Here There Be Monsters
FICTION - by George Thomas
Midnight on Gura shima, a small pacific island roughly nine hundred miles south of Japan.
Torchlight burns around a native temple, flickering over the bodies and the blood, the aftermath of battle. A group of dark skinned warriors stands off against the last of the beaten invaders, while inside the ancient structure a strange ceremony continues. The assault had failed miserably.
"Fools of Gura! The SeaGod curses you and all you worship!"
"Selgan dog, your SeaGod has no power here!" Blade in hand, the Gurani lunged, stabbing the Selgan deep between the ribs. The invader fell, joining his companions now unconscious beside him.
"Whoa!" A man approached, American. Complete with denim jacket, cowboy boots, and a double barreled Smith & Wesson. "Kraken says let the leader go." The warriors shook their spears in protest, still hot for retribution. "Well, I'll tell ya what," said the Cowboy. "You can tie him up, blindfold him, and then shove him off." He slapped the nearest native hard on the shoulder. "He's plenty hurt already."
The natives smiled and agreed. "Stupid SeaGod lover better pray real good. Only she gonna protect you now!" The mob laughed, and the ritual went on.
Within the temple. The natives shake and stomp across the floor, chanting the words of some ancient incantation, a summoning of power to aid them in their time of need. Around them stand banks of equipment, modern electronics set to both facilitate and record the ritual's progress. Then from somewhere out amongst the heavens, there came a response.
The sky flared white, and a great rumbling coursed through the earth, like something shifting far below. "Stay with me, Chief," spoke the man called Kraken. "My readings have spiked. They're flying off the scale!" He stood before a long instrument panel, monitoring the strange energy signatures these ceremonies somehow produce. The same readings that led him to discover this island, and the opportunities it now presented.
"My God," he cried, watching the ancient, alien images dance across the screen. "Mycroft! Are you getting all this?"
"Yes, Alex. Storage buffers are full, initiating datastream transmission now." Microwave uplinks come on line, tracking their satellite targets and feeding them the beam. The earth trembles again, and the sky begins to flash and roar.
"Kraken, something is wrong," spoke the Gurani Chief, as another tremor shakes through the building. "Gura Himself now tells us, the ceremony must stop!"
"Now, now, we made a bargain, Chief. My men help vanquish your enemies, you let us monitor your ceremonies. Besides, we both know you could be doing the bloody Macarena in here and the local volcano would not be forming opinions about it!"
"You know nothing of our heritage, foreigner. Nothing of our power! The Selgans were right, we have offended the Gods," the island Chief cried, looking at his people. "Stop the ritual! Now!"
Alexander Kraken's face turned grim as the dancers stopped. "Chief, you are forcing me to respond in a most uncivilized fashion," slowly, he reached for his revolver. "Is that really what you want?"
"Alex, wait!" Shouted his brother. "Look at the screen!"
The monitor glowed brightly, still showing the familiar waveform pattern of the ritual chanting. Only, the chanting had already stopped. "What the...?"
Suddenly, an enormous explosion rocked through the island, shifting the ground and threatening to bring the temple down around them! The equipment racks began to smolder and glow, their components all sparking with power! "Mycroft, the waveform, it's complete!" Screamed Kraken, debris falling down around him. "I think It's using the machines somehow..."
"Alex, the volcano is erupting! We've got to go!"
"Come on, boss. Time's a wastin'." From the entrance the Cowboy emerged, pulling Kraken to safety. Behind them, the entrance collapsed.
"Mycroft! Duke, let me go! We've got to go in after..." Kraken's words were cut short as the entire structure gave way, becoming a huge pile of crumbled stone. "Oh my God."
In the distance, they could see the volcano in action. Vast black plumes rising from the jagged cracks that cut the cone of Gura, the lava spurting and flowing quickly across the land. Then the cone cracked again. The lava flowed more fiercely, cutting through the shifting rips. They realized then, something big was moving inside the volcano. Something that was trying to get out...
Book One: Necrodon
Defense Force HQ, Osaka Japan. Vanguard Command.
Doctor Noribu Noto watches his monitor intently, the biodata readouts all confirming his fears. Slowly, he removes his thick glasses and turns to his human test subject. The man's name is Maki Sato. He is shaking like a leaf.
"Dozo ohairi kudasai, Sato san." Noto reached within a low cabinet, producing a bottle of Sake. He poured out two cups. "Drink."
"I don't..." began Sato.
"I have found that sometimes the simplest of medicines can produce most profound results. Drink it." Reluctantly, Sato drank. "Now you are ready to listen."
Noto began slowly, reviewing the case in his mind. This Sato was an interesting man. Expert in a range of sciences, including crystallography and nuclear physics. A man who recently discovered a source of strange trans-dimensional energy and tapped into it. His success left him transformed into a monster.
"As you know, there was a second test subject involved here. A small frog was used to duplicate the condition which afflicted you, and test our cures upon it. Our success with the animal led to the stabilizer which restored you to human form. Three days ago, the animal's condition began to change."
"It is breaking down, Sato. Liquefying," Noto reached for the wine and drank. "Turning back into the dangerous Hydrogen based lifeform your experiments inadvertently created."
"Damn! Have you tried further treatment with the metabolic oxidizer?"
"We have tried everything, but I don't think the compound is the problem. It is as if the animal has been exposed to Radion Wave bombardment, the very force which caused the condition to begin with."
Maki's jaw hung slack. He had destroyed his old labs to ensure no one else could access those forces. Now it appears someone has. "I can rig up a Wave sensor to confirm it. In the meantime, I recommend the frog be used to continue to refine the stabilizer. I will notify General Shinzo, and begin moving my equipment back to the containment facility. Just in case."
"Thank you, Sato. I have already sent word to Miss Masada, asking for her help. Try not to worry now, we will find a way to cure this, I know it."
"In that case, thank you, Doctor." The men bowed, and Noto left the room.
For a while, Sato sat in contemplation, then slowly began to dress. He shook, reassuring himself it was only the medlab's characteristic chill. If the Radion Wave was indeed behind the lab animal's current condition, he could track it to its source. Unfortunately, such a move would likely leave him in much the same shape as the frog, and he found himself most unwilling to step back into that particular nightmare.
He wished Tanaka was still with them, or even the Bradley's, but they had to break up the crew after the deaths of General Iwa and Agent Munabe in the War against the Wild Gods. Now, Sato knew he was mostly on his own, haunted by the knowledge he must work to destroy a monster of his own making. Before it destroys him first.
Tokyo, the House of Masada.
Miname sits at her computer, keying in the last of her work. The system was new, with the most advanced speed and capabilities, and linked directly to the mainframe at Vanguard Command. She had asked General Shinzo only to upgrade her existing equipment, as payment for her aid in developing the formula that cured Sato from his mutant condition. Instead, he insisted on replacing her old system entirely, an offer Miname gratefully accepted!
The call from Doctor Noto was no surprise. Anna Bradley had warned her the formula was not a proven cure, but a stabilizer that promotes a state of remission. The old woman was the one who really figured out the metabolic oxidizer, before being reunited with her family and returning to America. Miname knew no computer ever made could be of as much help, and despaired at her own chances of success without her. These days, it was not her only cause for despair.
His name was Captain Inoshiro Tanaka, Commander of Japan's anti-kaiju Vanguard. A man whose actions had branded him a criminal, and forced him into hiding. He had professed his love for her, before he disappeared. A love she shared for him, though fate had chosen to keep them apart. Now, Miname searches for him, using the technology at her disposal, as well as the talents of her uncle Tominaga, a retired Detective. So far, Shiro was taking no chances, making himself impossible to find. She told herself to shelve her efforts for now, to focus on her mission to cure Sato before he transformed once more into an inhuman killer. Her aching heart told her otherwise, but she knew there really was no choice. She gathered her data, and headed for V-Command.
Graves were dug for Mycroft and the dead of Kraken's guard, topped with mounds of stone from the fallen temple. Sharks swarmed the beaches as the remains of the Selgans were given back to the Sea, while the Gurani gathered their own fallen warriors to be fed into the still flowing magma.
Kraken wept, his tears staining the dusty stone of his brother's mound. It was going to be hell to have to tell the family. Screw it, he thought, it's hell right now.
"Duke," he called to his assistant. "Give me the numbers."
"Nine down, three sinkers, and as many banged up." The Cowboy spat upon the ground. "Gurani don't look like they're doin much better. I... I'm real sorry about Mikey."
"Mycroft was the heart of our operation, Duke. I don't know of anyone who could fill his shoes. I'm not even going to try. Come on, let's see what we can salvage."
Kraken's team had already begun repairs. Supplies and equipment pulled from the ruined temple now lay piled along the remaining treeline, covered by tarps. The base camp had burned in the eruption, taking the bulk of their resources with it. The crushed and scattered components they had recovered here were all that they had left. Kraken began to fumble through the equipment, searching. He smiled grimly, pulling a disc still intact from its broken drive, and slipping it into his breast pocket.
"Do you know what this is, Duke? It's the key to our future. The waveform that woke the God of the volcano. You saw the beast! It is linked somehow to this energy pattern. If I can learn to unlock the pattern, I could use it to control the monster."
"Whoa now! Finding that critter here was just an accident, boss. Durn thang flew off thataway last I saw it. Sure you don't wanna jus' leave it be?" Duke asked hopefully. "It was awful big."
"That 'critter' is an invaluable scientific find, but a dangerous one. Its size alone gives it the destructive potential of a nuclear warhead, and I set it loose." Kraken seethed a moment, then composed. "It killed my brother, and I set it loose. Now I'm going to do something about it, before any more people wind up dead. Tell the men to establish a defensive perimeter, and dig in as best they can. We'll have to rough it till supplies arrive."
"Supplies? Not transport?" Asked the Cowboy.
"No. We finish this mission where it started, right here. You'll excuse me now, while I call the Office."
Miname stepped through the wide, glass doors into the Defense Force complex. The whole place was abustle with activity, everyone moving double time. It was definitely some kind of alert.
"Masada san," behind her, General Shinzo appeared. "Thank you for coming so quickly. This way, please." The huge soldier's face was set grim as usual, but something different showed there now. A look that made Miname automatically comply. A look that was very close to fear.
"General, what is this about? Is Sato still...okay?"
"Hei. He remains as human as you or I, and hard at work as well. That work has again revealed something strange, but he can brief you on the particulars far better than I."
Miname remained quiet as they made their way to the labs, observing. Officially, she was a consultant here. Her father's research on an affliction similar to Sato's that occurred in nineteen fifty-nine, as well as her own background in biochemics, had proven useful in reversing the condition, but she doubted there was much more she could do. She was out of her league and she knew it.
The guards saluted and stepped aside as they approached the prison-like research wing, making way for Shinzo's Sumoesque girth. The General's size alone was enough to intimidate almost anyone, yet Miname was not wholly uncomfortable in his presence. Shinzo knew the truth behind Tanaka's actions, and had refused to arrest him. It was one of the reasons she had agreed to help the man, she was indebted to him for her lover's freedom.
"General. Masada san. Arrashimasse." Sato looked up from his work and welcomed them.
"Hello, Sato. You look well," said Miname.
"Luckily, I feel well also, but I appreciate your concern."
"It's my job." She replied with a cool smile.
Sato smiled back. He liked this lady. A lot. "Let me show you something," he motioned toward the largest monitor. Its surface was lit with strange glyphs, flashing in frantic fractal dance.
"What is it?" Asked Miname.
"A waveform. Unique, alien. I found it while scanning for Radion emissions." Sato sighed, a look of great burden on his young face. "I believe it may be extradimensional in origin. Possibly some kind of side effect of my original experiments. My responsibility."
"That may be true," began the General. "But placing blame is not among our priorities, Sato san. Determining the true nature of this force and its possible effects are."
"Hei, I understand, though it will not be an easy task. I have been unable to pinpoint the waveform's source. Every time I get a clean signal, it shifts before I can lock on."
"Shifts? Shifts how?" Miname inquired.
"That's a good question. Possibly location. I've got a Satracker program on it now."
Miname thought a moment, considering the implications. She decided she did not like where they led. "You mean, like something moving?"
Sato nodded in grim capitulation. "Hei. just like something moving."
First, there was the cold. Then came sound, and the motion of the sea swelling against the hull of the tiny ship. Only the darkness remained. That, and the pain.
Hiroki of Selga groaned awake, the pounding in his skull dragging him back to reality. He shivered in the chill ocean wind, his every breath an exercise in agony. His thoughts quickly sharpened, focusing to a strange clarity as he realized, he must be in shock. He tested the bonds about his wrists, and discovered them loose, thanking the SeaGod as his hands came free!
The young sailor dragged himself upright and pulled the blindfold from his eyes, greeted now by a dawn as red as the pools of still wet ichor that surround him. He was bleeding badly, and damn lucky to be alive. Too lucky. He was the one who had called for the raid on Gura. He who had led his people to defeat at their enemy's hands. It was not the first time he had brought suffering to those who believed in him, and he wept. The pain of his body as nothing before the torment of his lost soul.
Suddenly, a vast black shadow fell upon him, plunging him once more into night. Hiroki froze. There was something far above him, in the sky. With a rush of air, the shadow passed, and a gigantic form appeared!
The beast was huge, pteranoid in shape. It's leathern wings stretching nearly fifty meters across. Each. Hiroki stared at the giant monster gliding silently over him, its details lost in a haze of pain. Strangely, he found his shaky vision revealing something else.
An aura surrounded the creature, shifting and gathering about its ragged, skeletal form. He strained to focus, and the aura formed a pattern. The pattern pulsed, energy flowing outward in waves of primordial force! Lances of it struck the ocean, sending charges of arcane energy coursing through the sea. A harsh and chilling screech ripped the night as the creature slowly banked , turning back the way it came. Hiroki turned as well, his gaze following the beast as it flapped steadily toward the horizon. Its silhouette shrinking against a sky quickly filling with the most menacing of clouds.
The wounded sailor's jaw went slack at the sight. A Spiritstorm was raging, extinguishing the face of the dawn. Hiroki glared in grim defiance, his gaze burning into the heart of the advancing maelstrom. Getting buzzed by that Kaiju was nothing. The SeaGod was angry, angry and heading his way!
PART TWO: SOULSTORM
Gura Shima. Daybreak.
It is a tiny bit of an island, inhabited by a seemingly small minded people. Fire worshippers. Their God; an ancient volcano. They gather now upon the high grounds and make hasty camp. Last night their God destroyed their lives, and then their God had died.
Gura was gone. Its broad cone reduced to a few jagged peaks. A shadow fell across those distant spires, cast from a giant flying form...
The natives huddled close as the skymonster approached, its wings whipping at the air. Blasts of gale force wind pound the already devastated terrain, sending clouds of ash and stone billowing up into the sky! The darkness spreads, covering the island in an impenetrable shroud of night. Then, the night was rent by a horrible, shrieking scream!
"Jesus!" Cried the Cowboy, bolting awake. "What the hell was that?!"
"Our friend the Necrodon, coming home," Kraken replied. "Considerate little beastie. Saved us the trouble of tracking him down."
"Necrodon, huh? Where'd you come up with that from, boss?"
"I combined Pteranodon with the Greek Necros, meaning corpse. It... just sort of came to me."
"Fits him too, from what I could see. Say, you don't suppose that thing really is some kind of God or Spirit or somethin', do ya?"
"Oh come on, Duke! I've kept you jungle jumping too long. You're becoming superstitious, almost as bad as the locals!" Kraken laughed.
"We got our share of native ghosties in the States too," the Cowboy replied. "It aint the idea of it that's new to me, it's the actual seein' of it."
"Point taken," Alex looked at the Cowboy. "Tell me, would it make a difference to you if it was?"
A moment passed. "I reckon I don't rightly know."
"Well, the Sub's already en route from Honshu. It'll be here by dusk. What say you and I go take a closer look at him? See if we can't put your spirit theory to rest."
The Cowboy raised an eyebrow in consideration, hesitating. "You're the boss."
Osaka, Japan. Vanguard Command.
General Shinzo stood before his team. Among them; his Chief medical officer, Doctor Noribu Noto. No longer a man of action, the doctor was not at all pleased with being sent on a field assignment, and sat sulking at the back of the room.
Commanders Fujiko Yasuda and Kazuki Kato. Two of the Defense Force's finest warriors. Together with the late Tatsui Munabe, they were once the Markalite Squad. A Squadron led by Captain Inoshiro Tanaka. Shinzo had promoted the pair in rank soon after Tanaka's disappearance, and kept them as a team. They had earned it, and the General gained two officers he could trust and rely on without question. A true luxury in his line of work.
Miname Masada. A program editor at one of the local software design houses, drawn into this little web of intrigue mostly by chance. She had already proven herself to be as competent in a laboratory or the field as she is at a computer, yet Shinzo could see she still had doubts about her position as a military advisor. They are doubts he does not share, for he looks upon her and knows that she has buried her broken heart, to focus only on the mission.
Finally, there is Maki Sato. The team's last and most dangerous member. The brilliant young scientist was assigned here as part of a deal that kept him out of prison, to pay for the devastating results of his criminal experiments. Shinzo knew Sato's own shame, as well as the lingering threat of his strange affliction were payment enough. He also knew the boy's motive all along was to find a treatment for his dying father. That is what has saved him so far.
Unfortunately, a relapse for Sato could only spell further disaster for Japan. The Radion Wave was like a beacon, attracting strange and monstrous beasts from the depths of earth, sea, and space. Sato himself was transformed, becoming a towering mass of acidic slime. It took the firepower of over half the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Force to bring him down, and the sacrifice of old General Akira Iwa to help make him human again. Still, he was the only one of them with the knowledge to access that awful power, and perhaps to stop it.
Not the most intimidating strike force that Shinzo had ever seen, but they were experienced, and determined to succeed. "Alright people, this will be our final mission briefing, so listen well.
"We've established a frequency lock on the alien waveform. Its source is located roughly one thousand miles south of Honshu. Satellite surveillance reveals volcanic activity there, indicating the presence of a few small, mostly unexplored islands. You five will jumpjet to those coordinates to locate, identify, and if possible destroy the signal's source. I want each of you to know, that you are on this team because you are right for it, and that I wish you luck."
"Domo arigato, Shinzo sama." Commander Yasuda bowed low before the General, then turned to face his people. "Is everyone ready?" As one, they agreed they were. "Then let's move."
Miname nearly screamed as the jumpjet shot into the sky, arcing higher as they flew! Soon they were over open ocean, climbing smoothly into a sub orbital flight path. Next to her sat Sato, shuddering as if chilled. "You okay, Sato?" She asked, checking his temperature forehead to hand.
"I'll be fine, Masada. I think." Maki smiled warmly, looking for some spark of affection in return.
"Your temperature is a bit elevated. I'm going to have to keep an eye on you," she smiled back.
"Okay," he replied, enthusiastic but unsure what to say. "Thank you," was all that came out.
"You're welcome. Listen, Sato, I've been working on something that might help you," from beneath her seat Miname drew a small case and opened it. Inside lay a tangle of broad black straps, lined with electronic circuitry.
"Wow. That looks like the harness to a Markalite rig. How...?"
"A standard rig employs a plasma generator. This," she drew the harness from the case. "Is a sort of universal transformer. Absorbing and converting energy into a plasmic state, and storing it in these specialized collector cells. The cells have only limited capacity, but the discharge wand should allow you to modulate the plasma's release from a harmless stream, up to a concussive bolt similar to that of a standard Markalite. Without any Radion data to work from, I had to program it for open spectrum absorbtion. The system is sound in theory, but I admit I don't know if it will work as intended."
"Shinzo doesn't know about this, does he?" Asked Sato.
"No. Only Noto and I. Shinzo insists I focus on the biochemical aspect of your condition, only I am truly not that skilled. I convinced Noto to let me develop this Converter rig instead."
The Doctor leaned forward from his seat, clutching Sato's shoulder reassuringly. "It couldn't hurt to try it."
Sato sighed acceptance, and began strapping the harness on.
It was nearing midday and much of the now still magma had begun to cool. Carefully, Kraken and the Cowboy made their way through the gloom of the island's interior, drawing closer to the dead volcano, and it's living spawn. From somewhere in the unseen distance, the creature howled.
"Lord a'mighty! That screech of his goes clean through ya," the Cowboy remarked.
"Yes," Alex agreed. "I feel it too. Let's take five, Duke. With all this ash in the air and underfoot I doubt we'll be getting back by the time the sub arrives. I want to advise base camp, just in case."
Duke tried to peer ahead through the jungle, But the still billowing clouds of soot would not allow it. "Damn," he muttered, approaching Kraken with lariat in hand. He looped a few lazy coils around the man's waist, the other end around his own. "We sure don't wanna lose each other in this muck. The stuff's sticking to everything. If I hadn't insisted bandannas be issued as standard equipment, I don't think we'd be able to breath in it."
"Yes. Commendable, Duke. Commendable. Come on, it's time to move." Compass ready, Alex took the lead, tramping slowly along one of the natives' old hunting trails. "I had thought they were so backward, and then this!"
"What's that, Boss?"
"The Gurani. It's said there's a seed of truth behind every legend. The Necrodon is theirs."
"That's some seed."
"Indeed, and it's got me thinking. That ritual. Dancing, chanting, drums, all combining somehow to produce a singular frequency. A signal that can be measured and recorded electronically, resonating with that monster from the volcano. It's just not how things are supposed to work in our universe, Duke. How do they do it?!"
"Maybe it aint from our universe."
"I was hoping you wouldn't say that."
Soon, they stood atop a rise sloping high about the base of the now shattered cone. A wind stirred the volcano's cindery remains, clearing the atmosphere a little, and revealing something strange in the distance. A light source was flickering, moving quickly along the crater's rim. The luminance shifted, breaking apart and reforming as it circled Gura's jagged spires.
"Duke, what the hell is that?"
The Cowboy watched the dancing glow grow brighter in the ash clogged air, intensifying into a hazy, burning cloud. Sparks crawled out from the phenomenon's edge, moving in a purposeful march toward the rise. "It's the natives," Duke finally deduced. "They've set ritual fires around the crater. I think they're coming this way."
"They can't possibly see us from there, can they?"
"Dunno. Wind's rising, starting to clear things up a bit. We'd best play it safe and skeedaddle. There's no sign a' that critter round there anyhow. Think it flew off again?"
"No. It's still there, submerged within the magma," Alex responded, sounding strangely sure of his prediction. "Duke!" He exclaimed with a sudden look of shock. "I can hear them now, the Gurani. The chanting, coming closer...!" Kraken groaned, clutching at his head as if in agony. Then his legs went to jelly, giving way beneath him, and he fell.
"Boss! Boss, whut's wrong?!" The Cowboy cried, rushing to his employer's side. Suddenly, a sheet of flame sprang burning from the earth, encircling them! The Cowboy huddled close to Kraken, shielding him from the spectral blaze. He looked around, beyond the raging barrier, and saw the Gurani slowly gathering around them. Duke couldn't help reckoning them to a pack of buzzards, circling their victims, and waiting for death.
"All right people," Commander Yasuda called to his crew. "The island is now in range. Secure everything. We're going down." The Jumpjet hit the apogee of its sub orbital climb, hanging motionless against the backdrop of the rotating earth. For a moment, gravity loosed its hold on them, then the ship began to drop.
"Waaahhooo!" Cried Kazuki, arms flailing overhead.
"Zuki!" Fuji scolded his partner. "Must you always do that?"
"Are you kidding? This is great!" The soldier replied enthusiastically. "Isn't this the..." just then the ship rocked violently, caught in the grip of a monstrous atmospheric upswell!
"We've got turbulence! Some kind of storm system, coming out of nowhere! Kazuki, get your hands back on the controls for God's sake."
The skyship bucked savagely against the buffeting winds, riding the raging air currents in a futile fight for control. "Commander, there's some kind of matter choking the intakes. We're going to have to shut down the jets," said Kazuki.
"You do and we'll really lose control," said Noto.
"I want navigational thrusters on my mark, then we'll deploy the glidechutes," said Fuji, bringing the emergency systems on line.
"Shut them down, Captain." Kazuki cut the jets and the ship began to spiral down into the roiling clouds. "Now hit the thrusters."
Kazuki responded, thumbing a series of switches. "Thrusters firing." Plumes of blue white flame shot from the small, omnidirectional pods which lined the ships hull, stabilizing its rapid descent. "Attitude is nominal, but we're still dropping way too fast for the 'chutes. They'll be ripped to shreds."
"Can we purge the jet intakes?"
"No good. Can't keep up with this dense a particulate concentration."
"Then we don't have much choice, do we Commander?" Fuji flashed his partner a grim look. "Deploy the chutes."
With a muffled POP the twin primary glidechutes slid from their compartments at the midsection of the craft, expanding quickly into a vast canopy above them. The crew was jolted as the drag lines caught the slack, stealing the ship's momentum. Another POP, louder, as the chutes' anchor plates tore free from the hull, releasing the skyship to continue its deadly plunge.
"Oh, Buddha," Sato prayed, shivering and clutching at Miname.
"Just hold on, Sato san." She squeezed him back, equally afraid.
"Deploying secondary glidechutes now," said Kazuki. Again the crew was slammed into their seats as the chutes billowed full. The jumpjet slowed as the lines went taut, then finally snapped! The blackened ground of Gura raced to meet them.
"Commander, do something please!" Noto pleaded from the rear of the ship.
"Deploying tertiary chutes, now." Fuji replied calmly, praying their velocity had decreased enough for the final array to hold. The draglines caught, pulled, and miraculously, held! The ship slipped smoothly from freefall into glide, swooping low over the island's ash covered jungles. "We're almost home...!"
With landing gear up, Fuji let the jumpjet skim the ground, casting a vast black wake behind them. Again, he scraped along the powdery surface, and again! Then, the ship came gently to rest right at the foot of a lonely hillside. He turned to the team and asked; "Everyone okay?"
A group of faces gone white with shock stared wordlessly back, and he heard Kazuki laugh; "Man, what a ride!!"
"Hiroki. Hiro, wake up!" A soft voice calling, small hands gently shaking him. Hiroki opened his eyes, and there stood Susaki, smiling. "Stay awake, big brother. Nap time right now might not be such a good idea."
Slowly he peered around him, then shut his eyes in fright.
"Hiroki, come on!" Again, his sister's voice.
He forced one eye open, his vision still unable to thwart his disbelief. Around the ship the Spiritstorm raged, swirling and soundless. He looked at his sister's image and asked; "How...?"
"I've bandaged your wounds, brother. Your body is strong and should heal quickly."
"Heal? You mean I'm not..."
"No! Would the SeaGod let her son die on the open water? Don't be so stupid," the girl replied.
"But you, you're, I mean..."
"Yes, brother. Though I no longer live, it is the Storm that carries my soul to you now," the child raised her hands to catch the wind, lightning flashing high above. "Isn't it beautiful?!"
The Storm. Hiroki remembered the day long ago, caught in another such blow. It was the day his sister died, and his life was changed forever. "Suzy," he wept. "I have failed you yet again. I have led our people to defeat at the hands of the Gurani. I had thought this Storm to be my penance, or my doom."
"Not so long as I'm around. Besides, did you get a look at that flying monster thingy?"
"Uh huh," Hiro acknowledged.
"It's called a Necrodon, a kind of Wild God, though it's no child of Mikki's. It is said that long ago It's kind served the Firespirit Gura, fanning the flames that burn deep within the Earth's core. At his command they would fly to the surface, creating terrible eruptions across the globe. Removed from their natural environment, the Necrodons quickly died. Except for one.
"That one was Gura's favorite, and he blessed the beast with the power of the Spiritfire. He gave it a conscience. He gave it a soul. But the creature wanted more. It craved freedom, and plunder, so it turned on its master and consumed him. Though victorious, the monster found it could no longer leave the burning magma and survive. The FireGod had trapped it, sealed it in the great volcanic vault that still bears his name. Last night, something set it loose."
"Yeah, something I was trying to prevent," Hiro replied. "I knew the Gurani's magic, like our own, would not remain benign forever. Only I did not foresee a small army of scientists and mercenaries to contend with. I believe they somehow affected the ceremony, perhaps with their technology, and set the Necrodon free."
"Yup." Suzy agreed. "Now you know why I am here," she smiled. "And you as well. We're gonna have to stop that thing, Hiro. But we're gonna need help. Come now, into the Storm with me. There is something that I need you to see..."
PART THREE: SHADES
The rising winds became a gale now. At its center lay the smoking crater once called Mount Gura. The Cowboy watched as the growing storm tore into the ash covered ground, churning across the crater's molten surface, as if searching. Then, the Storm found its mark!
From out of the magma, it rose. A Demonbeast surrounded by the primordial fires of the Earth. The Necrodon struggled and shook as if gripped by unseen hands, battling its way skyward through the now raging Storm! The landscape trembled as the monster emerged, sending fresh waves of lava streaming from its flaming creche.
"Forget the Alamo!" Duke swore as the monster fought its way higher. The wall of mystic flame flared steadily around him, unaffected by the savage winds. Beyond the flame, the Gurani gathered closer. Duke could see the natives more clearly now, each one a vision more terrible than the last. A wave of fear gripped him as he realized the beings that stood before him were not the survivors of the Selgan raid, but its victims.
"Boss! Boss, wake up!" The Cowboy called, but the man would not stir. Duke drew his pistol and began firing at the mob. The Gurani hardly flinched. "Kraken!!" He screamed again to no effect.
"Aw crap! Okay, Cowboy," he thought to himself. "Time to call in the troops." Duke tested his transceiver, set the emergency beacon to broadcast and flung the unit out beyond the fiery barrier. Then he took Kraken's, and called for help. "Base two, this is the Cowboy, respond!" he released the call button, hearing only a staticy hiss. "Base two, this is the Cowboy. The boss is down, we need back up now!" Again, only static. "Sahara! Jones! Somebody respond damnit!"
"Who is this?" Came a reply.
Duke hesitated. That signal was not from any of his people. He decided that at the moment, it didn't really matter. "I'm called the Cowboy, I've got a man down and I'm surrounded by hostiles. There's a beacon signaling on frequency five-four-oh that's marking my position Can you assist?" Seconds passed with no reply. "Please!"
"Cowboy, my name is Yasuda," came the response. "We are on foot and nowhere near your position. I will keep a lock on your signal, but it looks like you are on your own. I'm sorry."
"Copy that Yasuda," Duke lamented. "Thanks anyhow."
Around him the flames rose higher, reflected in the eyes of the native nosferatu. From above, he heard the Necrodon's scream. The Cowboy lay Kraken gently down, uncoiling his rope from about their waists. He faced the horde of once human horrors, their mouths all working in some soundless chant as they shuffled slowly around him. "Ya know, you guys really give me the willies."
"I think we just found the source of that signal." Miname stared from the port window, watching as an immense, winged creature flapped chaotically overhead. The Storm seemed to center on the beast, flashing around its massive form as it darted about the rolling clouds.
"It is as I feared," said Sato, in a voice not wholly his own. "Another foul beast to beset the Earth. Another battle to wage. Another..."
"Yasuda," Sato began, a shiver passing through him. "We must mobilize at once! I want this unit armored up and deployed n, n..." he stammered, as if losing touch with the thought. "Uh, um, was I just saying something?"
"Sato, something's wrong," proclaimed Miname, checking the convertor harness. The collector cells were glowing with energy, the discharge wand as well. The young scientist shook violently, his spasms matching the pulse of the growing plasma stockpile. "Sato, the harness appears to be working, but the energy builds too quickly. You've got to release it before you overload the rig."
"Hei," he agreed. "Yes. Let me out of the jet."
"That might not be wise given the current weather pattern, Sato," Fuji admonished. "Are you sure this is necessary, Masada?"
Miname nodded an emphatic yes. A groan escaped Sato, his trembling becoming more uncontrollable. Fuji knew there was no other choice. "All right. Let him out."
Sato half fell into the airlock, praying to Buddha this would work. It felt as if his consciousness was slipping away, becoming separate from his form. A feeling that was all too familiar, heralding a terrible transformation. The return of the creature some called the Hydrogen Man. The airlock cycled open, and Sato crawled out into the raging storm.
"Doctor, what's going on?" Asked Kazuki. "He's not gonna mutate on us again, is he?"
"I can tell you this," Noto replied. "Those words he spoke, that voice. That wasn't Maki Sato speaking. That was Akira Iwa."
"General Iwa?!" Fujiko gasped, remembering. Sato was almost dead when the old General was injected with the stabilizer, and stepped into the mass of corrosive jelly that was Sato's body. The old war horse was himself about to die anyway, and hoped his own body would provide a template for Sato to regenerate from. The desperate experiment had worked, perhaps too well.
"Hei, Commander, only I cannot be sure if Sato's outburst just now is truly some dementia, brought on perhaps by his proximity to the waveform's source. It is just as possible we are witnessing what some call 'Channeling' or 'Soul Migration'..."
From outside, a flash of living light burst across the scene as Sato gripped the discharger and fired, releasing bolts of plasma into the Storm! The energy arced high into the clouds, shooting snakelike past the Necrodon, still battling fiercely against the supernatural squall. The monster screeched, the sound like nails scraping chalkboard, amplified to infinity. Sato fired again.
"Commander, he's attacking it!" Yelled Kazuki.
"Oh, fish. My money's on the dementia," said Fuji. "Let's suit up, crew. It looks like we have a fight on our hands."
Again, Hiroki shot awake and peered about him. Again? He realized then, he must have been slipping in and out of consciousness. Around him, the SpiritStorm whipped the sea and sky into a violent fury, yet the Mari-Maru III rocked gently in a steady breeze. He looked, and found his wounds had all been bandaged. "Suzy," he spoke, remembering.
He rose and stood at the Helm, orienting himself. The Storm had carried him back, close to the island. His work there was not yet done.
In the sky above, the Necrodon flew, glimpsed now and then through the Storm's billowing clouds. Strange flashes of energy arced past it as if being launched from the ground. The people on that island were in trouble, and Hiroki knew he was their only hope. Damn it.
He moved about the ship, checking things out, and found it had been left mostly unmolested. He quickly gathered his waterskins, rope, spear and shield, preparing to disembark. Then he checked the stash of small clay flasks kept encased in the wheelhouse, the elixir his people called the Blood of the SeaGod.
Hiroki had spent much of his life away from his native home and was not superstitious by nature, but he could not deny the fact this 'magic' worked, or that his people had chosen him as the one to wield it. He opened the case and swore. A pair of the flasks were missing.
Gathering the remaining three, Hiro turned and stepped out onto the deck. He looked, and there stood a spearman, seawater pouring from his gaping, ragged wounds. Behind him another, and more clawing their way aboard. Hiroki's heart sunk as he realized these were his men, the ones who had died in the assault! He cringed with guilt as he faced them, his shame bringing tears to his eyes. The Selgan Shades drew closer, and Hiroki began to pray.
"Get outta here ya crud suckin' varmints!" The Cowboy screamed, trying to menace the spectres away. The ghoulish Gurani continued to shamble about the burning barrier, chanting some silent prayer. Duke realized then, that fire just might be more protection than trap. He decided to try something. He slipknotted a lasso and roped one of the encroaching entities, yanking it full into the flame! The shadowy being disintegrated in a shower of spectral sparks.
The Cowboy smiled, mocking the creature's misfortune. He checked his lariat and found it not even singed. "Okay fellas, you want it all at once," he cast the rope around another one and pulled. "Or one at a time?" It too hit the flame and discorporated. "Like shootin' fish in a barrel," Duke told himself with relief.
In the distance, he could see a trio of plasma streams arcing high into the clouds. Then he heard the monster's scream. Even the Shades halted at the unearthly sound, motionless. Sheet lightning flared, lighting the black and billowing nimbus from within as the enormous Necrodon fell from the sky! The beast screeched as it hit the ground, rocking the island to its volcanic core. At once, the firewall dropped away, and the spectres seemed to flicker and dim. The Cowboy hoisted his stricken patron over his shoulder and ran like hell, heading fast back to their makeshift camp!
"Sato! Sato san!" Fujiko screamed past the storm. He could see Sato crouched by a fallen tree, clutching the plasma wand as if it were a lifeline. The convertor harness began to glow, and Sato pressed the trigger, releasing another blast from the wand. "It's no use. He can't hear me."
"Don't go near him!" Warned Miname. "Do you see how erratic the plasma field is? That energy is unstable. It could affect your battlesuits."
"That rig you made could drain our weapons?"
"Hei. That, or cause them to explode. We've got to get him away from the creature. He's too close to the signal, the convertor can't handle the load."
"So we can't go near him while the harness is active, and if he takes it off..."
"He would probably transform into that...thing again." She confirmed.
"Wonderful," Fuji thought to himself. The jet was down, its prow buried under a ton of volcanic ash. They were caught in battle between a wild arcane squall, a monstrous flying saurian, and a schizophrenic mutant with an energy blaster. He couldn't help thinking; what would Captain Tanaka do?
Again, the nimbus flared around Sato, and he screamed as the plasma burst free! From somewhere deep within the Storm, another scream rang in response. "Fuji, I think Sato's got the right idea," said Kazuki. "I think he's hurting the beast."
Fuji knew his partner was right. "Masada, Noto, you were assigned to this strikeforce because of Sato's condition. I'm relying on you to find a way to deal with it."
"Perhaps we could modify the harness further," Noto suggested. "There may be components in the jet we could use."
"Okay," Miname agreed. "But how do we get close enough to him to do the work?"
"A shield and gauntlets should protect you from the energy field," Kazuki assured them..
"Right," Fuji agreed. "And you and I are gonna spread out, way out, and see if we can't stop that signal at its source."
Inside the jet, Noto and Miname quickly assessed the few applicable bits of technology at their disposal; the weapons systems. The ship's wingblasters were compatible with a standard Defense Force battlesuit, but designed to carry about twice the output. "Doctor, we will need that capacitor array, that group of tools and those cables," Miname instructed. "I'll get the plasma cannon." Outside, another flash of power, followed by the skymonster's cry. "I think we had better hurry."
Their equipment ready, Miname passed a pair of gauntlets to Noto, then donned a pair herself. The gloves had a molecule thin coating of Sato's own artificial diamond glaze, a refractory, radproof barrier as strong as a fireshield. Noto nodded the go ahead, and they stepped out into the storm.
The savage winds tore at them as they approached the stricken scientist. He was glowing steadily now, his body forced to assimilate the energy the harness could not convert. Across the blurred and blackened clearing, Miname saw the soldiers were in position and ready to strike. The convertor flared, and the plasma bolt blasted forth, leaving Sato temporarily discharged. Miname and Noto moved in.
"Miname!" Cried Sato. "G,get away from me quick! Too much power to..."
"We know, Sato. Now shut up. I'm trying to work." She replied. Sato's glow began to build.
The Storm continued its relentless assault on the struggling monster, battering it down with its lightning, wind and ice. "Kazuki, you read me?" Fuji asked over the comlink.
"Yes, Sir. I am in position and ready to kick ass."
"Just shoot the damn monster already," said Fuji, raising his own weapon to the sky.
The energy beams burned into the raging storm, seeking out the Necrodon and blasting into its hide! Thunder roared from the angry clouds, answering the weapons fire with its own bolts of force. The monster reeled, snapping and thrashing, the very atmosphere was its enemy! The Markalite men grinned, and fired again.
"Miname, please...do not do this for my sake!" Sato shouted, feeling his mind, his self, drifting in and out with the flow of power. "Noto! Get this woman out of here. That's an order, soldier!" Again he spoke, in a voice no longer his own.
"Iwa sama!" The Doctor exclaimed. "General, we are attempting to modify the harness, to keep you from mutating. Please, do not..."
"Get behind the shield," Sato pleaded, back in his own head. "I'm at capacity, cell structure's breaking down...got to let it go!"
Miname shrieked as the discharge sparked along the harness and out through the wand, resuming her work instantly as the surge passed. The rig was showing signs of wear, connections weakening, circuits beginning to fuse. The modifications were looking fine, but the harness was not going to take much more before it shut down. Again the soldiers fired upon the beast, and the pocket of unstable energy surrounding Sato flared brighter.
"Doctor, I gave you a direct command. Now move!" Sato spoke, sort of.
Miname looked at Noto. "I'm going to need you to hold him." The aging doctor agreed, pinning Sato's hands as Miname wrested the wand from his grasp.
"No!" Sato screamed. "What are you doing? Give it back!"
Force leaked slowly from the open coupling as Miname connected the cannon into place then handed the weapon to Sato. "Capacitors on line, enhanced discharger to help handle the output. I'd say you're almost good as new. Now we need to put some distance between you and Big Bird."
Sato looked at Miname, seeing her through Iwa's eyes. "No. We bring the kaiju down." The power danced around him, coursing smoothly through the harness. He raised the cannon high and fired!
Noto cursed, lances of force shooting past them as they crouched behind the shield. The storm itself seemed to cringe as the beam burned deep into the monster's flesh, and it screamed! Then the clouds parted, and the Necrodon came tumbling from the sky!
"Run Goddamnit!" Fuji screamed across the comlink.
"Both of you move!" Cried Sato, shoving his companions from the shadow of the plummeting beast. The winds turned fiercer, shifting, focusing on the falling monster. Hammering it down to meet the rock and the soil.
Miname turned, still running, to see the creature hit the earth. Then the impact knocked her off her feet! The atmosphere went thick with dust, driven by tornadic winds. Lightning flared bright, burning through the fallen monster. The creature lay unmoving in a sink hole formed by its own impact. Miname could see a vast area of the landscape had been destroyed, collapsed beneath the monster's weight. The jet was gone, crushed somewhere under the beast, and from all indications, so was Maki Sato.
PART FOUR: FIREWALK
Hiroki knelt low upon the deck, his weapons put aside. The spirits of his fallen comrades crowding closer. He wept, his grief pouring out in great anguished sobs as he slowly unstopped one of the small clay flasks, and prayed; "Great Mikki, Soul of the Sea and Mother of all the Wild Gods, guide your unworthy servant the hell out of this mess!"
From the flask, the Spiritfire rose, sheathing Hiroki in an intense ethereal glow. The Spectral spearmen cringed, fading before the power of the Godblood's light! "I'm sorry, guys." He spoke to the shades, sobbing. "The elixir can do nothing to change the loss of your lives, I only hope it will give you back your peace." The glow became a pyre, then a star, its halo expanding, consuming the warrior spirits in a blinding burst of light! "Be at peace. Be at peace."
From somewhere inland, another flash, with nothing spiritual about it. The plasmablast ripped into the clouds, striking the Necrodon and taking the monster down! A great rumbling coursed through the Storm, echoing the tremors of the earth as the enormous beast struck the ground. The impact sending shockwaves rippling out into the sea, shaking Hiroki's ship. The young sailor clung to the rail as the Mari-Maru tumbled in the rolling surf. Then the Storm began to move. Hiroki watched as the unearthly gale shifted swiftly overhead, its eye moving ever nearer.
Without warning the lightning struck, followed by a hypersonic CRACK! Instinctively, he swigged from the open flask, cursing. "Holy shit!" Another strike, and the prow was on fire. "Holy shit!!" Hiro grabbed for his gear. "Will ya quit it?! I'm going! I'm going!" He screamed as he dove into the waves, swimming shoreward.
Above, the savage storm diminished, the tempest dying down. The bane of the FireGod had finally been brought to ground, and Hiroki sent to keep him there. A final blast of rain and wind pelted the small vessel, extinguishing its burning hull. Hiroki smiled to himself, thanking his little sister for a mercy he could not be sure he deserved.
Gunfire sounded as the Cowboy drew nearer the campsite's perimeter. Shouts of terror echoing through the ozone charged air. The Great Storm was fading, the atmosphere much clearer now, and Duke peered ahead beyond the treeline, gasping at what he saw.
The camp was under siege. The dead of Kraken's Guard had returned, and they were pissed! Duke set Alex down amongst the trees. "Sorry, Boss. Gotta run," he whispered, drawing his pistols and advancing quickly into camp.
Alexander Kraken flew on monstrous wings, hunting. There was a distortion to his vision, making everything seem tiny. Everything but the storm, that was fucking huge! He could see the patterns of force flowing from the squall's black heart, feel it tugging at his own. He flew into the tempest and realized, he was not alone.
A strange chanting rose from somewhere far below, beckoning him. Thunder boomed inside his skull, trying to drown the chanting out, but the call would not fade. He knew he would have to fight the storm to reach it.
A dozen or so ghostly forms shambled about the uneven clearing, forcing the men to retreat into the ruins of the Temple. There, no Spiritfire could rise to save them. "Damn it," cried Agent Sahara. "We can't lay a glove on them. I bet a Markalite rig would get their attention!"
"A what?" Asked Jones.
"Never mind. Just fall back." Sahara caught himself. No matter the situation, there could be no more slips. His vision caught movement from the brush. "Look," he pointed to Duke, waving his hat in the air. "It's the Cowboy. He looks normal."
Duke joined the remaining men. "This has not been a good day," He gasped, catching his breath from the run. "Kraken's down. Just collapsed. I left him in the bush."
"Any suggestions how to stop these guys?" Asked Sahara.
"Yeah," said Duke. "With fire."
Lightning flashed and struck, burning! Alex moved faster, closer to the lure of the natives chant. Again the Spiritstorm surged, its winds whipping at him, holding him back. There was something within the tempest, like an echo. A resonance with something buried deep within himself. Instinctively, he looked there, between the bits of light and dark that float within the soul. There, he found a pattern.
The pattern burned like some ghostly double helix, a strand of spirit DNA. It pulsed, matching the ritual chanting and the beating of his heart. He blinked, opening his eyes to the world of light. The pattern flashed at the transition, resolving into the Waveform. In that brief second, Alexander Kraken understood!
"Get that fire going soldier. Hold em off!" Sahara barked. Those things were getting nearer. "Are you sure this will work?"
"Nope," the Cowboy replied.
"Terrific," Sahara flashed him a grim look, shifting quickly to one of surprise. "Look! It's Kraken," The men turned from their tasks to look. "I think."
Alex approached the fallen Temple, strange, subtle lights flickering about his form. "Begone." He called, fading the nearest of the shades. "Begone, all of you." He commanded, and the undead host fell before him, vanishing one by one. From among them, he spied his brother. "Hold!" He cried, his voice a near whisper. "You shall remain."
"Boss?" The Cowboy spoke "Are you okay? What the hell happened to you?"
"Relax, Duke. I'm fine," the Scotsman looked at his remaining troops. "Aren't you guys supposed to be the ones protecting me?!" He smiled.
"Boss, I...well, um, how..." the Cowboy stammered.
"I said relax, Duke. Everything's under control." Alex turned and joined his brother, still standing near the burial mounds. "Mycroft!" He sobbed. "Mycroft. You're back now. We can be a team again!" The troops watched as Alex embraced the Shade, and the apparition moved in response to the fierce hug.
"He can touch it," Sahara whispered.
Alex looked into his brother's face, still locked in silent song. "I know, Mycroft. I saw the fire, it's gone now. I'm gonna protect you."
"That thing aint sayin' nothin'," Duke whispered back. "Whut's he hearing I wonder?"
"I love you too. Come on..." Alex said, moving to rejoin the men. Obediently the Shade complied, remaining by his side.
"Cowboy," began Agent Sahara. "I feel it is time to consider a career change."
"Now what the hell are those guys doing here?" Said Fuji. The Crew had regrouped, all save Sato, and followed the Cowboy's beacon to investigate. Soon they spied the ruined temple, and watched as the Shades had been dispatched.
Fuji checked his instruments. "Something strange is going on. The Kaiju is down, but the signal remains steady. We haven't stopped it."
"I bet the guy who blew those things away knows something," said Zuki.
"Commander, that's a fully armed assault unit of no less than twenty men," said Noto. "I've seen enough combat in my day to know..."
"We can't let Sato die in vain!" Miname cut in, her face a study in determination. "And, there is still a mission to complete."
"You're right, Masada," Fuji agreed. "So is Noto. We've got to find a way to stop that signal, without any more of us getting killed."
Hiroki stood on the edge of a vast pit, scanning. It was an area of destruction, caused no doubt by the Necrodon's fall. The creature was gone now, deep ruts scoring the ash covered ground, its trail leading back to the volcanic crater. Within the chasm he spied the gleaming metal of a small ruined airship, vapors still drifting from its hull. Nearby lay what appeared to be a person's remains. He began to pick his way down the slopes of crumbled earth to check it out.
Closer now, Hiroki could see something moving about the plane's wreckage. A subtle, steaming glow that shifted shadows as it passed. On the ground lay a standard issue JSDF safesuit, modified with some kind of weapon harness. The suit was empty except for a small bit of green, jelly-like residue around the collar and cuffs. Behind him, the light shifted again.
"Hello!" He called, with no response. "Is anybody hurt?"
It crept from behind the plane, moving slowly into view. Hiroki gripped the shaft of his silver tipped spear, ready to strike. Something was coming out!
A liquid tendril appeared, flowing snakily toward him. It sluiced along the tortured soil, a motile mass of colloidal slime, emitting a fierce green glow. "I'm not crazy. I'm not crazy." Hiroki reassured himself hopefully, backing up a pace as more of the strange substance flowed out.
"J-just hold it right there!" The Selgan shouted shakily. "L, let's take it easy now. You don't want me, you're looking for Steve McQueen!" The tendril rose before him, and he swatted it back. A deep liquid growl sounded, the viridian aura flared, and the creature moved out into the open!
"Mikki guide me," Hiroki gasped. The thing was big. Had to be hundreds of gallons to it! An acrid smoke bubbled from its path, evidence of some corrosive effect. Its surface shifting with an oily, prismatic sheen as it pulsed to some invisible heartbeat. It was translucent enough to see there were no internal organs. It shuddered, slapping a few ropy lengths of itself on the ground, and growled again.
Hiroki reached for the elixir, cursing as he invoked the power of a God he had come to hate. The God who had taken his sister's life and exiled him from his people. The God who had wrecked his ship, twice, then called upon him to do her bidding. This was Mikki's battle, not his. He had spent the past decade conning and boozing his way around every major seaport in Asia. He had a life, a lousy one, but one he had chosen! This Spiritual Avatar business was one nasty gig, and there were already enough dead bodies to testify that he sucked at it. He swigged from the flask, wishing it was only wine.
The creature moved, flowing toward him. Hiroki sidestepped the protoplasmic horror, slapping at its tendrils with his spear and his shield! The weapons smoldered at the beast's acidic touch, melting. "Oh, shit." He cursed, dropping the ruined shield. "Oh, shit!" A pseudopod whipped at his head and Hiroki ducked, rolling quickly out of range. The glowing glob flowed downslope, moving to intercept him. Hiroki scrambled away, slipping on the loose rock underfoot. Suddenly, "Oh sh..." it was upon him!
"Hello the camp!" Fuji shouted at the men now gathered about the fallen temple. He had convinced Noto to accompany him on the pretext of rendering medical aid. Kazuki and Masada would stay hidden, held in reserve in case things turned nasty. Nearly two dozen weapons locked on them at the sound of Fuji's voice, and they froze. Noto looked at his field Commander, "I told you this would happen."
"Oh Lord," Duke lamented. "Uh, Boss, I think I've got a small tactical error to report."
"My word," said Alex. "Alright, Cowboy. Who are they?"
"That's a Defense Force battlesuit," Sahara observed. "Those men are from Vanguard Command."
"One of em's named Yasuda. Picked up my distress call to camp and locked on to my beacon. Must've tracked the signal here," Duke looked his Boss straight in the eye, hesitating. Something about Kraken had changed. He didn't like it. "I, I guess I plum forgot to tell ya."
"I understand, Cowboy." Alex replied coolly. "But I'm far too busy to deal with this myself. You go talk to them. Shoot them, I don't care. Just get rid of them," he turned to leave. "Oh, and there's been a change of plans. We'll be leaving with the sub after all. It's due any time now, so try to make this quick."
"Yessir," the Cowboy confirmed. He signaled his men to stand ready and approached the pair. Something told him those two were the type you'd want on your team. The way they just walked on into a mess of trouble and smiled at it. He found himself hoping they'd do this the easy way.
Hiroki cringed as the living wave poured over him, trapping him within its liquid mass! Panic took control, the sailor struggling desperately against the amoeboid monster, flailing in a wild attempt to break free! His struggles slowly ceased as he realized there was no sting of acid, no craving for breath. The Spiritfire was burning around him now. This thing could do him no harm.
"Is someone there? Is someone there?" A voice echoed. "Please answer me!"
"I am here," Hiroki thought, focusing on the contact. Was it possible this thing has a mind? "My name is Hiroki. Please, let me go!"
"I cannot," it spoke. "You are my foothold in this body. Without me, the creature would again run wild."
"Who are you?" Asked Hiroki, not entirely sure he wanted to find out.
"My name is Akira Iwa. I am a General in the Japanese Self Defense Force, retired."
"It's a long story. I'll tell it to you on the way."
"What? Whoa! Wait a minute! You're not going anywhere till you and me are splitsville."
"I'm truly sorry to do this, Hiroki. But there's a monster on this island that needs killing. You and I are going to find the beast, and snap its filthy neck."
The...whoever it was, sounded more than just a bit hell bent on that last point. Floating helpless within the thing's gelatinous body, Hiroki knew he was in no position to argue. Still... "Uh, you must mean the Necrodon. That beast crawled back into the magma, we can't go after him in there!"
"Actually, Hiroki, we can."
"Damn," the sailor cursed. "I knew you were gonna say that."
"You must be the Cowboy," Fuji bowed, then offered the man his open hand. Duke clasped it in greeting. "I am Yasuda, my partner is Noto, a medical Doctor. I regret being unable to arrive sooner. Is...everything under control?"
"Yup. Had a run in with a few of the local boys. Had me pinned down till that thing came crashin' outta the sky. They turned and run so fast it was near a stampede!" Duke kept it sweet as pie. "Say, was that you fellers whut nailed him? That was some pretty fancy shootin'!"
"That's our job," Fujiko confirmed. Time to drop the ball. "We are investigating a strange waveform. It seemed to be coming from the monster at first. Now though," Fuji flashed the scanscreen toward the man. "It's coming from this camp."
Shit, Duke thought to himself. They're gonna blow it. "Look, I appreciate you boys comin all the way here to help me out and all, but I'm afraid I'm gonna have to ask you to leave."
"Our mission is to track the source of those waves," said Noto.
"Well, I'm sorry, but this camp is a designated holding of Kraken International Properties. Neither this field office nor this island are subject to the rule of Japanese law."
"What?" The Doctor exclaimed. "This bit of hillside is a field office? You must be kidding!"
"You can take it up with our lawyers," said Duke, a hardened edge entering his tone. "I'm gonna ask you one more time to please go."
Fujiko studied the man, measuring him. "And if we refuse?" Duke flashed a closed fist to his soldiers, and instantly the Doctor's chest glowed with the ruby beams of multiple targeting lasers. "You have made your point, Cowboy. Call them off!"
Noto held his breath, waiting. Duke made a dismissive gesture, and the troops backed down. "It has been a pleasure," the Doctor gasped, and turned to leave. Fujiko followed, eyeing the soldiers with contempt.
He knew the Cowboy was right. Legally, he couldn't touch the bastards, and he didn't have the resources to move in by force. The waveform pulsed on the scanner like a carrot out of reach as they made their reluctant retreat back into the jungle.
"Iwa! Iwa don't! Don't! Don't!!" Hiroki yelled, still trapped inside the beast now flowing toward Gura's bubbling remains. He clamped his eyes shut tight, and slipped screaming into the magma! "OhmyGodohmyGodohmyGodohmyGod,,,"
"Hiroki, please!" The General spoke in Hiroki's head. "The energy this creature wields is already jamming my mental control of this body. Your screaming is not making things any easier!
The sailor opened his eyes, just a squint, peering through the green haze of the blob, and into the burning lava. The SeaGod was protecting him, even here! He couldn't help wondering if this trick would work without the General's jelly-like mass around him. Though he resented Mikki's proclaimed dominion over him as her human agent on Earth, he could almost appreciate some of the wonders she had shown him. Almost.
"There it is, Hiroki san. Can you see it?"
"Yeah, I can see it. It's what I came here to stop, you know. Me, and nearly thirty men who died trying. As you can see, I blew it," the Selgan seethed. "Fucking bird."
"I too know the taste of defeat, Hiroki. I have seen scores of men fall before the sword, and have led men into death. I too have failed. The condition of this boy's body is testimony to that."
"Hei. This is not my body. I am borrowing it from a friend."
"You've got to be kidding me."
"We have both been given a second chance, Hiroki san. Let us not waste it."
Hiroki paused, considering Iwa's words. He thought of Susaki, and the Shades of the spearmen. He quickly decided, the General was right. "Okay, Iwa sama. Let's kill that thing."
The Necrodon slept within the magma. The Earthblood of its ancient prison nourished the monster, healing its Storm inflicted wounds. Spiritfire had burned within that tempest, white and pure. Its own reserves of that primordial energy were corrupted long ago, changed into a force of destruction by the beating of it's own black heart. That force had compelled it to turn and stand against the Spiritstorm, to battle the SeaGod's screaming spawn. Then the humans came, wielding some strange new fire they had found. They turned the flame against him, and he fell. Soon now, it vowed; It would rise again, and slay them all!
PART FIVE: BLOOD
Agent Sahara watched as the first wave of men and equipment paddled out to meet the sub. Within the hour, they will have evacuated the island entirely. With no clue to what Kraken's plans might be, he could only wait until the man made his next move. The waiting was always the worst part.
He saw Kraken speaking with Duke, the Shade of Mycroft by his side. Something strange had happened to the man, changed him. He was no longer merely an international treasure seeking salvage magnate boasting a private army, no longer merely dangerous. Sahara was sure, Alexander Kraken had become a potentially global menace, and there were far too many dead right here already.
The Selgan raiders had been mowed down, taking some Gurani and the Guard with them. The battle was fierce, forcing him to fight to survive it. It was all he could do to make sure the Warchief's hands were bound loosely, praying it would give the kid a chance. In that moment alone on the boat, he swiped a pair of clay flasks from a cabinet in the wheelhouse. If they contained what he suspected, they would prove most useful.
More dead in the eruption, the monster rising from the volcano's shattered cone. Then came the Storm, and the Shades. After that, he was not surprised at the arrival of Fujiko and Doctor Noto. He thought of Miname, and wished he could reveal himself to them, but that time had not yet come. The mission was too important now, and the guise of Yoshi Sahara was still needed to see it through.
"Okay, boss. The Defense Force boys are history," Duke reported grimly, his regret at the confrontation almost evident in his voice. "I had to scare them off. I referred them to your attorneys."
"Hm. I believe you're learning to be subtle, Duke," Kraken mused. "Might come in useful for our PR campaign."
"They said they were tracking a signal. They said it had shifted from the critter to this camp," the Cowboy paused, then decided he had to know. "It's comin' from you, aint it, boss?"
Kraken smiled, and shook his head, no. "It's Mycroft. I'm just in tune with it somehow." He moved closer to his brother, and gripped him with affection. "I think he reached out to me, Duke, back there in the jungle. He showed me the signal's source, and suddenly I understood."
"Kraken, I gotta be straight with ya. That signal was what summoned back our dead to haunt us, and I don't like it." Duke confessed. "You were out cold when those natives showed up. They were like spirits too. Then this sorta fire rose up to protect us,"
"The fire," Alex seemed to think aloud. "I remember the fire. It protected us you say?"
Duke nodded, "I yanked a couple of 'em into it. It took 'em out like that." He snapped his fingers.
"Yes, that force was part of the storm that fought the beast. The Selgans brought it here," Alex spoke, remembering. "Traces of it remain around us still. Mycroft's chanting sustains him against it, keeping us tuned in to the signal." He paused. "You called me Kraken."
"I guess I did. Look, boss, as your Chief of Security I gotta oppose your decision to keep in contact with this unknown energy source. As somebody who cares, I'm asking you to let it go before you get hurt."
"That's the first time you ever called me by name," Alex mused. "I'd almost think you were scared of me, Duke."
"Scared for ya, maybe. Scared of what that energy might do."
"Duke, my friend, you don't understand. Two Dimensions now lay open before me, matter and energy flowing between them. The Necrodon was only one of many possible links with that other realm, the Spirits of the newly slain another. I won't be needing any equipment to gain control of the Gurani waveform, Duke. I've already got it!" Alex beamed at the Cowboy.
Duke gave a hopeful grin back. "Okay, boss. So, what are you gonna do with it?"
From far inland there rose a monstrous screeching howl, and the Necrodon appeared! The enormous creature shot into the sky, trailing jets of burning lava in its wake. Even the remaining Shade turned to watch the flying behemoth take to the air. It swooped low over the camp, giving the men a full, clear vision of its form. Liquid fire seemed to pour from the beast as it passed, and they realized it was not just lava they saw flowing from the monster. It was blood.
"Holy Yodels!" Cried Kazuki. "Take cover!!" The Crew scattered as the Kaiju streaked overhead, its slipstream winds threatening to tear them from the ground! Gobbets of still molten magma dripped steadily from the beast, igniting the remaining underbrush around them. A chunk of the stuff splashed over Kazuki, burning deep into his right side. The soldier went down screaming.
"Oh my God," said Fuji. "Noto, Masada, over here now!" He jumped on his partner, unclasping the Markalite rig and yanking him free. The safesuit was burning too.
"Get it off! Get it off!" Kazuki yelled in pain, flame spreading along the sleeve. The uniforms were Kevlar reinforced and fire retardant, but they were not lava proof. Together they stripped him of gear, and Kazuki squirmed free of the melting unitard, not daring to even clutch at the blackened flesh of his right arm, hip and thigh.
Fuji winced at the sight. "Don't worry, Zuki. We are going to get out of here, and get you fixed up." Kazuki held him fiercely as Noto sprayed a thick coating of Synthskin over the burns. Miname filled a syringe, and injected the wounded soldier with a tiny dose of morphine.
"I screwed up. They're getting away..." Kazuki spoke, teeth clenching and releasing with his breath, the stinging waves of agony becoming a steady, numbing buzz.
"He's out," said the Doctor. "Domo arigato kudasai, Miname san. You have learned more than I had thought in our short time together."
"I'm a good observer," she replied. "Right now I can see we've got to get this man emergency treatment."
Fujiko grimaced. He could see the enemy camp was nearly empty, the monster winging farther out to sea. Sato was gone. Now Kazuki is down. There was no way they could stop those bastards now.
A strange commotion rose from the nearby brush. A harsh green glow, moving closer. "What on earth...?!" Miname cried as it burst into the open! An oozing liquid creature, almost manlike in shape, almost familiar. It paused for a moment, as if to get its bearings.
"It is Sato," said Fuji, readying his weapon. "He has transformed!"
"It probably saved his life," Noto remarked. "But look, is that something inside him?" The Doctor peered closer. "My God, it is. It is a person!"
Then, it turned, and they knew the thing had seen them. It shuddered, expelling a strange young man upon the ground, then quickly sped away. The stranger rolled to his feet, stumbling after the beast, screaming; "Iwa no! Come back! Iwa sama!!"
Together, Hiroki and Iwa fell upon the Necrodon, a tiny speck against its gargantuan hide! The General's mutant body latched onto the giant beast, foaming as it melted through the flesh of the creature's skull! The monster thrashed wildly within the magma.
"I'm going to try a Radion burst," said Iwa. "Focus with me, Hiroki. Focus on destroying the beast!"
Hiroki agreed, concentrating as if he could will the thing to die. The power waves pulsed from the gelatinous General, disrupting the Necrodon's own energy pattern. The creature screamed at the bombardment, increasing its titanic struggle against the tiny attackers. The General pulsed again!
"It's no good. Iwa! As long as it's in the magma it can heal itself," Hiroki thought-spoke to the mind within the monster. "The thing's flesh reforms as quickly as its energy pattern."
"Then we will have to drive it from the magma, force it back to the surface."
"General, would it hurt you if I used my spear?"
"Hurt this body with a toothpick? No, you may use your weapon, though I don't see how..."
"There is great power in the spear. The same force which keeps me safe from your own acidic touch," the sailor held the weapon forth. "The SeaGod wants the monster dead. Her blood burns for me, Iwa. I've gotta obey it."
"You're kidding me now, right?"
Hiroki raised the silver tipped shaft high, "Yeah, right." And struck!
The Necrodon flapped wildly as the blade sunk deep, Spiritfire coursing into the wound! It screamed at the contact, this was the same power that had fueled the Storm! The monster panicked, unable to escape the lethal surge, shooting upward through the burning depths, heading for the sky!
"Hiroki! I cannot hold on!" Iwa screamed as they slipped from the beast, falling free as it broke the surface. They hit the ground hard, the Necrodon flew faster out to sea.
"We've got to go after it, General!" Hiroki blurted out. "Wait a minute, what am I saying?!"
"I think you know what you are saying. Come on. We're going."
General Akira Iwa began to move, sliding quickly along the uneven terrain. The ground fairly burned at his passing, vaporizing into a strange residue as most of its mass was absorbed into the liquid beast. He began growing bigger. He began shifting shape.
"Iwa, what's happening?" Asked Hiroki, still carried along inside the General's monstrous body.
"I am making arms and a head. Call it nostalgia."
"This is too weird," Hiroki grimaced.
In the distance, they could see the remains of Gura's temple. Closer, a group of beings gathered on the crest of a tree lined rise. "Hiroki, those people are from Vanguard Command, sent here to destroy the waveform's source. They are my friends. I want you to go with them, help them with your magic."
"General, no! Without me you will lose control of the creature, you cannot let me go!"
"I cannot keep you with me forever, my friend. I am going after the Necrodon alone."
Together they emerged from the brush, and stood pulsing before the Crew. A shudder passed through the General as his mass contracted, extruding the young sailor onto the jungle floor. "Iwa, no!" Hiroki screamed, struggling to regain his feet. The General sped quickly away, instinct overcoming intellect, driving him to find the wounded monster, and finish it off. "Come back! Iwa sama!!"
"Do you hear him, Commander?" Noto inquired excitedly. "He is calling it 'Iwa'!"
"I hear him," Fujiko replied. "Hey, Mister! Who are you, and how..."
"The name's Hiroki. General Iwa said you needed help."
Fuji gave a questioning look at his team, then turned back to the young man. "That may be right, Hiroki. There is a submarine full of soldiers just offshore, preparing to escape. It carries the source of a strange signal that empowers the flying monster. It must be stopped."
"The General's going after the Necrodon, we wounded it pretty bad, I think. My ship can catch the sub." Hiroki gripped a flask of Godblood, staring at the icon adorning its face. The symbol of the power of the SeaGod. "I've got a score to settle with those bastards."
"Ah, Captain Koenig," Kraken greeted the sub's commander, the Shade of his brother by his side. "Always good to see you, John. Especially now!"
"Thank you, Sir." The seaman replied too coolly. He had seen many strange things in his short time with the company. Things he would sometimes rather forget. He saluted his employer, vowing silently to dim this latest horror with a good rum. "We're underway, Kraken. What's our course?"
"We're sticking close to the Necrodon, Captain. As close as possible," Alex leaned toward the man, smiling. "It's what's keeping Mycroft alive. Follow it."
"Yes Sir," The Captain obeyed without question.
The Cowboy approached them. "Captain, Boss, something urgent. Our sensors show the waveform is shifting again."
"What do you mean, Duke?"
"I don't know what I mean! You need to come see this yourself." The Cowboy led them to the sensor station. Agent Sahara was at the controls.
"What's going on, Yoshi?" Asked Kraken.
"I can't explain it, Sir. It is as if the signal is being jammed, or replaced." Just then, a shrill beeping rang sharply across the crowded bridge. "Something just triggered the proximity alert. An unidentified object is moving toward us, Captain. Intercept course."
"This can't be happening..." Alex rasped through clenched teeth.
"Take us down, helmsman," Koenig barked. "Weapons, lock on and stand ready."
"I've got a fix on the overriding signal," Sahara reported. "It is coming from the object."
"No," Alex turned to face his brother. Dimly aware that now, he could hear the spectral chanting.
"Fire all weapons," ordered the Captain. They watched the screen as the volley of missiles streaked toward their pursuer, converging. Shockwaves shook the sub as the warheads detonated, destroying each other. The object drew closer.
"It is as if the torpedoes passed right through it," said Sahara.
"All hands, brace for impact!" The Captain shouted. The sub rocked, then stabilized. Then the sound of buckling steel surrounded them. "Whatever it is, I think it's got us."
"It's after Mycroft," said Kraken, clutching at his pounding skull. "It's trying to shut the signal down at its source! Duke! Organize the men, t-tell them t-to, to..." Suddenly, Kraken hit the floor unconscious. Sahara, Duke and Koenig looked questioningly at each other.
"That's twice now he up and passed out on me!" Exclaimed Duke. The sub rocked again. "What the heck is that thing?!"
"I'm showing a hull breach, Captain," Sahara cried. "Engine room reports some kind of green liquid seeping through the exhaust ports." It is Sato, he thought to himself. It must be. They were being invaded by the Hydrogen Man. He had faced that monster in battle before, his full beard now covering the scars he bore from the encounter. Kraken was down, and these men were like sitting ducks to that beast, unless he did something now. "Captain, Cowboy, I think I know what is attacking us. Kraken is right. It is after the Gurani waveform. We've got to stop it before it burns through the ship!"
"What are you talking about, Yoshi?" Asked the Captain.
"What he means is, if we trash ghosty boy here, then the liquid critter leaves us be," said Duke.
"Exactly. You said you saw the Spiritfire back there in the jungle, didn't you, Cowboy? That it protected you?" Sahara drew a vial of the sacred Selgan elixir from an equipment pouch and showed it to them. "This is where it comes from."
Duke eyed the man they knew as Sahara suspiciously. "You sure seem to know a lot about some weird stuff, Yoshi. Go ahead. Make your fire."
Agent Sahara approached the Shade, holding the flask before him. The spirit-thing cringed. "Mikki, guide me," he spoke, and uncapped the slim clay container.
"Jesus Christ!" Cried the Captain, blinded as a brilliant glow rose from within the bottle! The Spiritfire flashed, flaring into a burning nimbus of sorcerous flame. The Shade's chanting ceased, replaced by a silent scream as the blood of the SeaGod cut the spectre's mystic link with the Gurani waveform. A look of horror crossed the thing's features, and it faded out of existence, and into infinity.
"Report from the engine room, sir. The creature has retreated from the interior of the sub, though it still appears to be attached to the hull."
"Weapons systems, I want you to route a power surge. Shockcharge the hull, see if we can't entice the thing to let go." A few seconds, and the lights dimmed throughout the ship, followed by the sound of lightning dancing across the hull. They watched the monitors as the charge dissipated, clearing the image on the screen. The strange invader had diminished greatly in size, and was floating free back toward the surface.
"Good call, gentlemen," said the Cowboy, propping Kraken's unconscious form into a chair. "I think we all know there's only one way to end this mess now. We gotta kill the Necrodon, and we gotta do it before the boss wakes up."
It was nearly an hour before the Crew reached Hiroki's ship, taking turns hauling the wounded Kazuki across the uneven, ash covered ground. The giant Necrodon was now a speck in the darkening sky, impossible to catch. Noto and Masada looked exhausted. Grimly, Fujiko signaled for them to rest.
"This is not good," he remarked, catching his breath. "Those creatures are heading for Japan. If Kraken has control of the signal, he might have control of the beast as well."
"What's it gonna take to stop that thing?!" Hiroki seethed. Then he saw them. The Crew turned, following his gaze to the treeline. The Gurani had found them. "Oh, shit."
Slowly, Fuji rose to face them. "Do not draw your weapons," he ordered. "It would do no good."
The natives approached, a young woman in the lead. Pretty girl, Hiroki thought to himself, her thick white dreadlocks and red leathers striking against her dark flesh. He was unable to stop the flash of a smile at her. Her own face was set grim, but Hiro swore her eyes smiled back. She spoke; "Greetings Selgan, Nihon-jin. The Gurani wish no more blood to spill between our peoples. We too have been defeated. Those you see here are all that are left."
Hiroki watched her, drinking the vision in. "What's your name?" He asked.
"Jenoka," she replied softly.
"Wow," He beamed her the sweetest smile he could. "I'm called Hiroki. Between us, there will always be peace."
The woman turned, eyeing her wounded spearmen. Together, they drove their weapons point first into the ground. She gestured, and an old woman came forth, guided by two assistants. The old one was not at all happy. "Myrga," Jenoka began. "Give me the stone."
"You are not ready!" Ancient Myrga replied. "You are not worthy! You have no right!"
"I am the only one left! I am cousin to our Chief's sister. The last of us with even a remote claim to the bloodline, save for yourself, my aunt."
"And I am too old to perform the ritual that would empower the relic. If, if you do this, Jenoka, I fear you will not survive. You shall not have it!"
"Dear, old Myrga," Jenoka kissed her aunt upon her withered cheek. "If I do not do this, many innocents will pay the price. Suffering as we have," she held forth her open hand, waiting. "You know it is the only way."
"I know," Myrga frowned. She reached for the blood red gem that hung about her neck and tore it from its cord. "Take it."
Without hesitation, Jenoka grabbed the stone. "Thank you, Myrga," she spoke as the old woman turned away. "I love you too. Hiroki, Warlord of Selga, I need your help. This polished stone is the Heart of Gura. Legend says it carries the FireGod's soul. Once released, it could stop the Necrodon cold."
"What do I have to do?" Hiroki asked. The young beauty came to him, and whispered in his ear. "Uh, guys," he turned to the Crew. "You're gonna have to rest here just a while longer. There's something I've gotta do." Together, he and the Gurani priestess quickly ran off.
Fujiko eyed the natives, then turned to his team. Noto grimaced back, watching over Kazuki. Miname looked thoughtfully after the couple. He could tell, she was thinking of Shiro.
Alexander Kraken looked down upon the endless sea, watching as a trail of burning blood marked his passing. Something was different, he thought, flying high above the waves. The chanting in his head had stopped, and he found that he was lost.
"Mycroft!" He screamed his brother's name. "Mycroft, help me please! Show me the way, brother. I know you can!" Alex waited, but there was no response. Then he felt it. His brother was gone, consumed by the Spiritfire. The same force now burning into his own gargantuan skull. The force that was driving him mad. "Damn you," Kraken raged. "God damn you all!"
Ahead lay Honshu, the Japanese mainland. Rich with resources both natural and man made, including Geothermal power plants, as well as a few volcanoes. Alex knew he would be safe there, that he could heal there, within the islands lava filled depths, but something made him turn instead.
One of his own people must have brought the blood of the SeaGod aboard the sub. Brought it aboard and used it on his brother. The plunder of Japan would keep for now. His enemies were striking from within his own ranks. Alex swore the traitors would die, even if he must destroy the submarine to do it!
PART SIX: VENGEANCE
The Mari Maru was underway now, heading into the twilight, after the enemy sub. Hiroki stood at the helm, watching the strange signal pulse across the screen of Fuji's scanner, a cigarette burning lazily in his mouth. His mind could not shake the vision of sweet Jenoka, and he knew he had fallen in love.
The Crew knew it too, but did not pry, trying to leave the young sailor his privacy. Fujiko sat amidships, cleaning the ash from his rig. Noto and Masada astern, watching over Kazuki. The Doctor glanced at his young companion, her unspoken longing evident in her eyes. "You miss him, don't you?"
"Nani? Doctor, did you say something?"
"You miss him. Tanaka." Noto found himself embarrassed at bringing it up. "I'm sorry, Masada san. I have been indiscreet."
"Hei. I miss him, Doctor," she replied. "It is that obvious?"
"To me," Noto paused. "I had a daughter once, long ago. You are much like her, and I find myself..."
Miname shushed him, finger to lips. Then she took his hand and smiled. "I appreciate it doctor, and I feel the same way. Maybe, when this is over, you would tell me more about her."
"I would like that. Do not worry, child. You and Shiro will find each other again one day."
Miname nodded, cheering at the thought. She rose, her footing unsteady upon the rocking boat. "Right now, I think it is time we found out more about our young sailor friend. Gomenasai, Noto sama." She bowed curtly, and made her way to the wheelhouse.
The Selgan turned and nodded. "Welcome aboard, Miss...?"
"Masada Miname desu," she stared at the man, searching. He was a bit roughshod, maybe even punk, with his longish black hair and earrings. Yet, there was a strange, almost divine quality about him as well. So familiar, she was sure she should know him.
A wild thought struck her then. Something that connected this man with both their mission, and their pasts. She grinned widely. "Hiroki," now she was sure. "Of Selga," she knew just who this man was! "Of course! You, you know the Bradley's, don't you?"
For a moment, Hiroki found he could not respond. Then he looked at Miname, and beamed back his own broad smile. "Kenji and Kyoko? Yeah. I do know the Bradley's."
Together, they busted out laughing.
Fujiko looked up from his work, and spied the pair convulsing on the bridge. "Exactly when did I lose control here?" He sighed to himself and joined them. "Masada. Hiroki. What the hell is so funny?"
Miname dried her eyes. "Commander, this man is one of the SeaGod worshippers the Bradley's spoke of. He knows them!"
"Oh, lord no!" Yasuda smiled. "We have enough trouble already!"
"This man knows...?" began Noto.
"The Bradley's. Yes, Doctor." Fujiko replied. "Well, at least we know we can trust each other."
"Too bad those two aren't around. We could use their kind of help," said Hiro
"I suppose you are right," Fuji agreed. He looked at the team and realized, the Selgan somehow fit right in. "Good thing then, that we have each other."
Aboard the sub.
"Are we ready?" Asked Koenig, addressing his crew, and receiving "Ayes" all round.
"Weapons systems standing by," said Duke.
"Trackers are on line. The monster has nearly reached Honshu," Sahara reported.
"Engine room, I want all the speed we've got. We can't overtake it, but we may be able to get within firing range." Koenig commanded, leaving the bridge.
The Cowboy leaned back in his chair, watching as "Yoshi" continued monitoring the G-Wave's shifts. This guy was definitely more than just another mercenary. Duke was sure he needed neither the money, nor the excitement. That meant he had another agenda here, one which Duke intended to find out.
"So, Sahara. Got anything else might help us survive this little hayride? I'm real interested in how ya knew about that potion, and any other tricks ya might have up your sleeve," Duke smiled. "Including who you really are."
A grin flashed briefly over the agent's face. "It is not easy, you know. To become someone you are not. Nor to maintain the ruse when confronted with things that are so familiar to you."
"Those Defense Force fellers," Duke surmised.
"Hei, my former command," the agent confirmed, bowing slightly from his seat. "I am Captain Inoshiro Tanaka of Japan's Vanguard forces."
The Cowboy could not keep the smirk from his face. He was Security Chief of this operation. Not an easy man to fool. Yet this guy had somehow pulled it off! "Tanaka, huh?" He reached out his open hand. "You can call me Duke. You're some piece of work, Tanaka! Rumors of all kinds have been flying since you disappeared. Hard to know which ones to believe."
"Why not ask?" Said Shiro.
"Well, you're not dead, right?"
"Just checkin'. That's one down. But you are wanted by InterPol, somethin' about some old General gettin killed. They even said you might'a went renegade, and well, here you are."
"General Iwa took his own life, to save a friend's. I am held guilty by the testimony of a man whose jealousies twisted both the truth, and the workings of his own mind. Munabe is dead now, his charges against me cannot be disproved."
The Cowboy shook his head in disbelief, not at the man's words, but at his own willingness to accept them. "Or you could be working undercover, to infiltrate us," he said without conviction.
"I am here on my own, Duke. Trying to keep an eye on you, yes. Trying to prevent exactly the kind of situation we now face from happening. I have not fared well."
"Makes sense. Monster huntin's gotta be a hard habit to kick."
"Yup." Shiro agreed with a sigh. Then his gaze caught the giant blip moving on the tracking screen. The signal was no longer drawing farther away. "Oh no."
"What's goin on?" Asked Duke.
"It is the creature," said Shiro. "It has turned. I believe it is about to attack."
The Mari Maru.
"Hey, Yasuda. Look." Hiroki gestured ahead and starboard. Together, they followed his gaze, finding a strange slick floating among the waves. It was luminous, and colored a deep viridian green. "It's the General. It's gotta be!"
"Hei," Fuji replied, peering through a retractable lens mounted on his headgear. "There is a body floating there. He has become human again! Hiroki..."
"I'm on it, Yasuda." The sailor cut the engine, drifting closer to the floating form. Miname took the wheel, holding the ship steady as the Selgan dove into the sea. He swam through the oily residue and took hold of the man. The man began to stir.
"It's okay, buddy." Hiro reassured the young man. "Your friends are with me, on my boat. We'll be aboard her in no time."
"Hiroki's the name. You must be the kid General Iwa mentioned."
Sato coughed, looking stunned. "Uh, yeah. I guess I must be! Sato Maki desu, pleased to meet you."
"Likewise. Hang on now, we're almost there!"
Slowly, they cleared the slick and drew astern of the boat. Sato could see Yasuda reaching out, pulling him from the waves. He was naked and cold. The doctor quickly passed him a blanket snatched from a bunk below. Then he saw Kazuki. "Oh no. Did I...?"
"No, Sato san! It was a lava splash," Fuji reassured the young man. "It is bad, but his condition has stabilized, for now. Welcome back."
"We thought that monster crushed you," said Miname.
"So did I," Sato agreed. "You risked your lives for me back there," he bowed low before them. "Domo arigato kudasai, my friends."
"You're welcome," said Noto. "How do you feel?"
"Cold. Wet. Confused. I have no memory from when the daikaiju fell, till now." He turned to Hiroki, now standing beside him. "You said that you spoke with the General. How?"
The Selgan tapped at his head. "Some kind of telepathy, I guess. He, I mean you...well, It attacked me. Absorbed me."
"You were not burned?"
"No. The SeaGod protects me. Iwa said I was his 'foothold' in...whatever it was you turned into. He was able to control the beast, until he let me go."
"Ha ta," Sato exclaimed.
"It is true, Sato san," Fujiko confirmed. "Somehow, old Iwa must still live. Inside you." The Crew stood still a moment, pausing to let the Commander's words sink in. Each one of them held a great affection for the old Warhorse. It was Sato who said what they all were thinking.
"I think I am glad."
Suddenly, Hiroki turned away from them, staring ahead into the distance. There, "Oh shit," he saw it. He raced to the wheelhouse and checked the scanner. "Oh shit!"
"Hiroki...?" Fuji inquired broadly. The Selgan tossed him the small device. Upon its screen, the signal flashed closer. "Oh shit," the commander agreed. "Everybody get ready. It is coming back."
The natives had trekked from the beach back to the ruined temple. The spell young Jenoka had woven was working, the Heart of Gura now glowing a bright blood red. If tribal lore held true, the FireGod himself would walk the earth once more, bringing woe to those marked as enemies, and prosperity to the land that bears his name.
"The time is almost come, child," said Myrga. "All of you, begin the chant."
The Gurani hummed, laying the baseline. Then the words came forth, bringing rhythm. Jenoka swayed upon her knees, clutching the polished stone, moving to the flow of the song. "Myrga, I, I feel strange," she stammered, lost in the pulse of the ancient music.
"I am with you," her aunt replied. "Hold on to me..."
The warning klaxons rang through the Sea Wolf class sub, calling out a Red Alert. The crewmen scrambled, taking position at their battle stations, waiting for the attack. They would not be waiting long.
"Captain Koenig, we need you on the bridge Sir," the Cowboy hailed the submarine's commander. Then he turned to Tanaka. "Hey, monster-man. I just want you to know, I'm going to keep your secret."
"Arigato, Cowboy san." Shiro replied. "Though I think I won't be needing it much longer."
The Necrodon raced closer as Koenig arrived. "Permission to fire, sir?" Said Duke, indicating the monitor station. The kaiju was almost upon them. Koenig nodded a hasty affirmative, and the Cowboy hit the switches, launching a volley of Surface to Air Missiles!
"Helm, take us topside. I want that beast in my sights," Koenig ordered as he took the periscope.
"SAMs are on target," said Tanaka. "Reading direct hits from all three warheads!"
"Nice shootin', Cowboy," said the Captain.
"Wait a minute, Something's wrong," Tanaka advised. "The signal is shifting. Some kind of surge...!" At once, consoles across the bridge began to spark and flare, energy arcing wildly from system to system! "Sensors are down, Captain. Weapons, too."
"What the hell is working?" Koenig demanded.
"Emergency life support, lighting, and the intercoms."
"Damn," said the Cowboy as a swell ran through the craft. "We've surfaced."
"We've got electrical fires in the computer core and the engine room, Captain."
"Well put 'em out then! We..." Another surge, burning out the last of the onboard electronics, and plunging them into darkness. A mighty impact hit them, and they knew they had been caught! "Christ! I think it's got us." The sub rocked fiercely, metal straining in the grip of the monster's gargantuan claws.
The Necrodon screamed, audible even through the titanium reinforced hull! The monster's shivery roar seemed to echo inside the ship, joined by a whisper, breathy and low. It screamed again, and those still on the bridge now heard the echo clearly. It was a single word; "Mycroft."
A penlight beam flashed on and around, shining across Kraken's face. "He's talkin', but he's still out cold," said Duke. The sub twisted violently, as if being lifted from the waves!
"I want the fires out and the hatches open," said the Captain. "I'm going to the engine room, see if I can't route another shock through the hull. That thing took out our systems, but I doubt it drained our batteries. Give me ten minutes, then abandon this ship. Cowboy, Sahara, you two are in charge."
"We're on it, Captain!" The sub rocked again. "Good luck."
Tanaka reached within his pack, taking hold of the Selgan flasks. He passed one to Duke. "Take it." The American held the bottle, unsure of what to do. "Now say; 'Mikki guide me.' "
"Whut's this stuff supposed to be again?"
"It is chicken soup. Now say it!"
"Mikki guide me," the Cowboy complied. Then the Spiritfire rose glowing from within the flask, and the darkness fled. To Duke's eyes, the light seemed to fill up the space of the bridge, falling upon all surfaces, ignoring all angles, casting no shadows. "I can see. Damn, I can see in the dark!"
"Yes, but everyone else will still be blind," Tanaka warned. The creature screamed then, and Kraken whispered his brother's name. "Duke, I think that thing is after me now. Like it knows I killed the Shade and wants revenge. You are on your own, I am going to confront it."
"Tanaka, that's just crazy! Look, I say we've got to give Koenig his time. You don't wanna be on deck before then. And I say we're gonna use that time to try to save some lives here. After that, I won't try to stop you from doin' nuthin."
Shiro considered the man. He had known him to be ruthless, but not cruel. There was a streak of nobility in the mercenary that could not be denied. The ship twisted and bounced, shaking them from their tightly grasped seats. He looked at the Cowboy, "You are right, Cowboy san. I will take damage control if you start the evacuation. I suggest we meet outside the main cargo bay."
"We've got eight minutes, 'Yoshi'. Let's move."
The submarine rocked fiercely, caught in the grip of the great, black talons. Alex clutched at the tiny ship, so much like a toy to him now, laughing as he fell upon it again! His mind took hold of the mystic pattern that burned inside him and focused, flaring it full power. The power arced from him, burning into the sea and the sub, countering the craft's own dim emanations. Then he rose from the waves, the submarine still clasped tightly in his claws!
He was tiring, however, his wounds still burning, still leaking molten blood. The signal kept shifting now, as if trying to elude him. It was his brother who had initiated the link, and kept them both in tune. Now his brother was gone, and he found he was losing control. It was then he decided, he would not be dying alone.
The Necrodon released the ship, letting it crash back down into the sea! "Mycroft!" It screamed. "You will be avenged!"
Under sail now, the Mari Maru cruised fast and smooth, flying over the waves. Far ahead, they could see the giant Necrodon flapping at the water's surface, as if trying to pluck something from the sea.
"It has the sub," said Fujiko, reporting from the prow.
"Good!" Hiroki cried. "They let it loose, let them fight it! Fucking bastards."
"What's with him?" Sato whispered to Miname.
"Some sort of tribal warfare. Those soldiers out there helped the Gurani wipe out Hiroki's men" she replied. "Only he was left alive."
Sato nodded, if not in understanding, then acceptance of the Selgan's position. Vengeance is something a man can measure only for himself.
"Just get us within firing range of that thing, mister," Fujiko barked. "There has been far too much death here already."
Hiroki glowered at the commander, "No. Not quite," he whispered in fury! Mentally, he invoked the SeaGod's name, calling for her winds. The SeaGod answered, and the ship began accelerating toward the beast!
"Hiroki, what are you doing?!" Shouted Noto.
"I'm getting us into firing range, Doctor." The young sorcerer shouted above the rising gale. "I suggest you all hold onto something!"
Captain John Koenig stood alone amid the smoldering wreckage that was once the sub's engine room, struggling with the last of the main power couplings. He had managed to route only a few of the mostly fused positive output lines through to the hull before a mighty impact slammed him across the room. He could hear the cracking of bone, and a fierce pounding began in his skull.
With a muffled scream, the cable came free. Koenig held the thick coil, its exposed end now frayed and torn, gasping from exertion. Forcing himself to move, he dragged the line to join its brothers now wired through an accessway and onto the interior framework of the ship. Koenig knew this final connection would discharge the sub's massive power cells into the hull, just as he knew doing it by hand would surely kill him.
Then his knees began to falter, and his vision. The beating of his blood against his brain grew unbearable, and he collapsed to the floor. Koenig fought for consciousness, dragging himself closer to the nest of electric eels swimming just beyond his reach.
Tanaka led a group of men through the narrow hall of the sleeping quarters, and down into the computer core. The section was ablaze, filled with the smoke of machines burning. A wall of intense heat stopped their advance. "We can do nothing here," the renegade shouted. "Seal it off. It's time to go."
They raced back down the promenade, ushering crewmen and extinguishing blazes as they went. Soon, they gathered in the cargo hold. Over fifty men, mostly wounded, crowded along the row of open hatches, quiet. Flashlight beams danced around them. Tanaka used his own, and found the Cowboy.
Duke looked up, into the source of the light. "Yoshi?" He called.
"We had to seal off sections three and seven. They should burn themselves out quickly enough," Shiro reported. "It is time for me to go."
"Wait a minute, soldier!" Said Duke, moving closer through the crowd. "What exactly are you gonna accomplish now? You think you can stop that thing with some firewater, you must be loco!"
"No, I can't stop it, but I can lure it back. Make it grab us again, and hope the Captain comes through," Tanaka gave a slight bow, then slipped quickly through the nearest hatch.
Duke was stunned! The man could move like a ninja, too fast to stop. "Alright, men. Hang on tight, and wait for my signal." Then, the blue-white spark of power flashed briefly through the sub, followed by a thundering CRACK! "Oh no," the Cowboy cried, diving for the hatchway. "Tanaka!"
PART SEVEN: SHOWDOWN
The Crew held fast to rope and rail as the Selgan ship raced madly toward the embattled sub, and right into the Necrodon's path! "Think you can hit him now, commander?" Hiroki dared the man.
Yasuda ignored the sailor, and leveled his plasma thrower at the daikaiju's head. The energy beam flared bright, dancing from weapon to beast. The wounded kaiju screeched, pulling out of its dive and retreating to circle from a distance. Hiroki smiled. "I guess you can!"
Miname frowned at the islander's recklessness, then she noticed Sato. He had begun to shake. "Sato san?"
"I'm okay, I think." The young scientist proclaimed. "It's sort of coming and going this time. Shifting, not steady like before."
"That sounds good," Doctor Noto chimed in. "It could mean the monster's power is fading too."
The ship banked sharply. "Comin' about!" Hiroki called, the winds shifted with them, keeping them at maximum speed. Before them, the Necrodon was diving for the sub.
Again Yasuda fired, sending a beam of plasma energy burning into the monster's giant form! The kaiju screeched in outrage and pain, and pulled away. Then, they saw another flash, almost like lightning. This time, it came from the sub.
"Hey!" Cried Hiroki. "There's somebody on her deck!" Together they looked, and saw a lone figure clinging to a rail. The man was waving at them, shooing them away. Then another man appeared beside him, and the skymonster turned for another pass.
"It is the Cowboy, and one of his men," Fujiko observed. "What the hell do those idiots think they are doing?!"
"Tanaka! Tanaka!" The Cowboy cried, hurling himself onto the rolling deck. Quickly, he grabbed for the railing and latched on. "Shiro! We're gonna get barbecued, come on!!"
"Have you got the elixir?" Tanaka shouted.
The Cowboy nodded, producing the flask.
"I said drink it, Duke!" Shiro drew forth his own flask, and swigged it down.
The Cowboy hesitated but a single heartbeat, then drank. The Godblood was warm and sweet to taste. A kind of rush went through him, making his scalp crawl, and the small clay bottle fell from his hand. Then he looked skyward, and found the Necrodon was upon them! "Tanaka...!"
The monster grabbed hold of the floundering sub, its claws crushing into the hull. "Any second, Duke. Just hold on!"
"Hold on?! What the h..." Suddenly, the sub was lit with power! Bolts of pure electrical force arcing from the ship's surface and into the wounded Necrodon. The Cowboy cringed, surrounded by the random dancing streams of energy, and the monster howled!
Alexander Kraken shot awake, his screams echoing through the sub. He looked about him, finding only empty darkness, and wondered if this could be death. Then the sub rocked violently and he fell, slamming a shin on something hard. The pain told him, he was still alive.
"Duke! Koenig!" He called to his men, but there came no reply. Painfully, he limped through the dark deserted ship, looking for a way to escape.
"Now, Jenoka! The time is now!" Old Myrga shouted at her niece.
Jenoka writhed sinuously on the ground, twisting to the rhythm of the chanting, and the pulsing of the stone's crimson glow. Her eyes went wide, and she whispered the FireGod's name.
The Heart of Gura cracked, releasing a swirling, mystic force! The strange, vaporlike energy poured from the shattered stone, glowing and gathering. The unearthly essence flared, and shot straight into the earth! The Gurani ceased their chanting, young Jenoka now unmoving before them. Myrga caressed the near lifeless girl, and she wept. And prayed.
The Necrodon flapped wildly, stunned by the massive shockcharge! Tendrils of force licked into the beast, scrambling its link with the alien signal. Then the power surge died, and the monster's struggles ceased. It perched there, wings outstretched, almost balancing upon the sub. Below the waves, the sea began to boil.
"Something is happening," said Miname. "Coming out of the sea...!" Around the beast, they rose. Columns of burning lava, reaching for the monster, and latching on! The Necrodon screeched in terror, releasing the battered sub and flapping frantically to escape, but the fingers of the FireGod held it fast!
"My God," Fujiko swore. "Hiroki! The sub's floating free. We've got to help them."
"Help them?" The Selgan looked stunned. "Let Gura help them! As far as I'm concerned, they're getting what they deserve."
"Hiroki, you can't mean that," said Sato.
"Hey, I don't see you turning into lime jello and sliming to the rescue! You people wanna be heroes, find another cause to fight for. I've already done my part."
A look of bitter disappointment set upon commander Fujiko Yasuda's face, and he sighed. He walked right up to the Selgan sorcerer, and punched him in the nose! Hiroki wobbled, unsteady, then fell unconscious to the deck. The Crew looked at Fuji in disbelief. "He looked tired," he said. "Like he could use some rest. Let's go rescue that sub."
The Mari Maru cruised swiftly, circling the unbelievable scene.
The Necrodon, caught in the grip of a lattice of flowing magma, rising from the sea to encircle the beast. Its giant wings still beating at the air as more of the FireGod's burning essence piled over it, dragging it down, down into the heart of the growing molten cone!
The enemy sub, floating powerless, caught in the dip and swell of the boiling, surging sea. The Cowboy and his foolish friend just visible through the hissing clouds of steam, still clinging to the deck, buffeted by the struggles of a dying monster, and the violent emergence of an island aborning!
"Commander Yasuda," Miname spoke, having again taken the wheel. "I, I think we should use the Godblood. Remember the battle in Tokyo bay? The Bradley's used it to save us then. I believe it could save us now."
Fujiko considered her words, remembering. He too had seen this potion work its magic. It had helped them survive a war of the Wild Gods that was waged here on earth. He plucked the flask from Hiroki's bag, and brought it to the brave young woman. "You are right, Miname san. Try it."
"Me? But I..."
"It was you who once held the spirit of the SeaGod. You are the best choice."
Miname hesitated, unsure. She had no memory of that part of their adventure, yet something was telling her that it would be all right. Like a small voice, perhaps a part of herself, urging her to go ahead. To call upon the spirit of Mikki, SeaGod of Selga. She reached for the small clay vessel, grasped it in her hands. A kind of warmth spread through her, "Mikki," and she felt like she was home. "Guide me."
At her words, the winds that propelled them began to shift. Miname let the wheel spin free, bringing them out of their circling course, and setting them back toward Honshu. Behind them, they watched as the LavaGod grabbed hold of the wounded monstrosity, and dragged it screaming into his molten maw! The Necrodon fought against its master's will, the still forming land mass quaking with its frantic struggles to escape.
Then, a great wave rose from the island's edge, catching the sub in its swell, pushing the vessel away from the titanic battle. Another wave, even larger, rushed outward from the erupting island, lifting both the sub and the ship high upon its foaming crest, carrying them still farther out to sea. Kraken's sub was close now, the monster and its burning adversary more distant. The sea surged once more, rising up, up from beneath them, propelling them steadily across its living surface. Carrying them to safety.
The final wave broke, and the ships slipped smoothly from its graceful, curving back as it rejoined the steadier flow of its mother ocean. In the distance, a new volcano had risen, jutting proudly from the sea. The FireGod's rebirth had trapped the giant Necrodon, and set the Gurani free!
Becalmed, the Crew peered over at the much larger vessel, spotting the pair of mercenaries still clinging tenaciously to its deck. The men peered back, waving and cheering in great joy of still being alive! Then a third figure joined them, and the cheering stopped.
"W, we're alive," gasped Duke. He laughed, and smiled at Shiro. "We made it! We're alive!!"
Shiro smiled back, then pointed toward the small ship drifting nearer. "Hei, but we would not be so fortunate I think, were it not for them."
From behind them, the sound of footsteps. They turned, and there stood Kraken. The man looked horrible, much like the rest of his sorry crew. His face was wet with tears, and a cold rage was burning in his eyes. He stood before them, seething yet still in control. "You..." he began, forcing his voice through a throat clenched tight. "You bastards."
"This was my doing, Kraken," said Tanaka. "The Cowboy had no part..."
"Liars!" Kraken screeched, his voice not unlike the cry of the fallen monster. "You killed my brother, you bastards. I, I had him back, and you, you..." he hesitated, spotting the Selgan boat now floating beside them. "Get off my ship."
"Boss, I..." The Cowboy couldn't help feeling the great anguish Alex was in. In life, Mycroft had been like a brother to so many of them. "I'm sorry."
"Get off!!" Alex screamed, the hatchways now filled with the faces of his watching men. "If I ever see either of you again, you're dead men." The hatches cleared as Kraken turned, and strode slowly back into the ship.
Fuji stood at the prow, Markalite drawn. Wordlessly, he nodded, and motioned for the Cowboy to come aboard. The mercenaries paused, consulting each other with a look, then jumped onto the deck of the Mari Maru.
Duke stood before Yasuda, hands above his head. Noto walked over, and took the Cowboy's shotgun from its sling on his back. He reached into the man's vest, taking a pistol from the shoulder holster there. His companion appeared unarmed. "Any more?" The Doctor asked plainly. The Cowboy shook his head no.
"Yasuda," Duke began. "That's Yoshi. I'd thank you for savin' us, if it didn't look like we're your prisoners."
"Don't bother, Cowboy. Because you are." Fujiko glanced ahead, noticing a pair of ships had appeared on the horizon. They were big, Destroyers most likely, from what country they could not tell. They were approaching fast.
Beside them, Kraken's men began evacuating the devastated sub. "Those ships will take care of whoever's left alive in there," Fuji admonished. "But you two have got some explaining to do."
"Hei," said 'Yoshi', removing his visor. "A lot of explaining, I think."
"Sh, Shiro?" Miname gazed in wonder, drawing closer to the man. The clean cut, spit and polish soldier she remembered was gone. His hair had grown into a silky mane, his beard now full, concealing the scars she could still see hiding there. "Shiro!"
The Crew stood shocked, staring as the couple met with a fierce embrace. Then, compulsively, the doctor joined them, Fuji too. "Tanaka!" said Sato, throwing his own arms wide around them, laughing.
Duke considered the strange scene before him, and smiled. "Hey Shiro," he called. "Best chicken soup I ever had!"
Another dawn was rising as the Mari Maru cruised deeper into Japanese waters. The team slept, save for Shiro and Miname. Hiroki too had finally roused, and resigned himself to taking the helm. The islander was visibly angry at being commandeered this way. He was also an invaluable asset to the team. The Spiritfire had been integral in winning so many recent battles, and this young sailor was its master, or its slave. Either way, Miname decided, she would do what she could to smooth things out.
"Hiroki san, I am sorry for what has happened, and I wish to thank you for your help."
"I know, Masada, and you're welcome." The Selgan surprisingly agreed. "I could have your friend Yasuda charged with piracy, you know. You sure break a lot of rules, for being the good guys."
"That's what this game is about, Hiroki san." Tanaka joined them. "That is how it's won." Shiro eyed the sailor up and down, assessing him. "Miname tells me it is a game you have played before, when Kenji and Kyoko Bradley helped free your tribe from a malevolent alien presence."
"Yeah, Tanaka. I know this game." Hiroki's anger rose. "A game with no second chances, and no room for doubt." The Selgan paused, calming himself. "It can put you in a world where the only thing left with any meaning is survival. That game sucks. I stick to Naked Twister."
"Hiroki, someone has to be there to stand against these monsters. That was the lesson the Bradleys taught us, the code old General Iwa had lived by!" Shiro gripped the Selgan's shoulder with a reassuring squeeze. "I am not sure any of us could choose to walk a path other than the one we are on. Perhaps, we should walk it together..."
The sunrise breaks over the ravaged island, and the priestess Jenoka blinks awake. "Slowly, child." Said old Myrga, smiling at her niece. "The dragon is vanquished. You have earned your rest."
"What of the Selgan?" Jenoka mouthed groggily.
"Gone now, with his friends." The old islander sighed. "Probably won't return. One of the things I wanted to protect you from, my niece. Gura's was not the only heart that was broken today."
The tears welled up in Jenoka's eyes, spilling down her face. "That won't stop me."
"Stop you? From what?"
"From going to Selga," the priestess pronounced. "I feel we need to make restitution there. And even if Hiroki never returns, I will have ensured our child's training in both his mother's and father's native cultures."
A long moment passed, Myrga gazing incredulously at her niece. Then she went to the girl and hugged her. "You are wise beyond your years, my niece. We will go to the Selgans, and there you shall raise your child."
The submarine had finally sunk, taking her Captain with her. The rest of the troops had escaped, piling into the life rafts and lashing them together into a small flotilla. Alex sat amongst the men, watching as a pair of British warships approached to render assistance. Thank God and her Majesty.
Behind them, the black cone of the newborn Gura Two stood smoking in the distance. Alex gazed at the volcano in wonder. "Mycroft," he whispered, pulling a small, shiny datadisk from his pocket. He looked upon its mirrorlike finish and realized, he could still hear the chanting in his mind.