“Have we done something to offend you?”
Kasumi looked over at Helen. “Of course not.” She smiled happily. “I like having you here in the kitchen. It’s very nice.”
Helen didn’t smile back. “And Shikarou?”
Kasumi looked away. “He’s done nothing wrong.”
The Milktit was quiet for a time. “Many if not most pokegirls equate affection with sex.”
“I said he didn’t do anything wrong.” Kasumi’s voice was flat.
“Yes, you did say that. However, right or wrong, are you angry at him for what he did?”
“No, I’m not.” Kasumi looked back at Helen, who had stopped working and was watching her with those intelligent brown eyes. “Yes, I am.”
Helen nodded. “You don’t know why you are angry, do you?”
Kasumi let her breath out in a hiss. “I thought we had something special.” She put down her knife. “I’m not sure anymore.”
“Trust me, you do.” She smiled when Kasumi’s head whipped up. “Oh, I don’t know exactly how he feels about you or how you might feel about him, but you are the only person he spends any real time with here, outside of his harem, and that means something.”
Kasumi frowned. “He spends time with Happosai too. I doubt that could mean ‘something’.”
Helen snorted. “Actually it does, but that is a case of keeping your enemies closer. He wants Happosai to trust him if it becomes necessary to do something permanent about him.”
“He hasn’t spent any time with me in the last few days.”
“I suspect that would be because you’ve been avoiding him. He gives me the impression that he misses the time you two spent together.”
Kasumi stared at the wall for a handful of seconds before giving her head a quick shake and picking up the knife again. “Maybe you’re right.”
“I am.” Helen stuck out her tongue at Kasumi as she turned and glared at the Milktit.
Finally the Tendo woman smiled slowly. “He’s not going to try to force me to do anything to resolve this, is he?”
“No, it’s not his way. You’ll either have to push yourself or find some way to let him know that you want to spend time with him again.”
“I couldn’t do that!” She looked shocked. “That wouldn’t be proper for a woman of my station.”
“All you have to do is ask him tomorrow if he’s available to carry some heavy shopping for you. I’m sure you can find something heavy that you want to purchase. He’ll understand.”
Kasumi looked curious. “And what is it that he will understand from that request?”
“That everyone here is terribly proud and that you are in some ways the worst of the lot.” Helen flicked an ear. “And he will understand that you can’t say ‘I’m sorry’ very easily.”
Kasumi stared helplessly at her for a minute and then sighed. “I’ve never had to. No one expects Kasumi to do anything wrong and when I do, they make excuses for me.”
“That won’t happen with him,” Helen replied wryly.
“Father, I’m off to do the shopping.” Kasumi looked over at where Shikarou was playing the dealer in a game of Cho-Han with Happosai. “Shikarou, I have some heavy items that I would like to purchase today, could you come along with me to carry them?”
He looked at her briefly with hooded eyes before nodding. “I will.” He rose from the seiza position and reached for his shirt.
“But I was winning!” Happosai grumbled and looked around. “Genma, get over here.”
“I have no money, master. You took it all last night.”
“Soun. You have money.”
Shikarou followed Kasumi out as he heard the head of the Tendo household start protesting. There was a quiet thump as Yushiko dropped off the roof and walked after them.
Kasumi’s heart pounded as she worked up her courage before finally turning to him. “I’m sorry.”
His eyes were unreadable as he looked at her calmly. Suddenly he smiled and nodded. “Thank you. I suspect that was very hard.” His lips pursed. “And I’m not sure you have anything to be apologetic about. After all I did do something in your house that you might find objectionable.”
“So why haven’t you said anything?”
“You wanted privacy.” He shrugged. “It’s impolite to intrude on something like that where I come from, except in special cases. If you’d wanted an apology, I presume you would have let me know.”
“What’s it like where you come from?”
“That depends on which place you’re asking about. I was born in a specific Japan but I grew up in Tirsul with my father and one of his wives. Later I returned to Japan and then, after my wife died, I ended up in the pokegirl world.” A quick smile. “Now I’m here for a while.”
“You were married?” She flushed slightly.
“Her name was Pallaius and we had two daughters.” A thoughtful look crossed his face. “I’m married to Branwyn.”
“Oh.” They walked in silence for a while. “How many wives does your father have?”
“I’m not sure. I personally know six but I know of several more.”
She looked stunned. “That’s a lot of wives. How does he take care of them all?”
Shikarou chuckled. “Carefully. I understand he does a lot of time traveling to ensure nobody feels left out. I can tell you that the ones I know seem happy for the most part.”
“Who’s your favorite?”
“Magdalene. She’s the one who raised me after my dam decided I was unworthy of her attention and the only one I regularly keep in touch with.”
A thought struck her. “How old are you?”
“I’ll be two hundred and fifty one this year.”
She smiled suddenly. “Don’t let Cologne know. She might want a date.”
“I’ll keep that firmly in mind.”
They walked for a while longer before Kasumi casually asked another question. “What do you think of my family?”
He gave her a sharp look and her heart skipped a beat. “Would it help if I asked exactly what you are trying to find out?”
Yushiko snickered quietly. “Lord, she’s interested in you.”
Kasumi gave her an angry glance and sighed before saying in quiet voice, “I will be twenty one this year and I have a high school education with no prospects for marriage. It looks like the rest of my life will be spent being my father’s surrogate wife. While not happy about the idea, I had become reconciled to it.”
“My family has treated me adequately, but I’ve never been anything except a stand-in for my mother and I know she wouldn’t want me to do that forever.” Her voice hardened. “And then I was possessed by that demon. The one time I needed my family’s help, really needed it, they refused.” She lifted her head and stared unseeingly down the road. “That demon could have killed me or polluted my soul or body and my father, the man who claims to be willing to lay down his life for me, wouldn’t bring himself to strike me so that I could be free. Such a small thing and instead he left me to the demon.” Her voice dropped to a whisper. “I fear I will never be free.”
“And then a stranger entered the dojo and was attacked by my family, but even so he was willing to save me.” She met his gaze. “My family wasn’t willing to help me, but you were, even though you had to disobey my father to do so.” She flushed. “And I remember what you said, about my rear. No one has paid me a compliment like that before, not one that noticed that I’m not a little girl. I know you didn’t mean it that way, but when someone is never noticed, even the little compliments are important.”
Shikarou frowned. “I don’t think you’d be happy on our world.”
Suddenly she yelled, “I am not happy now!” Her voice echoed off the walls around them and faded away. She continued in a normal voice. “I doubt I’d be less happy there than I am here.”
He contemplated her for a long moment. “Do you have any survival skills?”
Yushiko gasped. “Lord, she’s a human!” He glanced at her and she bowed her head abruptly.
“I know some martial arts and I’m willing to learn more.” Her eyes widened. “The demon told me I was magically adept. That’s why it wanted to stay inside me so long.”
Shikarou exchanged a glance with Yushiko and quickly cast a spell. A small globe appeared in his hand. “Tell me what you see.”
She glanced into it. “I see you. Actually it looks like a black wolf, but it feels like you.”
When Shikarou stared at her she flinched. “Did I do something wrong?”
“No, not at all. The demon was right and in fact you show great promise. You have the potential to be one of the great mages.”
Her eyes lit with excitement. “Me? But I’m nobody.”
“Maybe right now, but I’m going to be starting a school of magic in the near future and if you live up to your potential you’ll probably be a teacher there or maybe the headmistress.” He smiled. “That is, if you would be interested.”
“Interested? This is wonderful!” She hugged him. Suddenly she let him go and stepped back, her face flaming. “Um, yes, I would be interested.” Her eyes dimmed abruptly. “I can’t do it.”
Shikarou shook his head. “There is a way.”
Her eyes widened. A gleam of something tiny appeared. Hope. “Yes, but how?”
He cut her off. “I know. You need to understand that I’ve had my illusion magic up since your possession was broken, so you haven’t really had a chance to see what I look like.”
“But why is that important?”
“My genes are dominant.”
“Oh.” She was silent for a minute. “Your children are like you.”
“Yes. They will be kami. Can you live with that?”
Kasumi looked at him. “I remember what you look like. Maybe you should start looking like that again.”
Shikarou broke his illusions and she looked him up and down. A slight smile appeared on her face. An impish one. “Shall we finish the shopping?”
He flicked an ear. “If you’d like.”
“People will stare,” she warned him.
“What is this?”
Shampoo looked up from where she was sitting. It was between lunch and dinner and the café was quiet. “What you talking about, Grandmother?”
“Come look. It’s your friend, Shikarou.”
The Amazon’s eyes narrowed as she joined her grandmother at the window. “Him no friend. Him too coward to fight Shampoo.”
Cologne glanced back at her great granddaughter and gave a mental sigh. Shampoo was a great fighter and hard worker. It was a good thing life didn’t demand much more from her because she was ill equipped for anything else.
“What funny things on his head?”
“Those are his ears, Shampoo.” Cologne kept herself from rolling her eyes. “I wonder why they are like that.”
Shampoo sneered. “Him look like dogboy. Maybe him go to Jusenkyo and fall in part way.” She chuckled at her joke as she watched Shikarou and Kasumi go into a pastry shop across the street.
“It doesn’t work like that.” Cologne snatched up her stick. “I don’t like mysteries and that man has already given me too many. Come, granddaughter.”
Kasumi had been excited to eat here since she’d never been able to justify coming here by herself and had been surprised when Shikarou suggested it. He’d let her order for him, the menu ran heavily to sweets and this gave her the chance to try two things instead of one. He didn’t really care what he ate, whatever it was would be low in protein and high in carbohydrates. He preferred his food to be the other way around.
He looked up when Cologne and Shampoo stopped in front of their table. “Thanks but I think we’d get our food faster if we ordered from the people who work here.” Kasumi fought a smile and raised her hand to hide it when she lost.
“You no speak to grandmother that way!”
His ears flicked. “I’m not the one interrupting your snack, am I?”
Cologne smiled at him. “We were just passing by and thought we’d stop and say hello.”
“Hello. I’m still not going to fight any Amazons.”
“What do you have against my people?”
“Nothing and I want to keep it that way.” He shook his head. “I’m sure they are great at being Amazons, but other than you, my research doesn’t indicate a lot of scholarly bent in their mental makeup.” He glanced at Shampoo. “It takes more than looks to catch my attention, much less keep it.”
Shampoo gave Kasumi a derisive look. “Shampoo sees that.” Kasumi turned pink.
Shikarou sighed. “You can’t really be that stupid.” He glanced at Cologne. “Can she?” His ears flicked when she gave a tiny shrug. “Fine, you may have just managed to get what you want.” He slid to his feet. “I may have to step outside, Kasumi, but I’ll be back just as soon as I can.”
Cologne grinned. “If you beat Shampoo, you have to marry an Amazon.”
Shikarou’s look was scathing. “Cologne, you can’t order me to do shit. I’m not an Amazon and I don’t accept that your laws apply to me.” He transferred his gaze to Shampoo. “Apologize to Kasumi.” Under his breath he cast the first spell.
“No. She ugly.”
“I’m not Ranma. Last chance. Otherwise, I will reveal your beauty to the world.”
Both Shampoo and Cologne looked puzzled at that, but the young Amazon quickly regained her normal belligerence. “You fight Shampoo, Shampoo fix you good.”
He released the spell. The seams of the young Amazon’s clothing split apart and her clothes fell away as the welds and fastenings on her weapons broke, leaving her nude and weaponless. She gave a loud screech and ran out the door.
He bowed to Cologne. “And, once again, I didn’t fight Shampoo.” He snickered. “Who would have guessed she is a natural purple.”
She stared at him with narrowed eyes. “Who are you?”
“I am Shikarou.”
“That tells me nothing!”
“Yes, I know. Good day.” He settled down in his chair again. “Oh, my patience with your granddaughter is just about reached its end. I wouldn’t let her come back in here to fight me today.”
“What will you do if she does?” Cologne managed to sound curious and belligerent at the same time.
He sighed. “Something.” His ears went flat. “You two can insult me all day long and I’ll ignore you or laugh in your face. However, when she started in on Kasumi, she crossed a line that I will not allow.”
Cologne cocked her head. “What will you do?”
“There’s that question again. I think your needle is stuck.”
Yushiko put her hand on his shoulder. “My lord will do nothing. I will beat her within an inch of her life.”
Cologne drew herself to her full height. It was less than impressive. “Who are you?”
“I am Urufu Yushiko and I am an Armsmistress.”
Cologne blinked. “What is that?”
Yushiko smiled. “Your granddaughter is about to find out.”
“I will try, lord, but humans are so fragile.”
Cologne barked a laugh at Yushiko’s words. “It is you who is in for a surprise.”
Yushiko grinned. “We’ll see.” She touched her katana and looked out the window. “Here she comes. As my lord said a moment ago, this is your last chance.”
“I will not stop her.” Cologne stared at Shikarou. “So proxy to proxy we meet.”
He sighed. “I’m sorry, Kasumi.”
She touched the back of his hand. “Beat her thoroughly. She’s nothing more than an arrogant hussy.”
“Very well. You heard the lady, Yushiko. Thrash her.”
Shampoo smashed through the door to the restaurant with a mace clutched in each hand. “Where dogboy!”
Yushiko hit her in the chest with meteor punch, blasting her across the street and through the front of the Cat Café in a spray of rock and mortar. “Wrong opponent, bitch.” She stepped into the street as Cologne’s jaw dropped. “You’re not fighting my Tamer yet, you have to get through me first.” She tossed her cloak to the side and her armor gleamed in the sun.
The Armsmistress’ ruby wings shimmered into existence as Shampoo kicked the rubble that had been the front of the shop out of her way. The feather shuriken attack blasted the Amazon back into the interior of the shop. Suddenly the roof sagged as Shampoo smashed through several support posts. “Oops.”
Shikarou looked at the stunned Cologne. “Well? I think your shop may not survive this if it goes much longer and Yushiko hasn’t even warmed up yet.”
A mace flew out of the café and Yushiko stepped aside, drew her sword, cut the mace in two and sheathed her weapon in one blurring move. Shampoo came hurtling out of the café and hammered Yushiko with her remaining mace. Yushiko rocked back from the blow and spun, her roundhouse kick taking Shampoo in the side and smashing her sideways. The Armsmistress glanced back at her Tamer. “I’ll grant she’s tough, but an Amazonchan would beat her four times out of five.” She stepped up to Shampoo as she started to push herself upright and drew her sword. She placed the point against the back of Shampoo’s skull. “Stay down. Get up and I’ll start carving bits off your big titted carcass.”
Cologne pushed past Shikarou. “Enough. Shampoo!”
Yushiko glanced at her Tamer and at his nod stepped back and sheathed her sword. Her wings faded and vanished. She chuckled briefly. “And I’ll beat an Amazonchan nine times out of ten.” She picked up her cloak and swirled it into place.
He sniffed the air. “Yushiko, go behind the café and turn off the gas.” She nodded and ran into the wreckage that had been the Cat Café.
Kasumi touched his shoulder. Her eyes glittered with satisfaction as she looked Shampoo over. “It’s about time,” she whispered. “Maybe next time she’ll ring the bell before letting herself in.”
Shikarou kneeled next to Shampoo and cast a healing spell on her. She blinked as the magic coursed through her body and took a deep breath before looking up. “Why you help Shampoo?”
“Because neither you nor your grandmother are my enemies and the fight is over. I see no reason to leave you hurt.”
Cologne tapped him on the back. “What about my café?”
He stood. “That’s your problem. You aren’t my enemy, but you brought this on yourself.”
Kasumi came up and offered him the basket. “I don’t think we are going to get our pastries any time soon,” she announced primly. “We’ll have to come back again tomorrow.”
“As you wish.” He turned to his Armsmistress. “That was nicely done, Yushiko. You didn’t kill her and you kept the property damage to a minimum.”
“Thank you, my lord. As always, I try to do as you will.”
“No. I won’t hear of it. Kasumi is not going to be wandering off to someplace far away for any reason.” Soun shook his head violently.
Shikarou leaned forward but stopped when Kasumi touched his leg. “Father, why won’t you allow this? Learning magic would bring great honor to the family.” She frowned with a slightly vapid look. “You were willing to marry me to Ranma even when you didn’t know he’d be staying here.”
Soun looked around the room, at the ceiling, the walls, anything but at his eldest daughter as his mind raced. He didn’t want Kasumi to leave because she took care of the house as his dead wife had before her. It was her job and she should be content in that role. He really didn’t want Kasumi to leave because if she did, Akane would cook for them. However, he couldn’t admit either of those reasons.
Fortunately, Kasumi had given him a perfectly valid reason to keep her here. “Yes, you are right, Kasumi; I would have been willing to let you go if you’d been married to Ranma. You would have been married and had a protector. That’s different than this crazy idea. I can’t let you go off by yourself.”
Kasumi looked puzzled. “So if I was married to Ranma, it would be ok, but since I’m not married then you won’t allow it.”
Soun’s chest swelled with relief. “That’s right. If you were a married woman your husband could take you wherever he wanted, but you’re not.”
Kasumi’s head dropped. “Yes, father.” She rose gracefully. “I will do as you order, father.” She turned and padded softly from the room.
Soun let out a long sigh and looked at Shikarou. “I don’t care how good a mage she might be, she stays here. Is that understood?”
“Yes, Tendo-san. She is yours to command.” Soun nodded his dismissal and Shikarou rose and left.
Shikarou hopped up onto the roof and looked at Dorothea as Ranma raced up as well. “What was all the tumult?”
“My lord, there was an intruder and when I approached to intercept her, she tried to poison me and I was forced to defend myself from her.”
Ranma was poking at a handful of black petals that lay strewn all over the rooftop. “Kuno Kodachi.” She glanced up. “She’s a pest who wants to marry my guy type.”
Shikarou laughed quietly. “Do you have any normal friends?” Ranma gave him an annoyed look.
Dorothea glanced at her Tamer. “I was mindful of thy injunction against hurting humans, so I used thunderbolt and whirlwind but I aimed to miss her.” She gave him a rueful smile. “I am afraid I was a little too zealous and almost knocked her out.” She flushed. “And then I forgot where we were and I hit her with a pokeball. It was of course, ineffective and she fled at that point. I believe that she took the pokeball with her.”
Shikarou laughed again. “You did well, Dorothea.”
Ranma was staring at him oddly. Shikarou raised an eyebrow. “Problem?”
She shook her head suddenly. “Um, no.” She hopped off the roof and disappeared inside.
“There goes a very strange individual.”
“My lord, she is not strange, she is confused. Ranma is not really used to being female and this is the first time the girl type has seen thee without illusion.” She smiled slightly. “You can be a little overwhelming.”
He cocked an ear. “So, do you find me overwhelming?”
Dorothea moved to lean her shoulder against his. “My lord, in truth, I do. Thou are a presence that I am always aware of, even if I cannot see thee. My sisters feel the same, they know about thy presence if thou are close to them.”
“Pythia says that a lot of it appears to be pheromonal in nature. She says that thou smell ‘warm and yummy’.” She flushed slightly in the moonlight. “In truth, each of us has something that carries thy scent and it brings us comfort.”
“Is this where my clothes keep disappearing to?”
“It is, my lord. Whoever is laundress will put out some of thy clothes for the harem and they are exchanged for items in which thy scent has faded.”
“It’s nice to solve that little mystery.” He chuckled. “I suppose it won’t get my kimonos back any sooner but at least I know they’re being held hostage for a good reason.”
“Indeed they are.” She slipped her arm through his. “When I first came to the harem I was unsure that thou would be a good Tamer for me, but I have come to understand that thou are indeed a good man, a selfless man who helps all around him regardless of their status.”
Shikarou flushed. “No, I’m not. I’m just trying to make my way through the universe with as low a body count as possible.”
She shook him gently. “Lord, thou have never turned down a true appeal for thy help, even if, like Kasumi, the person was unable to make the request. Thou have suffered harm and loss in each case and yet thou will gird thy loins to answer the next call. In many ways, lord, we are kindred spirits, and there is much that I have learned from thee about what help is important.” She rested her head on his shoulder.
“I am shamed to admit that I believed that only the truly world spanning evils were suitable for challenge, but I now understand that if the small evils are checked, the truly awful evil will be checked in the doing, keeping it from harming many more than it would if allowed to grow.”
Shikarou shook his head. “I’m not like that. I kill at the drop of a hat. Sometimes even before that.”
“Thou are indeed ruthless and cold when thou thinks it necessary, but thou are warm and loving to thy friends and generous to those in need.” She rubbed her cheek against his shoulder. “Perhaps thou do kill much more quickly than I would, but I cannot fault thee for thy choices of who should die.” She lifted her head and gave him a frown. “Sometimes I have to review the after action recordings to actually agree with thee but still, I do.”
“So, why do you think that Svetlana put you in my harem?”
The Seraph’s eyes twinkled. “No Celestial would understand thee without knowing thee intimately, but in that intimacy they would be lost. The other Celestials see us Seraphs as single minded and easily guided, but in truth they are as prone to self deception as we.”
“Well, there is that whole grand crusade thing your species tends to go on.” He frowned. “Why haven’t you done that?”
“I have, my lord. I have seen what Pythia sees and I agree with her that this threat is world spanning in its capacity for violence and destruction and I am working with her to ensure that thou are ready for what must come.”
“Can you tell me what you saw?”
“No, my lord, it is forbidden. I can tell thee that without thy aid, the Blue League would become a sinkhole devouring happiness and joy and eventually life itself. This would eventually spread to the rest of the world, consuming both the good and the evil without pause until nothing living remained.”
“My, what a pretty picture you paint.”
“It is thy job and ours with thee to stop this event from taking place.”
“Do we live through it?”
“I do not know, my lord. That information is closed to me and, I suspect, Pythia as well.” She looked down. “Someone approaches the main gate.”
Shikarou and his Seraph watched as a small group of people came up and one of them rang the bell, waited a few seconds, and rang it again. A light came on in Kasumi’s room.
Dorothea tightened her grip on his arm. “Do thou think that they are here because of what I have done this night?”
“No, I can hear their tone from here and the mutterings sound more fearful than angry.”
“Do thou wish to approach and determine their desires?” Dorothea watched his face carefully.
“It’s not my house.” Shikarou sighed. “However, let’s change vantage points in case someone heads for the tent.” He swept her legs out from under her and lifted. “You can keep me company.”
She giggled and wrapped her arms around his neck as he ran for the rear of the property.
Shikarou smashed into the rock wall of the arena and bounced forward to land on his feet. The cracks around the impact point began to shrink as the magic of the room instituted repair procedures. He grinned and rushed forward.
A moment later, Ranma Saotome crashed into almost the same spot and slid to the ground. He groaned and picked himself up, shaking his head and spitting blood from his mouth. Once again the cracks began mending as he swayed for a second before trotting forward, raising his hands to a ready position.
In the stands, Akane leaned over to Branwyn. “Shikarou is very good. I’ve never seen Ranma have to work this hard.”
The Unicorn nodded. “Your fiancé isn’t bad either. We’ve had to work in teams to give Shikarou that much of a workout if we’re using straight martial arts.” She glanced at her timepiece. “Twenty four minutes of nonstop fighting. I think they’ve earned a good hot soak.” She sat up straight as Circe’s mind touched hers. Soun Tendo would like to meet with Shikarou at his earliest convenience. “Well, Ranma should at least get one.” Akane looked at her curiously.
Tell him twenty minutes. “Hold!” Ranma and Shikarou disengaged at her yell. “Ranma, your father and Soun are back and Shikarou, Soun wants to meet with you as soon as you’ve cleaned up.”
Soun and Genma had left with the townsfolk who’d disturbed them in the early morning hours and hadn’t returned until now, which was late morning.
Shikarou stuck out his hand and Ranma grinned, took it, and threw Shikarou over his shoulder at the rock wall. His expression changed to shock as the kami didn’t let go and used his momentum to throw Ranma ahead of him. The impulse stopped Shikarou’s flight and Ranma smashed into the rock wall one last time.
Akane laughed evilly. “He deserved that.” She put on a contrite look. “I should go and see to his injuries.” She chuckled and headed down the steps into the arena proper.
Branwyn jumped down to the arena floor and trotted over to her Tamer as he stripped off his sodden tunic. “You might want to put that back on unless you want to annoy your opponent.”
“Akane’s seen chests before.”
“Yes, but she’s still watching yours and eventually Ranma will notice.”
Shikarou took her arm. “Then whisk me off to the bath so I can clean up.” His ears canted sideways. “I’ll understand if you have to return and guide them out.”
Branwyn snorted. “Elizabeth, show our guests out.” The Vampire nodded as they vanished.
A short time later, Shikarou sipped tea with a tired and visibly rattled Tendo Soun. He frowned. “I am one of the local civic leaders here in Nerima and I am called upon when there is trouble that the local officials cannot handle without my help.” He looked into his cup. “Last night they came to me because they’d found a corpse. You understand how unsettling that is.”
Shikarou did. The dead, when not properly taken care of with Buddhist rites, were where vengeful spirits came from in Japanese society. “I do. From your expression, it was more than unusually unpleasant.”
Tendo shuddered. “This is something I can’t figure out and I’d like you to look at it and try to tell me what happened. There will be an autopsy, but they are holding the body for a brief time so I can bring in an expert.” He fixed Shikarou with an unhappy look. “Will you do this for me?”
“I will. When can I see the body?”
“I’ll send for a policeman to take you there right now.” Soun rose to his feet. “I am in your debt for this.”
Shikarou nodded. “Send for your policeman.”
The coroner leaned against the cabinet and watched as the policeman led in Tendo’s “expert”. His private opinion of these outside experts was very low, but orders had come down based on the esteem in which the Tendo family was held. His private opinions were to remain private unless this expert screwed up by the numbers. He pushed away from the cabinet and gestured towards the sheet covered body. “There she is. The file is next to it.”
Shikarou could almost feel the dislike pouring from this man in waves, but he wasn’t here to make friends. “Are the recorders on?”
Shikarou nodded and pulled on some rubber gloves for show. He lifted the sheet and stripped it away.
The young woman was strangely flat and looked obscenely half-melted, bulging around the openings in her clothes. The coroner snorted in disgust as Shikarou poked an arm with his finger and watched it flex around his touch.
Shikarou wandered around the body, leaning close and looking intently as he did so, but careful not to touch anything. “Her valuables weren’t taken, were they?”
“No.” The coroner’s sneer deepened. “What do you think killed her?”
“She died of suffocation.” The coroner blinked at Shikarou’s statement. “Her bones have been removed without disturbing the rest of the body and you can’t breathe if you can’t expand your ribcage.” He looked up. “Bloodwork may show no calcium in her system at all.”
The coroner took a deep breath. “We haven’t gotten the bloodwork back yet. What could have done this?”
“It was probably either a demon or a vengeful spirit. If it was a demon there may be a puncture wound somewhere, I’d suggest checking down the throat or inside the anus or vagina if it’s not external.”
“Why would there be a puncture?”
“Demons often need the symbolism of being able to suck things out of the body to perform this kind of act. If they don’t have the right extractive body parts then a demon would usually fillet the body to get the bones.”
“And a vengeful spirit?”
“She would suck the bones out through the skin.” Shikarou sniffed the body. His tongue gave her cheek a tiny lick. Too many people had handled it. “When the next body is discovered it would be helpful if I went to the crime scene before it’s moved.”
“You think there will be another killing?”
“A creature like this will continue to hunt until it is stopped. If it’s a demon, it either needs the calcium to survive or to reproduce. If this is the first body, it’s just getting started.”
“What if it’s a spirit? How can we tell the difference?”
“If all the bodies have something in common, it’s likely they were taken by a vengeful spirit. Unfortunately, we won’t know what the commonality is and it could be something behavioral or situational instead of physical. The best way to tell will be a surviving witness. A dead one will be almost as good, but I’d prefer living, even if eyewitnesses are unreliable.” He glanced up. “I presume the authorities aren’t equipped to combat either. I’m staying at the Tendo dojo.”
Pythia put down her chopsticks. “What do you think is behind the attack?” Conversation at the dinner table ground to a halt as pokegirls turned to listen.
“I suspect a demon did this. I’ve seen this kind of attack before.” He glanced around and raised his voice. “Gather round.” Members of the harem jumped up and settled down around him.
Stardust sat down on one side and Circe on the other. Each of them took his hand as he started to speak. Their antennae waved gently as they began feed the memories his words stirred up into the assembled pokegirls.
“It was while I was serving the Empress. There had been a report of some mysterious deaths in a village and I happened to be in the region and was ordered to investigate.”
The kirin landed easily and looked over his shoulder at the rider. “The night comes and I must return to the palace before sundown.”
Shikarou slid off his back and grabbed his pack. “I know. I won’t be able to call you for a week. We’ve only been doing this for a decade.”
“You always remember. Some of the other guardsmen aren’t as bright as you so I’ve gotten into the habit of reminding everyone.” The kirin snorted and blew snot. It just barely missed Shikarou, who glared.
“That’s not an amusing habit, either.” He dropped his pack and grabbed his studded leather armor from where it rode on the back of the saddle. He shrugged it on and waited for the familiar chilly-clammy feeling to pass as it warmed up. “Go on, Dobbin.”
The kirin favored him with an unfriendly look. “I still say that sounds like an insult.”
Shikarou grinned as he shrugged into his pack. “I still say nothing.” He watched the kirin launch into the air and do a lazy circle. “Fuck!” He leaped out of the way and ran, dodging as the kirin pissed and tried to hit him with the stream. Eventually, the creature ran dry and flew off laughing.
“Horses. Give them magic powers and they’re still dumber than what they excrete.” Shikarou did one last check to ensure he was urine free and hopped into the tallest tree around to check the area.
Nothing. The village was several miles away and far from sight. He dropped to the ground and ran, enjoying the feeling of the wind in his face as he hit his stride. He raced through the underbrush and laughed as he jumped over a startled deer. Just because, he turned back and jumped over her a couple more times as she ran before returning to his previous course.
A mile from the village, he changed direction and headed up the highest ground he could find where he jumped into another tree for a look at where the trouble was supposed to be.
He sobered as he looked over the village. It was midday and the fields were empty and the chimneys spewed no smoke. The wind was blowing between him and the village, so he couldn’t smell anything wrong. Dropping down, he circled downwind of the village.
He was mildly surprised not to smell the reek of blood, but the familiar stench of death filled his nostrils. Death and something else. Something that made his ears go flat and caused his lips to pull back from his teeth in a soundless snarl.
He thought briefly about stealth, but decided on another path. Moving around to the road, he headed into the village at walk, singing a bawdy song about an indiscrete wife and her encounter with a friendly tanuki.
He’d reached the part about how the tanuki had convinced the woman to swim with him and was busy filling her with righteous indignation (and something else) against her lazy husband when he came across the first body.
It reminded him of nothing more than a boned chicken wearing a kimono. He leaned down and pushed on the face. It was like squeezing an overripe plum.
His ears rotated as he sank to one knee. Nothing. This village was inhabited only by the dead and if they were all like this one, gruesome dead indeed.
Then he heard the scrape of claws against porcelain coming from behind him. He whirled and hopped backwards in one motion.
It was a good thirty feet long and its many legs made the first impression one of a gigantic centipede. A second look showed the fanged maw and the green glow emanating from the body as it scuttled towards him. It arched a stinger over its back and hissed as it advanced. Shikarou jumped onto a nearby roof and watched it come. “That’s it, come get your meal.” He crouched down and backed up as, without losing speed, it began to climb the wall.
When the head appeared above the roof, Shikarou drew his sword and struck in one fluid motion. Mouthparts flew in an arc away from the demon in a spray of yellow ichor. He took one step forward and struck again, carving deep into the demon’s head. It hissed again and backpedaled. Another step, another strike. The top of the head toppled off and the creature went into convulsions.
Pain exploded through his right shoulder and immediately something felt wrong. Shikarou screamed and threw himself forward and off the stinger of the second demon, falling on top of the dying one. He rolled underneath it as he controlled the pain. The second demon stabbed again, this time piercing its mate.
Shikarou ran. A glance at his right shoulder showed it partially deflated and a check showed the arm refused to work. He sheathed his sword as he ran and glanced back. The demon was consuming what it could from its mate, who shriveled like plastic in the blast of a blowtorch. He ran faster.
His shoulder settled into a throbbing which told him that the healing had begun. He skidded to a stop and turned to see that the creature was now pursuing him. Not wanting to close until his shoulder healed, he headed out into the fields, bounding from dike to dike.
The creature slithered after him, making good headway with its multiple legs. As his shoulder started working, Shikarou angled back towards the village. This time, he kept alert as he jumped onto the nearest rooftop and leapt from one to the next and into the center of the village.
There he turned to face his pursuer. It eased into view, traveling at the same speed, one he suspected it could keep up for days. He cast lightning on it and watched the spell hit and get absorbed without effect. A fireball had the same effect, although a pall of smoke began to drift from the rice paddy it was in when he hit it.
He began to cast spells on himself. The first was haste. Others reinforced his armor and made him resistant to venom. When he was done, he advanced on the demon. It slowed and raised its stinger. Suddenly it struck.
Shikarou blurred to the side and amputated the stinger. The creature scuttled backwards and dropped its hindquarters before raising its head and heading towards him.
He stepped forward and it raised its regenerated stinger and attacked. With an oath, Shikarou bounded over the stinger and cut, slicing deeply in the creature’s abdomen. He landed next to it and cut again. The creature hunched away from his attack and began to rotate its body to reach him. His sword blurred and yellow liquid sprayed in a fountain as he chopped the creature in half.
He stopped and wiped his eyes clear. The creature’s halves moved and tried to crawl away. He began chopping off legs as he planned his next move.
To kill the creature, he ended up leveling a couple of houses and cremating the demon on a pyre built from the rubble. Then he burned the other creature and the bodies of the villagers.
Before he left the village, he swept it carefully, finding the monster’s nest and almost fifty eggs, one for each dead villager. He smashed them and burned that hut as well.
His eyes opened and he looked around slowly as people began to stir. “That is what I faced. Hopefully whatever is here isn’t that powerful.” He rubbed his jaw slowly. “I’m older and more powerful now, so I may be able to more easily kill something like that, but I didn’t enjoy finding an empty village and I don’t want to do it again.” He glanced at a smiling Dorothea. “Don’t say a word.” Her smiled grew and she winked.
“The creatures I faced were resistant to magic and immune to nonmagical weapons. Fire only affected them after they were sectioned and you saw how it absorbed my spells.” He sighed. “A pair of those creatures here would kill everything they ran across and breed like lice.”
“I don’t know if the first creature was trying to bite me or if it was trying to get into position to use its stinger when I attacked it. The second only tried to stick me.”
“If there is something out there like what I faced, it has to be destroyed. It sucked the bone from my shoulder in seconds. I don’t want that to happen to any of you.”
“If we face any creatures like those, only flying pokegirls will engage. Everyone else will evacuate to here and prepare to defend the walls if the creatures approach. They’re not fast, but they are determined. The Tendos and the Saotomes will be your first priority, which means that anyone who stands and fights will have to deal with me afterwards if we survive.”
“I don’t know how well or even if your pokegirl techniques will work on them, but if the opportunity arises, give it a try. However, only use ranged attacks.”
He pushed to his feet. “I will repeat this for the sake of clarity. The Tendos and the Saotomes are your first priority. The evacuation of noncombatants is your second. I am not one of your priorities. If I have to die to destroy this threat, then you will let me. Demons are not something to take lightly and I have not trained you in the ways to hunt them.”
He glanced around. “And you will not join me in death. Your job is to protect the targets I have assigned and get word to Faelan if that becomes possible.” He smiled slowly.
“I have reason to believe that whatever happens I will survive. I won’t explain that statement, you’ll just have to take me at my word. In any case, I do not intend to stuff myself down the creature’s gullet and try to choke it to death from the inside. So there had better be no stupid heroics to try to save me. If one of you dies trying to save my life, I won’t be able to kill you myself, but I will be very put out.”
There was a low chuckle from Nanu. “We will, of course, only obey your orders as long as you stay out of trouble.” Several pairs of eyes watched the conversation intently.
“She’s right.” Bellona touched his hair. “You are our paramount priority, no matter what you order.” She shuddered. “I will not be given up to the next available Tamer. It doesn’t help that there is only one person who knows what a Tamer is, other than you, and if he’s like the Ranma we’ve met, I’ll pass.”
She smiled softly. “It is true that we are your pokegirls. And for once we have a Tamer we want. You.” There was a growl of agreement. “You’ve allowed us to have a choice and we are not going to let you take that choice away from us. We fight with you or you don’t fight.”
Branwyn nodded. “We will live or die together. You made the mistake of making us a family. Now you have to live with it.”
Shikarou threw up his hands. “Is anyone going to be reasonable?”
Stardust shook her head. “We will if you will.”
He sighed. “So be it. I gave you choice and I can’t take it back now just because it’s inconvenient for me. If I could, I would.”
Dorothea nodded. “So would we.”
Two days later a second body turned up. The police believed they could handle it and didn’t call the Tendo residence. The next day, another one was found. The body count had reached twelve when the local police chief became desperate enough to call on Tendo Soun.
Soun sent for Shikarou, who agreed to investigate the site of the latest attack. Branwyn went with him and Lorelei, Dorothea, Yushiko, Pythia and Circe flew patrols overhead, staying high enough to be hard to see. Yushiko and Dorothea stayed close to the other pokegirls in case a teleport deployment was required.
The latest body was in a small park. Another female, her hair was a bright fan that glinted in the morning sun. She wore a jogging suit which bulged and flattened as her corpse settled after her skeleton had been removed.
There weren’t any new scents and the police had searched the area, destroying any marks that Shikarou could have used. He leaned over and pressed his lips to her forehead, touching his tongue to her skin. Sitting up, he signaled that police could remove the body and turned to the files from the other deaths.
He flipped through each of them and then settled down for a more detailed perusal.
Aggie threw up an overlay on his vision. Here is Nerima. Now watch as I plot the bodies chronologically, according to time of death instead of when the police found them. Flashing yellow dots appeared. If you plot them as a group, the epicenter is here. A series of lines appeared, connecting the deaths and radiating from a central point. The convergence was inside a building. To their credit, the police searched this and found nothing.
Now watch. The first four deaths, plotted over time. Four of the dots turned red and new lines radiated out. They converged on the bank of a pond, in a park. The next six deaths. Dots changed to blue and more lines appeared. These converged on a different park, near a pond. The last two deaths. These flashed green. Lines went out from them. While a third death would probably give you a location, the first two calculated lairs were within six miles of the deaths associated with them. An area flashed cyan. This area has a park with a pond and is within the average range of the first two lairs. All of the lairs should be checked for eggs or offspring. All of the deaths took place at night. Since it is early morning, it is likely that the creature is in its lair.
Shikarou nodded. “Download that to my handheld.” He looked at Branwyn, who was staring at him in shock. She’d heard Aggie over her twee. “Useful, isn’t she?”
She shook off her astonishment and glanced up as she relayed information to Circe. “Are we taking the police?”
“I don’t see where we have much choice. I think they’ll be angrier if we don’t take them then if we do and a bunch of them get eaten.” He rubbed an ear. “The big problem will come when we tell them if they decide that we aren’t going with them at all. Then a bunch of them get eaten, we get blamed somehow, and the creature probably moves again.”
“What can we do?”
“It’s not our city and it’s not our world. We record every conversation with anyone to show exactly what’s going on. That is just about all we can do, other than talking to Soun and hoping he can get us involved.” His ears flicked halfway back and eased forward. “If we are disinvited to the party, then we’ll set up surveillance and try to track the demon after it eats the police, as long as the police don’t make it too hazardous for us to attempt.”
“What would do that?”
“Helicopters and jet fighters sound like a very good reason to be circumspect. Woolgathering isn’t going to get the job done. Let’s go find the sergeant so I can argue with him about seeing the captain.”
Shikarou looked out over the park and at the tiny lake in its center. “So this is the first lair.”
“So what do you think the police are doing right now?”
He shrugged. “Circe reported that the soldiers with the flamethrowers haven’t arrived yet, so I doubt they’re going in.”
Branwyn nodded. “Do you think flamethrowers will kill the demon?”
He flashed a grin. “I never had a flamethrower to experiment with. Some demons are vulnerable to extreme heat while others love it. Since I haven’t seen this demon, I don’t know. I guess the after action reports will tell.”
He rose. “Follow the plan.”
The Unicorn nodded. “Just like with the Widow, I’m your backup. Be careful.”
Shikarou nodded and headed into the park with all senses at full alert. It was overcast and there were only a few people in the park. He was most concerned about a mother and her child who were floating a toy boat in the lake but so far the scene remained harmless.
Carefully he searched the park until he reached the lake. He sniffed and sneezed. There was an acrid odor coming from the lake itself, faint but distinct. The creature may have laired in the lake itself. I’m going to have to go in.
Across the park Branwyn stiffened. I can still retrieve you, but I won’t be able to see you. Be very cautious, my love.
Shikarou waved at her in acknowledgment as he cast the water breathing spell. He summoned his sword and scabbard and tucked them into his belt before wading into the lake. The woman watched before grabbing up her child and the boat and fleeing.
The water was very clear and Shikarou began a careful exploration of the depths. He found the seven egg cases embedded in some brush that had probably been dumped to give fish some cover. Have Circe contact the captain on the scene and tell him to look in the lake. Some hand grenades might chase the demon out or we could be invited to help.
He drew his sword and stabbed the closest egg. It split open and a greenish cloud spread in the water. It was very acidic and burned his nostrils when he breathed. Quickly he stabbed the other eggs, watching with a cheerful smile as they burst.
He hiked to the surface and looked at his wife as he dripped on the sidewalk. “Let’s move on to the next lair and then I think that we will drop in on the police and see how they are faring against the demon.”
“Um, they said they didn’t want our help.”
“I remember. I also remembered that I don’t care.”
Branwyn stopped in mid-step. “I see. Is there any reason for this sudden burst of memory?”
“They don’t have any authority over me unless I let them. I’ve decided I’m not willing to do that.”
She grinned suddenly. “All right! So we take on all comers?”
“That’s what we do in the Blue League. Why stop just because we happen to be somewhere else. They’re going to get massacred without our help and even though they are too stupid to realize it doesn’t mean I’m going to let them have all the fun.” He smiled. “I’m kami and they’re not. Even though I’m no longer oath-bonded to the Empress, I still help if needed.”
“Even if the humans don’t want it?”
Circe appeared and took his hand. “The army has arrived and taken over the scene. They’re still deploying their units and aren’t ready to face the demon.”
“How are the police?”
“Grumpy.” Circe looked at Branwyn. “See you in a few minutes.” Branwyn nodded as they vanished.
They appeared next to the lake. Shikarou looked around as Circe vanished again to take up station at 1000 ft. He glanced around. The Japan Ground Self Defense Force had been the ground arm of the Japan Self Defense Force since the 1950s. Unit flashes identified these soldiers as members of one of the Special Forces units based here in Nerima.
A policeman saw him first. “You there, get away from there!”
Shikarou grinned. “No!”
“Come here!” The policeman waved imperiously.
He shook his head. “You come here! I’m done yelling!”
The policeman stormed over. “I gave you an order.” He froze and stared at Shikarou’s ears.
“I am kami and I am here to fight the demon that’s in the lake.” He smiled and the cop shuddered as fangs gleamed. “If you behave, I may let you help. Now why don’t you tell your superior that I’m here and I’m proving uncooperative so someone else will take responsibility for dealing with me and you can go do something fun.”
The policeman blinked and gave a shy smile. “That would be satisfactory to me.” He turned and trotted off.
Shikarou watched the lake as he waited, glancing at the sun. “It’s going to be dark in a little while. I want to face the demon in the sunlight if possible. Sometimes they become more powerful at night.”
Branwyn’s voice sounded in his ears. “How are you going to get it out of the water?”
“The eggs are pretty soft and a good shockwave should destroy them. That should piss it off.”
A JGDSF major followed by two troopers came up. “You there!”
Shikarou flicked his ears. “You yelled?”
The major reddened. “You are in a proscribed area. You are under arrest.”
“Don’t you need a policeman to do that?” Shikarou shrugged. “In any case, no, I’m not. I am kami and I’m here to fight the demon. You will just get killed and it would be bad for your karma.” He reached out a plucked a grenade from a soldier’s battledress. “Ah, here’s what I need.” He snatched another one and flipped the pins out.
The major squawked and ran as he released the spoon on one grenade and tossed it into the center of the tiny lake. His troopers quickly gave chase. Two seconds later, the second grenade followed.
There was a muffled thump and the water in the lake shivered. Another thump was followed by bubbles rising to the surface.
Shikarou backed up and waited as non-coms suddenly started bellowing orders and he could hear weapons being charged. Summoning his power, he sank his teeth into his hand and poured blood into two distinct pools.
The water roiled and the demon vaulted onto the shore, bellowing in rage. It was about eight feet tall and was almost as broad again. It wore ancient samurai armor and daisho. His nose said that it was a she as she bellowed again and swung her gaze around the area. Her eyes lit on him and she cocked her head and froze. “You.”
He frowned. “Me?”
“You are kami.” She snarled and drew her weapons. “You seek to hide behind your mortals.”
“That’s an interesting interpretation of the situation since they are behind me.” He summoned his sword. “You have killed mortals without cause and under the law you must stand judgment.”
“There is no law.” She grinned at him. “Join me and give me your seed. Our children will be powerful beyond imagining.”
Shikarou heard a shrill snarl of anger and recognized Branwyn’s voice. “I don’t think my wife approves of you. Surrender.”
“You do not have the power to stop me.” She went into a crouch. “I will suck the bones from your body over and over before I let you die.”
His eyes narrowed, however the formalities needed to be followed. “I am here to take your surrender or take your miserable life. You have offered me your life.” He raised his hand. “I have touched you, smelled you and tasted you. You are mine and I command you to me.”
The pools of blood erupted into vaporous black forms which quickly coalesced into the forms of women from the waist up and nebulous smoke from the waist down. One of them screamed fury at the demoness while the other swirled around behind her. She paled. “You control vengeful spirits? What are you?”
“I am Shikarou, kami of death. Kill her.” The two vengeful spirits attacked at the same time he did.
The demoness fought valiantly but the outcome was never truly in doubt. Soon her head bounced across the sand and the spirits of the two women she had murdered claimed her soul and dissipated on the breeze.
Shikarou bent over and sucked air as Circe landed behind him. “Do you even need us?”
He straightened. “Of course I do. In our world, pokegirls fight, not Tamers. Well, not usually.” He sent his sword away as some soldiers advanced. “Get her swords and scabbards. They’re magical and I am claiming them.”
The weapons leapt into Circe’s arms. “For Yushiko?”
“No, I’m planning on having Yushiko’s weapon’s enchanted. I’m not sure who will end up with these.”
A colonel stopped in front of him. “You are the expert Tendo Soun sent.” He bowed. “Thank you, lord kami. We had snipers try to kill her during your duel and she never even noticed. Fighting her without you would have been a disaster.”
Shikarou’s ears went flat. “It’s a good thing for you she didn’t. I’d have been a little upset if you’d taken my kill.”
A worried look crossed the colonel’s face and vanished. “Well it didn’t, so you have no reason to be angry.”
Shikarou sighed and his ears went up. “The grenades should have finished off the eggs, if there were any; however you’ll need to send down divers to make sure. I’ve already sanitized the other two lairs.”
He stretched and in mid stretch cursed. “When did they get here?” He nodded towards some cameramen and reporters.
“They were here before the fight, lord kami.” The colonel looked amused. “We got your whole victory on film.”
“Fuck.” He took Circe’s hand. “Tent, please.” They vanished.
Name: Urufu, Shikarou
Residence: Caomh Sith, Blue Continent
Security Clearance: Eta
Master Tamer Y
Species Name Level
Alaka-Wham Circe 72
Unicorn Branwyn 59
Milktit Helen 58
Seraph Dorothea 50
Armsmistress Urufu Yushiko 50
Ria Kebi 47
G-Spliced Pythia 47
Vampire Elizabeth 46
Sphinx Lorelei 43
Mini-Top Nanu 41
Blazicunt Marzia 40
Badges: Scotland: Stornoway, Rum Island, Glasgow
Wales: Magicunt Village
Name: Saotome, Ranma
Security Clearance: Delta
Master Tamer Y
Species Name Level
Griffon Kasumi 40
Herochan Shampoo 37
Cheshire Nabiki 35
Angel Rei 29
Megami Usagi 27
Mareen Rain 25