?     This story is a work of fanfiction.  As such, it owes a great debt to the creators of the
characters used herein: Rumiko Takahashi, creator of Ranma, and Naoko Takeuchi, creator of
Sailor Moon.

     This story is contains scenes of a dark nature and Lime rated material, and thus is not suited
for younger readers.  Reader discretion is advised.
 
 
 

On a Clear Day You Can See Forever

Chapter Three: Warnings and Portents
 

     She ignored the sudden lull in the normally steady buzz of background conversation.  The door
had just opened, and this lot couldn't pass up an opportunity to check out everyone coming in,
even it did just turn out to be another thirsty bounty hunter.
     Weighing the shot glass in her hand, she stared for a moment into the gleaming amber depths,
wrestling with a sort of wistful melancholy.  The match had been going on for several rounds
now, and she figured to lose in a close decision.  Well, no law said she had to be moody and sober
at the same time.
     She tossed the drink back quickly, her long ponytail snaking with the motion to flop against
her back.  Setting the empty shot glass on the scarred surface of the bar, she sighed softly as liquid
fire bored its way into her belly.
     When she picked up her beer, though, she caught a glimpse of someone moving towards her.
The reflection was distorted by the curve of the glass, but it was enough for her to deduce who
her visitor was.
     She could have just glanced up into the mirror that ran behind the bar, but that wouldn't have
seemed nearly as clever.
     Cold beer quenched the whisky's fire, and she set the mug down just as someone slid up to the
bar beside her.
     "Well," a soft voice murmured.  "You really did it.  I told you not to, but you went and did it
anyway."  She debated keeping her gaze on the bubbles rising through her beer, but decided that
he'd probably take that as a sign of weakness.  And that would be a mistake.
     So instead, she glanced over at him disinterestedly.
     Maintaining a facade of indifference was not easy, considering the man's striking appearance.
He was taller than her by half a head, making him one of the few men who had to look down to
meet her eyes.
     He was doing that now, staring at her with blazing green eyes that smouldered with a vital
inner fire.
     "Oh, Rin," she said easily.  "Fancy meeting you here.  Why don't I buy you a drink?  I just
cashed a big bounty, you know."  Something flared in those eyes, and for a moment Jupiter
wondered if she'd pushed him too far.
     "Oi!" she called to the bartender, pointing at her empty shot glass, then hooking her thumb at
the man beside her.  The eldest of the brothers, called Senior appropriately enough, was tending
bar tonight, and he nodded, fingering the scar on his jaw as he drifted down the bar.  Jupiter
wasn't fooled by his placid demeanor, however; he'd been standing near where he kept his
shotgun.
     He hadn't lasted this long by not recognizing trouble.
     "You really are something," Rin breathed, shaking his head in admiration.  Apparently, he'd
decided not to be goaded.
     Good for him.
     "Ah, I bet you say that to all the girls," Jupiter replied with a crooked grin.  She watched the
play of muscles under his tight t-shirt as he moved, leaning on the bar and pinning her with that
feral gaze.
     He knew the effect he had on women, the bastard.  His hair was a lustrous shade of something
between honey blonde and red, and hung in a straight glossy curtain down to his waist, framing
the sharp angles of his face.  It was thick and heavy, almost like a woman's, but despite that and
his nearly pretty features, there was nothing effeminate about Rin.
     "Tell me something, Jupiter," Rin said, his voice soft and intimate.  "Why did you do it?"
     "He was a bad boy," she answered, taking a sip of her beer.  "Bad enough to get a bounty
posted on him.  And I am a bounty hunter, you know."  He chuckled, the sound emanating from
deep in his throat.  That sound washed over her, vibrating in her bones, and she fought the urge to
shiver.
     "I told you that we would take care of it," Rin said, cocking his head.  Thick locks of that
tawny mane slid over one eye, and Jupiter had the sudden urge to reach out and brush it away, to
see if it was really as soft as it looked.
     "No, you told me to back off," Jupiter pointed out.  "There's a big difference."
     "Gareth wanted this handled internally."
     "Well, if you guys had caught the jerk before I did, you could have handled it any way you
liked," Jupiter remarked.  "What could be fairer than that?"  She picked up her shot glass, raising
it to her lips.  Rin's hand shot out before she could complete the motion, grasping her wrist lightly
just above where her glove ended.  The contact of his flesh against hers was nearly electric, and
hardly unpleasant.  He didn't squeeze, though, just stopped her arm for a moment.
     "I quite like your style, girl.  But you've made Gareth unhappy," he murmured intimately,
leaning in close.  She could smell him, his scent hot and musky and much more pleasant than the
stale smoke and beer smell of the room.  "You should have just been reasonable."
     "That's not one of my best things," she informed him with a dark smile, gently disengaging her
arm from his grip.  "And tell me, Rin, how would it look if I backed off on a lucrative job every
time somebody threatened me?"
     "Probably as bad as we would look if we let people think they could push us around," he
replied, a tinge of regret in his voice.  The light cast the hollows of his throat and collarbone into
shadow, picking out his prominent cheekbones and making his hair shimmer.  Jupiter decided that
she really resented him for being so damned beautiful while he was subtly threatening her, on his
way to delivering what was sure to be a painful object lesson.
     So she threw her drink in his face and sucker-punched him.
     Makoto was a very strong girl; Jupiter was many times stronger.  Still, she didn't delude
herself.  She knew what Rin was, and one punch, no matter how good, wasn't going to put him
down for long.
     That hadn't been her intention, though.  She'd just wanted him out of the way while she dealt
with the two he'd brought with him, the two she'd spotted in the mirror edging casually closer to
her back.
     One was male, one female.  The man charged even as she was turning, and she grinned with
fierce joy as she summoned her power, thrusting out her hand and unleashing a compact ball of
lightning.  He was fast on his feet, but not fast enough; the swirling ball caught him squarely,
throwing him back the length of the bar and propelling him through the boarded-up window at the
front with a crash.
     Jupiter didn't pause to admire his neat trajectory, however, slipping around the corner of the
bar to protect her flank while watching the woman.  She had pale blonde hair worn in a braid and
grey eyes, and her tattered shorts and cut-off tank top left little to the imagination.
     The place was silent now, everybody watching the action.  Those who used weapons no doubt
had them close at hand, but she knew they wouldn't intervene.  She was the new kid on the block,
and everybody would want to see if she could handle the heat.
     She knew the rules.  Growing up on the street, the rules had been much the same, and you
learned them fast, or you learned them the hard way, but in the end you learned.  If she was going
to be taken seriously, she needed to plant her feet and push back.
     So she was pushing back.  Hard.
     The blonde paused, snarling, and Jupiter turned her body so that she could watch her and Rin
at the same time.  The latter had picked himself up off the floor, and was shaking his head almost
ruefully.
     "Ah, I love a woman who fights dirty," he said, standing totally at ease down along the other
arm of the bar.  She knew that stance was deceptive, though; he could explode into action at any
time.
     "You brought help to deal with me?" Jupiter replied disdainfully.  "I had no idea I was so
fearsome."
     "Gareth insisted," Rin shrugged, but Jupiter had the feeling the gibe had stung.
     The blonde was staring at her, lips peeled back from her teeth, and Jupiter saw the woman's
skin begin to ripple and twitch strangely.  Here it comes, she thought.
     Her opponent didn't change all the way, though.  Her nails lengthened into claws, her face
shifted into something beastlike, and fur sprouted all over her body as her stance changed, painful
popping sounds accompanying the transformation.
     Jupiter had seen lycanthropic transformations before, though, and was not impressed.  Instead
of standing frozen by the sight as a novice would have, she took the opportunity to press the
attack.
     She cast a bolt of lightning from one hand as she sprang, hardly noticing as patrons dove for
the floor to avoid getting hit.  The cat-girl dodged the feint, just as Jupiter had hoped, moving to
her left with frightening speed.
     But the changeling had obviously expected Jupiter to follow up with another lightning attack,
and was caught off-guard as the tall senshi lunged in to attack at close quarters.
     Any number of things could have gone wrong; the changeling could have been a bit faster,
Jupiter a bit slower, or Rin could have chosen that moment to attack from behind.  But Jupiter's
savage punch caught the werecat just under the breastbone before she could dodge a second time,
the blow concentrating not only Jupiter's strength but also her momentum at the point of contact.
As the cat-girl doubled over, Jupiter caught her and whirled, heaving her bodily at where in Rin
had been standing moments before.
     He was still there, and as the girl's limp body flew at him he merely leaned to the side, just far
enough to avoid being hit.  The changeling struck the far wall heavily, shaking several pictures
loose with the force of the impact, then slid down to the floor where she tried valiantly to stand.
Rin straightened and gave Jupiter a faint smile.
     "So much for Gareth's judgement," he said with a soft chuckle.  "Now that the entertainment is
over, perhaps we can conclude our business."
     "Why don't you conclude it outside?" Senior asked pleasantly, his casual stance made much
more noteworthy by the presence of an ugly shogun propped against his shoulder.  "Before you
wreck the place."  Without taking his eyes from Jupiter, Rin reached into the pocket of his coat
and flung his arm out in the bartender's direction.  For a moment, it appeared as though Senior
was going to drop the gun into firing position, but he checked himself partway as something hit
the bar in front of him with a soft thump, sliding a short distance before stopping.  Jupiter
watched out of the corner of her eye as the startled bartender picked the object up.
     Cash.  A great big wad of it, to be exact.
     "I believe that will more than cover the damages," Rin said softly, his green eyes fairly glowing
with restrained power as they bored straight into Jupiter.
     "Don't like fighting in the rain, pretty boy?" Jupiter asked snidely, watching the cat-girl
struggle to stand behind Rin.  No problem, at least they were now both in front of her.
     "Sweet Jupiter," he purred, his voice a feline growl from low in his throat.  "I just want plenty
of witnesses for your ... lesson."
     "What lesson would that be?" she asked, shifting her stance slightly.  His smile widened,
betraying an almost carnal hunger that spread slowly to his blazing eyes.  He matched her stance,
the long flat muscles of his chest rippling under the black shirt.
     "First, I'm going to hand you an utter defeat," he rumbled, his soft voice somehow carrying
clearly over the intervening distance.  "And then, I'm going to take you over my knee and spank
you ... like the bad girl that you are."
     "What?" she blurted, heat rushing to her face as his words hit home.  "You bastard!  You'll
regret it if you don't take me seriously!"  Tiny bolts of lightning flared around her fists as she
tensed, leaning forward.  Damn it, she wouldn't be toyed with like this.  Who the hell did he think
he was, anyway?
     "Oh, I'm quite serious," he murmured, the power of his aura washing over her in a wave of
tingling heat.  "You'll never forget this lesson, little girl ..."  She caught a flash of motion from the
corner of her eye, and at the same moment Rin's eyes narrowed and shifted towards the door, his
mouth tightening into a slight frown.
     The other changeling, the one she'd blasted through the window, had recovered already and
was streaking across the floor towards her.  The female had managed to regain her feet as well,
giving her a third threat to contend with.  She froze for just a moment, trying to decide which to
attack first.
     The decision was taken out of her hands an instant later.  A streak of golden light snaked out
from the direction of the door, wrapping around the charging man's throat and resolving into a
chain of tiny glimmering hearts.  The man, caught in mid-change, was halted abruptly and let out a
pained squawk as he was yanked off his feet.
     By the expression on Rin's face, it was hard to judge which of them was more surprised by the
three newcomers who stood in the doorway.
     The whip led back to the hand of a vision in black leather who stood with her long, booted
long legs apart as she kept a tight grip on the snarling changeling.
     "Bad kitty," she purred.
     "Is this a private party, or can anyone play?" the raven-haired beauty on her left asked,
stepping forward with her violet eyes focussed on Rin and the unsteady changeling behind him.
     "Well, well," Rin breathed.  "What have we here?  Two sailor girls and their keeper?"
     "What we have," Sailor Moon said sternly, "is better odds for our side."
     "Maybe you and your friends should take a walk," Mars added with a sultry smile, "before
Mistress V here decides to keep her new pet."  The cat-boy twisted on the floor, trying to lunge at
V, but she snapped her wrist deftly and wrapped him in the coils of her whip before her could
advance very far.  Hopelessly snared, he collapsed heavily to the floor with a yowl.
     Jupiter's shock at the sight of her three former comrades began to fade, and she wasn't certain
whether to be pleased or upset with the sudden turn of events.  This was her fight, after all; then
again, Rin hadn't drawn the line at fighting three-on-one, so maybe it was fair to turn the tables on
him.
     "This isn't enough to cover levelling my whole bar," Senior piped up, waving the wad of cash
in the air.  He tossed it to Rin, who caught it without even looking.  "Fun's over, folks.  Anyone
still wants to fight, you do it outside."
     "Well," Rin said, favouring Jupiter with another of his high-voltage smiles.  "I suppose we'll
just have to conclude this another time."
     "What if I want to conclude it now?" Jupiter asked, eyes narrowed.  Her temper was still up,
and although she hadn't wanted to fight in the first place, now she was reluctant to leave things
unfinished.
     "Jupiter," Sailor Moon said, stepping towards her.  "We really need to talk to you, right now."
Jupiter shifted her gaze between Rin and Sailor Moon, torn.  But if it was important enough for
the others to be together and to have tracked her down here, then she probably should at least
listen.
     And as for Rin, they could conclude their business at a later date, on her terms this time.
     Just the two of them.
     "Fine," she spat.  Rin inclined his head slightly and turned.
     "Rin!" the blonde objected.  She'd reverted to full human form and took a step towards him,
brow furrowed.  "Gareth wanted this taken care of tonight!"
     "I'm in charge here, Yui," Rin said softly, stopping but not bothering to turn as he spoke.  "It's
my decision."
     "Gareth will be unhappy ..." she pressed, only to stop as Rin finally turned to face her.
     "Perhaps.  But if you defy me, Yui," he said, his voice deceptively soft, "then I will be
unhappy.  Not to mention very ... angry."  His green eyes locked with her gray ones, and Jupiter
felt some phantom power coiling in the air between the two as they engaged in a struggle of wills.
     It was a short contest, Yui averting her eyes first.  Rin smiled and turned, and Yui trailed
docilely along behind him.  Mars watched them from one side, Sailor Moon from the other, with
Jupiter behind; for as much apprehension as Rin showed, though, he might have been taking a
sunny stroll in the park.  He stopped next to V, smiling at her pleasantly.
     "I'll be needing him back," he said.  V peered up from under the brim of her hat, blue eyes
sweeping brazenly up the long, lean length of the man before she spoke.
     "What's he worth to you?" she asked in a suggestive tone.
     "V!" Mars snapped, and the blonde sighed.
     "Oh, all right," she murmured.  "But if he gets out of hand once he's off the leash, the
management is not responsible for his eventual condition."
     "If he gets out of hand," Rin said, pinning the helpless changeling with a stare, "he will answer
to me."  The threat was apparently a good one; when the whip vanished, the changeling scrambled
to his feet and reverted to human form, moving to stand behind the others.  He gave V a sullen
stare, and in return she blew him a kiss.  Unconcerned, Rin walked to the door, pausing on the
threshold.
     "Be seeing you, Jupiter," he called over his shoulder, dark promise lurking in his eyes.
     "I look forward to it," she told him.
     And then he was gone.

***

     If there's any kind of heaven anywhere in all the worlds, they've got a twenty-four hour
bathhouse.
     It may not have looked like much; the tile was chipped in places, the wooden benches worn,
and one or two lights above the main bath were burned out.  But it was clean, and there was
plenty of hot water.  After spending a couple of days cold, wet and moderately miserable, a hot
bath had pushed all my recent troubles to a dark corner way at the back of my mind.
     The tub I was in had room for ten or fifteen people easy, but I  had it to myself.  For that
matter, I had the entire place to myself as far as I could tell.  At this time of night, anyone looking
for a bath was probably ensconced in one of those places where a woman wearing only soap suds
washed your back with her body.
     Well, that was fine by me; after paying the bored attendant in coinage, I hadn't had to deal with
any flack when I'd slipped into the boy's side.  Soon thereafter, I'd been a guy again for the first
time in days.  It was funny, though, how being stuck as a girl for days at a time didn't really bother
me anymore.  Maybe that was because I'd seen what real horror was, and had gained a little
perspective.
     I leaned back, hot water caressing my battered body, easing the kinks and bruises.  I'd had a
pretty full day, I reflected as I listened to the hollow plopping of water echoing against cool tile
somewhere off to the left.  I couldn't help wondering about the girls I'd met earlier, Rei and Usagi.
The way they had reacted to me still made me think that she must have known me, and the only
way that was likely was if there was a version of me living in this world.
     I wasn't sure how I felt about that.  After all, if I was here, then what about the others?  Maybe
they were all here, living their lives the way we had, or maybe they were totally different, with
different relationships.
     Or maybe, even if they all existed here, they didn't know each other at all.
     You could go crazy from thinking about all this; trust me, I know what I'm talking about.  So I
took a breath and dunked myself, staying down for as long as I could before surfacing.  I sluiced
the blissfully hot water from my face with one hand and leaned back against the edge of the bath
again.
     I felt strange.
     I don't mean the bath; that was great.  No, it was something else, something that had crept up
on me throughout the crazy day I'd just had.  I sat back, sweat prickling at my hairline as I let
myself drift and tried to pin it down.
     Sure, weird things had been happening all day long, but that shouldn't have bothered me.
Weird was par for the course in my life, after all.  But something still seemed off.  I felt different,
almost sharper.  It was as if ... as if I'd been in a daze for a while.  As soon as I had the thought, I
knew that was part of it.  I'd been wandering, reacting to whatever I encountered for months now,
but today was the first time that I'd had to take a significant amount of initiative in quite some
time.
     It felt good.
     But then there was Saekianna.  She'd been coming on to me in that club, and doing a pretty
good job of it too.  That started me thinking.  How long had it been since I'd reacted to a woman
that way?  She'd gotten to me, after all, left me flustered and confused.  Once upon a time that
had been the story of my life, with women throwing themselves at me from all sides on a daily
basis.
     Heh.  Didn't that sound vain, though?  And maybe I'd come to take it a little for granted; it
never hurt a guy's ego to have that much attention, after all.
     But in the time since I'd left that other Nerima behind and started wandering, that part of me
had been dormant, and I'd never really consciously realized it.  Where women and relationship
troubles had once been at the centre of my life, they'd now ceased to be an issue at all.  I hadn't
stayed in any one place very long, certainly not long enough to connect with anyone.
Occasionally, depending on local customs and mores, I might get members of either sex paying
attention to me in whichever body they preferred, but I always just brushed it off reflexively.
     But this woman had tweaked something deep down inside, something that had been asleep for
a long time.  I'd actually reacted to her as a beautiful, appealing woman.
     I wasn't sure how to feel about that.
     Just thinking about it was suddenly making me acutely uncomfortable, so I dunked myself
again and surfaced, shaking water from my hair.  It was just too quiet, that was the problem; too
much silence gave me too much time to think, to brood.
     I wiped at my chest idly, fingers tracing the slightly raised scar tissue there before bumping
against the key that hung around my neck.  I grasped the small blue piece of crystal and lifted it
out of the water, staring at it speculatively.
     As usual, it gave no clue to its secrets, just catching the light and throwing it off as it spun at
the end of the thin chain I wore it on.  It looked just the same as it had the first time I'd seen it.
     Well, no; actually, the first time I'd seen it the thing had been a lot bigger, throwing off black
lightning while in the grasp of a huge demon.  But it looked as it had every time since then; a
piece of polished blue crystal, shaped vaguely like an actual key.
     Its appearance gave no clue as to why it had suddenly stopped working.
     I let it dangle from the chain and concentrated, summoning up my chi until the air around me
glowed softly.  I focussed on the key, and it began to glow in harmony with my chi, shining with a
soft blue light that streamed out in every direction.
     So far, so good.
     Dowsing like this was the first trick I'd learned with this mysterious artifact; next the key
should have begun to spin in ever-widening circles, until it finally came to point the way to the
nearest gate.  But this time, like all the others since I'd arrived in this place, it hung stubbornly
motionless.
     I'd known there were risks the first time I crossed between worlds using it, but really I hadn't
felt I had much to lose.  And in the beginning, it had been fine.  But then, that one time, I opened
a gate and crossed the threshold between worlds, and there was a flash of light behind my eyes.
The next thing I remember was waking up in a field with rain on my face.
     That was two years ago.
     In the beginning, I'd sought solace in constantly travelling between worlds.  Since becoming
stuck here, I'd settled for wandering from city to city, place to place.  They say a shark will die if
it stops moving; maybe, for me, wandering was a little like that.
     But now even that wasn't enough.  I was beginning to get restless, yearning for something ...
more.
     Just what, though, I couldn't say.
     With a sigh, I let my aura fade, and the key dimmed and grew dark.  I released it, letting it fall
against my chest with a hollow plop, and leaned back to stare at the tiled ceiling.  I'd made my
bed, as it were, and so I'd have to lie in it.  No regrets, right?  But where to start?  How do you
rebuild your life when every single thing in it is gone beyond recovery?
     Where the hell do you start?
     I blinked, shaking my head.  Water in my ears, maybe ... but no.  There it was again, a voice,
soft, sing-song-y, like a child's.  But why would a kid be here at this time of night?  It was after
midnight.
     I listened with a frown to the lilting cadence, trying to hear the words as they echoed off the
tiles and floated randomly through the empty bathhouse.
     Geez, kid, I thought as the words drifted just beyond the range of comprehension.  Find a new
tune already, would you?  I closed my eyes and drifted, and to my surprise the next verse of the
high, chanted refrain began to register.

     "The Eye doesn't see,
      The Eye doesn't know,
      It was blinded a long time ago,"

     Weird.  Like a nursery rhyme, or something you'd hear in a schoolyard ...

     "But the Wardens still know,
      And the Wardens still see,
      And now there's one who's found a Key,"

     I opened my eyes.
     Key?
 
     "But the Dark took his love,
      And left him alone,
      Lost and mournful and far from home."

     "Hey," I said, my words falling woodenly into the eerily deserted bathhouse.  "Hey, kid."  This
isn't about you, the rational part of my mind told me.  It couldn't be.  But my skin prickled with an
unearthly chill despite the bathwater.
     Something was wrong.

     "He took to the Paths,
      And the Paths lead, they say,
      To where the Truth is hidden away,"
 
     "Hey!" I barked.  I levered myself out of the bath, my bare feet slapping wetly on the tile as I
started across the floor.  "Hey, kid, come out here!"

     "But the Truth, it has teeth,
      It can kill with Its bite,
      And it serves both the Darkness and the Light,"

     "Kid!"  That sweet, high voice seemed to reach right into me, and the sensation was more than
a little unnerving.  Someone who wasn't as tough as I was might even have been frightened.
     I tried to follow the mocking voice, dashing around a row of lockers, but the source remained
just out of my sight, like it was teasing me.

     "But a heart that is torn
      and unsure, they say,
      Will lack the strength to guard the Way,"

     I rushed around a corner and caught a flicker of movement.  Putting on a burst of speed, I
raced towards the end of the lockers, then glimpsed a swirl of fabric vanishing down at the end of
the next row, back the way I'd come.

     "Two are the Lock,
      And one has the Key,
      To unlock the forces of destiny,

      True of heart
      The Warden must fight,
      Or Dark shall reign in endless night."

     I skidded around the corner, only catching a glimpse of her.  She was young, not more than
five years old, ornate robes flowing loosely around her as she leapt into the air.  With unearthly
grace, she arced to land in the middle of the bath I'd recently vacated.
     I stopped, astonished.  One bare foot was extended below her, and her toe touched the surface
of the water and stayed there, sending out perfect concentric ripples in every direction.  She
balanced on top of the water for a long moment, turning her head just enough so that one brilliant
blue eye peered out from behind a veil of golden hair.
     Then, without seeming to move, she leapt from her impossible perch on the water's surface,
fading from view even as she rushed at the wall.  I watched, feeling a chill unrelated to the water
drying on my naked body.  I had the feeling that I'd brushed something ... old, powerful, nearly
incomprehensible.  The sensation was hard to explain, but for long moments I just stood there,
staring at the point where the ethereal little girl had vanished.  Finally something caught my
attention, and I looked down.
     The key was glowing, pulsing in time with my heart.
     It had never done that before.
     And one last time, the sweet voice sang out softly from all around me:

     "True of heart
      The Warden must fight,
      Or Dark shall reign in endless night."

     Then something eased in my chest, and the weight left the air around me, and it was over.  I
watched the light fade from the key, leaving it quiescent once more.  For now.
     Had I ever thought I understood the power behind this thing?  Did I really have any idea of the
powers I was messing with?  I glanced up, but there was no sign of the girl now, not even the
sense of her presence.  She might have been a hallucination, but for the perfect ripples slowly
fading on the surface of the water.
     Either I had finally gone insane, or I had just brushed up against something supernatural.
     And despite everything that had happened to me in my life, this experience had left me shaken.

***

     Now this was much more to her liking.
     The club was small and intimate, the sort of place that catered to an exclusive clientele.  Well,
tonight the clientele was very exclusive indeed; just one woman, in fact.
     Wynneth Vesra de Morgana; vampiress, sorceress, and soon to be goddess.
     As befitted someone of her station, the staff were very attentive.  Lazily, she swept them with
her gaze.  Two of the women knelt at her feet, clutching her flowing cloak as they gazed up at her
in rapt adoration.  Two more reclined on the low couch, one on each side of her, one's arms
around her waist and the other's around her neck as they cuddled close.  The bartender hovered
nearby, waiting anxiously for her new mistress to make her needs known.
     Well, for the moment her needs were being well met.  She turned to the girl on her left, the
one whose arms were twined around her neck.  The girl, all pale blonde hair and creamy skin,
lowered her eyes subserviently, bringing a smile to Wynneth's lips.  Ah yes, this was MUCH better
than the Old City.  In the days before the Long Dark, this place had been one of many that
secretly catered to her kind.  There no longer were such places, but a little effort on her part had
rendered this cozy little nook as hospitable as it ever had been.
     Wynneth leaned towards the girl, who blushed prettily as she lifted her chin to willingly bare
her throat.  The tiny, perfect fang marks there stood out starkly against the taut, fair skin.  The
girl hadn't been so willing the first time, but all that had changed.  Wynneth now had everything
well in hand.
     She pressed her lips to the girl's throat, sensing the envy of the others as she bit down and
elicited a moan of pleasure from her victim.  Hot blood flooded into her mouth, and she had to
force herself to go slowly, to savour the feeding.  So far, she'd only fed enough to put everyone
left alive fully under her control; now she would slake her thirst, but not quickly.  She had the
entire night, after all, and she intended to enjoy herself.
     The girl pressed against her other side snuggled closer, whimpering quietly for attention, and
idly Wynneth sent a thick lock of her long, midnight hair snaking up the girl's arm to tease the
flesh left naked by her low cut hostess's uniform.  She was rewarded with a sigh from her left, and
more whimpers from her feet.
     This was how it should be.  The proper place of mortals was, after all, at her feet, clamouring
for her dark kisses.  And after her ascension, the entire world would be her plaything, its peoples
worshipping their new goddess, serving her.
     Soon.
     As she fed delicately on the pliant beauty, she felt the hunger, the pleasure of feeding, swelling
in her breast.  Oddly, though, it seemed to double, echoing faintly in her mind.  She paused a
moment, ignoring the disappointed gasp from her victim as she puzzled this odd sensation.
     Ah.  There.  So that was it.  So close to that other, the hunger was resonating, thrumming
along the dark bonds that linked them.  She pulled the blonde girl close again, drinking deeply, but
this time she consciously sent the pleasure of the act along with the hunger, letting it build,
drawing it out as only the most skilled of amongst her kind could.  This, too, would serve her
purposes.
     In the fullness of time.
     Just more proof that even destiny itself bent to her will.  Everything was going just as she
wished it; nothing could thwart her.  The city would be hers, and then the world, the heavens, and
beyond.  She would drink from the gods when her reign rendered them powerless, casting her
shadow across all as her domain spread to encompass all ...
     Light flared in her mind, brighter than ever before, and she gasped, pulling away from the girl
instinctively.  Before she could recover, it flared again, an answering call, brighter and even more
painful.  A scream caught in her throat as the two lights pulsed in unison, and deep in her mind the
voice screamed aloud, pain and rage mingling.
     Blind! it shrieked.  Blind, as the Eye is blind!  We do not see!  And it pains us, the light, it
burns!  It burns!
     "It BURNS!" she screeched, thrusting the girl away with one savage sweep of her arm.
Wynneth staggered to her feet, stumbling blindly across the room, clutching her head.  That
accursed light was a starburst inside her mind, like the sun that ruled the day and brought flaming
death to vampires.  Helplessly she shrieked her agony and impotent fury to the ceiling, no longer
certain if the wailing in her head was her or the voice, or some combination of the two.
     Finally, the light began to fade, receding from the single white-hot point into two separate
glowing embers.  As she snarled, pulling her hands away from her face, a sound came to her;
distant, but clear, it was that of a voice, high and sweet like a child's.  It seemed to be singing
some sort of rhyme, and as she swayed in place she heard:
 
     "But the Wardens still know,
      And the Wardens still see,
      And now there's one who's found a Key,"

     The voice trailed off, laughter floating through her mind, light and carefree, but somehow
knowing.
     It was mocking her.  Mocking.  Her.
     "Who dares?" she whispered.  "Who dares to mock me?  Who would challenge a dark goddess
with fairy tales and frail prophecy?  Who ... DARES?"
     She had come to rest against the bar, and with one hand she tore a section of it loose and
hurled it across the room, where it exploded into fragments against the far wall.  She whirled, her
floor-length hair sweeping in a silken arc as she moved.  Face contorted in a rictus of rage, she
sought the source of her misery, but it was nowhere to be seen.  Most of her playthings were
cowering fearfully in the face of her outburst.  The blonde, though, was crawling towards her on
hands and knees, eyes blank save for terrible craving.
     Shoulders heaving with exertion, Wynneth watched the girl crawl to her feet where she
proceeded to rub her cheek against the vampiress' thigh.
     "Please, Mistress," the girl moaned.  "Let me serve you.  Let me ..."
     Wynneth reached down and twined her fingers in the girl's hair, pulling her up until they were
face to face.  It must have hurt, but the blonde only smiled with wanton pleasure as her drugged
blue eyes met Wynneth's gaze.
     "Mistress," she whispered.  "My Mistress ..."
     Wynneth tossed the girl away as easily as a child might throw a rag doll.  The blonde flew
across the room, colliding heavily with the couch they'd so recently shared and taking it over with
her.  There was a snap as she hit the floor, the familiar sound of bones breaking, but Wynneth
cared little.
     She was done with these toys.
     Raising one pale arm, she slashed a nail down, then flung the arm out in two quick, vicious
arcs.  Droplets of blood spun away, only to freeze in midair as she gathered her power and sent it
out in careless waves.  Each droplet became a wraith, a pale and imperfect reflection of herself;
they nearly filled the space between her and the door, their numbers were so great.  The wraiths,
struck by the intensity of their mistress's fury, immediately prostrated themselves before her.
     Wise.
     "The light of the Key has appeared in two places," Wynneth said, her silky voice honed by
anger to a cutting edge.  "We will seek out both.  Kill all who would hinder you, but I want the
bearer of the Key alive; harm him and your torment will be eternal.  Now go!"  She thrust her
arms out, and the wraiths, numbering over fifty, turned as one and flew through the doors,
pouring out in a wave of alabaster skin and ebony hair.
     She strode after them, fury still pounding through her.  Intolerable.  This key bearer fancied
himself a figure of legend, someone to hamper her coming ascension?  He would soon learn the
truth.
     She had come this far, planned and schemed and manipulated, and very soon all her work
would come to fruition, all the delicate threads woven into an inescapable web that would snare
all her enemies.  And no one could stop the coming of the dark now.
     No one.
     Her last sight as she swept from the room was of the blonde girl, dragging one twisted arm as
she crawled on her belly, eyes imploring.
     "Mistress ... come back ..."

***

     The room stretched away into misty distance, dwarfing Hotaru as she sat crouched on the
floor, listening to the storm rage outside.  She felt so good, yet she knew she'd done something
terribly wrong, terribly bad.
     Maybe that was why she had the funny taste in her mouth?
     She reached up with her small, child's hands and touched her lips tentatively.  The tips of her
fingers came away red, with a few strands of black hair stuck there.
     No.  Not hair.  Fur.
     The kitten.  Her poppa had gotten it to keep her company, and she'd been holding it when it
had playfully scratched the back of her hand.  She remembered being almost mesmerized by the
tiny trickle of blood there, lifting her hand slowly to lick it away.
     And it had burned, like fire but good, nice; nicer than anything she'd ever tasted.  She'd wanted
more.  And the kitten ...
     It had struggled because she was holding it so tightly, but she just wanted to smell it.  It
smelled warm, good, and ... and ...
     She glanced up from her fingers.  A small dark form lay crumpled on the floor in front of her,
unmoving.
     "Buckles?" she whispered, her voice trembling.  That couldn't be Buckles, not that still,
unmoving pile of matted fur.  But as the pleasant haze faded from her mind, she became more and
more convinced that she'd done something horrible, something she didn't want to remember,
something ...
     "Hotaru?"  Poppa.  Poppa was coming; she could hear his footfalls, heavy and foreboding,
coming steadily closer.
     Poppa mustn't see ... mustn't see ... what?  What mustn't he see?
     And why was Buckles so still?
     Hotaru reached out to
     (move)
     wake Buckles up before Poppa saw, but when she saw her hand it was bigger, that of an adult,
not a child.
     "Hotaru?"  Poppa's voice, filled with trepidation but not yet fully comprehending, and she
knew she couldn't let him see, couldn't let him ...
     "Hotaru."  There it was, that razor's edge of madness she would come to associate with her
father.  "What have you done?"
     "I didn't mean to," she whispered, her voice no longer a child's.  The shadowy form of her
father moved in front of her, momentarily lit by a flash of lightning as it knelt by the pitifully small
form.  A trembling hand reached out to the lifeless kitten, and Hotaru knew that she had to tell
him, had to make him understand that it had been an accident.  This time, if she could make him
understand, it might be different ...
     "I didn't mean to," she repeated plaintively.  "It ... it was an accident, Poppa."  He ignored her,
treating her to his broad back as he crouched over the damning evidence, and she felt the words
jumbling up inside her, rushing to get out before it was too late.
     "Why?" he whispered, his voice raspy and faint.
     "I don't know," she blurted, feeling tears welling.  "It just happened Poppa, but I didn't mean
to I didn't mean for it to happen I didn't I didn't please Poppa pleaaaaase ..."
     He stood, grabbing her arm and pulling her along the floor roughly.  She wasn't a child now,
but it was just the same as if she had been; he pulled her easily, and she could only cry.
     "Poppa I'm sorry I didn't mean it I'll be good I'll be good I promise!"  Something loomed up
out of the mists; the basement door.
     "Tainted child," he moaned as he stumbled closer to his goal.  "Just like HER!  But no one
must know, no one ..."
     "Poppa!  Please, Poppa!  I'm sorry, I didn't mean to, please!"
     He looked down at her, and she could see his face for the first time.  It was horribly swollen,
the flesh darkened and livid, the way it had been that horrible day when she'd found him hanging
in his study.  Those bulging eyes fixed her with a terrifying gaze.
     "Foul girl," he wheezed, his breath dank with decay, "go into the dark where you belong!"  He
opened the door and threw her into the waiting darkness, ignoring her screams ...
     "POPPA!  POPPA!  NO!  I DIDN'T MEAN IT POPPA I'M SORRY POPPA!  POPPA!
POPPA!"

     Her throat was raw with shrieking, and she flailed her arms, tangled in something soft.  She
realized she was sitting up, tearing at her bedclothes, and she gasped, trying to draw a breath into
her lungs, but the air seared her throat.
     The dream again, she told herself numbly, just the dream, just ...
     No.  Something was wrong.  She stopped struggling a moment as she tried to sort through the
jumbled impressions, tried to remember what was real and what only a phantom of sleep.
     No.  Not possible.
     The hunger.  She felt it, swelling within her, as strong as ever.  She could almost TASTE hot
blood in her mouth, smell a woman's perfume, and it was getting stronger, twisting and building
deliciously within her, demanding release, offering her solace in its dark embrace.
     Her fangs slid out to their full length, aching in her mouth, aching with the need to plunge into
firm flesh.  But it couldn't be, it just couldn't.  She'd fed mere hours before, the hunger couldn't be
back so soon.
     It couldn't be.
     But it was.
     With a bereft wail, Hotaru flung herself from the bed, falling to the floor and becoming tangled
in her own hair as she struggled to gain her feet.  She had no idea where she was running to; after
all, she couldn't escape herself, could she?  Nonetheless, the need to was very real, the need to
run, to move to ...
     To feed.
     And there were three woman in the house with her.  Asleep.  Vulnerable.
     "No."  The word came out faint and hoarse, barely a whisper, as she made it to her feet,
shoulders heaving with exertion.  She lost her bearings in the dark, colliding with a wall and
leaning heavily against it.  The hunger swelled, and with it the sensation of feeding, of hot
lifeblood swirling over her tongue and down her throat.  It was real.
     Her fangs ached, and she whimpered, clutching at the wall.  The need raced through her,
making her senses sharpen and her skin tingle as it became supersensitized.  Her tenuous control
began to buckle as her own pulse pounded in her ears.
     Then there was a soundless flash behind her eyes, and the hunger was gone, just like that.  It
was as if it had never been, leaving Hotaru spent and soaked with sweat, trembling.  Her knees
gave way and she slid down the wall, ending up in a crumpled heap on the floor.
     She let her head fall against her chest, tangled hair obscuring her vision as it fell about her like
a shroud.  Outside, the rain seemed to be slackening, but inside Hotaru the storm still raged.
     (Foul girl, go in the dark where you BELONG!)
     Hotaru wrapped her arms around her legs and bowed her head, then she did something she
hadn't allowed herself to do for years.
     She broke down and sobbed helplessly.

***

     "Man," Minako groused, "some girls have all the luck."
     "Luck?" Makoto asked incredulously.  "You call that luck?"
     "He was a stone fox, babe," Minako grinned.  She eased her car through a nearly non-existent
gap in traffic and accelerated quickly, ignoring the blaring horn from behind her.  Owning a sports
car had definite advantages, especially considering her driving habits.
     Of course it also had disadvantages, like the nearly non-existent back seat.  Makoto had gotten
the front, leaving Rei and Usagi squeezed into the back.  Normally, Minako suspected neither
would have minded, but they didn't speak to each other at all, not even to bicker.
     That was not normal.
     It all went back to that woman, the haughty goddess in the Ferengetti.  Just what the deal was,
Minako didn't know, but she'd find out.  Just as soon as she got Usagi alone.
     In the meantime ...
     "He may be good-looking," Makoto informed her, "but he's trouble with a capital T."
     "He a were like the others?"
     "Uh-huh," Makoto confirmed.  "A panther.  There's a large clan of were-cats that operate in
the waterfront district, and he's the right hand of their leader."
     "What exactly did you do to make them angry, Makoto?" Rei asked from the back.
     "I bagged one of their members on a bounty," the tall girl replied casually.
     "A bounty for what?" Minako asked, cutting around a slow moving truck sharply.
     "This guy, the were, had a personal beef with another man over a girl.  Nothing unusual, right?
So he goes to where the guy works, in a tavern down by Memorial Square, and words are
exchanged.  Still, happens all the time, you know?  Boys will be boys."
     "But," Minako said wryly, knowing where this must be headed.
     "But," Makoto sighed.  "Then they get to fighting, I mean throwing punches.  This idiot,
Farner's his name, starts thrashing his rival, weres being pretty strong even in human form.  I don't
know if the other sap had any clue what he was up against, but according to witnesses he finally
pulled a knife, and Farner lost it, shifted right there in a tavern full of people.  He damn near killed
the other guy before running off."
     "Yikes," Minako muttered.
     "Made a big splash," Makoto nodded, leaning her long frame back against the contoured seat
and stretching her legs as much as possible.  "The tavern's owned by House Shinuichi, and they
posted the bounty themselves."
     "Sure," Minako said.  "Bad for business to have were-cats running amok during the dinner
rush.  Bet they'll make a big deal of his capture, too.  But his people are upset now, because they
didn't want him caught."
     "They're upset," Makoto told her, "because they wanted to be the ones to catch him.  That's
why they tried to warn me off."
     "They wanted the reward?" Usagi asked, sounding puzzled.
     "No, Usagi," Makoto said gently.  "They wanted to kill him."
     "What?"  Usagi looked shocked.
     "The changeling clans still aren't nearly the power they once were in this city," Rei broke in.
"They can't afford the kind of attention a high profile attack like this will bring.  The man who was
attacked, he'll almost certainly become a were himself."
     "If he survives, yes," Makoto agreed.  "Nobody's sure why, but surviving a nearly fatal attack
usually does pass on the Change."
     "Yeah, not only does he tear up a tavern but he turns an innocent guy into a were.  No wonder
his own kind are pissed at him," Minako said ruefully.  "I guess that's why you were able to get
him.  He had no protection from his own kind.  But is it really smart to make enemies of this clan,
Makoto?"
     "Smart?  Probably not," Makoto sighed, glancing sidelong at her.  "But I can't let myself be
pushed around, or I may as well pack up and leave the city right now.  And this guy is better off in
jail, trust me.  They'd have made an example of him that the other weres wouldn't soon forget."
     "And what will they do to you?" Rei asked.
     "Rin wanted to take me down right in the bar and give me a spanking," Makoto said darkly,
"but that's just because he's such a pervert.  I'm sure his personal preference for my "lesson"
would be something similar to that, humiliating but non-fatal.  Not that he's going to get his way,
of course."
     "A bad boy," Minako purred, feeling a tingle in her belly.  A public spanking, huh?  What an
interesting fellow this Rin was.
     "Will you be okay, Mako-chan?" Usagi asked.
     "No sweat," Makoto assured the other girl, turning to meet her eyes.  "Having two identities
comes in handy at times like these.  Most of the time he can't find me, anyway.  And the rest ..."
     "You could have been in trouble tonight if we hadn't showed, though," Rei said, and Minako
winced as Makoto's face darkened.  The tall girl was stubborn, and any suggestion that she was in
over her head was not going to be welcome.
     "I would have been okay," she snorted dismissively.  "I just didn't want to bring the whole
place down around us.  Next time, that pretty boy won't be so smug."
     "Is this it?" Minako asked before Rei could start an argument on the point.
     "Yeah, turn down here," Makoto confirmed.  Minako followed the directions she'd been given,
frowning as the street wound through a section of large, darkened buildings.  The area, bordering
a stretch of canal, seemed to be predominately old industrial properties abandoned after the Long
Dark.
     There were some signs of life, though: a few small shops and restaurants, a tavern, a
twenty-four hour bathhouse.
     "You live down here, Mako-chan?" Usagi asked incredulously.
     "Sure," Makoto replied.  "The rent's cheap, and there's plenty of privacy."
     "It's not much to look at, though," Minako muttered.
     "I've lived in plenty worse neighbourhoods," Makoto said, staring out the window.  There was
a hint of something in her voice when she said that, at once wistful and bitter and melancholy.  If
they'd been alone Minako might have tried to follow up on it, but as it was the mood wasn't right.
     "Okay, that's it," Makoto said finally, pointing.  Minako pulled onto a stretch of pitted,
cracked asphalt that ran alongside an imposing concrete box of a building.  The girls stared at
their destination, aghast.
     It had clearly been a factory or warehouse at one time.  The walls were blank, broken only by a
rusted door in the corner nearest the street and a row of three larger, roll-up doors at the far end.
Minako drove to those at Makoto's behest, stopping in front of one while the tall girl got out and
unlocked it, rolling it up easily.  Minako eased her car inside and Makoto pulled the door closed
behind them.
     Inside was a spacious, surprisingly clean area lit by rows of high, flourescent fixtures.  Minako
reflected that this must have been the loading dock at one time; there was a high shelf ahead of
them where the trucks would have backed up to unload.  The only way up to that level was a set
of stairs that led to a heavy steel door.
     Besides her GX2100, there were two other vehicles in the garage area; a red racing bike, and a
buff-looking Griffon.  The Griffon was an older model, but appeared to be in perfect shape.  The
lights gleamed off of the clear laquer that had been applied over the midnight black paint job, and
picked out sharp knives of white from the chromed wheels.  If her car was a thoroughbred, this
one was a mustang, all raw power and attitude.
     And, even if it was sexist, something about that car just screamed "guy" to her.  She couldn't
help wondering what the owner was like.
     "That's a mean machine," she said admiringly as she got out of the car.  Makoto walked up and
grinned.
     "I never figured you for a car buff, Minako," she said.  "Yeah, that's Yoshi's baby.  It's even
faster than it looks.  Yoshi, he's handy with machines."
     "Oh," Minako murmured as Usagi and Rei pried themselves from the backseat.  "Good with
his hands, then?"
     "Trust you to find some sexual innuendo in that," Rei
grumbled, stretching the kinks out.  Minako took a moment to surreptitiously check out the other
girl's butt as she bent over.
     Yep.  Still fabulous.
     "I like to keep in practice," she told Rei, moving around to open the trunk.  She retrieved her
carryall bag and followed the others to the stairs, waiting while Makoto unlocked the imposing
door.  A glance to the right showed that the loading dock itself only extended into the building for
a few feet before ending at a cinderblock wall.  The paint on it was fresh, leading Minako to
deduce that the wall was a recent addition.
     She gawked at the thickness of the door as they passed through, listening to the resonant thud
it made as it swung shut again.
     "That's a serious door," she remarked.  "I guess you don't get many unannounced visitors."
     "Nope," Makoto confirmed.  "There's a buzzer system connected to the only other external
door, courtesy of Yoshi.  But I don't really have to worry about security here."
     They walked down a long hallway.  The floor was bare concrete, but spotless.  The walls here
were obviously also new, broken only by the occasional plain gray steel door.  They walked past
three or four of those before they came to an open area, a sort of foyer.  Another wide hallway
branched off to the left, and they turned down it.  There was a door just ahead on the right,
another further down on the left.  Someone was coming out of the farther door, turning to come
towards them as they watched.
     One glance told Minako that this must be the Griffon's owner.  He fit the image perfectly; snug
jeans, low-heeled black boots and a t-shirt that clung to the smooth curves of his muscles.  His
unruly mane of blonde hair was tied back with a leather thong, leaving long bangs to dangle
enticingly in front of his face, but his eyes were what caught her attention and held it.  They were
a pale gray, exotic and altogether beautiful.
     She wasn't certain, but she may have whimpered when he flashed a smile.
     "Hey, Makoto," he greeted, walking towards them with long, easy strides.
     "Yoshi," she hailed him.  "Going out?"
     "Got a line on some gear," he told her.  His voice was resonant, slightly husky, and Minako
wondered how her name would sound being whispered by that voice in the dark ...
     "This time of night?" Makoto chided.  He shrugged, flashing that liquid-heat smile again.
     "The man keeps strange hours," he said.  "What can I do?"
     "Uh-huh," Makoto said.  "Hey, these are some friends of mine: Usagi, Rei, and Minako."  She
pointed to each in turn.
     "Charmed," he told them, sounding sincere.  "Well, ladies, nice meeting you but I've got to get
rolling.  Later."
     With that he moved on by, leaving just the faint clean scent of male, slightly musky, in his
wake.  Minako watched him go.
     The view from behind was just as gorgeous as from the front.
     Usagi pressed up against her as she tried for a better view, and the two sighed in unison as
Yoshi turned the corner and disappeared.
     "Come on, ladies," Makoto chuckled.  "The show's over."  She unlocked her door, and
Minako reluctantly followed Usagi inside.
     "You should invite him over later, Makoto," she said.  "You know, for coffee or tea or raw
animal sex or something."  She stopped dead as she crossed the threshold, joining the other two
girls in gazing around her in awe.
     "Mako-chan," Usagi murmured.  "This is ..."
     "Incredible," Minako finished for her.
     "From outside, you'd never guess it was like this," Rei murmured, slipping her shoes off.
     The place was huge, for starters.  The ceilings were at least two stories high, possibly a little
more.  Naked steel beams and bare ducts were visible up there, running the width of the room.
     Most of the area was completely open, with a large and well-equipped kitchen at one end.
There was a corner devoted to exercise gear, including a heavy punching bag, speed bag and
practice dummy.  Across the room from that was a cluster of comfortable-looking furniture, two
couches and three chairs interspersed with some casually elegant floor lamps.  A well-equipped
entertainment stand was present, and near the furniture a solid brick fireplace dominated the wall.
     And that was only part of the picture.  A large loft had been built in the rear half of the space,
with stairs leading up.  A skylight was visible over it, rain sluicing across its surface.  The area
under the loft had been closed in, a single door giving access to the space underneath.  Minako
figured that the bathroom must be under there, since she couldn't see one anywhere else.
     The concrete floor had been covered with gleaming hardwood that matched the pale wood
panelling on the walls, giving the room an even more open appearance.  Minako shook her head
in wonder.
     "Makoto, how in the world do you afford a place like this?" she asked.
     "You'd be surprised how reasonable the rent is," Makoto replied.  "A place this size in the
palace district would cost a mint, but in this neighbourhood it's a different story."
     "Yeah, but still ..." Usagi said, gawking shamelessly.  "This is beautiful.  And so big!"
     "Is Yoshi your only neighbour?" Rei asked.
     "For now," Makoto told her.  "Work has started on a third unit, but it isn't ready yet, so for
now we have the building to ourselves."
     "Just you and Yoshi?  You lucky girl," Minako sighed enviously.
     "Makoto," Rei said, her deep violet eyes grave.  "Normally I wouldn't pry like this, but given
your current situation I think it's called for."
     "What are you talking about?" Makoto frowned.
     "Are you aware," Rei asked, "that Yoshi is a were?"
     "Oh, that," Makoto said, relaxing.  "Yeah, he's not a cat though.  Wolf, and he doesn't have
any pack or clan affiliations.  He's okay, I trust him."
     "Wow," Minako said.  "I guess that makes him a lone wolf, huh?"  She turned to Usagi.
"Lone wolf, get it?  Lone ... aw, come on, that was pretty good!"
     "But Rei," Makoto asked, "how did you know Yoshi was a were?"
     "His aura," Rei replied.  "Weres have distinctive auras that reveal them to someone with
spiritual training like mine."
     "But tell us, oh priestess," Minako said slyly, rankled by Rei's superior tone, "if you're so
sensitive, how is it you lived under the same roof with a vampire for so long and never noticed?"
     That shot hit home; Minako felt a warm glow of satisfaction as Rei's eyes narrowed, that smug
expression wiped away in an instant.
     "That's enough!" Makoto snapped before Rei could regain her composure sufficiently to
counterattack.  "We're not having THAT discussion again, ladies, not now.  I want to hear about
this mysterious threat instead."
     "Maybe we should try to find Ami first," Usagi said.  Minako noted with wry amusement the
way Usagi moved so that she was standing between her and Rei.
     "You have any idea where she is?" Minako asked.
     "Well, not exactly," Makoto replied.  "I can get a message to her, but I don't know how soon
she'll get back to me."
     "Will you try, Mako-chan?  I'm worried about her," Usagi implored, gazing hopefully at the
taller girl.  Minako knew that Makoto wouldn't be able to deny that wide-eyed gaze.
     "I'll go make the call," Makoto sighed.  "Do you really think that Ami's in any danger, though?
I mean, this girl you mentioned didn't show around here, and there's been no wraith trouble
either."
     "I don't know, but I'll feel better once I know she's okay," Usagi said.  Makoto nodded and
bade them to look around, disappearing upstairs.  Rei moved off towards the fireplace, pointedly
ignoring the other two, and Usagi turned to Minako with a stricken expression.
     "Minako," she said softly.
     "Oh, come on," Minako replied, feeling a twinge of guilt at the distress in Usagi's big blue
eyes.  "She needs her chain yanked every now and again, that's all."  Usagi just nibbled her lower
lip, clasping her hands tightly in front of her chest, and Minako finally held her hands up in defeat.
     "Okay," she told her princess.  "I'll lay off, I promise."
     "Thank you, Minako," Usagi breathed gratefully, beaming.  Minako stepped closer and slipped
her arm around Usagi's slim waist.
     "Come on, beautiful," she murmured.  "Let's have a look around."  They went in the opposite
direction from Rei, Minako figuring the girl would need a little time to cool off before she'd be
civil again.  Speaking of which ...
     "So, princess, what happened between you and Rei?" she asked.  "Things got tense when that
woman showed up earlier.  What gives?"
     "Um, could we talk about that later?" Usagi asked, shooting a surreptitious glance at Rei's
back.  Minako considered pressing, but it seemed like Usagi wasn't willing to talk about it while
Rei was anywhere nearby.  Well, fine.  Minako would get it out of her eventually.
     She could be very persuasive when she set her mind to it.

***

     The landscape twisted and turned, finally settling into a stable setting of trees and grass.  The
Way wound into the distance, and she could see that it plunged through a patch of writhing
Shadow, disappearing from her view.
     She would have to keep an eye on that; it wasn't too close, but Shadow could be
unpredictable.  That thought made her smile.
     It was significant, she supposed, that she'd come to regard anything in this place as predictable.
     Her present surroundings were safe for the moment, though, so she concentrated and sent out
a call, focussing it so that it wouldn't attract the wrong kind of attention.  It wasn't long before the
reply came.
     "Hi hiiiiiii!" a small, breathy voice announced.  She smiled as the tiny figure streaked through
the trees, surrounded by a faint nimbus of golden light.
     "Hello, Willow," she said softly, holding out her hand.  The fairy landed on the outstretched
palm with a flourish, her gossamer wings fluttering to a stop.
     "Ami looks pretty!" Willow announced.  The girl glanced down at herself to see that she was
wearing a loose, flowing gown of sky-blue, with matching slippers.
     "Thank you, Willow.  So do you," Ami replied.  Willow preened self-consciously at the
compliment, tugging at her wild tangle of spun-gold hair.  She wore the briefest of garments
today, made from some fine material as green as the little fairy's vibrant eyes.
     "I brought you something," Ami said, opening her other hand.  Nestled in the palm was a small
piece of foil, and Willow squealed with delight, wasting no time in leaping nimbly to the other
hand and opening the foil.
     "Chocolate!" she cried.  "Thank you, Ami!"  Willow licked the chocolate once before closing
the foil again and clasping it to her chest.
     "You're welcome," Ami smiled.  "So, how are things, Willow?  Do you have anything for me
today?"  Willow frowned, casting a sidelong glance at the roiling shadow.
     "More shadows today," she announced primly, disapproval in her tone.  "Bad things all
restless-like.  Willow doesn't know why."
     "I see," Ami nodded.  Things locally did indeed seem to be unsettled, but there was no sign of
danger.  Ami wasn't terribly worried; she was an old hand at this.  "But nothing useful?"
     "Willow saw something," the fairy said slowly.  "Floating.  Willow thinks it was a spell, but it
floated into Shadow.  Willow cannot follow there.  Maybe it comes out again, maybe not."
     "I don't want you following anything into Shadow, Willow," Ami said sternly.  "Remember?"
     "Willow remembers," the fairy chirped.  Ami didn't think Willow would really be foolish
enough to venture into Shadow, but it never hurt to reinforce the message.
     "Well, I have to go," she told Willow.  "Things to do, you know."
     "So soon?" Willow pouted, disappointment clear in her voice.  "Willow wanted to show Ami
something, something new.  Not even Queen knows what it is."
     "Sounds interesting," Ami smiled.  "Next time, okay?"
     "`Kay," Willow agreed.  "Bye-bye, Ami."
     "Be good, Willow."
     Willow took to the air and circled as Ami shut her eyes, seeking the way back.  She found her
anchor and reached for it with her mind, feeling her surroundings slip away as it became clearer
and clearer.
     Then she opened her eyes again.
     The dress was gone, replaced with shorts and a plain blue t-shirt.  She sighed and stretched,
easing herself out of her cross-legged posture and standing slowly.  Brushing stray locks of hair
out of her eyes, she stepped out of the pattern and walked slowly out of the room.
     Gods, it was late.  She caught sight of the clock near her bed and groaned.  Almost three in the
morning already?  She'd lost track of the time again.
     Outside, the rain fell heavily, although the nearly constant lightning of the previous night had
tailed off into the occasional sullen flicker.  Well, the rain didn't bother her; it was almost cozy,
falling asleep to the sound of rain falling.
     And falling asleep was definitely what she planned to do.
     As she passed her desk, though, a flashing light caught her eye.  A glance confirmed that a
message had been left at one of her secure drops, and was rated high priority.  Sighing, she
detoured to the desk, sitting down and calling up the message.
     The priority flag was explained when she saw who the sender was.  A momentary prickle of
unease tickled her belly as she recalled the last bit of information she'd passed on to Makoto, and
she hoped that the brash girl hadn't gotten in over her head.
     She quickly forgot her concerns, though, when she read the entire message.  The others were
all together?  A giddy excitement bubbled up inside her, and she reigned it in hastily.  This
certainly was unexpected, but it wasn't necessarily good news.  All the message really told her was
that Usagi, Minako and Rei were at Makoto's place, and that she should get in contact as soon as
possible.
     Ami glanced at the clock again.  Too late to call now.  She'd have to wait for the morning.
     Pushing back from her desk, she sat for a moment, just staring into space.  She'd tried not to
think about the others since leaving Hotaru's house, but knowing that they were all going to be
together again kindled undeniable feelings of anticipation in her.
     She got up and killed the lights, then slid under her blankets and curled up into a ball, thinking
about the morning, how she'd get to Makoto's place, what she'd wear, whether she should bring
anything.
     Suddenly, she wasn't sleepy anymore.

***

     They'd sat for a time, catching up on inconsequential things while sipping a passably good
wine that Makoto had had in her fridge.  The hour had started off late, however, and soon even
Usagi had to concede that Ami wouldn't be contacting them before morning.
     Makoto had offered to let them stay over, an offer which was gratefully accepted.  Rei had
ended up on a spare futon near Makoto's bed, while Minako and Usagi shared the fold out couch.
      Minako had shed her cat-girl leotard, settling on a pair of high-cut thong panties and a t-shirt,
cropped just under the breasts and bearing a blood-red Club Kiss logo, for sleeping.  She'd found
another shirt for Usagi to sleep in, a loose t-shirt that fell to the girl's thighs.  She couldn't help but
feel the princess looked adorable in it.
     One floor lamp remained lit, throwing a golden glow over Usagi as she sat on the edge of their
bed, untying her hair.  Mischievously, Minako crawled across the bed to a point behind the other
girl and buried her face in the cascade of blonde hair, rubbing her nose gently against the back of
Usagi's neck and inhaling deeply.
     "Hey," Usagi giggled.  "What are you doing?"
     "Just smelling you," Minako replied idly.  "Sniffing beautiful girls is a hobby of mine."
     "Flirt," Usagi chided in a half-whisper.
     "Guilty," Minako replied, pulling back reluctantly.  "Come on, let's go to bed."  She grabbed
her bag and moved so she could set it on the floor.  Usagi slipped under the covers, and when
Minako turned she worked her way on her knees to a point near Usagi's head where she could
reach the lamp.  First though, she yawned and arched her back into her best feline stretch, running
her hands lazily up her body and plunging her fingers into her hair, pushing it up onto her head as
she sighed throatily.  The motion made her brief t-shirt ride up, giving Usagi quite a view of taut
belly and full breasts.
     Touchy-feely, AND an exhibitionist, Minako, thought.  Man, I rock!
     "Minako," Usagi breathed.
     "Mmmm?" Minako replied, glancing down without breaking her pose.
     "Don't be alarmed," Usagi said with an impish gleam in her eye, "but I think there's every
possibility that you might be a shameless hussy."
     "Yes," Minako conceded.  "But at least I'm not going to be sleeping with one."  That made
Usagi break out in girlish giggles as Minako reached out one arm with exaggerated languidness to
flick off the lamp.  The fold-out bed was quite wide, and Minako could have laid down where she
was, but instead she crawled slowly over Usagi to the other side of the bed, making sure to paw
her thoroughly in the process.  Usagi's giggles increased in volume, interspersed with squeaks and
squeals as Minako's limbs found the occasional ticklish spot.  Finally, Minako simply dropped
herself onto the other girl and slithered on her belly like a snake, sending Usagi into helpless
convulsions.
     "Geez, what are you two doing down there?" Rei finally called from the loft.
     "Foreplay!" Minako called back cheerily, sending Usagi into another fit of laughter.  "Come on
down, we'll have a threesome!"
     "Go to sleep, nympho," Makoto's voice floated down.  Finally Minako rolled off of Usagi and
slid under the warm, heavy comforter.  With a sigh, she burrowed into Usagi, slipping one arm
carelessly over the girl's stomach and nuzzling in so that her chin was on Usagi's shoulder and
Usagi's outflung arm was under her head.  With Usagi on her back and Minako on her stomach,
the two fit together nicely.
     Minako breathed in the other girl's scent contentedly.  Artemis always said that she was just
like a cat; she wasn't happy unless she had a warm body to curl up to when she slept.  Usagi's
warmth seeped into her, and the princess's breath tickled her cheek as the last of her giggles died
away.
     "I really missed you, Minako," Usagi whispered.  Minako felt a pang of conscience, gazing
into those crystal clear blue eyes.
     "I missed you too," Minako breathed.  "I'm sorry I didn't get in touch after ... well, you know,
after.  I just wasn't too sure how you were feeling about things, and I was a little shaken up
myself."
     "Everyone was, I guess," Usagi said softly.  "But Hotaru was wrong, you know.  We aren't
tools or pawns for her to use however she wants.  We're more than a weapon she forged for her
use."
     "`A weapon doesn't question the hand that wields it'," Minako said, recalling that night.  "But
that's all we ever were to her, isn't it?"
     "I don't believe that," Usagi said, her eyes sombre now.  "I don't know why she said all those
things, but over the last little while I've had a chance to look back, and I can't believe she meant
what she said."
     "I can't believe that she was a vampire," Minako snorted.
     "I've seen her in the sun, and you have too," Usagi pointed out.  "She's eaten meals with us,
gone into temples ... she can't be a vampire, Minako, not really."
     "Really?" Minako murmured, reaching with her free hand to brush her fingers gently against
the smooth skin at the base of Usagi's throat.  "The fang marks are completely gone, aren't they?"
     "She tried to send me away before it happened," Usagi said stubbornly.  "Maybe she didn't
want to hurt me.  Maybe she was really trying to protect me."
     "That's my princess," Minako said with a fond smile.  "Always willing to believe the best of
anyone."
     "You didn't have to taunt Rei that way," Usagi added, disapproval clouding her gaze.  "She
feels guilty about not sensing the truth, you know."
     "I bet she does," Minako said, unrepentant.  "And she should.  Anyway, I think Rei needs to
be reminded from time to time that she puts her pantyhose on one leg at a time, just like the rest
of us."
     "You know her temper.  You could make her really mad."
     "Oh, I hope so," Minako said with a salacious grin.  "She might get mad enough to punish
me."  She lowered her voice to a husky purr, and added, "I bet Rei gives great domination."  A
cute pink flush rose hotly to Usagi's cheeks, barely visible in the faint light from the skylight.
     "Minako!" Usagi hissed, delightfully scandalized.  "Honestly, the things you say!"
     "Oh, come on," Minako teased.  "You mean you've never thought that?"
     "Um," Usagi mumbled, squirming slightly under the other girl's disconcertingly direct gaze.
"But hey, didn't you say earlier that you dreamed of Rei licking your boots?"
     "Oh, for the right partner I'll get on the bottom," Minako purred, allowing Usagi to dodge the
question.
     "You're teasing me," Usagi said, but her eyes reflected her uncertainty.  "You wouldn't just let
Rei tie you up or something."
     "Let her?  No, of course not," Minako whispered, moving her lips next to Usagi's ear.  "She'd
have to overpower me first.  Domination is a fine art, princess.  Not everyone can do it."  Minako
moved her hand, letting her fingers stroke Usagi's flat belly lightly through the thin t-shirt, moving
in slow, lazy circles.
     "And speaking of Rei," Minako continued, "what's going on between you two?  What's the
deal with that woman from before?.  You want to tell me about it?"
     Usagi lay there quietly, but Minako could feel the tension in the other girl's body where their
bodies were pressed together.
     "It's nothing," Usagi murmured at last.  "It'll work itself out soon enough.  You know Rei's
moods."
     Minako did know Rei's moods, enough to know this was something more.  But if Usagi wasn't
ready to talk about it, then she could let it slide.  For now.
     "Yeah, I'm sure you're right," Minako sighed.  Usagi lay silent for a time, then turned her head
so that she was looking into the other girl's eyes.
     "Minako?"
     "Mmmm?"
     "What do you know about the gods?"
     Minako blinked.  It was fair to say that particular question was far and away the last she'd
expected to hear.
     "The gods?" she repeated blankly.  "What do you mean?"
     "Well," Usagi began, obviously choosing her words carefully, "like for instance, most people
have a patron deity, right?"
     "Sure," Minako agreed, still unsure where they were going.  "At least one, although there are
minor ones you might also make the occasional offering to."
     "Right," Usagi said.  "Because which god you choose as your patron can affect your life in a
lot of different ways.  Like, if you worship Marbis you can only have one partner at a time, or if
you worship Diennas you can't serve under the command of a male ..."
     "Is this about you and Mamoru?" Minako asked suspiciously.  "Are you two having some sort
of conflict over your patrons?  Because followers of Alieva and Travos should get along pretty
well."
     "Oh, no," Usagi said quickly.  "I mean, well ... Mamo-chan uses red roses, right?  As Tuxedo
Mask, I mean."
     "Sure," Minako said, shrugging as much as she could given her posture.  "I guess he's
favoured by Travos, since an enchanted red rose is one of His symbols.  Travos, if I remember, is
mostly associated with honour, courage, and all that good stuff."
     "And the Sisters used to tell us stories of the Age of Change, when champions of the gods
fought against the Shadow Kings," Usagi said softly.  "Sometimes, those favoured by the White
Lady herself used an enchanted white rose to strike down their enemies."
     "And as Travos is represented by the Earth, and Alieva by the Moon, they are nearly always
associated with each other in the old stories," Minako pointed out.  "Face it, destiny isn't subtle."
     "But what about a black rose?" Usagi pressed.  "Do you know who would use one of those?"
     "Sure," Minako said, frowning slightly.  "The favoured of Dasma, the Dark Lady."
     "The Sisters of Shadows," Usagi breathed, her eyes hooded.
     "Right," Minako said.  "Usagi ..."
     "What do you know about them?" Usagi asked, surprising Minako yet again.
     "I'd think you'd have heard some stories about them, having been raised by the White Sisters,"
Minako said slowly.
     "Yes," Usagi said, squirming, "but when it came to matters of their opposite numbers ... well,
you know how strict and harsh the Sisters of Light can be about that sort of thing.  The stories
they told were pretty wild sometimes."
     "Well, since Dasma was defeated and sealed away by Alieva, worship of Her has mostly been
suppressed, despite petitions to the Council of Churches," Minako said.  "But that just seems to
attract some people."
     "But She was evil, right?" Usagi asked intently.
     "Evil?  No, not really," Minako said with a wry smile.  "Dark, yes.  Her domain was the
shadows, not just of the world but of men's hearts.  If Olidia represents romantic love, Dasma
represents the darker side of the equation; lust, seduction, hunger, the balance of dominance and
submission.  Where the White Lady is said to dispel shadows, Dasma embraces them."
     "But," Usagi frowned, "isn't that pretty much a bad thing?"
     "Oh, I don't know," Minako replied lazily, letting the circles described by her fingers upon
Usagi's belly gradually widen.  "There's supposed to be a balance of shadow and light in everyone,
isn't there?"
     "I guess so," Usagi muttered.  "But the Sisters of Shadows, they were supposed to be able to
... control people, right?"
     "Well, if you believe the stories, they could use dark arts passed down from the Dark Lady
herself to seduce and control people for their own purposes," Minako admitted, feeling a warm
tingle in her belly at the memory of some of those stories.  "Why, got someone you want
seduced?  Point me at `em, sweetheart!"
     "But if someone was being ... influenced that way, or had been," Usagi went on, a strange look
in her eye, "wouldn't someone with the power of the White Moon be able to break that hold?"
     "Supposedly," Minako said, noting how Usagi was toying with her pendant through her shirt,
the one with Alieva's symbol on it.  "You should really talk to Rei about something like this,
though.  She studied spiritualism, she probably knows more about conflict between the earthly
powers of the gods and all that."
     "That's a good idea," Usagi breathed.  "I'll have to do that, soon."
     "Princess," Minako said, more puzzled over their conversation than anything.  "What's this
about, anyway?  Why all this concern over Dasma's Sisterhood?  Do you think they're involved in
what's going on, I mean Rei's vision and all that?"
     "Oh, no," Usagi replied.  "It was just something I was thinking about, that's all.  Really."
Minako doubted that; Usagi had a particular gleam in her eye, the one she got when she was
planning something.
     That look always presaged trouble.  Minako resolved to keep an eye on the other girl over the
next couple of days.  Usagi yawned widely, then turned on her side just as Minako's fingers
were beginning to stray into intimate territory.  Suppressing a smile, Minako spooned up against
the other girl's back.
     "Tired, princess?"
     "Mmm-hmm," Usagi replied.  "It's been a long day."
     "But a good one," Minako replied.  After all, despite this vague and nebulous threat that Rei
kept raving about, they were together again, and it felt good.  Very good, in fact.  When Ami
joined them, they would all be together for the first time since that night when they'd discovered
the truth about why Hotaru had sought them out.
     Minako very much doubted that there was anything the five of them couldn't handle.
     Warmed by that thought and by Usagi's nearness, she drifted off to sleep.

***

     The pre-dawn hour was cold and damp, but at least the rain had finally stopped.  Mamoru rose
from a crouch, working his shoulders to ease the tension, and looked around wearily.
     He'd  actually become accustomed to the sight of dead bodies; even the sort of mutilation
present here didn't shock him.  The smell, though, that was something you never got used to.  It
had a way of reaching past professional detachment or black humour and tweaking the animal part
of the brain.
     "Mamoru!"  He turned and nodded, waiting for Yusaku to pick his way across the rubble
strewn room to where he was standing.  Uniform officers moved past the doorway, guarding
access to the scene.  Not that there was much of a crowd, given the deserted neighbourhood and
the time of night; mostly the usual suspects.
     "Hey, partner," Yusaku said.  "Quite a mess, huh?  What in the hells is this place, anyway?"
     "According to records, it's listed as the Church of the Sentinel," Mamoru said curtly.  "And
would this be a good time to ask you where you've been?"
     "The Royal Saeni Hospital," Yusaku replied.  "Been a hell of a night, let me tell you.  Anyway,
I got a call from the chief, asking me to personally check something out while you were here.
Javour's balls, what did all this, anyway?"
     "Wraiths, believe it or not," Mamoru sighed.  "There were
one or two left when we got here, but most of them were gone.
But it doesn't make any sense."
     "Oh, I'm afraid it just might make sense," Yusaku said softly, pulling his glasses off and toying
with them absently.
     "What's that supposed to mean?" Mamoru demanded.  He hadn't gotten much sleep between
worrying about Usagi and his pager going off at an ungodly hour, and he was more than a tad
irritable.
     "There was an incident in an uptown club tonight," Yusaku murmured, glancing about
surreptitiously to ensure that no one was close enough to hear them.  "A vamp attack."
     "What?"  Instantly, Mamoru's fatigue vanished in a rush of adrenaline.  "Our vamp?"
     "Could be," Yusaku went on gravely.  "She killed the three customers outright, put the entire
staff under her control before any of them could run or call for help.  Apparently, she was playing
with them when things went sour."
     "She killed them all?" Mamoru asked, afraid of the answer.  Yusaku surprised him, though.
     "Nope," the older man replied.  "We've got purifications underway on the survivors in the
RSH's old secure ward, and a couple of the girls could talk.  Apparently, our vamp just suddenly
freaked, started screeching about the light of the key appearing or some such thing.  Tossed the
one she'd been feeding on aside like nothing, broke her arm in three places and a couple of ribs to
boot.  Then, and this is the interesting part, she does some kind of blood summoning.  Guess what
she calls up?"
     "Wraiths," Mamoru breathed.  "We've been having trouble with them ever since ..."
     "The airship crash," Yusaku finished for him.  "And now this.  Coincidence?  I think not."
     "But why?  Nobody's even heard of the Church of the Sentinel.  This place is built like a
fortress, Yu, but they smashed stone walls as thick as your head and killed everybody.  We still
haven't got a complete body count, but ..."
     "Detective!"  They turned to see one of the ETF officers standing in an inner doorway, the
visor of her helmet up to reveal a sweat streaked face.  "You'd better come see this!"
     They followed the officer through the doorway and down a wide, rubble strewn hallway,
turning at another empty doorway to descend a flight of worn stone stairs.  They went below
ground level, but despite the cool air Mamoru noticed the ETF officer was still sweating.
     "Find  any more wraiths?" Yusaku asked.  She shook her head.
     "No sir," she said.  "But we were doing a sweep of the basement when we found this guy.  The
sarge wants you to take a look."
     The stairwell emptied out into a large chamber.  They were far enough under the main building
that the ceiling could be both high and arched.  The power was out, but powerful lamps lit up the
area with a harsh, merciless glare.  They could see toppled bookcases, some broken white stone
that might once have been statues, and, at the front of the chamber, an altar.
     The altar was plenty big enough for the body that had been left on it.
     The Emergency Task Force crew stood around, tension evident in their stances, the way they
held their weapons.  Mamoru recognized the sergeant, who had the dusky skin and dark, nearly
purple hair of a native of Vierna.  He couldn't recall her name, though.
     "Piakesti," Yusaku called out.  "What've you got there?"
     "See for yourself," the woman said sourly.  They stepped up to the altar, moving carefully.
     The man had been old, but in good health.  The white robes he wore were similar to the ones
found on the other bodies; at least, on the more intact ones.
     "Gods," Yusaku winced.  Mamoru could only stare.  The man's limbs were askew, bent in
ways that should have been impossible.  The bones had obviously been shattered; in places the
robes bulged where broken ends jutted through the skin.  There were bloodstains at those points,
but they were small, and Mamoru was very afraid he knew why.
     "Yusaku," he said, pointing.  Yusaku saw it immediately; two neat puncture wounds on the
man's neck.
     "His face, though," Piakesti muttered from behind them.  "You see his face?"
     Mamoru had to agree that his expression was nearly the worst part.  Despite what had been
done to him, the man had died in ecstasy, and Mamoru wondered if, should he lean over and stare
into those glassy eyes, he might see the image of terrible beauty still lingering there like an echo.
     "All right, nobody touches the body until Wasa gets here," Mamoru said firmly.  "Are there
any others like this, sergeant?"
     "Not that we've found, and we've swept the whole place now," she replied.  "The others could
have been the wraiths, from the claw and tooth marks.  This one's the only one that was done
like this."
     Yusaku had wandered over to the wall and was staring up at the image engraved upon it.
Mamoru joined him.
     "Church of the Sentinel," Yusaku muttered.  "Who in the hells is the Sentinel, anyway?  I
never heard any of our gods called by that name."
     "A foreign god, maybe?" Mamoru shrugged.
     "Yeah, but the Council of Churches doesn't bar foreign temples from their district," Yusaku
frowned.  "Why build a church way out here in a nearly abandoned industrial area?  And what in
Javour's name IS that thing?"
     Mamoru shrugged.  Something about the image carved onto the wall above the altar made the
small hairs on the back of his neck prickle.  It evoked an almost atavistic dread, and damned if he
could figure out why.
     "Looks like a tower," he told Yusaku diffidently.  "With a huge eye on top of it."
     "Worshipping a big eye," Yusaku grunted.  "Now I've heard everything."
     "If this is our vamp, Yu, then this could be a break," Mamoru murmured.  "There could be
something about these attacks that will give us an idea what she's after."
     "Well, I don't know about the eyeball guys here," Yusaku said diffidently, "but here's a bit of
info.  The club she hit tonight used to be a secret vamp hangout, back in the day."
     "Interesting," Mamoru breathed.  "Maybe she hasn't been active in Saeni since before the Long
Dark.  That could be something.  Anything else?"
     "Well," Yusaku said, pulling out a black-covered notebook and flipping open to a page bound
by a rubber band.  "We know she's more than just a vamp, since she did that summoning.  And we
got a general physical description.  Very striking, as I recall.  Let's see ... pale complexion, dark
eyes and straight dark hair down to the floor ... and here's something distinctive.  Our lady vamp
can use her hair to bind her victims.  Now there's something you don't see every day."
     "No," Mamoru said, staring fixedly at the wall.  "No, you certainly don't."
     Unfortunately, he had seen a vampire who matched that description and used that very trick.
He felt his stomach churn as he considered the ramifications of this new information.
     This had the potential to get incredibly ugly.
 

End part three