free web hosting | free website | Web Hosting | Free Website Submission | shopping cart | php hosting

Here There Be Monsters

FICTION - by George Thomas





PROLOGUE



The voyage from Gura Shima was long, and night enfolded the Mari Maru as it slipped deeper into Japanese waters. Duke, Fuji and Noto had bunked down below, watching over the wounded Kazuki. Sato and Hiroki were at the wheel, while Miname and Shiro sat upon the prow, taking advantage of this rare time together. Soon, she knew, he must again disappear, and she was loath to let him go.

"I think I like the new look," she teased. "Though I don't suppose I'll get the chance to get used to it."

"I am not sure I will either," said Shiro, running his fingers through his long black locks. "But it is necessary, for now." The renegade turned away from the lady, a look of pain on his shadowy, bearded face. "The last time I saw you, Miname, I asked you not to forget me. I see now that was unfair, and unwise."

"Because it hurts to be apart?" She moved to kiss him. "Do not worry for me, Shiro. I'm tougher than you think."

The mainland of Honshu shone brightly before them, the traffic of many vessels still busy in Osaka bay. To the East lay the harbor complex of Vanguard Command. Unfortunately, thought Hiroki, they could not just sail up and introduce themselves, about half their number was wanted by Johnny Law already. "We'll have to dock down shore from your headquarters, Sato. Ten more minutes, then we wake the crew."

Hiroki turned to look at the kid, and found him shaking like a leaf. "Sato?" The Selgan shouted as the young scientist crumpled to the floor. A muffled roar sounded from somewhere in the distance, and a foul green smoke began to rise from the structures of V-Command. An explosion rocked the complex, spitting out plumes of flaming debris, and Sato screamed.

"Hey, guys," Hiroki called, watching as Sato's form began to shift and glow. "I think we've got a problem over here!!"



CREW KAIJU



Book Two: Ranagon



Part One: BELOW



Vanguard Command Harbor Complex, Osaka Japan.

Fire control and emergency vehicles raced onto the scene, evacuating the injured personnel. The bodies of those beyond their aid were cleared from the area as the rescue workers fought their way deeper into the blazing ruins, searching for more survivors.

"My God," gasped Noto. "What has happened here?"

Noto, Masada and Fujiko made their way from the shore, carrying the wounded form of Kazuki. "I can see General Shinzo is still among the living," said Fuji. "The doctor and I will get Kazuki to an ambulance, Masada, please announce our return to the General."

"I am sure he will be overjoyed," Miname smirked, racing ahead to join their commander. The man was huge, easy to spot in a crowd. A medic worked quickly to bandage Shinzo's blistered hands as he continued barking orders to his men. Miname could not help admiring the man's ability to stay in charge.

The General's eyes grew wide as he spied her approach. "Agent Masada san! It has not been a good night here at Vanguard Command. Your return has given me some hope for improvement!" He bowed. "A rescue team was launched only shortly before the blast. How did you..."

"We were aided by a kind fisherman. He insisted on remaining anonymous," Miname half lied. Before Shinzo could question her further, Fujiko and Doctor Noto arrived.

"Commander Yasuda. Doctor. Welcome home," said Shinzo. "It seems there will be much explaining done tonight. You may go first," the general smiled.

"The alien waveform's source has been eliminated. Commander Kato has suffered extensive burns incurred by falling lava. The rest of us were fine, right up until we saw the explosion. That's when Sato transformed again, and escaped into the bay," Fuji explained.

"The Hydrogen monster has returned?! I suppose I should have guessed so," said the general. "This destruction was caused by the test animal we used to research Sato's condition."

"The frog did this?!" Miname cried in shock.

"Hei. The creature transformed, reverting to its liquid state, and began absorbing the other lab animals. By the time it was discovered, the thing had grown too big too deal with. We evacuated as many as possible before it escaped, burning the building down with its corrosive slime."

"Something must be triggering the mutation, reactivating it," said Miname. "Another signal?"

"None we've been able to detect. We'll be regrouping at our air base in the mountains north of the city within the hour. I will expect full mission reports from each of you ASAP. I know I am asking a lot of you, but there are two menaces now loose in Osaka, and it's still our job to stop them."

"And to think we were looking forward to getting back to the old grind," said Noto.





Down the shoreline. Tanaka and the Cowboy had scaled a forested rise overlooking the burning base, an open comlink with Yasuda filling them in on the action. Satisfied their friends were safe, they descended to rejoin Hiroki on the shore below. "All right gentlemen," Shiro began. "It seems our friend Sato is not the only kaiju currently taking residence in Osaka. Another of his experiments has just escaped, destroying the Command center and apparently triggering his transformation as well."

"You sayin' there are two of those things now?" Asked Duke. "Shiro, this is not what I had in mind when you mentioned a career change!"

"Get used to it, Cowboy," Hiroki smiled, reaching for a cigarette. "You and your mercenary buddies helped stir up this little hornets nest. It's a bit late to start worrying about gettin' stung."

"Look, punk," Duke stepped up to the Selgan, his six foot frame towering over the Asian islander. "I'm the guy who helped save your sorry ass back on that island. It seems to me you're the one who should be watching whut he's stirrin' up."

Hiroki glowered at the American, and Tanaka stepped in. "Both of you, cool it! I was hoping I could count on your help, that we could work together. But if your going to be at each others throats then I'll be better off doing this alone," the renegade stepped back, waiting. "You had better make up your minds right now. Which way is it going to be?"

"All right Tanaka," Hiroki began. "The Seaspirit wants me to help. I'll even admit to taking a liking to your slimy green friend. But I do not trust this John Wayne wannabe you've chosen to hook up with. Don't expect that to change anytime soon."

"It's okay, Shiro," said Duke. "I'm in too. Captain Happy here'll warm up to me in no time. Any ideas on how to help those Vanguarders without gettin' ourselves busted?"

"Hei. I know a place we can lay low, and try to figure out a defense against the creatures. First, we have got to camouflage the ship."

"Camouflage ?" Hiroki laughed. He gestured toward the vessel, and the ship began to sink! "The Mari Maru is a Spiritship," he explained, watching as the boat slipped further beneath the waves. "A gift from the SeaGod, Mikki. I can summon or dispatch her at will."

Duke stared in awe as the ship slowly disappeared. "I don't believe what I'm seein!"

"I do," said Shiro. "Good work, Hiroki. Follow me now, the three of us must vanish as well."



Beneath the earth, the mindless thing that was Maki Sato burns down into the rock and soil. Tunneling deeper through the strata of Osaka, drawn by its scion's call. The signal was strong now, resonating with the H-Man's own unnatural energies, compelling him to seek its source.

The liquid monster melts through a fine layer of silt, and emerges into a vast underground cavern. A river of sludge courses over the stony floor, and on into the darkness. The H-Man sluices forward, sensing his goal.

Then, the river begins to glow, a sickly green aura rising from its slimy surface. The surface starts to shift and foam, growing. Building into a monstrous, near reptilian form! The beast howls into the subterranean depths, as if welcoming its once human progenitor, and the Hydrogen Man answers with its own liquid scream!.





Vanguard provisional headquarters, JSDF Air Base Three, Osaka.

Fuji, Miname and Noto gather in the conference room, awaiting their final debriefing. General Shinzo joins them, carrying their individual reports. The man did not look pleased.

Shinzo bowed, then took his seat. "Due to our current crisis, this meeting must be kept brief. I congratulate you all on the successful completion of your mission, and applaud your efforts in controlling our friend Sato's condition. Kazuki is undergoing reconstructive surgery as we speak, and I am told the prognosis is excellent for a full recovery. Alexander Kraken and the remainder of his mercenary force were questioned at the British embassy in Okinawa and released. No criminal charges could be proven regarding his activities on Gura shima, and none were filed.

"There are two issues mentioned in your reports that disturb me greatly. The intervention of the Selgan islanders, and the apparent remanifestation of the late General Akira Iwa." The General leaned close across the table, lowering his voice. "First, I will save you all from breaking the confidence of the anonymous 'fisherman' who aided you. It was the Selgan Hiroki, the Bradley's friend."

"Hei, General." The doctor confirmed. "Though we nearly missed that connection ourselves. How did you guess?"

"Really, doctor! You were beside me when a strange tornado like force swept our convoy from the battlesite at Tokyo bay. When the Bradley's used the Selgan relics they carried to somehow shield us from the massive atomic blast there. The 'Spiritfire' this Hiroki wields has been a part of our mission from the beginning, his reappearance seemed somehow...typical."

The General reclined, wringing his still bandaged hands. "I suppose none of you are aware of the man's lengthy criminal record, or his connections to international crime?" The agents sat in silent shock. "The Police want him only for questioning, the Yakuza may want him dead." Shinzo paused, letting the point sink in.

"Secondly, the Selgan was the only one of you who experienced direct contact with the spirit of General Iwa. If this is true, such an effect might help facilitate the H-Man's capture, and possibly even clear the record of any wrongdoing by your former commander, Inoshiro Tanaka.

"The matter of the Necrodon and the Gurani waveform will be considered closed for now, but if the Selgan shows up again, I want you to tell him to come see me. I think we may be able to help each other."

Fujiko rose, bowing before the General. "Thank you, General. I think we all understand, and agree."





The cavern.

The Hydrogen Man flows closer to the strange protoplasmic beast, sensing a kind of kinship between them. The former amphibian's energies were mirroring the mutant human's own. Instinctively, the H-Man extrudes a ropy tendril toward the creature, as if probing the air for its scent. The massive animal responds, grabbing the pseudopod with it's own flowing forelimb, and tearing it free!

The H-Man shudders and growls, backing quickly away. Strange vapors rise as the mutant absorbs the organic essence of the subterranean rock, replacing his stolen mass. He watches with a growing inhuman rage as the monster assimilates the tendril, adding his essence to it's own. The animal howls, a rumbling liquid croak, and the H-Man attacks!





Osaka.

Staying close to the mostly forested shore, Tanaka leads his men stealthily out of the city, and into a large residential sector on the outskirts of Kobe. The once thriving area was now mostly abandoned, its buildings turned to crumbling ruins by the continuing seismic activity there. Cookfires still burn here and there along the streets, evidence of the presence of those with nowhere else to go. Shiro scanned the scene, deciding they were clear, and led his companions into one of the partially collapsed structures.

"Ya know, we coulda just checked into a hotel," said Duke.

"Sure," Shiro agreed, keying a sequence into a tiny keypad on his watch. "But I think you will like this better." A panel appeared before them, seperating itself from the rest of the floor, revealing a dimly lit shaft.

"It's the fucking Bat Cave," Hiroki laughed.

"Not quite," said Shiro. "Come on." The shaft ran down about thirty feet, metal rungs set into one side, a row of lights down the other. "This was once a well shaft, a water source for the locals," Shiro explained as they neared the bottom. Above, the panel drew itself back into place. "And this," the lights came on as the trio emerged, "Is my home away from home. A modified bomb shelter, located under what was once the lab and living quarters of Mr. Maki Sato. A property furnished by his benefactor, General Akira Iwa."

"Whoa," said the Cowboy, eyeing the bright open space. "This is the sweetest little ol' bomb shelter I've ever seen!" The main room was an irregular hexagon, with stations equipped for cooking and dining, entertainment, and a computer center complete with satellite uplink. A laundry and bathroom combination was set behind the kitchen, with utility and storage areas on one side and three large bedrooms on the other.

"Holy shit," said Hiroki, obviously impressed.

"I've stocked the place with supplies and equipment. There's a wardrobe selection I suggest you both take advantage of," Tanaka smiled. "Then, I'll show you the armory."



Outside, a Police cruiser had stopped at the end of the rubble strewn road, checking in on the few remaining residents. Such areas were prone to attract more than just those needing shelter. Vandals and robbers had been rousted here more than once. They had pulled a murdered corpse from one of these homes only recently. Now, patrols would be increased, until a bid was secured for restoration, or demolition.

Giving a mutual 'All's well', patrolman Yoshio Shimura continued on his rounds. It looked like just another dull night in the wrecks, thank Buddha.





The cavern shakes as the H-Man's glowing aura flares into a blinding, incandescent burst! Waves of disruptive, trans-dimensional force pour from the mutant's form, burning into it's enemy's liquid mass. The giant amphibian reels as the alien energy rips through it. The beam was tearing it apart, molecule by molecule!

The creature lashes out, gouging another chunk from the mutant's form. The Hydrogen Man staggers, then blasts the beast again! The monster screams at the assault, it's rage becoming panic as it dissolves beneath the beams. Foaming and melting back into the foul water from which it sprang. The mutant cut the power, the beast was gone.

Drained by the massive discharge, the mindless man-mass moves slowly upstream. Instinct driving it to leave this place of darkness and decay. The lure of the monster's energy had vanished, and the mutant's own reserves were fading fast. It turned, flowing toward the nearest wall, and burned through, dissolving a desperate path back to the surface.





Part Two: SPAWN







Air Base Three, the medlab.

"This is becoming quite a regular occurrence, Noto sama," Miname observed. "Nearly everything we need to research Sato's problem has again been destroyed."

"Ya ta, these creatures have a proficiency for such destruction," the doctor agreed. "I fear not even General Shinzo's efforts will keep the Defense Force from ordering both of their deaths. That is why we must not fail."

Miname thought a moment. Perhaps she should hold her tongue, give Shiro and his men a chance. But the doctor was right. If they did not act now, then Sato too would become a target. "Noto sama, I was told a massive electrical shock was used to stop the H-Man when it attacked the mercenary Kraken's sub."

Noto stared at the woman he had come to think of as a protege, realizing the information's source. Her expression confirmed it was a topic best discussed off duty. "But that is one of the killing protocols determined by our previous experiments. We pulled Sato from the sea still alive!" The doctor fairly shouted with excitement. "It is an option we must pursue. Arigato, Miname san."

The young woman bowed. "Thank you, doctor. For understanding. I only hope we can find him before anyone gets hurt."





Kobe, the shelter.

The men had showered, changed and eaten, the Asians taking bowls of seasoned noodles, the American a can of beans. They gathered round a long workbench, a strange array of weaponry and components laid out before them. "Cripes, Shiro! I don't even recognize half this ordinance. How'd you manage to stockpile it?" Asked Duke.

"Not me,:" Tanaka replied. "General Iwa. A private collection."

"Damn," said Hiroki. "Just when you think you know somebody..."

Tanaka smiled. "The General was known to subsidize all manner of research, picking up where official funding sometimes fell short." He reached down, plucking an intimidating looking firearm from the pile. "Kaiju killing was his particular favorite."

The Cowboy laughed. "You Japanese fellers sure know how to have a good time!"

"Yeah, a real riot," Hiroki grimaced. "Anything in there that'll stop our friend the Booger Man? Big Kleenex maybe?"

"Good one," Duke smiled.

"Remind me to never get you together with Kazuki Kato," Shiro cut in, trying to get back to business. "I'm fairly certain we could kill it, Hiroki. Stop it? Capture it?" Shiro stroked at his bearded cheeks, his fingertips tracing the scarred flesh beneath. "I don't know if anything can stop it."

"I like a challenge," said Duke. "What's the plan, Tanaka san?"

"We split up, gather information, try to track the beasts. They will most likely show themselves before too long. If we get lucky, so to speak, and find them, here are our options," Tanaka handed them each what resembled slim, sawed off shotguns.

"First, the Megatasers. Modified to deliver a shockburst that could power an atomic sub for a week. Such a discharge once disabled the H-Man, and left him human. It may do so again. If not, the weapons pump action primes the Fire Cannon. That should incinerate either of the creatures almost instantly.

"Second, an even more unconventional approach. Relying on Hiroki's ability to reason with the monster, and withstand it's acid touch," Shiro regarded the islander. "I hate to ask this of you, Hiroki, but the Spiritfire could again prove to be our greatest resource. We fight now not only for the safety of Japan..."

"But also for the life of a friend," Hiroki interjected with a smile. "I understand, Tanaka. Believe me, I understand."





Below.

The river of slime flows smoothly through the huge underground cavern. The place was one of a series of ancient bubble like vaults, empty pockets of gasses and air left behind by magma receeding back to the center of the Earth. The slim liquid ribbon was itself only a recent visitor here, a combination of bay water and sewage released by giant fissures now cutting deep into the volcanic land mass of Honshu. Fissures formed by the continuing action of the island's Tectonic movements. The river seeps through the great gash like cracks, it's nature forcing it to seek out the lowest levels of this Pelucidarian realm. Seek them out, and fill them with it's noxious essence.

Now, a small but rising lake has formed in those vast black depths. The steady stream of sludge feeds the subterranean reservoir, depositing all manner of substances both common and strange. One of those substances begins to steam and glow, dancing and foaming like a thing alive...





Air Base Three.

Miname sits before the large central display, data streams flash across the screen, green on black, bathing the room in a strobing glow.

There were dozens of files on Sato's strange new technology. The Artificial Diamond Armor alone was used to forge the rad-proof Fireshields and contain the plasma energy of the Markalite rigs. This 'new element' had replaced the old magnetic bottle concept of energy storage, and could theoreticaly withstand direct contact with anti-matter. Charming, she thought.

Of course, Sato's most dangerous discovery was the Radion Wave. The alien energy that had brought life to a dormant stone like cell, reviving a gigantic, ravenous monster that had torn through the heart of Kyushu. The energy that had driven yet another beast, the King Kaiju, from the mainland, but left Sato himself transformed into a kind of liquid lifeform composed of acidic slime. They called the creature Hydrogen Man, named after a colony of similar beings that had raided Tokyo back in nineteen fifty nine. That monster had destroyed Sato's original research, as well as the Defense Force labs that housed it. This time, the entire Command Complex had been lost. Their orders were clear now; If the H-Man could not be stopped, then it would be destroyed.

"Masada san?" A familiar voice called, and Miname turned.

"Kazuki san!" She exclaimed with a bow as Doctor Noto led the man into the room. The soldier stepped slowly forward, pain still evident in his gate. "You are looking well, Commander."

"Arigato. Doctor Noto oversaw the restorative surgery himself. We have even incorporated a few modifications, under mutual agreement of course." Kazuki bowed stiffly in return. "Gomenasai, I am still getting used to them."

Miname smiled. "Cybernetics? Amazing! It continues to be quite an adventure working with both of you, and quite an honor as well. Tell me now, has there been any word on the monsters?"

"None yet. Fuji's teams are still searching. He is afraid the two beasts may have joined forces, maybe even combined somehow."

"If that were true, then he would have to kill them both," Miname shuddered at the thought.

"He is an excellent tactician and would be prepared for every contingency," Kazuki agreed. "This time, we may just have to hope for the best."

"Have you found anything in the data files that might help us, Miname?" The doctor asked hopefully.

"No, doctor. To Sato's credit, he was quite thorough in eliminating all Radion files, once he realized what horror the work had unleashed."

"Doctor!" A shout from the hall, and suddenly Fujiko appeared. "Noto sama! All of you, come quickly!" The soldier barked in urgency. "They are on their way, Sato has been found!"





Kobe. The Wrecks.

Officer Yoshio Shimura parked his cruiser at the edge of the small forest bordering the eastern side of the ruined development. He had spied movement here, he thought. Three figures slipping into the woods. The policeman grabbed his torch and followed.

Deep amongst the trees now, he realized he must have been mistaken. He could find no trace of passage. In fact, he found himself momentarily lost. Warily, he paused to get his bearings.

To the East lay Osaka, to the South the bay, but the hilly terrain he stood in afforded only an inconsistent view. The patrolman sighed, trudging toward the nearest rise.

The effects of the powerful earthquakes suffered here were evident even in these undeveloped woods. Great piles of clay and stone were ripped from beneath the surface, jutting up now and then among the fallen trees. Even some of the existing hillocks had crumbled, shaken apart by the relentless seismic force. Yoshio could not suppress a great awe at the extent of the destruction, examining his surroundings as he went.

Then, a sound broke the stillness of the woods, like stones shifting somewhere in the darkness. Again, and Yoshio turned to find a dim green glow pulsing from one of the long, pit like trenches that cut the broken landscape.

"Who is there?" He called, trying to keep the fear from his voice. Shadows danced with the shifting light, the sounds of something scrabbling in the dirt. Shimura drew his pistol, and stepped closer.

"Help!" Came a cry from the trench, a trembling hand now rising to grasp its crumbled edge. "H, help me!" The policeman holstered his weapon, grabbed the emerging arm, and pulled.

"Thank you," gasped the bruised and naked man now lying at his feet. Shimura watched as the ghostly luminance died, sinking slowly back into the stranger's form. "Oh God, thank you."





With some time left until dawn, Shiro, Duke and Hiroki set off for a quick initial reconnaissance, deftly avoiding the attentions of a policeman patrolling around the ruined homes. The Cowboy would play tourist, dressed now more like an oil baron than a ranch hand, covering the restaraunts, airports and hotels. Shiro hit the streets, checking the bars and haunts of Osaka's less reputable denizens. Hiroki patroled the shore, and equipped with a remote frequency monitor, crept unseen around the perimeter of the leveled Vanguard harbor complex.

The radio signals revealed little they had not already guessed. The creature had gone underground, leaving a gaping tunnel where the research labs had once been. The search teams reported the near vertical shaft gradually narrowed, shrinking to less than a quarter meter wide. Becoming impassable for anything much larger than a rat, and the monster had already eaten all the rats.

Still, the Selgan was not entirely unfamiliar with some of the region's underground highlights. Great caverns both natural and man made could be found among the more mountainous areas of Japan's mainland, as well as along the shore. Giant lava tubes, emptied munitions dumps and abandoned submarine bays lay hidden throughout the landscape. He had spelunked a number of them himself years ago, using the maze like tunnels to evade both the local police, and a few disgruntled former business associates as well. Perhaps it was time to visit them again.

Deciding there was nothing left to learn here, Hiroki snuck silently back through the trees. Then his scanner picked up a police band signal that made him stop. A man had been pulled from a pit in the forest bordering the old Kobe residential sector. He had identified himself as Maki Sato, and was being taken to V-Command's local Air base. "Oh shit," Hiroki thought. "That's right near the hideout. We must have run right past him, but apparently the cop we saw did not!"

Both the woods and the ruins would surely be swarming with police by now, no way he could make it back in there anytime soon. The young shaman turned, heading inland towards the lights of the city, and signaling his partners to join him at their alternate rendezvous. They would meet at Osaka Castle at dawn.





Below.

The lake erupts in a torrent of fluid force as the mutant beast emerges! The kaiju is huge now, over sixty meters long and growing. Soon, the amphibian horror would fill the lower caverns completely. It's fluid composition the only factor keeping it from being crushed within the stone.

But size alone is not the only difference from its former incarnation. The monster is more defined now, with a twisted, almost tadpole like shape. Two bubble eyes set high atop a wide, flattened snout. A trio of thick, liquid forelimbs clustered beneath its chest. The main body tapering back to form a tall, frilled tail. Both the mouth and the long hind legs had vanished.

Yet even these radical changes in size and structure could not reveal the creature's most profound alterations. Within the beast's genetic code, a new sequence has been added, absorbed along with the living liquid flesh of the Hydrogen Man. The stolen biochemical agents combine with the monster's own to create a singular, purposeful result. The beast has become pregnant.





Airbase Three. Dawn.

The Alert klaxons sound across the mountains, signalling the Defense Force to action! Base Security was out in force and armed to the teeth. All manner of unusual weaponry surrounded the lone police cruiser now making its way toward an open hangar.

Yoshio Shimura grimaced. He could feel every trigger, every scope on his back. "Sato san, are you sure this is a good idea?"

"Hei. These people are my friends."

"Then I would not care to meet your enemies."

Ahead, a group of figures stepped out of the hangar, and a pair of soldiers wearing what could only be Markalite rigs approached the car.

"Sato san, good to see you in one piece again!" Said Kazuki.

"I could say the same for you, Commander," Sato smiled. "Kazuki Kato, Commander Fujiko Yasuda, this is officer Yoshio Shimura, Kobe police. Don't shoot him, he helped me out when I was in a rut."

"Pleased to meet you, officer Shimura," Fujiko bowed. "Welcome back Sato. Please forgive the overt display of firepower, it is a necessary precaution. This way now, please."

Yoshio followed the armored soldier into the hangar. The huge bay doors were lowered, sealing them all within. So much for just another quiet night shift, Yoshio thought, as he and Sato stepped out of the car.

The place had been converted into a heavily secured laboratory, for what purpose, Yoshio could not tell. These people did seem genuinely pleased to see this Maki Sato again, their obvious concern for the stranger from the trench putting him more at ease. Then, someone called his name. Yoshio turned, and found himself confronted by a giant!

"Oname wa, General Shinzo desu," the giant spoke. "I would like to take your official statement, officer Shimura, as well give you a full briefing on our situation. If you are interested."

"Arigato, general. I find myself becoming most interested!"



"Sato san," Doctor Noto beckoned. "Come sit with me. I want to check you out. You must tell us anything you can remember."

"Of course, Noto sama. Though as usual, there are only the vaguest impressions of what may have occurred after I transformed." Sato gestured, indicating their surroundings. "Our relocation suggests something happened at the Command complex. Was that what triggered my condition?"

"We believe so," Miname replied. "Our little test subject the frog was also transformed, it leveled our headquarters making its escape."

"Buddha's belly! I remember, sort of. There is another H-Monster out there, or at least there was. I believe I may have killed it." Sato strained to grasp the memory. "I, I cannot be certain."

"I thought you might somehow attract each other," said Fuji. "Tell me, is there any way you could scan for the kaiju? We must be sure it is dead."

"I can try. It lured me somehow, I am sure. If it is still alive, I may be able to do the same thing, draw it into the open. I know Vanguard weaponry can kill it, I strongly suggest we attempt to cure it first. One last experiment to reverse the condition could prove invaluable." Sato looked into his comrades' eyes. "It could save my butt."

"He is right, commander," the doctor remarked. "There will be no more test subjects once this one has been dealt with! We will put our heads together, propose a course of action to the general."

"Shinzo is a good man, a good commander," said Fuji. "But he too must follow orders. That is why Kazuki and I must stand by, in case Sato's condition changes. I, I just wanted you all to know."

A silent pause came over them, a moment for the same thought to echo across their minds. The military had tolerated all they could. At the first hint of trouble, Maki Sato would be a dead man.

"Then I am blessed to have two good friends to hold the guns to my back," Sato spoke with happy conviction. "I understand, and trust you both to do the right thing." The young man seemed to shudder slightly. "Now, let's get to work on that proposal!"





Below.

The creature swam, immersed now in the waters of the still rising lake. It continued absorbing mass from the organic spew even though its growth had already ended, leaving the monster just under ninety meters in length. Instead, the matter was being used as nutrients, used to give form to its young.

A membrane was forming, stretching tight across the monster's back. The skinlike sheet congealed, pulsing with the flow of the glowing green blood that fed it. It blistered and rippled, extruding small bubble like projections across its surface. Over a hundred translucent domes now rose there, each one shifting and churning. Each one holding a tiny living thing.

The liquid leviathan shuddered, and the blisters swelled. It lurched, diving down through the watery muck, and the cells began to burst! The spawn emerged, entering the foul lake and swimming free. A living wave of tiny anthropomorphic amphibians erupting from their twisting, tortured host. An army of predatory monsters now gathering within the bowels of the earth! The Motherbeast shook a final time, sloughing the skinlike bed of nutrients from it's broad flowing back. The deep black water churned as the horde of tiny horrors fell upon the floating placental mass, devouring it in a phirrana like frenzy of teeth and blood!





Part Three: TREMORS





Osaka Castle Park.

The usually crowded monument was bustling with an absolute throng of tourists and visitors, a typical scene that was played here nearly every weekend. Tanaka knew such a place would make for perfect cover. Just a few more nameless faces in a sea of anonymity.

They looked surprisingly natural together, Shiro thought. The whole area was filled with diverse groups of travelers. The American, the Selgan and himself simply blended in among them. It was a talent Shiro had cultivated, the ability to hide in plain sight.

"Well score one for Captain Magic, eh Shiro?" Duke grinned smugly. "It looks like our job's already half done."

"You may be right, Duke. We will have to rely on the Vanguard to stabilize Sato's condition for now, while we track down the animal."

"Ranagon," said Hiroki. "They're calling it the Ranagon. I'm still monitoring Defense Force transmissions," he drew his spiky hair back behind his left ear, exposing a tiny silver disc. "This little gizmo is pretty cool."

"Ranagon?" Duke pondered the name. "Wait a minute now, Rana's like latin or somethin' for frog, right?"

"Right," said Shiro. "And the 'gon' is because we cannot find it."

"Good one!" Laughed Hiroki.

"I think I am getting the hang of it," the renegade smiled. "We know the kaiju has gone underground. We can use the uplinks back at the shelter to access whatever subterranean maps may exist. As soon as it is safe to return there, that is. As for now, I thought we might each take a look at some of the sites Hiroki is already familiar with.

"Now that Sato has been found, we will not have to worry about using lethal force to stop the monster. That alone is a great advantage. I still feel certain that it will make its presence known before too long, but I do not believe it would be wise to waste time waiting for it."

"You want to head him off at the pass," said the Cowboy.

"I would call it a preemptive strike, but yes, Duke. You've got the right idea."

Just then, Hiroki raised a hand, signaling them to pause. "Holy shit," he exclaimed, scanning quickly around. Something was happening in the crowd, drawing their attention.

"Hiroki?" Tanaka called in inquiry.

"Holy Shit!" The Shaman responded, his gaze now fixed upon the hills beyond the castle grounds. Those hills shimmered in the morning sun, emitting a vile greenish glow...





Air Base Three.

"This is incredible," Yoshio gasped. "You are telling me that skinny kid is the Hydrogen Man? The same monster that helped rip apart half of Tokyo harbor last year?"

"Hei, Shimura san," the general confirmed. "His condition has again become unstable. This may be our last chance to attempt to cure him. Thank you again for returning him to us."

"Last chance?" Yoshio now knew what the arsenal surrounding them was all about. "You are going to kill him?"

"If Sato mutates again, my orders are to destroy the kaiju. You should understand, that is something none of us here are pleased with. Maki Sato is one of our team, one of our family. We will fight like hell to save him." Shinzo assured the cop.

Yoshio made a slight bow, accepting the giant soldier's sincerity. "I understand, general, and am glad to hear it. What of the other beast, the Ranagon? I, I would like to help you further if I could."

"General! Sumimassen, sir. This report is urgent." A soldier approached, bowing and presenting the general with a printout.

Shinzo regarded the message with a grim and angry glare. "The Ranagon has appeared, Shimura san. We will be mobilizing at once." The general hesitated, considering the young policeman. "If you really want in on this, then now is your chance."

Yoshio nodded a firm agreement. "Hei! I am with you, Shinzo sama."





Osaka Castle Park.

The ground begins to tremble, vibrations rippling underfoot. The luminous green haze rising from the distant hills grows brighter, erupting into a burning, blinding flare!

"Holy shit!" Tanaka and the Cowboy gasped as one. Then the monster emerged...

A wide whale like snout thrusts up from beneath the earth, disintegrating the landscape as it tears through to the surface. Another surge, and a pair of black bubble eyes, impossibly huge, appear atop the nearly featureless mound of the beast's head. The cluster of forelimbs claw their way out, pulling the gigantic mutant even further from the depths.

"Ha ta!" Cried Shiro, as more of the monster's mass flowed out from the earth. "Does it have no end?!" The fugitive glanced at his team, signalling them to draw their weapons. They raced through the panicking crowds, out of the castle grounds and into the trees.

"I must be goin' nuts," said Duke. "Couldn't we have brought bigger guns?! One a them 'markerlights' or somethin'?"

"No. A rig like that would be impossible to conceal," Shiro explained. "Come on. A little closer and I will show you what these weapons can do."

A final violent surge ripped through the earth, and the Ranagon shrugged itself free! The Crew froze for a second, confronted by the full sight of the living nightmare. Then the ground crumbled beneath them, and they sprang from the trees, hurdling the churning earth! "We can do this," Shiro swore. "Let's move in!"

Again, the earth shifted as they closed upon the beast, knocking them about. "Aw no," cried Duke. "That weren't the monster that time. That was a genuine tremor, wasn't it?"

"Yup," Shiro confirmed. "Load your shockcharges, and stay on your toes." The former Captain of the Vanguard of Japan primed his own weapon, and fired! A burning bolt of chemical fire launched for the beast, arcing low to strike against its limbs. The Ranagon burned, screaming with only it's eyes. Tanaka looked at his new associates, his gaze conveying the calm intensity of command. "Put it out of it's misery."

The Cowboy and the Shaman fired as one. Twin projectiles penetrate the mutant's gelatinous hide, detonating in a massive electromagnetic burst! Vapors billow from the giant's tortured form as the Megatasers boil away at its pulsing fluid mass. "Now prime your Firecannons, and hit it." Together, they fired again, blasting the beast with a volley of incandescent flares. The daikaiju thrashed and spun, whipping its enormous fan-like tail against the wildly spreading flames. The fires raged, consuming the struggling monster in a pyre of burning chemical slime!

The smoke was blowing thick and black, spreading out across the hills. The monster reared from within the burning cloud, the pulse of it's own unfathomable energies temporarily obscuring the very fires that danced around it! The strange green aura flared, then faded, flashing back into the earth. The Ranagon shuddered, then fell, disappearing into the flames.

"Did we kill it?!" Hiroki shouted. "Holy shit. I think we killed it!" Behind them, a phalanx of police now lined the castle grounds, more helping sweep clear the crowds. "Uh, there are like a lot of cops here all of a sudden, Shiro."

"Hei, and coming closer. The Vanguard will be here soon as well," Tanaka replied as a wave of armed policemen rushed from the trees. "I suggest you stow those weapons, and run like hell!!"

Warning shots rang past them as they raced across the shattered ground. The police were closing in fast. "This aint gonna work, Shiro!" Duke called on the run. "They got the guns, the numbers and the high ground. We can't outdistance them on this terrain!"

"I know!" Shiro shouted in response. "Head into the smoke. We can lose them inside the cloud!" Another shot streaked close by, the police calling out for their surrender. The Cowboy was right, Shiro thought. They would never reach cover in time.

A deep rumbling rose from somewhere far below, and the earth began to shake and heave! The Crew bounded desperately over the sinking, shifting ground, disappearing in a blinding cloud of dust. The police fought for their own footing against the violent tremors, and lost. The earth quaked in a final surge of seismic force, then all fell quiet once more.



The Vanguard armored convoy moved in, surrounding the castle. Fujiko sprang from the command car, Markalite primed. Miname stuck with him, her eyes fixed upon the Wave scanner Sato had supplied. The scanner remained blank, while ahead the fire still raged. "Is there any trace of the energy that empowered the beast?" Fujiko asked as they hurried across the broken earth.

"Nothing, commander. Other than the bits of matter still burning, it seems someone has practically obliterated it."

"Hei, overkill would be typical of that one. So much for the tests we had planned, damn it!" The soldier cursed. "I am sorry, Masada san. The Ranagon's destruction means one less possibility to help Sato. As one of those who must stand ready to execute him, it is a desperate situation for us both."

"Of course, Fuji san. It is the same for those of us charged with finding his cure. It had not occurred to me until now though, that the doubt and regrets that have plagued me through this work might touch men like yourself as well."

"I believe it touches all of us, Masada san." They stood before the scorched and smoldering pit that was all that remained of the once gargantuan menace, watching the dying flames. "I believe it is what we tell ourselves makes us the good guys, even when our mission may be only to destroy."





Below.

The spawn explore their watery creche, swimming along the bottom, clambering up the walls. Cutting the blackness of the subterranean vault with their bodies own collective glow. A hundred half humanoid horrors scurrying insect like over every surface. Sampling and testing each new substance they encounter, dissolving it in their corrosive slime. Absorbing the component elements into their bodies, and cataloging the chemical sequences in their brains.

Like the gigantic beast that bore them, the spawn's biochemistry is hydrogen based. Their natural physiology twisted by forces unleashed from beyond our universe, allowing the creatures to carry the combined genetic potentials of both their amphibian and mammalian progenitors. One could tell just by looking at them, these new Ranagon were partly human.

Suddenly, there was silence. A heartbeat of collective pause as the creatures all stopped still. A tremor rolled through the deep dark rock, and as one they turned to face the surface.

The pulse burst down upon the mutant monsters, flooding the chamber like a wall of living force! The Spawn reeled screaming, bombarded by the massive surge of power. The aura of otherworldly energy flared around the beasts. Many not yet able to metabolize the blast were consumed. Those still standing as the Wave passed were left empowered by the pulse, their own auras now flaring with stockpiles of the nigh incalculable force!

Again the earth shook, rippling through the monsters stony womb. Great chunks of rock and soil rained down upon the waters as the cavern crumbled around them. The hellish green glare faded as the Ranagon fled the quaking vault, like Serpents cast out from the Garden. Driven from the depths by both the planet's violent dance, and the scream of their mother, dying.





Air Base Three.

"This is the Mark A5 Lightning Gun, or Markalite," Kazuki explained, checking the harness' straps. "The rig itself contains a series of compact plasma energy generators. The power feeds connect here, through the discharger's pivotal suspension system. All component housings and armor panels are coated with Fireshield grade Artificial Diamond glaze. How does it feel, Yoshi?"

"Not bad," the cop replied. "How do I look?"

"Awful. The unit fires a stream of charged atomic particles, molecules that have been destabilized into a plasma state. The matter now behaves as if it were energy, disintegrating its targets in a similiar manner. Recoil is progressive, increasing with the duration of the beam. The support arm handles most of that. Now, I want you to hit those range targets," the soldier pointed off into the distance.

Yoshi squinted at the rows of tiny objects. "Those targets? They must be two hundred meters away!"

"Then aim high," Kazuki smiled. "When your screens are green, reading nines or better, you can prime the weapon."

"Okay. I've got three nines showing. What do I do?"

"There are two green buttons toward the barrell, a red one on the stock. Push them." Yoshi pressed the discs in sequence, lighting them with his touch. The weapon hummed, and issued a single bell like tone. "That was your Go tone. The Stop tone is deeper, more like a honk. Now, sight your target onscreen. The thumbswitch locks your cross hairs, they unlock when a shot is fired, or when the switch is hit again."

Carefully, Yoshi lined himself up, watching as the tiny display brought the targets into focus. He hit the switch and the crosshairs flashed, confirming the lock. "I've got them, captain."

"Then go for it."

The weapon flared as Yoshi squeezed the trigger, releasing a burst of shimmering plasmic force! The beam shot across the distance almost instantly, arcing out to strike the targets. A kind of thrill went through the cop as he realized the targets had been vaporized on impact.

Kazuki scanned the range. "Looks to me like you have passed muster, Officer Shimura. Another happy graduate of Markalite class."

"Buddha's Butt, that was great!" Yoshio agreed.

Nearby, General Shinzo watched the men laughing with triumph, and he smiled. He had decided he liked Shimura as soon as he laid eyes on him. Now, he found himself considering offering the man a job.

Radio and television monitors blared within the hangar. Reports were coming in from the field. The local news services were all over the scene by now, interviewing the police and the public. The general turned to listen.

"...Out of the crowd, armed with strange weaponry and burned the daikaiju down! Police confirm seeing the three men fleeing the scene, and the people we have spoken to agree. It was almost as if they had been waiting for the beast."

"Captain," Yoshio called. "I have a strange feeling, something shady may be going on here. I was pursuing a trio of men through the woods when I stumbled upon your friend. These latest reports concern me, could these three vigilantes be the same men?"

Kazuki remained expressionless. "Are you training to be a detective, Shimura san?"

"There has been trouble lately, in those few sections of Kobe still awaiting renovation. I do not like trouble, Captain Kato. Not on my patrol."

Kazuki could not surpress the broad smile that spread across his features. "It seems your courage might be a match even for your curiosity. Good qualities in your line of work." The soldier hesitated, then heeded his instincts. "Yoshio san, I can tell you with certainty, those three men are not your enemies."

Yoshi's eyes widened. "You know them?!"

"Officially, no. But I do know their story," Kazuki's grin remained. "If you are interested."

Yoshi nodded an affirmative, and smiled back.

Unseen by the men, General Shinzo gasped at the realization. His team had not returned from Gura shima alone. "Tanaka..."





Below.

Hiroki gasped in the dusty air, surrounded by stone and by darkness. Slowly, he began to move, and thanked the SeaGod to find himself sore but uninjured. The shaman rose, invoking his patron's name, and the shadows fled before the SpiritFire's light!

"Holy shit," he swore at his subterranean surroundings. His words echoing on into space as he quickly backs away from the edge of the sheer cliff at his feet. Tanaka and his pet American were nowhere around. Even Mikki's influence would be limited, here within the Earth. Deep within, judging by the fall, and the heat.

Just as panic was becoming a tempting option, a sound caught Hiroki's ears. Before him, an almost liquid rustling noise was rising from the great crevasse, joined by a familiar emerald glow. The young sorcerer knew then, he was not as alone as he had thought.





Part Four: UNDERLORD





Airbase Three, Osaka.

Maki Sato glared at the waveform monitor as if waiting for a sign from God.

It had been almost a year since he had first discovered the Wave. Since the destruction of downtown Kyushu and Tokyo harbor. Now, Vanguard Command itself had been leveled, and Osaka castle nearly lost as well. The cadre of soldiers that surrounded the hangar reminded him; his own life was not worth such a cost.

Yet even the most desperate of times can show a man the way to peace. Though he had failed to cure the cancer-like affliction that killed his father Kirino, Sato believed he had communed with his spirit instead. Kirino had absolved him, and turned him from his own attempted suicide at the hands of King Kaiju. That monster, of course, preffered the idea of turning Sato into a slimy green corpse. It was another man, another spirit who had saved him then. A man he had known only briefly, a man who had sacrificed himself in Sato's stead. A man called General Akira Iwa.

Even now, Sato could not help smiling at the thought of the old soldier. The Vanguard itself had been Iwa's own idea, and he was happiest watching as a new generation of soldiers and scientists continued the work he had pioneered. In life, there had been a kind of telepathy between them. Now, a piece of that strange connection somehow remained. A subtle influence, driving Sato to continue his work. Urging him to survive.

Unfortunately, the nature of the forces Sato had unleashed remains unfathomable. The Radion Wave was supposed to be a source of 'broadcast power', a remote fuel supply for satellites and spacecraft. A carrier signal that could transmit atomic energy safely along the electromagnetic spectrum. Instead, the energy tapped into a new and unknown frequency, far beyond the range of any naturally occurring wavelengths. A signal originating from a place where the physical laws that control our universe do not apply. The signal was coming from another dimension. Something Sato had not forseen, and could not control.

"Sato san?" Doctor Noto approached, seating himself close to the young man. "Are you feeling alright?"

Sato grinned. "Hei, genkei desu. Though my 'prey' remains elusive."

"You can find no trace of the Wave?" Noto asked.

"Nothing. Worse, I am not sure I would know what to do if I did!"

"It is possible then, that the energy is gone now? Perhaps we have seen the last of it."

"Ie, Noto sama. We both know that is an assumption we cannot afford, and just waiting around for the next kaiju to appear seems a bit lacking in inspiration for Vanguard strategy. Thank Buddha the others were there to..."

"Sh," the doctor hushed him. "Sato, the Ranagon was not a product of the Wave, but of our own clumsy attempts to duplicate it. I suggest you take a break from scanning for your phantom energy and come look at the data from our research."

Sato's grin turned sour with reluctance. "Alright, doctor. But whatever is working against us not only caused the animal's mutation, it catalized my own as well. The Vanguard will not allow that to happen again."

Noto looked sadly into the young man's eyes. "You look a bit flushed to me, Sato san. As your physician, I am prescribing a short break. Come, join me for some sake."

Sato smiled. "As always, doctor, your professional expertise remains unparalleled."





Below.

Hiroki stood still as stone as the first kaiju pulled it's way up from the pit. The thing was bipedal, with an eerily humanoid aspect to it's form. It's skin shimmered, covered with a shifting layer of slime. It's limbs were all elongated, sporting webbed digits and claws. Under other circumstances, the monster's froglike countenance might almost be comical. At the moment however, whatever humor might be found there was lost to the Selgan sorceror.

The Ranagon crouched upon the edge of the stony abyss, scanning it's new surroundings. It's black bubble eyes swept past Hiroki as if he were not there. The wide gash of it's mouth parted, revealing rows of long triangular teeth, and emitted a sharp barking croak. Soon, more of the creatures began to rise.

"Stay still, brother," a spectral voice seemed to call. "They cannot see you if you do not move."

"Susaki!" Hiroki thought. "I'm scared. Please, keep talkin' to me."

"I will try. Stay calm, Hiro. Stay still. If you move even a muscle, those things will find you out."

"Okay, okay, I got it! No moving!" The things were all around him, coming closer. "Oh God I want to run!"

"Then close your eyes."

"No! I'm okay. Just keep talking." The shaman spoke to his sister's spirit, knowing the girl was right. He watched as more of the things emerged, flowing up from the chasm's edge and loping slowly past him. He knew he was vulnerable here, and found the intimacy of this encounter more unnerving than facing the daikaiju that were his usual fare. This time they were many, and they were very, very close.

"This place is incredible, isn't it? The Earth, I mean." Susaki mused, trying to calm her brother's mind. "It works in ways that are completely different than our own."

"I'm not sure I understand," said Hiroki.

"We are allied to the SeaGod's realm. This place belongs to Gaeon, Spirit of the Stones."

"Wow. I wonder who Aerosmith's got workin' for them!" Hiroki joked. He had counted twenty three of the beasts so far, and so far they had all walked right past him. "So howcum you can reach me down here, anyway?"

"There is water near here, of a sort. Mikki and Gaeon have learned to cooperate most of the time, though you know they can be tempermental. I guess being an Elemental Overlord carries a lot of emotional baggage."

"Good one!" Hiroki applauded the joke, watching as the last of the monsters moved on. "Holy shit! She dies and keeps her sense of humor."

"Can't help it. Helps me deal with watching over you. And stop saying 'holy shit' all the time. It's not nice."

"I'll see what I can do." Hiroki turned, slowly, to watch the beasts continue clambering their way across a vast slope of crumbled earth that lay spread out behind him. A delta of sediment and stone rising higher toward the distant surface. Hiroki flashed on riding that wave of rock downward, and his knees shook at the thought of his sudden stop right at the edge of the Ranagons' pit. "Holy shit."

"Hiroki!"

"Sorry!" Hiroki blushed. Calmer now, his mind began to turn to a way out of this mess. "Suzy, There were two other men with me when the earthquake hit. I need to find them."

"Inoshiro Tanaka, and the American Cowboy," Susaki hesitated. The true nature of the relationship between Shiro and Mikki was still unknown to her brother. It was not her place to reveal it. "Yes, the Blood of the SeaGod has touched them both. You must follow the water, my brother. It will lead you to them."

A kind of pang struck Hiroki, as he sensed his sister's presence was suddenly gone. A lonely tear tempted the corner of his eye to set it free. Losing her was what started it all, and though her hauntings were welcome, even joyous, "Thank you, Suzy." They always stirred the depths of that awful pain.





Osaka Castle Park.

"What kind of shape are we in here, Commander," Miname asked Fujiko. "Officially I mean?"

The soldier smiled at his young advisor. "Officially, the kaiju codenamed Ranagon reemerged here this morning, and was apparently dispatched by persons unknown. The matter is now under investigation, and no conclusive statements will be made until that investigation is complete. That is, according to General Shinzo. I get the feeling he is not so easily fooled, Masada. I think he knows."

"Ha ta," Miname gasped. "We should have known better. What do you think he will do?"

"About the so called 'rogue operatives'? Probably not much. Shinzo's hands are full trying to hold what is left of the Vanguard together. That, and keep our friend Sato alive. If the General does suspect the true identity of the renegades, he might even help us run cover for them

"In the meantime, a Defense Force unit will remain here to begin the initial clean up, while the Police maintain order and perimeter integrity. There was some structural damage to the Castle that will have to be dealt with before the tourists can be allowed to return, but all things considered we were very lucky today."

Miname scanned the shattered landscape, still smouldering from the titanic battle and the twistings of the earth. A strange kind of confidence told her not to fear for Shiro. Of the handful of people with any experience in this line of work, Inoshiro Tanaka had managed to survive the longest. But it was not the kaiju she was worried about. It was the earthquakes. "I fear for them, Yasuda san."

"I know, but there remains another threat to be dealt with. Another friend who needs our help. Our own mission is not yet done," Fujiko spoke softly. "You are one of us now, Masada. Come on, let's return to the base."





Below.

An unrelenting pounding rang through the Cowboy's skull as he dug himself slowly from the dust. The air was thick with it, and he choked, making the pounding worse. Blackness surrounded him, even more blinding than the pain. "Shiro?" He called, his voice a hoarse whisper. "Hiroki?" And he knew he was alone.

Duke gasped at the air, catching a strange, cloying scent. It was ripe and sweet, and warm. Not unlike the Selgan elixir Shiro had found and shared with him. A wild thought struck him, and reflexively, "Mikki, guide me." He prayed.

The Spiritfire rose, a spectral glow that filled the very air. The Cowboy watched as the unearthly light grew, giving detail to his subterranean surroundings. "It worked," he thought aloud. "I can see." The invocation had indeed dispelled the shadows of the pit. "Thanks, Mikki."

"You're welcome." All the shadows save one.

Duke jumped at the sound of the strange voice, turning toward it's source. "What the hell?!" He exclaimed, faced now by an even stranger figure. It was a man, or the silhouette of a man, clad in dark flowing robes. His hair a wild mane set atop his skull. Twin red eyes peered from the black, featureless face. The Cowboy cringed, shocked by the sudden intrusion. "Y, you can't be Mikki," he blurted out, sure of the instant assessment.

"The Seaspirit is my sister. I am Gaeon, the Underlord. Spirit of the Stones." The figure replied. "Nice of you to drop in."

Duke nearly laughed, then checked himself. "They call me the Cowboy," he spoke through teeth clenched tight from pain. "Nice place ya got here. But that first step's a doozy."

The Underlord smiled, exposing a jaw full of bestial fangs. "We don't get many visitors anymore. What brings you by?"

"Oh, the usual. Fightin' giant monsters, runnin' from the cops. The earthquake was a particular thrill as well," the Cowboy quipped. He found himself caught off guard by the creature's own apparently easy manner. "Your doing, I suppose?" He kept his cool, and responded in kind.

"Not this time. That thing you killed found it's way here into my realm. It wielded a force unknown to me, a kind of Spiritfire that made it immune to my influence. It began to breed. Those tremors were the planet's own attempt to drive the beasts from it's belly. My power had no effect upon them."

"Breed? How could it breed without another..." a horrible possibility crossed Duke's mind. "Another Hydrogen monster. Oh my God." Slowly, the Cowboy rose to his feet, his blood pounding at his brain in protest. The light swam before him, and he fell groaning to his knees. "I, I gotta find the others. We gotta stop those things!"

"Yes, you do." The Underlord moved toward the Cowboy, and laid his thick clawed hands upon him. It's red eyes glowed, and a strange image flashed before Duke's eyes. Like a vision of some animal he could not name. The vision faded back into the shadowy face of the elemental. Then slowly, that too began to fade. "Just as Man has called upon the power of the elements to aid him, so we must now call upon you. This strange energy is poisoning us, Cowboy. An energy your kind has released," The Underlord rose and stepped away from the man. "If you cannot stop it, it will destroy this world."

The being completely vanished. There was a sudden shifting in the air, a numbimg chill. Then the Cowboy awoke with a scream. "No!"





Vanguard Provisional Command.

Fujiko drove the armored command car up quick and close to the hangar. Nearby, Kazuki was working with the policeman, stripping down and cleaning a rig. In the distance, a great black scar cut the ground where a line of range targets once stood. "Nice shot," he remarked.

"I'll have to agree," said Miname as they parked outside the great bay door.

"It might be a good idea to try it yourself before too long."

"Hei," she agreed, peering at the labworks set inside the huge structure. "As soon as our friend has been dealt with. I had better go."

Exchanging bows, Miname turned and walked inside. Fujiko's eyes lingered upon his teammate, and he found himself appreciating having someone like her around. Her feminine influence helped ground them all somehow. She had proven herself to be tough, smart and loyal. And she shared both the team's committment to their former commander, as well as the secret that keeps him safe. Even now the woman throws herself back into her work, determined to find the answer. Fuji smiled with confidence, and joined Kazuki and his new student.

"Commander," said Kazuki as they bowed in greeting at Fuji's approach.

"So! The first day back on your feet and already assigned to weapons training," The commander slapped his partner's arm with a friendly squeeze, then began stripping down his own rig. "It looks like you did alright, Shimura."

"Domo arigato. That is a most effective firearm!" They laughed, agreeing to the understatement.

"Fuji, we need to talk," Kazuki began. "And we won't need privacy."

The commander looked at the cop, then back to his partner. "He knows about the others?"

Kazuki nodded in affimation. "He started talking like Sherlock Holmes, I had to shut him up. Now, he knows that we know about them, and why."

"Don't worry, commander. Kato was very discreet, and he did convince me the others are not a threat," the cop assured the soldier. "I will even assist you, if I can. Though surrounded by this advanced weaponry reminds me that I am only a simple policeman!"

"Thank you, Shimura san. I hope you will guard our secret as well as you have handled the weapons you have been shown." Fujiko bowed to the cop, and continued to clean and stow his Markalite components. "There is a strong possibility the general already suspects our friends true identities. Confiding in him directly would only put him under more pressure, force him to choose once more between duty and justice."

"We could trust him to make the right choice," said Kazuki. "He did give a doomed man his freedom."

"Hei, but such choices do not come easy for such men. This squad is now under my command. It is a different frame of reference when judging matters, deciding what course is right. Think how it must be for the man in charge of the whole Vanguard.

"It is true he has barely broached the subject, allowing the police to take charge of the investigation. I suggest we interpret that as a good sign. Our own duty forces us to deal with another crisis. Our friends will have to take care of themselves."



Inside the hangar. Miname enters the lab, following the sound of muffled laughter, and gasps with surprise at its source. Before her sits the general, the doctor and young Sato, all sharing a bottle of wine.

Noto and Shinzo instinctively straightened, attempting to compose themselves at her approach. "Masada san, join us," cried Sato. "We are doing research and development!" The men exchanged strained looking glances, then broke once more into laughter.

"This bottle is almost empty. Really gentlemen!"

"It was only half full to begin with, Miname, I promise!" The doctor smiled. "Here, we have saved the last glass for you." The aged medical officer poured the sake into a small cup and passed it to his assistant.

Miname sighed, then bowed and accepted the drink. "I suppose under the circumstances..."

"My thoughts exactly," Shinzo proffered. "In a situation this grim, I thought it best we regroup. Helps to keep things in perspective."

"I think it was I who was losing perspective," said Sato. "Losing hope as well. You know, I tried to kill myself when I first learned what I had become..." Sato caught himself. He would not let the wine make him ramble. "It didn't work."

"Not before you took the courtesy of leveling the entire science wing of our headquarters," the doctor chided, then looked around him. "Er, our former headquarters." It took only the look on each others faces to bring another burst of laughter all round.

"I am glad you did not succeed," Miname raised her cup and drank it down.

"Domo Arigato. Ironic though, now that I am ready to truly live, my death has never been nearer." Sato sipped the last of his wine and belched. "Gomenasai, excuse me!" He laughed, then his gaze fell upon the monitor console, and his giggles turned quickly to gasps.

"Maki san?" Noto inquired. They all turned to follow the young man's gaze, and they saw it.

The Waveform danced upon the screen, moving like a thing alive. It pulsed and peaked, shifting and spreading in patterns too impossible to catch. "It's back," said Sato. He had already begun to shake.





Part Five: Prodigal Frog





Kobe, the shelter.

"No!!" The Cowboy screamed, flinging the covers from the bed. "No! N..." Bed?

"It is alright, Duke. You are safe."

The Cowboy turned, and found Tanaka sitting at the nightstand. "Shiro! H, how...?"

The soldier half shrugged in reply. "Hiroki found me, then we dragged you back here. There are tunnels everywhere down there. The kid seemed to know which ones to take. We surfaced in the woods, probably right about where Sato himself reappeared." Shiro rose and grasped the American's shoulders, guiding him to sit back down. "It looks like you got the worst of it, friend. I suggest you take it easy."

"I suggest you take a shower," Hiroki barked, entering the room with a tray of steaming mugs. "Here, I scrounged up some coffee for you. Figured you'd be worthless without it."

"Probably right. I think I got a concussion or something, my skull bone's poundin' fit to bust." Duke accepted the small cup, then bowed. "Domo arigato. Thanks for getting me out of there."

"We work together now, Cowboy. That is how we survive," Tanaka reminded him. "Your 'skull bone' looks fine by the way, according to our instruments, but the cavern where we found you was filled with a strange gas. The computer still can't identify it. It is probably what's making your head ache so."

"Ahh, his head was full of gas already!" The shaman laughed then left the room.

"Yeah, whatever. Say, ya think the stuff might cause a feller to...well, to hallucinate?" The Cowboy inquired.

"Hei. In fact, Hiroki tells me the Selgan elixir could have some side effects as well," Shiro replied.

"Tell me about it. I got spooked down there, Shiro. I called upon the SeaGod. Suddenly, I could see in the dark again. Just like the first time we drank it. Then I saw...I saw..." Dukes voice trailed off as if he were lost once more within the darkness. "Well, you did say the place was full of weird gas."

"Hey guys, come here!" Hiroki shouted from the main room. Slowly, his battered teammates moved to join him. "Check it out, we're all over the newscasts!"

"...A scene of destruction as the area was rocked by the localized phenomena..." came the voice over on the screen. "But the visitors here insist this was no mere earthquake that threatened to level Osaka Jo, and the arrival of the Defense Force's Vanguard seems to confirm it. This was an attack by a giant monster, very possibly connected to the so called 'accident' that destroyed the Vanguard's own harbor complex only yesterday."

"Investigative journalism at it's best," Shiro remarked. "They did not get any shots of us, did they?"

"..footage that reveals a trio of armed men disappearing into the smoke..." the reporter continued as the screen filled with an image of their blurred silhouettes. Shiro shot his partners a grim look, reminding them of the trouble they would face if caught. Suddenly, the scene shifted, and an announcer heralded a breaking report.

"We have just recieved word of more trouble for the Vanguard command. The provisional headquarters at Osaka's Airbase Three is burning. Reports of explosions and weapons fire continue to come in as our camera team races to bring you the story. It is not yet known if this is another 'accident', or some kind of attack. Please stay tuned for the latest updates."

"Holy shit," said Hiroki. "It's gotta be the monster's spawn. They're attacking the airbase!"

"We'd better saddle up," Duke agreed.

"Hei, but it is still some time till dusk, and we've been caught on film once already..." Shiro moved to turn off the monitor, then faced his men. "This time, I want to be prepared. If we cannot rely on stealth, then maybe we should give them something to look at. Let's get ready."





Airbase Three.

Sato watched his own hands shuddering, strange vibrations shaking through his body. He looked around him and realized he was not the only one.

"Earthquake!" Cried the General. "Everyone out of the hangar now!"

Together, the soldiers, scientists and civilians moved toward the great bay door. Equipment falling, the ground shifting all around them. A huge rack of components tipped menacingly in their path. "Go! Go!!" Screamed Sato, shoving Noto and Miname to safety just as the rack came crashing down!

"Sato!" Miname screamed as the doctor pulled her from the buckling structure. Debris began to fly, and they hit the ground hard. "Noto sama! Nan desu ka?"

"Look," the Doctor gestured. Around them, the battered dregs of Japan's Vanguard stood upon the heaving ground. Great cracks now cut the paved roads and runways of the base, snaking closer to the hangar itself. Slowly, the tremors ceased, leaving the scene in an eery, empty silence. The silence did not last long.

A rumbling, croaking bark rose from the torn earth. Nearby another, joined by a rising green glow. Soon, the air was filled with a chorus of monstrous music as the Ranagon emerged from the gaping, rocky cracks!

"Vanguard," Shinzo called above the din. "Make your stand! Destroy them!"

The weapons fire blasts from a dozen different guns. Markalites, Masers and incendiary cannons combine to form a barrier of force and flame against the beasts advance. The creatures wail with pain, caught in the sudden conflagration! The unrelenting barrage intensifies, tearing through the ground and drowning out the monsters' screams.

The General stood before the burning wall of flame, an empty pistol in his hand. He signaled, and the assault abruptly ceased. Fuji, Kazuki and Officer Shimura appeared beside him, joining him at the head of the defensive line. Their firepower was still formidable, Shinzo thought, but their numbers were now so few...

Without warning, a tube of thick, flowing slime shot whiplike from behind the barrier, striking one of the armored men. Its swollen, bulbous tip connected with the exposed flesh of the man's face, muffling his horrific scream. A burst of light flashed from the unknown appendage, and the soldier was gone!

"My God," Fujiko grimaced. "It vaporized him!"

"They're coming back!!" Kazuki screamed as more of the deadly tubes burst through the flame!

"All shields take the point, everyone else fall back!" Shinzo screamed to his troops, signaling them to renew the assault. The Ranagon began breaching the barrier, wading slowly through the fire, bullets and beams. Finally, the soldiers could see their enemy.

"They look like frogs," the doctor observed, his curiosity piqued.

"And those tube-things are their tongues," Miname confirmed, wincing as another of the deadly members sparked and withdrew. "This is madness!"

"Agent Masada," Shinzo called. "Doctor Noto. These new Ranagon appear to be after something. Or someone."

"Oh God, Sato san! He must still be trapped within the lab," Noto deduced.

"Hei. The two of you will go with Shimura, get Sato out of here. If you can lead them into the open, we might be able to stop them with an air strike. If not..."

"What, Shinzo sama?" Miname implored.

"Then we had better hope our three renegades can," Shinzo winked.

Miname's jaw went momentarily slack. Had he known all along?

"Air strike?" Shimura considered the plan. Green flares burst from among the men as more of them were struck, their screams cutting through the din of the weapons' blasts. Yoshi caught Shinzo's gaze, and he knew. This would be the Vanguard's last stand. "Yes. I know the perfect spot."

"Arigato, Shimura san. Hiaku!"





The Spawn burned their way toward the surface, driven from the depths of the earth. A heightened power now flowed among them, a heightened awareness as well. A connection to something distant, external, and yet also a part of themselves. The giant creature that birthed them was dead now, they had felt her screams as she died. But her legacy had left them with more than just great power. She had given them an instinct to join with their own kind, an urge to find their father.

The spoor was close now, tantalizing. The promise of the birthright of humanity awaited them, a heritage they knew they must claim to survive. They had but to reach out and touch it. Then the earth surged around them, and the tremors returned.

As one, the Ranagon fled, racing the waves of seismic force. The planet seemed to recoil from their very presence, as if trying to expel them from its skin. Pitted against their own environment, the creatures could only relent, abandoning their subterranean shelter. They moved closer toward the world of light, closer to their goal.

The quaking ceased as they reach the surface, gathering at the edges of the newly formed cracks. They can feel the resonance that drew them here nearby, but it is subtle, as if masked or dormant. They call to it, expanding their saclike throats in searching song. The response was immediate, and devastating.

A rain of fire and force surged down upon them, driving them back into the pit! A few had been hit, and fell away burning and dead. Those that remained now knew, they would have to fight to reach their prize. They drew upon their vast reserves of trans-dimensional force to pierce the wall of flame and face their attackers.

Beyond the burning barrier, all was still. The Ranagon rose, watching for the sign of movement that would reveal their enemy. A shift of position, a whisper of sound, and the spawn locked on to their target, and struck!

Suddenly, the scene was alive with prey, literally dancing about on the surface. The creatures reacted accordingly, lashing out with their muscular, whiplike tongues and melting the enemy in their tracks. The waves of energy and flame intensified as the humans renewed the assault. The monsters were prepared this time, shielding themselves within an aura of alien force. The enemy fell before them, and the Ranagon advanced through their ranks, searching...

There! A form that was limp, yet living, being carried away by others of its kind. The figure glowed to the eyes of the beast, as if burning from within. The creature barked in recognition, alerting its brethren to its find. Together they turned, moving toward the being that was their father.

The surface creatures increased their assault, unleashing a massive amount of firepower upon the spawn. The resonant energy signature was fading now, moving at great speed. The humans were taking it away! Some had begun to physically throw themselves at the beasts, grappling in close quarters. All were dealt with methodically, and finally, leaving no doubt as to which side would be leaving this battlefield alive.





The Police cruiser sped frantically from the Airbase access road onto the highway. In the distance, they could see the glowing cloud of vapor and flame that followed them. Apparently the plan was working.

"Ohhh..." Sato moaned, his trembling becoming worse as the horde of monsters began to pace them, and then to gain ground.

Miname and Noto watched from the front seat, having deemed it wisest to leave Sato in back behind the shatterproof glass. "Shimura san! We must go faster," the doctor advised.

The cop quickly glanced at the strange young man, a greenish tinge now shadowing his skin. "Couldn't he just be getting carsick?"

"I am afraid not," Noto confirmed.

"I didn't think so." The old cruiser's six cylinder engine whined, protesting the abuse. Yoshi strained to stay in control, weaving through the sparse dinner time traffic. He snatched the radio microphone from it's hookswitch and tossed it to Noto. "It is set for public address. Warn them off the road."

"Pull over! Everyone, clear the road! Clear the road! Pull over! Pull over!!" The doctor spoke into the mike. Ahead, they could see the weekend drivers taking notice of the police car careening madly toward them, and moving obediently aside. A few of them must have spied the advancing horde of kaiju as well. At least one of them panicked.

A shockwave of sound smacked the air, the shriek of cracking glass and steel. Instantly, the road was a sea of honking horns and brake lights as the traffic strained to come to a halt. Another deafening crack, and a little white Mitsubishi leapt from the pavement, to come crashing down on a brand new Volkswagen Bug.

"Shimura..." Miname half-pleaded the name. "Look out!"

Yoshi cursed, throwing the cruiser into a spin, narrowly missing a pick up truck that was skidding across their path. Their rear end clipped an old delivery van, bouncing them back to sideswipe an unfortunate hatchback. Behind them, the sound of automobiles pinballing past the pileup continued. Yoshi cursed again, guiding his new three wheeler to a halt. "Is everyone okay?"

"I think so," said Miname.

Beside her, the doctor nodded agreement. He turned to check their final passenger. "He appears to be unconscious."

"Hei, but glowing steadily." Miname glanced out the shattered rear window, scanning the wreckage still piling up behind them. Beyond, the kaiju seemed to have paused, as if confused by the spectacle. "Those poor people. We've got to get Sato out of here before things get even worse."

"The wrecks are close," Yoshi observed. "This forest marks the edge of Kobe prefecture. Unfortunately, those things are closer, and my car has seen better days."

"Wait a minute," Noto cut in. "I recognize this area. Yes, Sato had quarters here once, at one of General Iwa's old safehouses! We can reach it fastest if we cut through the woods."

"We will have to carry Sato," said Miname.

"I do not think this is a good idea, doctor!" Yoshio protested the plan. "We cannot move fast enough to escape them."

"At least, not without a good head start," came a voice from the trees.

Yoshi turned, and found himself face to face with a trio of armed and armored men. They were clad in what appeared to be modified Defense Force safesuits, including a weapons harness the likes of which he'd never seen. One of them was over six feet tall, with a distinctive western look. Another, the shortest of them, carried a primitive spear. All wore wide polarized visors over their eyes, and outlaw-style bandanas covering their faces. The Policeman had no doubt; he had encountered these three before. "You, you must be..."

"Shiro!" Miname called happily, rising to embrace him.

The soldier laughed, and hugged her back. "Miname chan! Thank God you are alright."

"We were just on our way to crash your little get together at the airbase," Hiroki smiled behind his mask.

"But it looks like you brought the party to us," Duke remarked, indicating the still distant horde of frog monsters. "Much obliged."

"The Ranagon are after Sato," the doctor hurriedly advised. "We are luring them into the Wrecks. Shiro, the Vanguard..."

"The Vanguard has been destroyed," Tanaka concluded. "I know." The warrior scanned the highway, judging their proximity from the beasts. The Ranagon had again begun to advance, closing upon the mass of damaged autos that blocked the road. "This is going to be close. The three of you should stay here, remain motionless and they cannot see you. We will take Sato now."

"You have got to be kidding!" Shimura blurted out.

"This is our mission, Tanaka san." The doctor agreed. "We will not stop now."

Shiro raised his visor, to look in his lady's eyes. There was a fire burning there, a determination the soldier knew he could not restrain. They both knew, and they smiled. "Alright, crew. Let's move."





Part Six: Homonculus





Kobe. The forest.

The Crew cut westward along a well worn trail. The twilight, and more than the twilight, crept along behind them. There was still a mile or two left to cover before they reached the wrecks, but carrying Sato was slowing them down. Slung roughly over Tanaka's shoulder, the jerky ride began to rouse him.

"Shiro, he is waking," Miname advised.

The soldier stopped and unloaded the young man gently upon the ground. Shiro had forced back the instinct to recoil from the mutant that had burned him once, forced back the instinct to kill him. Old General Iwa believed in this man, gave his life for him. They had an obligation to keep Sato alive, at least long enough for him to find his own destiny. "Sato san."

The scientist squinted, staring at the soldier. "Shiro?" Sato blinked in confusion. "What in the world are you wearing? You look like you just mugged Dracula."

"Good one!" Hiroki and Duke agreed

"Listen Sato," Shiro continued, ignoring the banter. "We have got a small army of monsters on our tail. It appears they are after you."

Sato raised a hand before his eyes, studying the growing green luminance. "What about the airbase? The Vanguard?"

"We may be all that is left. We need to stop these creatures here, and for good. We need your help."

Sato curled his glowing hand into a fist. From far away there came the chorus of frogsong. "What do you need me to do?"





The Ranagon began to run, sliding along on their slimy outer membranes. The singular resonance of their father's energy was fading, and the monsters took pursuit. Behind them, Airbase Three burned..

The creatures moved relentlessly, burning their way across this strange new environment, as they had learned to do in the one below. Their path was filled with prey floating swiftly along the unnaturally smooth ground. Machines, they thought. A terrible thunder broke the air, and suddenly their path was cut off.

The kaiju paused, wary of further attack. A great steaming pile of the moving machines lay just ahead, humans crawling all around it. With their goal growing more distant, the Ranagon cautiously approached.

Groups of humans were pulling themselves from the wreckage, scattering before the beasts advance. The Ranagon liked that just fine, bellowing loudly to encourage their retreat. The monsters clambered over the mangled autos, heedless of the smoke and the flame. Their true prey lay somewhere ahead, and they followed its spoor into the densely shadowed woods.





The Crew bolted through the trees, racing to stay ahead of their pursuers. They knew they had to get Sato through these woods and into the underground shelter before he fully transformed. By the look of him, there would not be much more time.

With a groan, Sato dropped to the earth, shivering fiercely. "Get out of here, all of you! I am not going to make it."

"You've got to," Doctor Noto exclaimed, grabbing the man by the shirt. "Come on, Sato! Get...yaaahhh!!" The doctor pulled his hands away, singed.

"I am sorry, Noribu sama. I cannot control this body's acidic touch." The voice came from Sato's quaking form, but it was no longer Sato's voice.

"Iwa sama?!" Noto mouthed the words breathlessly. "General, is it truly you?"

"Hei," the old soldier replied. "My spirit is here, a part of young Sato." The mutant gazed at the eclectic band of stalwarts, and smiled. "I told you we would meet again."

"You have been missed greatly, old friend. Unfortunately, our current situation is..."

"Desperate as usual, I am sure." The mutant hesitated, scanning the strange assemblage. His gaze settling upon the trio of costumed men. "Anata wa Tanaka san, desu ka?"

"Iwa sama." The masked figure replied with a bow.

"Is this all that remains of your strike force?"

"Hei, General. It is."

The old soldier smiled through glowing green eyes. "A mercenary and a mystic. You have got your hands full, Captain. Uunnnhh!!" A terrible spasm seized the body of Maki Sato, rippling through his form. Behind them, another glow was flowing closer.

"General, one of your old safehouses is nearby," Shiro began. "Beneath what once served as Sato's quarters here in Kobe. Do you remember?"

"Hei. I remember that place." The mutant shuddered, steam rising from his foaming clothes. He was liquefying rapidly.

"That whole residential area was wrecked by earthquakes. It is almost completely deserted," Shiro explained. "If you can get those things to follow you inside..."

"We can detonate the munitions stockpiled there, blow them up," said Sato.

"Sato san?" The Doctor asked, surprised.

"Yeah, but I have a feeling not for long." The humanoid thing rose to its feet, tremors still rippling across its hide. "I know now that the Ranagon did not spawn these new monsters alone. The creatures carry human DNA as well. My DNA," Sato staggered, his aura flaring brighter. "I must be the one to stop them." The mutant turned away then, shambling on along the trail, his glow fading with the distance.

"Arigato Sato san, Iwa sama." Shiro whispered. The forest answered with the song of the Ranagon. There would be no time to grieve.





The spoor was strong, whatever effect that had dulled the signal earlier was now gone. The Ranagon quickened their pace, determined. Their once-human progenitor would not elude them much longer.

A subtle motion stirred from the trees, catching the rearguard's eye. The creature stopped, turning to face the wood. Suddenly, a small object appeared in the grass. The mutant amphibian targeted the motion and struck! A flick of its lash like tongue, a spark, and the object was gone.

The kaiju turned as if to leave, then stopped. Its black eyes swivelled, darting about the scene. Something was not right. It stepped toward the treeline, peering closer. Then, it heard it's brethren's cries, calling it to join them at the forest's edge. Their quarry was now in sight. The moment was finally at hand, and the beast slid back, sluicing quickly away to join the other spawn.





The crew huddled silently among the forest's wooded growth, watching as the monsters shuffled past. The loamy soil compressed beneath their weight, and Yoshio's foot slid imperceptibly, snapping a tiny twig. The policeman gasped as one of the creature's stopped.

With a deft flick of his spear, Hiroki snagged the Cowboy's hat, and tossed it into the grass. It was vaporized almost instantly. The creature hesitated, sensing their presence, moving away only when the rest of the spawn began to call.

"Sato has reached the shelter. They are following him in," Shiro whispered. "The few residents left here seem to be scattering."

"Sorry about the slip," said Yoshi. "I thought we'd had it when that thing stopped."

"Agreed," Miname chimed. "Thanks for the decoy, Hiroki san."

"Yeah, thanks," the Cowboy turned to the native. "You owe me a hat." Hiroki merely smiled.

Beyond the forest, the monsters cries were intensifying, their screams shaking the terrain. "We need more distance, more cover," Shiro scanned the area. From the direction of the highway came the sounds of shouts and tramping feet. "It is the local police. They are coming this way."

"We got no time for this, Tanaka," Duke reminded him.

"I will get rid of them," Yoshio spoke. "There is a side trail near here that follows the highway. The ground there is cut with many trenches where you can hide. It is where I found Sato."

The soldier agreed. "Hei. We know the place," Shiro turned to Miname. He lifted his visor and pulled the bandana from his face. "You and the doctor are going with him. We still need people on the inside, and our friends back at the Airbase are going to need your help." He kissed the woman's forehead. "We are depending on you."

"Just as we depend on you," Miname replied. "Shinzo knows who you are. He is counting on you to deal with this, and requested a meeting with Hiroki."

"He's got it," the Selgan replied.

Another tremor rippled steadily through the earth, and the sounds of the approaching police drew nearer. Miname smiled at Shiro, then kissed him hard. "I will see you soon."

The soldier nodded, smiling back. "Arigato, Miname chan." The two trios faced each other, and bowed. "Thank you all." Then the renegades vanished, slipping quickly through the shadowed woods.





The shelter.

Maki Sato cringed, positioning himself between the entrance and the armory. The spawn were just above, gathering at the mouth of the open shaft. They croaked and barked incessantly, calling to him. A bright green beam lit the doorway. They were coming down.

"Sato san," the mutant's mind intoned...

And replied to itself in kind. "Iwa sama? You are still with me!"

"Hei, my friend. I see we are expecting company."

"The Ranagon, or rather its spawn. They have triggered our transformation. We have come here to destroy them."

"Ah so," the old soldier mindspoke to his counterpart. "To die in battle yet again. Lusting not for glory, but for a monster's blood." Just then, the first of the beasts dropped into view, landing just outside the doorway. Soon, there came a second, and then a third. A final, violent shudder rumbled through the scientist's body, melting away any humanoid aspects left to his form.

The Hydrogen monster faced the growing horde of slavering, slimy beasts, pulsing with an aura of transdimensional force. The dual consciousness that shared that form was again fading, instinct slowly ascending over intellect. "I am afraid, Iwa sama."

"So am I, Sato. So am I."





Osaka General Hospital. Midnight.

Miname, Yoshi and Noto burst in through the Emergency service entrance, pushing past the throngs of police and reporters still gathering outside. The staff had set up for triage right in the waiting room. The walls and corridors were lined with gurneys waiting for transport. The wounded were everywhere. Noto grimaced, observing the human drama. These people were civilians, most likely the ones who survived the pileup. The sound of approaching ambulances told him still more were on their way.

"My God," said Miname. "I do not see any of them."

"Sumimassen," Yoshi grabbed for the nearest person dressed in scrubs. "The Vanguard, where are they?" The nurse eyed the three, then pointed toward a wide doorway. Yoshi let her go, and she hurried quickly back into the chaos. "This way," the policeman beckoned.

Ahead, they spied a familiar form. "Kazuki san!" Miname cried.

"Arraishimase," the soldier bowed. "Thank God you three are safe."

Doctor Noto clasped the soldier's arm. "You are wounded, commander. Please, sit down."

"Kazuki san," Miname spoke inquisitively. "The others?"

"Fujiko and Shinzo are in surgery now, along with a few others. A few more were luckier, but not many." Tears rolled unbidden from the man's eyes. "Everyone else is dead."

"Beloved Buddha," Yoshi spoke in shock. "This is unbelievable."

"What about our covert associates?" Kazuki inquired. "I hope the latest blasts being reported signal their success."

"We believe so," the doctor confirmed. "Officer Shimura's associates in the Kobe police have found no sign of any surviving kaiju, including poor Sato. I am sure the others escaped."

"We owe those men a great debt," Miname commented. "Especially Sato. True, his radical experiments helped catalyze this tragedy, but I believe he proved he learned from his mistakes."

Noto agreed. "He sacrificed himself rather than remain a threat."

"Kamikaze work. When he found he could not save us, he avenged us instead," Kazuki added. "The Vanguard is gone. Now we can only pray for those who have fallen."

"And for those who still carry on the fight," said Miname, staring through a nearby window. In the distance, the wrecks were still burning.





EPILOGUE





Below.

"You sure you know where we're headin' there, Captain Compass?" Duke grumbled, picking his way across the rough subterranean landscape. "I've had enough spelunking today. What if there's another earthquake?"

"Hey, go whichever way ya want to, Cowpie. No one's forcing you to tag along with us," Hiroki snapped at the American.

"I do wish you would both shut up," said Shiro. "There is another safehouse not too far from the Vanguard's ruined harbor complex. We should be able to trek these tunnels nearly the whole way."

For a moment, it almost seemed Shiro's wish might come true. "We need to get us some good horses," Duke remarked.

"Nah, motorcycles." Hiroki disagreed "This is modern Japan, not the open plains. You need wheels to get around the mainland these days. You remember the wheel, don't you? Weren't you around when it was invented?"

"I was very young," Duke played along with the sarcastic seaman. "Still, we can't keep hoofin' it back and forth between battles. Kaiju killin's tough enough without your feet aching, and my feet are..."

"Cowboy," the voice seemed to ring from the very stones around them. "Cowboy, you must come this way. I have something for you."

"Oh God," Duke shuddered, recognizing the voice. "I wasn't just imagining it. He's here!"

"Duke, what is wrong?" Shiro asked. "Who else is here?"

"This way, guys." The Cowboy took off through the darkness. "We gotta go this way!"

The trio sprinted over the subterranean landscape. Shiro and Hiroki calling for their comrade to wait. Hiroki jumped, leaping to tackle the American. A deft sidestep from Duke, and the islander was flat on his face.

"Come on, Hiroki." Shiro reached for the young sorcerer and pulled him from the dust. "Let's follow him."

Ahead, the Cowboy had stopped before the mouth of another large cavern. A glow that was not of the Spiritfire silhouetted his beckoning form. A green glow. The Cowboy stepped inside. Exchanging looks of concern mixed with utter disbelief, the two Asians quickly followed.

The Cowboy stood within the cavern, bathed in a bright green glow. Shiro and Hiroki stepped up beside him, staring at the source of the light. There among a pile of smooth and steaming stones lay the humanoid form of the Hydrogen Man.

"Holy shit," Hiroki cursed. "That's Sato, aint it? He's still alive!"

"Duke," Shiro began. "How did you know this?"

"The, the stones told me," the Cowboy shook his head as if confused. "That, or I'm hallucinating this whole thing."

"Not this time, Cowlick." Hiroki moved up close to the mutant. "He's unconcious, I think." A mischievous look spread across the Selgan's wide cheeks. "Hey Shiro, can we keep him?!"

"Apparently, we were meant to find him," the soldier sighed. The Cowboy and the islander both smiled. "Although having the two of you in agreement on this is making me nervous," the soldier smiled back. "A mystic, a mercenary, and now a monster. General Iwa was right. I have got my hands full..."