Ah My Goddess Fan Fiction / Ranma 1/2 Fan Fiction / Sailor Moon Fan Fiction ❯ A Tale of Two Wallets ❯ Flying Lessons ( Chapter 87 )

[ Y - Young Adult: Not suitable for readers under 16 ]

A Tale of Two Wallets

(An Altered Destiny)

Written by Jim Robert Bader

Proofread by Shiva Barnwell

"Hello? Mother…can you hear me?"

That plaintive half-whispered cry was Akane's anguished plea into the deepening twilight as she perched beside the rock in her family's garden that had been indicated to her as sacred the previous evening. Akane had a strong, compelling urge to talk to her mother, or to anyone who might sympathize with her plight. She was in her "cursed" form, (if you could call looking like an Angel that), having been splashed recently, a condition that she was growing to find happening to her on a most alarming frequency of late. She had barely touched her food at dinner and avoided Kasumi and Silk's entreaties to know what was the matter. In fact there was only one person in whom she felt that she could confide, and she wasn't even half sure if that person was real or just a phantom in her memories. But the person had told her to pray to the rock, and now she was doing so, clasping her hands together and fervently wishing that she could see and talk to that woman who had looked so much like her mother.

And then, almost beyond her surprise, she felt a light hand caress her shoulder and that voice spoke to her again, "I'm here, Akane…how can I help you?"

Akane opened her eyes and looked up into the face of the womanly vision who so closely resembled Silk yet definitely was not. For one thing this woman had markings on her face, three triangular tattoos that looked like guitar picks on closer examination, rounded on the flat end with the other two sides narrowly tapering off to a rounded apex. Her eyes were the color of her hair, only softer and somehow more rosy, and her hair was cut in a very odd fashion, forming a helmet-like cut in the front similar to Nabiki, but training down her back in a pair of pony tail lengths that brushed the ground, while her style of dress was oddly elaborate, consisting of silk, leather and metal, almost a form of armor.

"Are you real?" Akane asked, almost afraid that the sound of her own voice might banish the illusion.

"I'm as real as you want me to be," the woman smiled at her with genuine affection, "I heard you calling and I came as soon as I was able."

"Ah…" now that she had summoned the heavenly vision from before, what was it that she wanted to say to such a being. All she could think of asking was the question foremost in her mind, and so she asked it, ignoring the voice of prudence that was cautioning her against it.

"Are you my mother?"

Peorth had been prepared for the question, and yet its very directness put her on the spot, for a goddess could not lie to a direct question. Her evasions and cunning skills at misdirection could not serve her here, only the direct truth would be allowed to pass her lips, else the protection programs of Yggdrasil would penalize her with the inability to speak at all. Besides which this WAS her beloved daughter, and Akane deserved to know the truth, even if Peorth only doled it out in small half-measures.

She inclined her head in a nod and said, "I am…in a manner of speaking. I was there when you were born, I watched you grow as a child, and wept with you the day your Earthly mother was taken away. I am that which transcends mortality…your mother was a part of me, and I felt, as she did, the loss of a family life that she had grown to love and care for."

"Then…what are you?" Akane all but whispered.

Peorth sat down on the rock and faced Akane with a frank and knowing expression, "What do you think I am, Akane-chan? I who know you so well and am so very proud to see you grown into such a promising young woman…or Angel, if you will excuse the metaphor. You are my Angel in a fact, and yet you are also the child that I have never had for myself. I am whatever you wish for me to be, but I am real and as alive as you are, no phantom conjured up by your will or imagination."

"Ah…" Akane found it difficult to believe that the person before her was some mere spirit or supernatural entity come to mislead her, like one of Atsuko's illusions. She could FEEL the reality behind these words, even if their actual meaning escaped her. A wild thought sprang into her mind and she looked at the woman before her, who did not appear that much older than herself, and then hesitantly asked, "Are you…"

"Yes?" Peorth asked.

"…Like a Fairy Godmother?" Akane hesitantly concluded.

The fact that Peorth did not immediately facefault was due to in part to the way that she was perched upon the rock with her knees supporting her arms as she leaned forward. The Goddess recovered in time to think fast, and then with a slightly sheepish expression she replied, "That's…certainly one way of describing me…for certain…"

"It's just…" Akane hesitated once again before continuing onward, "That you look kind of like a Fairy Godmother…like out of a story. I hope I haven't insulted you…"

"Oh no," Peorth said, "I'm not offended…in fact…you could call me your Fairy Godmother if you like. That's near enough to my true nature, and I am here to help you, if you will permit it."

Peorth could almost hear Titania, the Queen of Faerie, laughing up her gilded sleeve at the thought of a Goddess coopting such a coveted title, but Peorth was above such petty disputes with rival pantheons, (and besides which that Michael Pfeiffer wannabe owes me a few favors!) she thought to herself while keeping her smile warm and inviting.

"Good," Akane began to relax a little, "Because I really do want to talk…ah…that is…if you don't mind…"

"Mind?" Peorth's voice was musical, "Why in Heaven's name would I mind? I came here to listen to you, Child…I always want to know what is going on in your life and how I can do anything to help you feel better. Go ahead and lay your burden on me, Kiddo…I've handled a lot worse in my time, and nothing you say or do will ever change the way I feel about you."

Akane felt tears welling up in her eyes. Was it possible that there was someone in the world who could understand her, appreciate what she was going through and actually agree with her for once? It was too much to hope for, and yet something about this vision made her feel as warm and safe as her mother's arms, and the fact that she did look a lot like her mother certainly did not hurt the situation.

"Ah…" Akane started, "I…don't know where to begin…"

"Why not start with today?" Peorth asked, "Like what was bothering you so much a moment ago that you felt like calling out to me? Is it the wings that are bothering you? You know you could banish them with just a dash of warm water…"

"Oh…well…" Akane glanced at the feathered protrusions from her back and legs then hesitated before asking, "Do you think maybe you know a way that I could, like, permanently get rid of them so they don't bother me any more?"

"I might have a few recommendations," Peorth inclined her head, "But why would you want to do away with them? I should think that you would welcome the gift of flight, which is very rare in mortals."

"I…" Akane glanced down, "I don't know how to use them."

"You don't?" Peorth asked with rounded eyes.

"I've tried," Akane almost wailed, "I've really tried so hard, but I…I can't get off the ground…"

"Can't get off the ground?" Peorth sat back on her rock, "Why not?"

"I don't know," Akane admitted, "I've tried flapping them real hard, even getting a running start, but I can't take off…"

"Well no wonder," Peorth chuckled, "You don't really think you have sufficient mass-to-weight lift ratio to do it all on muscle power alone."

"I don't?" Akane blinked significantly.

"To have the structural integrity to do it all by the strength of your wings, you would have to have a body-cage to anchor them that would alter your basic shape from that of a recognizable woman," Peorth replied, "The lift that you need to get off the ground comes from within you, from what you call your ki, the force of your will and the power of your imagination. You have more strength inside than mere strength of muscle, and if you wish to see how this works, Cheri, then I will be happy to demonstrate the process."

The Goddess stood up upon the rock and spread her arms, and suddenly there was pair of very manifest wings that appeared upon her own back, and as she smiled down at the astonished Akane, she looked even more like an Angel than ever.

"You mean…you can do this too?" Akane asked as the goddess reached out to her, and Akane took her hand, allowing herself to be drawn to her own feet with an ease that was utterly breathtaking.

"Watch what I do, Akane," Peorth urged, "And don't be afraid of falling. I will be here at your side to catch you."

"Okay," Akane stood up on the boulder beside Peorth, still clasping hands with the goddess.

"First of all," Peorth began, "Listen to the power that's already within you, feel it, nurture it, welcome it like a warm fire that keeps you safe from the cold and snug at night. The power will come when you allow it to blossom out in you, much like the force of your Ki when you summon it to break bricks and boards, only not quite so destructive."

"All right," Akane replied, closing her eyes and searching deep within her for the power indicated, and then a moment later she said, "I…I feel something…"

"Feel it like your mother's love," Peorth said gently, "Let it flow out to touch every part of you. Let it lift you up, feel it merge with every centimeter of your body, your shoulders, your limbs, your head and your heart…every part of you becoming one and whole, then stretch out your wings and feel the gentle breeze lifting you, carrying you up like the love of the kami."

Akane felt warmth move all over through her body, and then her spirits began to brighten as though someone had lit the pilot light on a dormant furnace. She opened her eyes to express this to the woman beside her, only to start with dismay as she found the level of her gaze was much higher up than she had thought possible, short of standing at the window to her room. She looked down to see her feet dangling above empty space with the garden directly below her, and in that moment of surprise she lost her concentration.

"WHOAAAH!" she cried before going splash into the koi pond.

Peorth sighed as she hovered in the air where Akane had been watching her daughter flounder around like a wet goose. She shook her head in wry affection and said, "Ah well…Kyoto wasn't built in a day…shall we start again from the very beginning…?"

Off to one side three pairs of eyes were watching as Akane stood up on a rock and attempted to fly, only to land with a splash in a rather spectacular manner.

Kennou was the first to sigh, "She's so pathetic…"

"Shut up, you," Ryoga growled as he turned back to see Akane climbing out of the Koi pond, "At least she's trying…she actually got off the ground this time. We should encourage her, not make insults."

Shirokuro said nothing, but her eyes were much wider than those of her master, for she could see the distinctive distorted area in the space beside the winged Tendo sister and knew intuitively what this signified. A being of power was masking her presence against detection by others, and had Shirokuro herself not had keener senses than most she would not have been any of the wiser. It was as if that being were deliberately tuning themselves out against the normal powers of an Oni to penetrate shadow, a very strong illusion that rivaled even the abilities of the Mistress. That alone cautioned her to be wary lest that being look with ill favor upon her Master…or even Shirokuro!

Kennou glanced at her alleged "nephew" and sighed, "You've really got it bad for her, don't you?"

"That's none of your business," Ryoga snapped, not taking his eyes off of Akane, who was trying once again to spread her wings and levitate even higher than before.

"Maybe it's none of my business," Kennou replied, "But it twists my guts to see you acting like such a pathetic lapdog. Have some self-respect and stop whining like a whipped hound…"

Shirokuro made a growling noise from where she hovered in the shadows.

"You keep out of this," Kennou snapped without looking at the shadow creature, "This is between me and my supposed 'nephew.' Are you a man at all or are you just going through the motions?"

"Shut up!" Ryoga snarled, "I don't need to hear that from a mercenary like you…"

"So I'm a mercenary," Kennou shrugged, "At least I can support myself. You can't even hold down a decent job, let alone support a family. You're too much of a blockhead to find your way around without help from your seeing-eye-dog…"

Shirokuro growled again, this time in more definite warning.

"Yeah, I know," Kennou growled back, "I'm sure you're good enough at your job that you could get him to and from his employer without taking a tour of all forty-three districts between here and Hokkaido, but the minute you let him out of your sight…he's gone on a trip around the planet. Come on, Ryoga…face facts. Your life is a mess and it's about time you started doing something about it."

"Like what?" Ryoga asked, balling fists as if ready to renew their on-again-off-again sparring match.

"Like grow up and start taking responsibility for your own problems and stop blaming them on others," Kennou replied, "It's sure awfully convenient when you can blame everything on someone else, means you don't have to face yourself when you look in the mirror. You've got a lot of things going for you, and you ought to take pride in the things you're good at instead of moping around all the time in a state of depression."

"Like what?" Ryoga asked.

"Well…" Kennou had to think for a moment before responding, "For one thing you can be pretty sharply focused when you keep your eye on a goal. You let your mind wander a lot, and you've very easily distracted, but when you sharpen up your mind on something…Whoah! You're like a lethal weapon!"

"Really?" Ryoga was surprised to hear something that sounded almost like a compliment escape the lips of the blonde Hibiki.

"Yeah," Kennou replied, "You can be like a bladed weapon when you stay in focus, like that first fight with me when you almost impressed me. The trouble is you gave away how easy you are to distract, and ever since I've been able to throw you around nine times out of ten."

"Oh yeah," Ryoga straightened out, "Try saying that again out of the other side of your face!"

He took a step towards her and prepared to take a swing swing, but Kennou merely smiled, turned her face towards the door and said, "Look, she's actually flying this time."

"Huh…?" Ryoga stumbled as he turned around in mid-swing, tripped over the floor and went tumbling into Akane's exercise equipment, while Kennou remained where she had been standing, wincing slightly.

"See what I mean?" she asked to her groaning nephew.

"Ah…" Ryoga groaned softly, "Maybe I do get distracted…a little…"

Kennou just sighed, then did something very uncharacteristic for her, which was to go over to Ryoga and offer her hand to help him back on his feet, "Look, you don't have to like me, and I don't blame you for resenting my advice, but I'm just telling you what I see, which is that you're making an awfully big fool of yourself over nothing."

"You think so?" Ryoga asked, hearing the twittering sounds of birds circling around his head.

"Look, I'm not really that bad a person that I want to hurt your feelings, even if you are keeping me here against my will," Kennou explained, "I'm just saying that I don't see a lot of permanency in a relationship between you and Akane. She needs somebody who's strong enough to keep her in line, who won't let her shove you around while she goes off and flirts with the boy-chick. She's out of control with a bad temper and no self-restraint to speak of, and she doesn't take criticism very well, so she's got a lot of issues that need resolving before she can be trusted in a relationship. I'm not saying she's a bad person either…in fact it's kinda hard to hate someone who's that pathetic…"

"You think you're so perfect?" Ryoga asked, shaking off his mild daze.

"Who's talking about perfection?" Kennou rocked on the balls of her feet and smiled serenely, "Even if I do come close to the mark, if I do say so myself."

"Yeah…right," Ryoga snorted.

"I got my own problems, and I'll admit it," Kennou said, "But she can't even do that much. She's got way too much hurt pride and she thinks the world is out to get her. I've KNOWN the world's been out to get me since the day I lost my mother, but I don't waste all my time bemoaning my fate…" she deliberately kept one hand crossed behind her back so that the boy in front of her could not get a look at her fingers.

"What about that guy you're supposedly in love with?" Ryoga asked.

Kennou lost her smile, "Hiroshi? He'd rather build himself a fake woman rather than spend time with a real one, he can have his living doll and she can keep him."

"You don't sound too convincing," Ryoga replied, "Even I can see through that."

"Oh-kay…" Kennou sighed, "So maybe it rocks my guts losing out to a robot, doesn't mean I intend to spend the rest of my life moping about it. You can't just weep because things aren't the way you want them to be, Ryoga. There are always new opportunities coming my way if I make myself ready to greet them with open arms. It's not like I need a man in my life anyway…too many complications, and who needs the heart ache?"

Ryoga frowned, uncertain whether or not he could believe his eyes and ears, but for a moment there it almost sounded as if Kennou was regretting her own statements. Feeling an odd sympathy for the arrogant blonde girl who was allegedly a kinswoman, "I don't know about that…I can't imagine not feeling the way I do about Akane. My life was empty before I met her, and I know I'd do anything just to see her smile…even a little…"

"Shut up," Kennou whispered.

"What…?" Ryoga turned to her in surprise.

"I said shut the hell up," Kennou bared her teeth, "What do you now about happiness? I've never been happy! Not even a little! Not since…" she turned away and said, "What do you now about it? You still have your mother, and your father is still alive and kicking! I've got no one who gives a damn about me, so don't even pretend like you care! You know I won't buy it!"

Ryoga was surprised at the savagery of the blonde girl's words and could not for the life of him understand how he could have triggered such a reaction. He turned to look at her for what might as well have been the very first time, honestly looking at the girl who was nearly his own age in spite of their nominal filial relationship and saw the haunted look that was in her eyes, the exposed and vulnerable side that she kept so tightly hidden behind that wall of hostility that had marked and defined her until this very moment.

"I…I'm sorry…" Ryoga began to apologize.

"Don't!" the wall slammed down again and Kennou's eyes virtually blazed at him, for all that there were unshed tears behind her eyes, "Don't you dare say another word! I don't have to take pity from you, I don't have to put up with any of this…!"

And with that she angrily stormed off out the door of the dojo while Ryoga stood his ground wondering what the hell had just happened.

Shirokuro whined softly, but she too watched the blonde girl walk out the door with confusion, wanting very much to dislike a girl who baited and taunted her master with such artistic cruelty, yet who seemed to crumble like a brittle piece of porcelain the moment someone punctured through the balloon of her own pretensions.

And the human had the gall to say the same thing about Akane!

Still, she reasoned, orders were orders, and her mistress had instructed her to keep a careful eye upon the girl, just in case she tried to make a break for it, so Shirokuro got up and began to follow her out into the yard…when a warning sense caused her to stare up into the space above the girl's head…a space that formed into a tiny cloud located directly over Kennou's blonde head. Shirokuro had a sense that something was amiss there, but as fast as she was she could not move in time to intercept the girl and push her out of harms way.

Kennou was barely conscious of the peril facing her when she heard the rumbling noise that sounded like thunder in the distance. She was too sunk into a black mood that she had worked so hard to escape that it was only at the last second that she felt the first drop of moisture on her face, which startled her as there had been a clear sky all day long, and even in Nerima a thunderstorm didn't just crop up that way…or did they?

She turned her face up to the sky just in time to receive the deluge as a gallon of VERY SPECIAL WATER fell upon her, drenching her to the bone as a strange chill passed through her body and caused her spirit to rise up and merge with a bestial illusion that manifested into reality. All at once she fell to her knees and felt her limbs begin to distort and reshape themselves, and with an odd twisting of her hip and spine she straightened out again, resting her weight on all fours as her face became like plastic and her nose began to grow outward. One moment later she felt completely normal again…only not the normalcy that she would have expected.

Unseen by her the goddess Peorth turned her head to regard the Tendo yard, which presently was far below her feet and those of Akane. Her godchild was finally getting the hang of levitation and discovering the joy of using her wings to stabilize and augment her flying capability. Akane still had to learn the finer points of weight-to-lift in the extension of her wingspan so that she could master the finer points of using air currents to remain stable. Without close attention to such details her child could possibly lose her bearings and go crashing into the ground like a Hang Glider pilot on the first try, and as tough as Akane was there was no way that Peorth was letting her risk her neck in an accident. Besides which, whatever disturbance it was that she was sensing it probably only concerned those Oni-tainted kids living in the dojo.

It was not that Peorth was prejudiced against Oni, as she would gladly inform one had any dared to ask her, but the thought of Akane associating with the offspring of an Oni did not set well with her at all. She would have to have words with her child on this subject, but at the moment she wanted to rejoice in Akane's newfound joy in the art of flying.

"What happened here?" Ryoga asked as he emerged from the dojo at the sound of water splashing and a startled gasp from Kennou, "Shirokuro…what…?"

The perpetual Lost Boy halted in his tracks, for all that remained of the blonde haired girl was her worn school uniform…and a four legged beast whose presence in the yard was very alarming.

Shirokuro was staring with VERY rounded eyes as Kennou lifted her head and turned to them with a somewhat bewildered expression. She stared back at the demonic canine, then at her nominal nephew and tried to ask them what had happened…but all that came out from her muzzle was a low whine that even her own ears thought sounded peculiar.

"K-Kennou?" Ryoga grasped the obvious as past experience informed him of exactly what had happened, "B-B-But how…?"

The red-furred wolf just looked back at him, her expression blank as she most definitely did not have an answer…

Ganglot smiled, thinking to herself that it was almost too easy. True her granddaughter was only a troubled youth and not intentionally malicious, but she had a lot of growing up to do on her own, and a brush with a Jusenkyo curse would no doubt snap her out of her clinical depression…once she had enough time to adjust to the transition.

How convenient of the Lore Master to make the Jusenkyo water available to the first entity who chanced to grasp it. Unfortunately the laws governing such matters demanded that the water be used, and if given a random selection the cursed fluids could wind up anywhere, infecting some innocent victim at random. Fortunately Ganglot had already selected a victim, and now her granddaughter would bear the weight of a new challenge to distract her from the rest of her personal problems.

No doubt Kennou might consider the alteration in her life a dubious blessing, at best, but it would work out in the long run, forcing the girl to take a harder look at herself and possibly grow beyond her continual resentments, and it wasn't as if the curse was permanent, after all…Ganglot had made certain to tweak it a little so that it could be undone at a later time of Ganglot's discretion…at least in theory.

Oh well, one more of her daughter-in-law's little plots had been foiled, which made it a good day in Ganglot's conservative opinion. Now to return back to the affairs that were presently challenging her creative faculties, namely the canvas upon which she was painting the first of many masterpieces that she hoped soon would take the art world by storm. She smiled a triumphant smile, baring her fangs as she raised her camel's hair brush, dabbed it with the right amount of paint and went at it with a vengeance, all but savaging the canvas in a blur of dynamic energy, her artistic juices flowing in a rush of mad, inspired genius.

A little off to the side her two newly hired servants were watching their employer go about her work with a frenzy that made it seem as if she were attacking the canvas with her brush. Odd bits of paint went flying in all directions, forcing the two youths to back up a bit to avoid being splattered.

"What is she doing?" Ju-Lan asked in mild dismay.

"I think she's fighting it," Ro-Mano replied, "And the canvas is winning."

Ju-Lan tilted his head to one side and concentrated for a moment, then pronounced in a thoughtful tone of voice, "You know…there is something about that picture…it's not a bad feeling…I wonder if it's a kind of magic?"

"Black or white?" Ro-Mano asked, then answered her own question as a globule of paint landed on her nose, "Ugh! Rainbow colored!"

"I don't think she's really evil," Ju-Lan said uncertainly, as if still trying to make his mind up about it when he turned to his lady companion and gave a soft chuckle, to which she bridled and growled, "What's so funny?"

"You," he said with a grin, "That almost looks like war paint, but Amazons haven't painted their faces in scores of generations."

Ro-Mano paused to look at her man and then she also smiled, "You look funny too…maybe I should get a mirror?"

"You could never look bad to me," Ju-Lan replied, and for a moment the two of them just stared at one another, heedless of anything else until a larger globule of pain landed on Ro-Mano's forehead.

"Maybe we should get out of the line of fire," Ju-Lan suggested, and the two youths left their guardian to her creative muse while they sought out the recently christened "Bathing Room," where they intended to explore the meaning of this term together.

"Nice kids," Ganglot paused to sigh, "Reminds me a bit of myself and Rogaine when we were at that phase…" a brief look of wistful longing crossed into her golden eyes, and then she went back at it with the canvas, brining renewed energy to the project as she searched mightily to find the excellence that she knew was hidden somewhere within the canvas.

The tapestry of fate was winding the threads of destiny together, and Ganglot intended to weave them as skillfully as she was each brushstroke and hue, knowing that her first work would mark a new beginning in the nearly endless life of a lonesome Oni, and soon the progeny of loins would be woven inextricably together once the rest of Clan Nabiki made its way at long last to Nerima…

"Ta ta, be well, have a nice trip and all that sort of rot," D'Amour waved jauntily to the retreating backsides of old and young Hibiki, effecting the gallantry of a loving host until they were well out of sight, then-without losing the pasted-on grin that he was wearing-he spoke to his First Mate and said, "Well, what are you waiting for? Haul anchor and let's be out of here before they find their way back."

"Can't sir," Frog replied.

"Are you deaf," D'Amour frowned, "I said let's be on our way, as in weigh the anchor, pull out the stops, remove the tether from the dock moorings, let's vamoose and be well away now that we've finally rid ourselves of that annoyingly directionless Harpy."

"Love to sir," Frog responded with faint reluctance, "But we can move. She's taken the keys out of the ignition."

"Excuse me?" D'Amour turned to look at the man, "Did I just hear you right?"

"You did, Sir," Brunt replied, ignoring the protests of his battered and bruised body, "Aki's taken the keys to the ignition with her, said she was doing it to see we stayed put and didn't try to ship out without her."

"Excuse me for directing your attention to the painfully obvious," D'Amour said in a display of rare patience, "But this is a boat is it not?"

"Ship sir," Frog corrected, "Only landlubbers call it a boat."

"Details," D'Amour waved a hand dismissively, "All right, now that we have that much established, then tell me how it is that we can have an ignition that needs a key to start it. This isn't a bloody automobile…"

"No sir," Brunt replied, "But we had the key-lock to the ignition installed during our last refitting."

"Well why in the bloody blazes did we do a damned fool thing like that?" D'Amour wanted to know.

"Begging the Cap'ns pardon, Sir," From explained, "But it was your orders we do it on account of you wanting an ace in the hole to hold over the crew after the last Mutiny in San Paolo."

"Oh," D'Amour thought it over then smiled, "Damned clever of me, that…but why don't we just hot wire the thing and get it to start without it?"

"Can't sir," Brunt replied, "The ignition cables are twenty centimeters thick and weigh a bloody tone apiece. You'd need the strength of a Hibiki just to cut through their casings, let alone cross them, and most folks would tend to get themselves electrocuted doing that."

"Don't bother me with trivial details," D'Amour said, "Can it be done or not?"

"Not Sir," Frog replied, "You ordered us to make it bloody near impossible to tamper with the system, so until we get that key back we're pretty much grounded."

"And to get the key back," Brunt concluded, "We have to get them away from Aki."

D'Amour felt the sides of his temples as he felt a major migraine coming on, "Please tell me things can't get any worse…"

"Sir!" Ensign Ptomaine reported, "Some of the crew managed to pry the boards off one of the port holes and they're escaping into the harbor. Assuming they don't die in the polluted waters, there's a good chance of them getting ashore and going AWOL!"

"We're a bit underhanded as it is," Brunt noted, "If this keeps up we won't even have a crew to keep the ship running."

"Look, I can't be expected to manage every little detail by myself," D'Amour growled, "I'm going ashore to look up some old haunts. I trust I can count on the both of you to mind the store for a while, and to see that you get the crew back safe, sound and in a relatively intact condition?"

"Just leave it to us, Sir," Frog held up a belaying pin, "We know how to encourage the lads to stay loyal…I guarantee we'll be up to full muster by the time you sober up--ah-finish your cultural surveys."

"See that you do," D'Amour hunched his shoulders as he glanced around at the vessel he called his own (though not too proudly as that would have been pushing it even for him), and in more hushed tones he added, "You know what TWPOS can be like when it gets lonely…"

Both men nodded that they did, and all three of them collectively shuddered…

Rei stirred as a slight shifting of weight beside her own body awoke her from a pleasant languor in which she had dreamed of being a graceful princess sharing a dance with Princess Serenity, and the both of them sharing a moment of bliss that went on and on forever. It took a few seconds for her to reconcile that with her actual condition of the moment, while was laying down on a couch stark naked with both arms around an equally nude Usagi, who was nestled up warmly beside her.

How did she find herself in this odd situation? It took another few moments for the memories to come flooding back for Rei, of the curiosity that had been gripping them both for the last two days since Rei had made her startling admission to Usagi. Since that moment under the boardwalk, everything about their lives had changed dramatically, and to Rei it was a change for the better. She and Usagi had flirted and made coy references to a future together, but neither one had dared to cross the line of actually expressing their affection in words beyond sly phrases.

Usagi had never been more beautiful in Rei's eyes then when she smiled in Rei's direction, nor had Rei ever felt such a fluttering of excitement take her over whenever the two of them brushed hands or made body contact of any kind, either deliberately or by seeming chance. It drove Rei crazy to think that she could not get Usagi out of her mind and did not want to be parted from her side, even when they had to each go home and prepare for school the next morning. It was impossible to do her chores or keep her mind on her school work as little things about her beloved Moon Princess would come back to her with startling clarity and almost life-like details, and even things that used to irritate and annoy her about the blonde haired "Rabbit" girl now were cherished in Rei like the sweetest endearments. It made sleep all but impossible, and so when they saw each other the next day Rei proposed that they should at least spend one night together…just to see if they were as compatible as Rei was hoping.

To her surprise Usagi had nurtured the exact same idea, and even invited Rei to spend the night at her place because her parents would be away and had already given their permission. Usagi was forbidden to throw any parties, but her folks did not mind a Pajama party of two or more girls, so they each convinced Ami to join them, arguing that she could play their chaperone and make certain that they used their spare time for purposes of study.

Of course Ami had reluctantly agreed, but after a fruitless hour of trying to keep their minds on their mathwork she had finally pronounced that she was tired and wanted to turn in early so that she would be fresh for her own assignments. Rei privately suspected that Ami had been uncomfortable playing "third" at a meeting where the two other girls were so obviously more interested in each other than in any dry details about Algebra equations.

So the two of them were left all alone in the Tsukino house, Usagi's brother having also chosen to spend the night at the house of a friend, and once left to their own devices the tension level climbed up dramatically, though Usagi and Rei were at a loss on what to do about it.

Then Rei revealed to Usagi that she had brought something along that she had hoped would help them get into the mood of deepening their intimacy, one of her grandfather's porno-tapes that he kept hidden away in a private stash at the Cherry Hill Shrine house. Rei had discovered this cache by accident when cleaning up and had been tempted to throw the stuff away when she came across one of the cover titles and had been intrigued at the suggestion it posed to her. She slipped that tape into Usagi's family VCR after the two of them made popcorn, and together they watched the credits roll, followed by some explicit action in which they saw two beautiful girls making out with one another.

Usagi and Rei had sat riveted in their seats as they watched the first hour of the tape, after which they paused it and sat stock still with eyes as round as saucers. The two girls exchanged funny looks, and then broke out in laughter, making absurd jokes about the unlikeliness of the tape's premise. Did whoever made such a thing honestly expect them to believe that real life women acted that way around each other? But then the laughter began to die off and the two girls sat looking at one another in silence, and each reluctantly conceded that at least some of what they saw MIGHT have potential…

The did not immediately make out, of course, but chose to watch the rest of the tape, this time paying closer attention to the details until the final credits rolled, at which point Rei stopped the tape and rewound it, then sat silently with her eyes on the black viewscreen, and only after another long silence she began to talk with Usagi, and the each gave their critique of the movie.

One thing led to another, and they were off to the showers together, agreeing in wordless communion that they wanted to act out at least one of the scenes they had witnessed in the movie. It was much to their surprise that they discovered that at least part of what they had seen was not as exaggerated as they had suspected.

Once they had showered and dried off they took a break to come out into the kitchen to share some chocolate cake and ice cream, pigging out as the ice had been broken between them, allowing them to chat with greater honesty and intimacy, paying attention to the things that each had liked and disliked in their little "experiment," and agreeing that more research would be necessary, which was how they concluded the matter by removing their bathrobes and winding up on the couch together.

Now that Rei was able to think clearly again she had to admit that it was a nice smell that filled her nostrils as she nuzzled the nape hairs on the back of Usagi's neck, her natural perfume ever so warm and inviting. The couch felt a bit cramped with the two of them sharing it, and Rei noted that her right arm was going to sleep as Usagi's weight was cutting off the circulation, yet too she was reluctant to move from the spot, enjoying the wonderful sensation of having the other girl curled up in her embrace. Usagi's was purring contentedly in her sleep, and never even once had she whispered the name "Mamoru-chan" all evening, which was a minor miracle in Rei's opinion.

I love her, Rei thought to herself with a sense of wonder at the admission, and it was wonderful to finally be able to say the words to herself as she knew beyond question that Usagi shared her feelings…or was one heck of a good faker!

Naturally the moment had to be spoiled by the sound of someone knocking on the door and ringing the door bell.!

"Who is it?" Usagi murmured, still half asleep.

"I don't know," Rei growled, "But I hope maybe they'll go away…"

Of course the knocking on the door was insistent, so Rei growled as she freed her arm from beneath Usagi and said, "I'll go see who it is…and if it's one of those 'Gotcha' video companies, then I'll fireball their asses!"

Usagi chuckled as she turned to regard the Shrine Maiden (well…technically no longer a Maiden…), "You're so feisty when you get up in the morning, but are you sure you want to face them looking like that?"

"No, Silly," Rei smiled back in affection as she retrieved her bathrobe and tied it on while crossing the room to the front door, and then she yanked it open without bothering to look outside, "Who the hell…"

She stopped in mid-tirade, for there stood Minako looking back at her, mild surprise painted on the blonde girl's features.

"Rei?" Minako gasped, "What are you…oh, never mind," she said as she saw Usagi approach them, tying her own robe on as she padded up alongside Rei.

"Mina-chan?" Usagi asked in surprise, "What are you doing visiting here? Do you have any idea what time it is?"

"Nine-thirty PM?" Minako replied matter-of-factly.

"That early?" Rei blinked, "No way!"

"I guess we weren't at it as long as I thought we were," Usagi reluctantly conceded, "Of course we did kinda turn in real early. Oh well…what did you want, Mina-chan? I thought you were visiting Makoto?"

At the mention of their absent comrade the blonde girl's shoulders slumped and she responded, "I did…only Makoto's…got somebody with her."

"Huh?" both Rei and Usagi replied, the latter saying, "Well, don't keep us both in suspense! Who is he? Is he that dreamy hunkster she's been seeing on the sly?"

"That Kuonji guy," Rei noted, "Can't say I'm surprised, she's been coming onto him a little thick lately, and the guy would have to be as dense as a brick not to notice."

"Ah…" Minako refrained from saying the words that immediately popped into her mind, that finding Rei with Usagi, the both of them tousled and quite obviously having just gotten out of a bed that they had doubtlessly been sharing together…was something that had been all too predictable among their friends in the Inner Senshi. She could still remember holding her breath in a gasp when she had overheard the Shinto Priestess make her tearful confession under the boardwalk.

"Well come on, spit it out," Usagi grinned with a kittenish expression (or should that be amended to "Sex-Kitten," Minako wondered, just imagining what their guardian cats would have to say about the two girls sleeping together, "What were they both doing…and is that the reason why they weren't in school with us today?")

"Yeah, come on," Rei urged, "Don't keep us waiting around in suspense!"

Minako saw no way of avoiding the subject, so she began, "Makoto…was with her Senpai. In fact I saw Kuonji coming out of the bedroom looking like they had recently showered together."

"OH MY!" both of her fellow Senshi chorused together.

"Of course…" Minako hesitated before continuing, "I felt bad about disturbing them…but that's when I found out something about this Ukyo character that I guess we all should have expected. You see…the guy's also a girl…or rather I mean…he's a sex changer."

"Say what?" Usagi replied after a long drawn out minute.

"It's true," Makoto herself revealed as she came walking up the sidewalk behind Minako, who gasped and turned around to see the tall girl approaching, "But you ran off before I could fully explain that, Mina-chan, not to mention that little bombshell that you dropped in my lap. Had a feeling you'd turn up here eventually…we pretty much all go running to share stuff with Usagi."

"Mako-chan?" Usagi looked at the tall girl, "Is this true?"

"Yes," Makoto sighed, "I was looking for the right time to explain it to you guys…my Senpai has this weird magical curse laid on her that turns her into a guy and back again…only I didn't know exactly how to bring it up, giving our past history with sex-changers."

"You're telling us that dreamy hunk is cursed?" Rei asked in frank dismay.

"Man, talk about weird ideas on what a curse is," Usagi agreed in mildly understated wonder.

"Ah…Mako-chan," Minako said sheepishly, "About…what I said back there…"

"We'll talk about it," Makoto promised her, "But I think we'd better go inside before Luna and Artemis start lecturing us about public exposure."

"Oh yeah…right," Usagi glanced down as if only just remembering that she and Rei were hardly dressed for a fashionable late evening.

"Man," Rei mused as they went indoors again, "When did we go from being Sailor Scouts to Dojinshonen Scouts, huh?"

"Since somebody told me they loved me," Usagi smiled back, "Not that I'm complaining, mind you."

"You'd better not complain," Rei leered back, "If you know what's good for you."

"I don't hardly know where to begin," Makoto said as she and Minako sat down with the other two girls in the living room, "There's so much I've got to cover…"

"Why not try starting at the beginning?" Ami asked as she came out into the room wearing her pajamas, "Like how you and Ukyo met and first got involved together."

"Ami???" Minako reacted, "What are you doing here?"

"Ah…I kinda invited her over," Usagi said sheepishly, "But you said you were turning in early…"

"That's what I said," Ami replied, her refined tones held level and even so that she gave no hint of the exasperation and frustration that she was feeling, having had to listen to her two best friends going at it like a couple of wild cats. Small wonder their guardian cats had slipped out into the night for some peace and quiet…Usagi alone had made enough noise to shake the rafters! If Ami had not brought along her "special toy" for just such an emergency she might have had trouble even keeping to herself after the first hour, not that she had any intention of blowing her "Smart Girl" cover by revealing what her pediatrician mother had given her for a birthday present.

"This could take a while," Makoto sighed, "All right if I make snacks for your guys? I can boil some tea if Usagi has any."

There were many assents and hands raised all around the room, and as preparing food was something Makoto had always found relaxing she went to the kitchen at once, coming back moments later after finding the remains of a chocolate cake, a baked pie and several pre-prepared rice balls.

"All right," she sighed as she sat down and everyone began munching, "It all began in middle school before I met up with any of you guys, when I set my sights on the handsomest boy in our school, not realizing that this Kuonji Ukyo was hiding a little secret…"

Naomi felt better after soaking in a hot bath and dressing down in something casual, her hair drying off in a towel as she came back into the living room of her apartment and found her nominal bodyguard playing games with Rachael, much to the delight of her small daughter.

"…And then the wicked Nobunaga tried to crush the heroic ninja warriors of Iga, but their clan chiefs were clever and hid all of their treasures among his most trusted fighters so that the magical weapons would never fall into enemy hands, and do this day no one knows where those items are hidden," the burly man said as he pretended to be a four-legged creature stalking up on a crouching princess, "But one day a young prince descended from the clans discovered his own special gift, and he fought nine dragons to master his power, becoming a great warrior in his own right…GROWL!!" the man put his hands to the sides of his head and pointed outward as if pretending he had horns, "I'm the great and terrible lizard! Hear my roar…I'm coming to eat you!"

Rachael laughed in childish delight as she dodged out of the way of the man, who moved with exaggerated slowness that showed greater control than he let on to a casual observer. Rachael stood up and pretended to have a weapon in her hand as she played along with the game, "I'm not scared of any ol' Dragon! I'll cut you down with my sword Dragonslayer!"

Kento mocked being intimidated by her challenge and said, "Oh, please don't hurt me, noble samurai! I promise to be good if you spare my life!"

"I'd love to hear the rest of this," Naomi smiled, "But you're way up past your bed time, young lady."

"Aw Mommy!" the little girl complained, "I don't even feel sleepy!"

"It's called Jet-lag, little princess," Kento replied as he sat upright, "You're used to the time back in America, but here in Japan we have an eight hour difference, so good little samurai should be in bed catching up on their sleep. If you're really a good little girl and do what your mommy says I know that the Dream Kami will come visit you and let you play in his garden, which is full of all kinds of nice, sweet tasting things, like candy and gum drops."

"Really?" Rachael's eyes got as round as silver dollars, or whatever was the Japanese equivalent, Naomi amended.

"Hey, would I lie to you?" Kento raised his hand and solemnly replied, "Oh my honor as a Ronin."

"Okay," the girl replied, turning to Naomi, "Would you tuck me into bed, Mommy? I like Kento's stories a whole lot, and I wanna hear more of 'em later."

"Make sure that you wash up and go potty before bedtime," Naomi urged, "I'll show you how to unroll a futon."

"Oh, I already took care of that, Ma'am," Kento replied, adding in stage whisper, "I was hoping to tire her out, but the little princess is just too clever and full of energy for that. The Sugar Plum fairy's gonna have his work cut out for him if he wants to let her roam about in his garden."

"Oh, did you now?" Naomi eyed the man critically, "Do you also number Day Care among your list of job skills?"

"More like On-the-Job experience, Ma'am," Kento replied as she rose to her feet in a fluid motion, "I had a couple of little brothers and a sister who taught me a lot about looking after younger kids. Some things just stay with you no matter how old you get."

"Indeed," Naomi noted, "You're a man of many hidden talents."

"That's why my uncle asked me to look after you," Kento nodded, thumping his chest with one fist, "You've got nothing to fear as long as Kento's on the job watching out for any troubles. You can both sleep tight, I won't let anything get near you, whether enemies or Youma."

"Youma?" Naomi frowned, "You mean the Undead?"

"Well…" Kento shrugged, "It's kind of a generic term these days, with several different meanings, depending what part of the Tokyo area you happen to be in. In the Kyoto area…well…we take it a bit more serious than you Westerners. They're not just stories to us, and I've personally seen a lot of stuff…well, let's just say I've got experience and leave it at that, okay?"

"Do you expect me to fall for one of your fairy tales like my daughter?" Naomi asked in skeptical appraisal.

"Not at all," Kento replied, "I'm sure you're a pretty smart cookies where you come from, I'm just saying different rules apply out here, and it wouldn't pay to take anything for granted."

"Well," Naomi reluctantly replied, "I suppose you do know your country much better than I could."

"Not necessarily, Nakamura-san," Kento replied, "Your roots probably started right here, even if you are an American, or at least I'd think so from your family name, if you'll forgive me for saying that."

"My former husband's name was Thompson," Naomi noted, "Nakamura is the name of the family that adopted me. I don't even know the real name that I was born with."

"Oh," Kento's expression fell slightly, as if fearing he had just committed a huge social gaff.

"Don't worry yourself about it," Naomi smiled, "And I'm not offended that you asked about my ancestry…the truth is that I'm very curious on that subject myself. I was hoping to do some private research while I was here and learn if I have relatives living in the Tokyo area."

"Good luck on that," Kento nodded, "Well, if you need me, I'll be sacking out in the next room. I sleep pretty soundly, but I'll be fully alert for any troubles. Don't hesitate to call on me if there's anything you need."

"I'll remember that," Naomi agreed, watching the big man head towards the next room as she added, "And Kento-san…thank you."

"Just doing my job, Ma'am," Kento nodded, "You've got a good kid, and I won't anything disturb her dreams, or yours either for that matter."

"I see," Naomi noted as she sat down on the couch and picked up the briefing folder that she had only half scanned through. Just before Kento was out of the room, however, she stopped him with a question, "By the way…what can you tell me about the Tendo dojo?"

"That old place?" Kento paused, "I've heard a lot of stories, most stuff my uncle used to talk about when I was the same age as your daughter. It's the home to a family that keeps the old traditions alike of the Musubetsu Kakuto Ryu…"

"The Anything Goes School?" Naomi raised eyebrows at that, "That's an odd name for a martial arts system."

"Depends on who you ask," Kento replied, "It's supposed to be pretty good, but there are only two practitioners of the art that I've ever heard of, old man Tendo and his daughter."

"Indeed?" Naomi smiled, "I think I might like to learn more about the place."

"Why?" Kento asked before amending, "If you don't mind my asking…"

"I might like to take lessons myself," Naomi mused, "I could stand to sharpen up my skills, and it might be a good place to enroll Rachael."

Kento did not share her smile as he replied, "I'm not sure that's such a good idea. I mean…no offense to you or your teachers, lady, but what they know about martial arts in the States doesn't really compare to what they teach in the old schools."

"Do tell?" Naomi's smile deepened to its trademark "Shark-like" expression, "How interesting …I must learn more about this. I believe I will stop by there after my morning meeting with the board members."

"Whatever," Kento shrugged, "You know your business, lady, but I'll be there if you need me."

Naomi wondered exactly what it was about that casual statement that left her so troubled…

Mousse stirred to self-awareness, wondering why it was so dark all of a sudden, only to find his eyes were covered by a blindfold of some sort. He tried to pull it off but it would not come away for some reason, and that was when he heard the voice of doom sounding close nearby, saying, "I wouldn't take it off if I were you. There would be…complications."

"Siren?" Mousse of course recognized the sultry voice of the dreaded Sorceress who had haunted his family for generations before his birth, "What do you want from me, Witch?"

"Satisfaction," Siren replied in a low purr, "You've been a very naughty boy of late, and I think it's time that you had your comeuppance."

"I don't know what you're talking about," Mousse growled, "Where is Shampoo…?"

"Back with her loved ones in Japan," Siren replied, "I brought you back home to China, you silly boy. Wasn't that nice of me?"

Mousse did not bother to conceal the shudder that went down his spine at the way the Arch-Mage had pronounced this, and he started to say, "You have no right to-!"

"No right?" the Magus said dangerously, "I am an Elder, albeit not a full member of that stuffy old council of hags who boss people like you around for their own amusement. I am your Elder by many, many generations, both in power and knowledge, and I won't sit for your insolence after the disgraceful showing you have made, degrading the honor and name of the Joketsuzoku."

"What do you care about honor?" Mousse growled.

"Obviously more than you," Siren replied, "Tell me…did you honestly think that you could ever win the love of Shampoo by forcing her loved ones to murder one another? Even had you used a memory-block technique her heart would never have been yours to claim. You have dragged the name of our family through the mud for the last time, and now you will reap the whirlwind that you have sown, dear nephew."

"I won't submit to you!" Mousse declared, "Even blinded I'll fight back…"

"You've been blind since the day you were born, in one sense or another," Siren answered, "In a way it is not your fault, and I could even admire your strong will and sense of independence. In fact I was cheering you on when you sought to establish yourself as a warrior of standing, going against the odds and the expectations of your own family's Elder. That ended, however, when you wronged someone who is close to me, closer than you will ever be, and that is why I have taken it upon myself to personally mete the vengeance you so richly deserve. Know for a certainty, nephew, that your threat to Shampoo and her beloveds is ended as of this moment."

"You can't keep me from her…!" Mousse started to protest.

"Can't I?" the Archmage replied with deceptive mildness in her voice, "I could strike you down where you stand, reduce you to a pile of smoldering ashes with but a thought had I a mind to. You've given me reason enough to change you into something small and loathsome that would make your cursed form seem like a blessing. The only reason that I don't do these things is that I find them personally detestable, and I do so hate throwing my weight around in such a manner. Couple that with the fact that I owe your Elder a favor, and out of respect to your mother I will refrain from using terminal force and instead opt for a more creative solution to defuse your misguided transgressions."

"What are you going to do?" Mousse asked, trying not to be intimidated.

"Something that should have been done a long time ago," Siren replied, "I am going to give you over to one whom you have wronged in your blind attempts at winning over a woman who hates you. Years ago you befriended a young girl of our tribe who was very naïve and vulnerable, easily swayed by the kind words you spoke to her, pretending to be interested in her while using the child as a stepping stone in your attempt to get closer to another. You know who I am referring to, do you not?"

"No…" Mousse whispered, now having some inkling of what was about to happen.

"Oh yes," Siren's tone held neither mercy nor pity, "Imagine that poor child's reaction when she stumbled across you talking with several other boys, and what do you suppose she chanced to overhear you say? Those boys were questioning you for wanting to spend time with her, and you-all pride and arrogance-declared that you truly had no interest in her at all, that you were using her ties to your actual target as a form of misdirection to get Shampoo to lower her guard and look upon you with more favor. And what do you suppose these words did to my ward's kindly heart and trusting spirit?"

"No…you can't!" Mousse protested.

"Too late, Nephew," Siren informed him, "You ingested one of my mother's pearls…it will have an immediate effect upon you the moment you set eyes on the first person whom you see. Do what you will, your doom has already been pronounced, and it is into her hands that I give you, may she have much pleasure returning to you the spite you gave her."

"No!" Mouse cried out, ripping the blindfold off his face without pausing to question why it no longer remained where it was, "I won't let you…!"

"Siren?" a voice called out in the shadows as a pale form approached him, moving around in the relative darkness as if she could see in total darkness, "I thought I heard your voice, Teacher. Who…?" she paused and looked right at him, "Mousse?"

Mousse stared, held against his will as the power of the Love Pearl took him over and blanked his mind of everything else but the face before him. White hair framed a pretty face as pale as porcelain, ruby eyes searched his expression for several instant before setting into a frown of contempt, and think lips pressed together as though she were gazing on something that she had accidentally stepped on.

"F-Frost…?" he gasped, suddenly seeing only her and nothing else.

"What are you doing here?" she growled before pushing her way past him, "I'm looking for my Elder, I don't have any time to waste with you…"

All at once Mousse was down on his knees and throwing himself prostrate before her path, "FORGIVE ME! I didn't know…I didn't mean…I-I've been a great fool! Can you ever look on me again with anything but hatred for this unworthy wretch?"

The albino girl stepped back from him with a start and her face was most perplexed by this sudden change in the behavior of the arrogant boy whom she once viewed with great affection. For a moment she wondered if he were possessed by an evil spirit, but then Mousse raised his eyes and said, "I never meant to hurt you!"

"You never meant…?" her anger flared like an inferno, and her aura flared to life as the young Apprentice Mage summoned up her power into the tip of one finger, "SEE HOW MUCH I CARE!"

And with that there came a raucous explosion. Siren, who watched from the safety of the trees, winced slightly in mild sympathy, than smiled to see that Mousse had managed to survive the blast, even if his clothes had been nearly seared off of his body.

"Ouch…" he said aloud and promptly lost consciousness.

"Have fun with your new toy, Apprentice," Siren grinned before fading into the night with her smile remaining like the Cheshire Cat she now resembled. Frost would decide the boy's fate…eventually, and in the meantime have a focus for her rage that might help bring about a change for the better.

If one were to ask her opinion on the subject, Siren would have exclaimed the viewpoint that what the world needed was more wizards. There just were not enough like her to go around, though she did her best to make up for the shortfall. Spreading joy and good cheer made the job worth all the bother, and it would do her young ward good to learn to trust again and stop believing that all men were inherently evil. Mousse had represented in her mind all the worst traits of the male gender, and now he would become her loyal puppy, eager to do her bidding in the hopes of her eventual forgiveness. If things worked out for them then Siren could look forward to more children who carried Frost's gifts as a Mage and Artificer, which would be very useful talents to help preserve the Amazon future.

And if she chose to exterminate the boy, well…that would be her business, and no one would think ill of her about it. Either way Mousse would learn the humility that he was lacking, and Frost might learn to see a side to his character that was not entirely self-centered. On the whole they made a most promising union.

Now if only she could convince Cologne the same held true for them both…ah well! Siren smiled as she considered the bracelet, which still had two more pills, both temporary in duration. At least one of them should serve to get the Matriarch's attention and start her to thinking in a way entirely to Siren's liking.

"It's good to be a Magus," she grinned, wondering what other good deeds she could do to make the evening, and only dimly aware that her laughter had a curiously familiar echo…


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