obvious concerns like this."

Hotaru nodded, her face clouded with a dark expression.

"As to why his security's so lax, who knows? My personal opinion is that he is so busy trying to consolidate his new empire that little things like security in the heart of his territory are of secondary importance. He knows it may be months before the police are able to move in on him, and by then, he may be so secure that they'll have a devil of a time getting rid of him."

"That sounds pretty true," Richard agreed. "Well, this is interesting and groundbreaking material you've got for us. I'm impressed with both of your presentations."

He picked up a photograph and held it up, examining the man on it. Nakamura's bearded face stared back at him with a clever gleam in his eye. Richard held the photo out, measuring himself against the Yakuza boss, looking for a weakness, or a tick. Something that would tell him more about his potential opponent. But the photo yielded nothing to his searching eyes.

"Well, I suppose we should put together a plan of action here. I think that we might at least get a warrant to open some of his holdings up, and take a good look around," Richard said, laying the photograph on the table once more. "I think that we'll need to come up with a very convincing presentation if we want the police and the other Senshi to go along with this, so let's get cracking people."

January 14, 11:23

"...and so, those of us who've worked on the project agree that we should probably try to put out a warrant and investigate the holdings of Nakamura and his associates."

Hotaru finished up by flicking a switch to turn off the projector, and bringing the lights back up in Rei's office. She looked over at Rei hopefully and waited for her response. Hino sat back in her chair and pondered all that had been brought before her. It certainly was stranger than she'd imagined the case to be.

She looked over at where Mitsugi O'Gannon and Richard Caine were standing. It was interesting that they'd made Hotaru give the presentation. Caine hadn't even said a word during the entire proceedings, which she knew from experience was unusual for him. Perhaps they believed that she would be more willing to go along with their plans if Hotaru presented them to her. She smiled to herself. She was not so easily swayed by her companions' discretion, but it was a good try.

"Hmm," she said, considering the data again. "Hotaru, that was fairly convicing, but I think that we need to be clear on this. We are a new government, which has pretty much just been established. The people are apprehensive as it is about our use of power. Some people want us to become Imperial Japan again. A lot more don't, but are scared that we're going to be like Hirohito."

She turned in her chair to look directly at Caine. "Frankly, we're going to need a stronger probable cause to just break into somebody's place of business. If we just do that, much as I'd actually like to, we'd be no better than another petty dictator. Even if it saves people's lives."

Hino's expression turned sour. "I think that you're right, and my instincts tell me we should do something. If this were four years ago, I'd have just gotten the gang together and busted some heads. But it isn't. We aren't vigilanties anymore. Hell, sometimes I wonder if we're even really Senshi, but whatever the case may be, we're stuck."

"However," she said, brightening a little. "I have to thank both you, Hotaru and also Caine Securities for bringing this to our attention. I'll notify both the precenct and prefecture police departments about what we have so far, and also maybe even send a memo to Usagi and Mamoru."

Rei switched over to English and gave Richard a tired smile. "I want to thank you on behalf of my government and also the city of Crystal Tokyo. Hopefully, you've pointed the investigation where it needed to go, and we can catch this...scum. I think that the prefecture can handle it from here. Good day to you all."

Rei turned back to her desk and began to scribble out a memo to someone, while Mitsugi and Richard stood in shock. Even Hotaru was surprised. She blinked at Rei and walked up to her desk, coughing politely. Rei looked up with a raised eyebrow and met Hotaru's gaze across the plain of polished oak.

"Rei, I'm kind of surprised," Hotaru said carefully. "Don't you want to keep the Caine Securities people on the case? So far it's been mostly their work that has given us this much information."

Rei leaned back in her chair and looked over to where Richard and Mitsugi were standing and sighed. "Gentlemen, would you give us a moment alone please?"

Richard said nothing, but nodded, and Mitsugi followed him as the two walked out the door. When the great double doors had been shut, Rei slumped back in her chair and gave Hotaru a grimace.

"Somehow, I knew that you were going to ask that."

Hotaru said nothing, crossing her arms and waiting for a response.

"Well, you deserve the truth," Rei said quietly, putting her pen down on the blotter. "I don't trust those Caine Securities people, Hotaru. I mean, come on! In no less that one and a half weeks they've already got leads that the police haven't been able to come up with in three months. Three months. This is more than just good work. It's downright spooky. On top of that, they have technology that they refuse to share with us..."

"...yet," Hotaru interjected. Rei gave her an irritated wave.

"...Yet. But yet won't matter. Makoto has been working on an internal detection system that I garuntee will be better than anything that they have. Pretty soon we won't need them anyway. And that is a good thing."

"How long will that system take to implement?" Hotaru countered quietly. "Weeks? Months?"

Rei was silent for a moment. "At least a year and a half."

Rei saw Hotaru begin to color with anger, and so she cut her off quickly. "Look, I don't know what kind of personal investment you have in Caine or his companies..."

Hotaru winced.

"...He isn't going to get anymore major cases. Period. I don't want our security dependent of foreigners who have an axe to grind, or mercenaries who don't give a damn about us or the people. We need to be able to look after ourselves, and if we rely on Caine's people, we'll never have that."

"I think that you're wrong," Hotaru said quietly. "The people at Caine Securites have done an excellent job at keeping up with this, despite all of the little nonsense things that the police department is pushing on them. Not only that, they do it better than your internal security people do."

Rei's nostrils flared. She looked about ready to tirade, when Hotaru turned and began to walk away from the desk.

"...But I'm not going to fight you," Hotaru said, walking towards the door. "Despite your error, you are my superior and therefore, I will obey your order. Even though I don't like it. Have a good day, Lady Mars."

"Good day to you, Citizen Tomoe," Rei replied tartly as Hotaru stepped out of the office. She picked up her pen and began to write again, sighing to herself. Hotaru was just too short sighted to see the danger in relying on outsiders. They had to fend for themselves now, or they would be weak and might be forced to pay for that mistake.

Rei felt in her heart that her fledgling nation couldn't afford to pay that kind of a price.

Richard watched as Hotaru stormed out of the office, her eyes nearly ablaze. The guards on either side of the door actually tensed at the fury that they saw in the small woman's eyes, but just as suddenly as it came it passed. Hotaru grimaced and gestured to Richard and Mitsugi to come over to her.

They had been standing over in a corner alcove, and immediately walked over to her to get any news. But Richard wasn't too hopeful if Hotaru was looking that upset.

"Well?" Richard asked. "What's the verdict?"

"The verdict is that Lady Hino seems to be blind to the present," Hotaru said bitterly. "And that she's jumping at demons that don't exist, because she's afraid that all this will topple over if she isn't in complete control of the situation."

Richard looked at Mitsugi in puzzlement, but Mitsugi just shrugged. "Um, Hotaru, what exactly did she say?"

Hotaru shot Richard a look. "Something along the lines of you and your organization being a threat to Japanese security, and that if we relied upon you, we would be stunting our own capacity to stop magical criminals."

"Shit," Mitsugi said. "Well, I guess we're out of the picture then."

Hotaru nodded. Richard however, said nothing and Mitsugi looked at him in concern.

Finally Richard looked softly over at Hotaru and gave a sad smile. "I'm not that surprised. Heh, actually I was kind of surprised that she even gave us the contract in the first place, but that's life. At least we haven't been completely cut out of the picture."

"Well," Richard said, straightening his suit coat. "Can we have a minute alone Mitsugi?"

The larger man nodded and walked off. Even though the circumstances weren't the best, he had a twinkle in his eye as he left the room. He would wait in the limo. It might be awhile.

Richard turned to Hotaru, chewing on his bottom lip. "I guess that's the end of this case for us. I think that you'll be able to catch the man though. You've got a real talent."

Hotaru blushed ever so slightly, and took a step closer to Richard. "I still would like your help though. I know that you have more experience with these kind of criminals than we do, especially for people without powers of their own. The police could learn a lot from you."

"I know," Richard replied, closing the final distance between them, and folding Hotaru into a gentle hug. "But I don't think that we can anymore. If the government won't let us help, we may just pack up and leave. We may even have to."

"Which would mean that you would have to leave," Hotaru thought aloud. "I don't like that."

"Neither do I," Richard said, with a little laugh. "You know that Rei's security cameras are probably watching us right now?"

"Yes," Hotaru said. "I don't care. Let her think what she wants. She's so unreasonable right now that I don't think that it'll matter. I wish that she could just see the mistake. You know that I'm going to continue to lobby for you, right?"

"Yup," Richard said. "I guess that there's nothing that we can do about it right now though. There's time for worrying later. Oh, could you thank Lee for us? He was a big help."

"I'll do it," she said with a grin. "He and Ami are coming to dinner tonight. Should be fun."

"And how about tomorrow?" Richard asked. "Are we still on?"

"Of course," Hotaru said, stepping away from him. "Just stop by and pick me up around 6:00. I'll be ready."

"Good," Richard said, bringning his head down for a soft kiss. Hotaru smiled up at him, shaking her head. "What?"

"Nothing," she said in a way that implied everything. "I'll see you tomorrow night then."

Slowly Richard let Hotaru go. He made a little bow, and turned on his heel to walk out of the Palace. Hotaru watched him go, violet eyes twinkling with amusment. Hotaru began to laugh to herself. Oh yes, it would be fun indeed, considering that it would be one of her first serious dates. Time to talk to Haruka and Michiru. Those two, perverted as they were, had some very creative ideas that she would have to borrow.

The thoughts of her date faded in the face of what had just happened, however. As Hotaru walked through the great corridors in all their spledour, she felt a sense of defeat. Despite herself, she just hoped that Rei was right. If she wasn't it was going to get very messy soon.

End: SM Omoi: Inquisiton: Inferno part 3


We've gotten through the middle, now we're on the downhill slope. Only a few more chapters left to go! You know what that means. Yes, that's right folks, the plot is actually going to have to wrap up soon! Oh My God! Yes indeedy, the work is coming to a close.

Will Hotaru react well to the Inquisition being on her doorstep? What fiendish plans do Yen Ti and Archer Yi (heh, it rhymed) have in store for our intrepid Scouts and Inquisitors? Why hasn't Strike Fiss or Hotwire tried to stop this insanity yet? (Oh wait...nevermind)

You'll just have to tune in next time to....

Sailor Moon Omoi: Inquisition: Inferno

Part 4!!!!

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Sailor Moon Omoi: Inquisition: Inferno

Part IV

"There is no doctrine better suited to man than that which teaches him his dual capacity for receiving and losing grace, on account of the dual danger to which he is always exposed, of despair or pride."

--Pascal, Pensees

Chapter 13 Plans/Countermeasures

January 14 12:20

Richard stormed through the halls of the Nakatomo office building. To say that he was irritated would be a great understatement. His furious pace set his suit coat, which he had unbuttoned, whirling behind him like a cape. His target was one of the large computer command rooms that housed the communications systems and the data core for the Tokyo office.

Only the most highly cleared technicians were allowed into these rooms, and for a good reason. It wasn't just the operationally sensitive messages that were exchanged between the great fortress of Nemesis and Tokyo, but it was also sometimes the very messages themselves. Some of the data that they handled, if viewed improperly, could be hazardous both to one's sanity and soul.

If you worked tech support for the Inquisition, you had to be made of sterner stuff than the average programmer.

Richard swept his passcard over the first key, then submitted to the retinal scan. After the flash reader had accepted his print, he walked through the door. Sitting at the table across from numerous monitors and the great supercomputer housing were the two day shift techs.

The head technician, John, turned around in his seat and made a little bobbing motion with his head. "Hello Mr. Caine. I was wondering why you called us up from the Palace with such an urgent order. I thought that we didn't have clearence yet to deploy Cassandra over Japan."

"We don't," Caine replied, ducking his head for a moment. A wisp of his long hair which had come loose, slid down to frame the left side of his face. "I'm making the executive decision. Deploy them."

John nodded. "Very well sir, but as we have a code White clearence, I'm going to need an explanation."

Richard's lip curled in a sneer. "The Senshi have cut us out of the equation. Our liason, who I have great hopes for, was unable to convince the Tokyo government that we should be able to continue in our original capacity. They both removed us from the case and also put the clamp down on our operations in other high profile cases."

"They're just giving us the basic assignments then sir?" John asked with concern.

"Exactly," Richard said. "They're not allowing us to pursue what we're bound to do by the Council. I was hoping that we would be able to work with them. It appears that we're not."

John said nothing, but turned back to his screen. He punched in a sequence of numbers which brought up an image of the globe. The relative positioning of a constellation of satelites overlaid the image, represented by little red pinpricks of light. As Richard watched, the red dots began to move on the repeater display.

Hundereds of miles above the Earth, a series of tiny objects began to move, small thrusters mounted on them adjusting their orbit as their tiny mechanical brains recieved new orders. From a great distance the little objects were nearly invisible, save for the vapor trails that appeared behind them for only moments at a time.

When one drew to within a mile, the tiny vessels became much easier to see. They were disk like objects, whose mirrored surfaces were dulled with some form of absorbant black material. The satellites' had a superstructure that rose behind the disk, where the multiple thrusters, antennae, and computer brain were housed. Simple and effective, the satellites were designed with only a single kind of sensor for a very specific function.

They were magical field detectors built on a grand scale. Each of the satellites linked to one another in a precise network which gave a remarkable degree of accuracy. They could detect certain kinds of magic within a block radius if they were focused properly. Their imaging systems were competitve with the best American NSA satellites, and their stealthed surfaces were nearly impossible to detect unless you were looking directly at them.

Named Cassandra for the infamous prophet of old, it was a kind of standing joke in the Inquisition that they had similar feelings to that poor woman. Gifted with foresight and knowledge, she was also cursed to have no one believe her. The Inquisition knew well that few or none would believe them, at least before the Great Darkness, when the Cassandra project had begun.

Inquisitors were not without their sense of irony.

Now, those little prophets positioned themselves over the skies of Tokyo, and turned their piercing gaze upon the city. Unlike the Cassandra of old, these prophets already had their believers, who knew well enough to take them seriously. One of those believers watched the dance of satellites through the plot that was in front of him, and nodded his satisfaction.

"Sir, the Grandmasters aren't going to be too happy about this," John said, after a moment of reflection. "That particular set of satellites was supposed to go over Russia."

"Hmph," Richard grunted. "We don't have anybody in that region of Russia yet, and we have a crisis on the ground here. I'll deal with their wrath in my own time. You aren't responsible John. Just me."

"Certain Grandmasters don't think that way sir," John said quietly.

"I know, but they have no power over us now," Caine retorted. "When they gave me autonomy, they did so with the full knowledge that I would use it. Besides, if this actually pans out, we'll have a success on our hands. They like success more than protocol usually."

"Yes sir," John replied without enthusiasm. Richard couldn't blame him. The Inquisition was not noted for its leniency towards comandeering resources. Still, the man did as he was ordered, and for that Richard was grateful.

"I'm going to give an order to all personel as well," Richard said, looking at the image. "We are going to switch from Grey protocols to Black level protocols starting at 16:00 hours this afternoon. Tell them that we are going to continue all of our work on the Jungle arsonist, in addition to any other incidents which fall under our jurisdiction. The Tokyo police will have to be dealt with if they get in our way, so we're going to have to avoid them."

John and the other technician nodded. Richard began to walk away, and then paused for a moment in thought.

"We are the Inquisition... We've existed longer than the Senshi have, and will outlast them just as we have every other government since our founding. If they desire to be an obstacle, then so be it. We will succeed, whether or not they wish it. Our sacred duty demands it."

Richard swept out of the room, his spine straight and his coat billowing. The two technicians nodded to themselves and continued about their work. The never noticed a match being struck in the shadowed corner of the room, nor the puff of smoke which drifted lazily towards the ceiling. Zephyr oozed from out of the shadow and held his cigarillo contemplatively. The burning tobacco rested gently in his right hand.

"I wish," Zephyr said to the wall next to him. "That irrationality wasn't catching so quickly around here. The fool is going to get himself in a lot of trouble for this one. Though I can't blame Caine, I only hope that O'Gannon, Ward, and Tomoe have more sense than he and Hino do, or we're going to be in for a rough ride."

With his usual puff of smoke, Zephyr was gone.

January 14 18:30

"What the fuck?!"

Lee leaned back in his chair, frowning at Hotaru. Ami cocked her head to the side, waiting for Lee to explain. Haruka and Michiru were strangely silent, but had stony looks on their faces. They sat around the Outer Scouts table in their dining room, a finished meal before them.

"That's what I said," Hotaru replied, her own expression tight lipped and closed. "I just don't know what she was thinking."

"I'm sorry," Ami interjected. "But did I miss something here? These were the same people that gave the police the leads right? Who did almost all of the investigation?"

"Yes, they were," Hotaru said. She chewed on her bottom lip for a moment. "It was their technology and contacts that allowed us to move as quickly as we did on this. Although I kind of wonder about the luck of it all..."

"Well, the Omega Web was involved too," Lee said. "They can make things awful convienent when they want to."

"True, but neither Mitsugi nor Caine knew that," Hotaru countered. "I think it was mostly because of their efforts that we've come this far. Admit it, our police are overworked and understaffed. I think that they may never have recovered from the Lords. Too much has happened too quickly."

"Well, what are you going to do about it?" Michiru asked, giving Lee and Hotaru a look. "I mean, it seems that Rei could be convinced to shift at least some work to them."

"Oh she's given them work alright," Hotaru said sourly. "This morning I processed about thirty five major hauntings to give to them. But that's a waste of their competence and resources."

Ami, who had been watching as the whole story had unfolded during dinner, finally decided to interject her point.

"Maybe Rei was right."

Hotaru folded her hands. "Why would you say that?"

"Several reasons," Ami's calm voice observed. "I've been doing some research, you see. Caine Securities is a company that has only come into existence about three years ago. They're a subsidiary of Caine Industries, true, but where did their equipment, or ways of analysis come from? It takes even the best run organizations decades, or panels of geniuses, to come up with some of the items that they gave to our database. Also, where did they get the kind of personnel that they need to run this sort of an operation? Detectives don't grow on bushes you know."

Hotaru said nothing, leaning back in her chair and contemplating what Ami said. The rest of the table was also silent.

"I agree with Ami," Haruka said finally. "It is suspicious. Don't get me wrong, I like the guy. He has a real talent for conversation, and his business. But for all we know they could be a front from some foreign country. Lone Star, the U.S., maybe Eastern Canada. Those bastards have really been revamping their security and military lately. Or how about New York?"

"Or any other place," Hotaru said with a soft defiance. "Come on. Would someone with his political views be working for Bethlehem?"

"Stranger things have happened," Haruka said with a shrug. "We've seen a lot of them."

"True," Hotaru said, but sounded unconvinced.

"There is also the matter of your personal relationship with him," Michiru said. "Are you sure that isn't influencing you? As my love so eloquently pointed out, he is charming, and quite an amazing person."

Hotaru's glare caused Michiru to lean back in her seat. The two violet eyes blazed, and both Michiru and Haruka thought that they could almost see little flames dancing in them. Lee and Ami watched this, torn between wanting to hear what they had both begun to wonder about, and wanting badly to get away from someone who was that pissed off.

Then it was gone, and Hotaru looked down at the table.

"That is none of your business Michiru," Hotaru said, sounding defeated. "But no, this really is my professional opinion. I just have to disagree with Rei on this."

"That's fine dear," Michiru said, recovering some of her famous composure. She reached out and laid a hand on Hotaru's. "But you knew that we had to ask that."

Hotaru looked up with a tired smile, covering Michiru's hand with her own. "It's okay, I'm just tired of it being an issue. Rei accused me of it today too. She was just less polite about it."

"Hotaru, Rei is under a ton of stress right now," Ami said. Lee nodded next to her. "We all are, but she's really working herself too hard. She barely leaves that office, and I know that she misses Chris and Miharu."

"I know," Hotaru said. "It just irritates me when people's judgement lapses because of stress. It only happened to me when I was Queen of Saturn twice, but I guess that's a different sort of thing."

Haruka went goggle eyed. "You remember that?"

Hotaru was silent for a moment. "I'd rather not talk about it."

Michiru looked at Haruka for a split second, their eyes meeting and communicating as only two lovers could in an instant.

Ami shrugged. "If you have that kind of talent, why did you refuse your title? I mean, none of us have much administrative know how. We've been undergoing the crash course for the past four years."

Hotaru didn't answer, but Michiru quickly smiled at Ami. "We all have our personal reasons, don't we. Hotaru didn't feel like it was her place. Besides, she still had to finish out her schooling."

Lee noticed the slight stress around Michiru's smile, and the ever so slight fakeness in her tone. He reached arcoss his mental link to Ami.

<Drop it darlin'. I don't think that now is the time.>

Ami sent him a mental shrug, and gave a return smile to Michiru.

"Enough work stuff," Ami said. She smiled at Haruka and Michiru. "On a positive note, we've finally settled a date for our wedding."

"Really?" Michiru asked. "That's great..."

The conversation continued on into the night, meandering through its course as all flows of thought tend to.

January 15 01:30

Haruka leaned on her balcony rail dressed in a light silk shift which blew around her in the cold wind. Most people would have been nearly frozen in this weather, but Haruka's soul still remembered the biting cold of the floating cities of Uranus. This Earth winter was almost nothing compared to that.

She stared into the sky, watching the the brightest of the stars shine through the light pollution of Tokyo, and she felt a deep fear in her the pit of her stomach. She remembered. Hotaru remembered.

Her thoughts were interrupted by a pair of soft hands circling around her lower waist, and a body that must have been dressed in a fluffy bathrobe pressing against her back. Haruka smiled to herself and leaned back, turning her head over her shoulder to see a pair of aqua eyes gazing at her. Michiru's hair was blown about by the wind, adding to its dissaray, but Haruka didn't care.

She gently kissed Michiru, and returned to gazing up at the stars. Michiru was silent, but her arms grew tighter around Haruka. They could both feel the concern radiating off of each other, but neither spoke their thoughts in the silent cold. At last Haruka looked down at the balcony railing, watching a few tiny snowflakes fall around them.

"She knows, Michiru."

The light soprano voice nuzzled against her neck murmured agreement. "I know that. At the very least Setsuna must have suspected for a long time that was the case. Her revoking her position with the governement makes a lot more sense now. I suppose that's what we get for not questioning it at the time. All I felt was relief when she made that particular decision."

"Setsuna knew, dammnit," Haruka said, curling her hand into a fist. "Why didn't she tell us?"

"Setsuna knows everything," Michiru said dryly. "Maybe she figured it was Hotaru's choice to tell us. She hasn't. I'm not even sure that she suspects what we know."

"I'm just glad that the Inner Senshi don't know," Haruka said. "Otherwise she might never even have been offered a position with the government."

"That's just your pessimism coming out," Michiru said. "They are all forgiving people. Especially Usagi. She is the avatar of love and justice you know."

Haruka turned around and poked Michiru's nose. The aqua haired woman's eyes crossed in order to follow the fingertip. "I'm worried that justice might win out over love in Hotaru's case. I mean, probably the only other person who knows is Chris, but I don't like the chances."

"Come on," Michiru said. Her exaspiration was beginning to show through at this point. "The person that Hotaru was died long ago. Serkan Sheldaan's Empire is in ashes, never to return. She has become an entirely different person. A sweet, good, and compassionate girl."

"What was that glare at dinner then?" Haruka countered. "What about the changes that she's gone through since Tumbler? She's a lot more like she used to be than ever before."

"Maybe that's a good thing," Michiru replied. "She never would have asked out that Caine boy if she was the same as she was in 1998. Just wouldn't happen. I for one am glad that she isn't as shy as she used to be. You should be too. You're jumping at what-ifs, dear. Nothing more."

"I know," Haruka said, turning around in Michiru's embrace. "I won't keep blabbing about it, but the subject isn't over with. I worry about her."

"Of course," Michiru said. "Now come to bed, it's cold out here."

"Tired, love?" Haruka asked with a tiny grin.

"Notice," Michiru said slyly. "I said to 'bed' not to 'sleep.'

Their laughter echoed across the palace grounds, and the light snow continued to fall, suspending a glittering curtain over the city.

Chapter 14 Black/Dating in Crystal Tokyo
January 15 3:00

Richard paced back in forth in the great control room, giving Mitsugi a strained look. Mitsugi didn't look particularly happy either, but he still maintained his usual calm expression. The two men were standing, or in Richard's case, pacing in front of the great repeater display which showed the satellites high above Japan, and their information output.

They were waiting for the first reports from the data gathering mechanisms of Cassandra. The prophetess seemed to be taking a long time to process the data, but when it was finally displayed on the massive screen, Richard stopped his nervous pacing in shock. He almost felt like screaming.

Mitsugi had noticed his stress but was unsure as to what to do about it. The two of them stared at the biggest confluence of ley lines that they had ever seen in their lives. Of course there were the lines which ran out of the Imperial Palace which fed the growing crystal dome around the city. They glowed with a pure white power in the representation on the screen. But the natural ley lines, those were very different.

All of them were twisted slightly, as if drawn inward by some kind of invisible force. Near the center of the city they moved in a sliight curve, but towards the edge of the scanned area, the lines made much more abrupt turns, curling in towards the heart of the city in a vast cyclone of magical energy.

"...They were right," Richard whispered, leaning heavily on a console out of exhaustion. "God damn them...they were right."

"Who was right?" Mitsugi asked with puzzlement.

"I think I might be turning into a prophet," Richard muttered. "I had a dream. A really disturbing dream in fact. In it I watched the city burn. All of it, from the palace, to the outer suburbs. I saw this... the ley lines, marked with fire. Strangling the city."

Mitsugi looked at him, no response coming to mind. What do you say to a thing like that? After thinking for a minute he gave Richard his most level stare and asked the only thing that he could.

"Do you believe it?"

"Yes," Richard said, running a hand through his hair. His eyes looked even more haunted than before, and his voice trailed off. His face froze its expression as he remembered the shadow voices whispering to him. Telling him the truth. "Yes, I do believe it."

Mitsugi appraised this. "Then we're going to have to get to work. I'll get the strike teams put on high alert, and be ready to move out as soon as we've got some positive info on the location of the disturbance."

Mitsugi turned to leave the room when he heard Richard call out to him.


Looking over his shoulder, the larger man smiled. "Anytime, Richard. Anytime."

Closing the door behind him, he left Richard with his thoughts, and the image of a whirling vortex that taunted him.

January 15 9:00

Satsuo walked into Richard's office in the morning, a cheap suit coat thrown over his shoulder. He had been working on intel for some sites which belonged to Nakamura when he had recieved a call to come into the Securities office. It was incovenient for his work, but the young lady on the other end of the phone had been very insistent.

When he had arrived at the office he had noticed a much higher level of tension in the building. The receptionist had eyed him extremely carefully, even though she knew who he was. Others who had passed him in the hall seemed to try to give him as much space as possible. It was almost as though he were surrounded by an aura of repulsion.

He hadn't even recieved any friendly waves from the few people he had gotten to know in his work here. Satsuo was beginning to be worried that he had either done something very wrong, or something horrible had happened in the office. He felt a sense of relief when Caine's voice answered him in a subdued tone when he knocked at the office door.

As he walked in he took stock of the office. It was relatively bare, and Caine sat behind a normal cheap desk. the usual expensive suit was gone. In it's place was a flowing grey coat, a large hood tailored onto the shoulders. It was vaguely remeniscent of a sailor's long coat, with a set of frogs which held the high collar and coat closed. On the left shoulder of the coat was an emblazoned patch of the great symbol that Satsuo had seen in the Vault. On the right shoulder was a simple European longsword.

Richard's face looked drawn, and tired. His eyes were somewhat gazed over, and little strands of hair escaped from his blonde ponytail here and there. Satsuo bowed to him, which Richard returned with a polite nod. Richard mutely gestured to one of the two chairs in front of him. Satsuo sat, and gave him an expectant look.

"There is a reason why I've called you in today," Richard said. "Other than being a bureacratic asshole."

"I'm glad to hear it," Satsuo laughed.

Richard gave a small grin. "Well, it involves our friend Nakamura. Take a look at this."

The exhausted looking man tossed a folder of pictures onto his desk. Satsuo picked it up. The top photo was an areial image of the Tokyo Jungle, with a coordinate system mapping out the area into small sections. A large building was circled in the top left in red marker.

The next was some kind of image of twirling lines. It looked like a picture of the patterns made by magnets, or some kind of field. Satsuo blinked and looked up at Caine questioningly.

"Look at the coordinates," the blonde man replied, pointing to the edge of the map. Satsuo carefully examined the picture once again, noting the same mapping system that he'd seen on the previous photograph. He looked up at Richard for the second time, understanding in his eyes.

"It looks like there is a major, er, knot of lines in this location," Satsuo said. "But what does this map show?"

"That my good man, is a magical field detector," Richard said. "That confluence that you see is a major concentration of magical energies. Have you ever heard of ley lines? That shows how the natural ley lines are being twisted."

"Wow," Satsuo replied, looking at Richard. "What does this have to do with me?"

"I want you to investigate this warehouse," Richard said. "I think that it's where we're going to find our little arsonist friend. It's in the middle of the Jungle and Nakamura's pre-coup holdings, so I figured that you were best suited for recon."

Richard stood up, his back straight and hands clasped behind him. "I want to finish up this problem as soon as possible, and I'm almost certain that this is the place. We've done the same kind of scan over Tokyo that you've done here. These were the results."

He pointed to a pattern on his desk, which showed how the lines in the greater metropolitain area were being swirled. It was almost as though it were a typhoon, Satsuo thought to himself. A great typhoon of magical lines.

"Thanks to you, we know who we're dealing with now," Richard continued. "But that isn't enough. I need to know everything there is to know about this place and it's environment. I plan on being ready to take it down as soon as possible."

"But what about the police?" asked Satsuo, concern curling in his stomach.

"They are of little concern," Richard said. "As Lady Hino has forbidden us from working with the police, we'll just have to work around them. As you might suspect, we have resources that the police most certainly don't and we are very willing to use them. If we aren't allowed to work with the government, then we shall work in spite of them."

He drew a long iron stake from his coat. It looked almost like a railroad tie, but it was narrower and was about a foot in length. The edges of the metal were sharpened to a gleaming finish. Carved into the surface of the weapon were numerous interlocking pentagrams which circled the entire surface area of the length. Inscribed along the edges of the pentagram were tiny letters which Satsuo couldn't read, but looked vaguely western in origin.

"We have means of dealing with mages," he said. "We'll take care of that. All that you need to do is get us the information. You'll be paid handsomly for it, then you're free to do whatever you wish. If you don't want to work with us again, that's fine, but I've found you to be very resourceful. I wouldn't mind hiring you for other jobs."

Satsuo grimaced. "Sir, I will do all that I can, but I'm not sure how quickly I can do the job thoroughly."

Richard shrugged. "We have a timetable, but it isn't that specific. I just need you to start right away. Do the best job you can, and we'll move when you're ready."

"Yes sir," Satsuo said. He got up and left shutting the door behind him. As he considered what to do next, Satsuo felt shivers run up his spine. He couldn't shake the feeling that he got when he looked Caine in the eye as he left. He had seen it in a few people's eyes when he had told them of cheating spouses, or sour business deals. It wasn't a look of passion, no, that was too common and very understandable. No, Caine had a very different look.

Death stared out from his eyes. And Satsuo was afraid.

January 15 18:30

Hotaru sat in her chair with a ramrod straight posture. It was one of the things that both her old life and her new one had in common. Neither Setsuna, nor her maid had ever tolerated a slouching posture. It was unbecoming of a Lady. Hotaru sighed to herself. She was letting her mind wander again. Anything was better than doing site processing paperwork. Oh well, it needed to get done. She leaned a little, and picked up the next form, examining it carefully.

She had just finished the document, when she recieved a soft knock on her door. She got up and walked over to the door, and opened it with a raised eyebrow.

Standing with his arm leaning on the doorjam was a tired looking Richard Caine. His eyes had circles under them, but he wore a smile. One arm snaked up the side of the wall and his other hand was tucked behind his back. As she opened the door, Caine brought his hand around and carefully handed Hotaru a rose, not saying a word.

"Thanks," she said in her usual quiet voice. She took the rose and marveled at it. It was a long stem rose, much like something that Mamoru would grow, but the petals were a deep burgundy color, and unlike many roses it had not been de-thorned. She lifted it to her nose and smelt it. The fresh scent filled her nose. Coyly, she trailed the rose down her cheek, feeling the softness of the petals until it rested underneath her chin.

With her best cute smile, she batted her eyes at Richard. She stepped up on her tiptoes and gave him a quick kiss on the lips.

"It's beautiful," she said.

"I saw it, and it just struck me," Richard said. "I felt like it suited you."

"Where did you find it?"

Richard grinned at her. "Well, you're just going to have to come with me and find out, won't you?"

She mock pouted slightly. "I don't like surprises."

"I think you'll like this one," he said. His Cheshire grin was unmoved. "Trust me. Do you have anything that you still need to do here?"

"Nothing that can't wait until tomorrow," she replied.

"Good," he said. He offered Hotaru his arm. "My lady?"

Hotaru smiled, resting her hand on his arm with a courtly grace. "I'm at your service, good sir."

"Well, I'm not all that good," Richard said. "But for your sake, I'll try."

They walked out to Richard's car, an unassuming looking sedan. He held the door open for her, and she got in, bowing to him a little. Richard spared a slight moment to look up into the heavens.

"Please God," he asked with a little smile. "Can this go smoothly?"

The heavens were silent, but for a little moment, Richard swore he felt a little chuckle in the cosmos. His grin went wider as he walked around to the driver's seat. He put his hand on the door.

"Here goes nothing."

January 15 19:00 hours

After the destruction of the past few years, Tokyo had undergone quite a bit of reconstruction. Being trapped in her office or a classroom, Hotaru had not been able to get out too often, and it had been quite some time since she had just traveled the city. Richard drove around the city towards one of the more recently rebuilt sections. Over the burnt out ashes of the mall that the Lords had destroyed, a new mall had been built, but a much classier version than the previous one. It was several levels tall, and at the very top a glass construct covered the roof.

Richard pulled into one of the nearer parking spots, and once again opened the door for her. Hotaru definitely could get used to that. She swung her feet out and got up looking around.

"You took me to the mall?" she asked mildly.

"I'm not through yet," Richard replied. "Just give me a few minutes."

Hotaru said nothing as she and Richard wove their way through the developing Friday night crowd of teenagers. She slowly reached over and took Richard's hand, giving it a squeeze. He looked over at her with a silly grin, and squeezed her hand back. They walked to the center of the mall and got into one of the many elevators. Richard punched in the top floor and leaned back. He looked out of the glass plating of the elevator, then back at Hotaru.

She too was looking out of the window, with a calm little smile on her face. His eyes took her in, tracing over her features. The gentle curve of her chin, the cute button nose, the expressive power of her violet eyes. He wanted to burn it all into his memory, wishing that his limited mind could forever store the image of her like this.

Then she turned to look at him, as if sensing his eyes on him. She raised her fine eyebrow.

"Are we staring, Mr. Caine?"

"I find that beautiful things are so rare and precious that a man must take advantage of them when he has a chance," Richard replied. His tone held a hint of whimsy, and he continued his staring.

Hotaru's cheeks began to turn pink, and she looked away once again. "You flatter me."

"You undervalue yourself," Richard replied. "And your impact on people."

The bell chimed and the door opened. He gestured with his left arm, offering her his right. She took it, and they stepped out. Into something that Hotaru hadn't been expecting at all. The top floor of the mall was a greenhouse.

The air was humid, and though the sun had already set, quite warm. Above them a lattice of glasswork allowed them to see the open sky. Around the elevator and scattered around were various warm weather plants which looked quite happy in their current environment. They walked to where a young receptionist stood behind a podium, and Hotaru realized that they were in a restaurant.

"Reservations for Caine, party of two," Richard said to the man. The teenager nodded and picked up two menus, striking their names off of a list. He led them to the back of the roof top restaurant, where there were a set of tables lit by dim candlelight and low level ambient sources. The many plants around them also lent a private atmosphere despite the number of other patrons and tables.

"Here we are sir," the young man commented. Richard held out Hotaru's chair as he had once before, and she sat down. Richard nodded to the man and sat down opposite her. He handed their coats to the server who seated them.

"Thank you," he said. The young man walked away, and Richard turned his full attention to Hotaru again. "Mitsugi found this place appparently a few weeks after he moved here. He recommended it, and I can't complain. I miss the warm weather already."

"It's not so bad here," Hotaru said. "It can get really cold in the north."

Richard nodded. "So how was your day?"

They made small talk all the way through dinner, which was not exceptional, but decent enough. What the food lacked, the d'ecor of the place made up for. The abundance of plants, especially in the winter, cheered Richard quite a bit. Hotaru also seemed to be enjoying it. Gradually the conversation shifted away from the weather and work to more personal anecdotes.

"...and I guess that I've never really dated before," Hotaru said shyly. "I never really had a chance."

"You mean to tell me that you've never had a boyfriend?" Richard asked incredulously. "Why?"

"Well, I had a lot of trouble in high school," she said, biting her lower lip. "I was never very popular, too much of a loner. It sucks when you find out that you're not exactly a normal person and that you have the power to destroy the world at your fingertips if you loose control of your temper. I was weak and nerdy, interested more in history than boys or sports. All the other Senshi had graduated by the time I was finishing up High School. Not to mention some other things, like my time shifting."

"Time shifting?" Richard prompted.

"Long story, but basically after a mishap I was transformed into a little baby. The problem was that I ended up shifting around between being a full adult and a child for about a year. Finally Setsuna had to stablize me using her powers. It was right before the battle with Galaxia. Then I died."

Richard sat back in his chair, considering all of this.

"So, as you can see, a girl doesn't have much time for dating with things like that happening all the time," Hotaru finished.

"So I see," Richard said. He rubbed his chin for a moment in thought. "Well, I've had a few girlfriends, but I can't seem to keep them for any length of time. They're usually good people, and sometimes we have a lot going for our relationships, but they can't seem to stand under the strain. I can be kind of an asshole sometimes. I tend to be caustic, and unsympathetic. I suck at being just someone who listens to you. I tend to think every rant wants some kind of advice."

He rubbed the back of his head sheepishly. "Maybe I shouldn't be telling you this. Might damage your opinion of me."

"Honesty never damages my opinion," Hotaru said with a smirk. "But you dancing around like a monkey in your office..."

"Thanks," Richard said dryly. "But anyway, my biggest problem in relationships is that most people eventually seem to become frightened of me."

Hotaru quirked her head. "Why?"

"Because I can be scary sometimes," Richard said, with a Gallic shrug. "I can be intense, and I'm also in a profession where I sometimes have to make hard decisions, whether people live or die. It's usually enought to make women back off after a while. Dealing with mortality seems to frighten most people. They're scared witless by it, even if they're smart and driven people. Me, I gave up being scared of it a long time ago."

"That makes a lot of sense," Hotaru observed quietly. "It also might explain my lack of dates."

"How so?" Richard asked.

Hotaru gave him a version of her creepy smile. He remained unmoved, but his puzzlement seemed to increase. "It's because the energies that sustain life force are the source of my power. Death is my power. Life and Death."

Richard nodded in fascination. "Maybe that's why you get along better with police, warriors, or morticians. They may be able to see you for what you are. Amazing."

Hotaru looked away. "Most people don't think so. For most of my life, people have been afraid of me and my powers. Even when I didn't know how to control them."

Caine reached over and grasped her hands with both of his, pulling her towards him. He leaned forward, over the candle in the center of the table. Much to her surprise, he gave her a passionate kiss. After a second he eased back into his chair and stared at her.

"Most people would be afraid," he said. "But then again, I'm not most people. I think that you're amazing, intelligent, and beautiful. Your powers only make you more so. You know what I thought when I first saw you transform?"

"What?" Hotaru asked. A blush was tinting her entire face pink at this point.

"You, well, you stunned me," he said calmly. "When I saw the light and felt your power, I thought that you were an angel sent down to watch over me."

"Richard, please..." she began, trying to cut him off.

"No," he said. "I'm not exaggerating or lying to you. You were what I'd always thought an angel to be like. In your hands were the strength of life and death, and the judgement to use them."

"My judgement hasn't always been my strongest suit," Hotaru said.

"I trust it," Richard replied. He reached out and cupped her chin, giving her his best smile. "And I trust my own judgement dammnit, so you'd better believe me!"

Hotaru began to giggle a little at that, and Richard gently let his finger trail down her face and to the table.

"You are the most amazing woman I've ever met Hotaru," he said softly. "And I've met some incredible people."

"Flattery might get you somewhere," Hotaru said. She gave Richard an appraising look. "You, you're not like anyone I've ever met either. You aren't afraid of me, or devils, but you're not a Senshi. I can understand us, we have the shield of our powers. But you? You fought a demon with pistols and iron. I can barely understand that kind of courage."

"I think that you do," he said quietly. "You've fought against things that you had no hope of beating before, right?"

Hotaru pondered for a moment. "Yes."

"And what made you fight?"

She considered this carefully. "My faith in my friends, and my teachers. And the fact that the universe was depending on me. You can't give up with stakes like that."

"Now you know why I do what I do," Richard said. "I fight because of my faith and because I know that people depend on me. I'm just not trying to save the whole universe. A small part of it's good enough for me."

Hotaru laughed. Richard pulled out his wallet and left some bills on the counter and stood up. Hotaru stood with him, and reached out, holding his hand. He gave her a wide smile and gestured to the door. The traveled out through the mall and to his car. As they walked out of the mall, Hotaru had a pensive look upon her face. Ignoring the living mass of people, she seemed to be content to let Richard guide her towards the car.

There were no words exchanged on their walk, but sometimes, words are unnecessary. They enjoyed the simple sensation of walking side by side, the warmth of another's body and presence. Upon reaching the parking lot, Richard moved to Hotaru's door and opened it for her. She paused for a moment, as if some powerful thought had befuddled her senses, but then gave Richard a soft smile.

She gracefully stepped into the vehicle and Richard closed the door behind her. He walked quickly over the driver's side of the sedan and hopped in. He was about to put the keys in the ignition when he felt a warm, sharp, weight on his shoulder. He turned his head in surprise. Hotaru stared at him, resting her chin on his arm, looking at him thoughtfully.

"What is it?" he asked, giving her a quizzical look. "Is there anything thamph..."

His statement was lost in his mouth and his mind when Hotaru leaned over and gave Richard a kiss. His surprise fading, he gladly responded. She opened her mouth and snaked her tounge out, probing against Richard's lips. He gladly opened them, and their tounges fenced for supremacy. She slipped her smaller arms around his chest and pulled Richard even closer, one of her hands sliding up his back and twirling itself in his ponytail.

Richard answered in kind, thanking the Lord that this particular car was an automatic transmission. The sat, nearly intwined, for more than a minute, before Hotaru broke off the kiss. Richard gave her a dazed look. It was the most confused expression that she'd ever seen on his face and it caused her to start giggling.

"I wanted to say thank you," she said softly. "I had a lot of fun."

"Er," Richard muttered. "If that's the thanks I get, I promise I'm going to be doing lots of good things for you..."

Hotaru laughed, and patted him playfully on the head. "Good, I'll expect you to."

"Well where to now?" Richard asked calmly. "Anywhere particular you want to go? Or would you like to go home?"

"I think that there's a place I want to go, but it isn't home," Hotaru said sedately.

"And that is?"

"Your apartment," she said.

At this, Richard very nearly fainted, but long years of martial arts training kicked in, preventing him from slumping into his wheel.

"Are you sure about this?" he asked.

"Very," she said quietly. She looked out the window into the parking lot. "I...I don't want to be alone tonight. I've been alone for a long time."

Richard reached over and guided her chin until she was looking at him. He leaned over and gave her a gentle kiss. "So have I. I just wanted to be sure that this is what you want."

She smiled at him and nodded.

With that nod, Richard silently looked up into the heavens and sent a prayer of thanks out to the Lord. I guess this counts as being a success, Richard thought to himself. Once again this shows the Almighty's sense of humor. What fun! He put the car in gear and drove out into the Tokyo night, and to his apartment. Along with whatever else awaited him once he got there.

He spared a look at Hotaru, who was giving him as steady a gaze as he had given her earlier. Well, come what may, she was worth it. Oh lord, she was so worth it... Richard's internal laughter flowed in a way that it hadn't in years. Tonight was definitely going to be one to remember.

"Everyone in my neighborhood had left to vote. I have no feeling of fear--Allah has won."
-Umm Ali, Duhra, Iraq

Cthulthu Construction Corporation and Ry'leh Real Estate:
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Sybil of the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy

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Thu Jan 20, 2005 1:04 pm
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Chapter 15 Sparks

January 16 6:00

Yi stood at the head of a large group of his Yakuza, dressed in unremarkable civilian clothing. They were currently in the bottom floor of one of Yi's personal business front warehouses in the Jungle. The bottom floor which he and the Yakuza were standing on was made of concrete, but above them was a maze of metal latticework which composed as second and third floor high above them. A supervisor's office was in the back of the top floor, where Yen Ti had made his home.

He stood impatiently, tapping his foot. This shenanigan was completely Yen's idea, but Yi had agreed to go along with it. It was mostly becuase he hadn't thought of any better way to break out of this island, and that he thought Yen might actually be able to pull it off. The old serpent seemed to have used his cunning wisely.

At least, Yi hoped he had. Looking over his shoulder, Yi took in the ranks of his Yakuza. For the most part they were untrained thugs, but in the rear there were a few men who had been handpicked and trained by Yi himself. They were teams armed with high powered sniper rifles, and they had one duty. Senshi hunting.

The rest of the gang would infiltrate the march, helping to roil the crowd into a frenzy, with a little help from Yen. Then the real fun would begin.

Yi's thoughts were interupted by the sound of boots on metal. He looked above him slowly, and stroked his beard with a free hand. Down the long staricase a long chain of men in obscuring coats and cloaks filed down and began to rank up like automatons in front of him on the warehouse floor.

There must have been at least fifty of them, and their features were entirely covered by their clothing. Their faces were clear, but obscured by large hats, or deep cowled hoods. Yi sneered at the silent figures. The disciples of Yen were not among his favorite beings, useful as they were.

They finished ranking up, and despite their mismatched clothing, were a disciplined contrast to the gaggle of Yakuza who crowded uneasily behind the archer. For long minutes neither group said a word to each other. Yi stared levelly at the mummers, then gestured with his gloved right hand.

Finally, one of the front rankers steeped forward mechanically and nodded to Yi.

"Our Masssster givesssss greetingsss Archer," the creature said. Yi snorted.

"Where are our mob leaders?" he asked pointedly. "You know that's what we're here for. Not to indulge your Lord's great love of theatrics."

He swore that the shadow behind the hood smiled at him. "How verrry much like you, Yi. We have them. Possesssssed by our greatest championsssss they are."

The figure made a gesture, and the ranks parted. A dozen young men and women stepped forward. Yi grimaced. They looked normal enough to a human's eyes, if a bit disheviled. That was the current fashion anyway. But as the moved, Yi's dissatisfaction grew. They moved like people who were figuring out how to walk with three legs, or adjusting to some kind of uncomfortable new shoes.

"Are you quite sure that this will be a convincing ruse?" Yi asked with irritation. "These creatures certainly haven't figured out how to walk like a human yet."

"It will be enough," the acolyte said. "They will be natural enough to Man's eyesssss. Our masssster will bend the will of the weak onesssss. They will sssssee only what he wishessss. Obssserve."

The acolyte gestured to the nervous Yakuza behind him. Yi turned to one of the young gang members, and gave him a level stare.

"What do you see, boy?"


Yi gave an exasperated sigh. "The men in front of you. What do they look like?"

"Um," the Yakuza stalled, unsure of what to say. The hooded guys were making him nervous, and on top of that he couldn't understand what they were saying. It sounded like Chinese, maybe. His nervousness didn't help his thinking. The protesters looked normal enough to him. "A bunch of hippies dressed to go to the march. I, uh, I dunno Boss. They look pretty normal to me."

Yi turned back to the acolyte. "Hm. I suppose it will have to do. Are your men ready to move out, acolyte?"

The creature opposite him nodded.

"Then I suppose it is time to get to the rally," he said with a confident smirk. "My men will do their part. Will yours?"

"We are acolytesss of the Emperor," the figure bowed. "We know well our dutiessssss."

Yi wasted no further comment, but walked to the great doors of the warehouse and opened the loading dock. His Yakuza followed him closely, not wanting to stay near the strange followers of Yen Ti.

"Listen up you maggots, because I'm only going to say this once," Nakamura said. He carefully swept his eyes over the gathered gangers. All of their eyes were on him. "Today, you are going to be joining the pro-democracy march on the Crystal Palace. You are also going to help out when the riot breaks out. And it will break out. Our disturbing...friends will make sure of that."

A few weak chuckles broke out, and some of the other men looked over their shoulders at the unmoving acolytes.

"You know that we all want a piece of the Tokyo P.D. Well now is your chance to get it. Those bastards have been interfering with our business too much. They've overstepped their bounds, and now they're going to get what they deserve."

His men began to nod, and murmurs of approval began to break out in the crowd.

"That's right. The damn pigs have crossed the line. The Jungle is ours! Maybe, if we get lucky, we might even be able to bring down some of the Senshi. I don't know about you, but I remember their meddling just as well as the cops. If they thought they could get away with it, they'd probably just burn the Jungle to be rid of us. Well, no more."

The murmurs had grown in volume and number, and they watched as Nakamura stood at the east facing dock, the rising sun giving him a bloody red halo. Many had to avert their eyes, but the force of his charisma rolled over them like a tidal wave.

"Now is our time!" he shouted. "We have a chance to break the weak grip they have on our home for good. We are the masters of the Jungle. We are the masters of our fate! Show the Senshi that there are streets they cannot conquer, nor people they cannot subdue. Their fall is coming! Victory!"

His booming voice filled the warehouse, the powerful tones causing a rising swell of resentment and fury. The Yakuza began to chant, slowly at first but more and more strongly, a chant that would haunt the Senshi for nearly a decade to come.

"Victory! Victory! Victory!"

Nakamura smiled. The gang leaders would see the message spread. It was finally time. This day the underworld of Tokyo declared war on the Senshi. The best part was that they had no idea what was coming. Yi began to laugh, basking in the multitude of voices. This was certainly the most unconventional war that he had ever been involved in, but he enjoyed it nonetheless. It had been far too long.

"NOW," he boomed, and the chanting instantly ceased. "Take up your weapons, your cunning, your gangs! Hide in the shadows and pounce. Wait for the riot to start. Only after those fools start to push the cops will you move in. Some of you have to piss off the crowd. You know who you are."

Several grizzled looking men in leather jackets nodded.

"The rest, wait. Vengance is soon. You will know when it comes. You will feel it as I've told you in the very air itself! Now, we march!"

He watched as the Yakuza eagerly marched out to their bikes and trucks, heading off to their respective hideouts to get ready. He grinned. Even if this strike failed, the Senshi wouldn't be rid of this problem easily. He'd done his job too well.

A handful of Yakuza remained, and followed Yi as he turned around and walked back to his private rooms to coordinate some of the attack. He ignored the silent acolytes who slowly followed on the heels of the Yakuza mob. Their silence was even more frightening than the Yakuza cheering, and their shuffling inhuman gait made even Yi's skin crawl.

"Archer," a rasping voice called out. Yi turned to look at the acolyte. "We march now. It will go assss our masssster hassss planned."

"Your master, not mine," Yi said cooly. He nodded to the creature, but as he turned away he caught a glimmer of golden flame from the depths of the hood. He smirked to himself. Good, the things could be annoyed.

The acolytes left, moving to through the city to their assigned positions. Despite all of the commotion around the building, there was hardly anyone around the building. Certainly no one here would notify the authorities. It just wasn't the way things were done.

However, there were more forces observing this than just the police. High above the building, a small floating white orb turned to powder in a poof. Small bits of dust floated down, mixing with the occasional snowflake, completely unremarkable.

In an alley way, a bum watched as the Yakuza rode off, and staggered drunkenly to his feet. One of the younger punks noticed the disheviled man in the commotion, and cocked his head to the side. He walked away from his motorcycle and over to the man, who was leaning against a wall.

"Hey, old man," the punk called. "Get out of here you freeloading son of a bitch. This is Bloodblade territory now. No fucking winos allowed."

The wino didn't say anything, but coughed sickly. The punk, seeing the man unmoved, walked over to him.

"Hey old fuck, you deaf?"

He was about to kick the man into the brick wall, when he whirled around faster that the punk thought he could move. A lead pipe in his hand collided with the Yakuza's skull, knocking him to the ground. Satsuo Haketashi stood up straight and looked down at the young fool, then around at the departing Yakuza.

Fortunately in their hurry, none of the Yakuza noticed. The punk's large motorcycle had shielded their brief scuffle. Satsuo thanked Kami-sama, and took a hold of the punk, pulling him into a nearby alley along the concrete pavement. Once completely out of sight, he hoisted the Yakuza into a fireman's carry and moved him to his car. Caine was not going to be happy about this, he thought grimly.

January 16th 6:30

The weak winter sun traced patterns on two bodies pressed closely together on a black futon. One figure had shoulder length blonde hair which was spread on the pillow behind him. Tucked under his chin was the black haired head of a young woman, her back snuggled up against his chest. His bare arm held possessively onto her waist, and the woman's smaller arms clutched at his arm in return.

The phone ringing next to Richard's futon woke both of them with a start. Hotaru looked around muzzily, a slight feeling of forgetfulness clouding her thoughts. Richard, who was a much lighter sleeper awoke nearly instantly, and reached around for his phone. He blinked at the caller I.D.

"Goddamnit," he said into the phone as he picked it up. "You do know that I've got the day off, right?"

"No can do," Mitsugi said briefly. "We've got a potential Case 3 and an I and I session to see to. Code Black."

Richard immediately sat up, the sleep fading quickly from his eyes. "Fuck."

"Exactly," Mitsugi responded. "We need you here ASAP."

"Well, there's a little problem here," Richard said dryly. "I had a little company last night, and..."

"Stuff it Caine," Mitsugi said. "We need you here now."

The phone clicked off before Richard had a chance to tell Mitsugi just who his company had been. He hoped that his old friend wouldn't react too badly when he told him the news.

Hotaru relaxed in the sun, stretching like a cat. Richard stared at her, as she slowly began to move, her eyes still closed.

"What was that about?" she asked sleepily. The covers, in disarray from Richard's movement revealed that neither of them were wearing any clothes. However, Hotaru seemed so relaxed that she didn't even bother to cover her bare chest.

"Well, the slave drivers just called," Richard said. "Erm, I think I need to go to work. It sounds like a genuine emergency."

Hotaru was awakened by this. "What happened?"

Richard was silent for a moment. He looked down at a few crisscrossed scars on his chest, and then back up to Hotaru.

"You know when you told us to...stop working on the Arsonist case?" Richard asked. Hotaru nodded, her mind already knowing where he was headed. "We didn't."

"Well hell," she said, frowning. "What's the problem then?"

"Mitsugi didn't say, but he gave me one of the worst messages I've recieved in a long time," he said. His grim tone didn't make her feel any better.

"How bad is that?" she asked.

"The last time I was involved in something like this was when a group of us killed a rather large daemon," he replied. "About three years ago."

"You haven't had an alarm like this in three years?"


"Then what the heck are we doing here? Let's go!"

Hotaru got up and began to dress herself. Caine just stared at her. "You're not going to report me?"

"Let's just say that for right now I consider it an oversight," she said. "But if it's really bad and you can do something about it, I'm sure the Queen will be forgiving."

"I hope so," Richard muttered, pulling on his pants. "I think that there are some things we need to talk about in the car..."

January 16 7:00

Lee swept the interior of the Cherri Hill temple with practiced ease. He was nearly finished with the temple proper when he heard a familiar voice call out from the steps. He put the broom up against the wall and looked out the window.

"Good morning," Zephyr waved from steps. He was wearing his usual suit, but his hat had a much broader brim than before. He also carried a long cane with a golden lion at the top loosely in his right hand.

"To what do I owe the pleasure of your visit?" Ward asked. "Assuming that you're not here for spiritual help."

"You assume correctly," Zephyr said. "I'm actually here to get a little help of another sort. You see, there's this problem downtown, that I don't think anyone has realized yet."

"And that is?"

"Oh just a riot and a potential magical disaster waiting to happen. Along with a bunch of trigger happy Inquisitors who are about to fly off the handle. Nothing major."

Lee blinked. "You're kiddin' right?"

Zephyr only smiled.

Lee gave him a sour look, and went back into the temple, grabbing his coat and the Nyoi-Bo. Walking back outside, he saw Zephyr still standing patiently, examining something on a video screen of a palm top he held in front of him. Noticing Lee, he grimaced.

"I hate computers," he observed.

Lee looked at him as if he had grown three heads. "Er, why would that be?"

"Because they don't do what you want. They do what you tell them to," Zephyr replied. He tucked the palmtop in his hand. "Looks like I screwed up a little. Oh well, I have a feeling we're going to be needed soon. Call it detective's intuition."

"Alright, first things first, what the hell does the Inquisition have to do with any of this?" Lee asked.

Zephyr smiled. "I'll explain it on the way."

The two men disappeared in a flash of translucent sparks.

January 16th 7:10

" you're telling me that you work for the bloody Inquisition?" Hotaru asked for the third time. Richard sent the sedan into a swerve in order to pass a few cars.

"Yes," he said. Trying to concentrate on Hotaru and driving was proving to be difficult. "I'm a knight of the Inquisition. We hunt rogue mages and other magical threats to mankind."

"The same Inquisition that was responsible for what happened in Spain the 1400's?" Hotaru asked doggedly.

"Yes! I, mean no. Dammnit, okay," he fumbled, beeping his horn at a truck that refused to let him pass. "Alright, that was part of the Inquisition. We dropped our church affiliation after that fiasco. No one in their right mind can see that as a success."

"Wait," Hotaru said slowly, flinching as they nearly collided into a barrier. "So you're telling me you aren't part of the Catholic Church?"

"Exactly," he replied. Another narrow miss distracted him for a second. "We're older than the church by a good two thousand years. We go back to the time of Zoroaster."

Hotaru racked her brains. She wasn't very good with Middle Eastern history. "You mean the...Persians?"

"Wow, didn't think you'd know that," Richard said. "It's kind of obscure."

"It's funny the things you pick up," she replied. "So you are the same organization that you were then?"

"More or less," he said. "We've had some on and off periods, but we were pretty old before we began to infiltrate the Church heirarchy. Although, to be fair, the Church was never run by us. We mostly used them as a smoke screen for our legitimate efforts. It's too bad that they ended up burning a lot of innocent people. That particular Grandmaster was not the nicest man."

Hotaru gave him an incredulous look. "Did you just excuse the Spanish Inquisition?"

"Er, no," he said. "I don't think that is what we should do, but I can understand what the old bastard was thinking when he did it."

Hotaru said nothing for a moment. Finally a near encounter with a telephone pole while wildly pulling into a sharp turn shook her out of her reverie.

"And you hunt demons?" she asked.

"Yup," Richard said. "Have for a long time. Since our founding really."

Hotaru considered this. "Okay, now I'm just confused."

"We aren't really all that different from what you saw at Caine Securities," Richard said. "It's just another level of complexity. Our basic mission statement is the same as it always was. We just have a little more muscle than I showed you at the time."

Hotaru gave him a snort. "Do you really think that any of us is going to buy that, Richard? I mean, Rei was right, you are an outside force. I just didn't even expect anything like this."

"No one expects the Spanish Inquisition," he said with a smile. "God, I get so tired of that joke."

Hotaru looked at him as if he had grown an extra arm.

Richard sighed. "Can we talk about this after the crisis?"

"Yes," Hotaru said quietly. "I think that we're going to have a nice long chat, when this is over. Whatever this is... that and get Haruka to teach you some driving lessons."

Richard was silent for the rest of the car ride, but he held out his hand to Hotaru. After looking at it for a moment, she reached over and gave it a quick squeeze.

January 16 7:20

Richard walked with Hotaru through the entrance hall, much to the shock of the blonde receptionist. However, she didn't have any time to be surprised as Richard swept through, waving casually to her. Nor was she the only surprised employee that Hotaru noticed. She watched the expressions of surprise or even outright fear on the faces of almost everyone that she passed. Her uneasyness grew with each step forward.

It was almost as though they had been caught at something. Or perhaps it was an outsider in a place where she didn't belong, but whatever it was, it creeped her out. Richard ignored them, and forged ahead. He walked into his office, and grabbed a grey coat with a few symbols on it from his coatrack and threw it over his shoulder. He took off his suit coat and hung it on the rack, and then shrugged on the long robe-like coat.

They then walked past the labs, into the area that she had never seen before. It looked like an armory. At least a score of hardened looking men and women in some kind of uniform stood around, loading weapons and checking up on harnesses. Their grey coats were unremarkable, except for the patch on the shoulder, which was just the same as Richard's.

Mitsugi was standing by a computer screen, looking down at it, when he saw Hotaru and Richard walk in. What ever he had been about to say died, as the large man realized that he had just brought a Senshi in here with him.

Richard grinned. "I told you it would be a problem. Or, I would have if you hadn't hung up on me. She knows."

"She does?" Mitsugi asked, looking over to her. Hotaru gave him a very sober nod. He gave a defeated sigh. "Well, shit. Welcome to the Tokyo headquarters of the Holy Inquisition, Lady Saturn. I just hope that we can be of assistance to you."

"I suppose that depends," Hotaru said levelly. "Why the call alert?"

"Well, a contact of ours discovered that the Yakuza are on the warpath," Mitsugi said. "He just got in a few minutes ago. He managed to knock out one of the Yakuza and drag him in here, but we haven't had a chance to get the information out of him yet."

"What are they doing?" Hotaru asked.

"Currently, we're not sure, but I don't like to take chances," Mitsugi said. "These gentlemen here will get you up to date on the situation as far as we know it. We, er, didn't stop investigating when you told us to."

Hotaru expression soured. "Mr. Caine already informed me of that. Do you think this has anything to do with the Arsonist?"

"I think our little witness will be of the most help in figuring that out," Mitsugi said. "Come with me to holding cell 3."

Chapter 16 The Inquisition/The Biography of a Riot

January 16 8:25

"He still won't speak," one of the younger guards said to Richard. He, Mitsugi, and Hotaru had been observing his interrogation for over an hour now, but it had been to no avail.

"We don't have the time to break him normally," Richard commented to Mitsugi. The two stood side by side with Hotaru in front of a large plexiglas window. On the other side of the one way material, sat a scruffy looking man, who could have been any generic scumbag. The problem was, this generic scumbag seemed to be fairly resistant to their drugs. He still wouldn't speak.

"If I thought that we could beat it out of him," Mitsugi said cooly. "I would have done it already. No use. I've seen plenty of men like this. Pain won't break them, and they don't fear anything that we can do to him."

"Have you been using protocol one before we got here too?" Richard asked.

"Yep," Mitsugi answered. "Apparently he has absolutely no respect for authority."

"What is protocol one?" Hotaru interjected.

Mitsugi frowned. "We didn't tell him who we worked for, as you've probably noticed over the past hour. He probably thinks we're some kind of internal security force. We've found that it pays to keep a low profile, and frankly most people are scared enough by the cops to start talking. Less awkward questions afterwards."

They watched in silence as he sat in the room by himself. Richard gave Mitsugi a look born of old experience. He sighed and took off his grey coat, leaving himself clad in simple grey pants and a heavy grey shirt.

"I think that it's time to step it up. We don't have time to screw around with this bastard if Haketashi is right. Let's go have a talk with mister Recalcitrant, shall we?"

"I want to go in there too."

Both of the men turned their heads to stare at Hotaru. Her soft voice had intruded on them. She stood in her black slacks and turtle neck sweater. She looked like someone's lost little sister in that moment more than anything, for her eyes were turned towards the ground.

"If I might ask," Mitsugi hazarded. "Why?"

"Because if you can't get him to talk, I can," she said almost inaudibly. She raised her head to look at the men, and the young acolyte in the room felt shivers run down his spine. Her eyes looked nearly dead. "I remember a few tricks that work wonders. They also leave no permanent damage."

Mitsugi had an acute expression of shock on his face. Richard was a bit more composed, but still looked very cautious. He gave her a hard stare, but as he gazed into her eyes he saw something. Perhaps it was a taste of the great power that Hotaru had at her fingertips. Or perhaps it was the desolating winds which he could nearly feel from the depths of her soul. Maybe it was just his trust in her. Either way, he nodded slowly in return.

"We would be honored to have you assist us," Richard said. He walked to the heavy door and unbolted it. Reaching down beside him, he picked up a folder with what little the punk had divulged. He walked inside, followed by Hotaru and Mitsugi.

The punk looked at each of them impassively in turn. The drugs dulled his perception a bit, but he knew what he couldn't tell them, and just like the boss had taught him, he buried it as deep in his mind as he could.

Richard considered the man for a moment, then walked around the simple metal table to stand behind the subject. Mitsugi stood calmly in front of him, a look of indifference on his face. Hotaru lithely flowed over to one of the shadowed far walls and leaned against it, crossing her arms.

"Alright, Mr. Wazaki," Richard began, placing his hands on either side of the man's chair. "Let me try this one more time. You work for Nakamura, don't you?"

The punk was silent.

"Fine," Richard continued, walking to stand in front of the man once again. "If you would like to be silent then I'll just have you killed. You're no asset to us in this state, and I don't have the goddamn time to waste on you. Let's end this charade."

He nodded to Mitsugi, who pulled out a large matt black pistol and pointed it at the left side of the man's chest. The punk was beginning to look a little shaken.

"What's the matter, Wazaki?" Richard asked.

"You can't just kill people," Wazaki said, his mind trying to wrap around the idea. His slured voice was thick and uneven. "shtop fucking with me."


"Because you're copsh," Wazaki answered. He kept his eyes glued to the unwavering pistol and unblinking gunman before him. "Copsh can't shoot ush. 'Gainst the law."

"That's true," Richard admitted with a serious nod. "The cops can't kill you. Too bad we aren't cops. Mitsugi?"

The tall man pulled back on the hammer of his automatic with a very loud click. "Yes?"

"Shoot him," Richard said calmly.

"Wait!" Wazaki shouted, but it wasn't soon enough. The gun went off, but not with the expected bang. Instead it made a small whooshing sound, and the punk was surprised to find a dart imbedded in his shoulder. He looked down at it as if it were some unfamiliar insect which had landed on his shirt, unsure whether to run away screaming of sit absolutely still.

"That dart contains a powerful poison," Richard commented. "In fifteen minutes you'll be dead unless we give you the antidote. Now, if you don't talk, I won't give it to you."

By this time Wazaki felt a numbness running up and down his arm and upper chest. He gave Richard a panicked look.

"Fuck you man," the punk replied. "You're full of shit."

"How do you know I am?"

Wazaki was silent.

"I don't care if you believe me," Richard continued amiably.

"Fucking shit," the Yakuza ranted. "Fuck your bullshit."

Richard shrugged, and turned to walk out. "Your decision."

"Perhaps I can show him the stakes he plays," Hotaru remarked from the dark corner. She uncrossed her arms and stood up. Richard raised his eyebrow, but bowed to her.

Wazaki thought that he recognized the woman from somewhere, but his clouded mind couldn't exactly pinpoint it. Of course, he figured it out rather quickly when Hotaru took out her pen and violet light began to eminate from her body.

"Saturn Planet Power," she called. A brilliant flash of light later, she stood before him in her signature uniform, Silence Glaive in hand.

"Holy shit!" he exclaimed. "I knew it was you! You bitches have been screwing with us again."

"No," Saturn said conversationally. "Actually, we 'bitches' have nothing to do with this. I was just around when they caught you."

She walked up to the front of the desk and hefted her glaive lightly, examining the butt of it with care. "Have you ever killed anyone, Wazaki?"

"What?" the gangster asked in confusion.

"Eloquent," she commented. She continued to examine the minute workmanship of her ancient weapon. "I asked if you ever killed anyone, Wazaki. I have you see."

The gangster looked at her confused. She took a deep breath and narrowed her eyes.

"Death is an old...friend of mine," Hotaru said. "I've seen it, been close to it. Even embraced it in a way."

She shifted her gaze to him. "Our relationship gives me a few gifts. One of those is allowing people to see their own deaths. Like say, you for example."

The Yakuza's eyes, which had been getting wider, seemed almost to be the size of saucers.

"I just figured you might like to see it coming," she offered. Hefting the weapon in her hand she touched the non bladed end to his forehead. She smiled at him. "It will change your life, I garuntee it. At least, what's left of it."

Richard and Mitsgui watched as the man went stiff as a board, his eyes darting in terror. They involuntarily took a step back from her. Wazaki collapsed to the table, weeping like a child. Hotaru, patted him on the shoulder.

"There there," she said with a sad and sympathetic expression. "I know it's tough. But you have to remeber to enjoy the thirteen minutes you have left. We have to make the most of whatever time we have."

She turned and walked over to where the two Inquisitors were standing. She paused for a moment, just before walking out of the door. She put her hand on the doorknob. Her voice rang clear, cutting through the punk's sobs. "You still have a choice Wazaki. Make the right one. We'll be back in a few minutes."

Richard and Mitsugi mutely followed her, but as they were about to open the door, a sob chocked voice cried out harshly.

"I'll talk, you sadistic fucks, I'll talk."

January 16 9:30

"My god," Richard said to Hotaru after they had exited the room. "What did he see?"

"Actually I just showed him how it feels to die from the poison you gave him," she remarked. "I think that the near death experience changed the way he looks at the world."

Richard nodded numbly. After Hotaru had so adeptly shown the thug his own mortality, he had sung like a canary in the cat holding pens of the SPCA. They knew about the riots, at least a bit, and they also knew that Nakamura was planning something really big at his warehouse headquarters. It was so great that the punk hadn't really known anything except that it involved a 'scary motherfucking mage' and his 'creepy bastard' cronies. Richard had been less than thrilled at this revelation. This meant there might be more than one of them.

"Well what now," Mitsugi asked. "We have to alert the other Senshi, but the march is already under way. Plus there's the warehouse."

"I'll get the other Senshi," Hotaru said. Then her eyes widened. "Shit, I forgot my communicator!"

Richard and Mitsugi blinked. Then they chuckled a little.

"What?" she asked, annoyed.

"Oh nothing," Richard said carefully. "Just the first time I've heard you swear."

She smacked him lightly. "Bigger problems to deal with right now. I can get the Senshi, but it'll take time."

"We can go to the warehouse," Mitsugi said. "At the very least we can stall for you. We're pretty dangerous, at least to mages."

Hotaru looked sceptical.

"Listen, I've apprehended and or killed at least a dozen mages who were quite powerful," Richard said in exasperation. "This is what we're supposed to do. Once the Senshi show up, we'll back you up. Until then we'll distract them. I didn't like Wazaki's description of the 'spell to send you fucking Senshi to hell'. People don't say things like that casually, at least not when they're threatened with death."

Hotaru sighed. "All right, I guess. As an official Senshi liason, I request your assistance. That way we can make this nice and legal, so Rei can't throw an official fit. Although unofficially, I think that she's going to be really pissed at me."

"Well here," Richard said, tossing her the keys to his sedan. "You can get to the riot as quickly as possible using this. We'll take our other vehicles to the warehouse."

Mitsugi nodded and ran down the hall, his great stride covering an enormous distance with each step. Richard picked up his coat from where it was sitting and buttoned it up to his collar. Hotaru watched him mutely.

He noticed her standing there with a sad frown and paused in his dressing. "What's wrong?"

"I just don't want you to get hurt," she said.

"I won't try to," Richard said. "I'm not going to be taking any risks that I don't have to. It's not in my nature. Otherwise, I'd have been long dead by now."

Hotaru smiled weakly. "I guess that's the best I'm going to get. Hm. So what now?"

"We do our jobs," Richard replied gently. "And save some people's lives."

Hotaru walked over to him and gave him a hug. "Watch your back Richard."

"You too, Hotaru," he said, returning her hug. As they parted, he leaned in and kissed her lightly. "I...well I'm not very good at things like this Hotaru, but after last night, I.. dammnit. Why is this so hard? I just wanted to say that I love you. Just in case I don't get a second chance."

Hotaru gave him an edged smile. "I know. I... I love you too. You come back in one piece. I still have to kick your ass."

With that she turned and ran. So much else remained unsaid as she ran off towards his car: The fun of the previous night, the joy in each other's company, the commonness in their thoughts, everything. But sometimes, you don't really need to say anything more. It's amazing what absolute power those three little words can convey. And this time, despite their brevity, they were more than enough for two former lonely people who had found a partner in one another.

Richard watched her go, buttoning up the last part of his coat. He flipped the wide hood over his face. He checked his twin pistols, staring at their black finish and silver lettering with a sigh.

It was go time.

January 16 10:00

Do people get together for the purpose of rioting? Do one morning a group of people suddenly decide, 'hey, today's a good time to burn the city, wanna join?'.

The answer is usually no.

They are a strange thing, riots. Sometimes they are peaceful demonstrations that go awry. Other times they snowball from a small fight, which escalates as more and more people get involved. But while the form of riots may be amorphous, they is one prerequisite force which must be there.


Tensions between ethnic groups, or governments. Tensions between different sects of religions. Heck, maybe even tension between righties and lefties. Whatever the details of its source, the Tension itself is a very specific emotion. You can feel it in the air itself.

It has a life of its own. It lives and breathes through individuals and groups in the common empathic connection that all Mankind shares with one another. Relationships, most bad but some good, feed its strength. It becomes tangible, a pulling that you can almost reach out and touch, if your senses are keen enough.

Tension between people draws its life from the active feeding of emotions. Just like the hand that compresses the spring, the negative energy of Tension, and its sister, Conflict, are stored in the medium of our thoughts. The more energy that is stored, the more likely it is that the spring will overcome its restraints and lash out. When it does, it releases the power within in a single, great burst. Our thoughts operate on a very similar mechanical impulse. We simply snap, our reason shredded, and our compasion overcome. There is no restraint once this has happened. There is only pure, destructive, energy.

In Indonesia there is a certain behavior that has been well documented over the millenia. The people of this area are well known for their patience and civility, even in times of great trial. During a man's life, he may be put under extreme pressures. He may find himself jobless or perhaps horrible things happen to his family. However, the man bears all of this without complaint, a smile on his face. This may continue for years, constricting within at a monumental pressure. Then one day, the man looses his grip. It may be years or even decades later, but eventually some individual's control shatters.

When that happens they tend to go on murdering rampages. Extremely nasty and brutal murdering rampages. They start killing people until they are killed in turn. No normal pain stops them, no threats are capable of reaching them. They are truly unstoppable with anything less than crippling injury, or the ultimate sanction of death.

Such a behavior is called 'running Amok', and it is a testament to the raw force that Tension and Confilct have at their disposal if given the opportunity. However such power is uncontrolled and unpredictable, because of the very source of its strength. If all control is gone, what discrimination does rage have in and of itself? Also, when there is nothing left to rage at, what does rage do? It disappears, leaving a hollow shell behind.

Soldiers understand this force somewhat. Policemen understand it better. They live in a world where tension is omnipresent. Enemy soldiers will try to kill you. Miscreants hate the police. Though they may not actively see it, the job of these individualss is intimately linked with tension, in all its forms, personal and vast. From a domestic dispute, to the Rodney King riots of L.A., police are witness and arbiter of it every day.

The Senshi also know it in their own way. Their powers attune them to the ebb and flow of energies around them. Just as a great monk or prophet would be able to, their magical nature allows them to feel tension very acutely. In fact, Minako Aito, Sailor Venus, Dutchess of Japan, was feeling it quite acutely right now. She swore she could have been swimming in it.

"Freedom of speech, freedom to vote," chanted a thousand voices. "Freedom of life, freedom from Senshi!"

She was standing behind the vangaurd of fifty policemen who were eyeing a wall of protestors carrying slogans of everything from pro-democracy signs to signs which basically ammounted to 'burn the witches'. Minako gave an exasparated sigh, resting her forehead on her palm and thinking as hard as she could.

The march was supposed to be non violent, and to take a major route through the city including areas very close to the palace. The organizers had even been scrupulous enough to get the proper permits and everything. Much as it had galled her, Minako could only respect their professionalism and discipline.

However, the crowd arrayed before her now was one of the ugliest she had seen since the Negaverse, and she had seen an awful lot of ugly crowds since that day. They had stayed on their course alright, but it had been very difficult for the standard police units to contain them to it. There was something in the air today, Minako thought. It seemed as though everyone was just having a really bad day. Except it wasn't just the protestors. The police were beginning to get edgy as well. Even her normally cheerful demeanor was blunted, muzzled by a net of irritability.

She had been one of the three Senshi who was helping with this particular group of fun seekers. Makoto and Michiru were also nearby, covering the flanks of the mass of people. Things had gotten so bad that the three of them and the police commissioner had agreed to try to divert the march away from its initial proximity to the palace. However, the people didn't really seem to want to be diverted.

Currently the angry mob was cornered between two large office buildings and the police line just behind a road which ran parallel to the palace. The sun glinted dully through the hazy sky off of the crystal dome above their heads and the mirrored windows of the office buildings around them. The weak winter sun barely penetrated cover of grey, spreading too few rays to aleviate the current gloom for more than a minute or two in the passing of the smoky clouds.

The streets before them were packed with people, certainly in the low thousands. Many of them Minako was sure were part of the original march. Their signs and clothing were much more tasteful. However, it seemed as though a large group of less savory characters had also joined this march, and their signs were cruel and barbed. She even caught a glance of several lewed ones depicting the Senshi who had foreign boyfriends, including herself. Their disgusting nature wasn't helping her already frayed temper.

"Freedom from the Senshi," roared a bearded man in the crowd of protestors. A shrill whistle echoed through the crowd, and on cue a light hail of vegetables began to pelt the shields of the various police. The murmuring roar of the crowd swelled, but they still kept the riot armored police at a distance.

"Goddamnit!" Minako growled, tossing her blonde hair and cracking her knuckles. "Why is everyone so pissed off?"

The police nearest to her chuckled a little, but nothing seemed to ease the twisting in all of their guts. It was getting ugly, and Aito could feel it getting uglier by the minute. She looked towards the heavens with a silent plea to send some kind of an intervention. They would have a riot on their hands if something didn't change really soon.

Almost as soon as she turned her eyes to the sky, a screeching sound from behind her shook her out of her reverie. She watched wide eyed as a sedan cut around behind the police lines at an unreasonable speed. The driver looked like he was going to smash into the commercial building ahead of them, but deftly put the car into a spin. Tires screeched, and brakes whined, but the sedan came to a stop. It pulled out more reasonably and drove up to the police barrier, parking just behind the riot vans.

Minako cocked her head to the side, her ponytail twitching. Her surprise grew when she saw a small form already dressed in a Sailor fuku leap out and hit the ground, running straight for her. She watched as Hotaru leapt over the S.W.A.T. van in her way and landed neatly on her feet. The police who had time to look blinked in astonsihment. Minako, finally overcoming her surprise, closed the remaining distance between them.

"How the hell did you learn to drive like that?" Minako asked.

"Haruka," Hotaru said with a smile. She looked over her shoulder just in time to see a vegtable fly over the police line. She nimbly dodged it. Minako frowned.

"What are you doing here Hotaru?" she asked. "You aren't on duty for this thing." She jerked her thumb over her shoulder for emphasis.

"I wasn't," Hotaru admitted. She put the butt of her staff into the asphalt. "But that was before I found out something really bad. This is about to explode into a riot any minute now."

"I know that," Minako shot back. "Any idiot with a pair of eyes can see that. What's your point?"

"It isn't just the protestors," Hotaru said calmly. Now that she could feel the tendrils of anger clawing at her, she could easily swat them aside. "This is being fueled by magic Minako. Listen to yourself. Why are you so upset? You don't have any reason to be."

Sailor Venus nearly started to rant at Hotaru, when she came up short. She blinked in consideration. "...You know, that makes a lot of sense."

Hotaru nodded. "Try to shrug it off, and you'll really feel it. It's what's got those fools out there so agitated. They're pawns in a game. The police, the protestors, even us."

Hotaru tightened her grip on the Glaive of Silence. "I hate being anyone's pawn."

"Then who's doing this?" Minako asked, in even more confusion. "And where can we find him before this place turns into a bloodbath?"

"I don't know," Hotaru said. "I think that it might be the Jungle arsonist. I'm pretty sure that this isn't the only thing that's going on though. There are Yakuza intersperced in the crowd. They're waiting for some kind of signal, and then they'll start rioting in earnest."

"What kind of a signal?" Minako asked.

A huge flare of light burst up from somewhere in the distance. It looked almost like a whip of fire. Then another close to it. Minako squinted, and grabbed Hotaru's arm, turning her to face in the direction of the anomaly.

Then the third burst of flame ripped into the sky. That was when the shooting started. Hotaru and Minako threw themselves flat to the ground, but the police were unable to move that quickly. Two of them fell over with gunshot wounds to the chest. Minako cursed.

"Now I'm in a bad mood for a reason," she said. She stood up and dusted herself off. After the gunshots, the crowd had not scattered as she'd thought. Instead they threw themselves on the police line, hammering with fists, clubs and knives at the police riot shields. She sprinted over to where one of the wounded men had fallen to the ground. Muscling her way into the police line, she placed her palms together and narrowed her eyes.

"Step back," she roared, and the police around her opened up their formation. She smiled viciously. "Venus Love Chain Encircle."

The chain of interlinking hearts wove around her in a display of light which caused quite a stir in the ranks of rioters in front of her. Gathering her hands together in a prayer like fashion, she gestured expansively, and the chain of light followed her orders.

Instead of winding itself about a single enemy as it usually did, the chain moved out in a V shape from her position, roughly at the knee height of the average rioter. What followed was possible the largest mass leg sweep in human history. Unable to keep their balance the rioters fell over the chain and each other. Though the chain only managed to trip about three hundred people before Minako could hold it any longer, the effect was even greater. The rioters who had been pushing from behind tripped over their own comrades, causing even more confusion.

"Alright boys," Minako said, curling her right hand into a fist. "It's time to get rid of these miscreants...."

She would have finished her orders if a bullet hadn't gouged an enormous hole next to her feet. She went into a dive, and tried to find the source of the shot. Scanning the buildings around her, Minako noticed a glint, even in the weak sun. It was on the high roof of the office building on her left. Then she saw the most amazing thing.

Two tiny sillouetes suddenly tumbled off the roof. Minako traced their descent until they hit the pavement with a wet thud. The rioters didn't even seem to notice, but some of the police did. Minako swept her gaze back up to the roof. A small white figure stood on the ceiling. She swore it was waving to her.

* * *

On the ceiling, Zephyr waved at Sailor Venus with an idiot grin on his face. In his left hand he held a K-Bar dripping with the blood of the two would be assassins. It was a good thing that he had been systematically taking out all of the snipers. That last pair were quite close to getting a good shot. He'd had to throw his knife to knock their aim off. If he hadn't there would have been one less Inner Senshi at the end of the day.

The waving ceasing to amuse him, Zephyr walked away from the edge of the building. His grin melting, he took out an embroidered hankerchief and wiped the blood off of his knife. It was time to go join the major party, which was now in progress at the old warehouse. He hoped that Hotwire was having an easier day than he was so far.

* * *

"Did you see that Hotaru?"

Makoto saw Hotaru looking at the rising lashes of flame. The younger Senshi stood unmoving, watching as a sudden explosion rocked the far distance. The ground under them rumbled, even the protestors and police noticing the vibrations in the ground. For a moment, it seemed as though the protestors grew nearly silent, and Minako could hear the bickering chatter of automatic weapons in the distance. She grabbed Hotaru's arm.

"What the hell is going on?" Minako shouted. Her face was turning pink with rage. "You know, don't you?"

"It's what I didn't get a chance to tell you," Hotaru smiled, just a fraction. "The brave idiots."


"It's the Arsonist or his cronies," Hotaru said, her reverie abandoned. She looked at Minako with bright eyes. "He's part of this fiasco. Caine and his associates are trying to buy us some time. You need to finish up with these rioters and get to them as soon as possible. Tell the other available Senshi to get a move on too."

Hotaru took out a piece of paper and handed it to Minako. "This is the address of the place. When the riot is under control move in as best you can. Contact Ami and tell her to send in as many of us as she gather. I'm on my way."

Minako handed off the number to one of the police with a working radio. She watched as Hotaru sprinted and leapt over the vehicle barracade again, and opened the door to the sedan roughly. With a screeching of rubber the vehicle rocketed down the street.

End SM Omoi: Inquisition: Inferno, Part IV

Author's notes:

Hmm. Gonna be a hot time in the old town tonight... Mwahahahahahahahaha! Er, anyhow... There's still one more section to go! The rip-roaring confrontation between the Inquisition and the dastardly Emperor of Flame and his unknown cronies. A setting for havoc if I ever saw one. Battles abound in the following chapters. What will Zephyr, the craziest member of the Omega Web, do next? What is Hotwire up to? Will the Inquisition teach the Yakuza and the Emperor a well earned lesson? Will Hotaru reach the scene just in time, or will she be too late? Will this utter nonsense ever stop?

You'll just have to find out by tuning in to SM Omoi: Inquisition: Inferno!!!!


(Geez, that's a lot of colons...)

"Everyone in my neighborhood had left to vote. I have no feeling of fear--Allah has won."
-Umm Ali, Duhra, Iraq

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SM Omoi: Inquisition: Inferno

Part 5

"Eins, zwei, drei, vier, f?nf, sechs, sieben, acht, neun, aus..."

"Alle warten auf das Licht
f?rchtet euch f?rchtet euch nicht
die Sonne scheint mir aus den Augen
sie wird heut Nacht nicht untergehen
und die Welt z?hlt laut bis zehn"

Hier kommt die Sonne
Hier kommt die Sonne
Sie ist der hellste Stern von allen
Hier kommt die Sonne"

"Die Sonne scheint mir aus den H?nden
kann verbrennen, kann euch blenden
wenn sie aus den F?usten bricht
legt sich hei? auf das Gesicht
sie wird heut Nacht nicht untergehen
und die Welt z?hlt laut bis zehn"

Hier kommt die Sonne
Hier kommt die Sonne
Sie ist der hellste Stern von allen
Hier kommt die Sonne
Hier kommt die Sonne
Hier kommt die Sonne
Sie ist der hellste Stern von allen
Acht, neun
Hier kommt die Sonne"

"Die Sonne scheint mir aus den H?nden
kann verbrennen, kann dich blenden
wenn sie aus den F?usten bricht
legt sich hei? auf dein Gesicht
legt sich schmerzend auf die Brust
das Gleichgewicht wird zum Verlust
l?sst dich hart zu Boden gehen
und die Welt z?hlt laut bis zehn"

Hier kommt die Sonne
Hier kommt die Sonne
Sie ist der hellste Stern von allen
Und wird nie vom Himmel fallen
Hier kommt die Sonne
Hier kommt die Sonne
Sie ist der hellste Stern von allen
Acht , neun
Hier kommt die Sonne"

-Rammstein Sonne

"Remember then, that thou shalt use thy cunning and vileness. Do not shun that which may make men evil, for within the substance of that night lieth the salvation of thy people and thyself. The corrupt serve their own darkness, but the darkness may be made ally to the pure. If thou wondrest, then let it be said that to know one's darkness, to commandeth Death, is part of Man's greatest and most terrible gift and ever shall be..."

-The Maxims of Serverus, First Book of the Inquisition

Chapter 17 The Gates of Hell/Street Battles

The Incident: T-00:30:00

It would later be filed in only two places on the planet. One was a massive vault buried beneath the Colorado Rockies. The other was the super-secure core of the Tokyo Senshi Archives. The only other people who would ever learn of the events that took place were those who were present, and the municipal companies who repaired the damage that they caused.

In front of the warehouse whose only real name was a serial number, a group of cloaked figures encircling the structure raised their hands in supplication to the heavens. Bands of deep red light sprang from their fingertips, connecting them all in an intricate web which covered the building in its entirety. The net periodically flashed with arcs of plasma, disturbingly remeniscent of solar flares.

However this net was not their only handiwork.

Above their heads the smokey clouds circled lazily, forming the eye of a great storm. The meanace of the black clouds was not lost on the people of the city of Tokyo, who had long since learned that when such strange things happened it was best to get one's head down as soon as possible.

The Sun's light barely made it through the cloud layer, it's light changed from soothing yellow to an angry deep red. The aura around the great star was almost swolen. Despite the ominous clouds the sun raised itself up in the sky, unperturbed by the goings on beneath it's absentminded gaze. At least until a beam or red light stabbed into the heavens, straight toward's the Sun's heart.

It sprang from the intricated interlocking figures and rose to the star so far away. Who knows exactly what would have happened if there hadn't been a rather effective interruption at the very moment that the beam began it's heavenly ascent.

Around the street corner a quintet of unremarkable vans ground to halt, their doors springing open with practiced motions. Out of the vans nearly two score of men and women leapt out, clutching various leathal insturments to their chests.

Their grey coats flapping in the wind, it was difficult to tell to what time period they properly belonged. Everything from swords to fully automatic rifles were clutched in their gloved hands. Their faces were obscured by hoods which shielded their forehead and diaphronous black scarves which covered their lower faces. Only their eyes and the bridge of their noses were readily visible. Their sex was also nearly indistinguishable because of the loose nature of their uniforms.

A pair of these figures leapt out of the lead van. One was quite tall and broad and clutched a huge rifle in one hand, and had a large No-Dachi slung over his shoulder. The other was much shorter, holding a Styer Aug with a practiced grip. The shorter one clenched his fist as the remaining men got out of the vehicles. He switched his hand to a different signal, this time two fingers extended outwards in a V. The oddly dressed warriors followed his command exactly. Splitting up into four teams they worked their way around the warehouse with astonishing quickness. The huge man rested his great rifle on the hood of the van in front of him, sighting in on one of the robed figures who was only a little over three hundred feet away.

In less than a minute the other teams sent very tight radio clicks which Richard and Mitsugi both heard in their master headsets inside their hoods. Richard's eyes turned to Mitsugi's and his gaze was met with a careful nod. Richard lifted the radio to his ear and hit a small button which sent a single return beep to each one of the agents around the building.

Thirty automatic weapons spoke as one.

The hail of bullets ripped through the robed figures around the warehouse just as the beam of red light pierced the heavens. Glaring shields of light protected the figures, but were unable to protect against the sheer volume of bullets engraved with shield breaking wards. Almost instantly a dozen or so dropped like puppets with their strings clipped. Their robes were so riddled with holes that the clothes were almost shredded off of their bodies.

In addition to the rifles, ten heavier weapons were leveled. Mitsugi sighted carefully with his gun, which was more reminiscent of a grenade launcher than any other kind of weapon. With a tremendous crack, which nearly knocked him over, the gun fired. A silver plated stake, nearly thirty centimeters long, flew at roughly the speed of sound.

Richard's eyes followed its visible arc. A shield of brilliant crimson sprung up in its way, but he watched as the pentagrammic wards on the stake glowed with their own resonance, cancelling the shielding of the opposing magic. The iron and silver spike drove through anyway, and shattered as it was desgined to when it hit its target. The body of the creature exploded in a flash, leaving not even a trace of it or the stake which had caused it.

Richard sneered. So, they were possessed. The fragmentation stake would have definitely turned a normal man into a piece of meat, but the wards on the stake cancelling out a binding spell would be the only thing that would cause such a spectacular result. He was not the only one who noticed this, however.

The remaining figures immediately stopped their work. Faster than any mortal, they crouched to the ground. Flames began to wreathe around their bodies, and the fields protecting them began to grow stronger. On the side two more of them exploded in bright flashes. At least the stakes still worked, Richard mused.

He clicked his radio twice. "Concentration."

The saturation of bullets shifted from the wide spread to concentrated spearpoints of firepower, which eventually wore down the shields of their foes through massive saturation. By this time about half of the acolytes had been downed. Then they leapt towards their assailants, flames on their skinless hands becoming blades of burning light. From the first moment of fire to their counterattack had been less than twenty seconds.

Five of them leapt towards Richard and Mitsugi's team. He heard Mitsugi drop the great stake launcher and draw the No-Dachi in a smooth motion. The Oni-Slayer's blade already began to hum with sypathetic resonance, almost like a tuning fork.

Half of the well trained adepts around him continued relentless fire as the other dropped their rifles to draw their own swords and polearms. One of the demon puppets was dropped by sixty rifle rounds, it's body unable to function properly and its hold reduced by the counteracting wards on the bullets. Richard managed to blow off the kneecaps of another, causing it to trip. That left three of them.

Two of them crashed into the line of Inquisitors with vicious fury. Ripping out with their flaming claws, they dismembered one woman before she was even able to scream. The remaining Inquisitors stabbed back with swords and polearms, beheading one of the creatures, and pinning the other to the ground. The final one writhed on the pavement, the blacktop beginning to liquify under the intense heat, until a curved black knife slit the creature's throat.

Mitsugi, meanwhile, had one all to himself. While he had been standing right by the hood of the van, he had dropped his rifle and backed away. The puppet cleared the hood in one leap, landing in front of him. Its robes were burning off, revealing the sickening third degree burns that he had become so familiar with.

Unlike its counterparts, this one appeared to be somehow less bestial and more cunning. He kept his gentle hold on the No-Dachi, watching unblinkingly. The seconds which the two combatants stared at each other stretched out indefinitely. The creature lashed out suddenly, trying to close the distance between them. Mitsugi would have none of it, however. He brought his blade down in a shimmering arc as the right arm of the puppet punched at his chest.

The beast changed the angle of its punch in the last instant, turning its wrist over and presenting the flaming claws to the blade of the No-Dachi. A normal blade would certainly have glanced off of such a manifested magical power. The humming blade of Oni-Slayer felt a little resistance, but cleaved right through the arm just shy of the elbow. Hissing, the demon backed off, dropping to all fours to look at him with a new admiration. At least Mitsugi thought it was admiration. He had a great deal of trouble reading the expressions of a shifting mass of flame that composed its face.

Then it was over. The beast hurled itself forward again. Mitsugi crossed his blade over into an ascending arc from his low guard position. The blade neatly clove the demon's host body into two twitching pieces which landed on either side of him. He flicked his blade outwards, with a twist of his wrist. He sheathed it and walked over to the two parts, and drawing two stakes. Looking around, he saw no demons left nearby. Both of the others had been staked, and Richard was preparing to stake the third whose kneecaps and then arms had been blown off. He quickly drove one piece of metal into each corpse, sprinting over to where Richard and the rest of their team were standing.

The entire operation thus far had taken under forty seconds.

"Teams one and two need backup," Richard said calmly. "We need to get to them ASAP. I'll take section one and go to Team One. You take the rest and get to Team two."

He drew his matt black pistols and sprinted towards where Team One looked on the verge of being mobbed by demons. Mitsugi made a sharp gesture for his men to move forward, dropping to his knees and sighting down his rifle. He fired another fragmentation stake, ripping apart one of the stragglers attacking Team two. He stood again.

"Move it boys," he roared. "You wanna live forever?"

The Incident T-00:24:27

Indeed, Team one was in a lot of trouble. More than twice the number of demons that had attacked Caine had rushed them. Despite the fragmentation stakes that had been hurredly fired, and their formidable rifles, seven had managed to close with them.

Satsuo Haketashi was with them, his .45 revolver out in his hand. He watched from his vantage point in the alley as the charged the dumpster that the Inquisitors had been hiding behind. He waited until one of the creatures tried to leap over the makeshift barricade, then opened fire. The massive handgun armed with Inquisitorial rounds punched fist sized holes in the demon's body. Instead of landing gracefully, it tumbled out of the sky and landed with a sickening thud at Satsuo's feet. He pointed the barrel down at the monster's head and blew it apart.

In the intervening time another four had cleared the barrier. Now the Inquisitors were engaged in a vicious hand to hand fight. He watched as one crushed the skulls of two hooded figures only to be cloven nearly in two by a massive strike from a broadsword. The demon collapsed, falling atop the bodies of its victims. Satsuo struggled to open his revolver and click his speed loader into place. Another two jumped the barricade, and he knew that the struggling Inquisitors were outmached. He rasied his pistol, when he heard a pair of sprinting shoes behind him. He aimed at the end of the alleyway, vowing that he wouldn't let them get flanked.

He was surprised to see a young man breathlessly sprint around the corner, dressed in a hooded coat of his own but different in color. He caught flashes of a strange black and grey pattern on the man's pants when they became visible. Around his neck he wore a glowing silver pendant. The man relaxed for a second as he came around the corner, then held out his hand, focusing his attention with a serious frown. Satsuo held his fire, as soon as recognized the man.

"Europa Lightning," he said, out of breath.

Twisting arcs of light sprang from his arms rippled through the struggling mass of Inquisitors and demons. The brilliant light caused the alley to be enveloped in brightness. The two who had been leaping took the brunt of the attack, Satsuo's .45 joining in with its resounding bass. Both of the puppets fell, their strings cut by a thousand megawatts and dumdum rounds.

The rest of the demons noticed this as subsidiary arcs of lightning flashed off of their shields. With a disturbing coordination, all of them leapt at him, ignoring the Inquisitors with whom they had just been locked in combat with.

"Io Electric Overdrive," Lee said, drawing his Nyoi-Bo, it's tip shaping into a spearpoint. He held out the staff, extending it towards the onrushing creatures. Surprisingly the staff shot past all of them. As it moved past each demon in turn, the blade on the tip blurred from side to side. With a nearly audible snap, Ward drew the staff back towards himself. All four of the remaining possessed abruptly fell to the ground in multiple pieces.

The Inquisitors looked at him in shock, unsure what to do.

"Goddamn, motherfucker, sonofabitch," Ward said in frustration. "Couldn't you ass monkeys wait to declare war on downtown Tokyo for another two minutes?"

"Er, no sir," Satsuo said slowly. "Those...things were trying to do something. Something that scared the hell out of me."

Hotwire glowered. "Well, shit. I figured ya'll'd have better sense than to try something this dumb. Well come on, I can yell at you later. Now we got some monsters that needs a'killin'."

The grey robed Inquisitors silently followed Hotwire as he vaulted the dumpster with ease. It was going to be one of those days, the Texan thought to himself. God, it was definitely going to be one of those days...

The Incident T-00:24:07

Richard was only feet away when he saw the twisting lightning bolt, and then watched as Ward leapt over dumpster with an irritated expression. Richard's troops halted. He looked at the Senshi, measuring him. The Senshi stared back for only a moment.

"I'm glad Hotaru was able to find some of you so fast," Richard said quickly. "I thought we might be outgunned this time."

"Hotaru?" Ward blinked. "Hotaru didn't get me, it was this crazy guy from the Omega Web. I was planning on having a pleasant Saturday when he came and interrupted. I haven't seen Hotaru at all."

"The Omega Web?" Richard asked. "What are they doing here?"

"Wait a minute... you know who they are?" Lee asked. He shook his head and sighed. "Nevermind. We'll play catch the kitty later. What about the rest of your people?"

"This way," Richard said, sprinting down the side of the building, the troops from his squad fanning out behind him. Ward leapt down, easily able to keep up with Caine and his soldiers. Almost a half dozen from the more bloodied Team One also joined them. When they came around the corner, it took them a moment to register the scene.

Richard could see Mitsugi's section just stopping short as well. The Inquisitors were tending to their wounded and dying behind the cars that they had used for cover.

Sitting quietly on a pile of dismembered demon corpses was a single man. His white suit and broad fedora were untouched and immaculately clean. Clenched in his teeth was a cigarillo, which ushered its smoke to the winds.

Caine almost tripped over himself when he saw the man. Mitsugi's reaction was almost as bad. The man appeared to be examining his nails, and hadn't looked up at them yet.

"You?!!" Richard nearly screeched, his voice cracking. The man face jerked up, startled, and for the first time since Lee had seen him he looked genuinely off kilter. His seemingly ever present cigarillo dropped from his lips.

"Uh, I can explain it really..." Zephyr muttered. He looked trapped.

Ward looked between the two men, incredulously. "You know this joker?"

"You could say that," Richard said with a wry expression. His eyes were furious. "You could also say that I put up with his shenanigans since I was three."

"Who put up with whose shenanigans?" Zephyr asked pointedly, jumping down from his pile of corpses. "As I recall I was usually the one who had to put up with your nonsense."

"At least I wasn't involved in the gerbil incident," Richard said. His glare could cut steel. Zephyr winced.

"Low blow."

"Hold on a goddamn minute," Hotwire said. "What the fuck is going on?"

"I figure you had it coming," Richard said, ignoring Lee. he crossed his arms over his chest. "Explanation, now."

"Okay, everyone, since you all look so confused, I'll explain this for you once and once only," Zephyr said, waving two fingers in the air. "I am a member of the organization called the Omega Web, who monitors and helps to assist Humanity on its path towards the Omega Point. Don't ask, I really can't explain it to you. Also, I happen to deal with, hmmm, irregularities that other members of the Web can't or won't. I've been helping with the Arsonist almost since you started, as well as watching the Inquisition. I know exactly what's going on here. Troubleshooting runs in the family."

Richard crossed his arms with a slight smirk. Zephyr pointed to him. "That man is my older brother, Richard Caine. My name is Zephyr."

"Actually it isn't," Richard interjected. "His actual name is mph..."

He found himself unable to speak as his scarf tightened around his mouth.

"Zephyr is fine, brother," the other Caine said, straightnening his fedora. "I think that will do for now."

Richard felt the scarf relax. He expression and voice were bitter. "Fine, we'll do it your way, Zephyr. What's your plan? I know that you Omega Web types seem to never leave home without one. That, and you probably know what's actually going to happen here."

"I'm pretty sure we interrupted his ceremony," Zephyr said mildly. "At least Tokyo won't burn in the next fifteen minutes. I know that was what he was trying to do, but even I don't know why he was doing it. What are you thinking Rich?"

"These were just bound demons, not the real perpetrator as you just pointed out," Richard said. "Even though it looks like we took them all out, we need to hit their source."

"True," Hotwire said. "Alrighty, earlier this morning I went on a bughunt in the city. A group of these scum were supposed to be in the riot. They didn't quite make it. Which is why I was late."

"Good," Zephyr said. "Now its time to take the warehouse itself. If I'm not mistaken we can take down this character quickly and easily, especially since he's in a trance trying to reconstruct that web."

Richard nodded. "Alright people. Everyone who's good to go, you're with us. Stabilize whoever you can and get them out of here. From here on out, we're backing the Senshi and this gentleman. No heroics here."

The Inquisitorial agents nodded. Richard looked at Zephyr and frowned. "Much as I hate to say it, we're at your disposal. I'm not as arrogant as I used to be."

"I'm glad," Zephyr said quietly. Their eyes locked and Richard nodded firmly. The Kodak moment was interrupted, however, as the great beam to the sun began to stab into the heavens once more despite the lack of helpers.

Zephyr looked at it, pulled out a cigarillo and put it between his lips. Casually he pulled out a match, struck it, and lit up. He puffed for a second, then took the tobacco out of his mouth.


The Incident 00:20:13

The gathered Inquisitors were led into the warehouse by Hotwire and Zephyr. With a tremendous kick, Zephyr knocked the door off of its hinges, sending it flying into a surprised pair of punks just on the other side. They were unable to move due to the weight, and had been badly beaten by the impact of a half ton of steel. They were sprawled on the ground, their eyes rolled up into the backs of their heads.

Inquisitorial troops spread out, getting to any cover that they could. Their weapons tracked any potential targets around them with professional precesion. Hotwire followed Zephyr through the entrance. He could feel the magic here now, intense and brooding.

Zephyr's ever present knife was in his hand, the simple cold steel reflecting the light from high in the rafters. He turned to the Inquisitorial troops.

"Alright, we have two priority targets here. The first is the crime boss Nakamura. Hotwire and I will deal with him as fast as we can. He's not a normal person, so we'll have our hands full. Try to secure the rest of the building, but whatever you do, don't try to take down the Arsonist. He's too dangerous. Wait for the Senshi to show. He's nearly a class 9 supernatural. You all know what that means."

Hotwire listened to this quick instruction with puzzlement, noticing Richard pale considerably. "Er, I don't know what it means."

Zephyr frowned to himself. "Well, you've heard of the legends of the pre-Christian religions right? Like Hercules and Ares?"

"Yeah," Ward said slowly.

"Well, they bat the same average," Zephyr said, twirling his knife. "Come on, we've got a date with an ugly man and his twenty best friends."

"I knew it," Ward muttered to himself. "I hate these kind of days..."

Chapter 18 Dueling/The Emperor of Flame

The Incident: T-17:20

The thugs were taken almost completely by surprise. The factory floor offices were very well noise shielded, due to the amount of heavy work that was supposed to be done on the floor. However, the normal offices had been replaced with more homey things. There were couches of various levels of quality against the walls. Chairs were arranged around heavy circular tables which could have served as impromptu gambling tables.

A dozen men and women had been lounging around on a pair of couches. Dressed in leather and carrying various firearms, they were not as alert as a normal guard but they still packed a great deal of firepower. For all their lack of awareness, they reacted quickly to the new threat with a muffled shout and serried clicks of automatic weapons cocking.

Hotwire and Zephyr found themselves coming up short. They stared down the barrels of multiple sub-machine guns with a wary glare. Lee crackled with electrical energy, and Zephyr twirled his K-Bar deftly in his right hand. Mexican stand off. The thug who appeared to be in charge reacted badly to the surprise. His large leather clad chest rose up and down from heavy breathing, and his blunt features were contorted in a mix of surprise and rage.

"Freeze motherfucker," he roared. "Or we blow your fucking heads off."

Zephyr straightened up a little bit, a dangerous glint in his eye. He pulled down on his white suit jacket and his sleeves. He smiled at the thug. "We're here to see Nakamura. If you'll just point out the direction, we'll be out of your way."

To his credit, the gangster looked unfazed. "I don't think so. No visitors today."

"Well," Zephyr said after a moment of silence. "We have a problem then. I'm going to see him. We have... things to discuss. Now we can do this the easy way, or the hard way."

His opponent didn't even bother to answer in words. He lifted his machine pistol and rested it upon his left hand, sighting in on Zephyr's chest. A strange kind of tension fell around the room. Lee had to resist trying to pop his ears.

"Hard way it is," Zephyr said quietly. He took a single step forward. The tension in the room grew even heavier, and Hotwire looked at the Omega Web Member like he was insane. At least until he saw all the thug's hands begin to shake. His eyes widened at the sight before him.

Every single gangster's gun arm began to move of their own volition. Slowly, their guns moved away from his immaculately clean form. However their eyes still focused on Zephyr with an intense hatred. Zephyr took another slow step forward. Their hands shook even more, but the weapons held within their palms were now pointing directly at their owners individual skulls.

"There is no need for this," Zephyr said in a calming tone. "You still have a chance to walk away."

"I done said it once. Come closer we fucking kill you," the thug snarled. In his Overdrive state, Lee could see the man's finger tightening on his trigger. The rest of them seemed to follow suit. Zephyr had a look of serene calm on his face.

"Then your judgement is in your own hands," he said with a simple shrug. "Do what you will."

He took another step forward. The gangsters all pulled the triggers on their weapons. Twelve heads burst like overripe melons in an instant as the firearms discharged. The now lifeless bodies slumped to the ground. Hotwire stood stock still for a moment. He turned to look at Zephyr, who had a sad expression.

"You just fucking killed them," Lee began quietly. His voice rose in volume with each new sentence. "You could have just disabled them. Taken them prisoner. Hell, turn their guns into rubber chickens! It would have been no problem!"

His hands shook as he held the Nyoi-Bo. The inhumanness and surreality of the moment began to get to him. The blade on the end reacted to its owner's stress, forming barbed hooks and protrusions. He reached over and grabbed Zephyr by the coat, whirling him to face the pointed end of his staff. "You crazy bastard..."

"No," Zephyr replied in a quiet tone. He reached out and grabbed Ward's hand in an impossibly strong grip. Zephyr suddenly performed a wrist lock and flipping Lee to the ground. His blue eyes flashed as he spoke. "Calm down. They killed themselves. Every single one of them thought that they were aiming at me. True. But I pulled no triggers. They paid the price for their willingness to kill. I gave them every chance to walk away and they refused. I was more than just, Mister Ward. I was compassionate. But that's what you get for being a murdering thoughtless bastard. Eventually you loose your life. So think about it next time you're willing to kill somebody. Are you willing to die because of it? As the price for your presumption? If not, put down your weapons and walk away Lee Ward."

Lee managed to twist his head around to see Zephyr's oval face staring at him, deadly serious. He snorted. "Are you willing, you Omega Web bastard? Would you toss your life away?"

He would have expected anger. Maybe laughter. But the cold smile he recieved sent shivers up his spine. Zephyr nodded twice. "Every time."

He let go of Lee's wrist and stood up. He walked over to one of the slain mobsters, and knealt before him. Zephyr kissed his fingertips, and slowly shut the now unseeing eyes of the criminal. Ward lay on the floor and watched as he did the same for each man with an efficency that Lee was beginning to think came from practice. It was all that he could do to keep his breakfast down in the gore spattered room. Silently Zephyr closed the last man's eyes and stood up, looking over at Hotwire.

"Now its time to deal with the real enchilada."

As Ward pushed himself to his feet, he swore that if there was one man that he would never piss off in this world, that man was Zephyr Caine.

The Incident T-00:10:00

It took them seven minutes of searching to find the room that they were looking for. It hadn't helped that the entrance had been camoflaged by fake wall paneling. Zephyr stood up against the fake wooden siding, moving his hands across the smooth surface. Lee watched him for a moment.

"You know how to get in?" he asked.

"I can figure it out," Zephyr responded in a distracted tone. He looked around the room. Hotwire watched him for a moment and then shrugged. He walked over to the wall panel and pressed his hands against it. A tiny blue spark leapt from his fingers to the wooden surface. The wall clicked, and then smoothly swung open. Zephyr scratched his head, and gave Lee an apprasing glance.

"Electric locking mechanism?"

Ward smiled at him. "Yup. After you."

Zephyr returned the slight grin. He held his knife loosely as he walked into the room. Reality shimmered as he crossed into the room. Zephyr's senses picked up mingling scents. Jasmine. Cherry blossoms. The wet grass of spring. The sweat of horses and the reek of tanned leather. His lip curled a fraction of an inch.

He looked around as Hotwire stepped into the room behind him. Dim light reflected off wood paneling, of the same make as the exterior, but somehow more refined by the ambience. The floor and ceiling were covered with tiles that had the appearance of basalt. Zephyr rubbed one of his polished shoes on the ground. Judging from the grip, it was indeed basalt. Intriguing.

The room was alight with the flames of dozens of flickering candles. Spaced around the room at regular intervals were small pedistals which displayed various artifacts, from ancient scrolls in what to Zephyr's eye appeared to be ancient Chinese dialects to statues of men and women. From the primitive to the exquisitely detailed. It was a museum collection fit for the Smithsonian.

The incongrous room had a single exit on the far wall with a rice paper surface. Ward's weapon extended slightly, and electricity began to silently dance on the edge of the weapon. Zephyr nodded to himself. He stepped forward, through the museum, mindful of traps. There were none in the somber air of the museum.

Zephyr reached out with his mind and caused a quantum ripple in the substance of the rice paper door. It slid aside easily on its rollers. He walked inside and was greeted with an unusual sight. The room was smaller than the last, and the walls and the ceiling were constructed in the same manner. However, there were no relics present here. The room had one sole occupant and feature.

He had a dark brown beard, and sharp brown eyes. Clad in leather armor, embossed and engraved with seven suns rising, all but one pierced with arrows. It fit his torso snugly. His pants were loose silk; black with interwoven silver threads. His helmet was one of a Hoplite of ancient China and at his side he held a great curved bow loosely in his hands.

'Yi, the Archer,' Zephyr's mind whispered to him. For a split second the three combatants stared at one another. Then Yi began to laugh. Ward looked over at Zephyr for a split second to gauge distances. It was a split second too long. What happened next would have been impossible to comprehend, had it not been for Zephyr's augmented senses.

First, the door behind them slammed shut with a ripple that Zephyr could feel in the molecular fabric of the room. Energy states were shifting into unnatural patterns behind him. Later he would guess that it had strengthened the door of rice paper to that of steel. At the time, however, he had little time for the luxury of such complex thoughts.

At the same time, Yi brought his bow up in an impossibly fast motion and fired fifteen arrows at Zephyr and Ward. His mind raced. He calculated the trajectories and velocities of the arrows as they sailed towards him. Zephyr gave Lee a hard shove to the side and decided that Ward was on his own. 0.00023 seconds had passed.

The Omega Web agent willed his body into action as he watched the incoming arrows. He reached out with his displacement powers only to find them blocked. This was not unexpected. Instead his hand reached into his coat pocket, pulling out a handfull of throwing lances. Effectively heavy steel darts, their ancient originators had kept the little objects around as distractions, for their small size meant that absolute precision was necessary to do any real damage with them.

However, precision was not usually a problem for a member of the Web.

His calculations raced as he settled the darts into his hand and hurled himself to the side. 0.00154 seconds had passed. His nano-augmented muscle speed and nervous system operated at the limits of their capacities as he raised his hand in what seemed like painful slowness. He only had one chance to make this work. Zephyr's eyes narrowed. He released the handful of spikes in a single flick of his wrist.

All fifteen arrows were knocked aside by the blades, either by direct impact, or by being deflected into the path of another arrow by mid-air collision. They embeded themselves into the wall where Zephyr had previously been standing. 0.0362 seconds had passed.

Zephyr rolled out of his dive on the floor like a cat, coming to his feet. Ward did the same on the other side. Zephyr's arm was poised in the air, K-bar ready to throw. Until he saw the knocked arrow on Yi's bow aimed directly at him.

Ward was truly crackling with electricity at this point, but dared not even move. He couldn't believe the speed with which both of them had acted. And Yi was even faster than Zephyr. He clutched the Nyoi-bo tightly, watching the stand off.

He spared a glance at Ward, coupled with a sickening grin. His English was thickly accented, but understandable. "Ah the weapon of the Monkey King. I hope that you are more worthy than its previous owners."

He returned to looking directly at Zephyr. "Sloppy."

"No," Zephyr said simply. And smiled. It was then that Ward and Yi simultaniously realized the pattern that the arrows had made on the wall.

It was the same exact sardonic smile that Zephyr now wore.

"Style beats brute force anyday," Zephyr said with an unblinking stare.

Yi's triumphant grin faded to an expression of intense concentration, and some grudging respect. "All I must do is keep you here. Time is not your ally."

No one was able to move, lest the balance be disrupted. Lee seriously doubted his ability to avoid those damned arrows. So they sat, and the minutes trickled by like hours. Ward fumed to himself, until he felt a gentle touch against his mind and an idea flared to life. It was all he could do to keep from grinning as the image unfolded, wordless, but complete.

Ward's eyes narrowed as he began to focus.

* * *

The Incident T-00:04:00

Richard and the Inquisition teams had secured the entire bottom and middle floors of the warehouse. Mitsugi and Richard stood behind a pair of crates, listening over the radio net and keeping an eye on the central floor and roof of the aluminum building. So far, there had been no sign of any other occupants. The advance teams had moved much more cautiously than they would normally. The fear of waking a sleeping godling was enough to make even the most gung-ho infiltrator leery.

"Do you know Hotaru's timetable?" Mitsugi asked quietly.

Richard shrugged. "Could be anytime. Nope, sorry, I don't know."

Mitsugi looked as if he were going to reply, when he cluched his headset and his eyes widened. Then Richard heard it too. It sounded almost like static, but it seemed to crackle more than hiss. Richard looked up just in time to see three charred corpses fall to the ground. The Inquisitors swung their weapons up as fast as they could, as a golden red blur slammed into the concrete. It melted and deformed under the impact, shaking the foundations of the entire building.

The reddish haze faded, and standing in the center of a small smoking crater was a tall and distinguished looking man dressed in an ancient aristocratic style. His brown eyes blazed with fury and in his hand he held a long double ended spear which he twirled expertly. One end had a long and broad serrated tip. The other was a simple cone of bronze which glowed a sullen red. The man was still only for a moment, and then leapt towards one of the pallets. Behind it an agent desperately tried to get away, when the infuriated being dropped behind him and lifted him up like a toy.

The demonic mage smiled at the man, and stabbed him through the chest with the spear. He screamed horribly as the monster ripped him apart, tossing his torso and legs to opposite ends of the warehouse.

"Who dares to disturb me?" the creature roared. "I am the Emperor of Flame, and I do not suffer fools. Especially human fools."

His only answer was a hail of bullets which glanced off of golden shields. The brave woman who had fired her rifle at him was incinerated by a spear of fire from his outstretched hand. Richard cursed to himself as he saw, grief and rage straining against his control. He looked over at Mitsugi and grunted.

"Fuck this," he said quietly. "Give me the Oni-Slayer."

"What?" Mitsugi asked. "Why?"

"I think I have a way to slow down our friend," he said after a moment. "Send it across the net. When I fire my pistol, be ready to rumble."

"What the hell are you doing Caine?" Mitsugui hissed. Richard sighed.

"No time to discuss this with the comittee," he said. He grabbed the Oni Slayer on Mitsugi's back and drew the sword. "Remember, get ready to go."

He stood up and jumped over the crates, much to Mitsugi's shock. The Emperor of Flame was looking away from him at first, but a tremendous shout from Richard caused it to look towards him.

"Daemon!" he screamed. "By the Rites of Al'rahned, I challenge you."

The creature blinked in surprise. "What?"

"I challenge you to rite by personal combat," Richard intoned. "If you defeat me then our attack stops now."

"Why do I not simply kill you all?" he asked mildly.

Richard smiled. "If you do, then I garuntee that you'll be in pain. Tell me, Daemon, do you know what a neutron bomb is?"

Its eyes widened in recognition. "Liar."

Richard shrugged. "Do you know that? I will not see the lives of my men wasted on a lost cause. Better one than an entire clan. If the clan must die, then what use is this city to us if we can destroy a Great One? Our masters would laud such a sacrifice."

The creature nodded grudgingly, and appraised him carefully. "Then I accept."

"Under conditions of Al'rahned the challenger declares the style to be used," Richard said. With the blade of the Oni-Slayer he quickly sketched out a star of David on the ground before him. "You are mighty and fell, and I am but a man. Therefore I say that the challenge shall be with steel alone."

The star of David in the circle before him began to glow with a faint blue light. The creature hesitated for a second, but smiled eventually. Richard had to repress a shudder. Its teeth were pointed.

"So shall it be, man thing," the daemon whispered. It advanced to the center of the warehouse. Mitsugi's breath caught in his chest as Richard strode forward to the center of the room and held his sword in salute to the creature.

It bowed mockingly to him, and twirled its weapon.

The Duel for the Jungle had begun.

* * *

Ward's hand dropped another fraction of an inch. His sweat coated the polished wooden surface of the Nyoi-Bo, granting it an extra slickness. The staring match had continued for far too long. But finally, everything was in place. He felt the mental touch again, and sent his conformation back along the link. The room exploded into action.

Zephyr hurled his K-Bar at the chest of Yi. The Archer fired off two arrows in quick succession. Zephyr dodged to the side once more. The first arrow he dodged, but the second caught his armored coat as he descended and grazed between two of his ribs. He noticed with detachment that the damage was fairly minor, although it would be messy. The third arrow would have killed him however.

If it had ever had a chance to leave the bow. It had only taken Zephyr and Yi less than a second to make the previous actions. But they were not alone. Yi realized too late that the knife would miss him. The Archer turned towards Ward as fast as he could, and fired an arrow in panic. It was not enough.

In this miniscule time span, Ward had extended the Nyoi-bo in a flash. Yi had been far less concerned with this. Indeed, the angle that the bo was at would cause the tip to miss his head by four inches. This was more than an acceptable saftey margin. Except Yi had not known what Zephyr did. The weapon had been slightly modified since the Monkey King had owned.

For one thing, polymorphic alloys hadn't existed then.

The cap of the staff shifted under Ward's will, morphing into a cruelly hooked scythe. As it flashed past the Archer Yi, the blade made a terrible snick noise as it seperated his head from his shoulders. His death was strangely anti-climactic. No glowing lights, no energy release. He simply crumpled to the ground. He did not go without spite, however. The arrow, Yi's final shot, embedded itself in Lee's thigh. Ward fell over with a curse clutching his leg.

Zephyr got up, clutching at his side, and moved over to where Lee had fallen. "Come on you Texan bastard..."

He knealt by Lee and examined the arrow wound. With care he grasped the arrow shaft and broke it off like a twig. "We need to get out there. Can't you feel it?"

Hotwire hissed through his teeth. He could feel something piercing his haze of pain. "Yeah."

Zephyr stood up and extended a hand. Lee accepted it, limping to his feet.

"Can't we just teleport our asses out of here?" Lee asked. Zephyr grimaced.

"Not with this much magic flying around. You might not end up in one piece. This shit plays hell on non-Euclidian ice skates with our teleport tech."

"Fuck," Lee observed as they began to limp towards the main room. Zephyr stopped for a moment, and placed a device next to the dead body of the Archer. Lee gave him a strange look. Zephyr shrugged.

"For later," he said. "Come on, we got a bastard to kill."

The two of them made their best speed to the warehouse floor.

"Everyone in my neighborhood had left to vote. I have no feeling of fear--Allah has won."
-Umm Ali, Duhra, Iraq

Cthulthu Construction Corporation and Ry'leh Real Estate:
Bringing Non-Euclidian Geometry to a Suburb Near You!

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Last edited by Richard Caine on Thu Jan 20, 2005 6:59 pm, edited 1 time in total.

Thu Jan 20, 2005 1:08 pm
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Chapter 19 Death/The Face of the Beast

The Incident T-00:01:48

Richard held his weapon loosely in his hand and stared at his opponent. He watched the way that the demon handled his spear, following both the motions of his wrists and his palms. He knew that the thing had the advantage in almost every area. Each movement was precise and timed, as well as more rapid than his own. The only thing that he had going for him was the fact that he wasn't going to play by the rules.

He carefully adjusted his stance, and moved the Oni-Slayer to a low guard position, and watched how the creature responded. It didn't, in fact it seemed as though his opponent didn't care to adopt any kind of stance whatsoever. There was a pause of almost thirty seconds while the two opponents looked at each other, waiting for the appropriate moment to move.

The tension was thick between them, even more so than the languid air. The souless black orbs met his blue ones in a challenge of wills. However, Richard knew that it would be utter folly to try to outwill this thing. Instead, he focused on keeping his calm and expanding his awareness.

He had often fought in training like this, and it was his prefered method. Richard knew the truth of combat, knew it very well. It was all about the moment. Bullet or blade, it wasn't important. It was to be done all in a single stroke. And so he watched for that stroke as the two of them cirlcled around an invisible center.

The creature leapt forwards, its weapon cleaving through the air trailing sparks behind. Even watching as carefully as he was, Richard could barely percieve the motion, and he struggled to bring up the blade of the Oni-Slayer in time to deflect the thrust.

He made it, but only just, knocking the barbed bronze speartip to the side with a clash of sparks. Immediately the demon leapt back, as if it had been scalded. For a moment its opressive arrogance faltered, but then it bared its teeth in a combination of snarl and half smile.

"Interesting sword, man thing," it cackled at him. "I've never seen one quite like it."

Richard said nothing, but observed where the demon was in relation to the center of the warehouse. He had a very good idea of where his men were, and the creature was just about perfectly walking into a crossfire. If it would just move a few steps...

Richard stepped to the left, bringing up the singing blade ever so slightly. The creature scowled, and moved to stay on center towards him. By no coincidence was that the exact spot that Richard had wanted. He gave a grin of his own to Yen-Ti, the first real expression he had allowed himself to show towards the monster and threw himself to the ground. He let the huge sword shift to just one hand, and he pulled out his pistol and fired once.

Before the echo of the shot had died out it was joined by a roar of fire, as twenty two rifles and six stake launchers opened fire in a continuous malestrom. Because the fire was coming from three different directions, the creature was not even able to fall to the ground, instead held up on it's feet from the numerous impacts.

Some of the bullets never reached him, incinerated by an aura of heat that he had barely been able to summon in time, but others ripped through his barriers. Wherever a bullet punched through his clothes it seemed to stop immediately upon contacting his skin. It was as though they were shooting into cooling magma. Richard was close enough that he could see the steel rounds melting in his flesh. But while the bullets simply seemed to scratch and annoy him, the stakes were another matter.

They punched through his shielding with contemtuous ease, and buried themselves into his flesh, ripping appart as they were designed to do. His torso was crisscrossed with massive gouges that looked as though a giant had taken a massive potato peeler and begun to dig trenches with it in his body. His boiling golden blood splattered on the floor, melting concrete and burning wood. It was joined by the silvery flow of metal seeping out of his wounds. The firing lasted for nearly a minute as they emptied magazine after magazine into him. Finally, the flood of steel stopped, and the daemon slumped to the floor, in a pool of its own hissing blood.

Richard rolled over, having emptied his magazines into the creature as well, and was reloading as quickly as possible. There was smoke surrounding the body of the Emperor, and it was impossible to make it out distinctly. He had just slammed the clip home when the smoke cleared. Richard's breath caught in his throat.

Any semblance of a human expression was lost on the creature's face as it rose up from the floor by some unseen power. Many of its wounds were closing before his very eyes, but he could tell that the thing was hurt. It wasn't moving quite right, a certain shudder to its motions. However, he didn't have time to truly muse about the situation, as it raised its hands above its head.

A wall of fire sprang up around them in a circle, cutting off the rest of the warehouse from the 12 meter circle which enclosed them. The Emperor tilted his head to the side, and blood flowed from his wounds, puddling around it as it took a step forward.

"A human with the virtue of cunning," it said in a hissing tone. "How refreshing."

Outside the barrier of Flame: The Incident T-00:00:50

Hotaru sprinted into the interior of the building, fully transformed. She saw in an instant the whole scene. The circling wall of flame, the mangled body of a trooper, the shell casings. It was all strange and alien to her. Looking for something familiar, she spotted Mitsugi frantically waving to a trooper next to him. His shaggy head jerked up as he saw her enter the cavernous space. He sprinted towards her.

"You've got to hurry," he shouted in a terrified voice. "That... thing has Richard inside the flames."

Hotaru's eyes widened, and she stopped short for an instant.

Mitsugi saw her expression of shock. He was barely coherent himself, but he forced himself to focus. "No time now. I don't know what you Senshi are really capable of, but that... that thing is as terrible than anything I've ever heard of. I don't know if you can fight a God, or if you can even defeat his magics. We emptied enough into him to drop a Daemon King, and he was still kicking. All I know is that Richard is going to die. No man can kill that thing."

Hotaru listened to his ramble, and her heart became heavier and heavier with fear. With a curse, she began to sprint towards the wall of fire.

"Wait, y-you can't fight a God, can you?" Mitsugi asked, his normally rumbling voice shaking.

"We'll find out," she called back, and her eyes narrowed in concentration.

The Incident T-00:00:60

Richard lurched to his feet, bringing the Oni-Slayer around in a sweeping arc at knee height. The two meter long blade sang as it traveled through the air. The daemon backed off slowly, and gave a slight cough, wiping a trickle of golden blood from his lips.

"Nearly as cunning as my brother," Yen-Ti continued. "But you are just a human. You cannot kill me, when even the other Gods could not. And when you and your foolish cultists are dead, I will burn this island and be free of it forever."

It closed the distance between it and Richard in a blur. This time he wasn't fast enough to bring the Oni-Slayer into a block. The spear pierced his guard, and for a moment the cross on his chest glowed with brilliant blue light. The spear pierced Richards chest and pinned him to the concrete, but with far less force than either of them anticipated.

Richard looked up into the creature's eyes, his grip on the Oni-Slayer loosening. He could feel the burning in his chest, and the pain was awful. Yet it was so surreal and detached. He felt as though he could go on for quite some time with six inches of bronze buried in his mid-chest. The Emperor leaned in towards him and smiled, but Richard only had a childishly curious expression on his face.

So this is what it feels like, Richard thought with a strange calm. The fires around him, the intricate workmanship of the Emperor's clothes and weapons, all was so beautiful he nearly cried, if he could have. Why couldn't he have seen it before? It all made so much sense to him. It was as if a vista were opening before him, or his senses were being reordered by some irresistable force.

"...And when I am finished with you," the daemon continued. "I will kill the remaining Senshi as they rush to avenge their fallen Queen. So die, human, and know that you have failed."

However, the Emperor's mockery seemed distant to him. Why was this man concerned with such petty things? He should see the beautiful fires instead! Richard gave a small coughing laugh.

Yen-Ti whipped his head around as he heard a single footstep, accompanied by a ripple of power. The wall of fire had a hole in it. Every time the flames seemed to try to seal the gap, they shrunk away from an arch of violet light which created a kind of doorway. But it wasn't the hole that held his attention.

A small delicate figure stood just inside the gap, her expression fixed, but her eyes blazing. Her steel weapon seemed to defy optics, it's polished surface reflecting none of the raging inferno that surrounded it. Instead, a kind of clean white light glinted off of its edges, accompanied by the occasional violet spark. Her hair whipped about below her tiara, raised in some kind of ethereal wind.

But her impassive expression completely changed when Yen-Ti stepped aside, and she saw Richard laying there. The Emperor contemptuously pulled his weapon out of the Inquisitor's chest. The wound smoked a little, and Yen-Ti smiled, twisting his spear in his hands.

Watching the surreal scene, pressure began to build within Hotaru at an exponential rate. All of her life she had watched her loved ones die around her. Always she was too late to do anything about it. The first man she had truly let into her heart was lying there dying with a smoking wound in his chest. She could feel just how loosely attached his soul was. She could feel it slipping away. And finally, when the pressure could build no more, something within the young woman simply... snapped. A barrier that she hadn't even known existed was broken, and ancient knowledge flooded her mind in deluge. Things she hadn't seen or done in 10,000 years were suddenly clear as day, and she looked back towards the Emperor. Deep within her an insane cackle echoed.

Hotaru screamed a cry of pure hatred. She dropped into a combat stance, and a violet halo grew around her entire body. Yen-Ti's grin faltered for a moment. With an explosion of darkness, pure power rushed out of Hotaru's frame. The wall of fire vanished, snuffed out by something far stronger. Then wind around her body began to pick up, whipping across the entire warehouse and she rose into the air about two meters. Her pupils completely vanished, replaced with a blazing violet light.

The Inquisitors threw themselves down and away from the storm, looking at the two supernatural combatants with equal fear. Mitsugi saw Richard, who was unmoving at this point, laying just beyond the two opponents. He cursed to himself, trying to figure out a way to get around the two demi-gods and move him out of there.

Hotaru looked down upon Yen-Ti from where she floated, her legs together, arms extended from her sides downwards at a forty five degree angle. Her right arm, holding the Silence Glaive, pointed right at Yen-Ti.

"Die now," she whispered. The quiet sound carried throughout the warehouse more effectively than any loudspeaker would have.

Then she dove at him, swinging with the glittering blade. Yen-Ti brought his blade around, and parried her with a clash of sparks. His eyes too had vanished, and in their place a raging inferno blazed. The chill steel of The Silence Glaive and burning bronze of Rathwyrm met between them. The power in their eyes locked in just as deadly a manner. The clash of such elemental forces was awesome to behold.

"Ah, now a true challenge," Yen-Ti said. His visage twisted into his inhuman mocking grin. "Well met, Daughter of Kali."

The responding expression on Saturn's face was just as alien, but in a cold, terrible way. She said nothing, simply stared. And then as suddenly as they had met, they flew apart. Hotaru kicked out, driving Yen-Ti backwards a good fifteen meters into a support post which bent at a thirty degree angle where he hit it. He fell to the floor, and cracked his back, moving his spine back into alignment. That was all he had time for, however.

Hotaru followed up her kick with a dive, and Yen-Ti was barely able to keep her off of him. Each strike led into the next, in one of the most masterful displays of armed combat Mitsugi had ever seen. She left almost no opening for the Emperor, and he was forced to continuously change his position to block her furious assault. Her completely bland expression, and the violet light of her eyes betrayed nothing of her intent either. However, as amazing as it was, eventually an opponent can find an opening. After thirty seconds and nearly three hundred blocked strikes, Yen-Ti found a place to move.

He struck back with the butt end of his spear, capped with another smaller bronze tip. She easily countered the blow, but now the Emperor had the initiative. He swung at her with a viciousness that was stunning. No man could have blocked the series of blows that rained upon her. However, Hotaru was no man. Mitsugi was beginning think that perhaps Strike Fiss might not be the most skilled close combat fighter of the Senshi. And if he was, heaven help whoever got too close to his blade.

One of the things that he realized while watching this hyperspeed duel was that it wasn't at all like any of the recordings they had of Tomoe's abilities. Several times in the past the battles of the Senshi had been recorded by various means. When he had learned that they were to be associating with Hotaru especially, he had done as much research on her as possible. What he had seen then was much more, well, mousey than what he saw now. So far she hadn't even used a projectile that he had seen, which she had relied upon much in the past.

All this flashed through his mind in an instant as he started to run towards Richard's still form. He would never make it to him, however. Yen struck a blow to Hotaru's stomach knocking her back over Richard. The tentacles of flame erupted from his back once more, and hissed through the air towards her. Mitsugi cursed in his mind. No getting around that obstacle. Then Richard began to move, catching Mitsugi's eye. He rolled over, and very slowly crawled towards the Oni-Slayer.

* * *

Hotaru landed from the blow and looked over for an instant at Richard. He was still here, despite everything that had been done to him. His soul was refusing to leave his body. Her wonder was interrupted by the flames rushing from Yi towards her body. Within her, the ancient knowledge laughed at the Emperor, and began to immediately devise a counter. She raised her face to meet the attackers, hair still whipping in the magic wind.

"Saturn Death Shield," she whispered. Nothing visibly changed around her, but as the limbs reached out to impale her body, they recoiled in utter agony, dissolving. Yen-Ti fell backwards in pain, leaning heavily on his spear to catch himself. Hotaru was leaning a little on her staff as well, but she didn't already have massive wounds to consider.

She blinked at her opponent. My turn now.

With a gesture, dozens of bolts of violet light flew from her hands in strange organic firing patterns. Yen-Ti used his spear to deflect them, and splashes of power glanced off of the weapon. But because of the way she arranged them, for every six that he blocked, one was garunteed to penetrate his defenses. Slowly, he seemed to be getting less and less effective at stopping them. She could feel her own strength beginning to wain as well, but she kept the impossible assault going. The only thing she could focus on was the barrage. The pain that was beginning to build within her was well known to the ancient knowledge. It was the price for wielding too much Death energy at once. Finally she could hold on no more, and had to rest for at least a moment. She stopped, trying to regain her balance, and push out the pain that was threatening her with unconciousness as quickly as possible.

Yen-Ti's body was horribly disfigured by this point. Many of the gouges from the bullets still remained, and each place where Sailor Saturn's bolts of light had pierced his defenses, the flesh literally appeared to be rotting away while he still lived. Still there was strength left within him. He leapt at Hotaru as she tried to drive out the pain. She blocked his flying blow, but she was not as fast as she was before, the pain dulling her awareness and reflexes. Yen-Ti, despite his wounds, was in better fighting shape, and it began to show. Their blades locked for only about fifteen seconds of furious clashing, when he managed to execute a twist, and knock Hotaru's glaive to the side and her body to the floor. Reversing a sweeping strike in mid swing, he brought the smaller spearpoint on the other end of his weapon towards her now vulnerable stomach, but paused at the last second, a confused expression on his face.

Then a foot of curved steel erupted from his upper chest, the blade screaming a death song of its own making. Lower down in his stomach, a second, different blade punched through, changing its shape even as it pierced him. Yen-Ti struggled to remain standing and bring his weapon down on her, but she moved with desperate speed and stabbed upward with her own glaive, into the other side of his chest. Impaled now by three different weapons, the creature looked down at her uncomprehendingly. Then a final weapon punched through the back of its neck, a K-Bar's serrated blade nearly taking his head off. He finally slumped to the floor. She saw Richard on his knees behind the Emperor, let go of the No-Dachi, the cross around his neck glowing with a bright blue light.

"Sorry we almost missed the party," a hard Texas accent said from a shadowed part of the building. "But your friend was kinda insistent."

Now Hotaru could see the rest of Nyoi-Bo, and it snaked back into Ward's hand as he and Zephyr limped out of the offices. Almost half of Zephyr's white coat was stained dark reddish-brown. Lee's left leg also had a large dark stain, but both men still had deadly serious expressions. Richard looked at them, and back at Hotaru, stunned on the ground and gave a rasping laugh, the only sound he seemed to be able to make. He was still unsteady on his knees, and his eyes met Hotaru's. The terrible violet light within her vanished as she looked at him, and he smiled at her, his teeth stained red. And she knew then, in the deepest part of herself, why he hadn't left.

She was about to reach out towards him, when Yen-Ti's body flailed around and grabbed Richard's collar. Time seemed to slow, as Richard's head rolled lazily around to look the creature in the eye. It seemed unable to speak, but she could hear it's intent echo clearly in her mind.


Yen-Ti's mutilated body vanished in a sparkle of light, and Richard's eyes rolled back into his head, and he fell to the floor.

"NO!" Hotaru screamed, grabbing his falling body. White light enveloped her, as she directed her healing energies into his wound. The smoking gash slowly closed, and she watched as his body began to breathe as she poured power into it. But she knew in the back of her mind that it wouldn't help.

Zephyr rushed over to her, and watched as she cradled her brother's body. His scientific deductions led him to the same conclusion that Hotaru had reached. Around them, Inquisitors were standing up, dusting themselves off. Mitsugi walked over to where Hotaru sat, slowly stroking Richard's loose hair out of his open unseeing eyes. She closed them with her fingertips gently.

"What happened to him?" Mitsugi asked quietly.

"The Emperor took his soul," Zephyr said, his voice frightneningly flat. "Don't know if it can be brought back."

"You all should leave now," Hotaru whispered quietly. "If Rei finds you here, she'll have all the proof she needs of your identity. I can't protect you then."

Mitsugi's expression changed. "You're saving our hides? After all this?"

"Ya'll deserve it after what you've done," Lee said, his drawl becoming more pronounced with his pain. He looked at Richard's unconcious form. "I know how to keep my mouth shut, and I think we'll take care of him."

Lee gestured to the unmoving Hotaru. Mitsugi nodded to them, and to Hotaru, but she didn't acknowledge him. She simply kept stroking Richard's hair mutely. He turned to the remaining men, and made a kind of hand symbol. He knelt down and picked up the Oni-Slayer and sheathed it over his shoulder. A pair of troopers walked up to the fallen Rathwyrm and picked it up carefully in gloved hands, and placed it within a rune covered carrying case.

"We know how to handle things like this," one trooper said when Lee gave him a threatening look. "You have no idea the things we've collected over the years."

Zephyr nodded. He held up a remote control. "Yup. Sent you the bow and outfit from the Archer too. Should be in your vault."

"Thanks," Mitsugi said. He turned to walk away, but stopped.

"Hotaru?" he said quietly.

"Yes?" she whispered.

"I'm glad he was right about you," he finished. The rest of the Inquisitors booked out of the door, sprinting to their vans and their exit, taking their dead with them. The warehouse was eerily quiet after all of the sounds of battle. The three of them were too tired to even move from where they were.

A few minutes later, the pounding of feet could be heard, and the assembled Senshi ran in through the loading dock, looking for a fight. They stopped short on seeing Hotaru, with tears running down her face, cradling Caine, and the other two with bloody arrow wounds. The obvious signs of battle were everywhere. Rei, and most of the others looked stupified. Minako looked at Lee.

"Ami is going to kill you," she said.

He nodded, with a ghost of a smile. "I know."

Serena took all of the scene in and shook her crowned head in confusion. "Well, did we win?"

There was silence for a long time. Zephyr and Lee looked about to say something, when a whisper escaped from Hotaru. The quiet rage in her voice sent shivers down the spines of everyone present.

"Oh, we won alright..."

Chapter 20 The Fate of Shadows and Men/Survivors


To be without a body is obviously not a natural thing for creatures as based upon sensation as humans are. And so Richard found his new location extremely disconcerting. His mind later attempted to make analogies that would fit his experience in that place, but language, based as it is in concrete presence, always failed him. But, as best as one's mind can grasp it was dark. Very dark. Richard could feel all around him as if his eyes could see in all directions, and his skin could touch all things at once. The sensory imput was astounding, yet at the same time full of nothing.

He felt another presence shift in that stillness. Its movement was like the rending of a volcano, or the movement of tectonic plates. Slow, measured, and unstoppable. Richard tried to float away from it, but the presence reached out and held his struggling spirit firmly.


Richard ceased his struggling. "Where are we, you bastard?"


"I don't think I like that," Richard 'said', thinking as hard as he could. The grip on his soul seemed to tighten, and pain coursed through his being.


It was then that the presence fully revealed itself. It was the essence of sulphur in the nose. The burning heat of the furnace. The mass of the mountains themselves. The golden reflections of hot metals and rocks. The chill disregard for human life of obsidian. All this and more wrapped in a form that Man has known and rightly feared throughout the ages. The name of Wyrm, Serpent, Destroyer. Dragon.

Richard knew in that moment the magnitude of the foe he and the others had faced and was awestruck. The ever-tightening grip upon him lossened as it tasted his emotion.


"Four humans, one of whom was completely without powers, banished you back to this place," Richard mused. He extended his awareness out "That shouldn't be possible."

"No," whispered a new voice in the distance. "But they are exceptional."

Richard felt his skin crawl at the sound of it. He knew that voice... it had haunted him for two weeks now. The grip loosened still further as the Dragon turned its presence away from him and towards the intruder.


He could feel through his connection to the Dragon the regret that it felt when they did show themselves.

What followed, he could never truly remember in detail. As with the other images it was distorted. And impression of snakes, tentacles, crawling darkness, and oblivion. The dragon and darkness grappled in that null-space, Richard forgotten. But it was clear that the darkness was more powerful. Slowly, Yen-Ti's essence faded from his awareness. A terrible death cry wrenched at his being, and then the quiet descended. All that remained was the filthy oozing sensation of the Voice.

"You... you killed it, didn't you?" Richard asked quietly.

"Yes," a sweet voice called out. "We have you to thank for it."

"Go to Hell," Richard said with a snarl.

The laughter echoed in his head again. The Voice's deep baritone spoke out of the filth. "Perhaps we are there. The two of us."

Richard was silent.

"We had plans for you Caine," the Voice hissed. "You cannot remain here."

"I won't have anything to do with you, you bastard," Richard said levelly.

"You do not have a choice," a giggling tone replied. "It is your essence..."

Richard felt sure that the Voice would have said more, but a sharp pang of apprehension echoed in the prison, cutting off the Voice's thought. It curled inwards, turning its attention elsewhere for a moment.

"Draxel comes," the Voice whispered. And the nebulous and filthy presence was gone in an instant. The world began to shift before Richard's eyes. Darkness peeled away to reveal a bright light, which blinded him for a moment. After blinking twice, and shielding himself with his arm, he looked up again as the light faded with a sense of wonder.

* * *

Hotaru sat in a chair in the Palace's infirmary. This particular part of the palace had been added to the design by some thoughtful soul, who had realized that there would be times when the Senshi would want to avoid a normal hospital. They had on staff one excellent physician and a trauma surgeon on permanent call from Tokyo University. The rooms were well kept, far more opulent and comfortable than those of any normal hospital. Despite the calm d'ecor and the soothing hum of the instruments around her, Hotaru Tomoe felt empty inside.

In the bed across from her, Richard Caine lay quietly breathing. He could well just be sleeping from the look of it, but anyone who watched for a length of time would notice that there were no involuntary motions that normally accompany sleep. His body remained completely motionless.

Hotaru had requested he be sent here for his own protection. There was some fear that perhaps some demons had gotten loose, or that the Yakuza would figure out who he was and come in guns blazing. At least that's what she told the other Scouts. She didn't really think that they believed her though, especially the Outer Scouts who knew her much better.

She had been here for days now, taking time off of work to stay at his bedside. Sometimes she stayed for more than twelve hours a day by his side. She would occasionally forget or refuse to eat. All of the Senshi had been concerned by her initial behavior, but most especially Haruka and Michiru. So much so, that they had started taking up shifts watching over him for her.

She hardly spoke to anyone, and even little Rini, who usually brought a huge smile to her 'Aunt's' face. For the past two days it had been like this, and seemed unlikely to change. So now she sat, as she had since his arrival, upright on a couch next to Richard's bed. Her eyes staring off at the wall, but didn't truly see it. A subtle flash of light shook her out of her reverie.

"Look alive Zombie Girl," a dry bass voice called from behind her. She looked around, startled, to see Zephyr dressed in a coal grey suit with a red shirt. It looked almost like something that Richard would wear in fact. He wore a matching fedora, and a smoldering cigarillo was clenched between his teeth. "So this is the one who's known my brother for all of a month and more attached to him than a girl to her monster in a low budget live action tentacle porn movie."

She looked at him, completely aghast. He wiggled his eyebrows at her and smiled a little.

"You really are his brother?" she asked quietly. He nodded at her, taking off his fedora. His short cut blonde hair poofed slightly as he ran his fingers through it.

"Yup," he replied. "You missed the whole 'I am l33t n1nj4 from Omega Web, Brother of Mighty Caine' spiel that I gave to the Inquisitors."

Hotaru looked distant again.

"What are you thinking girl?"

"Oh, just wondering how similar you are," she said after a moment. "You don't really seem all that much like him."

"I'm not," Zephyr said with a grin. "He's a much better person than I am."

"Was he always?" she asked.

"Interesting question," Zephyr said after a moment. He exhaled a small cloud of smoke and fixed Hotaru with a stare. "Why do you ask that?"

"Because I used to be a bad person too," she said softly. "It's funny, but we have pretty much the same outlook on life. He never told me much about his life, but when he listened to me ramble he always seemed to understand. I mean really understand."

Zephyr nodded in thought. "Well there are some things I can tell you. Others are really his story to tell. If he wants to let you know, he will."

Hotaru looked at him attentively.

"Hm, captive audience, eh?" he asked with a laugh. "Well, no he wasn't always a very good person. No scratch that. He was a confused person. For about four years he ran with a bad group of people. Up until his first year of college actually. Don't really know what he did, but I think it weighs on him sometimes. I do know that some of them were later arrested of hunted down by the Inquisition for practicing the dark arts. A lot of them are dead now, and from what I hear that's a good thing. I think it may be why he joined the Inquisition in the first place."

"A little vague, Mr. Caine," Hotaru said irritably.

"He's Mr. Caine," Zephyr said, gesturing broadly with his hand towards the motionless body of his brother. "I'm Zephyr."

"And you 'Zephyr'?" she asked, giving him another appraising look. "Why are you so horrible?"

He walked over and took a seat on the couch next to Hotaru, and pulled a flask out of his coat. He took a swig, and offered it to Hotaru. She raised her eyebrow.

"What is that?"


"Sorry, but I've sworn it off. I've woken up too many times with a headache."

"Good for you," Zephyr said. He took another swig and replaced the vessel. He pointed at Richard and then at Hotaru. "Let me tell you the difference between me and the two of you."

"Me?" Hotaru asked. Zephyr nodded.

"You're cut from the same mold," he said. He placed his fedora on his knee. "Everyone is born with a certain degree of morality. A natural instinct for good. Follow so far?"

She nodded.

"You and him were born with a powerful instinct for compassion, but put in bad circumstances. Your basic core personality remains unchanged, but because of your environment it is obscured by all sorts of garbage, becoming confused and garbled. So you do horrible things that your conscience never lets you forget. But deep down you are still a good person, and eventually that good asserts itself. All it takes is a little courage to face your inner junk. However, there are also people for whom the opposite is true. Bad people who might seem good, but revert to evil."

"Sounds like a hopeless philosophy," Hotaru said. She looked over at Richard.

"Actually, it isn't. I ain't done yet," Zephyr said. He reached out and gently took Hotaru's head and forced her to look into his eyes. "You see, you and he were born good. I wasn't. I had to use all of my reason and intelligence to figure out the pros and cons of virtue. I am a true basis of a thinking morality. Good isn't natural to me. I'm kind of like a lizard that way. Impassive and for the most part detached from other humans. Which means that I can do awful things to them without an eyeblink. The only thing that keeps me in check is my reason. Yet that is what gives hope to the system, you see. Because if a naturally sociopathic person can become a virtuous man through reason and the Grace of God, then anyone can."

"'The Grace of God?'" she asked suspicously. Zephyr smiled wolfishly at her and pulled out a chain from under his shirt. A simple silver cross dangled from a chain.

"Sometimes people can be surprising," Zephyr said quietly, and the humor was gone from his voice. "It isn't always as simple as you think. Richard, well, Richard is an unusual guy. He's good and bad, the right mix of tyrant and saint, I think. Certainly that's what he seems to aspire to."

Hotaru took all of this in, and nodded. "Thank you for that."

He tipped his fedora to her. "You're welcome."

He got up and walked to the door, halting to look back at her. "I'll be stopping by to relieve your relief in a little while. Figure I might as well do the family duty for the lunk. But I know he's in good hands."

A smile nearly flickered across her dull face and she waved to him. He opened the door and saw Haruka and the King walking down the hallway towards him. They were engrossed in some kind of discussion, that seemed to be quite animated.

"...It'll get taken of tommorow," Haruka insisted. "Now I'm going to step in for the poor girl. She's hardly slept in three days."

"Fine," Mamoru said. The two Senshi stopped short, seeing the lanky Omega Web member leaning against the door.

Zephyr grinned at Haruka. "Hey baby, you from Tennesse?"

She faulted, as if trying to wrap her mind around the comment. With a blank expression she shook her head. "No. Why on Earth are you asking that?"

"'Cause a ten is all I see," Zephyr said with satisfaction, raising an eyebrow and winking. Haruka looked as if she was torn between amusment and the urge to kill. Zephyr appraised Mamoru's tuxedo for a second and nodded. "Nice threads."

And like that he vanished in a flurry of sparks, leaving behind a confused king and an irritated lesbian looking at the door. And they swore that they could here a quiet cackling, as if at a great distance...

Seven Days After the Incident:

Setsuna walked through the palace, thinking about the results of the mission to China and Europe. It had been... tense, to say the least. Although the leaders of the People's Republic had been very noncommital, she had felt a great degree of subtle contempt in their actions towards her and the proposed free trade agreement. The European Union had been just as noncommital, but much more disorganized. The confederation didn't seem to have a grasp on what was up or down these days. Not that that particular thing was much different than before Armageddon.

She strode into her office, and placed her briefcase down on the chair beside her desk. Rubbing her eyes, she decided to catch up on the events that had happened while she'd been away. A note on top of the pile of her desk caught her attention. It was written in neat kanji, and seemingly unremarkable amongst the varied status reports and diplomatic correspondence that littered her beurau. However it held her focus more than any of the other comings and goings of nations that swamped her.

She picked it up, reading carefully, and then walked out of the room, diplomatic correspondence completely forgotten.

"Everyone in my neighborhood had left to vote. I have no feeling of fear--Allah has won."
-Umm Ali, Duhra, Iraq

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Thu Jan 20, 2005 1:11 pm
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Chapter 21: The Fate of the Kinslayer


Richard found himself standing on a grassy plain which seemed to stretch out in gentle rolling hills in every direction. He felt a sense of wonder as he watched the clouds above him drift through a brilliantly blue sky. The sun shone with a seeming joyful indifference, lighting up the entire plain brilliantly. His wonder faded when he heard a light voice speak behind him.

"You are not supposed to be here."

Richard turned to face the new being, and narrowed his eyes. It was, in fact, two beings. One was small, perhaps the size of a young cat, and it was covered in silver scales. Its tiny wings spread out behind it, and fluttered periodically. Richard blinked as he took in the creature's appearance. Somehow, after his last experience, he had expected a dragon to be...well, bigger.

The other figure was just as mesmerising as the dragon, but in a subtler way. He was a simple boy, dressed in a red shirt and tiny cargo shorts. He didn't look much older than about three years old. His hair was brown, but the texture seemed strange somehow. When the light breeze blew through it, it tinkled merrily. Then there was the dominating feature of his face, which were his large eyes. Purest light escaped from them in a pair of twin beams. Richard found it hard to focus on the child's eyes without an inclination to look towards the ground.

All three stood in that perfect field, watching one another in perfect silence. Finally, the boy shook his head, and his hair chimed.

"Well, I suppose that you wouldn't know why you're here, would you?" asked the boy.

"No," Richard responded after some thought. "I don't even really know where 'here' is."

"This is a place between life and death," the boy said. "Where dreams come to life. And where you get to make a decision."

The boy pointed downwards. "Back to the pain of life."

Then he pointed upwards. "Or to what waits beyond."

Richard felt a slight twinge of annoyance at this. However, the boy continued on. "Since we are all here, planned or not, I will introduce us. I am Raziel. This is Draxel."

"Richard," Caine said with a nod. Raziel smiled at him.

"We know."

Richard looked at the two figures in front of him, and he finally snapped. "Does everything on the other side of the dream world know who I am? Because no matter what seems to happen to me, I'm haunted by you things!"

Draxel blinked in what Richard took for confusion and cheeped something at Raziel. The boy squinted.

"There is a good reason I know who you are Richard," Raziel said. "As for your other dreams, I know nothing."

"I'm not so liable to trust you right now," Richard said with frustration. "I've been having kind of a bad day. Having your soul ripped to some other dimension is not the most pleasant of experiences. At least, that's what the thing told me it did."

Draxel seemed to be agitated at this. Raziel nodded sagely as only a three year old can. "It makes sense to us now. A disembodied soul could get here. Although why you're here is a question for another time I suppose."

"How do you know who I am?" Richard asked as silence descended upon them again.

"You have been Prophisized," Raziel said slowly. The little dragon leapt up onto his shoulder and stared intently at the grey cloaked Inquisitor. "Yes, we know much about you, Richard Kinslayer."

It was now Richards turn to be silent. He locked his eyes with the light coming from Raziel. The icyness within that gaze was intimidating to the child, and his form seemed to waver for a moment. Then the dragon squeeked, and Richard shifted his look to the little creature.

Which was a mistake.

He felt something very powerful in that moment, much like the Emperor had been. A sense of ancient massiveness that dwarfed even what he had felt in that warm darkness, washed over him as he looked into those beady little eyes. Stars spun, and galaxies were born and died in instants. Entire worlds came into being and ceased. Richard looked away from the maddening depths quickly in an attempt to preserve his sanity. At least he had a better idea of what the shadows had been afraid of.

"Do not hate the messenger Richard," the boy said softly. "If it's any consolation, I understand why..."

"You understand nothing," Richard said flatly.

"Do I?" Raziel countered, this time his voice echoed with reverberation. "I know more than you could possibly imagine. I have seen much already, and will see much more. And you have a part to play in what I have seen Richard Caine."

Richard looked up. "What have you seen, little boy?"

The light within Raziel's eyes glowed even more fiercely. "I have seen conflict. I have seen war. A threat to the Senshi that they cannot deal with on their own. Not without drastic reprecussions."

"What does this have to do with me?" Richard asked, frowning.

"What a hammer cannot do, a needle may be most useful for," Raziel said. Draxel peeped in what Richard thought was agreement. "There is a place for the powers they wield Richard, and there is a place for other actions."

Raziel took a deep breath, and looked over at Draxel who nodded. The boy seemed reluctant, but finally exhaled. "There is a foe coming. One that cannot be stopped by anything short of the powers that they wield. In many ways it is their reason for being, why they exist. It is the Final Symphony. The Destroyer of Eternities will walk the face of the Universe, and Non-Being will follow in his wake. Against such a foe you can do nothing."

Richard's initial scepticism was fading fast as he listened to the boy. His sheer confidence in his words was beginning to sway Caine slightly.

"Yet I see your face," Raziel said softly. "Over and over again I have seen you. Just an image of a grey man in a grey coat. I have puzzled much over this, until I was blessed with a dream, and then I understood."

Raziel walked closer to him and focused on his face. "A good man, with just enough evil in him to stand against what I saw rising. An old foe of your people rises in the Cradle of Man, Kinslayer. They will walk the Earth, and shall be the scourge of Humanity as they were in ages long past. No man alone can stand against their might, for they are legion."

"Indeed the Senshi themselves are not free to fight such beings without catastrophic loss," Raziel continued, but his expression was distant. "Weakened by the Destroyer they will be easy prey. I have seen two paths, Caine. One in which you die and one in which you live. In death, you damn them. In life, you save them. But neither path is simple. One showed me solely the results of inaction."

Raziel closed his eyes. "I would not see that dream again."

"And the other?" Caine asked, by now completely under the boy's spell.

"The other, ah," Raziel mused. "It was nothing but disconnected images, symbols that I barely comprehended. I could not understand the associations, for it was not a prophecy meant for me."

The boy planted his finger in Caine's chest. "It was meant for you."

"But, you weren't expecting me, were you?" Richard asked shakily.

"I expect nothing now," Raziel said wearily. "I have seen too much. I knew that we would meet, but not how soon. This simply means things are moving more rapidly than I had ever thought they would."

"C'est la vie," Richard muttered. A slight wheeze came from the shoulder of Raziel and Richard turned to look at the little creature perched there.

"Draxel thinks that's an appropriate statement," the boy clarified.

"Well what now?" Richard asked.

"Now I will show you the fate I have seen," Raziel said, waving his chubby little arm. He stuck out his index finger, and with the concentration that only a child can take with physical actions he began to write. His fingers passed through the air and it rippled at their passing. The curving motions a glowing light which hung in the air as if it were some kind of grand sand box. Letters became words, and words became sentences. Sentences became paragraphs, and the little boy's motions began to speed up. Richard could not tell how much time had passed, only that the work before him grew to be a huge interlocking series of symbols. A painting of words. With a final twist, Raziel turned to him with a beaming smile.

"Finished," He pronounced. He walked over to Richard, reaching up to his hand. Richard allowed himself to be pulled forwards, and Raziel took his hand and left it almost level with a tiny gap in the grand artistry.

"Now, see!" the boy commanded, and pushed Richard's hand into the script.

The rolling plain vanished as he touched the glowing script. Instead he stood before a strange land that he did not know. He stood upon a ridge looking down into a valley where the sun was setting. He could just barely make out the brown twisting form of a river in the distance. The valley floor was a parched desert, with scrubby grasses tossed by a dust filled wind. Yet, to his eye, which had lived in and knew deserts well, it was not devoid of life.

A city rose before him, tall and imposing. The architecture was strange, but he picked out familiar elements. There stood a minaret, and in another place, the onion domes that he had seen in Jerusalem once on a vacation. However, these were by far the least impressive sights in the city. Five white towers rose high above the city, dwarfing the other buildings, and piercing the sky. He watched as strange lights in the sky danced around these great spires in a pattern he couldn't recognize. Then he felt the world shift around him.

He saw an ancient vault covered with the dust of ages. Engravings too obscured by the march of time covered the walls, but it was not these things which captured his sight. In the very center of the square room stood a simple unadorned pillar. Atop it rested a crown, silver light gleaming off of it. Somehow he knew that this crown was as old as this room, yet it remained untarnished. The craftsmanship was exquisite, at least three entertwining silver bands created the circlet, and on the sides, two curving protrusions extended downwards. On the front, the intwining bands reached upwards in a flamelike pattern, and set into the very center was a glittering purple sapphire. Richard reached towards it in wonder, but as he did the image became indistinct.

The world blurred again.

He was sitting in the dark, but a light seemed to be growing around him like the predawn glow. A slight, shadowed figure walked behind some greater obstruction, and was hidden from view. Then the light began to grow more strongly, and Richard identified its source, coming from the center of what took the appearance of a cavernous room. He watched the light grow passively and realized that it was in some kind of a pattern on the object that the shadowed figure had ducked behind.

Then the world was lighted, and he saw exactly what he had been creating the glow.

It stood nearly eight meters tall, and nearly four meters wide. Its form was steel, but covered in glowing letters. Its arms were thick and heavy, and its legs were stocky and protected by massive interlocking plates. The torso was leaner, but still bulky, and the head was covered in a kind of predatory looking visor, which gave off an imposing green glow.

Richard recognized it immediately as armor, almost like a knight's armor, but for what he could hardly imagine. Until he saw it move. There was a subtle crackling as the giant rose to its feet, and took one step after another towards him. He stood unconcerned. He knew that it meant him no harm. The great giant stopped before him and knelt. Then the light seemed to polarize, and he saw the armor only in shadow. But he percieved a glowing slender form within the shadow armor, kneeling before him.

He gently reached out and touched the giant with the sylph inside it, and where his hand touched, instead of cold steel, he felt a warm hum. Then his mind was sent reeling. Symbol after symbol of an alien language in an interlocking pattern burned themselves into his brain. Sequences that had no meaning to him were memorized in a long code, pages and volumes of them. He felt as if his brain were going to burst. Then the sylph had vanished, the armor with it, and he was surrounded by light, and then darkness.

Pinpoints of light spread out beneath him, a carpet of stars. He saw vast shapes move, throwing bolts of deadly light at one another, occasionaly larger flashes would occur, but there was absolutely no noise. The shapes themselves remained indistinct. Even as Richard tried to focus upon them, they faded further from clarity. The vision left quickly.

He saw a great serpent and a wolf engaged in a terrible struggle in a surreal forest. On a small clear pathway in a brambled wood, a huge snake stood in the way of a great wolf. The serpent hissed, barring its fangs. It's scales were red, and its eyes were black and pupil-less. The wolf was silver, grey, and black. It was massive in stature, yet seemed terribly fatigued and alone. Its yellow eyes burned with purpose, yet the serpent continued to bar its path. Again and again the serpent struck rapidly at the wolf who was unable to fight back effectively, or even pass the serpent. Richard found himself sypathetic to the wolf, and began to mentally cheer the great beast on. Finally, the wolf leapt forward and broke the snakes neck within its yellowed canines. Richard cheered within his own head. At least, he did until he felt something shift. The wolf's path no longer barred it loped forward into the forming mist in the wood.

Then he saw his first vision again, that of the great city. Only now, the city was burning, towers toppled. Even from the distance, he could see mounds of dead and dying people strewn about like dolls. A great mist swirled about the scene, and he saw the silver and black form of the wolf, now titanic in stature, stand over the ruins of the city and howl in triumph at the suffering of the people. Richard felt repulsed, and slightly ill to his stomach, to think that he had supported such a monster. The wolf looked at him with its yellow eyes and snarled, baring its fangs. He tried to escape, but its maw closed around him anyway, and all was darkness.

It was calm in the darkness, and quiet. Then the night drifted away and he saw a man sitting by himself, legs crossed underneath him. His back was to Richard, and the face was hidden. Shoulder length hair cascaded down his shoulders, white like silver, but with black streaks running through it. The man was dressed in a simple grey robe, sitting with his legs crossed Indian style. His curiosity piqued, Richard walked around until he could see the man's face and stopped in wonder. A pair of blue eyes bored into him, with good humor just behind them, and a broad grin flashing white teeth. Richard knew this man. He knew him very well, though younger. A few wrinkles were here and there, and rougher skin, but the form was unmistakeable. The man rocked to his feet, and slowly walked over to Richard, who was still in shock.

The older man took out a cloth bundle, and handed it to Richard with a wink. Richard opened the cloth and saw three items within it. One was a silver cross on a strong cord, polished to a gleam. Another was a silver ring, much in the style of the crown he had seen, with the same kind of strange gem set into it. But the last was the strangest of all. It was a picture.

Four smiling children of different ages looked back at him. In the background was a scrubby looking forest, next some kind of decayed steps. Their skin was pale, and their hair was black. The tallest was a girl, just growing into womanhood, then next to her a boy of about the same age. Their expresions were light and carefree, but their eyes were sharp. The next was another girl, quite a bit younger than the other two, but with a mischevious grin that he knew well. Just like the man. The final child was a young boy, no older than six, but with such an expression of intensity, that Richard nearly laughed. He had seen that expression before too. Their blue eyes sparkled at him, seeming to come alive in the photograph. He looked up, not knowing what to say, but knowing in his heart exactly who these children were too. The man winked once more and smiled.

"You'll know eventually," he said in a baritone voice to Richard. "All that shit? Everything that you've done? Everything that will happen?

Richard nodded at the questions.

"It'll be worth it in the end," he said confidently. "Trust me."

Richard struggled for something to say, trying to avoid the man's gaze. Finally he looked up. "Can you help me? Show me what I have to do?"

"Show you?" the man laughed at him. He took a single step forward and poked Richard in the nose, and then pointed upwards. "If it isn't in there, then ask the Boss. You'll find your answers when the time comes."

Tears began to form in Richard's eyes, and he looked down again. The man patted him on the shoulder, with a gentle smile.

"You will serve your pennance a hundred fold," the man said, but now his voice echoed, filling the space around him. "Go back to them Richard. They need you now. If not for those now, then for those that will be."

The man pointed at the picture, and light began to form a halo around him. His long unbound hair was moved by a gentle wind, and he raised Richard's chin to look him in the eye. Power arced up his fingers, caressing Richard's chin lovingly, sending warmth and relaxation through his body. In those deep, blue eyes he saw something imessurably ancient, yet vibrantly full of life and freedom stare back at him.

The man's smile grew until it could grow no further. Richard felt his weariness and fear fall from him as he watched that smile, and one of his own began to grow. He straightened his shoulders a little and stared at the man. The other took the bundle and folded it up, pressing it close to Richard's chest. Richard clung to it, and with a flash of light it merged with his body.

"Become the Man you are meant to Be."

* * *

With a snap, Richard found himself on the field once more. The great field of letters remained, yet Raziel seemed to be looking at it with some concern. The tiny drake seemed just as confused. The boy turned to look at Richard, and pursed his lips.

"Can you manipulate Theban?" he asked bluntly. Richard, still recovering from the ordeal, looked at Raziel in confusion.

"Er, no?" he asked hopefully.

The drake looked at him, then turned to squeek at Raziel, who nodded. "Draxel is right. You're no script writer. I just wonder what happened."

"Huh?" Richard asked, still not completely coherent.

"The spell, the prophecy," Raziel gestured grandly. "It changed."

Richard blinked.

"Prophecy spells can change," Raziel admitted. "But neither Draxel nor I have ever heard of it happening while a person is inside a prophecy. What did you see?"

"Many things," Richard said musingly. "A city. A crown. Armor. A war in space. A wolf and a snake. The city toppled by the wolf. And an old friend."

"What?" Raziel asked sharply. "All the rest we know, but an old friend? That wasn't in my dream."

Richard was taken aback for a moment. He could see the picture and the other man in his mind even now. A slow smile spread across his face. "Maybe it was a miracle."

This was the only time in his entire life that Richard saw Raziel taken aback by something he said. Draxel cocked his head, and began to make a most unusual sound. It was kind of like a rasp, but with a staccato nature. He thought the little thing might be having a hairball or something like it. Raziel frowned at the dragon and crossed his short arms. Then he saw the drake fall to the ground and begin to roll around, clutching its stomach. Looking at Raziel's expression, it finally dawned on him.

The dragon was laughing.

After a minute, it seemed to get control of itself, and cheeped at Raziel slyly.

"Of course I don't know everything," The boy retorted sharply. "I'm all of what, three years old?"

The two beings looked to start arguing once more, but Richard suddenly felt the world become indistinct, and a vicious tugging began on his soul. Raziel and Draxel turned to focus on him sharply. Richard felt almost as though he was being ripped apart, and focused all his will on trying to resist the terrible pulling.

"What's happening?" Richard asked through clenched teeth. The pain was excruciating.

"They are trying to call you back, the fools," Raziel cried. "What are they thinking?"

"Back to where?" Richard asked, the vagueness even more irritating than the pain.

"To your body," Raziel said. "But it's too soon I think. Caine, tell me right now, what do you want? Do you want to leave this world to its devices, or do you want to go back?"

Despite his predicament, Richard smiled at Raziel. "I've got a promise to an old friend to keep. I'm going back."

Raziel considered this, fixing that piercing gaze on Caine once more. He nodded in satisfaction. "Then Draxel and I shall ensure that you survive the trip back. Goodbye Richard. We'll meet again. I'm sure of it."

At this point the pulling sensation was so fierce that he couldn't spare the strength to respond. Raziel and Draxel seemed to understand this, and nodded to him. The valley around him destabilized and he felt as though he was falling through the ground. Just before the whole image faded to darkness, he beheld his two companions. As they really were.

Draxel's form rose up like a mountain, wings larger than aircraft carriers swept the sky. The sheer size defied all of his senses, but he could see deep within the yellow eyes of the titan the same little creature he had encountered on that field of dreams. And Raziel. Raziel was without form. Everywhere and nowhere, he was a ghost much larger than even the mighty dragon. There was a sense of wings, of light, of a place that he never would be able to identify, and then everything came crashing down. There was darkness. Richard was getting so sick of darkness...

Final: Necromancy/Tying Up Loose Ends (?)

"(There is) Neither an abasement which makes us incapable of good, nor a holiness free from evil"

-Pascal, Pensees

January 23, 3004 09:40

Setsuna rushed into the hospital room, slamming the door aside. What she saw wrenched her heart with fear. Hotaru stood arms upraised and glowing with a greyish light. Around the bed that she surmised held Richard Caine, a hexagram with an inscribed star had been drawn carefully with chalk. Energy swirled around Caine's body and seemed to draw outwards from his prone form, as if reaching for something.

Setsuna would have tried to interrupt the ritual with a shout, had a not a razor thin cold piece of steel pressed into the back of her neck. She started.

"I wouldn't say a word if I were you," a tired voice whispered. "I tried to stop her, but she had already started the ritual. Stopping her now will only ensure that my brother doesn't ever get back to his body. And while he may mean nothing to one of you he certainly means something to that girl and even more to me. My family isn't replaceable, nor do they reincarnate with their memories intact."

"You realize what she's doing right?" Setsuna replied with a hiss. "That is pure necromantic summoning. Who knows what she'll call into his body?"

"Not quite," Zephyr retorted, easing up slightly with his knife. "It's been heavily modified. By Hotaru, who knows more about this kind of power than you could ever hope to. It actually just pulls on existing connections. Don't get me wrong. I was about as eager as mouse in a Victor when I heard about this, but I do know that if we interrupt her, he'll die for good."

"You can't just expect me to let her do this, can you?"

"Sure I can," Zephyr whispered. "But after she's finished... well after she finishes I think I'll kick her to Khatmandu."

Setsuna roiled, but was silent. She turned around to look into the Omega Web member's eyes. The fatigue and desperation that she saw in his face shocked her.

"Trust me, if she screws up, she will very much regret it."

"What prompted this?" Setsuna asked pointedly. She gestured behind herself. "This is insane!"

"Desperation," Zephyr offered. "Guilt, Shame, Anger, Anguish, Suffering? Her mind is not mine to read Setsuna Meioh, Kalrahd Al-Daish."

"What?" she asked Zephyr, her eyes narrowing. "Did you just say Kalrahd Al-Daish?"

Zephyr smiled and shook his head. "More people know than you'd even believe, Warden of Time."

He gestured to the still form of Richard and Hotaru standing over him. "I personally think that they'll be the ones who matter in this round. You've got bigger fish to fry."

"So does Hotaru," Setsuna argued. Zephyr's gaze simply resumed its tunneling operation into her skull.

"Sure," he said after a moment. "But you know the truth. Even if you don't like it. The cycle is right for the Ger-Ghanim to rise, according to Zoroaster. And I don't think that either of us wants to take any chances eh?"

Setsuna was silent, but she didn't struggle anymore. Instead she eyed Zephyr warily. Her head jerked up as she heard more footsteps approaching. They sounded like high heels. Zephyr grinned a death's head grin. Setsuna looked at him and gave a curt nod.

"No one will pass the door. You have my word."

* * *

Outside the now closed door, Setsuna took up position in front of it, summoning her staff. She saw the collected Senshi coming straight for the door. Rei's eyes were narrowed, and Usagi looked disturbed.

"What's going on in there?" Mamoru asked after a moment. Setsuna shook her head.

"A healing spell that requires great concentration. Hotaru is trying to heal Caine."

Minako blinked. "Then why don't we go help her?"

"This is her job," Setsuna said, shaking her head. "We can't fuel the powers that she's using."

"What do you mean?" Usagi asked quietly. Setsuna blinked at the Queen's perceptive response. "Her blade feeds from the Silver Crystal."

"Well, not exactly," Setsuna temporized. "It was created somewhat differently. It was made using three different keys. Mine, yours..."

"...and Solomon's," Zephyr said, appearing in a flash of light behind Setsuna. "And that's the problem. Because, you see, no one's been able to use the Key of Solomon since the old bastard himself. We have it locked up in the Omega Web. From what I hear the resonances change this particular spell a lot. Best thing to do is just give her space to work."

The collective Senshi nodded, and proceeded back to where they had come from. Setsuna turned to look at Zephyr and shook her head. "Solomon's Key?"

Zephyr shrugged. "You use what you have. They bought it. Now all we have to do is wait. Thank you Warden of Time."

"You're welcome Brother of Amnon."

Zephyr nodded, and the two of them stood in silence outside the hospital room.

January 23, 3004 20:00

Richard muzzily felt himself begin to stir. He blinked his eyes twice, trying to clear away the fuzziness. His mouth felt as if it had been stuffed with cotton balls. He opened and closed it soundlessly, trying to restore some sense of taste. It was then that he realized that his tounge was the dry cottony surface he had felt before.

Then he felt the taint around him. He winced. He knew this feeling.


He rolled his head to the side with a slight grunt to see Hotaru curled up in a ball on a large comfortable chair. She had been asleep but her head jerked up at his noises. She walked over to him on slightly unsteady feet, and her eyes began to fill with water. He smiled up at her and gestured towards his mouth. She smiled and helped him sit up somewhat in the bed. She reached over to the side table and took a glass of water, gently assisting him in drinking it.

Richard swirled a little water around in his parched mouth, feeling the moisture slowly return. It took more than a minute until he swallowed the little that remained, and looked up at Hotaru.

"It was you?" he croaked. "Called?"

"Yes," she said softly.

He took another sip of water at this, and seemed to organize his thoughts. He cleared his throat with a gentle cough. "You ever use necromancy on me again and I'll come back from the dead just long enough to kick your ass."

Hotaru turned her face away, hot tears trailing down her face. An unsteady hand wiped away a tear with a clumsy touch. She looked down to see Richard's hand on the side of her face. His calm smile confused her.

"But I forgive," he said raspily. He tugged on her gently and she collapsed on him with sigh, clutching him tightly.

They sat that way for an hour, not speaking a single word.

January 30, 3004

Richard sat with Mitsugi in a pair of chairs in his little hospital suite. He gazed at the wall blankly, listening intently to Mitsugi's report on the events of the last week and a half. One of his fingers idly twirled one of his strands of hair, tucking it behind his ear.

"...So the gist of it is that not only did the Senshi buy the cover story that Zephyr and Hotaru came up with, but the Grand Masters have decided to promote your dumb ass," Mitsugi said with a grin. "Thanks to the reels of testimony in your favor, they've assigned you new orders. Think of it as a belated Birthday present."

"It still irks me that they believed we ran away at the first sign of the Emperor," Richard commented sourly. "And what the hell do you mean promotion?"

The half Japanese man shrugged and handed him an envelope. Richard slowly opened it and unfolded the plain white paper within. He blinked.

"'For recognition of services to the Brotherhood in Tokyo and Japan, you have been promoted to oversight of all Japanese offices. You will maintain cover story with current government. Permanent post assignment: Crystal Tokyo Palace.'?"

Richard looked at Mitsugi with a quizzical expression. "What the fuck is this?"

"The Grandmasters have decided we need to keep an eye on the Senshi, just like they did when they sent you here. But they also recognize that you've been a great asset. You're going to be an advisor to the Queen, you sasquatch!"

Richard smiled a little. "Sonofabitch. And they're going along with it?"

"Caine Industries has named you its corporate rep. for all of Japan. Not only that but Hotaru and Usagi are more than fine with it. Looks like we're hanging around for a while Richie."

Richard sighed with relief.

"Oh and one other thing," Mitsugi said after a moment. "Hotaru has gotten herself the position of Arcane Security chief for all of Japan, as well as watching over most of the inner city's junk."

Richard's eyes widened. "What the hell prompted that?"

"You did," Mitsugi replied quietly. "I think it scared the bejesus out of her."

"I thought that she hated being in charge," Richard mused.

"I no longer have that luxury," a soprano voice stated. Both men looked over at her. Mitsugi stood and bowed.

"Well, I've got paperwork to deal with. Good day to you Hotaru Tomoe. Later Richard."

With that, Mitsugi left the room whistling to himself. Richard looked at Hotaru with a sad smile. "Somehow I don't think that it's just me."

"It isn't," Hotaru said after a moment. "I wanted it to all go away. But I could only avoid responsibility for so long. It's time that I put my foot down. If I had been able to, ten good men and women wouldn't have died with no one to mourn them but us."

Richard nodded, thinking of the dead strike team members in silence.

"They were heroes," Hotaru continued, though her voice choked up somewhat. "They deserved better from Usagi. From Rei. From me. I don't intend to make such mistakes again."

"You can't save them all," Richard said in a quiet whisper. "I wish we could, but we can't."

"No, but I can ensure as few mistakes as possible occur," Hotaru countered.

"Good," Richard said with a nod. "And Rei doesn't want to kill me?"

"Oh, I don't know about that," Hotaru said with a slight smile. "She's still pissed, but she'll get over it. Saving the city if not the country kind of swayed her."

Richard blushed. "I was just doing my job."

Hotaru walked over to him and held his hand. They gripped one another's palms tightly. "But I'm tired of work for now. We should relax. The real tough stuff is just around the corner."

Richard's gaze grew distant. Prophecy echoed within him. "More than I think anyone knows, love. More than any of us know..."

* * *

In the abyss a dark oval formed. First red hair appeared, then a wide and vicious smile. Then finally the features coalesced completely.

"It is begun," a woman's triumphant voice whispered. "Not even the Singer, nor Fiss, nor the Silver One can do anything about it though their power is great."

A hissing and entrancing song began to echo in the depths. The woman's body appeared as the darkness slid off of it, revealing a waspish and attractive body clad in red.

"All things have their season in turn," she said as she raised her arms towards the heavens. "Soon my friend. Soon."

"After Summer, Winter. After Winter, Summer."

End: SM Omoi: Inquisition: Inferno

So Let it be Written

So Let it be Done.

"Everyone in my neighborhood had left to vote. I have no feeling of fear--Allah has won."
-Umm Ali, Duhra, Iraq

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Sybil of the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy

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Thu Jan 20, 2005 1:15 pm
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Nobody loves me?


I was hoping for at least one review, (other than Hotwire. You already know you rock man!). Tell me please. Should Fiss crucify me or is this halfway decent? Remember, the more the merrier.


Oh well, that's how it goes. Tell you what, I do need a pre-reader for spelling, grammar and other junk. Anyone interested in a long and tedious editing job? Eh? Eh?

"Everyone in my neighborhood had left to vote. I have no feeling of fear--Allah has won."
-Umm Ali, Duhra, Iraq

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Bringing Non-Euclidian Geometry to a Suburb Near You!

Sybil of the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy

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Tue Jan 25, 2005 9:20 am
You should be proud of your work here, you wove an interesting and involving story. In my opinion this is more then worthy as a side story to the world that is omoi. This was an interesting concept and fills one of the niche sectors in the omoi universe. I greatly look forward to further un-expected adventures of Richard and the spanish inquisition :wink: .

8.5/10 overall

Tue Jan 25, 2005 9:36 am
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Aw... Guest, you make me blush. Thank you.

That, and it isn't quite finished. Once my brother gets his hands on it, I expect it to improve a lot. The real Zephyr is actually quite the talented writer. He's certainly better than me. Compared to him, I'm just a hack. I'm hoping the little bastard will edit the hell out of it for me.

I'm hoping that the writing styles for the sequels will continue to improve. In addition, they will begin to diverge slightly from the plot and locale of Omoi. Instead of Canada, they will travel to such exotic locations as Iraq, China, North Korea, and Titan! (...the Titan on Saturn, just to clarify) I hope that it will prove to be a fun ride. And its damn good practice, at least for writing discipline.

"Everyone in my neighborhood had left to vote. I have no feeling of fear--Allah has won."
-Umm Ali, Duhra, Iraq

Cthulthu Construction Corporation and Ry'leh Real Estate:
Bringing Non-Euclidian Geometry to a Suburb Near You!

Sybil of the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy

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Tue Jan 25, 2005 9:43 am

Joined: Tue Jul 13, 2004 5:16 am
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Hmmm strange i was certain i was logged in. No matter, keep up the good work. I'll keep a lookout for your work. (happy to review ... it increases my post count :twisted: )

Tue Jan 25, 2005 10:41 pm
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Welll..... it had to happen. Someone had to write a Hotaru-centric Omoi story.

That said, well done. *grin* Nicely done, and I read it twice yesterday. Only got one beef though: why is it that all those guys carrying bigass sniper rifles are huge? ^_^


Wed Jan 26, 2005 9:09 am
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Goose, have you ever SEEN a 'big assed sniper rifle'? Those motha's are HEAVY... Look up the Barret M-82 'Light Fifty'. It's four feet long. I would figure big guys can handle the recoil better.

((Big guys with big guns... why does that feel so... WRONG.?))

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Wed Jan 26, 2005 10:11 am
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I liked it. Maybe some of it was a tad rushed, but I liked it.

One thing, though; you should decide what 'set' of names you're going to use. There was one part where you kept switching from Setsune to Sharon, and back again. I'd say, pick a set and stick with it; makes for an easier time all round. But that's about the only criticism I can make.

So, will there be much of a wait for the sequel? :wink:




Wed Jan 26, 2005 7:24 pm
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admiraltigerclaw wrote:
Goose, have you ever SEEN a 'big assed sniper rifle'? Those motha's are HEAVY... Look up the Barret M-82 'Light Fifty'. It's four feet long. I would figure big guys can handle the recoil better.

((Big guys with big guns... why does that feel so... WRONG.?))

Actually..... nope. *shrug* Saw the Barret on TV once - it didn't seem that much of an issue.... then again, it wasn't IRL.

Wait. 4 feet long? Damn...... *awed*


Thu Jan 27, 2005 12:29 am
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Four feet long, and weighs something like thirty pounds. I've picked up a fifty cal sniper rifle. my 'holy shit!' reaction kicked in when I picked up just the barrel peice. The box itself I had to HEFT just to lift. The heavyness ensures the barrel doesn't move too much when you fire, to increase accuracy of the shot at extreme range. If you want a gun, a fifty cal sniper rifle is like carrying around a Mancannon artillery peice... Use a fifty cal sniper weapon on a human, you're going to have a mess left over, not a corpse. To move around quickly at all, you'd need a big dude, or a REALLY strong little dude. Either way, anyone who can move quickly with a 'big assed sniper rifle' is not a person to be trifled with. A round will take out your car with EASE.

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Thu Jan 27, 2005 1:08 am
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Between the Lines wrote:
I liked it. Maybe some of it was a tad rushed, but I liked it.

One thing, though; you should decide what 'set' of names you're going to use. There was one part where you kept switching from Setsune to Sharon, and back again. I'd say, pick a set and stick with it; makes for an easier time all round. But that's about the only criticism I can make.

Er, you noticed. I actually have a copy where I went and fixed all of that. The problem was I posted an earlier draft by mistake. And its a Beta-ish thingy. In the final iteration, that'll be dealt with. But thanks for pointing it out. I'd nearly forgotten about it.

As far as the action was concerned? Yeah, well, it was kind of rushed. I'm hoping that the next installment will be better. I think that it gets much better around the beginning of Part III. The pace is a little less hectic. But I'm a better writer since I've finished this monster, so hopefully the past won't repeat itself.

Between the Lines wrote:
So, will there be much of a wait for the sequel?

A bit. I'm hoping that I can get a draft in the works before Missionaries 3, but I really don't know Fiss' schedule. It really depends on where I'm going to be this summer as I have no clue currently. I may be in DC, or California, or Louisiana. Or even New York. Once I've got that figured out, I can start pounding the keyboard again. So far I think that I've got another three installments planned before the plotline hopefully lines up with Final Symphony.

(Your guess is as good as mine as to what the Symphony is. I've got no clue... Which makes my job interesting! :D )

Expect some serious dark and bad stuff, in the recent tradition of the Omoi universe, and maybe a flashback or two to the not-so-ideal side of the Moon Kingdoms. Serkan Sheldann was not an idle reference...


Glad you guys are enjoying it.

"Everyone in my neighborhood had left to vote. I have no feeling of fear--Allah has won."
-Umm Ali, Duhra, Iraq

Cthulthu Construction Corporation and Ry'leh Real Estate:
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Thu Jan 27, 2005 12:04 pm
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Richard Caine wrote:
Er, you noticed. I actually have a copy where I went and fixed all of that. The problem was I posted an earlier draft by mistake. And its a Beta-ish thingy.

Oh, ok. It's really good, even if it's not the final product. So congrats!

As far as the action was concerned? Yeah, well, it was kind of rushed. I'm hoping that the next installment will be better. I think that it gets much better around the beginning of Part III. The pace is a little less hectic. But I'm a better writer since I've finished this monster, so hopefully the past won't repeat itself.

Don't worry about it; if it's a criticism at all, it's a very minor one. I can't wait for the next part, and I have no doubt that it'll be great. :)

Expect some serious dark and bad stuff, in the recent tradition of the Omoi universe, and maybe a flashback or two to the not-so-ideal side of the Moon Kingdoms. Serkan Sheldann was not an idle reference...

Coooll...teasers! :)




Thu Jan 27, 2005 1:05 pm
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This kicked ass. Can't wait for the sequel. Kudos! :)

"Well, you're not Fiona Apple; and if you're not Fiona Apple, I don't give a rat's ass!"
- Officer Barbrady

Sun Feb 06, 2005 4:41 pm

Joined: Fri Jul 29, 2005 3:50 pm
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I read this a while back, and I really enjoyed it. The Inquisition as portrayed here have plenty of echoes of other fictional occult/anti-monster organizations without seeming like a ripoff in the least, and it was good to see Hotaru get some more exposure in the Omoiverse. :)

"We have choices. Some people like to stand in the rain without an umbrella. That's what it means to live free."
-Roger Smith, "Big O"

Sat Oct 22, 2005 11:00 am
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