A Tale Of Three Temples - Part One

'What the...?'

'It had to happen.'

'Yes... Yes, it did. Too much to hope it means it's going to be used as police evidence.'



'Hmm...' Jack Ryder said.

'Fascinating, isn't it?' Fey Truscott-Sade remarked.

Jack nodded. 'I haven't seen this many spies since President Luthor's last press conference.'

'Luthor? As in Lex Luthor, Superman's nemesis?'

'Mm. And now President of the United States... what's left of them.'

Fey raised an eyebrow. 'Hmm. Makes having a film star as President seem almost normal.'

'Heh. I suppose it does.'


'Mendo-sempai? Moroboshi and Lum have returned. We're patching the image through right now. The people with them... We've got a match on the blonde - one Mihoshi Kuramitsu, from Tenchi Muyo, but nothing as yet on the man in the suit, or the woman in black. Headed for the shrine, as best as we can tell. Will continue surveillance.

'Over and out.'


'Get down!'

The Gang of Four (aka Lum's Stormtroopers) ducked below the wall.

'They're filming him!' Megane hissed. 'They're /filming/ Moroboshi!'

'Well, he /did/ save the Earth once or twice,' Kakugari pointed out.

The other three glared at him.

'Sorry...' Kakugari murmured.

'Is it not enough that Lum still fawns over the idiot Moroboshi? No, now they seek to film that unworthy one, no doubt allowing him to spread his lies and falsehood over the air! Can we allow this?'

'No!' the other three proclaimed.

'No... we shall show him for what he truly is. And it shall be so entertaining that they shall have /no/ choice but to show it on TV.' Megane said. 'Or failing that, they may just sell it off to "World's Greatest Human Disasters".'

The other three looked at each other.

'Okay, who's got the camera?'


The senior tengu snatched the camera out of his subordinate's hands (well, wings). 'Give me that! We're supposed to be keeping an eye on the Moroboshi boy, not ogling the nearest bar!'

The junior tengu muttered under his breath.

'And may I remind you that it was your getting drunk that got us /into/ this mess in the first place.'

'I know, I know!' the junior tengu muttered.

'Honestly, if you had to choose someone to wake the Princess while you were drunk, why couldn't you have chosen someone more attractive? Like Danny DeVito?'

'He looked okay at the time...'

'Yes. He /did/. And now...' The senior tengu shuddered. 'I dread to think what the next generation are going to be like, with /him/ in the gene pool.'

'The Princess only has to mate with him /once/...' the junior one said.

'Even once is too much...' the senior one said acidly. 'Now where are they going...?'


'Why don't we stop off at my place? See how my parents are doing...'

'After we get this done.' Lum said.

'Maybe we should see if Shinobu's alright. Or Ryuunosuke. Maybe something happened to them while we were gone...'


'Or Shutaro! Let's see how old Mendo's doing, huh?'

Lum frowned. 'Darling... anyone would think you didn't want to visit the shrine.'

'Who, me? No, of course not. Can't stay away from it! Maybe we'll find out what 'ominous' things're gonna happen to me today!'

'Ominous things?' Mihoshi blinked. '/What/ ominous things?'

'Ominous, like being haunted by a horde of demons, or getting dragged into a ball game against cosmic gods, or getting sucked into a photograph, or getting jumped on by monsters...'

Mihoshi's hands started trembling.

Unfortunately, she was holding the video camera.

'Gotcha!' Jack said, steadying the camera.

'Demons... monsters... demons...' Mihoshi eeped.

'Spike's a demon.'

'Yes, but he's a /nice/ demon!'

Fey paused to consider this. 'Hm. In some respects...'

'No, I mean it! He's nice. Looking after Dawn while Buffy gets ready to come back, keeping his promise to Buffy... he's /nice/. He doesn't /have/ to do it...'

'True,' Fey allowed. She smiled. 'I do have some idea of where he's coming from, after all.'

'You do?'

'The instructors used to say that in the pursuit of a successful mission, nothing else mattered but completing the mission. Not your friends, not your family... I never believed that. Never.' Fey's expression became darker, more serious. 'I don't give up on my friends. And, from what I see of him, neither will Spike.'

'Oh no?' Ataru muttered.

'Nice place,' Jack observed.

'Mm.' Fey said, taking in the shrine. 'Local, so no great distance to travel.'

'Ah. How may I help you good folk?' the little bald monk said, his staff clattering on the ground. His eyebrows raised. 'Ah.'

'Hello, Cherry.' Ataru muttered.

'So... are you here with him?' Cherry asked.

Jack nodded. 'We are.'

'Mm. The portents looked to be very ominous today... Come with me.'

'See? See? I told you, but would anyone listen? We're probably gonna get eaten by a giant watermelon from space!' Ataru moaned.

'Oh, don't be silly, Darling. The Arcturan megamelons were all eaten years ago.'

'Somehow, I am not comforted.'

Cherry peered closely at Ataru's face. 'I feared as much...' he murmured.

'What? What?'

'Today is a very bad day for you. It is fortunate you came here, so I may establish charms to ward off the darkness that approaches.'

'Darkness. Told you.'

Jack's eyebrow quirked. 'Actually, that's not why we're here.'

'No? It was too much to hope for, I suppose.'

'We're looking around potential shrines to host a forthcoming wedding.'

'A WEDDING?!' Cherry dropped his stick. 'A wedding?! Ataru? Getting married?! It is an /honour/ that you think of me after all we have been through together-'

'Now wait a minute, you old /freak/!'

'-There would have to be many, *many* wardings, of course, to ward off spirits, demons and generalised bad luck-'

'All we've been through? You got me into them in the first place!' Ataru shrieked.

'-The rituals alone could take /months/-'

'IT'S NOT MY WEDDING!' Ataru finally screamed.

'It's not?' Cherry paused. 'Oh. Oh dear. Very well. Is it this young man, then?'

Jack shook his head. 'No. We're here on behalf of our clients.'

'What did he mean, "Oh dear"?'

Lum glomped Ataru. 'Don't worry, Darling. We'll get married soon enough!'

'Oh no...'


'Discussing weddings, Mendo-sempai. Yes.


'They /are/ engaged, so it would seem likely...

'I'll await your arrival, sir.'


'What're they saying?'

'Something about... weddings, looking around potential shrines...'

'No. They /couldn't/ be...'

'Hold on, hold on, I can't hear what they're saying...'

'Ataru and Lum. Ataru with our beloved Lum? That festering sore on humanity with LUM?! NO!!'

'Something about... "potential clients"...'

'We cannot allow this to happen! Gentlemen, we must move /fast/ if we are to save the most adorable Lum!

'Stormtroopers, to me!'


'What're they saying?'

'I don't know. Hard to tell - those lips keep getting in the way... I think Moroboshi said "wedding"...'

'Wedding? Oh no. Oh no... It couldn't be. Call the Princess. /Now/!'

'It's not like... Lum *is* very strong-willed, she /could/ have pushed him into... But he wouldn't, not with the Princess... I'm on it.'

'Even if they're only speculating, the Princess must still know. Tell her we've seen him at the shrine, talking about weddings. With Lum. That should get her here...'


'If I might ask... Who are your clients?' Cherry asked while they walked into the shrine.

'Ranma Saotome and Akane Tendo.'

'/Those/ two?' Cherry considered it. 'Hm. It would certainly prove interesting, I have to say. Trouble follows them almost as much as it does Ataru here...'

'Thanks so much,' Ataru muttered.

'Ataru? Don't forget. The darkness follows you today...'

'I know, I know. Darkness. Doom. Ominous things. What's new?'

'Hmm.' Cherry peered up into Jack's face. 'Hm. A spirit of madness haunts you. A strong one, by the looks of things.'

'We reached an accomodation. It was either him, or going completely insane.' Jack said.

'Ah. Then I hope it will be enough... As for you,' He turned to Fey. 'A servant of shadows walks by your side...'

'He needed healing, and he needed a safe place to do it.' Fey shrugged. 'So I let him rest in me while he recovers.'

'Do you know, most gaijin would be looking at me with the "What the Hells is he talking about?" expression Ataru so often uses when he thinks I don't see...'

Ataru raised an eyebrow.

'Matter of interpretation. It's a saner explanation than a /lot/ I've heard about it - and in a timeline where the Spirit of Vengeance is /real/, and actively punishes wrongdoers, it's pretty easy to accept.' Jack commented.

'The Spirit of /Vengeance/?!'

'It's a long story. It's better known as the Spectre.'

'Ah. Do you share his continuity?'

Fey shook her head. 'No. But given some of the things I've encountered... it pretty much sums up the situation.'

'So... you two, Ataru, Lum, and the young lady here, are all involved in Ranma's wedding?'

'Mm-hmm,' Mihoshi said.

'This /will/ be interesting. Ominous, but interesting.'

'He always says that. I'm eating supper - it's ominous. I'm about to take an exam - it's ominous.' Ataru said exasperatedly.

'That's because it usually is.' Cherry observed.

'It wouldn't be if you didn't keep telling me about it...'

'If I didn't tell you, who would warn you?'

Ataru scowled. 'Oh, I'd survive...'

Cherry frowned. 'Hmm. No matter how unlucky you are, you still survive. I wonder why that is?'

'So my luck can get even /worse/?!'

'Maybe. Maybe you're right... Ah. Another client. Feel free to look around.' Cherry said.

'How'd he-?'

'A car just pulled up nearby.' Fey explained.


'What was... oh no.' Ataru said.

Lum waved. 'Mendo-sama! Over here!'

'Oh no?' Fey said.

'Mendo. Shutaro bloody Mendo's just pulled up.'

Mihoshi looked blank. 'Shutaro who?'

'Heir to the Mendo Zaibatsu. So disgustingly wealthy, he comes into school by /parachute/. He's rich, he's handsome, he's charming, he's courteous, he's egotistical, he's a lech...'

'And he's here.' Jack said.

'Ah. Greetings.' The young man entered and bowed.

'Yeah, yeah... Hi, Mendo.' Ataru said.

'Moroboshi. A pleasure to see you.' Mendo said.

'So what are you doing here? It's not like /you/ need luck...'

'I have come to ask Cherry-san if he would be so good as to advise me on a business venture I seek to undertake.'

'You? Need advice?'

'Yes. For the winds of fate can prove treacherous, even to so noble a family as the Mendos... And please, would you be so kind as to introduce your compatriots?'

'Yeah, yeah...' Ataru said. 'Jack Ryder, reporter for Newedge magazine. He's basically following me around, doing a followup article for the US papers...'

Mendo nodded. 'Ryder-san. A pleasure.'

'That's his camerawoman, Mihoshi,' Ataru continued.

'Hi there! Pleased to meet you!' Mihoshi bubbled, shaking Mendo's hand.

Mendo bowed, and lifted her hand up. 'Surely, one as fair as you will go far.'

Mihoshi blushed. 'You /could/ say that...'

'And this's their bodyguard, Fey.'

'Bodyguard?' Mendo raised an eyebrow.

'A few of my articles were... less than flattering about certain criminal forces,' Jack explained. 'So my publisher suggested retaining a bodyguard.'

'Ah. And so you were chosen to follow up Moroboshi.'

'Let's just say... I have experience with the kind of chaos that surrounds him.' Jack said carefully.

'Indeed? Then you are more fortunate than most. How goes it so far?' Mendo inquired.

'Nothing *too* outrageous, just yet. Following him around on a relatively normal day.'


'There you are!' Cherry announced. 'Now what were we... ah, yes. The-'

Ataru clapped a hand over the monk's mouth. 'Ah-heh... You know how it is, private discussions with monks and all... Wouldn't wanna let any spoilers for the article go, would we?'

'Indeed,' Mendo observed. 'Would you mind letting him breathe?'


Cherry coughed. 'Ah. The article. Yes, the article. Can't let anything slip about the article... Now, about what it would cost...'

Ataru shot him a dark look.

'Perhaps later.' Cherry amended.

'Yes... Perhaps, Cherry-san, it would be possible for me to discuss certain matters with you also later? For now, I will pay my respects to the spirits. If you would excuse me...?' Mendo bowed to them, and left.

'Waow.' Mihoshi said eventually. 'He is /gorgeous/... and charming, and-'

'I said that already, remember?' Ataru snapped.




'Kurama! Long time-'

'You...' Lum hissed.

'So it /is/ true.' Princess Kurama said. 'You /are/ arranging your wedding...'


'Mendo here. Send in the troops now.'


'Say *what*?!' Ataru squeaked. 'What the hell gave you that idea?!'

'A few things. Your presence here, with Lum. Your discussion of weddings with the crazy monk... Even a birdbrain can put two and two together...'

'Oh... crap.'

'Yes!' Lum said. 'Yes, we /are/ getting married! Right now, isn't that right, t'cha?'


Princess Kurama looked down. 'Then I have no other recourse but to say...'


'Oh no...' Ataru muttered.

The legions of Mendo troops burst into the shrine.

Okay, /one/ legion.

'ALL RIGHT! GALAXY POLICE!' Mihoshi yelled. 'You're under arrest for causing a breach of the peace!'

One of the troops raised a hand.


'Umm... do you have jurisdiction here?'

'Well... no... I'm making a citizen's arrest!' Mihoshi finally said.


'Wait a minute,' another trooper pointed out. 'There's only one of her, and a legion of us!'

'Yeah, but we're breaking the law! She's got every right to arrest us! Come on - if we overpower her, we're still breaking the law!'

'But if we overpower her, doesn't that mean there's no one to arrest us?'

'Then we should turn ourselves in!'

'Hey, where'd they go?'


'We can arrest them later, Mihoshi. Right now - run first, think later!' Ataru huffed.

'This explains a lot...' Fey murmured.

'Where's < huff > Where's that Kurama?'

'She was here a minute ago...' Mihoshi said, looking around.


Ataru facefaulted. '/You/ guys!'

Megane pushed his glasses up over his nose. 'Fear not, dear Lum! For we have come to prevent the vile Moroboshi's fiendish scheme to force you into marriage!'

Lum crossed her arms. 'Who said anything about force? I asked, and he accepted.'

'Hey, wait a minute!'

Lum smirked. 'You can't rescue someone who doesn't wan't to be rescued... t'cha?'

Megane shook his head. 'Then... you force us to use /these/!'

Ataru leaned forward. 'Hey, that's-'

'Yes! Even as a baby, Ataru was a pervert! See as he glomps an innocent girl!'

Ataru boggled. 'Wait a minute... First, that's me and Shinobu when we were kids, and second... those are my family photos, you freaks!'

'Well, your parents gave us a very good price for them...' Kakugari said.

'Why me?' Ataru moaned. 'Why me?'

'Sorry,' Jack said. 'Just how - exactly - are you going to /stop/ them getting married?'

'Humiliation! We shall show Moroboshi for the pervert he truly is - then, repulsed, Lum shall reject him!'

'Mm-hmm. Lum, one question. Has /anything/ these guys ever done turned you off Ataru?'


'Mm.' Jack said. 'Is there anything /about/ Ataru that would turn you off him?'

'Only if...' Lum took a deep breath. 'Only if he said "I don't love you" - and told the truth. That's the thing... Darling isn't cruel or vicious or violent - he's never behaved like that. He can be thoughtless, stupid, idiotic, lecherous... he draws more bad luck upon himself than /anyone/ should have to, he chases after other girls...'

The Gang of Four looked extremely happy.

'But he's fun-loving, he's passionate, his sense of humour is wonderful...'

Mihoshi caught the glint of a tear in Lum's eye, but remained quiet.

'He's stood up for me whenever I've been in trouble... he's smart, in his own special way, smart, courageous. He carries on, /despite/ all the bad luck in his life. He muddles through it all, and comes through the other side...'

Lum fell silent.

'Hmm. I think I see the problem,' Fey observed. '/You/-' she indicated the Gang. 'think Ataru's not worthy of her. Lum believes he is. Now, she could be blinded by love... but equally, you could be blinded by jealousy and obsession. So what, if anything, would convince you that she does love him? How can you tell whether or not someone's in love?'




'Tough question to answer, isn't it?' Jack observed.

'If they /were/, he'd value her more than he does himself!' Megane finally proclaimed. 'That's it! To care more about someone than you do about yourself! To be a /true/ altruist!'

'Careful, your glasses are fogging.' Mihoshi said.

'And Moroboshi cares about /nothing/ more than he does himself!'

'Really? So when Lum said he stood up for her...'

'He was trying to protect his /own/ worthless hide!' Megane proclaimed.

'This would be a situation when they were /both/ in danger, correct?' Fey said.

Kagukari hemmed. 'Well...'

'So the only situation you /would/ accept would be a situation where Lum was in danger... and Ataru was safe, but chose to save her.'


'Er, excuse me...' Ataru said.

'That proves /altruism/. It doesn't prove he loves her.' Fey said quietly. 'It proves he cares about something more than he does himself - which can be dangerous, believe me. But caring is /not/ love. A part, maybe... but it's not the whole thing.' Her mouth curved. 'Believe me. I know just how weird love can get.'

'Oh yeah?'

'You did ask.'

Fey's mouth remained curved.

Then she began to fade.

Into thin air.

'What the-'

The Gang of Four stepped back.


Where Fey had been standing now stood a man, still wearing the black bodysuit Fey had been wearing.

But where there should have been a head.... was a black, reflective globe.

'Servant of shadows...' Jack murmured.

The shadowman bowed. 'I am Shayde.'

'You are /what/?'

'A construct. A made thing. Shayde.'

'Wait... this isn't a curse?' Ataru said, his brow furrowing.

'Fey explained,' Shayde said. 'I... was mortally injured. I needed to rest, to recover... and for that, someone had to lend me their willpower.'


'Exactly.' Shayde said. 'While I rested, she could draw upon my talents. Could... but rarely has. You see... at the time of... my injury... she was safe. She could have chosen to strike against the one who had mortally injured me. Instead, she chose to aid me.'

He stepped forward. '/That/ is how she understands. What she did was altruistic - but also driven by her self. She /does not/ abandon her friends. Now... I believe we were discussing love, and why or why not Ataru loves Lum. Very well. Lum... you said the only thing he could do to make you leave would be to say "I don't love you" - and mean it. So /could/ he say it? And mean it?'

'And what would that prove?' Megane demanded.

'It would prove that...' Shayde considered the situation. 'Hmm. Interesting. This is much more complex than I thought. /If/ he says he does not love Lum-'

'Er, excuse me?' Ataru said.

'That does not mean he does not care about her, or does not feel she's a friend.' Shayde stepped forward again. 'More complex than /you/ thought, I suspect. Very well. So... what /would/ prove it, I wonder? Because there is little that could be done to prove that he doesn't care about her at all...'



'Don't /I/ get a say in this?!'

'What did you want to say?' Shayde asked.

Ataru looked at Lum. Then at the Gang.

He opened his mouth-


Mihoshi looked around. 'Hey, who said that?'

Shayde looked up. 'I was wondering where she had got to...'


The flock of tengu halted in mid-swoop.

'Hey, wait a minute... Are we in your jurisdiction?' one of them said.

Mihoshi thought about that

Then she grinned. 'Oh yep. The Galaxy Police have jurisdiction over the tengu. Which means you guys. Which means - yay! - I actually get to make an arrest!'

'For what?'

'Breach of the peace, attempted assault, conspiracy charges...'

'Um, she's got a point.'

'But it's her and Lum. What could they-'

'It's /Lum/.'

The tengu looked at the grinning Lum.

Then at the beaming Mihoshi.

Then at Ataru, whistling 'Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life'.

Then at Jack, notepad in hand.

'Um, plea bargain?' one of the tengu said.

'This's not going to look good on our resume,' another said.

'I've got an idea.' Ataru said. 'You deal with that legion of troops thataway, and we'll consider all this forgotten. How's that sound?'

The tengu looked at each other.

'What the hell.'

'Sounds good to me.'

Moments later, sounds of fighting, pummeling, and general mayhem making could be heard from outside the temple.

'Right, then...' Jack said, turning to the Gang of Four. 'What about you?' He paused. 'You know... have any of you heard of the Creeper?'

'Um... No?'

Slowly, Jack smiled. 'Then I'll tell you. He's the boogeyman. He comes after boys who have been bad. His hair is green, his fur is shaggy... he creeps and he creeps and he creeps... until the bad boys have been punished.'

He took a step forward. 'Now, what you should be asking yourselves is... have we been bad?'

He took another step. 'Well, have you?'

'Um... no?'

'BZZT! I'm sorry, that was the wrong answer! And look!' Jack pointed behind them. 'Here he comes now!'

The Gang of Four turned to look.

Jack stabbed at his right wrist.

-and where he had been standing was a figure with wild green hair and red shag adorning his shoulders.

The Gang of Four turned back.

And gulped as one.

'He told you. He told you, but would you listen?' the Creeper said. 'Looks like /someone's/ been bad. Very bad indeed...'

'Wasn't us...' Plum protested.

'It was /him/!' Megane pointed at Ataru.

The Creeper shrugged. 'Feh. He's no fun. /You/, on the other hand...' He advanced towards them. 'Are ya feeling lucky today? Well, are ya?'

Seconds later, all that could be seen of the Gang of Four was a cloud of dust.

The Creeper grinned. 'Now /that/ was fun... Like shooting monkeys in a barrel. Come to think of it, I thought they /were/ monkeys...'

'What /I/ don't get...' Mihoshi said. 'is why they didn't work out you were Jack, Creeper-san? I mean, you were standing in exactly the same place...'

'One of the rules here.' Shayde said. 'No matter how flimsy a disguise, or how obvious a transformation, people will not believe that they're one and the same unless they actually /see/ it. And sometimes,' he added. 'not even then.'

Ataru looked back at the temple, where assorted troops and tengu lay, out cold.

Then he looked at the cloud of dust where the Gang of Four had been.

'There's something wrong here.' he mused.


'Well, /they're/ out cold, and the Gang's not around...'


'So... I dunno, something's not quite right here...'

Lum looked deep in thought, as if trying to remember something. 'Darling... what were you about to say, before we were so rudely interrupted?'




'Darling...' Lum said dangerously.

'Well... that is, um...'

Mihoshi looked down the street, and blinked. 'Isn't that the girl in the photograph those men were showing us?'

'Shinobu? At last!' Ataru asked.

He leaped for her.




Meanwhile, back at the temple...

Shutaro Mendo took in the battlefield around him and sighed.

Then he raised his sword up to the sky.

Silly, really, but tradition demanded it.

Ah well.



When Shinobu passed by, Ataru was lying in a frazzled heap on the ground, Lum was hovering over him, and Mihoshi, Jack and Shayde were talking quietly.

'Doesn't that count as assault?'

'Technically... But she /was/ provoked.'

'He was looking at someone else while she was waiting for him to give her an answer.' Shayde said

'That counts,' Jack observed.

'So, what about the shrine?' Mihoshi asked.

'Definitely a possibility. We'll have to think about it. Get enough on tape?'

Mihoshi nodded. 'Yep.'

'Shin...obu...sama...' Ataru managed to get out.

Then he collapsed.



Shinobu shook her head as she passed by.

Things in Tobomiki were /definitely/ getting back to normal...


End of Part One


Copyright 2001 Imran Inayat