by Byakko Rei


Yuriko sat on the computer chair she wished hadn't become
quite so comfortable. She still wore her silk pajamas, and
on her feet were the new fuzzy pink house slippers Midori
had given to her as a gift. Her slender legs crossed neatly,
the one on top swung slightly which jiggled the slipper so
that it dangled precariously on the end of her toes. She
stared at an odd email displayed on Midori's, computer

The message was cryptically short:

'You have been chosen. I will meet with you soon.'

That was all, there was no name given. Her only clue was the
email address, which read: ''. Yuriko
didn't bother to answer back. She instinctively knew the
address would return a postmaster's rejection notice.

Yuriko frowned slightly, deleted all the garbage, then
replied to the messages that were important to her. An hour
later, she pushed herself away from the computer. She ambled
into the kitchen to set a kettle of water on the stove to
boil. She absent-mindedly took a tin of green tea leaves
down from her cupboard and tossed a small quantity into a

She sat at the small kitchen table to review Kishi's newest
assignment for her. She was about halfway through it, when
the doorbell buzzed annoyingly to announce a visitor she
probably had no desire to see. She grumbled a bit as she
wrapped a royal blue house coat around herself, then peeked
through her peephole, to see who it was. Her eyes rounded in
shock and she hurriedly opened the door to admit her private
martial arts instructor, Yaiba Shinbo.

Chapter 1
A Curious Meeting

"Good morning, Shinbo-kun! Won't you please come in?" Yuriko
invited in surprise. She bowed, took his jacket and motioned
for him to have a seat on the couch.

"Good morning, Yuriko-san!" Shinbo greeted congenially. His
black bird-like eyes took in the contrasting personalities
he identified in the room. He quickly catalogued the details
he knew instinctively which belonged to each of the
occupants and committed them to memory. A home was generally
a truer reflection of a person's personality than the one
displayed for the public. He sat where his host indicated
and smiled up at her affably.

Yuriko admired his powerful grace for a moment, before she
laid his jacket on the back of the couch. She offered him
some of her fresh green tea, which he politely accepted. She
set a tea tray down on the coffee table before him and
nervously perched on the couch next to him. They chatted a
bit about martial art histories and laughed at some of
Yuriko's predicaments when on various jobs. At length, she
realized the reason for his visit had not yet been broached.

"To what do I owe the pleasure of this visit, Sensei?"
Yuriko asked curiously. She felt a sudden chill pass over
her as Shinbo's piercing gaze focused upon her face.

"Yuriko-san, I want you to meet me at the dojo at eight pm.
sharp tonight. Come alone," the dark-haired man stated
firmly. He downed the last of his tea hurriedly, then stood
abruptly. He bowed slightly towards her. "I must take my
leave now. Thank you for the conversation and tea... it was
just the way I like it!" His eyes crinkled around the edges
at his student's expression which ranged somewhere between
relief and perplexity. The diva's eyes were so expressive!

Yuriko showed her brief visitor to the door. "I'll be there,
Shinbo-kun, please come any time!" Yuriko smiled as the
single black braid of hair disappeared under a black leather

"It would be my pleasure, Yuriko-san," he responded
pleasantly as he flipped his cue out from inside his coat.

Yuriko watched her sensei as he receded down the hallway and
entered the elevator. When the elevator doors closed, Yuriko
shuddered. She couldn't put her finger on it, but something
definitely was... weird. She shrugged the feeling off and
closed the apartment door. Once inside, she sighed heavily.
Midori was due back around eight from a fund raiser she had
agreed to support by autographing each of her books sold.

Yuriko showered, then dressed in a pair of black slacks and
a crisp, button-down gingham shirt. She threw her scripts
unceremoniously into a cocoa colored leather briefcase and
tossed an apple into it. She donned her own black leather
jacket, then slipped into a pair of stylish black ankle
boots and headed for Kishi's office on the motorcycle she
knew made Midori nervous. She laughed into her helmet.

Chapter 2
Sensei Shinbo

Yuriko tidied the house a bit, then left a note for Midori
that stated she had an unavoidable appointment at Eight
o'clock that evening and would be back as soon as possible.

She put on a pair of tight black leather pants, a gray tank
top, and a heavy pair of black boots. She packed her gi and
bokken into a gym bag, shrugged her jacket on, then rode to
her appointment at the dojo.

Yuriko parked in the dark ally where the dojo's side entry
was located, then pressed the doorbell and waited. She kept
her senses on the alert for muggers, wishing the dojo wasn't
in such a crime ridden location. She was relieved to finally
hear the door unlatch.

The door was opened by a silent individual dressed in navy-
colored ninjutsu clothes and tabi boots. The face was
covered except for the pair of large brown eyes. The person
stepped aside for her to enter. Yuriko bowed slightly and
made her way towards the dojo where she hoped Shinbo-kun
would be waiting. The ninja seemed to melt into the shadows
and disappear.

When she got to the room preceding the dojo, her eyes
widened. Kishi, Mariko and Midori were kneeling on the floor
around a table drinking tea! Sensei Shinbo was at the head
of the table.

"Ah... Yuriko-san, you have arrived! Now we can proceed with
our meeting." Shinbo poured Yuriko some tea and motioned for
her to sit.

Yuriko settled next to Kishi and gave her a curious look.
Kishi shrugged nonchalantly as Shinbo cleared his throat.

"Unbeknownst to one another, each of you were selected and
given exclusive membership offers to join me. All of you
accepted and have been my private students for quite some
time now. You are probably wondering why you have been
chosen," he said with a smile at the 'group nod'.

"I have a network of informants who look for potential
warriors with specific abilities and report back to me. I
then begin to follow the candidate's careers and abilities
until I'm sure of their worthiness. I have several such
students, but I need a crew assembled immediately who can
work together as a team," Shinbo informed the small group
gathered before him who shifted uncomfortably. "You are that
team," he declared firmly. "It is no coincidence that you
know one another and are friends... it was fate," he stated.

"All of you are familiar with Kuji-in," Shinbo said as he
held up his right hand. Starting with his little finger he
pointed to each finger in turn. "Chi (solids), Sui (water),
Ka (fire), Fu (wind) and Ku... the source of power," he
finished wiggling his thumb. "Buddhists believed they could
channel energy from each of the elemental manifestations
represented by the fingers in the form of hand signals." His
gaze swept around the table to take in each of the women. "I
believe that philosophy can also be applied to individuals."
Shinbo closed his eyes.

Slowly and deliberately he pointed to each student beginning
with Kishi on his immediate right. "Chi!" Next was Yuriko.
"Ka!" Shinbo's finger swept across from Yuriko to Midori.
"Fu!" Then lastly rested upon Mariko. "Sui!" Shinbo opened
his eyes which appeared to almost smolder. "I am Ku, the
source of your power and it is I who drew your energies
together. We form an elite force which can influence the
currents of energy around us by the way we interact with one
another... just as the hand symbols of Kuji-in are used to
focus our inner power."

Yuriko spoke up then, "Sensei, what matter is so urgent you
feel it is necessary to form a team of amateur 'warriors'?"
she asked.

Shinbo gazed at her with a slight smirk on his face. "In
this realm... the realm of light, I am known as the 'Blade
of Patience'. However in the realm of darkness, I am known
as Houmudaijin; the Minister of Justice. There is one there
who is called Mami Tatsujin, or loosely, the 'Master of
Deception'. In this world we call him Hakujou... the
cold-hearted one." Shinbo rose for dramatic effect.

"Hakujou once walked in this dimension in physical form, but
was banished to the realm of darkness by a Child of Light
when he sought to overstep his boundaries. But the realm of
darkness could not fully contain his spirit. His spirit
breathes through every human foible. Over time he has gained
in strength and has enough now to break free of his confines
soon. I can not fight The Deceiver alone as this realm's
Enlightened One... he has grown too influential. He
especially delights in the perversion of women," Shinbo
remarked dryly, "and that is how we will defeat him."

Mariko blinked. "We are bait, then."

Midori shook her head. "No... we will be a trap."

Shinbo nodded. "Hakujou will distort reality to torture you.
He will search your souls to find your greatest weakness. As
he feeds on your fear and anger, he will become more
tangible. That is when he is both the most powerful... and
the most vulnerable. Unfortunately, I can only attack him in
his materialized form.... " he trailed off.

Shinbo inclined his head slightly and called sharply,
"Tara!" A woman with shoulder length black hair in a sunrise
orange kimomo entered the room and cleared the tea away.
Shinbo smiled brightly at her. "Thank you, most favorite

She returned his grin with a smirk. "I am your only
daughter, Father!" She bowed to their guests and left
balancing the full, silver tray expertly on her finger tips.

Shinbo watched his daughter sashay out before he addressed
his team a final time, "You will begin to train your spirits
in the higher art of Ninpo and train harder with Kuji-in.
Your fears will be our bait... and its control will be our
trap," he finished as the dark ninja warrior materialized
and bowed.

Chapter 3
A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

The team trained intensely for over a year before their
sensei was somewhat satisfied. Shinbo's assistant, known
only as 'Nin', also trained with them.

Nin was an androgynous curiosity. The only words the
perpetually dark-clad individual uttered, were the focused
shouts during combat. Nin was tall, lean and powerful. The
skilled fight maneuvers were precise and gracefully fluent.
Yuriko suspected that Nin had been under Shinbo's tutelage
from a very young age.

It was no surprise when, one day, Shinbo announced that the
five trainees were ready mentally to enter the dark world
and confront The Deceiver. He motioned the warriors into a
hidden vault and stepped aside.

"If we do manage to cast Hakujou back into the dark realm,
he will not let us leave in peace... he will most assuredly
set his demons upon us. Weapons will be needed to fight for
our freedom from the dark realm," Shinbo explained.

There was a collective gasp of delight from the women as a
fantastic array of clothing, armor and weaponry was

Shinbo laughed. "Whatever warrior you choose to be, should
come from the heart. Over the next few weeks you shall
*become* that persona."

Yuriko's gaze swept through the arsenal. Every time period
and almost every culture was represented. She openly laughed
at a knight's shiny armor until her eyes lit upon another
type of body armor; something that allowed for a lot of
mobility and yet was protective.

Yuriko fingered the bright titanium-like metal with the
single strip of gold inlay that ran the length down the
middle of each thigh protector. A gold band was also
centered horizontally across the chest piece. The shoulder
boards seemed to meld together into a single piece with an
opening for the head to fit through. Gold decorated the
highest part of each shoulder board and attached to a silver
collar. Front and center of the shoulder piece was an
amethyst jewel which begged to be 'activated'. Behind the
shoulder piece flowed a crimson cape made of some sort of
impervious material. There were titanium shoes with gold
heels to finish off the hard metal armor.

Her attention drifted to a soft all-body undergarment and
blushed a little... she wished it weren't *quite* so
revealing. It was made almost entirely of form-fitting
see-through mesh. Yuriko surreptitiously took out a sharp
penknife and attempted to stab a sleeve cuff. Impenetrable.
The crimson top resembled a baby 'T' with short ribbed
sleeves. The matching bottoms were, well... brief! The
ensemble was completed with crimson ribbed socks that came
up mid-calf. Where did this stuff come from?!

Yuriko sauntered over to the weapons racks and immediately
homed in on a twin pair of plasma guns. The controls looked
suspiciously like the amethyst gem on her armor's collar.
She glanced over at her companions to see what they had

Mariko had chosen what looked to be a dark traditional
Ninjutsu uniform like the one Nin wore on occasion, but when
she held it in front of her with a critical eye, Yuriko
could see it was a one-piece body suit instead... probably
made from the same type of material her own cape was. Mariko
selected a royal purple obi that would wrap around the waist
twice and a pair of gauntlets that matched. Mariko began to
select small lethal weapons (shurikens, a blowgun, darts,
knives, poison) and tools to aid with climbing and quick
getaways that disappeared into hidden pockets. Lastly the
kunoichi chose some iron fingernails and a short bow with

Not surprisingly, Kishi picked out khaki shorts that had
slotted olive cuffs for bullets and an olive drab tank top.
Accessories included heavy brown boots with lugged soles, a
brown weapons belt, and brown arm and head bands. For
weapons she chose a Snubnosed 3" Colt .45 revolver with a
walnut stock, grenades, and a wicked looking dagger with a
blade that resembled an inverse 'Mortal Combat' knife with a
hand guard that tapered to a point past the grip where the
spiked blade part began. Her last item of choice was a Ruger
MP9 sub-machine gun.

Yuriko's gaze rested finally upon her lover. Midori had a
pewter-gray kimono and navy hakama in her hands. For her
feet she had comfortable white tabi socks and sandals.
Though the outfit looked quite ordinary, Yuriko suspected it
was anything but. She smiled slightly as her partner passed
up the pair of Samurai wakizashi for the straighter, more
versatile Ninjutsu ninja-to. The hilts had black leather
cord braided around them that ended at steel knuckle guards.
Midori adored swords! She also chose matching tantos and
rounded her arsenal out with a crossbow and steel arrows.

Yuriko grabbed her sensei's attention with the wave of her
hand. "Shinbo-kun, is there a place to change into outfits
down here in this dungeon?" she asked.

Shinbo's eyes twinkled as he sharply clapped his hands
twice. "Follow me!"

Shinbo led the small group over to a weapons rack and
punched in a code on his hand held remote. The rack
disappeared into the floor. Behind it lay a heavy metal door
with yet another key code. Beyond the door was an expansive
metal dojo. There was another room that had a changing area
with a large furo in it and a shower. The toilet area was
separate. There was a collective intake of breath.

"Welcome to your 'weapons training dungeon'," Shinbo
commented dryly.

The women looked at one another, then raced to the changing
room. When the warriors emerged they were met by Shinbo-kun
and Nin, who sported a camera. Four pairs of curious eyes
stared at Nin whose 'cow' brown eyes twinkled back merrily,
but it was their sensei who spoke up.

"My assistant also attends Tokyo University as an aspiring
photographer. Very busy. I would be much obliged to all of
you, if you were to pose for a picture. Maybe Nin will quit
nagging me about it, then." Shinbo grinned toothily at the
retreating back of the dark, silent ninja.

Nin began to arrange the team with a strange gleam in those
big blue orbs. Midori and Kishi were put back to back, both
facing forward, Mariko stood behind them and Yuriko knelt on
the floor in front of everyone. Nin brought a finger to the
covered chin and tapped it thoughtfully.

Nin walked over to a bench and carried it over, placing it
at an angle next to Kishi and extending behind Mariko. Nin
motioned the kunoichi to stand on the end of the bench,
then handed her the iron 'claws' and gauntlets to put on.
Mariko obliged Nin, then crossed her purple clad forearms
over her chest. Nin arranged Mariko's mid-back chestnut
hair, then nodded in approval.

Nin walked around the bench and placed Kishi's right leg
upon the other end of the bench and exposed a black leather
pistol sheath that was strapped to the calf with her Colt 45
in it. Nin put the jagged dagger in Kishi's right hand so
that it pointed downward then placed a grenade in her left
hand. The ninja lifted Kishi's bent elbow until the grenade
almost touched the short, curly blue-black hair. Shinbo's
assistant's eyes took on a pensive look, then produced some
military ID (dog) tags and put them over Kishi's head.

Satisfied with Yuriko's boss, the dark ninja glided over to
Yuriko and positioned the big plasma gun in the armor clad
warrior's right hand so that it pointed directly into the
camera. Yuriko's other gun was arranged so that it pointed
off to the left and lowered so that it wouldn't interfere
with the view of Kishi's pistol. The ninja gave up on trying
to get Yuriko's straight blond bangs to behave so that her
right eye could be seen.

Lastly, Nin stood in front of Midori and her ninja-to
swords. Midori's long black hair didn't need to be fussed
with because it was tied back with a navy ribbon. The
'Samurai' warrior relaxed into a readiness stance with her
right elbow bent and the forearm held slightly above her
head. Her left forearm was leveled waist high. Nin moved
the blades parallel to each other and stepped back. Perfect!

In a moment Nin was positioned in front of the women and
Shinbo instructed them to look menacing. The flash went off
a few times, then the mysterious photographer swept out the
dojo... presumably to a darkroom somewhere to develop the
film. The four were left alone to endure the cruel whims of
their inordinately gleeful Sensei.


After several months and frequent trips to Shinbo's well
paid private physician for horrendous, 'inexplicable'
injuries, the warriors finally figured out how to use the
Kuji-in training to enhance their awareness of danger and
avoid it. Nin was still the best at everything, but the
'inexperienced' gap between their abilities had definitely
narrowed. They were next taught how to defend each other as
a team against a common enemy... namely the deadly duo of
Shinbo and Nin.

Shinbo and Nin planted bombs detonated by trip wires. They
hid in closets and blew poisoned darts through cracks when
one of the hapless trainees walked by. Separated, the team
had easily been picked off one at a time by the crafty pair.
So the four of them learned to stay together, keep alert and
watch each other's backs.

In the small hours of one morning, the foursome snuck
undetected into the arsenal vault. Each chose a separate
wall and hid amongst the clutter of costumes... then waited.
When their 'enemy' showed up to restock their weapons, they
were silently bombarded with arrows, shurikens, knives and
laser beams. The two ambushed assassins managed to deflect
the attacks that would have killed them, but were ultimately
riddled with injuries. Shinbo lay bleeding on the floor and
grinned ruefully up at the four leering faces bent over him
with their weapons trained at his throat. Nin was out cold.

Yuriko stretched a hand out to uncover Nin's face, but an
iron grip around her wrist stopped her. Piercing brown eyes
stared warningly back into her own... and that was the last
thing she remembered before darkness overwhelmed her.

Chapter 4

Yuriko's eyes cracked open as a putrid odor filled her
nostrils. Her stomach lurched threateningly as she slowly
lifted her head to take in her surroundings. It was the cool
dark that early morning brought before daybreak and a damp
mist hung in the air which entrapped the stench from
uncollected garbage. She was lying on her back in a narrow
ally made of cobblestone and she could just make out a
single diffuse point of light that glowed dimly from the
street corner. Yuriko became aware of her acute hunger and
nausea all at once. Her head pounded dizzily as she sat up

She blinked as her eyes focused on the shadowy form of
someone slumped against the rotting wooden door of a
dilapidated row house. As she crawled closer a rat scurried
away. She could see, now, that the indigent person was a man
in a threadbare dark coat and torn trousers. His thin legs
sprawled over the stone stoop and his shoes, which sported
gaping holes, fell limply onto the cobblestones. A paper
sack with a green bottleneck exposed was clutched loosely in
the bony fingers of his thin hand. A filthy wide-brim felt
hat was angled partially over his closed eyes and dried red
wine and spittle fused gray hairs together on his beard.

The closer Yuriko got to the man, the more offensive his
body odor became. She reached two trembling fingers up to
his carotid and promptly threw up. He was dead. Yuriko
choked on a sob as she found her feet and stumbled away from
the corpse. She looked at him with pity one last time, then
began to run blindly through the ally ways as she heard the
faint sound of a siren approach the area.

Yuriko tired quickly from the lack of nourishment and began
to walk towards what she perceived to be the bright lights
of a city. There she hoped to find out where she was so she
could find her way back to Midori and her other friends.

Her body seemed to move like she was in thick molasses and
it was daylight when she finally arrived at a street with
small shops along it with locked metal gates over the doors.
She could smell a bakery nearby and let her nose lead the
way. She jumped as sudden shrieks from a catfight startled
her, then stared numbly as the cats fought over a single,
small, dead mouse. She looked up at a sign that hung over
the door she had stopped in front of. In fading red letters
it proclaimed: 'NEW YORK'S FINEST BAGELS!' Yuriko swooned
and was caught by a pair of well-padded arms.

When Yuriko came to her senses, she found herself seated on
the cracked vinyl of a forest green bench that had seen
better years. Her head and shoulders were slumped over a
light green formica table top that was chipped around the

The plump baker huffed noisily over to her when she moaned
softly. "Well, girlie, in spite of what you are wearing, you
don't seem like your average homeless bum or hooker. Just an
unfortunate. Tell you what... go clean up in the restroom
and I'll let you bake for me until I think you've earned the
right to eat. You can call me, 'Sir'," the man said showing
her a full set of crooked stained teeth.

Yuriko studied the man's sallow features and the greasy
black strands of hair combed across his balding head. It
took her a few seconds to process what the baker meant in
Japanese, then replied respectfully with a grateful nod,
"Yes, sir... and thank you, sir!"

Yuriko baked for the man the entire day and was offered a
single plain bagel for her labor after closing time. She
left the man's small shop eating the bread slowly so she
could keep it down... and make it last.

She wandered mindlessly through the streets. She kept her
eyes peeled for blinking neon carnival-type lights that were
typical for night clubs. If she were lucky, one of the clubs
might allow her to sing for a tip. She glanced in despair at
her filthy, tattered jeans and tee-shirt. She was a mess.

Yuriko spent the evening being either turned down flatly,
or dodging glass beer bottles that smashed loudly against
the wall behind her before tinkling to the floor. She had
heard boos, jeers, and rowdy laughter well into the wee
hours of the morning and had not a dime to show for it. She
laid down wearily in front of the baker's shop and slept.

After a while, Yuriko had begun to lose track of the days
spent in this existence of rejection that seemed to pursue
her relentlessly. Her self respect was gone and utter
hopelessness gnawed away at her soul.

Yuriko had gone a different direction each night she went
out to search for a job. This time as she went out, she
passed a dark one-way street and heard the screams of a
woman. It looked like a gang bang was underway. The woman
screamed again and Yuriko could have sworn it was Midori's

Her heart caught in her throat momentarily, then the night
air filled with her own screams for help as she ran,
heedless of her own safety, to her beloved. The gang broke
up and shoved Yuriko roughly aside as some police officers
charged in from the other end of the ally with their long
flash lights bobbing. Maybe the cops were so intent on
pursuing their young quarry of hoodlums they didn't notice
the two people left behind, or, perhaps they were just used
to seeing harmless bums laying in an ally and ignored them.
For whatever reason, not one of them stopped to check on
their welfare.

Yuriko knelt beside her lover's prone body and repeated her
name desperately, but Midori was terrified beyond all sense
of reasoning and reacted as though she hadn't heard her.
When Yuriko extended a hand to help her, Midori screamed and
fought her off. When she tried to explain who she was, her
mate became more agitated. She shrieked that Yuriko was
dead, and if she *were* still alive, she never wanted to see
her again.

Yuriko's heart twisted in her chest and shattered... she
couldn't seem to breathe anymore. As she gripped Midori's
collar into her fists, she felt a sharp blade enter her
side and welcomed its pain. As the color faded from her
world, she noted that the knife's deed was not nearly as
hurtful as the rejection from her lover....

Chapter 5

Midori's flight to New York City took her physically away
from Tokyo and her empty home, but distance couldn't take
away the ache of Yuriko leaving with Kishi for the Middle
East without saying goodbye in person. A note. Just a
hasty, bloody note!

The evening news had mentioned that a flight en route to
Israel had been shot down by terrorists and there were no
survivors. The flight's passenger manifest scrolled along a
blue strip at the bottom part of the TV screen like stock
market quotes. Midori's heart stopped as she saw Yuriko's
and Kishi's names inched slowly across. When the shock wore
off, Midori screamed into the couch pillow until she had no
more voice.

During the days that followed Midori didn't shower, didn't
eat, barely drank and didn't leave the house. The apartment
became as unkempt as she was, and she didn't give a damn.
She wore Yuriko's clothes, fondled Yuriko's possessions and
slept with Yuriko's picture.

Mariko had come over to practically hand feed her once a day
and tried to bring what measure of comfort to her that she
could. In truth, though, Mariko was in almost as much pain
as she was. It was Mariko who finally suggested that the
grieving author go to NYC for a change in scenery and stay
with Yuriko's perky red-headed friend, Shannon. The brunette
also offered to keep up the apartment for her while she was
gone. So here she was....

Shannon met Midori at the airport terminal with a friendly
smile and a helping hand with the luggage. The New Yorker
steered the slender Japanese woman through the throngs of
people and out to a small car in the parking garage. The two
lapsed into long awkward silences between comments about the
scenery as Shannon expertly navigated her way around the
city's congested streets. In about an hour they were parked
in another garage under an apartment complex.

Shannon's one bedroom apartment was cozy without looking
cluttered and Midori warmed to her host almost instantly.
She plunked her luggage down next to the couch and looked at
it longingly. She couldn't decide which she wanted more;
real food... or a bed.

Shannon hadn't missed Midori's tired glance at the couch.
"Make yourself at home! The bathroom's the first door there
on the right," she informed her guest, pointing towards the
hallway, "go ahead and soak in the tub if you want to. I'm
going fix us some dinner... do you have a craving for
anything?" The red-head asked with a grin. "Peanuts?"
Shannon inquired impishly.

The travel weary woman wore a blank expression for a moment
before shaking her head 'no', then headed for the bathroom.

When Midori emerged from the shower, the tantalizing aroma
of steak and vegetables wafted through the air. She dressed
herself in a red silk nightgown, threw a house coat over it,
then addressed her long black hair. By the time she was
finished, the food was too.

Dinner was filled with small talk while the women got to
know one another. Midori thought the food was delicious,
and though she ate only small amount, she was stuffed.
Shannon allowed Midori to help with the clean up, and in
doing so, showed her guest where everything was in the

Shannon could see that Midori was fading fast. "I've put
fresh sheets on the bed for you, why don't you turn in?"
When her guest looked hesitant she added, "Don't feel like
you need to keep me company, Midori, I have a few things I
need to get done and will probably end up ignoring you,

Midori gave her a grateful look and headed for the bedroom.
She looked around at the knick knacks, pictures, books...
and manga. There was an old three by five photo of Yuriko
holding Shannon in her arms on top of the chest of drawers,
partially obscured by a collectable Sailor Mars action
figure. Midori choked. 'I can't stay in here,' she thought
with a pang. She ran out of the room, close to tears. "May I
sleep on your couch, please?" she whispered hoarsely.

Shannon was puzzled for a moment, then understood. 'Oh
goddess... poor thing!' She could have kicked herself for
not going through her mementos and removing the ones of
Yuriko and herself. "Of course you may, sweetie... I'll have
it ready for you in a jiffy." she answered contritely.

To Midori's delight the next day, she found that the office
of one of her American consultants was a block away and
contacted him. She knew her arrangement with Shannon was
temporary, but while she was there she might as well
contribute financially. Plus it would give her mind
something to do.

Somewhere amongst Shannon's kindness and patience, Mr.
Cromwell's temporary projects to keep her busy, and the new
surroundings... Midori slowly began to rejoin the human race.
The thoughts of Yuriko had become less agonizing and had
slowly begun to be replaced by a dull, lonely ache.

Midori was on her way home from Mr. Cromwell's office rather
late one evening when she observed a group of boisterous
male teenagers loitering near the local cinema entrance on
the street corner. She crossed the street to avoid them, but
was spotted anyway.

Midori's heart hammered painfully in her chest as she saw
the youths cross the street after her, and when she sped up,
the boys did, too. She was officially petrified when the
teenagers surrounded her and prodded her roughly into an
unlit one-way street. She screamed repeatedly as her clothes
were torn off and the largest of the lot mounted her. Two
other teens had 'a turn' before she heard police car sirens.

All but one disgusting, smelly, street urchin she hadn't
noticed before remained as the police stomped loudly past.
This one seemed more desperate than the others and kept
hissing at her hoarsely through thick, cracked lips as he
tried to grab her. It seemed like the fellow said ''ere we
go'... but whatever was uttered sounded enough like 'Yuriko'
that Midori snapped.

"Yuriko's dead," she shrieked as she pounded her assailant's
face with her fists. She took advantage of the shock on his
dirty mug and groped with her right hand for the small
switchblade she had started carrying around with her. "Even
if she were alive now, I never want to see her again... "
Midori yelled and grunted once as she stabbed the straddled
youth in the side under the ribcage. "This happened because
of *her*!" she screamed.

The filthy boy's emaciated torso fell on top of her, and as
it did, something felt oddly soft and familiar about it.
Midori dropped the knife and her hands shook as she cradled
the dying boy's head. She lifted it so she could have a
better look. Horror filled her being when she saw the abject
sorrow etched into the visage of her only beloved. Midori's
keening cries echoed between the buildings and faded only as
her own life's blood pooled away from her body....

Chapter 6

Kishi whistled a merry tune and lit a cigarette before she
set the last camera case into the cargo hold of the rented
houseboat. They had started their shoot from Brazil's Belém
and were headed farther west on the Amazon River and deeper
into the rainforests towards Manaus where they would finish
filming their documentary on the subject. She was to meet
Mariko and Hachi near Manaus at the Ariau Tower Hotel. The
couple would be coming from Peru on a cruise as bird
watching enthusiasts. Manaus was a half-way point for both

Kishi noted the frequency of 'Pro Amazonia' police
patrolling the river, but weren't stopped by any of them
until the team approached the Trombetas River. They were
stopped about three times after that to have their boat
searched for drug trafficking. Kishi was beginning to lose
her temper during the latest intrusion and asked in broken
English why they were stopped so often. The curt reply was
because they were in a private boat and not part of a
designated cruise.

Kishi decided to go up the Trombetas to film a small village
and that's when things started to go awry. Despite
precautionary measures taken, one of her crew members was
bitten by an insect and had an adverse reaction from it.
They had to stay at the village a little longer than
anticipated to wait for the antidote. During their stay,
some of their equipment turned up missing and Kishi's tiny
sense of humor was all but gone. Only some cute village kids
saved her from losing it completely. She was amazed at how
some people could have so little and be so happy!

A week went by before they could resume their mission. They
were about a mile away from the Amazon River, when some
fishermen in a small boat flagged them down. It appeared
their outboard motor had become cantankerous and they were
being swept uncontrollably into the Amazon river. Kishi
groaned and had her skipper stop.

They suddenly found themselves surrounded, then, by an array
of small boats with weapons pointed at them. Kishi cursed
like a professional sailor as a few burly men boarded their
house boat with guns, knives and small burlap sacks. She and
her crew were held at gunpoint while a padded bench was
sliced open at a seam and the cotton batting was replaced by
the sacks. The seam was re-sewn as her skipper was led off
the ship and supplanted by one of the drug runners.

Of course, the Pro-Amazonia police stopped them as soon as
Kishi's boat entered the Amazonian waters. Kishi felt her
nerves begin to fray as the officers made their search, then
heaved a huge sigh of relief when they left. They weren't as
fortunate when they finally docked at Manaus; the Port
Police brought dogs aboard with them.

All hell broke loose as the dogs barked loudly at the
offending bench top, officers shouted back and forth, then
gunfire cracked as the self-appointed 'skipper' tried to
bail out. The bench top was lifted and the contents in the
space beneath it were strewn all over the deck. The dogs
continued to bark at the bench, so a female officer took a
knife and stabbed it into the padded seat top. The blade was
removed and the officer grinned when she observed that the
tip was covered with a fine white powder. Kishi and her
photographers were handcuffed and delivered, sans questions,
onto the police boats.

Kishi and her crew were taken to a Colombian prison in
Bogotá where torture was expected... and received. The fact
that all of the captives had the same answers, no matter how
many 'ways' they were questioned, seemed to irritate the
authorities further. It never occurred to the interrogators
that they were being told the truth! Kishi and her crew were
put into tiny individual cells overrun by vermin, then
shackled. They were left to await death from being slowly
eaten alive.

Kishi had to try and stay awake at night to ward off her
silent little attackers. After several days of sleeplessness
her eyes and mind began to play tricks on her. The evil rats
began to take on monstrous proportions. They had beady red
eyes that glowed, long yellow picks for teeth, human-like
shrieks for voices and snake-like tails.

Kishi could feel the rats' incisors gnawing her toes off and
laughed insanely at the loud buzzing noise they made in her
ears. She alternated between delirious babble and prayers
for death until she finally succumbed to unconsciousness....

Chapter 7

After Midori left for New York, Mariko and Hachi were more
than prepared to take a vacation somewhere and readily
agreed to fly to South America with Kishi. Plans were
discussed on the flight over between the friends. Hachi and
Mariko wanted to go on a guided cruise down the Amazon River
that started in Peru and Kishi wanted to start from Belém.
It was unanimously agreed upon to meet in Manaus.

Hachi and Mariko boarded The Marcelita and enjoyed
themselves immensely from beginning to end. At the end of
their eight day tour, they visited the Manaus Opera House
and checked into the modest Ariau Amazon Tower Hotel. They
inquired about private birding expeditions for the area and
were directed to the activities department.

The clerk admitted that boat tours were being discouraged
due to the alarming frequency of hijacks from desperate drug
runners. He recommended a hiking expedition instead.

Their guide was a dark native of South America who probably
would have been a wealth of information... had he spoken
Japanese. Mariko and Hachi got by on their limited English
and used up a several rolls of film. They had a few more
hours before sundown yet, but it was nearly dark under the
tree canopy. The guide lit a lantern and the trio headed
back towards the hotel. They were hoping to spot some of the
nocturnal wildlife in the area.

Not long after the decision was made to return, Mariko
informed the men she needed to relieve herself, and she
ducked off of the trail to do her business. A loud crash
nearby the trail startled everyone and three things happened
at once; the guide took off screaming down the trail with
the lantern, Mariko fell into a deep ravine, and Hachi was
attacked by something Mariko couldn't make out as she fell.

Mariko suffered a few deep cuts, but mostly bruises and
abrasions during her descent. She tried to twist her body
around so she wouldn't land head first and was caught around
her left ankle by a rope-like vine. When she opened her
eyes, she found herself suspended over murky brown water,
her face only inches away.

Water. In a panic she realized her backpack with water
purification pills, medical supplies, and food rations was
gone. She was bleeding and trapped alone in the jungle with
hungry predators as night approached. In the distance,
Mariko could hear Hachi's faint cries for help... and then
only the twitter of birds.

Mariko reached up in the dark to the thick vine that had
ensnared her foot and pulled herself upright. Her muscles
protested and sweat stung her eyes as she strained to free
her ankle with one hand. Frustrated by the darkness, she
decided it was a futile endeavor and she should just anchor
herself to the vine and try to rest until sunrise. The
insects had found all of her open wounds and by morning, her
ankle was painfully swollen. She was going to need a knife
she didn't have to cut herself free.

Mariko looked up and saw that the vine she hung on was
looped around a large tree branch about twenty feet up. On a
burst of adrenalin, she climbed up the vine hand over hand,
dragging her caught foot behind her. Sitting in the tree at
last, Mariko rested her eyes for awhile before she began to
methodically peel strands of the woody vine away from her

Hours later she finally extracted her ankle and lay on her
stomach to sleep while a torrential rain beat down on her.
When she woke, she limped over the tree's branches, then
swung her way across the water and onto the embankment. The
sun filtering through the lush foliage revealed breathtaking
beauty in the life that teemed under the canopy. She inhaled
the mixture of pungent and fragrant odors deeply and let her
breath out with a sigh. Her awe was only interrupted by her
belly growling piteously.

Mariko sighed again... without her field guide, she was
limited to eating plants that had been pointed out as being
edible by the illustrious tour guide. Thirsty, she drained
some pooled water at the base of a broad leaf into her palm
and drank.

When she made it back up to the trail, she found her
boyfriend's backpack contents littering the area... but no
Hachi. His food was gone, but the medical supplies were
there, along with a field guide. Mariko cleaned her wounds,
but could see evidence of insect infestations in them that
she could do nothing about.

When she found the plant the tour guide had shown Hachi and
herself, she checked her field guide for verification. It
matched the appearance in the book as being edible, so she
snipped off the tip of a single leaf with her teeth to
taste. It was tart, but good, so she bit off another piece.
Her tongue tingled, and in alarm, she looked at the field
guide again, but this time she turned the page. The variety
had a deadly cousin with shinier leaves. Mariko spat the
leaf out, but it was too late. The poison had already begun
its work....

Chapter 8

"Kuji-in," whispered the gentle voice in warriors' minds.

"Sha," whispered Yuriko, "gives healing to the body."

"Toh," whispered Midori, "brings balance between a body's
solid and liquid states for greater harmony with the

"Rin," whispered Kishi, "brings strength to the mind and

"Kai," whispered Mariko, "brings complete control over body

As one the warriors whispered, "Hei uses psychic powers to
mask ones presence. Jin increases the mind's telepathic
powers to read your opponent. Retsu gives telekinetic powers
to stun with a shout or touch. Zai extends harmony gained by
merging with the universe. Zen brings enlightenment and


The clash of heavy swords rung out in the air as Houmudaijin
with his sword of Justice battled Mami Tatsujin with his
sword of Deception.

The honored Nin instructed the warriors to encircle the
duelists and join their elemental energies together. The
five spread out, then outstretched their arms towards one
another. Each of them used the their Kuji-in training to
focus their minds and bodies on universal harmony, healing,
and tranquility. Their energy coalesced in eddies around all
of them and increased in strength as they became as one
force. The fighters in the center began to fade, and then...
disappeared completely. In their place gaped the portal to
Mami Tatsujin's hell, through which six demons poured out
before it winked out of existence. It left all of them
standing in a deserted street between some tall buildings in


Yuriko recovered first and began to blast away at a monster
with the head of a bull, thick man-like arms that ended in
blades which dripped with a clear viscous liquid, and from
the waist down resembled a bull's back end. Yuriko couldn't
help but stare... it was *definitely* male!

She blinked as its snakelike tail with an arrow tip whipped
towards her. She dodged it and used one of her lasers to
slice it off. The beast roared, then slashed at her extended
arm with its long double-edged claws. Yuriko was confident
her armor would hold as she unleashed another laser bolt at
its stomach to back it off, but his claws sliced into the
material like they were covered in acid. Her right upper arm
was deeply cut in three places.

Yuriko had wounded the beast, which angered it further. She
had to get away from it, somehow, to use her more powerful
weapons. She couldn't fight the demon in close combat and
survive. She leapt away as he slashed at her again and she
managed to fire off another shot at his wrist. His nostrils
flared and he bellowed his fury. The monster retracted the
wounded appendage and grabbed it with his other arm.

Yuriko took advantage of the lapse in action to move away.
She grimly depressed the amethyst button at the base of her
neck with a free thumb. A titanium helmet slid over her head
from behind her collar and a voice commanded, interactive
visor covered her eyes. She asked softly for the heat
patterns of her foe to be displayed.

There were two hotspots; one was its heart and the other...
she sniggered. She aimed one weapon at the target near its
chest and the other at its head, then fired concentrated
plasma beams at them. The demon dropped with a thud like a
heavy rock. Yuriko stared at it breathing heavily. Her arm
was bleeding profusely and she felt a little dizzy. She
refocused and turned her attention onto her other teammates.


Mariko and Midori raced up to the rooftops of opposite
buildings and engaged three aerial attackers that resembled
mythological harpies.

Midori used her crossbow to shoot one of them down before it
could even get close. The beast screeched and flopped in the
throes of death a few feet away from her, but her attention
was already on her next attacker. She traded her bow for the
ninja-to swords in two fluid motions and stabbed at the
harpy as it raked its talons across the Samurai's back. She
was relieved when the special material held up.

Meanwhile, the Mariko hacked at the other harpy with her
iron claws as she spun away from its sharp talons and ducked
away from the spiked tail. The kunoichi was finally able to
lop off the harpy's head, then ignoring the splattered blood
around her, pulled out the short bow and a poisoned arrow.

Mariko looked over at the other roof where her teammate
fought with the last flying demon, then shot her arrow and
impaled the legendary beast through the chest as it dove for
Midori again.

Midori grinned and added her sword to the beast's heart. She
turned and saluted Mariko smartly, who waved back.

Both Samurai and kunoichi armed themselves with bows, then,
fixed their attention to the battles going on in the street
below them.


Kishi fought a huge green demon that had the head of a human
woman with black snakes for hair, a lobster's body and legs,
and a scorpion's tail.

The demon spat a sticky web-like substance at Kishi who
evaded most of it, but what stuck, began to burn her. She
gritted her teeth and hissed her pain.

The military aficionado took out her revolver and shot one
of the faceted ruby eyes out. The creature shrieked horribly
as green liquid gushed out. A ball of fire suddenly burst
from the scorpion tail and singed Kishi's short hair as she
rolled under the monster's hard body to avoid it.

Kishi sliced along the lobster's abdomen with her spiked
dagger and its vile smelling entrails spilled out onto her,
along with more of the green blood. She choked and coughed.
Gak! The demon tried valiantly to stuff its guts back in
with a couple of its legs. Kishi sneered as she took that
opportunity to pull out the pin from one of her grenades.
She let it stuff that in, too.

Kishi rolled out of the way and hit her feet at a run
yelling, "Fire in the hole!"

Nin and Yuriko wasted no time scattering away from a the
green demon, whose face registered confusion for an
instant... then exploded into a multitude of small green


Nin had taken on the largest of the male demons. It was a
hairy white humanoid beast, with the wrinkled face of a
fanged vampire bat, beady black eyes, pointed ears, and a
prehensile tail. Its webbed leathery wings had sharp curving
talons at the tips of bony-like support spines.

Nin threw a barrage of shurikens and a poisoned dart at it,
but the weapons bounced off the monster's metal-like hide.
The fiend hissed its laughter and flicked its tongue out at
the ninja. Nin dodged the threat and took out a collapsible
grappling hook. Nin swung it while jumping nimbly out of the
way of another tongue flick. The hook wrapped rapidly around
the giant's hairy ankles and the demon fell heavily to the
asphalt as the ninja yanked hard on the rope.

The demon grabbed Nin by its tail as it fell and squeezed.
Shinbo's assistant struggled but couldn't break free, then
gasped for air as the giant's tongue wrapped around Nin's
neck and began to pump a numbing venom into the warrior.
Nin's body went limp and the monster loosened its holds on
the ninja slightly.

The huge demon blinked as it was pelted with arrows, laser
beams and bullets. It tossed Nin's unresponsive body away
from it and turned its attention to Yuriko's plasma guns.
*That* hurt!

Kishi radioed for an ambulance as she ran over to see if
there was anything that could be done for their stricken
teammate, while Yuriko took on the oversized 'bat-bear'.

Yuriko nailed the giant's tongue with an electrocuting ray.
She smirked with satisfaction as the thing pawed at its face
and howled in pain. The blond blasted the beast with plasma
and backed away from its writhing body while she continued
to punish it. When the furry white demon appeared to lay
still on its back, Yuriko stopped shooting.

Yuriko heard Nin cough and exhaled loudly in relief, then
she turned her attention upward towards the rooftops to see
if her beloved and Mariko were all right. As she did so,
Mariko and Kishi shouted a warning, then Midori launched a
steel crossbow arrow.

Yuriko's world slowed down and sound distorted the moment
her head began to swivel back towards the felled monster.
The demon's screech was loud, and drawn slowly out, as it
raised its arm over its head and a blade extended slowly
towards her back. Her cape floated away from her as her
torso slowly followed in the direction of her head.

Yuriko formed the word 'no' with her lips as she saw Nin's
body slowly fall between the blade and herself. She heard
the 'tat, tat, tat' of Kishi's MP9 before the bullets slowly
imbedded in the hairy torso, she saw Mariko's arrows slowly
bounce off an impervious neck and saw Midori's precise steel
arrow slowly enter a black eye, then continue its travel
into the pavement. The carcasses of the six demons gradually
faded from view and all the warriors, except Nin, were back
in their street clothes.

Time sped up, and Nin lay in a spreading puddle of blood.
Yuriko dropped to her knees and pressed her palm into the
wound to staunch the flow of blood as the ambulance Kishi
had called, arrived. The paramedics lay Nin on a gurney and
tore the ninja's head wraps away to give their patient some

Yuriko stared into the pale, beautiful face of none other
than Yamamoto Kaori. A tattered paper fell from the ninja's
limp fingers and fluttered to the ground. Yuriko bent to
pick it up. It was a worn photograph taken the day the women
posed for Nin in their warrior outfits two years ago. It
seemed like an eternity ago, Yuriko reflected.

Chapter 9
Life Goes On

Yuriko was relieved when Kishi had granted her permission to
stay home until she recovered physically from their ordeal.
Being bedridden meant she could do little else but dream...
and think. That was when a few plans hatched and began to
churn about in her mind.

When Yuriko had asked after Kaori's well being, Midori had
informed her that no visitors other than immediate family
were allowed to see her. Yuriko hoped she would be able to
implement her ideas while the kunoichi was still in the


Yuriko lounged in luxurious slothfulness in her lover's bed.
Midori had already cleaned the stitched wounds on the
blonde's upper arm, then medicated and bandaged them
carefully. She was currently in the kitchen fixing them both
breakfast. Yuriko sighed happily when Midori made her
entrance and carried the food over. The author set the tray
down on the bedside cabinet and began pouring tea into cups.

"I could get used to this... a paid vacation and a beautiful
nurse who tends to my every need!" she quipped cheekily then
grinned widely at her raven-haired goddess.

Midori frowned slightly. "And just who says I'm going to
wait on you hand and foot all day?! I plan to write and
largely ignore you," Midori responded indignantly, then
smiled as Yuriko's lower lip stuck out petulantly. "Don't
worry, you won't be bored... Kishi had these dropped by
today." Midori plopped some scripts and envelopes onto the
bed next to the blond and pressed Yuriko's bottom lip back
in with a manicured pointer finger.

Yuriko moaned pathetically, "That traitor! I should have
known a paid vacation meant 'work from home'." Her eyes lit
up hopefully. "Wanna help me with these?"

Midori leaned forward and kissed Yuriko's warm forehead.
"Nope... you two are on your own," she said indicating the
stack of unwanted work. She handed her mate some pills and
some water. "Take your antibiotics. We can't have you
getting worse from an infection!" Midori mentioned with a
wink. She gathered the finished breakfast dishes and loaded
the tray up. "If you need anything, just yell." Then she
swept out of the room.

"I just need you... " Yuriko whispered morosely. Her heart
was still raw from the images her recent nightmare brought
to bear.

Midori had been distant with her since their return, and
when questioned about it, the author insisted firmly that
she didn't want to aggravate any injuries. Yuriko had a
notion that Midori's evasiveness was more than just a simple
concern... her lover was just plain avoiding her!

Perhaps Midori somehow felt responsible for the injuries,
she speculated... but that was utterly ridiculous! Though,
her lover certainly spent an inordinate amount of care
dressing the grievous wounds... in fact, it was the most
intimacy Midori had afforded her. Yuriko began to wonder
what reality had been imposed on her partner by Mami
Tatsujin. She wished Midori would talk about it. She sighed
again for the umptieth time.

When Yuriko finished going through the scripts and letters,
she set her glasses on the bedside table and sank her weary
head into the pillow. 'I feel like a truck ran over me,' she
thought sleepily as she began to doze off. Unconscious
within minutes, Yuriko was never aware that Midori had come
back into the room to watch her sleep.

Midori grasped Yuriko's hand with one of her own and stroked
her fingers through damp blond bangs gently with the other.
"I'm afraid, Yuri," she whispered, "please be patient with
me!" she implored.

She forced a rising lump down. "I know that Mami Tatsujin
set us up with a mutual conclusion in our alternate
realities. I'm having a really hard time dealing with it,
Yuri... it seemed so realistic! I can't look at you now
without seeing myself panic and shove the switchblade into
you... and the sorrow on your face will probably haunt me

Midori stifled a sob. "You seem so vulnerable right now,
Yuri. These wounds... they aren't normal," she bit her lip,
"Kishi and Kaori aren't bouncing right back either. I know
it's silly, but I'm scared to death you won't recuperate,"
she confessed.

Midori leaned over to lightly kiss Yuriko's soft, slightly
parted lips. "You have to get better Yuri... I don't want to
live without you!" She stood abruptly and let go of the limp
hand she held tenderly. "I'm not myself without you," she
owned. Midori smiled faintly, then left the room.


Yuriko woke up feeling a little more refreshed. She rose and
sauntered into the living room with her paperwork, kissing
Midori's cheek as she passed her on the way to the kitchen.
"Want some tea?"

"Mmmm-hmmm... " Midori murmured absently while she typed.
The cup of tea was set next to the keyboard and Midori
became uncomfortably aware that Yuriko was hovering. She
sighed softly. "Did Kishi send over anything interesting?"

Yuriko perked up instantly. "Yeah, there was something of
interest. Kishi secured for me a voice actress job in an
up-coming anime, and, I've been invited to be a guest at an
Anime convention! Something called 'Yuricon'," she answered
with enthusiasm.

Midori rolled her eyes. "You're making that up just to get a
rise out of me!" she retorted.

Yuriko feigned a hurt look. "It's true! See for yourself."
She plopped the letter onto the keyboard.

Midori dutifully indulged her beaming partner and looked at
it. Her eyebrows shot up in surprise. "I don't believe it!
Hmmm, they're asking for poster submissions... are you going
to submit anything?"

Yuriko looked sheepish. "Well, no... but an idea *had*
crossed my mind. The problem is, I don't have much time and
I need help getting around for a day or two... " She smiled
engagingly at the busy author and arched an eyebrow

Uh-oh. Any resolve Midori had for getting some work done,
began to crumble when she caught a glimpse of pleading blue
orbs. She groaned helplessly, "All right. This goes against
my better judgment... but I'll help you bathe and get

Chapter 10
Yaiba Tara

Midori drove Yuriko to Sensei Shinbo's dojo, where his
daughter received them warmly. Once inside, the dojo seemed
almost as though its soul had been lost as Yaiba Tara led
her guests silently to her sitting room.

Tara offered them tea and smiled. "I didn't expect to see
Father's special pupils back so soon!" she commented
casually, then addressed Yuriko directly, "You seem
uncomfortable, Yuriko-san... your arm, is it injured? Did
you come to see our family physician?"

'How can she tell... I have a jacket on,' Yuriko wondered.
"Um... its just a scratch and its already been taken care
of." She shifted restlessly. "Tara-san, do you have a
darkroom here that Nin would use to develop film?"

Tara's hazel eyes glittered. "I suppose Nin would have
access to our research facility... but you certainly don't."

Yuriko's hope waned. She slowly drew Nin's tattered photo
out of her jeans pocket and proffered it to the dark haired
girl. She swallowed nervously and asked politely, "Do you
think you could find the negative to this photo for me,
Tara-san? It would mean a lot to me, if you could."

Tara glanced up from the photo and looked at the blond
curiously. "If you tell me what you want done with it,
I'll do the work myself... assuming, of course, that I can
find the negative."

Yuriko blushed and said, "I'd like to have a five by seven
made... and a computer generated poster with this written on
it." She handed Tara a sketch from one of the pockets inside
her jacket.

Tara's lips drew up drolly. "You don't want much, do you?
And how long do I have to complete this little task, pray

"Um, two days maybe? I want to deliver them before Nin is
discharged from the hospital," Yuriko replied hopefully.

Tara's perfect eyebrows arched. "Anything else?" she asked

"N... " Yuriko began.

"Yes," Midori cut her off softly. "It would be an honor to
have a picture of your father... I think all of us would,"
she finished as she gazed earnestly into the face of Yaiba
Shinbo's daughter.

The open friendliness melted from Tara's features and her
whole demeanor stilled. She recovered after a moment, then
responded cordially, "Yes, of course... you loved him, too."

Yuriko's heart felt an emptiness once more as Yaiba-sama's
name was mentioned. She drew what courage she had together
to voice her apprehension, "He's not coming back, is he,
Tara-san," she asked tentatively, her lower lip trembling
rather conspicuously.

"No, Yuriko-san. The Child of Light's seed has passed
through thousands of generations for one purpose only; and
that is to confront Mami Tatsujin in battle should he escape
from the dark realm.

I too am a Child of Light, and I will continue the line
through my offspring. This dojo exists mainly for the order
of priests who train to protect my lineage and keep our
legend alive.

Your part in this struggle is over. If you wish to continue
your study of the special martial arts in the priesthood, I
will be happy to be your Sensei." Tara informed them with a
slight smile. "I'm sure my cousin wouldn't mind lending a
hand in your betterment, either," she added mischievously.

Midori picked up on the intimation. "So Nin's your cousin!"
She peered at Tara critically. "I guess I do see a small
family resemblance...." she trailed off.

Tara chortled. "The only family resemblance between my dad
and his sister, was their capacity to get into trouble! She
was lighter in coloring, lankier, and had a lot more spunk
than her darker brother who was shorter, wider, and more

At the onset of puberty, my father was favored over his
sister by 'the seed' when he received its gift of vision.
My aunt stopped her training and went on to marry Nin's
father, who is tall and black haired. Kaori has her more of
her father's coloring, but that's where their resemblance
ends. My cousin's fine features and personality are totally
her mother's," she paused to sip some tea.

"Kaori-chan and I were both trained to be Children of Light
until it became evident I was the anointed one when I
reached maturity at fourteen. My cousin was ten at the time,
and far better than I could ever be at the arts. She decided
to continue her special training and was kind of adopted
into the priesthood as Dad's little 'Ku' prodigy. He was the
one who nick-named her 'Nin'. When Nin did reach puberty,
the iffy relationship she had with her father became more
tumultuous. Kaori-chan spent more and more time here
training and my father took her under his wing only too

Tara sighed. "Kaori-chan and I are very close... and if this
picture means what I think it does, I will do my best to
honor your request, Yuriko-san." She addressed Midori, "I
have a picture of my dad in full Samurai regalia you both
might appreciate!" she said affectionately. "I'll call you
when I have everything ready for you." Tara stood to escort
Yuriko and Midori out of the dojo.

As the three neared the exit, Yuriko laid restraining
fingers upon Tara's forearm. "Tara-san, I would like to
continue training here to protect you. If something goes
wrong, and you have to battle the Deceiver, I can't let
you do it alone." She slid Midori an apologetic look.

Midori's warm smile encompassed both Yuriko and Tara as she
responded assertively, "Include me in that, too."

Tara felt a little overwhelmed. "My thanks to you both. You
will be a welcomed addition to the priesthood." She bowed
low, then bid them a good evening.

Yuriko and Midori were lost in their own separate thoughts
on the way home and not much was spoken. Yuriko went
straight to bed and didn't want supper. Midori silently
chastised herself for giving in to the impetuous blonde's
whim. She checked her willful patient's wounds for seepage,
then tended to Yuriko's elevated temperature with a heavy
sigh of frustration.

Chapter 11
Yamamoto Kaori

A few days went by before Tara called to inform Yuriko that
her pictures were ready. By then, her health had improved to
the point where Midori was more willing to chauffeur her
around. Their first stop was at the dojo where Tara waited
to accompany them. The tall blond slid into the back seat to
keep their guest company and pore over the dojo mistress'

On the way over to Tokyo General Hospital, Yuriko carefully
wrote something along the bottom right hand corner of the
five by seven photo, then waited for it to dry. She produced
a plastic bag and pulled a beautifully embossed cherrywood
frame out of it to mount the picture in. Yuriko proceeded to
wrap the gift with more items from the bag.

Tara was fascinated. "You behave as though you've done this
sort of thing a hundred times!" she remarked incredulously.

Yuriko laughed and said, "I've probably autographed more
things than that from a car... but, admittedly, I haven't
framed and gift wrapped them many times! Let's have a look
at the poster now," she requested with a sparkle in her
bright eyes.

Tara took the picture out of a cardboard cylinder and
unfurled it slowly, noticing that Yuriko held her breath in

Yuriko exhaled softly. "Oh, Tara-san... it's wonderful!" she

Tara grinned appreciatively, then handed Yuriko another
photo to look at while she put the poster back into its

Yuriko's throat constricted and she had trouble trying to
breathe. She quickly handed the photo back to Tara before
she wet it with tears. She extracted another cherrywood
frame from her bag and glanced a little coyly at the black-
haired girl. "I was hoping the picture of Shinbo-kun would
be this size... will you do the honors, Tara-san?" she asked
softly, handing Sensei's daughter the frame.

Yuriko could hear Midori muttering in a disagreeable tone
from the driver's seat, and when the picture of Yaiba Shinbo
was framed, she held it up so the disgruntled author could
glance at it through the rear view mirror. Midori's
countenance reflected her instant satisfaction.


The receptionist at Tokyo General informed the trio of
ladies that Miss Yamamoto was allowed only two visitors at a
time, so Yuriko and Midori let Tara go see her cousin first.

When Tara stepped tearfully back into the waiting room,
Yuriko stood and asked anxiously, "How is she? Will she
still be able to see us?"

Tara wiped her eyes and grimaced. "I'm sorry... I didn't
mean to give you the wrong impression! I'm just not used to
seeing my invincible Kaori-kun in such a weakened state,"
she explained apologetically. "You can go on in," she said
with a lop-sided grin.

Midori clasped Yuriko's slightly sweaty left hand and drug
her towards Kaori's white washed room. "Come on, Yuri, you
need to get your feelings for her behind you," Midori

Kaori's tall slender form rested in a bed that barely
contained her. Both visitors smiled inwardly. Midori nudged
Yuriko persuasively near the patient's dark head.

The blond flushed lightly, then leaned in to study the fine
facial features of Tokyo University's star basketball player
for a moment. The bruising around the girl's neck were
alarmingly dark and painful looking. "Kaori-kun... " she
whispered hesitantly.

Kaori's eyelids fluttered open slowly and took a few seconds
to orient herself to the new face before her. It was Yuriko.
A smile flirted around the right corner of Kaori's mouth as
she used the bed controls to prop herself up. "Yuriko-kun...
Midori-san!" she rasped softly in reply.

"Shhhh... don't talk. Let me," Yuriko urged. "I wanted to
thank you for sparing my life, Kaori-kun," she began softly,
then furrowed her brow, "but you really shouldn't have
endangered yourself for me like that! My cape probably would
have stopped that attack," Yuriko admonished.

Kaori lifted a finger off of the bed and pointed it towards
Yuriko's bandaged right arm. "Couldn't risk it," she
enlightened the blond hoarsely.

Yuriko exhaled forcibly in exasperation. "My life is no more
important than yours, Kaori-kun!" Yuriko's blue eyes flashed
fiercely then glistened with moisture. She turned away
quickly to retrieve her gift.

Yuriko's outburst hung in the silent room uncomfortably.

Kaori's dark brown eyes flicked over to meet Midori's dark
brown ones with an amused expression. "Is she always this

Midori smiled and acknowledged with a nod.

Yuriko shot Midori a glare before she readdressed the
kunoichi in the bed shaking with silent laughter, "I come
bearing gifts and you mock my concern for you?"

Kaori wiped her eyes. "I'm sorry, Yuriko-kun... " she began
with a raw voice, "we've just spent the last couple of years
training *against* one another, then when I try to save your
sorry hide, you get mad at me! It's funny... sue me," she

Yuriko laughed then, too, and held the flat package out
towards the hand that didn't have the IV drip attached to
it. "I hope you like it, Kaori-kun," she offered somewhat

Kaori accepted it gingerly and laid it on her stomach to
nimbly open it with one hand. She spared a glance at her
visitors who held hands throughout the 'unveiling'. She drew
the picture closer to her eyes so she could read the small

'To Yamamoto Kaori, the brightest star I've ever had the
privilege to call... friend. Love, Yuriko'.

Kaori's eyes swam and her cheeks lightly pinked. "Thank you,
Yuriko-kun," she breathed out softly, "I love it!"

Midori handed the patient a letter. "There's more, I'm
afraid," she announced mysteriously.

Kaori propped the picture she held upon the bedside table,
so she could read the letter. "This is great!" she exclaimed
enthusiastically, "*Cough*, but what does this have to do
with me?" she croaked.

Midori grinned and handed her the poster cylinder. "My bold
partner, here, seems to think you ought to enter the poster
contest. She took the liberty to 'pursue' your cousin's
immense skills so she could persuade you!" she winked at a
flustered Yuriko who elbowed her in the ribs warningly.

Kaori unrolled the poster and a genuine smile graced her
lips. "Ok, since you went through all this trouble... I'll
submit my picture! Any chance you can sneak a couple of poor
college students into the Con?" she posed hopefully.

"Done!" Yuriko gushed, then raised a brow, "a couple, eh?"
she teased.

Kaori blushed a little harder, coughed again, then winced in

Yuriko was reminded, then, that the girl was seriously ill.
She pressed a cup of water into the injured girl's hand,
and watched anxiously while Kaori sipped the liquid
carefully. 'It must be hard for her to swallow,' Yuriko
mused as she took the drained glass and lowered her friend's
bed so that it lay flat. Kaori was visibly fading and Yuriko
felt as though they had overextended their visit. "We should
go.... " Yuriko began.

"Wait! Need to tell you something.... " Kaori grated out

Yuriko was perplexed, but leaned closer to the dark-haired
girl. "What is it, Kaori-kun?" she asked gently.

Kaori took as deep a breath as she could and exhaled slowly.
"After you came to our high school and I had a chance to see
how you handled your... sexual preferences, I finally
decided that if you could deal, so could I." She met
Yuriko's calm gaze.

"When I started college, I met someone special on the TU
basketball team." Kaori blushed prettily. "She's the most
beautiful person, both inside and out, I have ever met," she
enthused. "Suta Hikaru and I dated for awhile before I had
enough courage to approach my parents... " Kaori closed her
eyes and Yuriko clasped and gently squeezed the IV-less
right hand. Kaori reflexively started to retract her hand,
but then gave a quick squeeze back.

Kaori swallowed slowly, painfully. "My Father was pretty
angry and said some truly awful things... but my Mom was
really supportive and understanding." She opened her eyes,
then smiled at Midori and Yuriko. "We've been together for
three years now!"

"Congratulations, Kaori-kun!" Yuriko whooped happily.

"Shhhh!" Midori hissed. "This is a hospital," she reminded
her exuberant lover, "have some dignity!"

Midori beamed at Kaori then. "I'm proud of you, Kaori-kun...
that took a lot of guts. I hope we can meet Hikaru
sometime." Midori grew serious. "Yuri is right, though, we
should let you rest now."

Midori returned her attention back to Yuriko, grabbed her
left hand, and tugged insistently. "Lets go, bonehead,
before you get us into trouble!"

The two wished Kaori a speedy recovery and promised to
revisit soon. They left behind an exhausted kunoichi and
went to the waiting room where Tara sat talking to the only
other occupant. When they were spotted, both women stood and
Tara grinned mischievously. "Poor Kaori-chan! You were in
there harassing her for almost a whole hour. I'm glad
Hikaru-chan showed up, or I would have been bored to tears,"
she exclaimed.

Midori and Yuriko exchanged pleased expressions... so *this*
was Kaori's love.

Hikaru was a good four inches taller than Yuriko and had
shoulder length red-gold hair that would have made Titian
proud. Her eyes were a lovely kittenish blue-gray. Kaori was
right... Hikaru was gorgeous.

They escorted Hikaru as far as Kaori's room before heading
in direction of the hospital's exit. Yuriko lingered at the
door and grinned like a Cheshire cat as Hikaru arranged her
gift of flowers, then bent to kiss Kaori's lips lovingly.

Midori closed the door firmly. "You are incorrigible, Yuri!"

Chapter 12

Midori dropped Tara off at her home and Yuriko climbed into
the front passenger's seat.

"Don't your cheeks hurt yet from grinning like that?" Midori

"Hmmm?" Yuriko replied as if in a trance, then responded
distractedly, "I'm just so happy for them!" she reached over
to stroke Midori's thigh idly. "I wish Kaori weren't so
secretive about everything, though."

Midori glanced over at her love and smirked drolly, "I bet
she wishes you weren't so open!"

Yuriko blinked in mock bemusement. "Whatever do you mean...
are you saying I can't keep a secret?" Her eyes glittered

"I'm saying she probably noticed, along with myself, the
relief mixed in with your happiness, Yuri! You wish that
Kaori-kun had told you about her girlfriend a long time ago,
don't you? The guilt you've harbored over her throughout the
last few years could have been assuaged, ne?" Midori
commented dryly.

Yuriko ignored Midori's frankness. "I guess it's probably
Hikaru's influence over her that she even told us now," she
mused tiredly.

"Probably." Midori returned noncommittally. She reached down
to squeeze Yuriko's roving hand. "Let's go get some sleep."


Midori began helping Yuriko out of her clothes as had been
her habit over the past week and a half.

Yuriko knew it wasn't really necessary anymore, but let her
mate undress her anyway. She wanted to feel Midori's fingers
touch and linger on her skin... to feel the heat of her body
close to her own. Every fiber in her being ached for her

Midori left her standing nude in the middle of the room,
then came back with a silk nightgown in hand. When her
raven-haired goddess moved to raise the gown and slip it
over her head, Yuriko stopped her.

"No. Not tonight," she stated quietly, but firmly.

Midori's eyes widened and she stepped back as Yuriko began
to undo the buttons on her blouse. "Yuri," she whispered,
"your arm.... "

"Will be fine... and you know it," Yuriko replied continuing
her work on the blouse while she looked intently into
Midori's dark eyes.

Midori wet her lips nervously. "You want to... are you sure
you are ready to... "

"Midori." Yuriko cupped her lover's chin. "Whatever is
bothering you needs to be dealt with. Right now. It's
creating a wedge between us, neither of us needs."

Midori flinched, then relaxed and allowed Yuriko to strip
her and lead her to the bed. Yuriko pushed her gently down
upon it, then perched on the edge near her torso. Tears
welled up in her expressive brown eyes as she submitted to
the blond. "You're right, Yuri," she whispered. Midori began
to recount her nightmare with her eyes closed and clutching
Yuriko's left hand tightly.

"Midori, look at me," Yuriko encouraged as her love finished
her recollections and admitted her fears. As Midori opened
her eyes, she met the blonde's liquid blue ones. Yuriko
lifted the left hand that her lover clutched and pressed the
author's hand onto the exact spot where the 'knife' had gone
in. "Feel me, Midori. There's nothing there... nothing to be
ashamed of, nothing to be blamed for. The loss I felt during
our shared nightmare doesn't even come close to the hurt I
am experiencing now from your rejection!" Yuriko was trying
hard to control her emotion and breathing at this point.

Midori's eyes locked with Yuriko's as she traced her
fingertips over the area in question, then slid her hand
around to pull her partner close. "Yuri... forgive me," she
whispered, "your life truly means more to me than my own..."

Yuriko repositioned her body so that she partially covered
Midori's and most of her weight was levered onto her left
elbow. "Of course I will forgive you... I love you,
Midori.... "

"And I love you, Yuri...." Midori echoed softly.

Yuriko dipped her head closer to her love, but let Midori
close the gap to her lips. The kiss was initially slow and
tender, then gradually gave way to the deep hunger and
passion they had denied one another.