"Kenji?" Saito spoke as if he were uttering the name of some forsaken divinity. His jaw hung open like it had grown too heavy for his skull to support. So still was he that one would not be able to tell if he were breathing. His whole attention was solely focused on the man that stood before him. Having been released from the strange egg Yo-Yo had shattered with her attack, the man was nude save for a pulsating red substance that clung to his body like a second skin. He was completely hairless, tall, trim, and with skin that was cracked in exposed places. To an onlooker he would appear more a bloody mannequin than a man but there was no denying it. Saito would recognize that face anywhere.
The man sat in a pool of blood up to his waist; his upper body rigid and his hands folded neatly, one on top of the other, before his stomach. He seemed to be meditating. His eyes were half-closed and his breathing was slow, controlled, and focused. From the slits in his eyes one could make out a strange glow, orange in color yet surprisingly dull given that one could feel the energy emanating from him. His dark presence was incredible, so much so that it seemed to suck in all the light in the chamber.
The eyes widened, narrowing in on Saito and the strange, blonde-haired little girl that landed beside him. Yo-Yo took one look at the man in the egg and hid herself behind one of Saito's legs.
"Saito-sama." When he spoke it seemed the entire chamber took up his voice, speaking both for him and through him. Saito felt small. He was surrounded by this man on all sides. With Yo-Yo suddenly cowering behind him, his confidence dropped significantly. Still he showed no fear. Straightening himself up so that he appeared even taller, his hand on the sheath of his titanium sword, the Yakuza kingpin spoke strongly. His smile returned to him.
"It has been too long, Kenji. You are looking well." Sarcasm and distaste mixed in his words.
Kenji was not amused.
"I see Fujimori left you more than his secrets. He has imbued you with his authority over the youma." He glanced around at the demonic chamber. "Very impressive."
"You are a fool if you believe a mortal can manipulate the youma. Fujimori's attempt ended in failure. Now the entire world is about to pay for his arrogance."
Saito eyed Kenji suspiciously.
"The time has come. The youma are implementing the final stages of their plan." Kenji looked down at his own body. There was a brief glimpse of sadness in his eyes, a look or resignation, or complete powerlessness. "It is too late."
"You sound like this isn't what you want. Why is that?" Saito took a cautious step forward, Yo-Yo clinging to him ever tighter.
"I understand the youma better than anyone." His gaze came back up. "They do not simply enslave souls. They devour them. When they come, the human race will cease exist in every sense of the word."
"Which is why we must stop them." Saito felt Yo-Yo pulling at his leg, trying to get his attention. Saito ignored her. He had spent the better part of his adult life getting to this point. He could afford no distractions. "Fujimori turned his back on us the moment he pledged his soul to the demons. He is no longer an issue, but his legacy still lives. I have tried for years to erase the stain he has imprinted on our society, but it seems there isn't a part of Japan that hasn't been tainted by his evil. For those of us that know the truth, one cannot observe Japan's prosperity and not recall the man who made it possible."
"He was a tool. Nothing more."
"Yes but a tool that when wielded properly could change the fate of an entire nation." Kenji became more adamant in his words. "The youma discarded him the moment his usefulness ended. They will do the same to you, to me, and to every man, woman and child on this planet if we do not put a stop to this here and now." He pointed at the chamber floor before raising his finger at Kenji. "You can help me, Kenji. With your knowledge of the youma and my resources at our disposal we can defeat them."
"And then what?" Kenji asked, inclining his head to one side. "Lead our people into a golden age of prosperity? Fujimori tried to do that and instead became a puppet in a scheme that was implemented eons ago. The youma know the darkness in our hearts. They will turn one's desire toward their own goals as they did with Fujimori. In attempting to rebuild Japan, he essentially gave it to the youma. Now you would attempt to do the same?" Kenji glared at Saito. Their eyes met for a brief moment before Kenji blared, "Fool!"
The entire chamber reverberated with his words. Demons having felt the rage in his exchange turned away from their climb to the ceiling. They instead headed for the platform where the egg once stood. Abominations of all sorts crowded around the periphery of the platform, not approaching but observing with great interest. Kenji was as much a monster as they were, but he still possessed a level of self-awareness that placed him a bar above their limited consciousness. In the demonic hierarchy, that made him head demon.
The Yakuza glanced down at the girl cowering about his leg. "Hope is scared." She cuddled the doll with her other hand into her chest. "She wants to leave."
A small sneer appeared on the man's face. "Get a hold of yourself, Yo-Yo." He glared at Kenji. "Do not be afraid."
"Hope is afraid." Her voice became whiny, further irritating the concocting gangster. "She says if we don't leave then the bad man will eat us."
"I brought you here because you are my finest agent. Do not make me regret that decision, Yo-Yo."
"Enough!" Saito's remark bit into her ears and she stepped away from him. Disgusted with the girl and shamed with having her act the way she did, Saito turned his full attention to Kenji. "Are you so weak as to submit to these monstrosities? The Kenji I knew was one of the most feared and respected in our organization."
"I have no hubris with which to exploit."
"You are a traitor if you give in, Kenji. Join me." Saito's fingers tightened around his hilt.
Kenji did not flinch. He showed no emotion whatsoever. "I tried to stop them myself all those years ago."
Saito cocked his eyebrow.
"I failed of course. But back then I believed that one man could make all the difference. I wanted to right the mistakes of our past, to put right what was wrong with our world. But the longer I lived I learned how futile that attempt was. Humans will always be weak and for that there will always be demons to exploit those weaknesses. When Fujimori passed I was both relieved and horrified at the same time. While his death effectively destroyed the blanket of protection his oath to the demon provided my family, it also meant that the youma had lost a very powerful ally."
Kenji glared at Saito. "But then there was you. I knew so long as you existed the conspiracy Fujimori began would continue. So I fought. I fought you. I fought the Yakuza. I fought the youma. I did everything humanely possible to stem the tide of darkness that was slowly engulfing our world." His look softened. "But I failed."
Saito realized what he was talking about. "The assassination."
"As angry as I was at the death of my wife, Yuriko..." the demon-man seemed to struggle with the word as if the part of him that was still Kenji got all choked up. "I realized that the real enemy was not you, Saito. This was all a plan set up by Fujimori and his benefactors and you were but a pawn."
Saito's face hardened at the statement.
"I knew that killing you would throw the Yakuza into disarray. The infighting among the bosses would have set back the youma years, perhaps even decades, and I at least bought humanity some time to prepare. But in those years I saw the worse my species had to offer. Parents selling their children into slavery simply to obtain a few coins. Brother betraying brother. Criminals becoming wealthy while honest people wallowed in poverty. The longer I fought the more I came to realize that killing you was pointless so long as the real threat remained."
"The youma?" Kenji asked. "It makes sense, but you told me that the youma could not be manipulated. Surely you didn't mean to,"
"To kill the demon that made the pact with Fujimori?" For the first time, Kenji smiled. "That is exactly what I intended."
"Intended?" Saito thought on it a moment. His face grew strained. "You're a fool!"
"I realized that too late. The youma prince that controlled Fujimori was more devious than that man could ever hope to be. He knew I was coming and was ready for me. We battled. In the end," Kenji stood up. The bloody skin pulsed with renewed energy. Tendrils of flesh coiled and grew, making him larger and more grotesque than the Yakuza thought possible. "We became one."
The voice around the chamber became concentrated to a single entity. That entity was standing before Saito in all its gory glory. Stretching out his arms to either side, the thing that was Kenji relished as power flowed from the chamber and into him. Kenji grew in size. He was now twelve feet tall at least and covered in entrails that resembled armor. Laughing, Kenji looked down at Saito who looked like a cross between ready to attack and to run. The demon glared at him, his eyes orbs of fire. The words coming out of its mouth sounded like a blaring furnace combined with a landslide.
"We are Akuyasha," it proclaimed. Despite wearing Kenji's face, Saito knew the man that was Ishimura Kenji was no more. All that was left stood before him and it filled him with dread.
Behind Saito, Yo-Yo began whimpering as she held onto her doll with all her might. She huddled on her knees and clutched the doll to her face. It was a humbling sight for a girl who struck fear in all those around her.
Akuyasha found itself amused at Saito's defiant posture.
He had forgotten that she was still here. Wary at diverting his attention elsewhere, Saito turned his head sideways so that she was in his periphery vision. From this angle she appeared a silvery statuette standing off to the side. Either Akuyasha had not noticed her or cared not to acknowledge her presence. Whatever the reason, the demon looked at her now.
"What say you, kunoichi?" Saito asked. "Shall we join forces against this evil?"
Yori said nothing.
Akuyasha stared at Yori. Its bare face contorted into one of discernment. "We know you," it said.
"You do not," Yori began. With her visor up her voice sounded artificial, as if a robot were speaking instead of a person. Truth be told, Yori appeared to be a robot. Cast in blue battle armor, the ninja was an imposing sight of metal and flesh. That ended when she deactivated the visor on her helmet, revealing the woman within. "Ishimura Kenji knows who I am."
"Ishimura Kenji is no more."
"Then allow me to introduce myself. I am Ishimura Yori," she said. "Kenji's daughter."
Akuyasha contemplated this a moment. "Kenji's...daughter...lives?" The demon's eyes widened. "Yes!" His guttural voice rasped before he screamed. With a mental thought, Akuyasha ordered the horde to attack the girl. Yori extended her arm. A metal blade, sharper than any normal sword appeared in her hand. She readied it just as the first demon came within striking distance.
Kimiko was used to having bad days. She just wasn't used to bleeding so much for them. The blast had sent tons of shrapnel flying everywhere and being so close to the radius she had the misfortunate of catching one right in the rib.
It hurt like hell.
What's worse she was leaving a blood trail for Red to follow. With that bazooka of his the bastard didn't even have to aim, just point and shoot. Adrenaline had been pumping through her then. She could have pushed on but when a lax in the fight gave her time to realize she'd been injured, Kimiko knew the pain would soon follow.
She gritted her teeth. Here goes. She pulled the shrapnel out of her side with a quick gesture. She forced herself not to scream. It felt like pulling out a rib and she almost keeled over from nausea. Telling her mind it was nothing that serious, Kimiko looked her wound over. The armor had taken the brunt of the blast and she knew had she not been wearing it her entire body would have been Swiss-cheesed.
The assassin had to give it to Takashi. The little otaku did his work well. Now if only she could say the same. Being upstaged by some gun-totting NRA specialist was bad enough, but add to that the funny accent and weak puns and Kimiko had become the laughing stock of the assassin world. Still she had to give it to him. Red Cochrane was a lethal marksman and had an arsenal of weapons that would put commando units to shame. He was also pretty damn hard to hit, a fact Kimiko learned firsthand.
"Kimiko...Kimiko, are you there?"
The voice startled her and she feared it had given away her position but then she recalled the built-in communicator inside her helmet that prevented outsiders from picking up on the message. Leaning back against an upturned crate, Kimiko kept the hand holding the shrapnel applying pressure on her wound while the other tapped the side of her helmet. "I'm alive, Takashi." Though not for long, she decided to omit.
"You guys are all over the place. I've lost contact with Yori and Yusuke. Kim is flying the ship in stealth mode and I've no idea where Hoshi is. You're the only one I've been able to contact so far. Is everything okay?"
Kimiko felt herself smiling. "Things could be better." She kept her voice low but peeked around the corner to make sure Red wasn't lining up for a second shot. "That cowboy near blew me across the Pacific. I'm alive but I've been hit by shrapnel." She looked down. "Bleeding's pretty bad."
"How bad?" The voice in her helmet inquired.
"Bad enough," she admitted. "You sure you can't raise the others?"
"Been trying. No luck."
"Dammit. I really could use help right about now." Kimiko paused. She just admitted she needed help. Things must really be looking bad. The sky around her was filled with the beats of a thousand leathery wings. The youma were winning the fight through sheer numbers. The few Nakasumi robots and Yakuza warcraft left in the air were losing the sky fast. On the water, any ship that wasn't sunk or too heavily damaged began a hasty retreat back to land. They would never make it. The demons were all over the place. Even here, the last tanker still afloat, Kimiko knew the deck beneath her feet would not be there much longer.
"I lost my knife. Tried to stick the cowboy but he dodged it. Never knew he was that fast."
"I'll try to see if Kim can help you."
"The Yank?" Kimiko chuckled. "Don't bother. In her state she won't be much help against this guy."
"I'm calling her in anyway. Hang in there, Kimiko."
"Is that concern I hear in your voice?" She teased.
"You're my sister. Of course I'm concerned."
For the first time in as many days the assassin had no retort. She was stunned to hear those words coming out of Takashi's mouth.
"You still there?"
"Y...Yeah. I'm here." She found herself smiling. "Hey, Takashi."
"Anytime. Just hang in there, Kimiko. Help is on the way."
Kimiko reclined against the crate. He called her his sister. Instead of feeling cold from the blood loss, she started to feel warm. "You're getting soft, Kimiko." She lifted her hand so that she could see her wound. It was still bleeding badly. Funny at how of all the things that could have hurt her in this fight, it was a piece of wayward metal that would cut her so deeply.
She observed the metal in her hand. It was jagged but still sharp enough to cut through flesh and bone. Kimiko smiled. She had just found a replacement for her knife. Now she just needed to get in close enough to use it.
Someone began to whistle. It was a jolty tune that reminded her of something she'd hear in one of those old American Westerns. Bringing up her improvised weapon, the assassin tried to discern which way it was coming from. A loud shriek came from above followed by a demon's dying wail. Kimiko moved as a flying youma came crashing into the crate she'd been hiding by, crushing it beneath its bulk. The thing's bloody entrails came seeping out from a nasty hole as big as Kimiko. Before it died, the youma turns its massive head her way, leering with its ten eyes, and came to a standstill, never to move again.
She felt something press against her head.
"There you are," came the accented voice. "Been lookin' for you."
Kimiko found herself staring into the muzzle of a bazooka aimed right for her head. On the other end, Red Cochrane grinned at her from beneath his wide hat. "Yer a hard girl to find."
"That's why I'm the best in the business."
"I heard. So what say we put our discretion aside and discuss a business proposal?"
She couldn't believe her ears? "What?"
"I like your style, lady. You're tough. Fast. Harder to kill than a moose in heat, if you get my drift."
She rolled her eyes. Behind her visor the gesture remained unseen.
"What say we partner up? You and me? Red and...well, Red?" He motioned at her red armor. "Make a name for ourselves, you get me?"
At that moment, the previously dead youma squirmed and sent a spray of blood all over the place. Red was caught off guard and Kimiko took that moment to launch her attack. She used the sharp metal, which she had kept hidden from view, to slice through Red's knee. It didn't go all the way but caused blood and a cry of anguish to rise out of the man.
"Now I got you." Kimiko closed in for the kill. Using his bazooka as a shield, Red parried her next attack. Wounded as he was he could not help but give ground. Kimiko attacked again and again, not giving him a chance to recover. Forced to abandon his bazooka as an effective weapon, Red pulled out a small pistol which he fired and near point-blank range. The bullet rang against her armor and stung her profoundly but she gritted on and pressed her assault, driving the shrapnel deep into his right shoulder blade.
"Die you bastard!"
Red growled like some feral animal. His will to live exceeding any semblance of strategy; he did the only thing that came naturally as he fell backward. He pulled her along with him, taking the stab in the arm and the pain that came with it along with the surprise maneuver. His left hand removed another weapon from his jacket unseen by Kimiko's eyes. When they landed, a shot rang out and this time it did more than rattle the assassin. It drew blood.
Gasping, Kimiko rolled away. She was about a good three feet away when she managed to sit up and look at the gunshot. A small hole appeared in the armor. The bullet was far more powerful than the one used by the pistol and had penetrated all the way. It was lodged somewhere inside of her and she could feel her body in the beginnings of a convulsion. Two wounds and a lot of blood. Kimiko was finished.
Forcing himself on one knee, Red held the magnum up for all to see. "Damn yer a hard one." She winced as he removed the shrapnel from his shoulder and threw it aside. Standing up proved difficult with his wounded leg but stand he did, and he stood over Kimiko. "Yessir. A fighter if there ever was one. Thing is though I'm supposed to kill you. Didn't want to, mind you, but you left me no choice." He looked at her. "Take off yer mask, girl. I can't do it like this."
She had half a mind to deny him the privilege of seeing her face. She was an assassin. She lived in shadows where her enemies never saw her face. Except things were different now. This time she was fighting for something other than vengeance or pay. She was fighting for the family she always loved. They were the ones who took her in and treated her like she was one of their own. An entire life spent on wasted battles and this was the first one that really meant anything to her.
Kimiko lowered her visor to reveal her face. She had blood coming down her lip and her eyes fluttered.
Red paused a moment. "Damn yer pretty."
She tried to get up but the pain was too great.
"Shame." He shook his head.
"No," She sputtered. "For the first time in years...I am not ashamed."
He smiled. "Well good for you, hon." Red reached into his trenchcoat and pulled out a sawed-off shotgun with two barrels. He looked the weapon over. "This here's my favorite outside my six-shooter," he told her. "The perfect ending to a perfect fight." He aimed. "S'all fer you, hon."
Something blurred behind Red and the man was grabbed from behind. The image threw him away where he hit the deck hard and rolled three times before coming to a stop. The shotgun went flying pass the railing and into the sea.
Yusuke materialized out of thin air. His armor was burnt and scarred but he looked otherwise okay. "Do not touch my sister, gaijin!"
"Yusuke?" Kimiko could barely lift her head. Her vision was all blurry but she recognized his green armor.
His visor went down and Yusuke winked at her. "Took me a while to get out of the wreckage without having more pile on me." He grew serious. "You look terrible."
"Up yours." She coughed out blood.
Something clicked. Yusuke turned to see Red holding up his revolver. "Son, you just made the last mistake of yer life. Nothin, ain't nothin' gets between me and my kill."
"Kill?" Yusuke glanced at Kimiko before looking back. His nostrils flared. "Like hell!" The youth ran head first toward Red. The marksman began fire his weapon. All were direct hits and Yusuke used his arms to block the shots aimed for his head. He staggered under the barrage but screamed as he pushed himself onward. When he was close enough Yusuke fired up the strongest uppercut of his life, catching Red square on the chin. The man went flying into the air and over the railing. Red Cochrane sailed over the edge and into the sea. The spot he landed on bubbled for a moment before going still. His hat floated downward and landed in the water, the waves carrying it away.
Yusuke staggered back to Kimiko and fell to his knees beside her. "How you doing, Kim?"
"Not bad." She tried to sound convincing but her voice barely enabled a whisper.
"Yeah." He reached down. "Let's get you out of here."
A second kick had Hoshi spiraling backwards. Kikyu was shaking her head. "How much more you think you can take?" Still holding her leg up in the air, fully extended, Kikyu drew it back by bending her knee. She mimicked a crane standing on one leg. "Your fighting skills are pathetic."
Hoshi forced herself on one knee. She was sick and tired of being kicked around like some white belt on her first day of training. She had yet to land a punch on Kikyu. Or a foot. Hell she'd settle for nail if it meant scoring one measly hit.
Biting back the yelp climbing up in her throat, Hoshi willed herself to stand. She was holding her gut and wincing, but still put on a strong front. This bitch was good; she'd give her that, but far removed from what Hoshi expected. Any one of the instructors at Yamanouchi could have taught her thing or two. Actually, Hoshi would have loved those lessons for herself. Judging from the gap between their fighting skills she'd need at least a year's worth of training before they were at the same level. Two and she'd have kicked her ass already.
Kikyu had her fists up as well as her one kicking leg. "I could kill you at any time."
"Then why don't you?" Hoshi held up her hand. "Wait let me guess. You're enjoying this too much."
"Well I would if you were any threat. Kim Possible was a hindsight better than you and she's a Westerner."
"You know I'm part American."
Kikyu puffed out her cheek. "That only means you're half as bad."
"Keep talking." Hoshi caught her second wind before getting into fighting stance. She knew that Kikyu was only toying with her but when she got bored and got serious it would be all over. Hoshi knew the martial artist had a weakness. She just had to find it before...
Yusuke carried Kimiko bridal style though he too was in bad shape. Some of Red's shots punctured his armor and it took all the strength and will he had left to keep from passing out. That Kimiko was in worse shape than he pushed him onward to greater feast of resilience. Yusuke was accustomed to pain. He was built for it. The thought of losing his sister to her injuries would be a wound too great to bear.
"How you doing?" He asked the near dead woman in his arms.
Kimiko had a hard time talking. Her mouth was being filled with blood and splurts of it coughed onto Yusuke's faceplate. "Can't talk. Got it. You know, this could be a good thing for you."
Kimiko tried to retort but succeeded in coughing up more blood.
Yusuke grew worried. "Hang on, Kimiko. I'll get you help. You just need to hang on." His legs staggered. There was so much blood on the deck that it made walking perilous.
He felt a shudder pass through Kimiko's body. She was getting worse. "Takashi. Bro, we need you." With no response, Yusuke fell to his knees so that he would not drop Kimiko, then he tapped his helmet. "Takashi it's Yusuke. Come in." Still no answer. "Dammit. Must have been damaged when the bridge exploded." He cursed his luck.
Someone dropped right in front of them. Hirotaka took one look at them and cursed. Yusuke was thrilled to see him even though his face did not show it. He was too busy fighting off unconsciousness.
The ninja went to help him without a word being said. "Good to see you, Hiro."
"Likewise. Come. We must leave this place." Hiro was about to pick up Kimiko when he saw her wounds. "She is bleeding internally." He nodded to Yusuke. "We cannot move her."
"I know. But moving her in this condition would only increase her suffering. We must stop the bleeding before we proceed." When he had a good look at Yusuke's condition Hiro's face hardened. "By what force are you still standing?"
He smiled. "I'm used to pain."
Hirotaka had a newfound appreciation for Yusuke. What he lacked in skill and finesse he made up for in sheer will and durability. Such warriors strove to adapt their bodies to the punishing training Yamanouchi demanded and obtain nowhere near the physical and mental discipline required to stand in the face of certain death. Kimiko was in good hands.
"Pain you say?"
Both men looked up to see Gideon Hunt on his hoverboard. The redhead was giddy with excitement despite the carnage around him. Hirotaka immediately went into a defensive stance to protect his friends. Yusuke cradled Kimiko close to him but could do little else. Gideon smiled like a cat that had just cornered his prey. "Well then let's see how you stack up against this." He tapped his board with his foot and two small rockets, one on each side, appeared. They aimed themselves at the trio and with little room to maneuver much less dodge his chances at missing were thin.
"Sayonara!" Gideon brought up his foot to launch the rockets when something larger than his board smacked right into it. The silver wing appeared out of nowhere, knocking the daredevil and his board clear through the air. The rockets launched from the collision, flying off into spirals with no direct control. They detonated at another part of the ship, creating a huge explosion that rattled the entire ship.
The Kurunai came into full view then with Kim at the helm. She waved to them from the cockpit. "Think I'm getting the hang of this," she said over the speaker. Turning the sideways so that they could board, Kim opened up the hatch. "Get in. This ship's going down in a big hurry."
Hiro and Yusuke wasted no time in getting themselves and the seriously-injured Kimiko onboard. As Kim pulled away, Hiro suddenly recalled Fukushima who he left unconscious after their fight. Much as he despised that man his honor would not allow him to abandon Fukushima like that. "Kim-san. We must swing around. There is still someone onboard."
Kim gave him a thumbs up from the pilot's seat and began to turn the ship around.
The tanker exploded.
The Kurunai was thrown back so hard that Hirotaka was thrown out the open door. He managed to grab onto the ledge and held on for dear life. Kim managed to bring the ship under control just as the tanker began to sink with secondary explosions turning what was left of the deck into a firestorm. Still clinging to the edge, Hirotaka looked back at the flaming wreckage. "Fukushima," he heard himself utter and was surprised to hear a tinge of remorse in his own voice.
Kim helped Hiro climb back in. "Arigato, Kim-san."
"Yes." But she could tell he was not. Hiro gazed back at the tanker. It burned and burned until finally it sank into the sea.
"Did you know someone left behind?"
Hiro did not answer right away. "Yes and no. That is, I knew of him. His name was Fukushima. He was once a student at Yamanouchi."
"Was he your friend?" Kim asked hesitantly.
"No. That he was not. Still..." He sighed. "He was an enemy, Kim Possible. He betrayed everything Master Sensei taught us at the school and for that I can never forgive him." Hiro stood up. Confused, Kim watched as he bowed towards the spot where the tanker had sunk. "May you find in death the peace that eluded you in life, Fukushima."
Kim remained silent.
"Come. There is much yet to do."
Yori's blade sang as it cut through flesh, bone, and carapace. Scores of youma fell before her. She blurred from one place to another, making it seem like killing demons was the easiest thing in the world.
When enough of their kin had piled up around her to form a corpse shield, the other demons paused to consider their chances. Fighting this girl was like fighting the wind and this wind had teeth. The braver ones roared their frustrations at her while others simply leered back. Taking the pause as a sign, Yori looked over at where Akuyasha was standing. The demon was stone-faced. Whether impressed or displeased it showed no sign other than its focus was entirely on Yori.
"Impressive. I see Master Sensei taught you well."
"You know my master?"
"I have all your father's memories. I remember the night you were born, when the yakuza came for your father and the moment your mother died." Akuyasha held out his hand. "I can show her to you. She was so beautiful. You look just like her."
Yori did not move. She held her sword at the ready.
"Do not be stubborn, child. You fight things beyond your understanding."
"I understand well what it is I'm fighting. I will not be manipulated."
"Then you will die." Akuyasha extended his palm where a mass of flesh exploded from his hand. Halfway to Yori it turned into a spiked blade and she had a mere second to dodge before the horribly fast projectile nearly cleaved her in two. Yori landed safely but was stunned at the suddenness of his attack. A slight rumbling beneath her feet was all the warning she had before more spikes jutted out of the floor. She backflipped, continuing to do so as she avoided one spike after the other. She happened to land right on top of a youma shaped like a giant gorilla that was covered in worms. A spike shot up through its head where Yori had jumped from a second before. The beast's head sank into the spike and gurgled before going still.
Yori ran the entire length of the platform to stay ahead of the spikes. "Are you such a coward that you will not face me, Akuyasha?"
The demon said nothing. A titanium blade sliced him clear in half. Saito had taken the momentary lapse in attention as a sign to attack. His sword had sliced through Akuyasha as easily as one can imagine, as if the creature were not even there. Observing his work, Saito watched as the two halves of the body wriggled with muscle in between. The muscles mended themselves, pulling the halves together before sealing the cut running through the middle of the body. "Not as easy as you'd hoped?" He asked the yakuza.
Saito was not surprised. "It was just too tempting." He leaped off the egg remnants. "Just testing the waters as it were."
From the demon's back erupted a wall of flesh that turned into a claw, reaching for Saito. The yakuza cleaved it into with one strike. He proceeded to dismember the rest of the hand with his blade. The sliced tendrils of flesh turned into whips, knocked Saito off his feet and attempting to flog him. He rolled out of the way. "Yo-Yo!" He cried. "Help me!"
But the girl was too far gone to help. She hugged her doll for all it was worth and cradled herself back and forth.
"Yo-Yo!" Saito growled as one of the whips turned into a sharp edge, cutting his armor at the midsection. It didn't break skin but sliced through the armor quite easily. Saito brought up his sword. He sliced the tendril and its fellows, dropping niblets of squirming flesh to the floor where it was hungrily absorbed.
A head burst out of the floor in the shape of a maw filled with teeth. It bore down on Saito with ravenous abandon. Its sheer mass proved too great for him to cut in one blow so he had to dodge and cut at it from the side. All he did was make it angrier and it butted him away. The yakuza kept his feet, using his soles to keep from falling over. With one hand on the ground to steady himself, Saito realized how vulnerable he had become. The giant maw fell on him like a wave of teeth.
"Saito!" Her warning coming as fast as she was, Saito had one second to react as Yori came up from behind. He moved. Yori leaped on and over the maw's head. The floor behind her bled as a particularly large spike drove through the maw in much the same way it had the ape-demon: from jaw to roof. Yori landed on the other end, grateful her chase had come to an end. Saito appeared beside her with his sword up and ready. He gave her a sideways glance.
"Shall we take him together?"
"It appears we have no choice," she told him, not bothering to hide her discomfort. Still, she knew she could not take Akuyasha by herself so the devil beside you is better than two in the front. She just never believed that devil would be her own father.
No. That wasn't her father anymore. That thing in front of her was an abomination and the sooner she defeated him the sooner she could rejoin her friends and put this whole trying chapter of her life behind her. There was a time when she would have given anything to see her father, but not now and not like this. Yori would end this once and for all.
"Ready?" Saito asked.
The flight was not as steady as when Yusuke was piloting but Kim did get them to the fortress in once piece. Yusuke had placed Kimiko beside Ron, the latter appearing more ravaged but in much more stable shape than the woman next to him. She lost a lot of blood and Yusuke knew it would take time to remove her armor and stem the flow painting the floor beneath his feet. He needed Hiro's help to restrain the assassin, who had regained her second wind to put up a fight, unfortunately against the very two trying to help her.
"You must stay still, Kimiko," Yusuke warned her. "You've lost too much blood."
But Kimiko didn't listen. She glared at him through squinting eyes.
"Kimi..." Yusuke yelped as her palm came up, knocking him on the floor with an audible groan.
"What's going on back there?" Kim asked, her Japanese being a bit rusty. She spared a quick look back to see Yusuke rubbing the spot on his face where he'd been struck while Hiro struggled to hold Kimiko down. In her weakened state he could have easily overpowered her had she not been wearing her battle armor. The boost in strength made her dangerous enough, never mind being wounded.
"At ease, my friend. You are safe." Hirotaka tried to sound assuring but failed to calm her. She tried to punch him in the face but he quickly dodged. "Can't she tell friend from enemy?"
"She's scared." Yusuke wiped the blood from his chin. "We have to get that armor off of her."
"Be my guest." Hiro avoided a leg kick aimed for his stomach. He moved to a safe distance. "It's like trying to aid a wounded tiger."
"Trust me, Hiro. Tigers are nowhere near as stubborn as she is."
"You guys!" Kim called from up front. "Is everything okay?"
"We have things under control here," Hiro responded in English. "Though our patient is being a little disruptive."
"And how's Ron?"
Hiro looked at Ron. He was sleeping quietly, if a bit restlessly, on the flatbed in the back. "He is fine."
"Is your friend going to be okay?"
Hiro glanced at Yusuke. His face was not reassuring. If they didn't tend to Kimiko soon enough she would bleed to death. "Yes," he lied. He hated lying. Stretching the truth was okay, but not lying.
Then Kimiko stood up. She was wobbly and had trouble remaining on her feet but through sheer force of will, the woman managed to not fall down. When she saw the boys' surprised faces she explained. "Takashi...talking to me...through helmet." Her voice came in through pants. "Something about the...robots...nano machines...fixing me up." She grabbed her side where the shrapnel had pierced her. "Can move...again."
"What is she talking about?" Hiro asked Yusuke.
Yusuke though on it a moment before knocking the side of his head. "Of course! The nanomachines. They must have been healing her while she was fighting us. That's why she didn't want us to take off the suit."
Hiro did not fully understand. "Nano...machines?"
"Microscopic robots that are a part of our suits. They can sew human tissue cauterize wounds, though at a faster rate than normal." He looked at Hiro. "They can also pump morphine into the body to numb any pain. With them we can push ourselves longer and harder than anyone else."
Kimiko stood up straight as if to emphasize the point. "I'm okay." But then she groaned and keeled over.
Hiro made to help her but was stopped when Yusuke grabbed his arm. The Ishimura brother shook his head.
Kimiko grunted as she stood back up. "I was shot back there. Point blank. Bullet's still lodged somewhere inside."
"That could lead to lead poisoning," Hiro said.
"The nano bots will stabilize her for now, but she will need medical care when we get back to base. In the meantime I think you should sit the rest of this fight out."
Kimiko could not believe what she was hearing. "I am not missing this fight, Yusuke. You'll have to break both my legs and when the nano bots heal me I'll break yours, and your back, and your scrawny little neck."
"What are you smiling about?"
"I knew you'd say something like that. I just don't want anyone to say I didn't have your well-being in mind before when we laugh about this later."
The assassin blinked. Leave it to Yusuke to make light of a dire situation. Fighting through the pain and nausea that came with losing so much blood, Kimiko regarded him kindly. "Thanks Yusuke."
His smile widened.
"Hey guys," Kim's panicked voice called to them. "I think I see Hoshi down there and she doesn't look like she' winning."
The trio rushed to the front, Kimiko lagging somewhat behind, and glimpsed a duel being waged between two combatants. One they recognized as Hoshi with her bobbing ponytail. The other was wearing a red gi and putting the pressure on Hoshi.
"Who's she fighting?" Yusuke asked.
Kim and Hiro spoke as one. "Kikyu."
Green eyes narrowed. "Hang tight. I'm taking us in."
Hoshi was doing better, but she was still having trouble landing a hit. Kikyu's greater reach kept her at a distance and when she thought she could get in close it was always a ruse to make Hoshi drop her guard. Kikyu would exploit those lapses in judgment. Hoshi learned to anticipate said feints. Now Kikyu was all offense but no results. Hoshi could see how that irked the woman.
"Come on! Fight me!" Kikyu swiped for her head and followed up with a kick to the abdomen which Hoshi narrowly dodged. She hopped back, making to try a spinning kick but in reality fired off a powerful forward thrust meant to crush a few ribs, but Hoshi was on to her and she avoided the blow. "You're nothing."
Hoshi blocked one punch, dodged two kicks and leaped over a sweep attack. She came around behind Kikyu, lunging for her back but changing tactics at the last second just as Kikyu fired off a back kick that would have crushed her face had it hit. Either Kikyu was getting sloppy or some higher power decided to cut her a break because Hoshi got past that kick, grabbing the woman's gi by the shoulder and waist respectively before pivoting and throwing her over and down in a grappling move that had bone meeting concrete. Kikyu cried out as she felt something crack.
Using all the close-quarter combat skills she learned, Hoshi pressed her advantage by putting Kikyu in an upturned leg lock that pulled at her knee. The woman groaned, which after applied pressure turned into wailing. Hoshi was unwavering. She had the advantage and she wasn't about to give it up. She wasted enough time fighting this woman. Yori needed her help and morality be damned if it meant getting to her sooner.
She could feel the knee giving. Steeling her nerve, Hoshi was prepared to break it and move on. Just a few more pounds of pressure over the course of two seconds and...
"Ah!" An electric shock snaked through her body, constricting her muscles and forcing her to go limp. Hoshi fell to the ground, still shaking, her eyes nearly rolling back into her head. Her vision was spinning and for the first time in her life Hoshi felt truly helpless. She couldn't move a digit on her finger let alone defend herself against Kikyu's renewed assault.
Kikyu rolled herself away to examine her knee. Hoshi could only stare behind fluttering eyelids that she could not control. She could feel her heart beating the extra blood into her head in order to keep her conscious mind from slipping away. Only will and her primal need to survive kept Hoshi from blacking out. She needed to recover and fast.
Kikyu said something that was lost to her buzzing ears. She got to her feet slowly, gently applying pressure to her almost-broken leg and limped to Hoshi's twitching body. Hoshi could feel her seething as her feet stopped just short of her face. "You little bitch," the trained killer said. "You almost broke my leg." Using her foot, Kikyu nudged Hoshi onto her back where she could look straight up at her. Then she placed the foot on her neck, cutting off her oxygen.
The woman smiled as Hoshi began to gag reflexively. "It's only fair it's the leg I use to kill you."
Terror taking over, Hoshi's nerves fought through the electric shock and she grabbed Kikyu's foot in an attempt to throw her off. It was a futile gesture. She wasn't strong enough and Kikyu kept applying more and more pressure. Spots began to form in her eyes. Soon all she could make out were fuzzy images. Kikyu became a darkened blur within the orange sky overhead. Lines turned squiggly and as her heart began to slow she could make out something fast approaching her from heaven. Could that be her guardian angel?
"Get away from her!" The angel said. Hoshi felt the pressure on her neck subside and she inhaled a deep breath so sharply that her body began to writhe. She heard Kikyu yell though could not make out the words. The angel landed right next to her with a solid thump and cradled Hoshi next to him. She inhaled his scent. All at once she knew who it was.
Hirotaka glared at the red-clad woman. Yusuke landed right next him with Kimiko on the other side. The tables had turned against Kikyu. So why didn't she seem worried?
"H-Hiro..." Hoshi's voice was strained but she managed to cough up the last syllable. "The suit."
Hiro looked at her. "You're not making sense, Hoshi. As usual," he barbed.
Hoshi reached up with one hand and grabbed him by the collar, pulling his face closer to hers. "I mean her, you idiot." Her strength returning, Hoshi realized she could move again. "It emits some kind of electric shock."
"Electric shock?" Hiro looked at Kikyu. She was staring down at the two armored ninja that were taking several slow but deliberate steps toward her. They meant to come at her from two sides. "Kim did not mention that." When Hoshi raised an eyebrow he said, "When we fought back in the timeshare, Kim said that Kikyu has the ability to turn invisible. It has something to do with that red gi of hers. No doubt technologically enhanced."
"Information that would have been useful about thirty seconds ago." She wiggled out of Hiro's arms but she had to use him to steady herself, her muscles having yet recuperated.
"You should rest."
"I'm fine. Hiro, Yori went inside. Alone. I chose to stay behind and keep dragon lady here busy."
Hirotaka nodded. He looked at where Yusuke and Kimiko had engaged Kikyu. They were trading blows, gauging the other's skills before fully committing. "Then let us finish this fight and join her." He looked her over. "Can you fight?"
"Can you be chauvinistic?"
"Only around you."
She smiled. She turned away momentarily out of embarrassment.
"Are you alright?"
"I'm just glad we're all together again." She looked back. Hiro could swear he saw a reddening of her cheeks. "I have to admit that fighting alone doesn't seem that fun anymore."
He smiled at her. "Yusuke! Kimiko!" He called out. The duo broke off their assault to regard him. "Go and help your sister. Hoshi and I will be along momentarily."
"Are you serious?" Kimiko asked in disbelief.
"By yourselves?" Yusuke's tone was much the same.
"She is as the Yanks say a small fry. The larger prey is in there." He motioned to the fortress entrance. "Yori is by herself. She'll need you down there for support."
"And what about you two?" Yusuke asked.
"We won't be alone. Don't worry about us." He pointed at Kikyu. "She does not stand a chance."
Kikyu could not believe what she was hearing. "Are you kidding me? I'll mop the floor with you two."
"Believe me, Kikyu." Hiro smirked. "We will be one hell of a wet floor."
Everyone was silent and it took Hiro only a moment to realize the awkwardness stemmed from his comment. He stood up straight, scratching his neck and laughing. "Well not all my barbs can be great."
"I have yet to hear one that is." Hoshi winked at the Ishimuras. "Get going."
Kimiko and Yusuke swapped knowing looks at one another before sprinting off into the dark of the fortress. "Kick her ass!" Yusuke cried as their footsteps faded.
"That was a big mistake." Kikyu readied herself. "Those Power Rangers might have made it a fair fight. But now."
"Let's shut her up." Hoshi took one side to distance herself from Hiro, forming a triangle with Kikyu at the top.
Meanwhile, another two-on-one battle was going on beneath the surface. Yori and Saito teamed up against the demon known as Akuyasha, the creature that had melded with Yori's father to lead the youma in their assault on the human world. Combined they were a force to be reckoned with. But Akuyasha was not the least bit intimidated. His command of the fortress allowed him to turn it into his own weapon, using it against them. Mouths opened up along the floor with long, black tongues snapping at the two attackers' feet. Yori dodged them all easily while Saito cut off any tongue that got close enough. They met at one point and attacked at once, raising their swords high as they jumped.
Two mounds of flesh erupted from the ground, coming at them like purple-pink geysers. Yori grabbed the first and, using her arm to pivot, came up on top, running along the length of the protrusion towards Akuyasha. Saito simply split his down the middle, using his momentum to continue the assault. Yori jumped over the demon and landed behind. She turned and forced her blade clean through his back to the other end, drawing a long howl from Akuyasha.
Saito followed through with a downward cut of his sword, cleaving one shoulder in two down the ribcage. Akuyasha screamed something fierce but he fell silent. Then, with Saito still in front of him, the demon began to laugh. Grabbing the titanium blade, Akuyasha in one swift motion dislodged Saito from him, rearing him up into the air. He threw the yakuza hard, watching him bounce across the platform. He grunted on the final bounce but as he struggled to get back up, bones erupted from the ground and coiled around his body. They held Saito fast and prevented him from getting to his feet. Saito struggled but could not move. He was trapped, still clinging to his sword.
Akuyasha turned his head literally around to face Yori. She gasped. Opening his mouth, the youma spewed forth a gush of acid that would have melted even her armor had she not moved. Her sword came out with a sickening squish. Yori flipped away from him but found herself flying through the air when Akuyasha's arm extended to an incredible length, turning into some giant whip that batted her aside. Yori flew clear off the platform, screaming all the way.
Terrified but still thinking, she used her sword to dig into the fleshy walls of the cavern. It took some time but eventually she found leverage and it stopped her fall. Yori had fallen a great distance - the demon's laughter having turned into a distant chatter. She pulled her legs in against the wall whose surface was like wet rubber. Try as she might, the kunoichi could make no progress up the wall, let alone hope of reaching the platform above.
Saito's screams were accompanied by a sadistic laugh. Trapped as she was, Yori drastically searched for solutions. She could not hope to scale the wall with just her sword and there wasn't a surface solid enough in this entire chamber where she could get a boost for a jump. It was all some sickly membrane surface that when touched bobbled like a piece of jello. Yori hated jello. Nothing save the platform had and substantial surface to...
Wait a minute! Looking back, her feet dangling, Yori realized the platform was situated on a long pedestal that emanated from the black pit below. Even from this distance she could see the ridges that resembled a spinal cord whereupon the platform rested. It looked sturdy enough and it wasn't as if she had many options. There was just one problem. The walls were too soft for her to make the jump. The only solid space was the sword holding her up. If she had any hope of making it, she would have to leave her best weapon behind.
When Saito screamed again Yori decided it was her best choice. Hoisting herself up, she managed to stand atop her blade. Making sure she was steady at first, Yori counted three heartbeats before attempting the suicidal attempt. Her legs pumped and sent her flying through the air. It was quite a way and while the sword was sturdy it was barely enough leverage for her to cover the distance to the spine. At first it looked like she was about to miss it and Yori's heart leaped in her throat when she feared she had just leaped to her death.
Then the spine came within inches of her reaching fingers. Like talons, Yori dug them wildly into the column, her digits scratching the surface until finally gaining a solid hold. Once that was done she planted her feet firmly against the spine, relieved at feeling solid ground beneath her feet. Taking a moment to catch her breath, Yori breathed deeply before beginning the arduous climb upward.
Saito had gone silent which only hurried her attempts. When she reached the underbelly of the platform, Yori climbed horizontally, monkey-bar style, until she reached the edge. She managed the last few feet easily before letting her feet dangle then, swinging first to gain momentum, propelled her body up and over the edge. She landed on one knee, standing up slowly and with caution. No need alerting Akuyasha to her presence just yet.
Not that it mattered. The demon was too busy toying with his new victim, Saito. Dangling the Yakuza several feet above the ground with a third arm that grew out of his back, Akuyasha was gradually tearing off pieces of Saito's armor, not giving the least bit worry to the body parts that were broken or bruised in the process. One of Saito's arms hung at an odd angle and the leg the demon held him by was twisted. Akuyasha took great pleasure in tormenting his former rival. The demon's mouth had jutted out into a snout, an overbite displaying a row of teeth capable of swallowing a man's head whole.
"Foolish, human. You will die just like the rest of your foolish kind." Raising Saito up to devour him, the man's body a mash of bleeding flesh and twisted metal, Akuyasha opened wide. "No one controls the youma."
"Akuyasha!" Throwing caution to the wind, Yori revealed herself to him.
His eye turned sideways from his head, blinking at her. "It's you." Lowering Saito just slightly, Akuyasha grinned, all his teeth showing. "I'd thought my family would have eaten you by now."
"You do not know the meaning of family. You are an abomination of everything it means to be human."
"And what would you know, little one, who has lived only a fraction of her life outside the protected walls of Yamanouchi?" When her eyes widened the demon said, "Yes. I know about Yamanouchi. I have your father's memories, remember? That fool Sensei thinks he can stand against us with child soldiers and ancient artifacts. There is nothing in this world that can stop us. We are the masters now." Acid dripped from his overbite as is salivating over the prospect. "Our time has come at last."
"You're not a god yet, demon."
Akuyasha laughed. "Getting there."
"Your journey ends here." Reaching behind her back, Yori produced two items which the demon had not seen before. They appeared to be two black sticks which she held before her.
If he was laughing before, Akuyasha cackled at the absurdity. "What is this?"
To which Yori responded, "Your end." With a flick of her wrists, the sticks flapped open.