The Return

A Ranma Sailor Moon fic thingy.

By Sunshine Temple

 

Naturally, I own neither Sailor Moon nor Ranma. So here's the disclaimer

 

Ranma 1/2 and its characters and settings belong to Rumiko Takahashi, Shogakukan, Kitty, and Viz Video. Bishoujo Senshi Sailor Moon belongs to Naoko Takeuchi, Koudansha, TV Asahi, and Toei Douga, and DIC.

 

Previous chapters and other works can be found at my fanfiction website.

http://jtemple.florestica.com/

 

Temporary Backup Site.

http://www.fukufics.com/fic/

 

 

Other website Temple of Ranma's Senshi Seifuku

http://fukufics.com

 

C&C is appreciated.

 

Book 3:  Raising Trouble

Chapter 10:  Troubling Visitation

Formerly:  Redesign and Relaxation Part 2i

 

 


            Standing on a wooded mountain bluff, Setsuna, was dressed in her former dark red and white seifuku rather than the obsidian armored version she had worn of late.  In an adult body, she watched the small village below. With a mix of thatched roofs and Bavarian styling, it was picturesque. The small buildings and avenues were also perfectly groomed and brightly painted and the little gardens were prefect. It was surrounded by fields and orchards that were equally bright and vibrant.


           Encircling the cleared lands were sylvan forests which slowly turned thicker and more wild the further out one looked. Completing the fairy-tale look were the crystal and white marble spires of the castle that rose from the bluffs just north of where Setsuna stood.


            Compared to the brutal elegance of the castle the pristine village seemed merely quaint and cozy. Setsuna knew that the Princess would not have it any other way. The castle protectively loomed over the village, but it did not cast its shadow over the princess. Here, at least, the Queens were still alive.


             Focusing her attention on one of the pastel-painted buildings, Setsuna watched the Princess and her five closest friends trot out in a happy gaggle. Naru and Mercury were among them, restored as Usagi wished they one day would be.


            Setsuna's gaze went down the street to where she saw herself, or at least the younger version "Kiri" running towards the group. Setsuna smiled. She knew how this dream worked. As the Queens' envoy, Kiri would present missions that could only be solved by the Sailor Senshi.


            Setsuna watched the events unfold. Even here, the Princess could not escape her duties. The Guardian of the Space-Time Door was hit by a bit of melancholy and a tinge of cold, old jealousy. Being Sailor Senshi, especially these bright idealized ones, was escapist.


            She pushed those thoughts aside and let her Princess dream.


            In the real world, about a hundred kilometers to the North of where the Princess slept, there was a weak spot in the structure of reality. This was not surprising; such things were why the Senshi had been moved across continents.


            Feeling something pierce though the weak point, Setsuna's eyes widened, light burst around her body, and a swarm of iridescent spheres flew out from the aura. She could sense that her response was not alone. The Company had detected the breach and alerts were already being triggered.


            It was like using a laser to burn through a rubber sheet. Normally, the photons were too weak and the matter too solid to cut through. However, stretch the sheet thing enough, and then dial the laser power up... and the light beam will punch a hole right through the sheet.


            Setsuna was about to wake Usagi, but just as suddenly, the beam cut out and the hole began to close. The dream continued, and for a moment Setsuna's confusion grew. Then the beam turned on. And off then on again.


            Seeing the pulsing energy, and then feeling the ripples it caused across the world, Setsuna realized its purpose. The beam was the inter-dimensional equivalent of radar. Energy would be emitted, and a detector on the other side of the hole would pick it up. It was also akin to shining a light into a darkened room to see what was inside.


            After less than a minute the emission cut out entirely and the soft-spot closed and dimensional stability returned to its slow decay. Setsuna kept her spheres out but the... incursion, such as it was, had stopped. And feeling the pulsing ripples herself, she had a fair idea who was behind it.


            Shivering, her attention turned back to the dream. The Senshi, even the ones that were mere figments of the Princess's imagination, had not even noticed. "Well, I never thought. He would bother with a recon sweep."


            "It was not Him," a smooth voice said from what seemed to be empty air.


            Setsuna felt the vibrations subtly twist the dream as the sun dropped to the west and night fell. The starry darkness before her precipitated into a trim female humanoid form.


            She wore jeweled sandals, gold gloves, and heavy gold bracelets set with lapis lazuli and rubies. Heavy gold ankh earrings hung from ears made from literal darkness. Gold lips curled into a lazy smile. Intricate, golden makeup surrounded mirthful eyes with golden "whites", deep maroon irises and pupils that were deep starry fields that showed galaxies that had been dead for eons.


            A precisely sculpted pageboy with an even fan of bangs had formed from a thousands and thousands of golden strands that moved with an eerie fluidity and uniformity that gave the impression of a single, flexible, mass..


            Instead of a jewel, the center of her silver tiara held a cobra raging up ready to strike. The silver serpent had ruby eyes and alternating ruby and sapphire scales on the belly and hood.


            While her hemlines had gold trim and a few other jeweled accents, her clothing was a plain white silk. This gave an elegant and understated contrast to the riotous wealth the rest of the woman's accessories suggested. However, Setsuna's greatest surprise was the style of clothing the new woman wore: a crisp white Seifuku with gold bows. The gem in the center of her chest bow was a large circle of milky-white polished adularia and bore an opalescent bluish sheen.


            Looking into those deep, deep eyes, Setsuna's heart fell. The Egyptian theme made it blatantly obvious who she was talking to, and it was little wonder she would defend her father. "Nuit," she said, using the being's most common name. "You do not belong here, and you certainly do not belong in that uniform."


            "Why should I not dress this way?" She asked as the ruby eyes to her serpent headpiece flashed. She paused and looked into the distance.


            "Am I not 'She Who Protects'?" Nuit then bowed her head. "I am Nuit, and I have come so that I may enfold and protect you from all things evil," she stated, her words sliding out as if recalled by rote. She stood confidently and her expression was a self-assured mask.


            Setsuna laughed.


            "Oh? Come now." The woman's voice was even. She serenely waited for Setsuna to calm herself.


             "You wear the same uniform," Nuit said, stretching her shoulders and peered over the bluff. The Princess' dream was still proceeding. The younger Kiri was busy explaining how sudden nightfall showed the importance of completing the Senshi's "mission."


            Nuit held her hand out and found it fixed in the air. An iridescent wall appeared around her palm. She looked out and saw that the "shell" covered the whole of the village and the forest. Her face was controlled


            "Did you think I would not ward you?" Setsuna asked narrowing her eyes at the woman. "The Princess shall have her dreams. Right now you are in my dream, and my dream is to merely watch her dream. Changing the night sky was enough for you."


            "You care for her," Nuit observed gold and red eyes widening. Jealousy clouding her face, she stepped back from the barrier.


            "Because, I am Sailor Pluto. That is what it means to wear this uniform," Setsuna said, hoping that no uncertainty, no regret leaked into her voice.


            "Have you fallen so deeply into bondage?" Now pity flashed across the stellar-skinned woman's face. "Perhaps you need to wake up?" she asked. Now concern edged her smooth, resonant voice.


            "Big words for one such as you," Setsuna stepped forward iridescence flaring over her uniform.


            "Peace." Nuit gracefully held her gloved hands up. "I have brought neither my crook nor my flail. I am not here to fight."


            "If you had brought them I would have taken them and bent you over my knee," Setsuna stated. "You were not expected, not here, not now."


            "Is that a promise to do said bending on a later date then?" Nuit asked, golden eyebrow raised.


            "Stupid meddling outsiders," Setsuna grumbled, brushing Nuit's comment aside.


            "And do not blame the summoners. In looking they shall find what they seek," she flatly said as ruby snake-eyes glowed.

            "You cannot measure something without changing it. When you look into the abyss..." Setsuna exhaled and looked at the sky then back down at the village. "You're the abyss staring back."


            "And I have found you." Nuit stepped to Setsuna's right side.


            Setsuna looked down and realized how short and how... young the being next to her was. Despite her poise and grace, the form she assumed could not be much older than the Princess or the other Inner Senshi.


            "I should apologize for the actions of my worshipers," Nuit bowed her head. "But they did get my attention, and I saw you..."


            "Cut the act."


            "Act?" For a moment the woman's façade slipped and a bit of panic oozed between the cracks in her expression. She quickly recovered. "An act? From you, given who you are, who you work for? Besides. I like this act," Nuit flipped one of the pleats of her skirt and ran a hand through her hair. She leaned on the taller woman and looked up.


            Setsuna returned the gaze. However, she first looked at the snake's eyes as they flickered on and off. Now that she was prepared, Nuit's maroon eyes bore no danger. Within those ancient starry pupils Sailor Pluto saw a being of calm, eternal patience. Worship, wrath, waiting, it was all the same to her. She would do what she had been created to do.


            Nuit held her stance. She felt the time slip by, but it was dream time, and compared to the wait for her summons, this was nothing.


            Setsuna put an arm around Nuit's shoulder. "What... what do you want?"


            "You're lonely. You've done your duty. The time spent alone should be immaterial, but we both know that it wasn't. You felt the years go past, and while you've got companions now, they don't understand do they?" Nuit put her arm around Setsuna's waist, mirroring the older woman's actions.


            "That doesn't answer my question"


            "If you need someone to... talk to," Nuit paused her voice cracking.


            Setsuna broke away from the starry-woman's eyes. "You... you want a friend?"


            "You are the Guardian, you understand. Mortals do not. Immortals are not good company."


            "Not a fan of your father's friends."

 
            Nuit shook her head.


            "I will be busy."


            "So shall I," Nuit coyly said.


            "Are you that lonely?"


            "Are you? This is your dream," Nuit gave Setsuna another hug. "You can banish me from this place whenever you wish."


            "Maybe I'm drawing out more information from you," Setsuna said.


            "I could say the same." Nuit looked down seemingly unsure of herself.


            "What will you be busy with, pray tell?" Setsuna asked.


            Nuit looked Sailor Pluto up and down. "Much the same as you. I am 'She Who Protects'? I have come so that I may enfold and protect you from all things evil," she repeated in the same smooth tone as before. The eyes on her serpent head piece stopped glowing. "Though I'll admit, I don't have a Princess to protect. Not even one with such unique sleeping arrangements," she looked down and the stars embedded in her cheeks grew brighter in something akin to an embarrassed blush.


            Setsuna kept her face neutral. She would bet good money that Nuit knew full well about the Venus Armor, but the stellar-woman could be simply referring to the dream-valley. It was galling to have something like Nuit take exception towards the Princess' life, but Setsuna could understand.


            "I don't have team mates either," Nuit continued, her voice cracking. "Even mortals that don't truly understand."


            "Completely trustworthy." Setsuna slipped out of the light hug. Her crimson eyes looked over the eldritch goddess pausing at her far more alien maroon eyes. "You realize my situation. Despite the highly, highly suspect timing of your appearance you haven't done anything wrong. Well, other than invade my dream to pop in and say 'Hi.' "


            Nuit's golden lips slowly curled into a bashful smile that grew more confident. "But this is not your dream. Unless you're so deeply into servitude that your dream is to be a servant."


            Setsuna's expression stiffened. "Not that I have any moral compunction about eliminating potential threats but..." She hesitated seeing the shorter woman's growing mask of confident poise. Setsuna cleared her throat. "But I'm left with two choices. In both cases you're new here and have been summoned by something from beyond the stars. Thus you either just fell off the turnip truck, stumbled into existence, and are so new at this that you came to the nearest being of power asking to make friends."


            Setsuna then grinned. "Or you're a very, very patient offshoot of your Father, who deliberately adjusted your form to catch my eye and gain my sympathy in the first steps of a plan to subvert me to your... team." She studied the woman before her. In her duties as Sailor Pluto, and before, she had run into many beings. At least this one kept the tentacles out of sight and did not indulge in surrounding herself with worshipers, servitors, and brood. In some ways the subtlety betrayed a disturbing knowledge of human norms and culture.


            Some were like Nuit, in many ways they were worlds unto themselves splinters of power that broke off of something greater and would seek to complete their duty, to complete themselves. Understanding their motives was key to understanding the threat they posed.

            Nuit gave a gentle clap. "Either way I've yet to try your patience." She bowed her head slightly. Her golden hair shifted forward.


            Setsuna glanced back at the valley. The dream was proceeding without her. As it should be, it was not her place to interfere with the Princess' dreams. "Speaking of that, my patience is at an end. I'm sorry but I cannot spend all night talking with you."


            Nuit's eyes darted to the group of Sailor Senshi leaving the village to go on their grand adventure.


            "No, I have other duties." Setsuna exhaled and cupped her hands summoning a grapefruit-sized black sphere that rippled and glowed with iridescence.


            "Consider my offer," Nuit's grin became uncertain but more eager. "If you need someone to talk to, if your duties become too much of a burden, look me up. You know how to find me, right?" she coyly asked.


            The sphere started to drift from Setsuna's fingers. "Well... yes. I did just hear your wakeup call."


            Nodding, Nuit held her hands to her sides palms out. She raised her chin and Setsuna released the sphere. It shot forward and exploded into a shimmering rainbow like mass that expanded to envelop the goddess and wash her out of the dream in a multi-colored burst of sparkling motes of light.


            Nuit smiled as she vanished. Instead of trying to backtrack to where Nuit truly dwelled, Setsuna had simply severed the link that allowed her to project herself into the dream.


            Setsuna walked around in a circle. She checked the dream. She checked the shield around the village and valley. She checked the soft spots out in lower Ontario. Then she linked up with the Time-Space Door. Like her staff, the door was a prop but, in its way, was a comforting one, one that symbolized her power and her... duties.


            Finally, she gave Usagi yet another check. She was secure and safe, even though she was currently sleeping inside a golden animate and sapient armor.


            Only then did the Senshi of Pluto open her eyes, her real eyes, or at least the eyes of the physical body she currently inhabited. Rolling her shoulders, she straightened her knees and got out of a meditative position. Her legs ached from sitting on the concrete floor, but she pushed that aside.


            Standing up, she sighed. She was back in her Kiri body, which was serviceable, albeit too short. She looked around the dim room. The rest of the Senshi... at least those that were human, on this continent, and not under Murdock's sway slept.


            Kiri walked to the gleaming armored form of the queen. Glowing jewels and reflective metal cast and spread a soft throbbing light. She lay asleep on one of the bunk beds, the heavy weight of the armor compressing the mattress and frame springs. The form was still. Done in heavy gold and silver, she looked somewhat like a sarcophagus.


            Her face literally was a silver mask that shone with nearly enough light to read by. Her lips were gold, but unlike Nuit her eyes were solid blue crystal. She also put Nuit's hair to shame. The Queen bore a solid helmet of white gold armor that had been sculpted into a high bouffant that also covered the back and sides of her head.


            Thick chest and bodice armor encircled her body and led to the anchor ring for the layers of interlocking armored skirts. Her hands were not visible, being concealed by a hefty wand cannon on her right, and a sword gauntlet that linked to a silver blade over her left. Combined with the high pauldrons that covered her shoulders and the armored sleeves, she looked like some sort of battle-ball gown.


             This impression was supported by the various bits of crystal, engraved etchings, and the innumerable crescent moons that adored the armor. The whole thing looked more like a statue of a queen than the real thing.


            This time Kiri's sigh was deeper, resigned, and apprehensive. She supposed that was accurate. The whole armor was a monument to both Usagi's and Minako's fears. She shook her head. Makoto and Rei were right. Especially when compared to the likes of Nuit or the likes of DarkStar, this armor-Queen was an imitator.


            Kiri nodded. In the morning she would make her move, but first she had someone to warn. She walked over to the door and turned the lock. A pair of company agents were on guard. As she got their attention and explained who she needed to talk to, Kiri realized that they and the strangely old-fashioned looking tripod-mounted machine gun were not just placed to fire at anyone trying to break into the room, but they were also placed in case they needed to fire in the opposite direction. She wondered how far away the crews with missile tubes and the heavier vehicle mounted weapons were.


            The Senshi shrugged at that. It was a wonder that her guard was not heavier. Usually there was at least one demon skulking about.


            Following her escort, Kiri was led to the hanger. There was a pair of helicopters waiting on the perforated plate that made up the temporary landing pad. Their engines were spun up causing a reverberating whine that went into the empty night. That they were running at idle showed the Company was ready to deploy them at a moment's notice, and yet they had not already been deployed.


            Seeing a flash of red, the Senshi of Pluto went straight to the demons. They were kitted up in arms and armor. Though the bulk of the brood had taken the lull to flop down onto whatever chairs or cleared bits of concrete they could find. Half of them were resting not asleep, but more calmly waiting. The rest, including Eve were checking out their gear and equipment. While Nariko and Morrison were intently studying a screen with a scanner read out.


            Ranma was different and paced slightly with her hand to her headset. She was dressed in her Kevlar vest and skirt with inset armor plates over a Kevlar bodysuit. She wore heavy boots and a web-harness that contained the various kit she had accumulated over time. Her deep red hair was pulled back in a wild fall that ran down between her wings and to her tail. It seemed to bristle and move with the tone of her voice.


            She only had one pair of horns visible, but Kiri knew the demon had acquired more. The tip of her tail would periodically roll to one side before turning back over. "Are you sure? I know that's what the UAVs say but... yeah. I know." The demon turned and faced the youthful looking Senshi. Her focused, almost predatory, face sized the shorter woman up.


            "Took you long enough," Ranma stated. "Spill."


            Taking in the accusation, Kiri stalled. Near-instantly she recovered by putting her hand to her chest and taking an affronted tone. "Oh? Must you blame everything mysterious and sinister on me?"


            "I'm not blaming you, but clearly you know something." Ranma's jaw tensed. "Is there time for games then? Why can't you ever drop by with something nice? The War Museum's got a fascinating new exhibit, but no..." Her gaze went to her daughters who, despite the hour, were ready and attentive.


            "My, a date? Well as much as I love reliving history, I may have to pass." Kiri then thought the demons were a bit too attentive, sitting there waiting for their Mother's command. However, she could sense the apprehension and the real question Ranma had left unsaid.


            "No... I don't think we've got a beachhead situation," Kiri said. The truth seemed wrong to her, but she did not know her... visitor's intentions, nor her true allegiance.
            Ranma's tail relaxed. "Not yet, but someone did come in and peek through the curtains."


            Kiri inclined her head. "What did this grand sensor network of yours pick up?"


            "Grand?" Ranma scoffed. "Half of the long range scanners the Canadians bought. And without a UAV up in the area the resolution's for shit. And even if we had a UAV aloft, ours aren't big enough to carry the really precise scanners. That far out it's a tripwire not a camera."


            Kiri held her tongue, from what she knew of WIC's technology that as a bit of an understatement, but not much. "What about jamming?"


            Ranma cocked an eyebrow. "Our jammers are even bulkier. Well, save for these." She gestured to the bow on her chest which was a WIC jammer antennae hooked up to a kludge of WIC tech and Silver Millennium magic and powered by the demon's Sailor Senshi abilities.


            Kiri assumed that WIC had managed to miniaturized the technology for general purpose, though production and execution would be harder without a Pattern Silver to work off of.


            The demon shrugged. "I suppose we'll know if someone ports into downtown with an invasion force, but we need more time to install more scanners."


            "And money, hence the Canadian cost-share," Kiri tapped her chin. "But I'm betting you did send a UAV in. So what do you know?"


            "Based on the decay? Someone with a bit of expertise and power decided to do a bit of recon. Know who?" Ranma demanded.


            "Do you or your associates know?"


            The succubus looked to some of the officers. She caught her sister's eye and exchanged a glance with the blonde. "We're still-"


            "Collating the data," Kiri completed with a bit of elation. Clearly, she had no moral problem with concealing information, but it was handy to know the situation was reciprocal. "Well... that puts you ahead on that count."


            Ranma studied the shorter woman. "And what count are you ahead on?"


            Kiri sighed. "It was more than a reconnaissance sweep. The energy pulse had a pattern, a signal."


            The demoness swore. "Jacob was right. Of course he was." She tapped her headset. "Red here. Wakeup Call has been confirmed. Repeat Wakeup Call." There was a pause. "Yes Sir. I agree, expand the sweep. Sure, update JTF2." As she listened she nodded and gave the occasional bit of advice.


            Kiri found herself smirking. "That's why you're still on alert." she then nodded in understanding. "You thought it could be a message too."


            "Anything can be a message: a flare, a shot in the dark, a cup of coffee on a table, a bit of tape on a lamppost. One example that really stuck out during our training class was this message an imprisoned spy sent out. Jacob told us how the man, code named number six, knew anything he sent out would be picked up and analyzed by the guards.


            "So he put three blank pages in an envelope and hid it for a dead drop that never came. Naturally, the guards found it and confronted with what had to be a secret message sent the papers to a laboratory for analysis." The demon chuckled. "Doing exactly what the spy wanted. Of course they could not find anything and dutifully reported the results."


            "Ah, so his controllers had penetrated the laboratory." Kiri surmised. She studied the demon. She had let slip that she was being trained by the WIC officers. This was part of the test. "The message was the number of pages wasn't it?" she asked, noting the details that Ranma had provided.


            "Right, though could have been how the pages were folded too, or the type of envelope." Ranma nodded. "Just as long as you've setup what the codes all mean a head of time. And boring a hole in reality big enough to send a message is a lot cheaper than one big enough to send people." Ranma shrugged. "What kind of message was sent out? Activating pathfinders? Sleeper cell?"


            Kiri laughed.


            "Yes?"


            "Oh sorry, but wakeup call, sleeper cell." The green-haired woman laughed again. "You don't know how right you are."


            The demoness exhaled. "What woke up?" She followed Kiri's gaze and looked at her broodlings. "Love-Coda?"


            Kiri nodded. "But not... not one of the big ones. Technically, she doesn't even have an alias in the Love-Coda system."


            "How bad?"


            Kiri shook her head. "I don't know... she seemed nice enough but you know how it goes when powerful secretive beings seem nice." She flashed her teeth at the demon.


            "You talked with her?" Ranma's curiosity rose and she paused to check her own senses to see if anything was... amiss.


            "She found me." Kiri said a tad defensively. "I was communing with the Time-Space Door and she popped up and basically we exchanged business cards."


            Ranma snickered. "Right. Just the crowd you run with?"


            "You know the kind of things the Old Queen had me do. The kind of people she would have me talk with."


            The demoness rubbed her forefinger against her thumb. "Actually, I don't. But I can guess."


            "Right." Kiri began to turn away.


            "And where are you going?" Ranma locked her eyes to Kiri's. "I need a full brief on what we're up against. This sounds like a major player in our 'Little Problem'."


            Kiri chuckled. "Oh trust me, she's a newbie."


            "That doesn't get you off the hook," Ranma insisted. "I've only been back from vacation a couple days and this Queen babysitting is getting tedious. If we have a new enemy, I want in."


            The Senshi of Pluto snickered. "Honestly? I don't know." She deliberately broke the gaze and looked back the way she had come. "But I do know I should wake the Senshi up and warn them."


            "After you went straight to me to warn us first," the demon smirked.


            "You were already prepped and ready to fight. It was the smart move," Kiri admitted.


            Ranma nodded. "Go warn them. Not sure they really need to know this second but," she turned and smiled at her daughters, "being suddenly woken in the middle of the night not knowing if you'll have to fight for your life is good training."

 

***************

 


            A length of chain looped through a pair of handcuffs with each end going to an eyebolt screwed into the heavy steel table. The bound man sat at the table and scanned the walls, bright green eyes shone as he studied the guards who filled the opposite side of the small concrete room.


            There were three of them: two male, one female. Their shoulder patches displayed a pair of gold keys over a white Greek cross on a red field. The men wore body-armor and leveled Sturmgewehr 57's at the prisoner. He studied the battle-rifles; he pinned his hopes on their great length given the confines of the room.


            However, the woman, the nun, worried the Assemblyman. In her left hand she held a softly glowing silver cross, the top of which was looped to a chord that went around her neck. Her right hand held a SIG P220 that was pointed at the low ready. The Assemblyman's attention was more on the simple silver ring around her middle finger, instead of the weapon it held.


            Like her companions, her deep blue eyes were hard and steady, but unlike their neutral, distant faces, she bore a slight, almost pitying, smile. Her stance adjusted slightly as the door unlocked, and the guard to her left pivoted to cover the door and the prisoner.


            The door opened, and a broad-shouldered, barrel-chested giant of a man swept into the room. A pair of black pants and matching tunic made his broad ruddy face and orange-red hair seem to float into the room. The same could be said for the great silver cross he wore upside-down and the pair of silver cufflinks at his sleeve. However, the brightest part was the exposed white square of his clerical collar; it was a stark contrast to the faded, ragged clothes the prisoner wore.


            Seemingly ignoring the bare concrete and the chains, Bishop O'Malley smiled at the room. He nodded to one of the guards who lowered his weapon and then at the nun who stepped to the side Still bearing a serene smile, he approached the table and the manacled man. "Why, hello my, Son. Is there anything you'd like to confess?"


            "Papal scum. There's no limit to your treachery is there?" the man tried to spit but his mouth was too dry.


            O'Malley's eyes twinkled. "Oh? And what's that... Father?"


            The Assembly priest blinked.


            "Not in the mood for theology, Chauncey? I'm sure the good sister here could warrant a nice rant based on Exodus 22:18."


            "What?" Father Chauncey Ramones asked.


            "Surely you're not that ignorant? You do know what the bible is?"
           
            Ramones' eyes began to flare up.


            The sister's cross glowed a bit brighter and the Assemblyman's eyes snapped back to normal.


            O'Malley's grin sharpened. "Yes, I suppose a prohibition against sorcery wouldn't be something your kind could get behind. Maybe something from Mark Five then?"


            "The grenade?" The Assemblyman blinked; his eyes darting from the pair of silver crosses to the pair of battle rifles.


            "My, my. You really are a sorry creature, Father. Fifth chapter of the Gospel of Mark, miracles of the Lord... including a man possessed by demons." O'Malley shook his head. "Has the Company really degraded your lot this much? Aren't you supposed to be a warrior priest? Defending the flock of humanity from the Pit?"


            Chauncey set his jaw.


            "How bad is recruiting? If an ignorant coward like you is able to rise above acolyte?"


            Chauncey's eyes flickered again.


            Glaring down at the Assemblyman, O'Malley turned and paced, always staying between the guards. "It's... it's not that hard. The laziest mail-order priest can find enough fire and brimstone to incite a flock. Why can't you? Aren't you supposed to be on a Holy Mission?"


            "Who are you to claim God's will?" Chauncey yelled.


            O'Malley chuckled. "Is that what it takes? How much does your pride have to be hurt?"


            "We would have won!" Chauncey looked down. "It wasn't... fair."


            "You lost, you tried and you were beaten. Had you done so many courier missions that you'd lost your edge?"


            Chauncey glared.


            "You were eager to get back into the field... and look how you performed." O'Malley sniffed. "Are you the best that High Father Corvine could attract? Perhaps he should have switched to a different Abrahamic religion and started trolling Baluchistan. Even a drugged-out suicidal Mohammedan would be more useful than you."


            Chauncey stared.


            "Really? I just suggested that your spiritual and military leader should switch religions and start looking for terrorists as foot-soldier. That at least deservers a 'Die heretic!' or maybe a 'Blasphemer!' " The Papal Intelligence Chief sighed. "Did all the Assembly's competence die with Bishop Fortson?"


            "The Bishop was a great man," the green-eyed man said reflexively and flatly.


            O'Malley leaned towards the sullen man. "Am I facing the dregs? Fools promoted beyond their competence to give the illusion of a fighting force?"


            Chauncey leaned back and lowered his gaze.


            O'Malley stepped to the side of the table. "I know you've lost much. You've seen your friends die, and you know what the Company, what those demons have done to you and yours." Still standing outside of reach, he loomed over the Assemblyman.


            "Then why are you helping them?" Chauncey demanded. "I mean, demons, for Christ's sake! They're actual creatures in league with Satan. Your God should be happy that we are smiting them."


            "My God? What's your God then? The smiting would seem to be a bit one-sided Father."


            Chauncey averted his eyes again.


            "Good God, man, you're supposed to be a church militant, a knight templar." O'Malley smirked. "Well, I suppose the latter's more ours than yours."


            "Is the Pope taking the side of the demons then? What of God's will?"


            "Presumptuous fool!" O'Malley's face reddened. "You dare speak in place of God. Such arrogance. That-" He chuckled. "-is our job."


            "They're still demons, fallen, cast out of Heaven."


            "Oh? You think the beings that have slaughtered your lot are the Fallen?" O'Malley gave a light chuckle. "Please, if you think the Adversary's ranks are mere horns and claws...." He shook his head. "The resurgence of old evils proceeds and you focus on the superficialities."


            "What are you talking about?"


            O'Malley shook his head again and turned to the nun. "Can you believe it Sister Sarah?"


            Sarah gave a little frown. "He is comforted in his ignorance."


            Turning back, O'Malley nodded. "Son, there's one thing you Americans and your firebrand-backwoods preaching has got right. Bad times are coming, but we'd be lucky if it was plain old Scratch and his pitchfork."


            "What?"


            O'Malley leaned in. "It's a metaphor. The Creation, the Rebellion, the End, it's all too much for us to comprehend. Most of us can barely understand Redemption, and that was deliberately dumbed down to our level. Do you understand how out of our depth we are?" The bishop turned aside. "But all children must grow up."


            "So... you are talking about Satan right?" Chauncey looked down confused.


            O'Malley shook his head. "What I would give to merely be facing a suave man in a black and red suit or a contemptibly-swarthy man with goat legs and leering eyes. No, those... masks are shadows of the enemy we face."

            "Shadows?"


            Still standing to the side, O'Malley sighed and raised his arm. In the harsh light it's shadow began to creep across the metal surface, towards where Chauncey was staring. "The table. See my arm?"


            Looking at the shadow, Chauncey nodded.


            "No... you don't. What you see is a simplification, a projection. It follows the motions of my arm. It can obscure and interact with other shadows, but it's nothing but an absence of light."


            "Then what...." the Assemblyman looked around the dark, dry room. "What are you talking about. What's the real Adversary?"


            "Pride, contempt, arrogance. A projection, but one among many. We face a being that grew fat in the shadow of the Almighty. A corruption that oozes and leaks through the holes of the universe. There is a whole writhing entity that seeks to come through and like all of the true Fallen it seeks to make a mockery of the Almighty's plan."


            Chauncey felt his skin crawl. He was reminded of the times he had seen Fortson and his Inquisitors pass. They were the masked enforcers of the Assembly of Man and their presence always carried a greasy pressure, the sense that they were the tip of something greater, something just outside of sight. Chauncey had considered such moments one of the few times he had felt anything religious, but now...


            He looked back up at the Catholic priest and blinked.


            O'Malley nodded. "Those mercenaries, those demons especially they... understand this. As they should. Who better to understand the twisting power of the Adversary than some of its earliest victims?"


            "The enemy of my enemy is my friend then?"


            "No. The enemy of my enemy is my ally. Key difference."


            "I doubt the Assembly of Man is considered either an ally or a friend."


            "True." O'Malley nodded. "But are they your ally?"


            Chauncey raises an eyebrow. "Really?" He lifted up his arms showing the chains. "I hardly think they've done worse to me."

            O'Malley stepped back. "They're the ones that sent you on this last mission. The Assembly has been greatly weakened, and Company reprisals have made your situation even worse. Why attack the Church?"


            "You've worked with them," Chauncey spat but his glare softened..


            "Son, you know better than that," O'Malley sighed. "What was the first thing you accused me of?"


            Chauncey stared ahead.


            "You accused the Church of treachery. Now, did you mean my church or yours?"


            "More lies."


            The Irishman laughed. "Naturally. But whose?"


            Chauncey watched as the Bishop walked around the far side of the table.


            "You recall the mission previous to this debacle?"


            The Assemblyman looked up. "What?"


            "You delivered a package. Buenos Aires, if memory serves."


            "How?"


            "The Church has... cordial relationships with the local government. Though the Protestants have been making inroads."


            Leaning back, Chauncey snickered. "Nice, going to convince me that my bosses tried to bump me off? Because I knew too much?"


            "No, not really." O'Malley shook his head. "If they wanted to make sure you were dead, they'd accuse you of heresy and kill you."


            Chauncey blinked.


            "Your Inquisitors? There's a reason we gave up on that idea, Son."


            "And my men?"


            "It's your organization. I suppose it could be worse. You should have looked a bit closer at the people you were being a package boy for; that might have frightened you into... action."


            "What? Who was I working for?"

            "We have our suspicions," O'Malley frowned. "There are jackals and then there are jackals." The bishop shook his head. "What would have happened to your men?"


            "Usually the acolytes are spared, unless they rebel and try to take the fallen priest's side." Chauncey looked down. "Still, better odds than my men got."


            "Miss Clementine and Mister Francis are recovering. It is a shame about Parker, but your actions gave my men little choice."


            Chauncey let his arms fall to the table.


            "You need to consider your future." O'Malley looked to the door. "You could live a long, long life. Secure, everything taken care of. We could give you all the scripture and reference books you want. Maybe you'd actually learn what it means to be a shepherd of the Lord."


            "Secure? Stuffed into a little cell." Chauncey shook his head. "You'll have to give me a better offer if you want me to talk."


            O'Malley laughed. "No, that's our offer if you don't talk." He stepped to the side.


            "If I do talk, you'll forgive my sins then?"


            The Bishop shook his head. "It doesn't work that way. Yes, it'd be easier if you confessed your sins, and I hope that if you do seek forgiveness from the Lord that you will help us in your work."


            "Trusting of you."


            "Really?" O'Malley raised an eyebrow and looked to the guards and nun behind him. "If you say so." He started walking towards the door.


            "Wait."


            O'Malley slowly turned back to the bound man. "Yes?" He stepped closer until he loomed over the hunched priest.


            "What is it that you want? I mean, exactly."


            "What do you want?"


            Chauncey blinked.


            "It's simple. Your conditions are... adequate and your men are being taken care of, but I'm sure there's something extra we can do for you. " O'Malley smiled warmly. "What do you desire?"


           

 

End Chapter

 

 

Revision Notes: Not much changed with this chapter. But one can see things are building along.