Shikei slipped in silently through the air duct. The air intake fan was moving slowly enough for him to walk through. His black and grey igabakama (night suit) blended in perfectly in the dark shadows within the top of the warehouse. With an almost inaudible click, he switched his goggles from night vision to infrared. Below he watched the guards walk around stacks of crates. Inside some of the creates he could detect heat sources, but they weren't clear enough to decide if they were illegally imported animals or worse. Unmoving he counted the guards and tracked their movements. His mind already anticipating where they will go.
Shikei had no family name. He was adopted by Master Oba immediately after his birth. His biological family and the reasons behind his adoption were unknown to him. Master Oba, his oyabun (yakuza family leader), told him not to worry himself with it. So he obeyed. The motives behind Master Oba was none of his concern. Up until a few years ago his life was spent training, learning the secret art of ninjutsu, karate, stealth, acrobatics, and kenjutsu. Especially kenjutsu. While never truly competing in public, he had already bested several skilled fighters in back alleys on the order of Master Oba. The only sign of a loss was a faint straight scar on his right cheek, barely noticeable unless the light was just right or if you know what to look for. Shikei knew what to look for. Each time he looked in the mirror, that two inch scar became a hideous gash dominating his face, a badge of his failure. He relived that moment four years ago every time he saw or felt the scar. The dark alley, his katana wet with the blood of the rival gang members. The fourth hiding behind a car. A gun drawn, noticed an instant too late. A single shot fired. Hot, burning streak along the side of his face. Shrunkin thrown in reflex. Gun rendered useless followed by the owner. No one but him considered it to be a failure. Still, it drove him to train harder.
There was an academic aspect to his training also. All of it was related to his journey to become the sort of ninja/samauri Master Oba wanted. He learned Japanese and yakuza history to learn of his adopted family's past. Physics and chemistry had real world applications which had saved his life more than once. Knowledge of electronics and computers made breaking into secure places easier. But none of that science would be needed here. Tonight his mission was simple: destroy this warehouse.
Below him were smuggled goods from across the Pacific. What they were exactly was unknown. But they belonged to a greedy rival gang. It was a new gang led by those without experience or even basic common sense. Their guards were little more than common thugs in gang colors.
Whatever was in one of the crates clawed at the sides as a guard walked by. The guard yelled for quiet and kicked the side. Shikei fell from his perch. Well-oiled swords were pulled from their sheaths with not even a whisper. With a swish, the guard collapsed, his lifeforce vanished.
Shikei returned to the shadows in time to catch another guard unaware. This one, however, was better trained or smarter than the average cannon fodder. Any training he had extended his life by only a few seconds, but in that brief time he called for help before the point of a katana slashed his throat.
The three remaining guards appeared at the end of a row of packages. The leader pulled a pistol from his holster. Calmly and almost instantly, the man in the night suit flexed his right forearm and pushed a hidden button with his thumb. A zipping noise was heard and the leader was knocked down, a throwing spike imbedded in his forehead.
The last pair of guards panicked and tried to flee. But Shikei was faster, killing them before they could even reach the door. With no further complications, the intruder pulled several incendiary charges from his belt and began scouting for the best locations. Again he passed by the crate where the first guard met unforgiving justice and again there was a plea for freedom from within.
The infrared goggles were still unable to determine what was inside. Curious he found a crowbar and pried open the lid. From the first crack in the lid a strong order emanated. Shikei took a step backwards from the stench. It was musk mixed with death. Two ferret heads poked themselves out, ecstatic about a breath of fresh air. Carefully he pulled them out. The grateful ferrets climbed all over his body affectionately. He unwrapped the nutrition bar be brought as a snack and fed it to them. The slinky mammals ate hungrily and began nosing around inside his night suit for more food. Amused, he gave them the rest of the bar and let them drink from his collapsible water pouch. Exhausted and full the ferrets snuggled in the crook of his arm and fell asleep.
There were other animals being smuggled inside the crate, but they had all died from starvation, the journey, or each other. He closed the lid again and began to check the other crates for anything else which might still be alive. He came across an assortments of illegal girlie mags, weapons, even another crate of poor animals which didn't make it.
In the distance a truck was approaching. Obviously they were the owners of the contraband and were coming to collect their ill gotten goods. Shikei worked quickly placing the charges. His assignment was to destroy the shipment, not to attack the yakuza lieutenants. He knew there was a reason for those orders. He trusted that he would be told them in time.
Slipping unseen out the window he jumped to another warehouse, found cover, and detonated the charges. The structure burst into flame instantly. Doors were ripped from their hinges and windows shattered. The truck barely managed to dodge a burning chunk of debris. Its occupants could do nothing but watch helplessly as tens of millions of yen were destroyed.
Satisfied his job was finished, Shikei carefully left the scene to return home. One of the ferrets stirred, but remained silent and unmoving as if aware of the man's desire for stealth. He decided to name them Yoroi and Toshi, the two parts of the name of a type of Japanese dagger.
Upon his return he was told Master Oba, was away on business for a few days and that he was not to leave the complex until his return. The saro-kai (advisor) never liked Shikei, treating him like an outsider. The feeling was mutual. In a way, he was. Adoption aside, his training was always done in private, never with the others. He was allowed more freedom of movement, though he was monitored constantly. He was forbidden to get tatoos or any other identifying mark of the yakuza. Shikei heard the rumors, that he was an illegitimate relative of Master Oba, that he was in training to be a special assassin-for-hire or spy. Shikei himself considered another reason, that Master Oba wanted him to be sheltered and protected from the dark realities of the yakuza. If that was his goal, then he failed. This gang was different than most. While all modern yakuza gangs commit crimes, his also protected the citizens and considered one of the more legitimate gangs in the city. They did more of the 'victimless crimes' like gambling. That's not to say they were non-violent, this mission an obvious example, but they turned their swords to other gangs taking or destroying their stolen loot. It was not profitable enough for some, but stealing from criminals helped keep the police at bay.
The first thing he did when dismissed was to return to his quarters. Next to his sleeping roll was a small shrine. It was generic, featureless save for the required Shinto symbols. Shikei allowed the ferrets to eat and drink and sleep as much as they wanted as he kneeled and prayed an hour for each life he took. When he finished, both ferrets were asleep, snuggled on the bed roll. He took advantage of the opportunity to learn about his new pets. Ferrets were the current pet craze with the societal upper crust so it was an easy matter to find a vet with the appropriate knowledge. Both ferrets were in good health and were already neutered and descented. They were probably bought or stolen from a pet store in America. There was also the possibility they were operated on before being smuggled on the logic they would recover during the trip.
Regardless the animals had a strong attachment to their rescuer and refused to leave his side for long. They mirrored his mood, cherry and playful when he was happy, silent and still during his ninjutsu practice, and docile when it was required he show respect to the other residents of the complex. Training them, was another matter. Matching their mood to suit his was just strong animal empathy, getting them to obey his commands was another matter. They acted as if they were listening, but still did whatever they pleased. At most, he trained him to watch his back in a fight and warn him with a yip about immediate threats. Further training would take time. But it might not matter if Master Oba did not allow it.
When Master Oba finally arrived he immediately sent for Shikei. Shikei bowed deep until Master Oba finally allowed him to rise. "Your mission?"
"I see you came away with two friends, Shikei."
"They were smuggled into Japan, the only ones who survived the trip. I couldn't leave them--"
Master Oba raised his hand and Shikei fell silent instantly. "You made the right choice. But even without their oil glands, their smell will still linger on you."
"I will insure that will not become a problem, Master Oba"
"Of course. <sigh> However it is a moot point."
"Shikei, have you ever wondered about your real family?"
"Master, you raised me. You, sensei Nii, sensei Somo, saro-kai Nishi are my real family."
"You are just being loyal." Oba said with a smile.
"A family is not always related by blood, Master."
"Then let me rephrase that. Have you ever wondered about your biological family?"
"... On occasion."
Master Oba stood and began pacing the room. Shikei remained still and silent as he waited for him to continue. "As you should. It is time for you to know the whole story. As you have learned from your history lessons, the yakuza were once protectors during medieval times. Over the centuries they became corrupt, worse than the criminals they fought. I wanted to return to those days, revive the concept of katagi no shu (noble gangster) but was too old to capture youthful idealism. What I needed was an heir, someone who I can train in honorable ways, to use ninja skills to help instead of hurt. Seeing you now tells me I had succeeded. But it is too little too late.
"I had known your father, your biological father, for some time. When he was young I saved his life from a gang of muggers. He mistook me for a traveling martial artist and offered a debt of honor for my actions. I told him I would one day return to collect on the favor he owed me. I kept tabs on him from then on. Oh, I never intended to collect, merely to save a favor and have one thing in my favor when it came time for my final judgement. When I learned his wife was pregnant with twins, I reconsidered.
"The cleaving of the zygote, when for some unknown reason one potential human life becomes two, happened unusually late. By that time your genetic structures had stabilized and were identical. It was a time when science was debating if genetics or environment determined personality. I had read the evidence and wanted to see for myself. Your father was a hard worker, but could not afford twins that early in his life so I came to him with a deal. I would have his firstborn to raise to the best of my ability. He would be instructed in the same ways that allowed me to save his father's life. In return all financial debts he accumulated up to that point would be cleared. It was a painful decision, to defy me and dishonor himself while keeping two children he could not afford, or surrender his own flesh and blood in the name of giri so that his other son could live better. You know how he answered."
Shikei was stunned for a moment as he digested this turn of events. Finally he asked, "I have a brother? Why are you telling me this?"
"Because my mission to return the yakuza to what it was is over. I had failed. You were the best student I could hope for. If I had more time, you could have instructed others and spark this revolution. But it will not be. Our family is to be disbanded and redistributed among the other gangs. My ideas were considered too radical and unacceptable to the other leaders. Perhaps I have done my job too well. Your heart is not with the yakuza. Your spirit is too noble for even the basic yakuza activities. You are closer to samauri than ninja. You have taken pity on the victims of crime. I know you have saved innocent lives by putting yourself at risk. You have insured your actions do not effect the common citizen. You have the soul of a hero."
"You wish me to return to my biological family." Shikei said in a tone that bordered on asking.
"It is the only choice we have. I have kept your existence secret for as long as I can. You have no marks of the yakuza and your parents think you have spent your life in legitimate martial arts training. I do not have to tell you to maintain this deception."
"Yes, Master Oba. I ... I can't believe I have a brother."
"Unfortunately that may not be the case now. I have monitored your brother and compared your developments. Both of you are remarkably intelligent and good people, filled with compassion. However where your learning in the sciences had always been to the more practical aspect, he turned his attention to the theoretical. He vanished while performing an experiment."
"He ... he's dead?"
"Not dead. Disappeared."
"There's a difference?"
"Your brother was able to live a normal life, quite different from our line of work. I do not believe he was kidnaped or killed by people who wanted to harness his knowledge. You can learn the details later if you wish, but a device he created somehow caused him, two other students, and a teacher to vanish without a trace."
"I will find out what happened to him." Shikei vowed.
His now-former master smiled, "I'm sure you will. You are two of a kind. Here is the information about your brother and your family along with a train ticket. Pack your things, Shikei. You will leave in the morning."
Shikei opened the file when Oba finished speaking, curious about what secrets it contained. The first thing he noticed was a picture. It was like looking into a mirror, one showing him what might have been. He saw his happy face, without the regretful scar. His brother.... Oh the hair was not as short as he preferred, and it could use a serious combing, but it was still his own.
The second thing he noticed was his brother's name, his family name: Mizuhara Makoto.
Chapter 2: Mizuhara's Electricial Something MKII
Setting: Shininobi Central Train Station, noon
The reunion was tearful. Father was filled with apologies and explanations. Mother tried to be supportive for this difficult moment. Shikei tried to tell them that he understood why they made that decision and wasn't mad. They both kept wishing his brother was here with them. It was awful for them to lose one son even if they gained another in his place. Shikei couldn't help but feel that he was a replacement for Makoto and that his parents would not accept him for himself.
Shikei's concern proved legitimate as the weeks passed. Mother and Father expected him to take Makoto's classes and get his grades at Shininobi. Effectively to pick up where he left off. Shikei and Makoto may have the same brain power, but without Makoto's background in the sciences, his notes were nothing more than technobabble. Still he tried. The device Makoto invented was taken by the government. When it was used, it overloaded seriously damaging key circuits. The details of how it worked were only in Makoto's mind.
Shikei worked day and night trying to reproduce what Makoto had learned and developed. His life with the yakuza taught him how to live with only a few hours of sleep a night. While everyone else was in bed, he was in the basement learning and planning. His efforts were not paying off as well as hoped. It took more than reading books on quantum mechanics to do what his brother did. He needed the original machine to even begin his search.
At home things were getting worse. Mother and Father occasionally slipped, calling him Makoto. While both encouraged Shikei to continue his research, both were showing signs they were getting ready to give up. One night Father told him that it may very well be impossible to recover his brother and that no one would blame him if he accepted this. Shikei was appalled. He knew his parents were used to having one son. Were they willing to let one go if there was an identical one to take his place? True, it was probably their way of coping with their loss, but they had to realize he and Makoto were two different people. They might have started as one, identical in body, mind, and soul, but fate made each unique.
He had trouble thinking of them has his parents while they had no problem accepting the proverbial 'long lost twin' into the family. Their ease, despite the situation, made Shikei uneasy. He wanted to return their love and reclaim what destiny had taken. But he couldn't stop remembering how they gave him up. Sure, he understood their reasons and he would probably do the same thing. However understanding and empathy did not imply approval. Poisonous thoughts entered Shikei's mind. Since they were so 'willing' to give up on Makoto, perhaps they were equally willing to surrender him.
School was not much different. Students and teachers were used to the Mizuhara boy being polite, helpful, and intelligent and Shikei didn't disappoint. He accepted it as part of his nature and was a little disturbed to find out just how much he and his twin were alike. However several times he overheard people talking about him, about how much he was like Makoto except for that dangerous look in his eyes. People could almost see a fire burning behind his irises which made them slightly uneasy. That fire reminded them he was not Makoto. Shikei took comfort in that difference. He was more used to violence. He knew how to kill a person several different ways and something about that showed in his eyes. It was a type of confidence, almost superiority, which gleamed in his eyes even as he politely picked up a notebook dropped by a classmate or laughed at one of the sensei's lame jokes.
The real difference was in the Kenjutsu club. After the third practice he had risen to top swordsman and was teaching new moves to the instructors. He was even able to join the team in a competition at another school and personally fought some loudmouth who called himself 'Blue Thunder'. Their match lasted only as long as Shikei allowed. He let his opponent demonstrate all his techniques, studying them while blocking every one, until he was sufficiently exhausted before shattering his bokken at the hilt with one blow. The poor guy fainted from the surprise. The easy victory made Shikei quit the club. There was no challenge and too many rules.'Blue Thunder' was good, but rather predictable and his techniques while looking impressive, easily countered. If he was the best the schools had offer, then why bother?
One night around 2am Shikei was hunched over his desk. Behind him was a half-constructed prototype Makoto built before starting from scratch at the school. Home didn't have the electrical power or space he needed to work. Earlier he found some more of Makoto's notes at school. They contained the basic concept of his device, a dimensional portal. Shikei suspected that weeks before, but to find actual proof.... The idea of crossing dimensions was mind-boggling. The process involved a matter/energy conversion that made Shikei's head ache just by thinking about it.
Some noise at his feet drew his attention away from the notebook. Yoroi and Toshi were constantly getting into mischief. This time they found a dog's chew toy and were wrestling it together. He played with them for a moment. They coordinated well, working as a team to catch the toy Shikei wiggled between them. He watched their movements, how one would help the other. It made him want to find his own brother more. The time had come for more drastic steps.
Hacking into the government files was easy. When he visited the office after school that day, he stole a peak at the password list. They wouldn't return Makoto's device even though it was of no use to them, siting national security. Shikei read the truth in their eyes. They hoped to one day crack Makoto's secret and were jealous some brat beat them to it. The device had not been moved, or even looked at, since they put it in a warehouse two weeks ago. Apparently they have given up to wait for related development to be discovered. Breaking in and taking what he needed was another matter. He understood enough of the blueprint to know what he needed. The key component was the usage log. It kept track of the settings and connections of the device. This was where the government goofed. Makoto may have been a technical genius, but he still had horrible handwriting. His notation for the usage log was mistaken for a capacitor. Once he had that, duplicating the accident would be much easier.
This mission was different than before. No killing. He couldn't even knock out a single guard. These weren't criminal thugs, they were honest hard-working citizens. The equipment he could bring was very limited. Bringing a weapon, even for self-defense, would be too dangerous. Having a weapon implied that it would be used. Same for smoke bombs. Rope, simple tools, and his night suit was all he would bring. Yoroi and Toshi insisted on coming along. Since most legitimate guards weren't too well trained, especially those guarding a half-forgotten warehouse. Any musky smell from his ferrets would go unnoticed or at least unnoted.
Things were going as planned. Nothing more than token barb wire and security camera protected the warehouse. Shikei darted behind confiscated electronics and bootleg CDS, minor stuff. He wondered what kind of bureaucrat decided to put a burned out dimensional generator among stolen televisions. Probably the same kind of person who didn't think a high school student could making anything worth protecting.
The device was covered with a tarp. There were obvious signs of tampering. It looked like someone tried to take it apart and did a poor job putting it back together. Shikei looked over the blue prints again, comparing them to this new 'configuration'. He quickly opened panels and poked around inside. A sound told him a guard was coming. Moments before he would have been discovered, he found the log in a hard drive smaller than a paperback book, just as the blue print said. He yanked the drive from the slot and was back in the shadows before anyone was the wiser.
When he plugged the log into the prototype, Shikei was amazed at the circumstances behind Makoto's accident. By all rights the device should have exploded. Every circuit was overloaded with electricity. The connections were all wrong. What was going on that night?
A week passed. Shikei spent most of it in the basement developing Makoto's prototype into the real thing. This time it would be better. The wires would be better, storage batteries were added and were slowly being charged. Now it would run off a household current, albeit it can only be used infrequently. Shikei had to make two other trips to the warehouse for key parts. Both times nothing happened except he had the strange feeling he was being watched.
Mom and Dad had to leave on separate business trips. From what Shikei understood, that was a usual occurrence. Apparently Makoto didn't notice too much since he was always tinkering with his experiments. Or perhaps that is why he started experimenting in the first place? Like every night for the past few days Shikei was in the basement working more with Makoto's device. Without the experience or knowledge Makoto had with quantum mechanics and electro-magnetic physics Shikei had to hardwired the device for whatever settings it was on when Makoto disappeared.
Shikei put the last connection into the slot and took a step back. This is it. After who knows how many weeks of work involving a crash course in multiple advanced sciences (several of which were still in the theoretical stages), it was finally ready for the first test. Shikei had no idea what was going to happen and he wanted to be ready. He wore his combat suit of urban camouflage with both swords strapped to his back. Beforehand he cleaned and loaded his throwing spike launcher. He had a belt with compartments for smoke bombs and other equipment. Finishing the outfit was his bandoleer of throwing stars. With everything ready he turned it on.
A green-blue orb faded into existence. Shikei shielded his eyes and moved closer, hand ready to draw katana at a moment's notice. A figure was thrown out and landed at his feet. Shikei recognized him instantly, Makoto.
"Cold, so cold." he muttered curling up into the fetal position.
It took Shikei only a fast minute to put a blanket around his brother. "Makoto, wake up. Please wake up. You're home now."
"Home?" Makoto said slowly opening his eyes. When his twin came into focus he gasped and move back. "Who ... who are you?"
Shikei smiled, "Well this might sound crazy, but I'm your twin brother, Shikei."
"Brother? I don't have a brother." Makoto said sitting up, his eyes never moving from Shikei's face.
"I would have said the same thing before I came here. But it's true. Our parents ... gave me to a wandering martial artist for training to fulfil a debt of honor. Before my master passed on he told me to go home." Shikei explained. He hated to lie to his brother, but the truth was more complicated than that. Worse, he feared it might damage any potential relationship between him and Makoto. Besides, it really didn't matter.
Makoto put his hand on Shikei's shoulder and smiled, "When did you come back?"
"Right after you disappeared. Where did you go? What happened to you? Ever since I moved here I've been working on that machine to find out what happened."
"You did a pretty good job. I thought getting back was no trouble but something happened. Say, where are Mom and Dad? It's a long story and I don't have time to repeat it."
"Gone on business trips."
Makoto rolled his eyes, "Again? You'd think they'd stop after I vanished."
Shikei looked disappointed, "They did. But when they got themselves believing I was you, they started again. I'll fix some tea and you can tell me everything."
Hours later Makoto was finishing telling his story. Wet tea bags and the remains of a snack were on the table as Makoto finished. "Once the Eye of God cast me home I found I couldn't make it back. I was trapped in this dimensional limbo for gosh knows how long. What happened?"
"My guess is that you needed a working portal on this end too. When the government took apart your device, the connection between Earth and El Hazard was damaged. After fixing and activating your prototype, it was restored and you came back."
"How long before you can get it working again?"
"With your help, a few hours. But it will take some time before the capacitors are charged again."
"I've got to get back." Makoto said with surprising force.
Shikei looked at him with sympathy and understanding. "What about Mom and Dad? Aren't you going to tell them?"
"... I don't know. I built the dimensional gateway to explore new worlds. But I never thought it would actually work. I wanted to bring everyone else back. It was my fault they were there in the first place. But after a while they made new lives for themselves, like they didn't want to return to Earth. ... And I didn't either."
Shikei smiled, "I know. It's your choice. I haven't really bonded with them. Frankly it doesn't matter to me. But I lost you once, Brother. I can't let it happen again."
"You want to come with me?!"
"Yes." he said leading Makoto down the stairs, "Someone's got to protect you and Rune. <laugh>"
While Makoto modified the prototype, Shikei prepared to leave. There wasn't too much to bring. Mementos mostly. The worst part was preparing a letter for the Jinnais. How do you tell grieving parents that one child is a power-hungry mass-murderer while the other owns her own shop and neither act like they want to come home again. They simply decided to say both were happy and safe. The half-truth would be easier to accept than the brutal reality.
The twins discussed what their story would be, how to best break the news to their parents. They decided to tell them in a note Shikei had succeeded, but Makoto was pulled back and Shikei followed. No promise to return, only an apology and words of love and finality with a request that the device not be touched. The request disguised the slim possibility of a reunion.
Shikei voiced his concerns about the government. Securing the device against tampering would take too long. Rigging it to self-destruct after they left was too risky. Finally Makoto found a way to copy the proper settings on the spare log file then set the prototype to overload in much the same way as the first time. The two stood before the machine. "Last chance to back out." Makoto said.
"Don't get cold feet. Let's do it." Shikei replied, his ferrets fidgeted in anticipation.
"Here we go." Makoto said turning the dial. The green orb appeared again, smaller this time, its light not as bright. White light filled the small room blocking everything except the orb out as if it had some kind of substance. Shikei felt himself being lifted from the floor and pulled into the orb. Instinctively he tried to resist, but there was nothing to grab onto. Yoroi and Toshi floated freely beside him. Each tried to 'swim' to a sleeve or something to hold onto. But instead they floated further away as the light took them from Earth.
Chapter 3: Strike like Lightning
Setting: El Hazard
The first thing Makoto felt was something on his nose. He batted it away without thinking and was rewarded with a yip and sharp pinch in his hand. Instantly he was awake Yoroi, or was it Toshi, was beside him looking slightly indignant. Makoto apologized giving the ferret a pat on the head. Picking himself and the ferret up be began calling for his brother.
Toshi, or was it Yoroi, squirmed out of Makoto's grip and began sniffing around the foliage. They were in a clearing in the middle of a forest. He scanned the horizon hoping to get an idea of where he was. There, the Eye of God. He was back in El Hazard. "If the Eye returned to its normal orbit and he was on the hills where I landed the first time then Floristica was that way." he said to himself turning in the right direction.
After three steps he suddenly stopped. Where was Shikei? Makoto assumed he would have landed nearby. The ferret wouldn't have ran off unless he was close. Would he? Toshi, Makoto was pretty sure it was Toshi, came out from some ferns with a big juicy bug in its jaws. "So you were just getting some lunch. You have no idea where Shikei is do you?" he asked.
Toshi hung his head for a moment then began eating his catch. "I didn't think so."
Makoto was torn between two duties, his love and his brother. Shikei could handle himself here. Makoto suspected his brother was one who'd find a way to make himself known. Before leaving, the agreed that if they got separated, they would head for the palace. One he and Rune were back together, they'd find his brother. Toshi followed him as he went down the hill, but only for a moment before returning to the undergrowth.
He was about to call him to return when he saw her. At the bottom of the hill, there she was. Princess Rune Venus, looking more beautiful than ever. Her eyes were filled with love, concern and relief. They embraced, neither saying anything preferring to savor the moment.
Finally, after a timeless moment Rune whispered, "Wings?" referring to the translucent wings which sprouted from Makoto's back to embrace them.
"Coming back must have given me a second power. I wonder how strong they are."
"<giggle> Fly us back to the palace." Rune suggested.
"We can't. Not yet. There's someone else." Makoto said holding her at arms length as he retracted his wings into his back.
"Someone else?" Rune said assuming the worst.
"My brother, Shikei. He fixed my machine so I could come back. Now that you're here, I have to find him."
"Your brother?" she said with relief, "Let's get Londs. We'll come the forest. Oh my, what's this little creature?"
Rune was referring to Toshi. The ferret had finished his meal and now sniffing Rune's foot. She tried to pet him, but he was wary, but allowed it after a second. "His name is Toshi. One of my brother's ferrets."
"Does that mean he's nearby?"
"I don't think so. Toshi was with me when I woke up." Makoto stopped and listened. He could hear a faint buzzing almost like ... "The Bugrom. They're coming."
As if to accent his words, the faint laughter of Jinnai echoed through the hills.
Shikei awoke slowly, taking in his surroundings without opening his eyes, never betraying the fact he was now awake. Not sensing any threat, he slowly opened his eyes. He was in a forest. Yoroi was asleep in a ball on his chest. Shikei stood and surveyed his surroundings. He was near the top of a tall hill. The view he had spread over many square miles of undeveloped wilderness and didn't give him a clue as to which way to go.
He remembered what Makoto said about powers. Did he get one by crossing over or did the modifications he made prevent that from happening. He tried to levitate, run, pick up rocks with his mind, turn invisible, check his senses, nothing. Then he pointed at a fruit hanging from a tree and concentrated. A bolt of lightning shot from his fingertip leaving a jagged path to where he aimed. The erratic path it led caused him to miss slightly, disintegrating a small bit of branch that was holding the fruit up. Shikei recognized the fruit from Makoto's descriptions. It looked ripe. He ate it while pondering his power.
It was too hard to control. He couldn't aim for small targets with it. At best he could hit large targets. But metal conducts electricity. Perhaps if he had a longer 'barrel' accuracy would be improved. He drew sword and tried again. The arc of electricity shot straight to the exact point Shikei was aiming for. "Now since that's out of the way, I can try to find my way to this palace." Shikei said right before he heard the buzzing.
He watched the Bugrom carrier come over a hill. Shikei went to the center of a clearing. He knew the Bugrom wouldn't come all this way unless they had a reason, like say getting Makoto. With luck, he could buy his brother enough time to escape, get back to Rune, or at least wake up. The carrier moved slowly and Shikei began to consider an attention-getting tactic to insure his distraction would work.
On the carrier Jinnai was at the bow leaning half way over scanning the forest. "I just know you're around here somewhere, Makoto. <cackle> And I'm going to find you. <maniacal laughter>"
"Master, why don't we just ask him over there?" Ifurita asked pointed to Shikei.
"Huh?" Jinnai said taking a look for himself, "Well there you are."
"But Master, that's not--"
"All hands prepare for battle. Helm take us in that direction." Jinnai started barking commands ignoring Ifurita's polite warnings that the person was not Makoto.
"Here they come. Ready Yoroi?" Shikei said bracing himself. Yoroi yipped an approval.
"Makoto," Jinnai said in a condensing tone, "I'm so glad you came back to El Hazard. I've waited a long time to say this. Kill him my legions!!"
Ifurita floated beside the carrier waving politely, "I'm really sorry about this." she called.
Bugrom jumped from the carrier as it advanced. Shikei waited until the right moment. "I've gotten some improvements, Jinnai."
With that he raised his arms and threw two lightning bolts at the wings. The wings incinerated so quickly it was as if they vanished. The carrier dropped from the sky and crashed, squashing some of the Bugrom. Shikei ran down the hill with swords drawn. The brief description his brother provided was accurate. Already Shikei's warrior habits were at work, scanning for weak points in the Bugrom form. He vaulted over the leader, a large purple one, released the hidden blade in the hilt of his swords and made a quick stab downwards in the exposed portion of the Bugrom's neck. Shikei sliced with the other arm decapitating a human-sized orange Bugrom.
Shikei continue the tactic of jumping from Bugrom to Bugrom, using speed to counter their brute force as he worked his way to the carrier. Jinnai was still dazed from the crash. When his head finally cleared he was shocked as to how many of his loyal followers were dead. "How? How could he do that so quickly."
"Uh Master, I tried to tell you--" Ifurita started but was interrupted when Shikei leaped on the deck.
"Jinnai! You're going to pay for what you did." Shikei threatened.
"Ifurita, save me!!" Jinnai panicked.
"Right" Ifurita readied her power staff and prepared to fire. Shikei was faster, zapping her with twin bolts channeled through his swords.
Ifurita spun around babbling even more incoherently than usual. There was a flash of bright light that Jinnai used to crawl to the emergency escape Bugrom and fly off. He spouted curses as the Bugrom dodged energy bolts off into the distance.
Shikei rubbed his eyes. He should have been ready for that. Still not a bad job for five minutes. A Bugrom carrier destroyed and he captured the Demon God. Ifurita was slumped on a railing, her eyes spinning. "Ow ow ow ow ow" she repeated in a daze.
"Shikei!!" Makoto shouted as he ran down the hill with Rune in tow.
"Brother. Princess Rune Venus I presume." he said with a polite bow.
As they moved slowly through the Bugrom corpses, Makoto asked "How did you do this?"
Hoof-beats brought Londs with a party of guards to the crash sight. "Dear gods. What happened here?" he said. He spotted everyone else, "Princess Rune? Makoto! You're back. ... Who is that?"
Shikei sheathed his swords, swung Ifurita over one shoulder, leaped down and picked up Toshi. "This," Makoto introduced, "Is my twin brother Shikei."
"Thank you, Shikei. You are a fine warrior. No one has ever defeated an entire Bugrom carrier alone. Much less capture the dreaded Demon God. Come. Let us return to the castle for celebration."
Chapter 4: Unwelcome Revelations
Shayla and Fujisawa walked down a mountain path. The two met by chance a few minutes earlier. He seemed ready to return to Floristica which surprised Shayla. Considering how many times Fujisawa skipped out on the wedding, Shayla wondered if he was just out of booze. Fujisawa insisted that this time he would go through with it. He was just waiting for the right time. "So what makes this the 'right time'?" she asked.
"You'll see, Shayla. You'll see." was all he would answer.
Afura floated down beside them. She didn't look too happy with Fujisawa, but she had news that might explain his actions. "Still on your walkabout? Or are you over him now?" she asked Shayla.
Shayla's face flashed bright red for an instant indicating the answer was defiantly not the latter. "THAT is none of your concern." she said with indignation.
"Well I just thought you might want to know he's back."
Fujisawa laughed joyously knowing his suspicion was confirmed. Shayla was stunned, "He ... he's back. Back with Rune no doubt."
Her spirits sunk visibly. "Oh there are also rumors that he brought back with him his twin brother. And that this twin destroyed a Bugrom carrier and captured the Demon God single-handedly."
Shayla suspected Afura was teasing. Only someone as powerful as a Priestess of Fujisawa could take down a carrier alone. Even if this twin gained some sort of powerful ability, it takes time to develop skill using it. And capturing Ifurita? Ha! At best Shayla could fight her to a stand-still. No way someone else could actually defeat her. Afura had to be pulling her leg. Well what's fair is fair. "Well if he really did do that, I'll ... I'll marry him." Shayla said confident Afura's tale was an exaggeration.
"Well if you say so. I have an air car for us. That is unless you wish your future spouses to wait a bit longer."
Shayla went along with the joke. Fujisawa said "Lead the way, Afura." and began down the hill.
On the way back, Shayla was still under the impression Afura was kidding and pressed for details. Finally the wind priestess said, "Listen, I'm just telling you what I heard. Makoto is back along with his twin. This twin was able to kill all the Bugrom on a carrier and render Ifurita unconscious. That's it. Asking me more questions won't make the details appear in my head."
"Just relax Shayla and have a drink. It'll be a while before we get back. All of us want to see Makoto again." Fujisawa said hefting a jug of wine in a friendly toast.
She sat down next to him and accepted the drink. After a few swallows she whispered, "Ya think it's true?"
"This twin. Makoto never mentioned it. But it also never came up."
"Nahhhh. I'm his teacher. I'd know if he had a brother. I mean if they're twins they'd be in the same class."
Fujisawa was right, Shayla reasoned. But then he didn't know Afura like she did. Afura wasn't one to make jokes, much less let one go on for so long. She must have been hanging out with Nanami. Yeah, that's it. Nanami put her up to this. Still there were doubts which began to grow as they approached the palace.
Festivities for the reunion were being prepared as they entered. It wasn't hard to tell where Makoto was. "'Bout time you got back. I knew you could do it." Fujisawa said as friendly hugs were exchanged.
When Shayla and Makoto hugged, it was just a friendly 'glad to see you again' hug. Not one shared between two people romantically involved. She could tell he did not return her feelings, or was even aware of them. Still it was good to see him. They were friends, that was all.
"Well I couldn't have done it without Shikei." Makoto said humbly.
"He your brother I heard about? I didn't know you had one." Fujisawa said.
"Neither did I until he helped me return to Earth. Where did he...." Makoto's voice trailed off. Shikei was right behind him a moment ago. Makoto looked down the hallway they were in and didn't see him. His eyes wandered up and there he was, sitting on the parapet of one of the internal guard mini-towers. In ages past, as part of security, these twelve-foot towers were put in key corridors and rooms to serve as lookouts during parties. Over time and reconstruction, these became more used as podiums and a place to hang banners.
Shayla couldn't see Shikei too well due to the lighting, but she clearly saw what he held: Ifurita's powerstaff. Afura softly sang the introduction to the Wedding March behind her. Shayla turned around angry and embarrassed. Miz had entered the room and Afura was facing her and her fiance as they embraced. Shayla was left fuming in ambiguity over who Afura's little song applied to.
Makoto scratched his head, "I wonder what he's doing up there. Hey! Shikei! Come down from there!"
Shikei didn't respond, his grip on the powerstaff weakened, lowering it slowly to the platform. "I'll see what's wrong." Makoto said running to the ladder. The others followed.
The sleep Shikei and Makoto had when they returned to El Hazard wasn't a real sleep. Shikei had been pushing all-nighters for the past few days. The fight with Jinnai drained him of most of his energy. Determination alone was what kept him standing on the way back to the palace. But a strong will can only override the body's needs for so long before the body takes control. Shikei considered himself lucky he managed to slip to a spot where most people wouldn't notice him before he collapsed into total exhaustion.
Makoto peeked over the top of the ladder and whispered to the others, "He's just asleep. I guess throwing lightning makes you tired."
"He can do that? No wonder he was able to capture Ifurita. <heh> Guess demons and electricity don't mix very well." Shayla muttered.
"Well we can't just leave him there. He might fall down." Fujisawa said slipping back into 'sensei' mode.
"What's going on?" Rune asked from behind. She spent the past few hours working with the servants for the 'welcome back' party. She didn't like being forced to leave him again after just being reunited, but at least he wasn't going anywhere and he needed to see the others.
"My brother fell asleep up there. We're trying to see if we can get him down and move him to some place more comfortable."
"Well, why don't you use your wings to fly him down?"
"Wings?" everyone said in unison.
"Uhh right. I forgot to mention. When I came back to El Hazard, I got a second power. This." Makoto demonstrated by extending his new translucent wings.
Fujisawa looked at Makoto's back to see why they didn't rip holes in his uniform. They started about a centimeter from his body, fully separate from his body. "And you can fly with these?" he asked skeptical.
"Well yes, but they're not that strong yet. I could barely carry Princess Rune and myself five hundred meters before they were exhausted."
"Oh I'll get him." Shayla said frustrated jumping up to the podium herself. She created some light from her lamp and got a closer look. This was Makoto's twin all right. Same honest trusting face. But this one was slightly different. It wasn't just the minute scar Shikei had, a type of discipline and self-control showed through even in his sleep. Shayla felt he could wake up at any moment. His clothes were another matter, light grey with dark grey patches complete with a cowl. It made him look dangerous. Shikei's two ferrets were snuggled on his chest sleeping peacefully. She was very reluctant to wake him up. Doubts were pushed aside when she noticed everyone was looking at her, especially Afura.
"Hey, this that's a podium not a hotel. This is no time for sleep." Shayla said shaking Shikei slightly.
"Uh Shayla, I don't think it's that important...." Makoto started.
Shikei was awake in an instant and grabbed Shayla's wrist. When his eyes focused and he composed himself a second later, he let go. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have done that. I'll leave." he apologized.
He stumbled a little when he leaped down. Shayla, regretting her decision to wake him, tried to steady Shikei. But he politely refused, insisting he was all right. He took a step, then stumbled again as if his body was mocking his words.
"Londs, please escort Shikei to a room so he could rest." Rune said.
Londs nodded and politely led Shikei away. He recognized a warrior's barring when he sees it and would not insult Shikei by offering a hand. Londs couldn't tell if Shikei noticed, it didn't matter anyway. A few minutes later, Shikei was asleep comfortably.
Meanwhile Makoto told everyone what happened to him when he went into the Eye of God that last time. Fujisawa was trying to explain to Miz that he was simply waiting for Makoto to return before they got married. After all, Makoto was responsible for bringing them here. His logic was starting to work until Miz asked why he just didn't tell her to her face earlier. That's when he faltered, claiming his mountain climbing was just a way to pass the time and see more of El Hazard. If they stayed together, he might forget the promise he made to himself and get married earlier. But it was becoming obvious it wasn't the complete truth.
"You just weren't ready!" she realized. Her fiance's silence confirmed it. Upset, Miz slapped him across the face. "Why didn't you just tell me?!" she demanded with tears in her eyes.
Fujisawa tried to studder a reply, but nothing was coming out. He was here now. He was ready now. He wanted to say his wandering days were over. Didn't that count for something? "Would you have listened?" he wound up saying simply, without emotion.
Miz stepped back in shock, holding the hand she struck him with. She wasn't sure what surprised her more, his tone of voice or the possibility he was right. Was she so concerned about getting married that she pushed him too far, too fast? Did that desire to wed push her to fall in love with Machimichi or did she simply recognize the man she was destined to be her spouse? No, she enjoyed his company and felt happier around him. She was sure he felt the same way. If he knew how long she waited, how long she felt trapped at her shrine, he would understand. But he didn't know. He couldn't know. Miz wouldn't admit it, but she would not have listened. Just as he did not understand her loneliness, she did not understand the responsibility he felt towards his students. "I ... I need to think about some things." she said turning then running away, clutching the pre-engagement gift he gave her when they thought the world was going to end.
Fujisawa watched her go, he wanted to chase after her, comfort her. It hurt him to see her so sad. He wanted to do something, but knew the best thing he could do right now was nothing. Nanami's shout of joy when she entered the room broke him from his trance. He watched her as she hugged Makoto so tightly he had trouble breathing. The former teacher allowed himself a moment to forget his own problems and savor the feeling of satisfaction from knowing his star pupil had done good.
Shayla Shayla watched things from the shadows. She didn't want the others to see her like this. Nanami accepted that she and Makoto would never be more than friends. "So why can't I?" Shayla asked herself. She regretted never telling him how she felt and for screwing up each time she tried. She had the opportunity, several times. But the words would not form in her mouth. Lips would not obey her mind. She knew she loved him. How could she not? He risked his own freedom to save her on the first day they met. He was polite, humble, forgiving, and cute. More importantly he was nice to her for no other reason than the fact it was part of his nature. The other clerics at the temple obeyed her because it was her duty. Other people were polite due to her position or fear of her temper. But how others act like a friend out of simple magnanimity? No one, just him; and he got away. "He's better off without someone who slapped him for trying to save her life." she thought to convince herself. It failed. All she wanted to do was go home and forget about him in her work. But she knew Makoto would always be with her. Miz was right. Some time to think was in order. Patan was relaxing. Maybe Alliele would be ... no she was busy with Makoto, trying to get him caught up on all the gossip he missed.
Instead she took to wandering the halls. She stopped when she reached the spot where she last saw Makoto before he left El Hazard the first time. She replayed what happened in her mind. She should have said it then. Told him how she felt. It was easy to think that now. She knew it. She heard what he said as she left, "I did it for you." That was exactly what she did not want to hear. Those were words you told someone you cared about. Makoto cared for her, just not the same way she cared for him. Damn! Why didn't he understand? She sat in the shadows and tried to think about what she was going to do now. But all too often she thought about what she did.
Shikei did not sleep as long as he would have liked. These beds were too soft. He was used to a bed roll and a hard wood floor. This bedroom was clearly one of the finest in the palace, reserved for only the most important guests. He felt he wasn't even worthy to clean this room, much less sleep in it. He was a criminal, he walked the wrong side of the law to protect people better than himself. Such treatment made him feel guilty, as if he was stealing from his brother. Things would have to change though. He had power now and his new friends knew it. He would become a public figure, called upon to protect Roshtaria from the Bugrom, and would be treated as such. If Makoto and Rune got married, it would only increase. His past would be a secret he left behind or else.
But nothing could heal the pain inside him. Luxury was something missing from his life for the sake of others. It could not be found and accepted so easily. Maybe he should continue the story Master Oba told Shikei's father and be a traveling martial artist. Wandering from village to village to protect them from bandits and the Bugrom.
...The Bugrom. Who knows how many he killed. At first he had no qualms about killing them since they weren't human. They acted like a swarm of hornets or cannon fodder. But they bled, the cried out in pain. Did they have souls? Were they innately evil or simply barely-sentient fanatical servants? Could they be redeemed in the eyes of whatever gods ruled this land? Would he be punished for his misdeeds on Earth or in El Hazard? The Norse gods loved battle, only those who died while fighting received the best rewards in the after-life. Did that apply here? Maybe he gave the Bugrom what they most wished for. Shikei knew he would be proud to die in service to his Master. Perhaps he and the Bugrom shared this?
These weren't questions Shikei could even begin to answer. But who to ask? The priestesses were more like guardians of the elemental powers than to give spiritual advice. Still it was better than nothing. At the least they could point him in the right direction. All this thinking about heavy issues made Shikei's head ache. When he held his face in his hands, he realized how dirty he must have been. He would have to wash up before he could even consider showing his face to his brother and the others. He meekly asked a servant for a basin of water.
As she went to fetch the water, Shikei realized something. Water conducts electricity. He could flash fry himself and others by jumping into a pool. He drank some wine and water on the royal skimmer, but that was different than actually touching it with his skin. He remembered how the water tingled a little as he drank it. It was why he went to wine in the first place. The servant set the basin on a desk along with a towel and left. Shikei thanked her as he sat at the desk trying to get himself to put this theory to the test.
Outside, Shayla saw the servant girl leave a room then Makoto thanking her. No, not Makoto, Shikei. Despite being twins, their voices sounded different to Shayla's ears. She was on her feet in an instant. Wait, she was confusing Makoto's brother for Makoto. The two were different people despite their appearances. Yet they were alike. He apologized for grabbing her after she rudely shook him awake. He didn't know who she was, or if he did, Makoto would not have told him to be nice to her. He was polite for the same reasons Makoto was, perhaps more so since Makoto initially needed to use her shrine's library. Shikei had no such motivation. This was the perfect chance for her to drop by and say 'hi'.
Inside the room, Shikei was about to slowly put his hands into the water. Pain was no stranger in his life, but to intentionally inflect it on yourself would intimidate anyone. Shayla burst in, slamming the door open, "Hey there! What's up?" she shouted cheerfully. Two patan cards were stuck in her headband.
Shikei was at a loss. He stood and bowed politely. "I was going to wash up and look for one of you." he said truthfully as he remembered his earlier train of thought.
"Well there's only one of me, so what did you want?" she asked walking casually to the desk.
"I meant a Priestess, Shayla Shayla. I needed to have some questions answered." he said with downcast eyes. This wasn't how he pictured things. Shayla was just so forward and informal. It was going to be difficult to talk with her.
"Ask away." she said hopping up to sit on the desk. She raised one knee to her chest and said, "Let me guess you want to know a bit more about El-Hazard since you're going to be here a while."
Her presence was so distracting. "Well there was that, but what I really wanted to ask you was well ... do the Bugrom have souls? Is it wrong to kill them?"
"What are you talking about? I've killed dozens, maybe even hundreds of those bugs. They're all fanatics for Jinnai anyway. They'd try to kill us, any of us, if they had the chance."
"I just don't want to kill anything that's sentient." he said quietly. It might seem strange for someone who has killed before in yakuza warfare, but it didn't mean he liked it. Especially afterwards when he slides out of his combat frame of mind and realizes the full implications of his actions. Not the implications for him, but for those he had killed. Everyone has their own hopes and dreams and Shikei had ended more than he would care to remember. True, those dreams were against the law and violated decent people, but they were still dreams.
"They have been our enemy for generations. Raided our land with near impunity until your brother and the others showed up." she smirked jokingly, "Don't tell me the great Demon-destroyer is worried about squashing a couple of bugs."
"Speaking of which, how is Ifurita doing?" he asked without emotion.
Shayla was a bit surprised she hadn't gotten more of a reaction from him, "Well last I heard she was chained up far away from her powerstaff. She's asleep right now. Why?"
"I defeated her. I guess that makes her my responsibility."
"Now don't go feeling sorry for her. She may be a ditz, but she's still dangerous. You got lucky once, don't count on it happening again." she finished slapping her hand on the desk, accidently tipping the basin and pouring the water into Shikei's lap.
Sparks flew as Shikei fell over backwards screaming in surprise and pain. Steam was rising from his body and scattered blue energy arcs appeared and vanished from his chest to his knees, wherever he was wet. "Get it off! Get it off! Get it off!" he yelled as he struggled to shirt off. The shocks were making it nearly impossible. He rolled to the part of the floor between the bed and the desk.
Shayla tried to help, getting on her knees next to him and tried removing his wet pants. She yanked them off. Without the wet clothes, his damp skin dried itself instantly. It took them both a moment to realize Shayla also accidently took off his underwear and he was on his back completely naked. It was at that moment Afura decided to come in and lean on the doorway. From her perspective, she could see Shikei's legs and Shayla kneeling next to him. "Well I can't say I'm too surprised." she said simply.
Shikei turned red, not from the already-fading light burns, but from pure embarrassment. As did Shayla. He tried to cover himself up. Shayla reacted at the same instant, putting her hand over her eyes. Unfortunately she forgot she was still holding his pants. "I didn't see anything! I didn't see anything!" she repeated as Afura took her by the arm and led her out the room.
"Care to explain yourself?" Afura asked after the door closed.
"Well errr aaaaa water, shocks. Had to do it. I didn't see anything!" Shayla studdered, but with the same facial expression and odd laughter from when Jinnai cheated her out of the Shrine of Fire.
She still gripped Shikei's clothing tightly as Afura led her father away. Shayla thought, "I saw everything!"