Ah My Goddess Fan Fiction / Ranma 1/2 Fan Fiction / Sailor Moon Fan Fiction ❯ A Tale of Two Wallets ❯ You Bet Your Wife ( Chapter 109 )
A Tale of Two Wallets
(An Altered Destiny)
Written by Jim Robert Bader
Proofread by Shiva Barnwell
"…All right," Yumi pronounced, "That's the last of them…it should be safe to travel this corridor without incident."
"About time," Comb fretted, "This is taking us way too long just to get from one point to the other. How many more of these traps will that demon throw into our path anyway?"
"Can't really say," Atsuko shrugged, "Grandma's a bit showy, and when she bugs a place with traps she doesn't fool around about it."
"Well," Yumi shrugged, "I'll give your grandmother points for having a pretty vivid imagination, but these gimmicks of hers are nothing special to the powers of a trained ninja."
"You're sure you got all of them this time?" Comb asked as the three of them started forward down yet another corridor.
"Positive," Yumi replied as she again took point, "I'd stake my life on it, in point of fact I am…"
No sooner had these words escaped from her, and just as they cleared the corridor directly behind them, the room they had exited suddenly shifted as if the entire corridor had collapsed directly behind them. The three adult women turned around at the suddenly blank wall that confronted their vision and then Comb broke the silence with a sardonic, "You were saying?"
"It's not exactly your life we're worried about here, Yumi-san," Atsuko noted in dry tones, "Just try harder for the rest of us, okay?"
"Ah…how did that happen?" Yumi asked in a bland tone of voice before turning around and saying, "Well…this end doesn't seem all that better. Of course it also seems we've cleared this level and are about to descend to the next one."
"What makes you say that?" Comb asked.
"Oh, call it a hunch," and Yumi pointed at the sign that stood to one side of a pair of double doors, which read, "END OF NINTH LEVEL, THIS WAY TO TENTH."
"Omigawd, it's an elevator!" Atsuko cried out in dismay, only to take note of the way her companions were looking at her strangely, "What? You guys don't get freaked out by those things?"
"Not since I was old enough to figure out what they were," Comb responded.
"Don't mind her," Yumi confided at the level of a stage whisper, "She's probably disturbed about any device that has only two directions, up and down."
"Hardehar," Atsuko glared at her companions, "I'll have you know they use an elevator system to shuttle people between the Ninety-Nine levels of Hell, which I suppose is an improvement on the old method they used to get from one floor to the next, which was catapulting…"
"I thought there were only supposed to be nine levels in Hell," Yumi puzzled.
"Naw, that's only for Christians, and do I look like one of those?" Atsuko shuddered slightly, "Scary buggers…you're either with 'em or against 'em, and it's all either up or down with them, like there's no shading in the middle between polar extremes of right and wrong…I mean, who wants to live like that? Give me afterlives that at least allow you to party hardy!"
"The frightening thing is that actually makes a kind of sense," Comb turned back to survey the partitions in front of them, "So…what do you think, should we chance it?"
"I don't really know," Yumi studied the exterior, "I can think of far too many ways that you might be able to put traps on an elevator, and so far nothing we've seen in these tunnels is entirely what it seems."
"Well, if Grandma follows type then this probably is the elevator from Hell," Atsuko responded, "Which tends to stop and start a lot and jerk wildly from side to side, and they're always playing the sappiest kinds of music, which was Christian Gospel or Country music the last time I paid a visit…"
"I wouldn't touch that line for all the Tea in Bombay," Comb sniffed with a rolling of her eyes, imagining the Oni lost in the labyrinthine hells of Chinese legend.
"Well," Yumi rubbed her chin then remarked, "There's an old saying among the Clans of ninja that I associated with in my youth…'When in doubt, take the stairs.'"
Comb and Atsuko followed the ninja-chef's gaze and saw a second set of doors that had the universal sign for a stairway. Deciding it was the lesser of two evils, they followed Yumi through this door and soon began to descend a winding stairway that was clearly taking them in the right (or at least the correct) direction.
"So far so good," Yumi commented as she scanned her way at each step and found no cause for alarm…just yet.
"Isn't that what they say about falling?" Atsuko wondered.
"Falling doesn't worry me," Comb replied, "It's that sudden stop at the end that gives me a problem."
"You two need to work on your attitudes," Yumi chuckled, "When you get to be our ages you learn to land on your feet, and so far your grandmother hasn't given us anything too challenging to…"
There was a sudden clanking noise, then all at once the stairs converted into a flat, frictionless slide, and before the terrified trio had time to react they found themselves rushing forward with their rumps hitting the linoleum that this slide had turned into, and with heroic cries like, "YEEEEEEAAAAAHHHH!" they went hurtling downward, only to separate at the last with all three coming to abrupt stops in a vast, dark chamber, their landing padded by airbags that materialized beneath them, then utterly vanished.
"You and your big mouth!" Atsuko groaned before straightening out to find herself standing at a podium, as did both of her companions, said podiums lined up on what appeared to be a massive sound stage.
The utter blackness of their surroundings was suddenly punctuated by a set of overhead lights that illuminated each of them, along with a forth podium that was confronting them at a one-quarter angle. To their mutual dismay a pale haired vision of loveliness materialized, bronzed skin gleaming like burnished gold in the lighting while all around them bells rang and lights flickered and some strange kind of music punctuated the air like a crazed Maruichi band on drugs. Added to this was the mysterious sound of hands clapping in applause, though no one else was visible within the chamber.
The Oni Princess was smiling at them in an overly cheerful manner, her fangs gleaming like ivory as she began with what sounded like a carnival barker's intro speech, "And let's hear it for our new contestants, Ladies and Germs! Let's have a big round of applause for Hibiki Atsuko, Kuonji Yumi, and Comb of Joketsuzoku, whose maiden name was almost Saotome! Can you believe that one ladies?"
There was a mixture of applause and canned laughter, though again the three adventurers could see no sign of an audience to supply them.
"Welcome to, 'YOU BET YOUR FANNY,' the Quiz Show that tests your knowledge of history and world events, and if you get an answer wrong, well…"
All at once all three women felt something rise up to swat them simultaneously on their posteriors, which produced a chorus of yelps from all three parties.
"G-Grandmother?" Atsuko gasped, rubbing her behind with a slightly sour expression.
"Ah, no fair claiming special privileges by being related to the hostess!" Ganglot chided her, "You three are here to compete for prizes as I give you the questions and you supply the answers. Now, is that simple enough for even a granddaughter of an Amazon Matriarch to understand, hmmm?"
"Perfectly," Comb growled as she rubbed her own bottom, having already determined that there was no way to escape from the podium since her feet appeared to have become glued to the floor, a discovery that Yumi and Atsuko had jointly laid claim to.
"Good," Ganglot smiled, "There's hope for you yet. Now, time is money, so why don't we begin with the first question, 'HOW OLD IS HUMANITY?' At-chan, you want to take this one?"
"I thought you weren't going to play favorites, Demon?" Yumi asked.
"Good point," Ganglot smiled, "Then you want to tackle that question first?"
"Huh?" Yumi responded, then glanced around and said, "Why should I take part in some stupid game sho-OW!!!" she cried the latter part as something swatted her on her behind.
"I ask the questions here," Ganglot replied, "And if you three are nice about it I might even give you some answers at the end of the show. Now…Comb, you looked reasonably intelligent, or more so than a certain Elder I might name, which admittedly isn't saying much. You want to answer my question?"
The purple haired woman frowned, but like a trained Medical officer she began to say, "The archeological record for Homo Sapiens is pretty clear cut about that…we began as a separate species around about a hundred twenty thousand years ago…OW!" she yelped as she, too, got swatted on her fanny.
"A good answer if you're an Anthropologist," Ganglot replied, "But I would have expected someone with Juraian blood to have a better grasp on the actual history of the human race. After all, your people and my people have a common beginning in the Star Tribes that founded us…the difference is a genetic drift so small that it barely needs repeating. Now, the correct answer is…" she turned about and indicated a huge square of light that appeared before her gaze, showcasing a kind of family tree with stick-figure symbols used to outline genealogy, "ONE MILLION YEARS BC! (Raquel Welch Dolls not Included)"
""A million?" Yumi exclaimed, "But-OUCH! WOULD YOU STOP WITH THAT ALREADY???"
"Remember the ground rules, Dearie," Ganglot drawled, "I ask the questions…but for your answer I suppose I should tell you that the actual line of descent isn't nearly as clear-cut as they teach in College Biology classes…not that you can fault the Anthropologists, after all…they're only human."
"Whereas you're not?" Comb responded with a resentful growl.
"I'm human enough where it counts," the Oni Princess winked at them, "Or so your great-grand-uncle said to me on our wedding night about three centuries back…Niece."
"…?" came the immediate reply from the purple haired woman.
"I could have answered that one, guys," Atsuko frowned, "You told me all of this once before, Grandma, how Oni, Gods and Humans all came from one central source, the difference being some kind of big Psychic battle the Star Tribes fought right before the first of the Ice Ages."
"I know that you know the real history of the planet, At-chan," Ganglot replied, "But your friends here seem to be of a more conventional mindset, owing to the way the education system in Japan and China works (and I use the term liberally here). For example…according to conventional modern theory, Homo Sapiens-Sapiens itself only came about around seventy-thousand years back, but this is based on a bunch of theories cobbled together from a fragmentary collection of bones painstakingly pieced together in a piecemeal fashion. Mind you I'm not faulting researchers because I have enormous respect for anyone who's willing to dig deep and get their hands dirty searching for the truth, but let's dispense with the academia and concentrate upon what I know, which comes a lot closer to the source and doesn't require a Ph.D. to understand here."
The chart overhead magnified to show one particular division from a single pair of stick figures to two other sets of similarly matched characters.
"Observe, the Star Tribe, primal source of it all, which got into a major spat that resulted in the Great Division between the rival camps of the Immortals. One group went on to become the Gods who rule in the various Heavens that dot the Astral shadow of the planet. The other group…well…the common term for them is Demons, of which my tribe, the Oni, is a principle group in our own right. But let's break the word down first…DEMON…a corruption of the word Daemon, which means…?" she smiled and said, "Comb-san, you want another crack at this?"
"The word means spirit," Comb replied sourly, then blinked her eyes when her bottom did not get swatted.
"Correct, we have a winner, Ladies and Germs!" Ganglot declared as lights, whistles and bells punctuated the word "CORRECT" over the purple haired Healer's head, "Five hundred points to the lady from the tribe known as the Nyanchiczu! The word Daemon is a general use term describing all entities that share a spiritual nature. Originally the Star Tribes were not-strictly speaking-of the material world, being highly evolved entities who transcended easy definitions. In point of fact the entire Psychic War deal was about the possible descent and corruption of the one race into the many we have today, beginning with an evolved hybrid race we may call the Ancients, or Nephilim for lack of a better term. Humanity descended from this Elder Race, as did other specially evolved beings. Of course the road to modern day Humans and Elves didn't run all that smoothly. There were several twists and turns along the way, especially a side-trip through space when the ancestors of the branch of quasi-men known as Homo Erectus were visited about a million years ago by a star-faring race in search of some cheap labor…"
A cartoon-like depiction appeared overhead of a friendly looking cave dweller being greeted by some lizard-like beings in space suits who had just exited from a flying saucer, only to be netted and carried off into their space ship, evidencing much distress in their expressions over the matter.
"First contact was a bit rough, as you can see, but with a bit of advanced genetic engineering these Proto-humans were given a leg up in the evolutionary department and were soon imported throughout the stars to various worlds, where they became as commonplace as space-dirt. Of course somewhere along the line they formed their own star-faring civilization and achieved nominal independence, then went on to colonize a thousand, thousand worlds in space, only to wind up in a war with a rival civilization. Observe what the outcome was of one particularly nasty and protracted encounter…"
The image of a modern-looking man and woman stood side by side in high-tech outfits, only to have a large "X" get crossed out over the man, leaving the woman alone to dominate the foreground.
"Too bad for men…it was discovered that women had certain qualities that made them superior for purposes of space travel," Ganglot revealed, "Superior reflexes, a heightened intellect, greater resistance to disease and injury, an improved ability to cope with the various stresses of living in space…all qualities that were found useful in a Eugenics program where humanity had to fight a never-ending war against an enemy whose very nature was totally alien to the human mindset."
The view how depicted an all-female crew piloting the bridge of some manner of space vessel with no sign of a man anywhere in the picture.
"Women came to replace men in all the essential functions of life, right down to biology," Ganglot continued, "Men were gradually phased out to save on rations of food, air other essential biological necessities...""
"What?" Comb reacted, "But that can't be! Even we Amazons know that you need a man in order to have children…"
"Not when your primary source of reproduction is artificial," Ganglot changed the image to reveal a set translucent tubes with people floating in them, "Behold their method of choice, incubation tubes with floating fetuses held suspended in an embryonic solution that duplicates all the functions of the womb. It was regarded as a far more safe and hygienic method of having offspring because this method eliminated the complications normally associated with pregnancy and childbirth, including genetically acquired illnesses and latent recessive traits that might be found through inbreeding."
"I get it," Yumi said, "What you're referring to is a type of cloning."
"Not just cloning," Ganglot smiled, "Not as much fun if all you do is endlessly repeat the same genetic pattern. No, these people were smarter than that…they worked out a means of fusing DNA from two different parties to create a child that was half-and-half from both parents. This way they could continue to have family units, which were seen as important for the all-important bonding process of social communion. Two women volunteers would become the surrogate parents of their own offspring, which neatly insured a continuing line of fresh material that avoids the occasional sequencing error that you get with direct cloning. Think of it as a society in which women fulfill the roles of both the man and the woman and you might get some idea of just why this particular civilization went on as long as it did in the face of an intractable war that threatened humanity with total extinction."
"A civilization composed entirely of women?" Yumi asked.
"That would mean that they were probably all…Aiyaa…" Comb reacted as the full implications of this came upon her.
"Well, what do you expect, Ladies?" Ganglot grinned, "Not a whole lot of sexual variety to quibble about on a Saturday evening. Of course these girls were VERY adaptable to playing both roles, and to them it was as natural as dating men would be for either of you. Nature always finds a way to fill a vacuum…and several other ports of entry that I could mention…"
"But that's ridiculous!" Yumi declared, "If we were all like that at one time, then lesbianism and bisexuality would be a lot more commonplace than they are…"
"Not if the patriarchal male authority figures had anything to say about it," Ganglot replied, "And believe me, they said a lot against that subject! For the past couple thousand years or so the Church has been on an anti-sex kick that drove the female libido down almost to the point of extinction! In some Muslim countries they even require a girl to have her clitoris removed before she can marry…and let's not even begin to cover the outright hostility towards women practiced by Western society, which demonized the female half of the race as Temptresses and Harlots, contrasting us with their supposedly sexless Virgin Madonnas. You want to talk to me about most girls these days growing up in a state of sexual confusion? Most are even convinced that sex with other girls is mutually exclusive to having relationships with men, so when it comes right down to the whole question of female sexuality you guys might as well be like me, an outright Oni!"
"You told me this before, Grandma," Atsuko complained, "Why drag up such ancient history now of all times?"
"I'm getting to that part, At-chan," Ganglot said with an indulgent smile, "Don't rush things. Now, can anyone here tell me what this process of Unisex transmission is called? You again, Purple Locks?"
"The name is Comb," the Amazon Healer growled, "And the word you're asking for is asexual reproduction, or Parthenogenesis."
"CORRECT! Two for two! You're on a roll here!" Ganglot announced as more lights, bells and whistles sounded, along with the canned applause in the background, "Now, can anyone here answer just why this civilization eventually did come to an ending, at least in the form that was then known as the Solnoids?"
"Solnoids?" Yumi asked.
"Technical term," Ganglot highlighted the words, "Sol and Noid…or children of the Sol System, which to them was their near-mythical birthplace or Garden of Eden, a sacred planet that they deemed too pure for colonization. Of course another way of describing them would be to think of them as an all-Gal force, but that's an eternal story that I'd rather not get into! The question I asked was why this civilization all but died off a half a million years ago…and do you know the answer to that one?"
"It seems pretty obvious," Yumi shrugged, "If they were as dependant on technology for reproduction as you say, then a war might go on for so long that it would cause an eventual technological collapse and throw everything back to the dark ages, and without men to help them reproduce…"
"You're partially correct so I'll award you half-credit for your answer," Ganglot replied as the number "250" was highlighted over Yumi's head next to Comb's "1000" total, "The war escalated to where both sides were literally blowing up planets and annihilating whole fleets of ships, and at this rate of attrition it was impossible to maintain their numbers even by artificial means. So the powers that be decided to retro-engineer men back into the system in the hopes that they might form a third race and act as a buffer between these warring parties…a bit of problematic thinking on their part, but nobody said these guys were perfect. Of course since the only model they had to work with was their own DNA, they had to borrow a little from the enemy in order to create a hybrid that had bits of both races incorporated within it. Thus was introduced the 'Y' Chromosome, a mutant variant of the normal 'X' that we all possess as women. Think of it as the opposite to most male-conceived creation stories where the woman gives birth to the Man, rather than the other way around. Hence the third race was created, and men were restored to the gene pool."
"That almost makes sense," Comb grudgingly admitted, "I've always wondered if men weren't at heart some kind of inferior mutant species…"
"A society that went on that long without men," Yumi shook her head, "Must have been quite a difficult adjustment…"
"To put it mildly, yes," Ganglot highlighted the image of Earth, only with somewhat different geographical features of landscape hinting at an earlier era, "The third race, and a Solnoid female, were seeded on the home planet and allowed to interbreed with the native Cro-Magnon. This Adam and Eve story would have been impossible to continue if there weren't a basic biological computability between the early Hominid design-otherwise you'd have as much chance of mating a human with the proverbial carrot-and that of the Solnoid, and this Third Race went on to become the dominant species of man, spending the next several hundred thousand years rebuilding and rediscovering civilization. Then around about a hundred thousand years ago the Golden Age was rediscovered, the civilization we know of as Atlantis mastered the technology of crystal science and created a star-faring culture that would return to the stars and re-colonize the planets. This was during the long Ice Age when massive amounts of water were frozen at the poles and the level of the sea costs was a hundred meters lower, so all traces of this civilization are long lost and buried to time. Some of the seeds that were planted back then yet bear fruit today, and there are indeed Brothers (and Sisters) of man wandering the stars in search of their roots on the Earth, their mythological home planet."
"Sounds more like Science Fiction than actual history," Yumi observed.
"It does, doesn't it?" Ganglot smirked, "Most people who could afford to do so back then migrated either to the stars or to other worlds and dimensions. Earth became a protected world once more with only a few outpost cities to mark an otherwise unsullied and pristine planet. It was a fantastic age when miracles of science and magic were commonplace, while those who dwelled on the fringes of this society were the outcast nomads, looked down upon as mindless beast-men, which were in time hunted to extinction."
"This was also when humans and Oni could co-exist together without too much trouble, right Grandma?" Atsuko asked brightly.
"That's correct," Ganglot nodded, "Some Tribes of Oni even chose to colonize space, and they're one of the dominant Empires to be found in the Galaxy to this day. You can even find surviving groups of Solnoids like the Cthuwulf and the Leptons of Alpha Cigna. The Star-faring culture itself that gave birth to all this thrived for around sixty thousand years, only to collapse once again due to their supreme arrogance and folly, abusing the crystal sciences that fueled their empire, which again plunged humanity into the dark ages roughly forty or fifty thousand years ago, what archeologists now call the Stone Age, where Homo Sapiens Sapiens emerged as the result of changes in the landscape and the climate."
"Wait a second," Comb responded, "Fifty thousand years? I thought Atlantis was destroyed ten thousand years ago…?"
"No, that was the Hyborean Era," Ganglot smiled, "And that ended twelve thousand years ago when the Ice Age came to an abrupt end and briefly flooded the planet. The Oceans drank what was left of Atlantis and humanity was once again plunged into the Stone Age…only this time it took less time for humanity to recover. Eventually we come to the modern age of history that emerged from the Paleolithic era, where some stupid nomads wandering lost in a desert got it into their heads that the reason the gods picked on them so much was because they had to be a Chosen people. And what do we call this era, girls?"
"The Industrial Age?" Comb asked, only to get swatted on her fanny.
"The Atomic Age?" Yumi suggested, only to yelp as her own behind was swatted.
"The Age of Man?" Atsuko proposed, then waited for a moment to see if she would suffer the same treatment.
Instead Ganglot cried, "You are right! A thousand points for the cute girl who goes by the name of Hibiki!"
The sign over Atsuko's head flashed "1000" with the usual sounds of bells, applause and whistles, which prompted Comb to growl, "Hey, how come she gets a thousand for one answer?"
"Blatant Nepotism," Ganglot replied, "The Age of Man…the last several thousand years of recorded history where a race that has seen great rises and cataclysmic falls is now poised once again for an era of either grandeur or ruin. Which way will Humanity choose to go, and will they get an assist going there from the Angels or Demons of their better (or worse) nature? That, ladies and Germs, is the fifty thousand point question!"
"Demons like yourself you mean?" Yumi asked with a poignant expression.
"Actually I'm more of an ally to Humanity than someone who wants to rule over you and tell everybody how to live their lives," Ganglot shrugged, "If I wanted to go into politics, then I'd be no better than my cousin, Hild, who rules several of the Hell worlds populated by my fellow Oni."
"You were speaking before of male cultures practicing their imperialism upon others, particularly women," Comb remarked, "But my people have never suffered that level of persecution…"
"How wrong you are on that score," Ganglot shook her head sadly, "Your people were descended from Scythian nomads who used to be just as patriarchal as any other bunch of Indo-European horse thieves. The difference is that your ancestors made a lightning step forward when the men of your tribe suffered a catastrophic defeat that wiped out most of the male warriors and forced the female survivors to band together for survival. Your plight caught the attention of a goddess named Hippolyta, the daughter of Aries and Aphrodite, who descended in mortal guise to take charge over your people and lead them on to a period of greatness, a greatness that ended when Hippolyta was defeated by Herakles in battle."
"You're saying that the Amazons were a unique experiment that harked back to that earlier culture, the Solnoids?" Yumi fathomed.
"Correct," Ganglot replied, "A brief, shining moment when women rediscovered their own pride and remembered themselves as the First sex, not the Second. Men tend to think with their larger bodies and those male organs that we ladies so appreciate that they should be our natural rulers, but any woman with half a brain knows a man will do what we want them to if we don't kowtow to their egos. It's the deep, dark secret of the human race that women are at the center of society, not the fringes, where the patriarchs want to exile us, if we let them.
"I don't think I like this chronology you're proposing," Yumi frowned, "It doesn't say much for us as a race, either men or women, if we're capable of this much glory and folly…"
"On the contrary," Ganglot replied, "Humanity is to be praised for the genius and adaptability that you demonstrate as an independent species. Unfortunately it is true that you also contain within you the seeds of your own downfall, and that's what makes the future so interesting and problematic…which way will humanity turn? Who will guide you into a future filled with wondrous possibilities, or terrifying perils the likes of which you can hardly imagine?"
"Is that what this is all about?" Comb frowned, "You're telling us the future's in our hands to shape? Is that why you've taken my grandmother hostage and come to Nerima?"
"Actually your grandmother is my guest," Ganglot replied, "I've treated her quite well, under the circumstances. Have a look for yourselves," she nodded towards a space in the air where a huge projection appeared showing Cologne and Siren sitting on a couch together staring back at them with astonished expressions.
"Grandmother?" Comb blinked.
"Comb?" the woman on the couch replied.
"Fascinating," the blonde Siren glanced at the remote control in her hand, then at the trio gazing back towards the Archmage, "So this works two ways, I take it? You can see us just as we can see you three?"
"How are they treating you?" Yumi asked.
"Oh, fine," Cologne glared in Ganglot's general direction, "If one were to ignore the fact that we are prisoners and not 'guests,' as you so quaintly put it…"
"Prisoners, guests, why quibble about terms?" the Oni Princess shrugged, "You have to admit that I have gone out of my way to see you treated fairly, which is a lot better than you had planned for me if I had been stupid enough to stand around waiting for you to attack me."
"She has a point, you know," Siren turned to Cologne, "You didn't exactly present her with a lot of options…"
"So you're taking her side after all," Cologne glared back.
"That's not fair," Siren pouted, "You know I'd never side against you, Kho-chan, but be honest…what would you have done if you were in her situation? I know for a fact that if I were facing someone like me, I'd do everything I could to contain their power until they calmed down enough to want to see reason."
"In other words you guys are doing pretty good," Atsuko turned to Comb and sniffed, "Toldja!"
"I'm not convinced just yet that your grandmother is on the level," Comb responded.
"Well, speaking strictly as a semi-interested observer," Yumi spoke up, "I do think the benefit of the doubt should be extended. After all, if our hostess here were truly as vicious and vindictive as you suggested she might be, then I'd expect she would have prepared a welcome for us that was a lot more nasty than being paneled on a quiz show."
"Just for that I'm giving you a thousand bonus points, Kuonji-san," Ganglot smiled as the appropriate flashing lights appeared over the Chef's head, "Only I am curious…what makes you want to trust me?"
"Simple," Yumi replied, "I recognized you from when you came to visit my restaurant…only you had a little girl with you at the time…"
"Who are you calling little?" a voice demanded from just off-stage.
Atsuko whirled about and said, "Who said that?"
"Oh yes," Ganglot grinned, "I was going to wait until you won the bonus round, At-chan, but I suppose this is as good a time as any to let you know what your prize was going to be. I found something you lost a long time ago and I thought you might like to claim her. Come out and show yourself, Ryo-chan, your mommy is waiting."
"Ryo-?" Atsuko gasped, finding that her feet were no longer frozen to the podium, which allowed her to move forward as a young girl appeared from the shadows…a young girl who looked so much like her that it could have reminded one of the issue of cloning.
"Mom?" Ryomi hesitantly asked, suddenly finding her own feet rooted to the spot as she stared at the older woman.
"R-R-Ryomi…?" Atsuko asked timidly, then all at once rushed forward to gather the younger girl into her arms as she wept openly, "Oh, my baby…my darling little girl…!"
"This is what makes it all worthwhile," Ganglot smiled, dabbing at tears that appeared in her eyes with a hanky, "I've waited so long to get the two of you together…"
"You mean…?" Yumi hesitated.
"That's her daughter?" Comb completed the Chef's sentence.
"Missing for over ten years, finally reunited," Ganglot turned to regard the images of Cologne and Siren, "So, what do you say to that, 'Old Woman?' Still think I'm the very Devil incarnate?"
"You may have brought two members of your family together," Cologne replied with some hesitation, "But you'll need a lot more than that to make me forgive the wrongs you've done to my family…"
"Geez, you're such a hard nut to crack," the Oni winced, turning to Siren as she added, "Are you sure you want to get involved with such an opinionated snob, Girlfriend?"
"Oh yes," Siren nodded affirmatively as she studied a somewhat edgy Matriarch with a sly grin, "Of that I'm absolutely certain…"
"Then I guess I'll just have to pull out my Trump Card to show my good faith," Ganglot sighed, "And here I was saving the best for last, but I suppose nothing less is gonna satisfy you, so…come out here and take a bow, Son, and say hello to your Aunt Cologne."
Atsuko turned as she saw a tall form move into the illuminated space among the shadows, and her gasp was audible even to the pair looking down from the viewscreen, for the sight that confronted them all was as familiar to her as her own reflection. Comb and Yumi both reacted with matching starts as female hormones went into overdrive and without meaning to they felt their pulses quicken. It was that strong the male aura of potency that attended the arrival of this handsome fellow.
"At-chan?" the tall man asked with a slight hesitation.
"D-Daddy?" Atsuko gasped, not letting go of her daughter but looking as if she wanted to run into his arms and hug him on the spot.
"Well then," Ganglot turned to regard Cologne, "No word of welcome for your nephew? Doesn't he look so much like his father did so very long ago? Still believe that I'm lying when I tell you that I'm here for the sake of my family and wish to put the hoary past behind me rather than drag it around like a lead weight on my shoulders the way you have been doing, Matriarch of the Joketsuzoku?"
Cologne tried to respond but he words did not escape from her lips. She stared at the handsome man, very much seeing her beloved twin brother's face reflected in his manly features.
"That's Ra-Zor?" Siren asked in her stead, "Little Razor, all grown up and looking so very manly! He does look a lot like Rogaine, don't you think, Kho-chan?"
"Aunt Kho-Lon?" Razor himself replied, "Wow, you haven't changed a bit! You look as swell as ever. Ah…is that…Aunt Siren?"
"You remember," Siren smiled in delight, "What a smart, handsome young boy you're turned out to be! You must be enormously proud of him, Kho-chan…Kho-chan? That's odd…she fainted…"
"Not too surprising," Ganglot replied with a smirk, "There's been a lot of that going around lately."
"Hibiki Razor," Comb shook her head slightly.
"He hasn't aged a bit since we last saw him," Yumi marveled.
"Not surprising…with his genetics," Comb responded, "You are looking upon a living legend, a one-man walking disaster zone who embodies the best and the worst of the Hibikis. I'm beginning to suspect that Silk's spell of summoning has worked out even better than she intended…"
"That's one way of putting it," said yet another brown-haired Atsuko lookalike who appeared beside their podiums watching the older Oni child move to embrace Razor, "Seems a lot of us have been wandering in from all over…"
"Who are you?" Yumi asked.
"Name's Aki," the newcomer replied, "Short for Akiko, and Razor is my granddad. You're the Amazon who used to be rivals with my Aunt Atsuko?"
"Ah…kind of," Comb replied faintly, more than a little disturbed upon meeting yet another version of Atsuko.
"Hibikis are coming out of the woodwork?" Yumi exclaimed, "That's it, I'm leaving!"
"That's easy for you to say," Comb remarked, "At least you're not related…"
"Wait a minute," Atsuko turned around, "Me related to YOU? Eeewwww!"
"In point of fact," Ganglot remarked, "You are cousins, three or four times removed."
"I guess that's not all that surprising, Yumi shrugged, "Go back far enough in our history and just about everyone is someone else's cousin or kin…" she stopped herself and turned to look at the Oni, then like a flash of realization she declared, "That's what this is all about, isn't it? You wanted us to see that you and Cologne and all the rest of us…"
"Are one big happy extended family?" Ganglot smiled, "Correct! You've just won the bonus prize of fifty thousand points with the answer to that question! Congratulations to you, Kid…how do you want your sheepdog wrapped?"
"Actually," Yumi struggled to move her legs, "I just want to get down from this damned podium, if it's all the same to you!"
"Fair enough," Ganglot snapped her fingers and their surroundings altered to the more comfortable setting of a traditional Japanese house-slash-castle, "Are these surroundings more to your liking?"
Comb and the others absorbed this pleasant change of scenery, then took note of the fact that Cologne and Siren had now physically joined them, the latter being held in the arms of the former. Cologne seemed to recover consciousness just then, saw who it was who was holding her and hastily pushed away, turned around, saw Ganglot and made a move for her staff, only to be restrained as Siren placed a gentle hand upon her shoulder.
"Let's not spoil the moment with violence, shall we, Kho-chan?" she asked.
"A very good suggestion," Ganglot gave Cologne a poignant study, "Can I trust you to be on your best behavior for the present, Elder? If not, then I have several traps prepared for you that will make the Corealis prison look like a scenic resort in Yokohama."
"That…will not me necessary…for now," Cologne glared resentfully at the Demoness, but relaxed her grip upon her staff, at which point Siren removed her hand and smiled with approval.
"I'll see to it that everyone minds the peace for the time being," Siren replied, "And-to be quite frank-I am curious to hear your side of things, Oni. You're not at all the savage beast that they talk about in our village."
"Oh, I'm certain I'm quite the Bogey-woman, thanks to certain parties," Ganglot exchanged glares with Cologne, who said nothing in reply, "But I'm no where near as fearsome as my reputation would suggest, and besides…I rather like my freedom. I'm not out to take on the whole world like certain other member of the Demon tribes that I could mention."
"You mean…Momma?" Atsuko turned around from tearfully embracing her loved ones, including a very embarrassed looking Akiko.
"Correct," Ganglot nodded, "If there is a real villain to be found in this piece, then it's definitely your mother, that sorry excuse for a mega-nettlesome Hacker. She's the one you should be concerned about, the reason I came to Nerima and sought to gather my children around me so that I could lend them my protection. I've been casting spells to guard them against whatever mischief Cybelle is planning upon the various offspring of my son, her former husband, and when they say Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned…well, she's pretty much what the Bard had in mind when he penned those words…though in truth I'm sure he was thinking of old Queen Betsy…"
"Mistress!" a voice interrupted the Oni as a male youth came rushing out to join them from an adjoining room, "Come quickly! We've just seen-Uh-Oh!"
Heads turned to view the handsome young man, and both Ryomi and Akiko felt their breath catch in their throats while Cologne's eyes widened noticeably. Siren turned to give the handsome boy a coy appraisal then said, "Interesting…he looks almost familiar for some reason…"
"E-Elder?" the boy gasped, then swallowed.
"With good reason," Cologne turned fully about, "Ju-Lan, isn't it? I thought I recognized you. You're Mon-Tag's boy all grown to young manhood…but what are you doing here…and in the presence of…this?" she glanced meaningfully at the Oni Princess.
"Julian is under my protection," Ganglot retorted, "And I'll thank you not to pick upon my assistants. Now…what is it that you wished to tell me, dear boy?"
"Ah…only that we were monitoring the screens as you asked when the screen went red and the picture vanished…"
"I was afraid of that," Ganglot said grimly, "That means Cybelle is on the move. Those monitors were programmed to cut off if she even approached the connecting channels. No sense at all in giving her access to my demesne."
"What were you having them monitor, Grandma?" Atsuko wondered.
"The Tendo dojo, where a certain card game is about to get under way," Ganglot revealed, turning to regard the others, "I suggest that this reunion will need to be postponed for a bit…your children will require your assistance as I hardly expect Cybelle to play far against them. In point of fact, I'm rather counting on it. You had better get going if you want to be there in time to make a difference."
With a wave of a bronzed hand the Oni called into life a glowing portal the size of a large doorway, then indicated this with a wave of her other hand as they could plainly see the Tendo family yard illumed on the other side of the portal. There was a brief exchange of puzzled looks, then Yumi shrugged her shoulders and said, "Well, if you're offering to pay the cab fare."
She stepped forward and entered the portal, emerging on the other side before turning around as if looking for the other side of the portal.
"Neat," Ryomi remarked, "It's like a teleporter, right Grandma?"
"The next best thing," Ganglot replied, "Only it doesn't pull your atoms apart and reassemble them like they do it on Star Trek. It's safe, economical and reliable, and it's your best bet for getting where the action is in two shakes of a cat's tail."
"Then I might as well go next," Comb turned a questioning look to her Elder, "Grandmother?"
The blue-black haired Matriarch turned a probing look towards Ganglot, who looked back at her without flinching and said, "Trust me this one time, will you, Sister-in-law?"
"Go along, Child," Cologne shrugged, "I will be right behind you."
Comb nodded to that and leaped through the portal.
"I guess that means I'd better go too," Atsuko said reluctantly, "I'll be able to find you again, won't it, Grandma?"
"You know I'll always be there for you, At-chan," the Oni responded, "And so will your father."
"Then I'm coming too, Mom!" Ryomi turned an eager look the Oni's way, "Is that all right with you, Grandma?"
"But of course," Ganglot replied, "Go show your mother what a big girl you've grown into, and say hi to your big brother."
"I'm coming too," Akiko reached out and grabbed the big man beside her by the hand, "Come along, Gramps, we got some heads to bust wide open!"
"We do?" the father of the line of Hibikis responded as he went unresistingly along with his eager companion.
"They grow up so fast these days," Ganglot sighed, "Letting them leave the nest is never easy…" she turned and gave Cologne a frank look, "But I suppose I'm preaching to the choir on that note, eh 'Old' woman?"
"I want you to know that this is not over between us," Cologne said levelly, "I don't know what real games you are up to, but I don't buy this act of benevolence, not in the slightest."
"Some people are so hard to convince," Ganglot shook her head sadly, "I wish I could say I was surprised by your answer, but I suppose it was too much to hope you'd change your tune this easy."
"Don't mind her," Siren touched Cologne's arm again, "She's not all crusty and bitter on the inside, as I hope I'll get to demonstrate one of these days. I believe I'll let myself out this time, but thank you for the hospitality, and for showing us such a wonderful time. I haven't had this much fun in literal ages."
With that both she and Cologne vanished from the chamber.
Ganglot felt so alone once again once everyone was gone, even when Romeo joined Julian came up to join her, each wearing anxious expressions concern upon their handsome features. Turning her gaze at these two mortals who were her most loyal of retainers, she said in a low voice, "And so it begins…I've done all I can to cast the dice upon the table, now it's up to my children to play their hands. I just hope that it's enough…" she sighed again, "Times like these I really start to feel my true age…"
"Lady?" Romeo asked, "Is there anything we can do to help?"
"Stand watch and wait until I summon you," Ganglot replied, "I'll be monitoring everything from my sanctuary."
And with that she flowed through the floor and down to where her Capstone tomb resided, merging with the ancient stone from her temple that was the seat of her Earthly powers, and from this protected zone opened her mind up to link once again with the World Tree of Yggdrasil, and from there sought the pre-arranged link with the Tendo dojo, where all of the action was really set to happen…
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