'The next case, my lord,' the guard captain said, with /entirely/ too much smugness in his voice for Skoo's liking.
'Hands /off/ the hammer!' Skoo protested.
'Oh, am I hurting the poor little girl?'
/No, but the poor little girl's going to hit you with a Trudeau when she gets out... Why waste it? An Adams is *much* better.../
'Tough. The Governor's /not/ very happy with you.' The guard captain smirked. 'Not very happy at all.'
Quietly, the prisoners filed into the room.
The Governor looked up at the prisoners. 'Ah. Do you have anything to say before I pass sentence?'
Charl shrugged. 'Is there anything we can say that's going to stop our inevitable death sentence?'
The Governor leaned forward. 'No.'
'Oh *good*.' Ryo rumbled.
'Even if you /were/ to try and save your necks by claiming you knew where El Vago was fleeing to... even then, you would win yourself the mercy of a quick death, rather than a slow one.' The Governor's eyes flickered. 'A /very/ slow one.'
'Oh.' Charl said. 'Well, that said, do you want to take us off to the cells first, or just execute us here?'
'We must observe the formalities,' the Governor said. 'The Prince is /very/ interested in seeing justice done...'
He reseated himself. 'You are on trial for aiding and abetting in violence upon Prince Saotome, the kidnapping of a royal princess, the murder of Governor Tendo, breaking and entering, witchcraft and causing a fire hazard. And I may remind you that causing a fire hazard on this island is punishable by death - as opposed to the others, which are just punishable. Do you have anything to say in your defence?'
The three prisoners looked at each other.
Finally, Charl shrugged.
'No, not really.'
'Very well,' the Governor said, lifting a black hat out from behind the desk.
And placed it on the desk top.
'The Prince likes to know who he hunts,' the Governor said, apparently as an aside. 'He feels it gives him a... challenge. Proper consideration of the appropriate tool for the job...'
In Skoo's considered opinion, they were /dead/.
'How can anyone get lost trying to get out of /reception/?!'
'It is in my file, as _you_ know full well.'
'Only the non-classified bits!'
'There are classified bits?'
'Could we just find the door and get out of here?'
'Oh dear God... Here, let me help you with that...'
'What _was_ that?'
'It's a- what?
'Skuld? Ryouga? Are you-'
[Hey! Where am I?!]
Skoo blinked. /That/ wasn't a thought she'd expected to have right about now... getting ready to die at the hands of someone who thought he was a huntsman, yes... wondering where she was?
'Dona Skoo,' the Governor said.
[Getting ready to /die/? One minute I'm in the dark trying to find a light switch-]
/A light switch?!/
'Ipissimus of the North. There are said to be only five men and three women alive-' The Governor re-examined his notes. 'Ah. Only /three/ men, and /two/ women, alive - who can equal her skill at hammer fighting. A skill made more impressive by the fact she uses a hammer built for a man who outmassed her in every respect.'
Skoo wasn't listening.
[-you turn it on, it completes the circuit, letting electricity pass through the bulb, the electricty heats up the bulb's filament, and it produces light. C'mon! I was dissecting those when I was *two*!]
/Not that I'm doubting you or anything, but isn't now a particularly bizarre time to start making technological innovations?/
'The authorities agree - O'Hare, Iliad - that were she to use a hammer actually built for her, she would outclass all others. As she /is/, she ranks among the best there has ever been.'
[Wow! I do?!]
/Umm...how can I put this... YEEEEEESSS!!!!/
[No need to shout... Hey, hold on... That's *my* hammer! What's he mean, "a man who outmassed her"?! This is *mine*!]
/It is? Well, with Governor Tendo gone I suppose... You know, I hadn't thought about it?/
'Now... Ah yes. Don Ryo.'
[Wait a minute... since when did Ryouga become a Mafia boss?]
/A wha wha?/
[And... okay, why am I dressed like a refugee from a Zorro flick?]
'The man said to have stunned a herd of wild boar... using only his hands.'
Ryouga's face seemed torn up in conflict. Which was usual for him...
/Heh. *That's* true.../
'F...Finger...' Ryouga managed to get out.
'Ah.' The Governor blinked. '*One* finger?!'
Ryouga nodded. Apparently, he didm't trust his voice.
Skoo didn't trust hers either, at the moment.
'Hem... Who has won every contest of the martial arts from here to Edo - even the /groups/ - singlehandedly. And who, I believe, dropped out of sight a few months ago...'
[Although the Outlaw look *does* suit him... 'specially with the way the bandana goes over his mouth...]
This must be shock, Skoo decided. It had /had/ to happen sooner or later... coming down off the sugar high, having a death sentence passed, defeating the man who'd killed her father... shock. Shock could inspire people to do a lot of strange things.
Unfortunately, it wasn't inspiring her to escape.
[Wait... did you say 'killed my father'?!]
'Quite possibly the strongest - and the sturdiest - man on life.'
Ryo's eyes widened.
[Could we get back to that bit 'bout Dad getting killed, please?]
'Oh, and there was that... distasteful sequence of events after the Prince's cousin died.' The Governor shook his head. 'Grief can make a man do a lot of things. Impersonating a pig, however, is not usually among the accepted acts.'
'N-never... m-mention... that.' Ryo managed to get out.
[Dad got /killed/?!]
Shock, Skoo decided. Most /definitely/.
[Well, *yeah*!! Dad got /killed/?!!!]
Don't remember. Don't remember. Not yet.
The scar on her forehead /throbbed/.
[That's my emblem! Not a- ]
[...Emblem. Not my emblem.]
[...I don't have my emblem. I don't have my mark.]
Identity confusion, a small part of Skoo's brain self-diagnosed. Once we're in the cells, we'll get over it.
[Hey! No-one mentioned cells!]
'And finally... Charl. /Just/ Charl, I believe... No honorific, explicitly to stay ambiguous. The Master of Disguise. The Faceless One. The One of a Thousand Masks. Who could be anywhere. Any time. Any one.
'And who... ended up waitressing at a tavern?'
'Career... change.' Charl stuttered.
'Hmm... Believed to have... oh, this is good... impersonated the King. And the Queen. Simultaneously. Before stealing their pet poodle. Disguised as the Archimandrite, stole the Sceptre of St. Maurice... while naked...'
'A master planner and thief... who even managed to steal several people. Without anyone's - or indeed their own - knowledge...'
In spite of the impassive features, Charl managed to grin.
[Oh no. Oh no.]
[It's a parallel universe! YEEP!!]
[And I'm in me! The parallel me! EEEK!!]
It was about *that* point Skoo finally decided she'd cracked.
[We're not cracked! We're separate people! Or... well, we're the /same/ person, but diff... umm... We're separate people, okay?]
/Then tell me something I don't know./
[But I don't *know* what you don't know! I can't /do/ the telepathy programs yet!]
/The wha wha?/
'Which is why,' the Governor said. 'we will permit you to live.'
'You will give the Prince excellent hunting... when he so chooses.' He nodded to the guards. 'Take them.'
'YOU BAKA!!' Skoo screamed.
- from her hand-
-and the word BAKA was stamped on the Governor's forehead.
The guards rushed forward.
The Governor hesitantly raised a hand. 'No. No. Leave her be... Miracles. A miracle woman. You have been busy, for one so young...'
Skoo was still looking at her hands when they came to take her away.
The Governor sighed. 'Where /do/ they get the staff these days...?'
'Usual procedure on the agent, my lord?' the captain asked.
'It worked for him...' the Governor murmured quietly. 'Yes. The usual procedure. The Device /does/ need retesting...'
He raised his hand to the word stamped on his face. 'A miracle woman... Impossible.'
What had that been...?
The light, and the...
...energy rushing through, into her...
......through her, out of her...
...the familiar tingle from the emblem...
....the screaming pain from the scar...
What /was/ that?
What had that...
'Software compatability...?' her voice said.
Skoo closed her eyes.
'Probably. Software compatability... definitely. I think.'
'Very well...' Skoo said. 'And could you /please/ refrain from using those words? Learning another language was not really something I had in mind for my life... what is /left/ of it...'
'Another language? Look, it's still the same one, just with added extra words, all right?' Skuld blinked. 'Must be another parallel universe thingie...'
'*What* did you do just then?'
'You blinked! You blinked! You blinked _my_ eyes!'
'Oh yeah?_You_ used *my* powers!'
'Oh yeah?' Skuld shouted. 'Watch *this*! I WANT OUT!!'
The words stamped themselves on the cell wall.
'See?' Skuld said, with a trace of smugness. 'You /did/ use my powers!'
'Compatability...' Skoo murmured. '_That's_ what you meant. My body is compatible with - can use - your powers...'
' _'Xactly!_' Skuld said.
'Would it work the other way? Do you have my skill with the hammer?' Skoo asked.
'We're sharing mindspace... I /think/ so, 'least the reflex stuff.'
'Then you'll have it.' Skoo said. Not confidence. Not assuredness. Just telling her the truth.
Skuld's eyes went big. 'Gee...!'
Skoo kept the big eyes. 'Indeed...!
'...am I? Umm... Would you believe me if I said I'm not a demon?'
'I wouldn't know what a demon /feels/ like. Although I don't think a demon would be as confused as I am...'
'Thanks... I think...' Skuld said.
'Hey!' Skuld said.
Then a smile twitched at her face. 'Great. I'm teasing myself... and I'm falling for it.'
'How do you think /I/ feel?' Skoo said, her mouth twitching. 'So...'
'I'm a Megami.' Skuld racked her head. 'Umm... it's Japanese. It means something like "higher spiritual entity"...'
'Angel?' Skoo whispered.
'Um, Goddess, actually...'
'Um... I'm a Goddess. Goddess of the Future, Second Class, Type One, Limited, to be exact...'
'All... right...' Skoo said.
'Look... we need some time to sort this out, kay?'
' 'Cause going in there screaming "BAKA!! My name is Skoo Montoya, you killed my father, prepare to die", while stamping words on their face...' Skuld trailed off. 'Actually, that's fun. Let's do it!'
'HOW DID-?! Wait. What is a movie?'
'Ah. One of *those* things.'
'Excuse me?' Skuld huffed. 'Movies are /not/ one of *those* things, thank you so /very/ much!'
'Pardon me, I'm sure...'
'Listen, you living anachronism-!'
'Is it /my/ fault I'm not a crazed futurist?!'
Skoo's face went blank - a blankness of /tension/, forces struggling against each other, cancelling, /negating/, rather than /absense/..
Then she - they? - began to laugh.
Finally bursting into full-throated guffaws.
'Oh, Kami-sama, we are such /idiots/...!'
Grinning, shaking her head, she stood up.
'Hey! ANYBODY OUT THERE? I WANNA CUP OF WATER!!'
'Do you /really/ wanna a teenage girl throwing a tantrum? In the Prince's cells? Over a glass of-'
A little shutter opened in the door, and a cup of water was hastily shoved through.
She raised an eyebrow. 'Service - 5 out of 5. Accommodation - /including/ that sucky excuse for a bed - 0. No tip for _you_ today...'
She took a sip, felt the coolness slide down her throat.
Then she swirled her finger around in the water for a moment, feeling it on her skin.
And then the cell was empty.
A pool of oil had collected at the base of one of the swords.
It started to bubble.
And Skoo jumped into existence.
There's something to be said for good weapons maintenance.
Sadly, Skuld wasn't saying it.
Skoo, on the other hand, was...
'What was *that?!*'
'Huh?' Skuld said. 'Hammer. Hammer. It's around here somewhere...'
Skoo finally lost her patience. '_THAT?!_'
'Oh, that? Didn't think it'd work... It doesn't usually work, not on humans...'
'And when were you intending to tell me?'
'Mm?' Skuld said. 'Oh, /there/ you are...'
She lifted the hammer off the wall.
For a long moment, she looked at it, emotions flickering across her eyes.
'...He was a master, wasn't he?'
'There was no-one better.' Skoo said. 'No-one.'
A little girl, trusting in her father. Belief, and love, and worship... devotion unspoken, and ever would be.
A masterwork. His lifework. His /soulwork/.
He'd placed his soul... no, more than that, his heart, his mind, his /life/... into the weapon.
His final gift to his daughter.
'No.' Skuld whispered. 'No.'
Her hands tightened on the handle.
'Skuld...?' Skoo's voice.
'No... Desecrating... /Ruining/... I will not... will not...'
Skoo closed her eyes, forced them shut -
-don't look don't look don't look-
-step back step back step back-
She opened her eyes.
Ryouga's - Ryo's - cell.
A pool of water near his head.
Spilled water? Tears?
'This is Urd's thing...' Skuld murmured.
She shook her head. 'Used enough to knock out an elephant...'
'If he was awake...'
'No alarm clock...' Skuld scowled.
'Let me try...'
Skoo raised the hammer-
-and lightly tapped him on the toe.
'-EEEUUUURRRK?!! NOT THE SWILL, PLEASE, NOT THE SWILL!!'
'Hammer Pressure Points.' Skoo explained, as an aside. 'Ancient Hammer Technique.'
'Wow.' Skuld said. 'But first... Hey, guys! Guys! SNAP OUTTA IT!!'
'NOT THE TROUGH!! DON'T PUT ME IN THE-'
Skuld scowled. 'I hate this bit... BACON!!'
With great presence of mind, Skoo had already stuck her fingers in her ears.
'-Ah?! Ah.' Ryo started hyperventilating. 'A dream. It's just a dream. The farm is a long, long way away...'
'Umm...?' Skuld said.
Ryo blinked. 'Skuld? Why are you dressed like-'
'-you get in here, Skoo?'
'Um... could just _one_ of you take the voice?' Skoo said. 'It's... a bit confusing...'
Ryo's frown deepened. Then-
'Very well. My thanks, Ryo.'
'It's me... at least, I _think_ it is...' Ryouga frowned. 'Although... Which one of /you/ has the body?'
'Skoo,' Skoo said. 'Skuld has let me take over. She feels this is, in her words, "exposition time". Actually, I thought it would be better as "escape time", since I do /not/ wish to find out what the Prince does with his prey...'
Ryouga's eyes darkened. 'That *any* Ranma could sink to the hunting of innocents... This One _Will_ Pay. And pay dearly.'
'Perhaps not right now...' Skoo said drily. 'There's a whole horde of Mooks between us and him... and he /is/ a prince, while /we/ are criminals...'
'We- But it is a thing of-'
'Honour. Yes. But El Vago has another claim...' Skoo half-smiled, humourlessly. 'You've seen hell. He /went/ there...'
'Then I shall stand with this El Vago, and bring him down!'
Then Ryouga blinked. Skoo had tipped her head-
-not Skuld, not Skuld... and the terrible circle, the scar on her forehead, where Skuld's blue emblem should be, was there to remind him...-
'El Vago! Ohno Ohno. Idiot, idiot, idiot! He'll come back for us! /IDIOT!!/'
'How do you know?'
'Because he saved her - saved the Prince's bride - we dragged him back from Hell to do it, he /came/ back, for her, he'll come for us, we're his friends, and he's still healing, he'll /never/ be able to do it, not without getting caught...!'
Ryouga's eyes narrowed.
He raised one hand and pointed a finger at the cell wall.
Skoo backed away.
The wall exploded.
After the dust settled...
'Charley.' Ryouga said.
Ryouga blinked. 'My umbrella?'
'It's with your body,' Skuld said. 'Now can we _move?_'
'And where is my body?'
'Ummm... where does the mass go when you turn into a pig?'
'Why are there no guards?'
'Because of all the deathtraps.'
'...The deathtraps. Naturally. And naturally, only those who are /supposed/ to be out here would know where those are.'
'Then,' Ryouga said. 'let us /move/!'
Fortunately, he was just over the poisoned spikes when he said this.
'A BUG!! EEK!!'
'WE'RE GOING THE WRONG WAY!'
'No, we aren't.'
'Oh. I wondered where the breeze was coming from...'
Unconscious bear smashed across wall.
'Don't be a baby, it's only wat- Oops.'
'Well, at least the curse still works...'
Finally, they collapsed against a door-
Which swung open.
'Hi,' Charley said. 'What kept you?'
The door crashed onto the floor.
'Finally...' the Prince said. 'Stay seated, Governor. I wish to face this man alone.'
The Governor hesitated, then remained where he was.
'I presume you already dealt with our guards?'
'Presume away.' the masked figure said.
'Then I presume you wish to rescue your friends...' The Prince drew his rapier. 'Why? A simple break in to retrieve them, that would be enough... no, you wish something more.'
'I do,' the masked one said.
'You will be hunted for this...'
'As if you had not already begun...'
The Prince's eyes narrowed. 'To call off the hunt?'
'Come now, my Prince,' the soft, mocking voice said. 'I know better than to ask one such as /you/ to give up his hunt...'
'Then what /do/ you seek?'
'Last we met, I promised you a fight. A fight to the hurt... and the hurt you showed me...'
'That /was/ of use,' the Prince said, curving his lips.
'But I know you, my Prince. You will never pass up a hunt. Therefore... I come to make a request.'
'A request? And why should I honour an outlaw's request?'
'The outlaw challenges you to a duel of honour. A duel to the hurt.'
The Prince smiled. 'And if you win...?'
'Then... /my Prince/... you will delay your hunt. Perhaps for an hour, perhaps for a day... but you /will/ delay.'
'And if I win...' The Prince's smile did not diminish. 'I will show you the Device again. And we shall learn how many hells a man can survive...'
'Then let us begin.' the masked one said.
The sword flashed out.
'To the hurt.'
'To the hurt.'
'You come back, again and again. One might almost think... you were /enjoying/ the pain.'
'As you /enjoy/ your pastimes...?' The outlaw parried. 'A hollow thought, from a hollow man.'
'And what hollowness lies behind that mask? What emptiness does it hold?'
'Emptiness is to be filled.' El Vago said. 'And I came, I came back, I came to you, because you had taken what filled it... and what you took is not something to be hunted and taken, it is something to give.'
'If you wish.'
'If it is not something to be taken... how could I take it?'
'Because you waited. You watched. And when all she had, all she'd *loved* was gone - and you were not above helping it on its way - you took it, and made it yours.'
'Is that not always the way?'
El Vago laughed emptily. 'Hollow man I called you, hollow man you are. No curse I have could be crueller than the one you forged yourself.'
'And what fills you now, masked man?'
'For /her/, I came back. For those who needed me, I came back. For those who needed help, I came back.
'I am El Vago, the Vagabond. And-'
They went down to the Prison.
The Prince commanded that it be opened.
And it was (for he still had power, you must understand).
And the guards went in, to lead the prisoners out.
Soon enough, they came back, Ryo and Skoo in tow.
(For Charl, they said, they could not find. Had vanished like a ghost.
And though the traps were open, there was no body.)
A smile touched the Prince's face when he heard these words.
But El Vago simply nodded and sighed.
The gates were opened, at the Prince's word.
And so El Vago departed, his comrades by his side.
The Prince waited - a second, a minute -
- and then he called for the hunt.
Wait, he had been told.
But never was a limit placed.
And it was shortly after the hunt left that they heard the crashing, the splintering and the smashing of wood.
And Prince Saotome stormed through the castle, his face dark with fury.
And it was at about /that/ time the Governor realised what had happened, and who the Prince Saotome he'd dined with, who'd faced El Vago, who'd ridden out on the hunt, had been.
Charl /was/ a master of disguise.
And Charley /loved/ adventure.
And to impersonate a Prince...
The hunting horn sounded behind them.
The cart began to move.
The horse began to canter, then to trot, then to gallop...
In the cart, Charley began wiping off the makeup. 'That's twice I've got to play the King...'
'The /Prince/, anyway...' Skoo said.
Ryo tugged at the reins. 'Whoa. WHOA!! ....Please "whoa"...!'
'How is he?'
El Vago held the unconscious figure a little closer. 'I... I don't know...'
'Let me help with the mask...' Charley said. 'There. Got it.'
She lifted off the mask.
Ryouga looked back, and almost choked the horse.
Underneath El Vago's mask was...
'...Come on... Come /on/, little brother...'
And certain pieces began to fall into place.
'...Shouldn't have left him this long...'
'He asked you.'
'...And I shouldn't have agreed... But /someone/ had to be El Vago, someone had to face the Prince...' Ukyou - no, here, /Princess/ Ukyou...? Princess _Ukyo_, Ryo corrected - murmured. 'Who better than the Prince's bride to be?'
He'd thought... well, he'd thought, 'If Ranma is the Prince... then the Princess must be... Akane?
'As a Princess...?'
And he'd ...well, got a bit lost from there.
But no. The people here weren't quite the same, the /relationships/ weren't quite the same...
Oh, if only...
Fortunately, Ryo took over before they crashed into a tree.
'We need a miracle...' Charley said.
'I think you used them all up.'
Charley blinked. 'We did?'
Ukyo stared at her. 'The miracles you got from Miracle Fitz?'
'Oh, /those/ miracles...' Charley double-took. 'Miracle /Fitz/?'
She almost laughed, before reminding herself where she was.
Being chased by an enraged Prince, who she'd barricaded in his rooms, and his huntsmen, in a rickety cart with a half-choked horse, in a parallel universe with no way home.
And deep down, she could hear her own voice screaming 'YEEEEESSSS!!!!'
[Then why are you doing this?]
/I was bored./
[So why do something that's over-rated?]
/Because I'd forgotten just how over-rated it was.../
[Fine with me.]
/Fine. ...Are you teasing me?/
[You'll never know...]
[Eighteen years old and you are *bored*?!]
/Mmph. Once you've seen one kidnapping, you've seen them all.../
[As someone who has *been* kidnapped...]
She noticed the very strange look Ukyo was giving her. 'Um... just talking to myself. No miracles, though...'
'Has your self come up with any way to escape the Prince?'
Charley shook her head.
'We need a miracle.'
Ukyo returned to her brother.
Skoo was quiet.
Skuld... Skuld hadn't spoken to her. Not since they'd gone back in the cell.
Skuld didn't... didn't feel like she'd /do/ that.
Her mind was elsewhere.
Skoo didn't know why, though.
When she tried to read Skuld, she got parts of a long and complex calculation.
Working something out. Fascinated by it.
Which meant Skoo was in sole charge. Again.
'Bad news...' Ryo muttered.
Up ahead, the Prince and his men waited.
Charley stared. 'How did they-?!'
'A bad hunter stalks. A good hunter waits. That's what he used to tell me...' Ukyo murmured.
'And they have horse, while we have horse and cart...' Skoo added.
There was a green flicker at the corner of her eye.
'So... Princess' kidnappers die, Princess accidentally killed in battle, evidence found they /were/ working for opposing country...' Ukyo murmured.
Again the green flicker.
'He's just waiting...' Skoo noticed.
'Where is there to run?' Ryo muttered.
Something Skuld had said was nagging at Skoo's brain...
'There was that nasty business after the Prince's cousin died...'
Ryouga=knows Shi-Shi-Hokou-Dan. Reflexively.
Ryo=now /also/ knows it.
Two perfectly depressed minds + one perfectly depressed body = big trouble!! Underlined!! IN BIG LETTERS!!
Skoo started backing away. Nervously.
'Yes?' The voice was flat and lifeless.
The horse, unguided, was trotting towards the Prince.
Who was not smiling.
'What-?' The green glow... this time, the others noticed it too.
The cart jerked towards the Prince-
-the world went-
'Must... Must have had a spare miracle?'
'...Where did they *go*?
'Why didn't you /tell/ us you had a spare miracle, you IDIOT?!!!!?! You almost...'
'They heavily sedated him - they had to - memory sent down the pan, obviously.'
'...Are they following?'
'Not 'till the horses come back from Dreamland...'
'Horses have a Dreamland?'
/Can't you do anything for him? You're a Goddess!!/
[A Goddess with a training licence!]
[So... oh, we don't have time...]
/Oh my... You can't, can you? You honestly *can't*.../
[...I *can't*! I don't have the _power!!_]
[Then we need a miracle.]
/You're a Goddess./
[But I can't do miracles...]
Ryouga sat by the mast, his face dark.
'Are... Are you all right?' Charley said.
'Fine. Lost - in someone else's body - with no hope of ever returning to my home, but fine.' Ryouga paused for a moment. 'That is the first time I have ever said that out loud. That scares me.'
[...I'm sorry. I... I just got lost in myself. Got sidetracked onto something else. I wasn't looking...]
/Yes... Having someone else.../
[...and I don't have to do... I got lost.]
/So did I./
'But we don't know how we got here...' Charley whispered. 'We could snap back at any moment.'
'Hah. We've made it to the happy ending - and is it happy for us? Do we get to go back? _No._'
'Perhaps it'd help if we started thinking about closure...'
'You _must_ be kidding.'
'Excuse me? And what are we?'
'And what have I been denied? - Apart from that, all right?'
'Let me have a look at him...' Skuld said.
Ukyo moved aside.
And Skuld stared.
You idiot. You absolute, muddlebrained /idiot/!
You had to be a hero. Had to save her...
...had to go and get yourself...
...so cool... so cold...
...No... not him...
-can't stop, can't-
-water, water all around-
-the water's answering-
-force, mass, acceleration-
His head lolled back.
'You dummy... you big dummy... Why did you...'
Shock in Ukyo's eyes, but Skuld wasn't looking, wasn't looking...
...was finally looking...
...trying to /create/, to do something for Skoo, for herself...
'...too wrapped up, didn't /look/ until...'
...and she wasn't paying attention...
...not now that someone else was taking care of things...
...sit back and play the part...
...until Skoo spoke....
'Why did you...'
...at the true face of El Vago...
'...have to give in...'
The word 'NO' stamped across his face.
Her... her /friend/. The boy she ... she /liked/... that she...
...that she had...
She started to sob.
A breath. A whisper.
His head let itself go.
Skuld burst into tears.
'My...' Ukyo shook her head, as if unsure what to do with the thoughts. '/Another/ miracle?'
Charley and Ryouga looked at each other.
'Not one we know...'
'Maybe some miracles... happen?' Charley offered.
'But... a flash of light... the shock...' She shook her head again. 'Listen to me. Even /after/ the POUS...'
/Pigs Of Unusual Size/ Ryo offered up, and the pair shuddered mutually.
'Even after that...' She looked over at her younger brother, at Skoo crying, a stunned, wondering, expression on Skoo's face, as the tears dried. 'He came back. For me. For you.'
'He did... He did.'
'If he did that... then maybe...'
Ryo's mouth twitched. 'Maybe. Maybe some miracles /do/ just happen...'
[Fine. Oh no, I /can't/, can I? There's no way _out!!_]
/Then do a miracle./
[*I* didn't know...]
/No? OF COURSE YOU DID!/
[I *DIDN'T!!* GET *THAT* THROUGH YOUR THICK HEAD! I DIDN'T _KNOW_... I d-didn't know th-that would happen...]
[I don't /know!/ Maybe it jolted him back?! Maybe he drew on the power to come back?! Or maybe it /was/ a miracle!*That* ever occur to you?!]
[Wait... It wasn't... Then_you_...]
/THINGS DON'T JUST HAPPEN!! P-people don't just come back.... P-people... d-don't just... d.../
[Oh.... Oh... C'mon. Come on...]
/It... it doesn't... just... happen... make sense... doesn't.../
/...now...now what?...I did it... I did it, father... now.../
[No. Way. Listen. He came back because of _you!_]
[_Uh-huh!_ You drew _me_ in... I drew _you_ in... must have drawn... drawn on your energy to... Oh... oh...]
[...and he felt it...he came back...]
[WHY NOT?! Why. Not?!]
/it doesn't happen...not for me.../
[yes it *does*.]
[it... it does...]
/...come on... come on... you'll only make me.. ::sniffles:: ...me.../
[...that'd be interesting....Could we both use the tear ducts simultaneously...?]
/Someone's back to normal.../
[So is someone else...]
[...No. No. Just... Just keep an eye out for him, 'kay? Make sure he doesn't... well, y'know.... Get his dumb head into this again...]
'We're... Ow. Oohhh...' Charley moaned.
'Silence...' Ryouga said.
'Here,' Skuld said, helping them up.
'::sniff:: ...Yeah. I've had better days. I've had worse, though.'
Charley breathed in and out. 'Better... Better...'
'Heh...' Ryouga said. 'I know...'
He looked at them. Charley's tired, exhausted face. Skuld's tearstained, relieved face.
'Maybe there /are/ miracles...' he murmured.
'Hm?' Skuld said. '...Didn't get to give Skoo that present...'
'...Get the Doctor? Maybe Washu-chan?'
'...Not right now.'
'Yeah, I know. They'll /love/ this. Mysterious object that throws you into another universe. They won't have seen one of those in... oh, /weeks/.' Skuld said. '...But not right now.'
Ryouga looked at them again. Looked at their faces.
Paused for a moment.
'Not right now.
'How would... that is... How would an ice cream sound?'
'Like this: "whooooo"!'
'Then... let's go and get some.'
The door opened.
'So will they - you know, us in the other universe - will they be all right?'
'Time will tell. And right now, Time says "Yes".'
'Because one day, we will be back... yes, we will be back.'
Charley smiled. 'I can live with that...'
And so they started on *their* quest, for bowls of ice cream and long, quiet conversations in the sun.
With /Charley/ leading the way, this time...
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The door closes.
The lights turn on.
A hall which seems to stretch to infinity.
Mirrors along the wall, as far as the eye can see.
Each reflecting... each /showing/...
...many faces. Many scenes.
Different times, different places, different universes...
A hall of mirrors.
Now open for business.
Copyright 2001 Imran Inayat