Assault on the Yomi Palace

The Kurunai went in below the radar—not that the youma could have zeroed in on her location to begin with for Hoshi had activated the ship's built-in stealth system. It moved invisible, undetected by the various flying demons that were more focused on annihilating the human fleet anchored off the shores of the black fortress. It was this fortress that the Kurunai made headway for. Hoshi at the helm, the ship penetrated the outer perimeter and came on fast.

Still invisible, the ship's side hatch opened up. Standing at the entrance was Ishimura Yori clad in her high-tech battlesuit. She glanced once over her shoulder before taking a dive. Not far behind her was Hoshi, donning a black ninja gi, who followed with a leap of her own. The hatch closed automatically and the ship veered off—now with Kim Possible at the helm. The redhead wished the two kunoichi good luck before veering off to a safe(er) vector, away from the battle.

Now plummeting, Yori and Hoshi closed in on the fortress from above. They were completely exposed and vulnerable, but Hoshi had made it so their velocity would carry them fast toward their destination, hence they moved like rockets rather than slow-moving targets. She also made that they would be very close when they made the improvised halo jump. There wasn't much time to slow down and certainly no room for error.

Her visor up, Yori used it to scan the landing zone. She could make out the bodies of numerous dead youma scattered around the summit. No doubt Saito and his elite agents had been through here. They were nowhere in sight, which means they had a head start that Yori could not tolerate. With too much ground to make up and little time to do it, she practically willed herself to fall faster.

"Yori!" Hoshi's voice carried very little over the rushing of wind but Yori managed to hear her voice and spot the source of the freelancer's distress. A couple of youma, winged worms with long, segmented bodies, had seen them and were moving up to intercept. Their faceless maws were round with rows of sharp teeth. One of them had nearly reached Yori and opened wide. Yori would have smiled were she not so intent on finding Saito. Right now she was too focused and this worm, this obstacle, was in her way.

Yori summoned the fantastic, blue-metal blade her brother provided with the suit. Invisible on her person, it returned to the visible spectrum once in Yori's hand. As the creature came in for the kill, it found the situation reversed and the only thing being diced was demon-flesh. Yori sliced right through its mid-section, sending a pool of entrails following her the rest of the way down. The ninja landed with bits of demon blood and flesh on her armor. The unfortunate worm crashed to the ground behind her, writhing in its death throes before coming to a standstill.

Yori turned her attention upward. She wasn't the least bit surprised to see Hoshi looking after herself. She had managed to, somehow, mount the demon. Riding on its back as she was, the demon was able to turn its upper body, which lacked a spine, all the backward to snap at her. Hoshi revealed a blade which she used to fend off the creature's attacks. When she had had enough, Hoshi jumped off and sliced off a wing in the same motion. With one wing missing, the creature was unable to keep itself airborne and it too plummeted to the ground. Nimble Hoshi caught herself on an upraised rock, twisting in one fluid motion before jumping and landing not that far from Yori.

The demon was still very much alive and in pain. When it crashed it squirmed as green blood splattered from the stump where its wing had once been. Enraged, the head, or rather the maw, turned to regard the two ninja and it screamed before moving toward them.

"You want this one?" Hoshi asked.

"I believe this is your kill."

That's all the confirmation Hoshi needed and she sprung into action. Her ponytail swayed behind her as she charged toward the worm. Its maw came down at her with blinding speed, only missing her by centimeters as she dodged out of the way. Coming up, Hoshi turned, sword drawn, moving in for the kill. The worm brought its maw back up, though instead of a repeat of the attack, it launched its tail at her instead. The whip-like gesture would have bent her in two if it connected. If it connected.

Hoshi saw it coming and jumped right over it. She ducked as the tail came at her in an overhead swing and moved out of the way when it came crashing to the ground. Spinning, Hoshi came up, blade at the ready, looking for an opening. The maw came at her again only it was not to bite her. A stream of acidic liquid burst forth from one of its internal glands. The girl's grey eyes widened, but she managed to dodge the lethal spray just in time. The ground she was one burned noticeably.

No sooner had she moved when the creature launched its wing at her in a lethal cross. Hoshi jumped back but caught the tail-end of the blow, forcing her back. She landed hard but rolled with the impact, coming up with a flip that had her back to a rock and the creature looming before her. Like something out of a nightmare, the worm reared up to its full height, maw glistening with more of the deadly acid.

Wall at her back, Hoshi prepared herself. This creature was fast despite its size and remarkably deceptive. It used every part of its serpentine body as a weapon and with enough strategy to differentiate itself from just another savage best. That acidic spray gave it a ranged advantage as well, making Hoshi's job all the more difficult. She had ranged weapons, but none strong enough to penetrate the creature's thick hide.

She will just have to improvise.

The creature covered the distance between them in one easy gesture. The maw fired another lethal dose of venom at the ninja. Hoshi ducked and rolled under the attack, moving just in range of the creature's maw. This is just what it wanted. Still kneeling, Hoshi looked up to see the maw coming down on her fast. She had just enough time to steel herself for when the head came down. There was a loud crash. Hoshi vanished beneath the maw. It came back up cradling the struggling girl behind its teeth.

Hoshi was stretched spread-eagle; her arms and legs trying to keep the creature from closing its mouth. It was a funny predicament were it not that Hoshi was fighting for her very life.

Acidic remnants started to creep toward her appendages. Hoshi fought the urge to retract her arms and legs for she knew that if those teeth came down she was done for. She grit her teeth as elements from the acid came into contact with her person. Bearing it no longer, Hoshi began to growl her frustration.

Suddenly the creature's mouth came wide open, offering Hoshi the chance to escape. She took it. Leaping through those deadly teeth, she barrel-rolled on the ground. Still steaming from the acid, Hoshi turned and in one swift motion, sliced open the creature's stomach.

As its insides spilled out, the creature unleashed one more acidic stream at the ninja. Hoshi moved, in no mood to come in contact with that substance again, and came around the side, watching with more than her share of satisfaction as the worm died. When its body went still, Hoshi spotted Yori, her adamantine sword protruding from the worm's back, regarding her. She deactivated her visor, showing a face that was more stoic than Hoshi was used to seeing on the kunoichi.

"I thought you said it was my kill."

"It was. But you were taking too long and we have no time to waste." Removing her blade from the hide of the worm, it vanished once it came into contact with Yori's armor. She moved to Hoshi with a scrutinizing gesture. "You seem to have a habit of biting off more than you can chew."

Hoshi's gi was smoking from where parts of the acid had touched her. She removed the cowl of her gi and glowered at Yori. "Tell it to that guy." She pointed at the worm. "He's the one who's dead. Sides, I was handling it."

"More like being handled by it. Had I not interfered you would be dead."

Proud as she was, Hoshi had to admit that Yori came through in the nick of time. Between the worm's jaws and the acid, she was stuck between a rock and a hard place. "Look. I'm not used to saying this." Hoshi bit her lip. "Thanks."

Yori turned away.

"Hey!" Yori was walking toward the fortress when Hoshi spat out. "I'm being grateful here. Don't make this more demeaning than it already is."

"You have demeaned yourself. You need no help from me," Yori said without looking back.

Her eyebrow curled, Hoshi sighed with realization. She hurried to catch up with Yori. "Look if this is about keeping secrets from you then I'm sorry about that too."

Yori kept walking.

"I was under orders, okay. I wasn't supposed to say anything until we found Kenji."

Yori stopped. "We?" She asked without facing Hoshi.

"The person I work for. I never met him face to face but he's been looking for Kenji. Your father."

This time Yori did look at her.

"I know, Yori. I know about your mission, about Kenji, everything. I was given enough details so that I'd be up to date but it's not like my employer spilled the beans on everything. I was barely able to keep up as it is."

"How do you work for someone you do not know?"

Now it was Hoshi's turn to become incredulous. She crossed her arms beneath her breasts. "Ninja work for questionable clients all the time. You ask why I work for him? Don't you always contact your clients through a third party?"

Winning no argument there, Yori moved on. "What did he tell you about me?"

"Only that you were searching for your father and that I was to help you. I knew that Saito and Kimiko were looking for him as well but my orders were to stick with you. I also knew about your relation to Takashi and Yusuke, though I didn't when I first met them. This information was passed on to me by my benefactor."


Hoshi looked away for a moment. "Let's just say this guy helped me out a lot when I was in big trouble. You could say I owed him. A lot. Anyway," she looked back. "He swore me to secrecy for he feared that if I told you or your brothers what I knew, it could jeopardize the mission. Your father is the key to this whole thing and if the enemy found him before we did…"

"My father's alive?" Yori's eyes widened. "Y-You know this?" Her voice trembled slightly.

"To be honest…we're not entirely sure. Kenji was good at hiding. Had to be if he was able to elude the most powerful man in Japan for nearly twenty years. If he was then we needed to find him before Saito did. When he told me about Kimiko I almost balked at the idea. I knew that girl was trouble from the moment I heard her description. We needed to find out what she knew, which is why I was tailing her."

"But how did you know where to find her? Kimiko was hiding just like my father was."

Hoshi smiled. "I'm good at finding people who don't want to be found." Before Yori could speak again, Hoshi continued. "Now you're going to ask me why I wasn't able to find your dad." Yori shut her mouth. She was right. "But I can't take all the credit. The truth of the matter is that Kimiko wanted to be found. With my benefactor's resources, I was able to track her down to Nagasaki. She attempted to contact Yamanouchi when she sent that letter. I was the ninja she gave it to, believing me to represent the school."

Yori's eyes narrowed.

"Had to play the part or else she'd be suspicious. When I had the letter, I sent it to Yamanouchi as I was told. When I told your brothers about a 'mysterious woman'," she used air quotes. "Asking questions about their sister and inquiring to Yamanouchi about her, they were only too happy to help me investigate. They had no idea you'd be arriving at Nagasaki to check out her story. I can only imagine their surprise when they realized you were their long-lost baby sister."

Yori scowled, recalling how Takashi rated her a ten out of ten after checking her out on the security monitors. She already confronted him about that. "You could have told them beforehand. Really."

"Yeah well between that realization, finding Kimiko and discovering the truth about your father, I think they had other things on their mind to worry about."

"Did you know Saito was setting a trap?"

"I suspected. I always suspect. But no I didn't. Part of the reason I kept in contact with IT…I mean Takashi—Ishimura Takashi, get it?" Hoshi did not know that her brother had revealed to her several things concerning their partnership with Hoshi. That includes…

"Anywho, part of the reason I kept in contact with Takashi was so that in case we were set up, he'd be able to send for help. I thought he'd have Yusuke come to our rescue. I had no idea he'd call Kim Possible."

"She helps people."

"And how. You should have seen that girl in the bunker. She was all like hi-ya, swhoop, ba, zhoosh, sha!" Hoshi accompanied the series of incomprehensible words with assorted gestures.

"I get the idea." Yori signaled for her to stop. Gods if she was going to risk her life with this girl, the least she can do is show some dignity. "All right. You've explained much and I can understand the need for secrecy. But what I want to know is what this benefactor of yours has to gain by all this? Why does he want to find my father?"

Hoshi shrugged. "You got me there."

"So you just followed his orders knowing you might very well walk into a situation where you would die?"

"Pretty much."

"I should think one with your tendency to survive would see a contradiction in that." Yori paused to consider her statement. Hoshi said something afterward that was lost on her for she was in deep thought. She was thinking of Kimiko when she said that. The assassin's entire life was based around staying one step ahead of her enemies and killing anyone that got in her way. Hoshi was not like that, at least not yet. Why had she suddenly compared the two? Maybe it was her lack of trust. Both women had kept secrets from Yori. Both women had lied to her. She didn't trust either of them anymore. Whatever their reasons, Yori did not like being used like some expendable tool.

But did it give her the right to judge them? Yori was raised in a protected atmosphere with a stern but loving teacher who was the closest thing she had to a father. She had friends, comrades at arms, and a place to call home. What did these women have? Kimiko had given into the life of an assassin, treading a dark path for so long that she'd forgotten how to look up at the sun. Kimiko was a struggling orphan without a home or family to call her own. She was on her way to becoming something akin to Kimiko and even if she didn't know it, Yori could see the darkness stemming from her.

Yet, she needed both in order to defeat Saito and maybe find her father. How could she do that if she couldn't trust them? Perhaps trust was not the right word. Necessity, maybe. She needed them as much as they needed her. At least they were fighting the good fight. Yori was not arrogant enough to believe she could redeem the two for each chose her own path. But if she could show them that somewhere deep inside they were still good women, then the victory she obtained here would be greater than plunging her sword into Saito's heart.


She blinked twice. "Huh?"

"You didn't hear a word I said, did you?" She sighed. "And her I was exposing my soul to you. Let me say it again."

Yori came out of it. "Later, Hoshi." She turned towards the flight of stairs leading to the temple summit. "We must stop Saito before he uncovers the truth behind Fujimori."

"Who's Fujimori?" Now it was Hoshi who blinked her eyes.

Yori stared at her for a long second. That's right. Outside of her father only Saito would know Kenji's connection with Fujimori. Miss Tique had filled in much of the gaps but even she didn't know everything. For once, Yori knew something that Hoshi didn't. Scratch that. She smiled. "Strange feeling being kept in the dark, no?"

Hoshi pouted. "Yori…"

"I will explain along the way. Come." She turned to run with Hoshi right beside her. Out of the corner of her eye she glimpsed the earrings that Hoshi used to keep in contact with her brother. "So how is IT doing?" She asked with a smirk.

"Haven't been able to contact him since we got here. I think this miasma is interfering with our signal. You?"

"Same here. At least Kim can contact him aboard the ship. It has a more powerful transmitter." Then Yori said. "Can you only receive messages with those things?"

"Receive and send. Why?" Hoshi put her mask back on. "What aren't you telling me?"

"Did my brother tell you that they can transmit pictures as well as verbal communications?"

"No. Why?"

"Just asking." Yori flipped her visor back on. She noticed Hoshi had fallen back a little as her mind tried to discern the meaning behind her words.

"Yori, what are you talking about?"

She kept running.

"If it transmits picture does that mean he can see us right now?" There was a pause. "Does that mean he could always see us? Could see…me? Anytime?"

Yori wished there was time to laugh.

"Oh Takashi you sick…"

"Fuck!" Kimiko cried as a bullet grazed the side of her head. The bullet could have easily entered the side of her temple had she not moved just slightly to the left. He was playing with her and she knew it. Red Cochrane, master marksman, was pointing a smoking gun in her direction. The fight had been even so far but what bothered Kimiko most was that this man was no more afraid of her than she was of him. In fact, he seemed to be taking a sick pleasure from the fact that she had yet to lay a blade on him.

That was about to change.

"Ya'll right there, li'l lady?" He asked in that annoying foreign accent of his. Beneath his red-brimmed hat, the marksman was smiling. He was always smiling.

"Worry about yourself, gaijin!" Kimiko launched herself into an air spin. With bullets flying at her courtesy of Red, she used her adamantine fighting knife to deflect the shots. Once she landed within arm's length of her adversary, Kimiko attempted a powerful tornado kick that would remove his smiling head from his tall body. Red pulled his head back just in time, hardly intimidated by the near-fatal assault. Kimiko pivoted on her leg once it hit the ground and she turned, bringing the other one up for a spinning back kick that caught Red square in the chest.

The man went back but did not fall. He brought both his guns up in one second and fired at near point-blank range. Kimiko brought her arms up. The metal bracers deflected the bolts Wonder Woman-style, but still stung her enough that she instinctively pulled back. Red then kicked at her with a long leg. She took the blow in exchange not giving him the distance he would need to really bring those guns to their best effectiveness. Kimiko rolled back, absorbing the blow, then came on up with her knife in her hand.

The assassin let the knife fly through the air. At this range she figured Red wouldn't have time to dodge.

She was wrong. Not only did he spin around the flying blade but one hand was aiming at her from his back. When he turned, the gun opened up, forcing Kimiko to roll away as fast as she could. Her knife embedded itself inside a metal beam twenty feet away.

"Slick one," Red commented. Still holding his gun at his back, he brought the other straight up. "Now dodge this." He released the gun in that hand and another one sprung up from the sleeve of his trench coat. It was an automatic. Kimiko's eyes screamed trouble. Red opened up with a powerful burst and she ran, desperately looking for cover. Before the revolver he dropped hit the ground, Red's foot kicked it up. He spun and when he came back around both revolvers were gone and replaced by automatics. Red peppered the area with bullets, smiling all the way. "Dance for me!"

And dance she did—for her life. Takashi told her that the suit could handle most projectiles but her instinct was not to get hit. Years of training taught her the best block was a dodge. That, and armor no matter how strong could only take so much.

Kimiko ducked behind a crate and caught her breath. "Son of a bitch!"

"Careful. That's my mamma you're speaking of," she heard him say.

"Like I care. Only a bitch would bring an animal like you into this world."

"See now I would take offense to that, 'cept I've read your dossier, Miss Kimiko. Do you even have a last name?"

"What dossier?"

"You've done a lot of bad things. Turns out a lot of folks been hurt by you. Now I ain't no saint myself, but you callin' me a monster is like the proverbial pot callin' the kettle black."

"I don't work for Saito!"

"Well that just means yer on the losin' team, hon. Why don't you come on out and we'll discuss a possible partnership?"

"Eat me."

"Dang." She heard Red say. She also heard something click and dared a peek out. Her eyes widened.

"Had you said 'blow me' this entire situation would have played out just right." Aiming his bazooka, Red clicked his teeth before firing.

Kimiko leaped as far as he could, which wasn't far enough. She was caught in the aftermath of the blast which turned the crate into a steel wreak while she was blown several feet through the air. She hit something hard and metal, she didn't know what, but after sliding down and landing awkwardly on her arm, Kimiko heard, rather than felt, something pop.

Pain wracked her body but like a trained warrior she fought her way through it. Getting up, her legs were working just fine, she dragged herself out of the line of fire. As it stood, Red held the high ground and she didn't want to be out in the open. Who knew what other surprises he had under that coat of his?

Walking through the ruined crate, Red smiled as he watched her retreat through the aisle. "Y'all can run." He raised the bazooka again. "But cha can't hide." His smiled widened as he looked through the scope, narrowing in on her retreating form.

There was nothing technological or supernatural about this fight. Hirotaka and Fukushima exchanged blows like the warriors of old: hand to hand and foot to foot. Fukushima had improved technique since his expulsion, Hiro noticed. At one time he'd have mopped the floor with Fukushima, whose style employed over-aggressive punches that left him wide open for a counterattack, and unbalanced kicks that even a white belt could have dodged. This time he was more cautious, pulling enough force to leave something in reserve for when he needed it. He also kept his arms closer to his body, improving his defense. Fukushima was looking for an opening he could exploit, driving Hirotaka to believe that, despite his noticeable arrogance, Fukushima had learned to take his martial arts seriously for once.

"Give it up, Hirotaka!" He accompanied the taunt with a side kick. "I'm stronger than I was before. You are still wounded from the interrogation. You are no match for me."

"Yet I still hold my ground." Hiro ducked another kick. While improved, Fukushima still relied too much overpowering his enemy with a barrage of assaults. This would tire him out quickly which Hiro hoped to use to his advantage.

"For how long? I will find a way around your defenses eventually. When I do, I will do to you what I did to the outsider and his miserable pet!"

"What are you talking about?" Hiro asked midway through a back flip. He landed Crouching Tiger style, on all fours and his fingers curled like claws.

With a superior smirk on his face, Fukushima continued. "I defeated the outsider. Back in that little hole he and his comrades were hiding in. I confronted him, fought him, and in the end I came out the victor. Back in Yamanouchi he was heralded a warrior-hero. People say he is the new Monkey Master, the inheritor of our founder, Toshimaru, master of Ta Shing Pek Kuar. But I defeated him. Me!" His face turned into that of a grinning mask. "I defeated the best. I bested Master Sensei's prized pupil. You don't stand a chance. Ha!" Fukushima leaped at Hiro. Hiro moved before his fist collided with the back of a crate, breaking right through it.

Still heated, Fukushima removed his hand. "You will see. You will all see. I am Yamanouchi's best student. I will eventually become its master. I will be the greatest ninja this country has ever seen."

"Humility doesn't become you," Hiro said sarcastically.

Turning on him, Fukushima bared his teeth. His arrogance gone, he was angry again. "Don't you mock me! You who follow that old fool around like he's some god of ancient times. He pampered the two of you. You and that…that…bitch, Yori!"

Hiro's eyes grew dark.

Fukushima pointed an accusing finger. "I saw all the special treatment he gave you. All the reassurances while the rest of us had to struggle. I did everything Sensei taught me. I listened. I bowed. I managed to steal sushi from the lunch lady. Yet, nothing I did was good enough. He always favored you and Yori. Then when that outsider came, he showered his praise among him. He was white! An outsider in every sense of the word. How could Sensei even allow this stumbling buffoon through our hallowed gates? Foreigners have always sought our secrets. Japan was a great country before we opened our doors to the West and look what happened. We are weak people now. Lazy. Complacent. Sensei has betrayed our country, our people, everything Yamanouchi stands for!"

"But Saito will restore us," he continued. "Once he takes over Japan and dispels with the filth that has clogged its veins, our country will be great once again. No longer will we have to deal with outsiders like Ron Stoppable." He gagged. "Even the name leaves a bad taste on my tongue. We will push the invaders out. Only then will we deal with the traitors." Fukushima glared vengeance. "And I will personally lead the assault on Yamanouchi. Once Sensei it out of the way, I will lead the next generation of ninja. Our future will be glorious."

"Can you hear yourself, Fukushima? You have mad dreams of empire!"

"My dreams are those of our people!"

"They are the dreams of Saito. And I have news for you, my former peer, men like he do not share power. Do you think he will allow Yamanouchi to continue to exist if he gains control? He will destroy it."

"No! He promised me Yamanouchi."

"Empty promises! He's using you. Why can't you understand that? Have you let your racism and rage cloud your judgment so much you can't see it?"

"I will not listen to a tool." Fukushima charged, leading with a flying front kick.

Hirotaka dodged it. They faced each other.

"All I see is a nail." Hiro waited for Fukushima to strike. The punch was fast and precise, but Hiro was ready for it. He grabbed it and pinched the nerves above and below the elbow. Fukushima cried out. Hiro brought him in close. "And you know what we say about nails in Japan." He flipped Fukushima over, watching as he twirled above the air and smacked against the steel floor. Groaning both from the elbow and the fall, Fukushima stood up. Hirotaka was already flying. "They get hammered!" His foot connected right in Fukushima's face. In addition to blood and teeth, the young man's head went back, carrying his body along with it. He hit the nearest crate hard and crumbled to the ground.

Hirotaka waited for signs that he would get up. He didn't. Hiro had won. But this fight was far from over.

"I suddenly remember why I never liked you," he said over Fukushima's prone form. "You have no honor." With that, Hirotaka left to find his friends.

At the top of the summit, Yori and Hoshi found more demon bodies strewn about.

"We've got our work cut out for us, Yori. I don't think the two of us could have taken out this many bad guys in one fight."

"Saito is accompanied by his best fighters." Seeing the carnage around her, she surmised who they were. "The first one is Kikyu. She's a master of the martial arts. Tae Kwon Do in particular."

"Hence the name. The next?"

Yori hesitated.




"Do not let the name fool you. She is a small child of about six years of age. However, she possesses incredible mental abilities that enable her to move objects with her mind. Not to mention being able to read yours."

"I don't think I want anyone poking around in my head. I've got issues, you know. Last thing I need is someone broadcasting them over the airwaves."

"Hoshi, let me deal with Yo-Yo. My helmet provides me with protection against her mind telepathy. If you fight her she will be able to read your mind and know what you intend to do before you do it."

Hoshi shrugged. "Creepy girl's all yours." Then, "Are you sure you have it in you to hit a kid?"

Yori turned her covered face toward her.

Hoshi raised her hands in apology. "I'm just asking. I know you value the whole honor thing."

"I assure you I will do what is necessary. You just make sure to be careful around Kikyu. From what Takashi told me about her she employs psychological warfare. She will try to distract you, to make you doubt yourself. She also won't hesitate to break a few bones and taunt you while she's at it."

"She'll kill me and then she'll go to work on me. Got it."


"Yori! I know how to take care of myself. I'm no slouch."

"But have you ever killed?"

That shut Hoshi up long enough for her to think about it.

"As I thought. We may be forced to kill. Our enemies will have no such inhibitions. If the situation calls, and it will, are you willing to cross that line, Hoshi?"

"Are you?"

Yori lowered her visor. "Yes."

Silence passed between the two.

"Well in that case," an unseen voice started. Yori was kicked from behind, slamming to the ground right at Hoshi's feet. Hoshi searched for the attacker but needn't look far. A vague image materialized in front of her. It was a woman, Asian, wearing a red catsuit with a black sash. "I won't have to hold myself back like I did with your American friend."

Yori got to her feet. "Kikyu!"

"In the flesh." She glanced at Hoshi. "And who are you?"

"The bitch about to ruin your day."

"Bring it."

Hoshi glanced at Yori. "Get going."


"Scram. Beat it. Go kick some ass." When Yori didn't respond, Hoshi grew exasperated. "I'm giving you the chance to go beat up Saito and save the world. Let me deal with this Power Ranger wannabe."

Kikyu blinked. "Power…Ranger?"

"You cannot face her alone."

"Why? You don't believe in me?"

"It's not that."

"Yori. This is my fight." She motioned toward the entrance. "Yours is in there. You picked up where your father left off. Now it's your turn to finish where he started."

Yori looked to Kikyu and back to Hoshi. The woman she'd be facing was a killer. Yori recalled her duel with Kimiko, a woman used to taking lives. It did not fare well for Yori and she came out of it with a broken arm. Unlike Kimiko, however, Kikyu would not hold back. She would try to kill Hoshi—and quite possibly succeed.

A gentle hand touched her shoulder, causing Yori to turn her indecisive face toward Hoshi. "I'll be fine."

"But Hoshi…"

"Believe in me. That's all I ever ask."

Something in her eyes, those beautiful grey eyes, told Yori all she needed to know about Hoshi's character. Despite all that had happened, she was willing to die…for her. She will die for her. How could Yori possibly deny her that most honorable of sacrifices?

Yori could only steel her heart so much. She couldn't even look at her. "I'm sorry…for all the things I've said."

"You were right. There is more to life than surviving. There's living and I have you to thank for it." Yori looked at her. "The last few days have been the most fun I've had in a long time, Yori. Even with all the fighting, the running, the demons and robots, I can't remember being this happy. I owe it all to you and your brothers, not to mention those interesting friends of yours." She smiled. "I want to continue living so I'm not going to die here and neither are you." She shoved her toward the entrance. "Get going. When this is all over we're going out on the town. Someone's got to show you how to drink Hiro under the table."

With each reluctant step, Yori moved further away from her friend. "Fight well, Hoshi." She clicked on the visor and turned away.

When she was inside, Hoshi regarded the red-clad warrior standing with her hands on her hips. "So? We gonna fight now?"

"Hell yeah."

Kikyu cocked her head sideways. "No secrets here. Take off the mask."

Hoshi had to think about it…for a second. She wanted it that way. Removing her mask, she tossed it to the side. "Name's Hoshi. Half-breed extraordinaire."

"Kikyu. Full-blooded killer." The red woman charged at her.

Hoshi got into fighting stance.

The interior of the fortress was like walking through a haunted house. Wails and groans emitted from every corner. Yori was on edge. The air was chilled here and she could feel her muscles tensing. Not five minutes in when a youma, this one a pink blob that blocked the entire hall, make a gurgling sound before coming at her.

Yori activated her blade. She sliced at the creature only to watch her sword pass harmlessly through it. Like living putty, the wound restored itself. The blob moved in. Yori realized it intended to smother her and backed away. She heard the clicking just in time to duck under a pair of large pincers. Looking back she saw nothing, which is until she looked up. A giant bug with pincers at the end of its thorax was climbing on the ceiling.

"Disgusting." Yori looked back. "Though I know not which is worse."

The blob monster's girth took the whole of the hallway. It was a living wall of oozing flesh and it intended to make a meal out of Yori. The bug-thing continued to snap at her with its tail. She noticed the upper half of the bug had a hundred legs keeping it atop. Venom oozed from the pincers which reminded Yori a lot of the flying worm she helped Hoshi to kill. This gave her an idea.

Ignoring the blob, she focused her attention solely on those deadly pincers. Her sword created a silver arc which displaced one of them from the main body. The bug screeched but did not let up its attack—it only became more determined. Yori ducked its made jabs and went immediately for the severed pincer. Careful not to touch the venom, she turned around to find the blob just a few feet from her. Yori moved in and cried out as a piece of the blob moved to catch her like a pink wave. She dodged it and with the pincer in hand stabbed right into the center of its mass.

At first nothing happened, and Yori feared she may have made a fatal mistake. But she noticed how the blob was no longer coming toward her. In fact, it was no longer pink. The thing had turned a sickly green color. It gurgled something which sounded like pain and began to diminish. Yori's theory about the venom working in her favor was a good one. As the blob melted to half its size, she still had the bug to think about. It attacked her with its last pincer but Yori lopped that one off too. She left a good-sized gash in its thorax as she turned back to the blob. With just enough room to make it, Yori made a daring leap over the green mass, tendrils reaching for her as she did so.

She landed safely on the other side and continued her pursuit of Saito. The monsters were too wounded to give chase.

She noticed how the path descended the further she went along. It seemed that the fortress summit was just for show and that the real seat of power lied within its bowels. The journey continued for untold minutes. Yori was always on the alert for more youma. She found them in the form of twisted corpse-things with spikes where their head should be and long, bony arms. She dispatched them as quickly as possible before moving on.

Winged snouts the size of sheep attacked her next. Yori need only slay one of them before the flock turned on its wounded fellow, devouring it hungrily. A black snake with two heads on each end confronted her after that one. Yori fought her way past it leaving one side completely headless. Not a moment later, a ball of hair bigger than a truck wriggled out of the darkness. Like Indiana Jones, Yori ran as fast as her legs could carry her with the ball in hot pursuit. She just made it over a gap, her hands clasping the end while the ball sailed over the edge and disappeared into the darkness.

"It's a madhouse," she said when she caught her breath. If this keeps up she'll be so out of breath that she'd die of exhaustion before she ever reached the center. Fortune was with her as the rest of her journey was met with no such living perils. Only the occasional pit or dead end. So long as she continued down, Yori was on the right track.

It wasn't long before she spotted monster parts splattered all over the walls and ceiling. She didn't need to guess who was behind this. Yori spotted fresh footprints on the ground—definitely human. There were two, one obviously a man's while the other was the short, soft steps of a little girl.

Yori was close.

She killed another of the flying snouts before reaching what appeared to be the throne room. It was a large platform made of black stone and red tendrils pulsing with raw energy. Below it was an abyss of never-ending dark. The walls writhed with countless demons that, one by one, broke free and made their way above. Yori could see a light at the very top, no doubt where the demons escaped the fortress and into the outside world. Looking around, her stomach felt queasy when she realized this was how the youma were born.

At the center of this platform was what appeared to be a giant egg. In front of that egg were Saito and his tiny female enforcer. Yori's eyes narrowed on Saito the most. He appeared to be wearing some sort of red and black armor similar to what Yori had only more reminiscent of samurai armor. Yo-Yo wore her typical ragged gown with puff-ball shoulders and carrying the doll which looked the same way she did.

Reverting to stealth, Yori made for the platform. Figuring her helmet would prevent her brain waves from being read by Yo-Yo's mind, all Yori had to worry about was putting the little creature out of commission before she turned her full attention on Saito. She was confidant enough that she could defeat Saito if it was the two of them. Yo-Yo was the greater threat.

There was a ten foot gap between the edge of platform and the opening of which Yori exited from. Her legs already enhanced by the battlesuit, Yori had no problem making the leap…only when she landed on the squishy surface of the platform, a trail of red lights went from her feet and toward the egg. Realizing her cover had been blown, Yori could only stand there and watch as the lights reached the center. What sounded like a heartbeat filled the air.

"Welcome to hell." Saito in his red armor, turned to face her. "Ishimura Yori."

Cursing herself for her failure, Yori readied herself for combat by unsheathing her silver blade. "Saito!"

Saito's horned helmet resembled a menacing demon where only his eyes were visible. Even from this distance she could see them glint with glee at the prospect of her arrival. "I like the outfit."

"Step away from the," what was it? "Egg."

"I trust you had no trouble finding me. I had Yo-Yo clear most of the way for your imminent arrival. Though I knew the demons of this palace would be no match for the daughter of Kenji."

"I said step away!"

"As you wish." Saito bowed his head. He took two long steps away from the egg and stopped. "Is this far enough?"

"Further. And tell Yo-Yo to do the same."

"You heard her, Yo-Yo."

The little girl turned around slowly.

"She's shy. I don't think she recognizes you behind that mask. Why don't you take it off and show her the real you?"

"I'm warning you, Saito." With what? What did Yori have over him that could make him do what she wanted? He was only teasing her by obeying her commands thus far. Saito was deadly enough on his own, but with that battlesuit and with Yo-Yo about, her chances of victory were almost nonexistent. Shaking her head of defeatist thoughts, Yori reminded herself of who she was and why she was here. The warrior does not consider defeat. Nor does she consider victory. She lived in the here and now and she would not be distracted by what ifs.

Keeping her sword at the ready, Yori glanced at Yo-Yo. "Yo-Yo. Step away from the egg."

Yo-Yo did not comply.

Yori had half a mind to say 'please.' Even if the girl couldn't read her mind she could still use her other mental abilities to make Yori's life very miserable. As of now she just stared back.

"Do as she says, Yo-Yo. I think Yori has every intention of killing us if we do not comply."

"Kill us?" Her voice squeaked.

"Yes. She wants to kill us."

"I do not want to kill anyone!" Then Yori berated herself for that slip. To admit her inhibitions was to give the enemy power over her. Now that they knew she would hold back, what's to stop them from attacking her in full force?

But they did not attack and Saito kept going as if she had not even spoken. "She wants to kill her, Yo-Yo."

The girl clung to her doll.

"Yes. She wants to kill her," he said over his shoulder.

"No. Don't hurt Hope."

"Hope?" Then Yori remembered Yo-Yo had mentioned the name back when she and Kimiko were being held by the Yakuza on the landing platform out on the mountains. Who was this Hope and why did it seem important to Yo-Yo?

"She's going to kill Hope," Saito emphasized.

"No!" A black wind kicked up around her small frame. Yo-Yo's eyes flashed with rage as she clung to her doll. "You won't kill her."

Could it be the doll?

"I don't want to hurt your doll, Yo-Yo. I only want …"

"No!" Yo-Yo moved like a rocket, firing herself at Yori while a barrier of raw energy pulsed around her. Yori waited until the last second before dodging, not wanting the deadly juvenile to turn at the last second once she saw her feint. Yo-Yo came back. She was flying now, her body a deadly projectile of power. Yori was forced into a dangerous game of dodge ball, trying to keep up and away with Yo-Yo who was increasing her velocity.

"You cannot dodge her forever, Yori."

Yori nearly tripped. The floor was wet and resembled entrails. It was hard to find a good footing. And Yo-Yo was getting much faster. She had to think faster if she wanted to survive. Looking at Saito, Yori considered trying to get Yo-Yo to fly into him, but that wouldn't work, Saito was too smart for that. She needed for Yo-Yo to hit something solid, something that would at least slow her down long enough for Yori to come up with a new plan. Something like…

She ran for Saito.

The Yakuza eyed her suspiciously but did not move. "Pardon me," she said as she rushed right by him. She knew Saito would make no attempt at dodging her, or strike at her even when she came that close. He enjoyed toying with his enemies and a surprise attack would be too easy.

Yori made straight for the large, black egg and turned to Yo-Yo. "Come!"

The girl came straight on like a black missile. When it looked like she would hit, Yori leaped to the side. The impact was enough to send her tumbling several feet and fill the chamber with a blazing orange-red light. Saito was forced to cover his eyes. Yo-Yo had disappeared. Yori was just recovering. She had to deactivate her visor to get her senses up and running again. What she saw made her cringe. The egg was broken and something was coming out of it.

Saito finally regained his senses. "At last. The truth!"

Yori got her feet. Reaching for her…no!...where was her sword? She must have dropped it when she went tumbling. "Sometimes I wonder if Heaven dislikes me."

The thing in the egg had a vaguely human form. The lower half was a mesh of writing things, tentacles probably or something else. The upper half had a masculine build with broad shoulders and a strong chest. It glowered at the two humans with eyes of fire.

Suddenly Yori couldn't move. She was taken aback by the dread that emanated from this beast and remained where she stood. Saito could not move either, but that was for a different reason. He was shocked. "I-It cannot be." The Yakuza took one step forward. The light from the beast vanished, revealing the human face of the ultimate evil.


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