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Somewhere, Somewhen, Beyond Common Space-Time:

"No!" the woman exclaimed, leaping to reach the globe that was falling towards the placid surface of a pool… or was it a mirror? Reflections of everything around it flashed in the silvery surface, and it rippled, looking more like liquid glass, or like mercury. Tendrils snaked out, grasping the sphere from where it had stopped, inches above the surface.

"What have you done?!" the woman turned to face the person who'd thrown the sphere.

"Why, do I detect a hint of reproach?" The man was tall and gaunt, with black hair that reached his shoulders and a goatee. He walked as if he were floating, with an easy and casual grace that would seem beyond him if one were to judge by looks alone.

"Stuff it, Dante!" the woman shouted. "You know damn well you're not supposed to interfere with these things once they've started."

"You wound me, Jibril." He mock-bowed to her, stepping closer still to the pond. "But what you had intended… It seemed so… mundane. Besides, this timeline's been done a million ways from Saturday and there's hardly anything you could do to the poor S.O.B. to make it interesting if you worked with half-heartedness."

"I was trying to help this version out a little, actually," the woman admitted, shaking her head sadly. Lustrous blond hair waved behind her like a cloak.

"And how would that have turned out? Hmm… I see, no curse of… You removed the curse of interesting times?! Oh man, that's a good one." The man laughed. It was a short, barking sound actually, not unlike the crack of an ancient pistol.

"Why?" she asked.

"Jibril, you're an angel, but you have too much to learn of curses." Dante shook his head with a wry grin. "The curse of interesting times can't be removed. It's self-renewing, and laid by beings far beyond our little flickers of power, or that which we call 'divine'. You simply had it altered to someone else for a year."

They looked to the pond.

"OH!" Dante clutched his stomach. "That's NEW! Ryouga becoming an interdimensionally renowned 'demon of rage'? Seen things like it, but not quite with the same amount of 'panache'."

"Damn." Jibril shook her head. It appeared as if her alteration did little to help, save getting Ryouga out of Ranma's life and bound to a magic sword as the demonic entity empowering it. Ranma went on with his life without having met Ryouga — or any other Hibiki for that matter — and since the fights with the bandanna-wearing boy had kept Ranma's edge sharp, he wasn't quite good enough to handle some of the things coming at him. His life ended at Kuno's hand, which wielded a demon-empowered blade… Guess which.

"Can't have that, now can we?" the man asked with a disturbing grin, as he shoved a gloved hand into the pond, causing a massive ripple in the continuum.

"What did you…? That looks like the mainline," she noted. This line would have gone on with Ranma becoming disowned after the failed wedding had been declared his fault — since it was all his 'friends'' doing — and committing seppuku. Jibril's alterations had jostled it around enough, but it looked like the timeline was heading that way again. But Dante had to have changed someth—

She watched as Ryouga met an old man who, for saving him from some bandits, granted the boy a scroll. She watched as the ship that was bringing the party back to Japan, after the ordeal at Jusendo, got caught in a brief but fierce storm. She watched Ryouga standing behind a brooding Ranma, and reading from the scroll. She watched as…

"Why?" she asked him after a moment's contemplation.

"It gets boring down there after a while." The man shrugged.

2 A.M.

The loud roar of a powerful engine tore through the otherwise relatively quiet night, rousing many people from their dreams. It was a tortured sound, like a scream of rage throwing a challenge to the world, and utterly confident in its ability to win.

The car in question was sleek and black, with red highlights around and from the air inlets in its hood and behind its doors. A Ford Mustang '67 Fastback, some identified it… Those who could catch a glimpse of the speeding machine, as it was going well in excess of a hundred and fifty miles per hour. It screeched past intersections, rounded corners with frightening grace, and kept up its pace as best it could. Frankly, it was a good thing that there were so few people out that night. Berlin normally tended to be a busy place even after midnight.

The black and red blur shot around another corner, coming into a double-lane road split with a two-meter-wide strip of grass and the occasional tree in the middle. Of the two lanes that served the traffic going in its direction, one was full of parked cars, making that particular road effectively only one lane wide. The Mustang's driver could have cared less, but not by much. His eyes were partly on the road, and partly on the dark shape that was about five hundred meters in front, and forty meters above his current position.

The man grinned ferally as he managed to line up with his quarry, and leaned partly out the car's window. The rushing wind struck him in the face, and the car's sudden shift in aerodynamic properties made him fumble with the wheel for a moment. He brought it back under control after a second of deft and minute movements with his right hand. His left hand was currently outstretched in the direction of the shadow, holding a black handgun. There was little hesitation, save as the man thanked whatever spirit had blessed him with superior hand-eye coordination, and soon three loud reports could be heard, if barely, over the roar of the engine. The shadow twitched, and suddenly tumbled downwards as the man quickly settled back into the car, handgun landing on the passenger seat as he slammed the brakes down and swerved.

"Damn roadwork," he muttered, working the throttle and brakes until the car yielded its submission and screamed straight in-between the two rows of markers that lined the section of the road still available for use. A light nudge to the left, a harder one to the right, and the vehicle went into a controlled skid that brought it through the rest of the tight curve, and onto a normal roadway again, without much loss of speed.

He gunned the throttle, letting the car surge forward and reveling in the feeling of being pressed against the seat by the Blessed Lady, Acceleration, for a moment, until he hit the brakes again, slamming the wheel to the side and nearly getting tossed from his seat as centrifugal forces played havoc with his body.

It rose slowly, gingerly fingering the broken surface of one leathery wing. Its skin was black, the eyes burning embers of red that bored right through the dark of night. Standing at nearly eight feet in height, and with long spindly limbs that ended in three-clawed fingers each, it was a grotesque sight to behold. The dog-like head spun as the roar of its pursuer reached its ears.

The mortal carriage slid to a halt with a wail that was nearly equal to that of lost souls being flayed in hell. Its door opened and closed with a dull sounding thud, and the creature could see its occupant exit and turn to stare through the darkness, straight at it.

It blurred with speed that couldn't be natural, moving as swiftly as thought. Its claws flexed as it leapt, angling towards the mortal who had dared to injure it. Only said mortal wasn't there, and the creature's feet found only the slick surface of the carriage's roof.

"Scratching the paintjob's a no-no, ugly," a cold voice came from behind it, and before it could react a noise akin to a very large explosion shook the area. The dark being felt its back aflame, hundreds of sources of pain flaring in it. It hurled its bulk forward, rolling on the ground, leaving a bit of skin and black ichor on the surface of the road. Its wings had been shredded beyond all recognition by the blast.

But that was impossible! No mortal weapon could wound it so severely… unless it wasn't a mortal weapon, not in the usual sense. The wounds failed to regenerate, so the answer was obvious.

"Spellslugs," the thing snarled. "Where did a puny one such as you get spellslugs?!"

"Made 'em myself."

His quarry was before him, and the demon attacked again. And the man again dodged, moving faster than humans had any right to, even ones with the sort of training he'd received.

There is a moment in the life of every being when time slows to a crawl and the senses can and do pick up everything they can. Usually it's the moment right before death, when the being's essence doesn't want to give up its existence and thinks that by taking in as much of the world as it can, that existence would be lengthened. The dark creature experienced such a moment.

It saw, for the first time clearly, its quarry and nemesis. It was a young man, though of what exact age was exceedingly hard to tell. His features were Asian, and quite sharp. His hair was a shock of wild black strands intertwined with scarlet ones, falling around his face in a manner that suggested they had once been longer, but that the owner had cut them hastily. The man's eyes burned with the intensity of flame, and were the color of freshly drawn vein blood, a rich and thick crimson that glimmered in the faint light. He wore white. A white dress shirt, a pair of loose white pants, a white leather coat. The only accents of color were the two red Gregorian crosses on the coat's shoulders, one inverted, one not, and the pair of heavy black boots he wore.

In his hand rested a weapon of steel and metal alloy… a weapon the flash of which lit the night for a brief moment, enough to spit out its metallic doom. The creature could feel spellweaves around the projectiles, could feel them tearing at its aura and penetrating it…

The man shouldered his CAWS shotgun, spent shell casings lying at his feet, smoke still floating from the muzzle. The demon corpse was rapidly shriveling away to nothing, its head and chest a mass of bleeding black flesh, still aflame due to the more mundane effects of the ammo used. "Willy-Petes and spellweaves do mix," he smirked faintly, the light from the fading phosphorous charges lighting his face with an eerie glow.

This one hadn't been at all hard. He shook his head. He'd taken worse ones, much worse. His side and back could tell a tale, the way they were marked with white streaks. They would fade away in a year or so, but for now they were reminders.

The man known to most his contacts only as Uriel turned around with a casual grace that spoke of incredible skill and confidence. The weapon in his hands was thrown inside the trunk of the Mustang, and he slung the trench coat over the headrest of the passenger seat. He wouldn't be going out again for a while, at least. Settling into the driver's seat of the car was a comfortable feeling, giving him some control over his life again. It had been six years, six years since that day he had been betrayed and left for dead. For him it had been over twenty, but then again, time flowed differently when you didn't know what to watch for. Tonight another demon had been sent back to Hell, and he could feel that it had been the last active one in the area.

His fingers felt the keys in the ignition, twisted them, and brought the beast to life. A moment later they were roaring into the night along the highway. And then they were gone, as if never having been there.

If one were to overlook the twin trails of fire that marked the car's passage… and cut off abruptly after about a hundred meters or so.

Demonbane Ltd. presents a short work of fanfiction that could not have been written were it not for information supplied by the good people on the 'Couch'.

Road to Hell: No Need for Heaven

A Ranma fan fiction story
by Griever

Disclaimer: Ranma 1/2 characters property of Rumiko Takahashi, Shogakukan, Kitty, and Viz Video. Jibril was swiped from Angel Sanctuary. Inspiration came from reading various altaverses based on Ranma ½.

The characters who are my creations are: Dante, Silver, Tanaka, Sakuya, Sato, and Neko (though he's not mentioned by name in this chapter). And yes, the first section is a blatant rip-off from 'The Bet'. Sorry, Gregg; couldn't help it.

WARNING: Well, if you want to read it, go ahead. I ain't stopping you. Just don't come running to me with any psychological scarring afterwards. It was meant to be this… odd.

"There's a saying: the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Pray you never find out what the road to heaven is like. You wouldn't like it one bit."
-Uriel, NYC, 13.09.2000.


3 A.M.

The car slowed to a crawl and turned into the driveway of a condo. It wasn't a large condo, only three stories high, but the spot it was in was adequately secluded for the purposes its owner used it for. The low growl of the high-powered engine was easily muffled by the trees and shrubbery surrounding the lot that the building stood in.

Uriel expertly guided the metal beast into the garage, stopping it inside the large chamber and triggering the mechanism that operated the garage doors. He stepped out of the vehicle, sighing as he did so. A faint shifting in the air was the only sign that could be seen of a glamour being used, and the man's dark, red streaked hair was suddenly a plain brown, his eyes a watery blueish green, and his features had turned Caucasian.

"I still don't know why you insist on taking that face up in here," came a voice from the doorway that led from the garage into the condo's living area. "It's not like anyone who actually comes in here doesn't know what you really look like, Ji."

"Call it a force of habit, fleabag," Jigokudou replied calmly. The owner of the voice came forward from the shadowy doorway and into the garage. Light fell and illuminated a woman in her early thirties, with a thin, sharp face that in some circles could be considered beautiful. She had amber eyes that shone in the faint lighting, and a wild shock of hazel hair. The slight smirk playing on her lips wasn't unusual by any stretch. Standing at six feet even, with a slim but powerful figure, she was an inch taller than the man, and looked a fair bit older than him though her clothing would have suggested otherwise. Tight shorts hugged her shapely hips, and a tank top over which a loose, unbuttoned denim shirt was draped did little to hide her… assets… from the world. Frankly, she didn't really care.

"He coming in?" the woman asked him, pointing to the car as she did so. He popped the trunk and hoisted the spent clip from the CAWS as well as the weapon itself out. Then he closed it again, and shrugged.

"Don't think so. We took a bit of a trip down. Needed to feed him." He patted the metallic blue hood of the Mustang as he passed it. The paintjob was a magnificent midnight blue mixed with azure highlights. "Think he'll just take a nap now."

"Okay." The woman nodded and fell into step beside the man as he headed out of the garage and towards the door she'd entered through. "Yer in early today, by the way. Everything work out?"

"Yeah," Jigokudou nodded his now brown haired head, shrugging out of his trench coat and tossing it onto the steel-framed coat rack that stood by the door. The ground floor of the condo was spacious, with a large main room that held a number of couches ranging from leather-padded to just plain old normal ones, a few chairs standing here and there, a coffee table and a large widescreen TV that took up a fair bit of space. "Just what the sources said, yer basic flying fiend type, though it had a bit of spunk, ya know?"

They passed through the main room and climbed the stairs onto the first floor, where Jigokudou dumped the CAWS and clip onto a workbench. Most of this floor was used as either storage or workshop space. Both continued on, climbing another flight of stairs and coming to the second floor. This was slightly different from the others, being one single room with the occasional support beam. The furnishing was a bit like the main room on the first floor, as ragtag and mismatched as it got, but oddly comfortable. One of the walls was neatly riddled with floor-to-ceiling arched windows that looked towards the city center.

"So what's up with the face?" the woman asked him. "Not like ya to be this gloomy, unless…"

"Yeah." He nodded in agreement.

"How long did you stay down there?"

"An hour."

"An hour?!" she shouted, then calmed down. "No wonder you're down like that."

"Can't pick another place for the office to be," the man said glumly.

"Just don't move there all of a sudden," she snarled at him.

"Why? Worried about me, Silver?" He smirked at her, looking a bit more chipper.

"Ya betcher ass I'm worried about ya, stupid!" Silver pointed a slim finger at him. "If you ever move down there to stay, mark my words, I am gonna come down there myself and pound ya into a bloody pulp!"

"Fat chance," he snorted in amusement, plopping down onto a couch, with Silver coming down on the one opposite him and sprawling out on it. "'Preciate the gesture, though."

"You'd better," she growled. "Feelin' alright now?"

The man mused for a moment, then shrugged. "More or less, yeah. Thanks."

"Don't mention it." She nodded with a grin.

Then his face turned hard as flint.

"I have to do it again today. The enchantment's waning. I don't want the motherfucker to sleep soundly again… ever."

Silver nodded. Jigokudou had been like that ever since she'd met him three years ago. "Driven" was one way to describe him. There was a lot of bitterness there, and a lot of anguish that was hidden from sight. He could still laugh, he could still be happy. She was glad for the little miracles. But the shadow was constantly present, though weaker now.

She would have dealt with it in a different manner. It would be so easy to just go there and kill the object of Ji's hatred… but she knew that however much spite her friend held for that man, he wouldn't simply kill him. He would do much, much worse. And then some. Even for someone used to dealing with the downright revolting side of the supernatural, Silver had felt queasy that one time when he had let her see his darkest desires with the mirror of souls.

She had sworn off meat for a month afterwards.


'You will die.'


'I'm coming for you, asshole.'

'And when I get you, you'll see the infernal depths of the abyss and learn the true meaning of pain.'

Eyes snapped open in the darkened room, sweat beading the man's face. His face was taut with stress, and there were bags underneath his eyes from lack of sleep. That dream had come again.

It had been three years since the first time, and it had come irregularly, but it was still in the shadows, waiting for him to let his guard down. Dreamcatchers dulled it, and pills would help him sometimes, but there was always an occasion when it would get to him.

He raised his muscular frame off the bedroll, arms shaking as he recalled the horrors that came with the words of his spectral stalker. Nearly tripping over the heavy pack and umbrella he kept at the side of the roll just in case he needed to set off somewhere on a moment's notice, he shuffled towards the kitchen.

*thud* *thunk* *thud* *roll* *thud*

After swearing up a storm, he climbed the basement stairs and set off towards the kitchen again.

8 A.M.

"Twenty million…" the chairman of Hikari, Inc. muttered. "They want twenty million… In US dollars, you say?"

"Yes, sir," his assistant answered.

"That's preposterous! We can't pay them that kind of money. We can't show weakness!" His resolve was firm. "We have to get the prototype back."

"Sir," the assistant said, "I have allowed myself to prepare a… cost chart for the recovery operation."

"Oh? Good, good." The chairman nodded. "Who would you recommend for this?"

"One of the usual contract teams… though it may be wise to bring in outside assistance, sir. No telling what they've done to security," was the reply. "Also, there's been… rumors about them having some… unconventional help."

"And how would you propose we deal with that?"

"A contact of mine has suggested a likely candidate. He has worked for us on occasion, though never on the island. He isn't gaijin, though he's settled abroad. Very efficient, though quite flashy too."


"He calls himself Uriel."

6 P.M.

After much grumbling and a fair bit of swearing, the man going by "Uriel" when dealing with things he classified as business finally managed to extricate himself from the warm and cozy confines of his bed. It was a big one, soft, covered in fine silk and with a genuine feather mattress. He'd had to endure hardships in his life before, but he didn't see the point anymore. It had something to do with seeing and surviving some of the worst that both life and death had to offer. Like someone he'd once called a friend claimed, he had seen hell.

Still Uriel, or Jigokudou, as that was the one and the only name he gave other than his work-alias, tended to love sleeping in after a good night's work. Besides, he led a rather nocturnal way of life.

Pulling on a loose pair of jeans and an oversized blood-red t-shirt, he trudged down from his floor and into the common area of the condo. There he noticed Silver giving the TV her more-or-less undivided attention, clad in an oversized t-shirt and blue panties. Years ago, he'd have begun apologizing. A bit later he'd have ogled. Now he simply shrugged at the sight, figuring that since a minimum of modesty had been preserved, he had no reason to do anything else. Besides, he'd seen Silver in much more revealing situations before, as she had him, so modesty wasn't something they cared about very much when in each other's company.

"Morning," he said, passing behind her and brushing a hand against her shoulder.

"More like evening, Ji," she snorted without looking at him. The man continued on until he reached the corner of the room that served as a kitchen, whereupon he proceeded to raid the fridge.

"Same difference," he shrugged through a bite of submarine sandwich. "Anything happen while I was visiting Morpheus?"

"Job offer came in." The woman tilted her head and turned it to look at him, amber eyes glinting in the faint light of the setting sun.

"Hmm? What kind?" Jigokudou asked as he collapsed on a worn old recliner he favored.

"Extraction for a zaibatsu. Some sort of prototype was stolen from the research labs of Hikari, Inc." Silver informed him, taking a lotus position on the couch, with her elbows propped on her knees and her chin cradled in the palms of her hands. "They want Uriel to get it back for them."

"Feh," he snorted. "Don't they know I don't work on the Island?"

"Ji," Silver's voice was soft. "They're gonna be paying us four mil in USD. I told them you'd at least consider it, and we're not the only ones they decided to call in. I've heard Tacchi Tanaka's going back to Tokyo for this, as well as that… How did you call her …? 'Kunoichi bitch', Sayuka."

Jigokudou blinked and whistled, sandwich temporarily forgotten.

"What is this 'we' thing you speak of?" he asked a moment later, bemusedly.

"What, ya think I'd let ya take this one alone? Fat chance! We split fifty-fifty on it, and you get me to watch yer back." The woman smirked.

'And watch that you don't lose it' wasn't added, but then again, there was no need to state the obvious.

The man sighed, looking thoughtful. If he accepted this, it meant a lot of fund influx. There were a lot of things that would make life easier you could buy with a few million dollars, but with saying yes to it he would also be taking a risk. He was there, and Jigokudou didn't trust himself to leave this lie. He would have to act. It filled him with both dread and inexplicable elation. He had control. He could do this.

And maybe, just maybe, Tokyo wouldn't be left a burning husk afterwards.


As he raised his head and looked at the sunset through the narrow windows of the room Silver could see his red eyes glinting and burning with an eerie inner light.

"We'll do it," was the last thing said.

6 A.M.

It started innocently enough. He'd just gotten out of bed when he noticed there was something wrong. For one thing, he could feel an odd shifting about him. The ki senses he'd honed through many years of rigorous training were ringing like bells on a church tower after mass.

The sudden disappearance of that sensation caused him to stagger. It was as if whatever it had been that had caused it had faded from the face of the Earth. Still…

He dressed and left the room, one hand on the wall as if for support. His eyes scanned the familiar corridors of his home, as if expecting the Devil himself to pop out of the woodwork.

"Show yourself!" he demanded, and was met with no answer whatsoever. "I know you're there! Show yourself, coward!"

The force of the blow that impacted on his back was enough to send him into and through a wall, kicking up clouds of dust. He growled as he rose from the debris, turning and lashing out at the slight ki concentration he felt nearby. The man felt his punch — one that could shatter rock and dent tempered steel with ease — deflected without much trouble, and before he could do much more he was hoisted up and into the air by a powerful hand around his neck. The hold tightened as the attacker squeezed. He struck out again, kicks and punches flying at the assailant… but he hit nothing.

Once more he was thrown — no, more like tossed casually — into the air, only to come down heavily moments afterwards. There. He felt the ki, however faint, and acted without hesitation.

"SHI-SHI-HOKODAN!" The Roaring Lion Bullet lit the partly-destroyed room with a deep green glow, and flew true, straight at the man silhouetted against the swirling dust… Who simply shifted minutely, somehow allowing the attack to go by him and destroy another wall.

"No inventiveness, no style, and certainly not even a little unpredictability. Haven't changed much, have you, Ryouga?" the attacker said, and Ryouga managed to stand up again, from where the backlash of the ki projectile's launch had pushed him down. "Still hiding behind honor, I see."

"Who are you?!" Ryouga glared defiantly into the gloom of his debris-strewn home. The lack of lighting and the grayness from the oncoming dawn were only serving to worsen conditions. Still… He hurt, too. The walls weren't the problem. The punch had been strong enough to break three of his ribs, as far as he could tell.

"Don't recognize me? No wonder. Slow-witted moron." The stranger laughed. "You know, I think I should be mad at you!"

Ryouga froze. That voice! It couldn't be! He was…

"Ryouga Hibiki! Because of you, I have seen HELL!" the man's shape blurred, and suddenly he was in Ryouga's face, eyes like embers burning into his soul. And then he did something that had the Lost Boy whimpering. He grinned, like only a person intent on inflicting an utmost degree of pain on their victim could. Said person was now holding Ryouga by the throat again. "Yes, because of you I've been to Hell. You claim to have visited at one time. Tell me, do you want to be reacquainted with it?"

The fanged martial artist punched again, throwing all his force into the blow. The fist, glowing brightly with his ki, impacted on his opponent's face with a wet smack. There was a cracking noise as his hand erupted with pain on the moment of impact, and he screamed as it was burned… and then charred…

"AAAAaaaaa!" he yelled incoherently as he retracted the hand… or rather, the charred, blistered stump that had once been a hand.

"Heh, I wasn't going to give you a choice anyway, balls-for-brains."

The neighborhood was shaken out of its early morning stupor as the Hibiki family home erupted in a brilliant column of blood-red fire, reaching upwards into the skies. It raged there for a second, the images of faces flitting briefly along its sides, and a wail like that of a damned soul could be heard.

And then there was nothing, save for a charred crater where the house had once been.

11 P.M.

Were anyone there to watch it, they would have seen something that was definitely not commonplace. After all, a car that drives out from under an overpass where there had been no cars a moment ago, and moving in complete silence at that, was fairly high up on the weirdness scale.

As it was, the one person who was there to see it was a young man coming back from a drinking binge with his friends. His eyesight was sharp enough, even after having ingested quite a bit of alcohol, not to miss the shape of a 1967 Ford Mustang sliding past him like a ghost. That is, were it not for the fact that his eyes seemed to slip past the car, never truly acknowledging it to be there. That the car's paint job was constantly changing and adapting to the background could have been a factor in this.

In any case, none consciously noted the car's pulling off the road and into a dark alley, navigating it for a while before stopping.

Doors opened, and driver and passenger stepped out.

"This will be interesting, if nothing else." Jigokudou seemed to have a load off his chest. Silver knew why. The release of several years of pent up frustration, anger and the like, could be either crippling or liberating. In his case, it seemed to be the latter.

"At least you didn't slag the district," she said in a dry tone. "Just the house."

"Your point being?" the man asked, retrieving some of his gear from the car's trunk.

"Your aim's getting better." Silver grinned darkly.

"Oh, har. You slip up once, and they never let you forget it," he said in a hurt voice.

"Your last so called 'slip up' was documented as the 'Great Fire of San Francisco, 2002', as far as I know," the woman stated, pulling out her own gear and strapping it on.

"Eh, heheh." Ran grinned sheepishly "That was… Heh… How'd you find out about that?"

"Night of self pity." She shrugged. It was about how they'd come to work in a partnership. He'd stumbled upon her on an outing in London a few years ago, and they'd helped each other out. At least that had been what it looked like to her, before she found out more about just what he could do. It wasn't the best of times for either of them, and for some reason she'd managed to convince him to join her for a few drinks. How she did that would remain a mystery for them indefinitely, since he rarely if ever drank at all.

In any case, after severe doses of alcohol — and they could handle their liquor exceptionally well; their respective constitutions a few notches above what was generally considered humanly possible — brooding had started. That in turn changed into trading of old stories, and somehow, a couple of bottles later, they were both bawling their eyes out about one thing or another that had gone bad in their respective lives. When they woke up next morning, naked in Silver's apartment, in a tangle of limbs that left little of last night's happenings to the imagination, there had been a bit of an awkward moment. It would have turned even more awkward if they didn't remember most of what had transpired last night. A lot of things had been said, and quite a number of things done. The recollection of some of the latter still made Silver a little tingly, and Ji a little flushed. It was a haphazard start of something that had turned from reluctant company to full-blown partnership, though they hadn't had all that many reruns of that night's events. It was more a question of needing someone they could trust than simple physical release.

If anything else — apart from a lot of embarrassment, that is — had come from that night, it was the fact that Jigokudou had found out he was immune to the common hangover, not that he ever drank enough that he'd have actually gotten one after that one slip.

"Well there was that nest of ghouls there, you know." He shrugged, then seemed to zone out for a moment "Hmm. Oh, this is good. Your information was accurate."

"Which part of it?" she inquired.

"Yuki," the man simply said.

"So she really is that Nabiki girl you've mentioned?" Silver frowned. The information had been costly, but it paid to know your friends as much as it paid to know your enemies. "Any trouble with the fact?"

"Nope. She's good, but it's been years, and I'm not exactly what or who I used to be anyway."

"I wish I could have your confidence," the woman sighed.

"Hope for the best, and prep for the worst," the man answered without as much as a hint of a grin, but there was a smug note there that the his companion thought she felt.

"Better make sure she knows we're coming, then," Silver stated. Ji just nodded, and turned to the car.

Nabiki Tendou looked up, taking in the sight of the towering building on the opposite side of the street. It was a massive structure of steel and glass, reaching for the skies at sixty stories in height, not counting the penthouse that was the CEO's occasional residence.

Zatoshi Incorporated was a well known player in the corporate field, handling jobs ranging from producing merchandise in the form of microprocessors and computer systems to accepting weapons contracts from the JSDF and various of the world's militaries. They also didn't shun any means of raising their position further, and the trail Nabiki had traced indicated that it was one of the higher echelon board members who had hired the team for the Hikari raid. The prototype, whatever the item that had been stolen was, was probably somewhere in there, most likely in one of the labs Zatoshi had in their headquarters building.

This was what they would have to enter, if she was right; and with her sources she was rarely off the mark by too much.

She more felt than heard the vibrating sound of a high-power engine drawing closer, then stopping and being turned off. Two doors slammed in the darkness beyond, somewhere within the shadows of the alleys.

The others weren't as casual about it as she was; then again, they didn't quite have her talents. Guns were ready to be drawn on a moment's notice, as were blades of various designs. A tall gaijin woman stepped from the shadows, dressed in loose-fitting jeans and a BDU jacket that didn't do much to hide the fact that she was packing some serious heat.

"Yuki, I presume?" she asked in accented but plausible Japanese, directing the question at Nabiki.

"And you would be Silver, then?" the girl replied with a question of her own. "And your partner is…"

The sudden shriek from the shadows signaled a black-clad female form falling gracelessly onto her rear as a man in a white trench coat, a cowl over his head and the coat's high collar obscuring his face — in a way Nabiki noted couldn't be quite natural — stepped out behind her. The only thing visible was a pair of eyes, both of them a solid blood-red.

"Been a while, angel." The kunoichi stood up, regarding the man before her impassively.

"Too short a while," the man said dryly as he stepped past her, turning to look at the skyscraper. Neither he nor she made a move to hide their animosity for each other, which wasn't really that surprising, Nabiki reasoned. It fit in well with the profiles, even if Uriel's was little more than speculation. Still, the woman he had come with was a well-documented operative, and Nabiki could tell that she was as good as her evaluation claimed she was, if not better.

"People," Nabiki said, raising her voice a little. The other few operatives were still tense, but handling it well, even if Sakuya looked as if she was considering putting a dagger through Uriel's back. "Do I need to remind you what we're supposed to do here?"

"And camera… is looped. Go!" Tanaka was a man in his early thirties, and about as nondescript as was possible for someone of Asian descent, which was pretty darn anonymous-looking. Currently he was running interference with the various detection devices in the complex, lounging in a padded recliner that sat in a minivan filled to the brink with electronics. They moved as a well disciplined troop would… mostly.

Clearing the way for four teams wasn't an easy task, even if one required only that an elevator be halted on the top floor so that they could use the shaft. It was persuading the internal diagnostic systems that everything was all right that was the hard part.

At least he was in little risk of getting his ass blown away if something went wrong. It was one of the benefits of his specialization.

"I thought security was supposed to be heavy," Silver muttered as she took a peek through a slightly ajar door. The corridor beyond was clear, with no guards at least. Cameras and motion sensors were another thing entirely, but that was why they had Tanaka, and she'd worked with him before enough times to know he could do his job darned well.

Nabiki eyed her speculatively. She could feel there was something 'off' there, but couldn't put a finger on it. She was reasonably certain that it wasn't a glamour, since she'd checked beforehand. Her partner, however… that was a different story altogether.

She could see layer upon layer of glamour spells, more complex than anything she'd seen anyone do. The darkness of his hood wasn't natural either, and the coat was imbued with faint traces of Shadow and Death magic, and more than a few stray flickers of fire.

Only because she was so close and knew where to look did she know this. Were he to walk past her on the street she would most likely fail to recognize him.

And there was something else. She had lived alongside martial artist of various schools all her youth, and knew what to look for to be able to judge someone's fighting skills. This man seemed to rather float than walk, his motions effortless. Frankly, for a first impression, he was definitely someone to keep an eye on.

But just why did he seem so damn familiar?

Silver stiffened a moment later than Uriel did as they entered yet another floor. She was apt enough at reading his almost nonexistent body language that they seemed to communicate almost without words. If something was bad enough to cause this sort of reaction in a man who'd faced down a full-blooded demon in the very depths of Hell itself, well, it was bad.

They were split up into four four-man teams, herself having gone with her partner, the woman that called herself Yuki — though Silver had made the connection who this was immediately — and a hired gun by the name of Sato.

"Hoboy," Uriel said after a second of silence. "Damn, this isn't going to be that easy."

"What is it?" she asked cautiously, her hand already wielding her sidearm, eyes scanning the corridor before them.

"I… I think I feel it," Yuki said, eyes wide. "By the kami, what is that?"

Any answer would have been lost as the ceiling caved in, and suddenly erupted in a flurry of concrete and steel. They threw themselves on the ground, arms curling around their heads protectively, as rubble crashed around them.

Well, Silver and Sato did. Yuki stood firm, sweat beading her forehead, arm raised high. A dome of telekinetic energy shimmered around them, deflecting debris. And Uriel was nowhere to be seen.

The dome buckled and failed suddenly, as a clawed hand smashed into it, tearing it effortlessly. A shape loomed from the dust cloud that had been brought up by the rubble, and Silver barely moved out of the way, pulling Yuki and Sato with her, and out of the way of the…

"Oh shit! A demon!" she exclaimed, wide-eyed.

"Not bad for a mortal," the being stated with a bemused chuckle, its voice grating as if it was coming from a piece of defective machinery. "Not good enough, though!"

She saw Yuki's hands fly forward, and a wall of compressed air slammed into the demon, managing to back it up a step. Sato shook off his daze and propped himself up on his elbows, rifle in hand. A staccato of gunfire erupted and bullets hit home.

Since they weren't enchanted, they failed to do much, if any, harm. Still, they had bought them a little time. Silver reacted on instinct more than anything else. Her gun was out of the question, with it being somewhere under the rubble probably, and she wasn't about to leave her back open anyway. So she charged.

Nabiki stifled a fearful gasp. She'd dealt with lesser demons and imps, even a few more earthly supernatural phenomena, but she had always known what she would face beforehand. True, she was a powerful esper, but this seemed a little beyond her. She was well aware of the fact as she sent a force wall towards the demon, intent on holding it for at least a moment to give her time to gather her concentration. The hail of bullets that Sato sent moments after managed to make the thing a little more distracted, even if the normal lead failed to injure it. Sato's left hand left the gun to delve into his hip pouch, searching for a more appropriate load. Even silver bullets, Nabiki knew, wouldn't do lasting harm here. Spellslugs were too expensive to waste like this, and only they would be good for putting a demon down.

So she stared as Silver rose to her feet and charged at the dusky-skinned monstrosity that was nearly four times her size and mass.

"What the hell are you doing?!" she wanted to shout… but instead stared some more.

Silver's body seemed to shift subtly at first, and suddenly grew… She burst from her clothes, fur sprouting from her skin, claws appearing on her hands and feet, face replaced by a canine muzzle. The demon jerked back as the silver-furred werewolf attacked, lines of black blood appearing from where the were's claws had struck it.

Nabiki felt the power gathered in her cupped hands, and knew it was still too little. Her frown deepened as did her concentration, and the air around her glittered slightly with condensation.

The demon slammed its massive fist into Silver's midriff, the hellspawn's strength lifting the silver-furred mercenary off the ground and slamming her body into the wall. A web of fractures appeared along it, as momentum finally decided it wouldn't carry her to the other side, and let her slide down in a boneless heap.

"Dammit, a little more!" Nabiki hissed. Her prayers were heard as Sato finally managed to find the clip, slam it home, and fire. Silver bullets tore into demon flesh, causing small fountains of blood to erupt from it, pushing it back… before a bolt of black energy slammed into Sato, picking him up and depositing him on the other end of the corridor as little more than a charred skeleton holding a molten slab of metal.

Power tore itself from her grasp, as she was barely able to direct it. A ball of swirling blue flew from her cupped hands, flew true, and impacted on the demon… a faint sheen of frost was the first sign, followed by the expression of frank disbelief on the formerly snarling face of the creature. Its skin paled and air started turning to fog around it, then to fine crystals of ice. Nabiki managed to stay on her feet, a smirk on her face, though her footing was unsure, to say the least.

"Damn, that hurt!" the voice was distorted, but still recognizable as Silver's. The wolfen form rose from the ground, bones snapping into place with a sickening series of sounds.

"Neat trick. Where the hell is your partner?!" Nabiki growled. "Damn coward…"

Her words were stopped cold as another demon fell from the hole in the ceiling — this one badly banged up — and onto its back in a manner that looked vary painful. There was a gaping hole in its abdomen. It growled, ignoring them and sending a wave of crackling blackness upwards. The white-wearing form of Uriel appeared, leaping for the demon, skirting along the edge of the energy wave. His white trench coat was open, the hood down and the cloth that had been around his lower face now around his neck. Reddish-black hair fell to his shoulders, and eyes like glowing embers were fixed on the demon.

The thing's chest caved in as he impacted, legs bending. A clawed hand reached for him, and was blown away by a spread of spellslugs from the shotgun in his hands. A moment later the demon's head was turned to a bloody pulp in the same manner.

"That makes it three," the man said as he popped the clip and replaced it. The casual manner in which he did this didn't escape Nabiki, nor did the fact that his clothes were as impeccable as they had been at the beginning of the engagement. There was something about his manner… "How many did you get?"

Silver's gaze skipped past Nabiki, and the brown-haired girl was cast a short glance that said, 'oh, ye of little faith'.

"Damn showoff. You'll never change, Ji," Silver said dryly.

"Well, you'd certainly better not; not now anyway," the man chuckled as he kicked what was left of the demon's head. "Not that I'd mind an eyeful."

"Pervert," the werewolf snorted.

"Your point being?" The man quirked an eyebrow.

"What… how…?" Nabiki was gaping.

"He does this sort of thing for kicks on his days off," Silver said; and Uriel groaned.

"Uriel here," the man retrieved a comm unit from his pocket. "Heavy opposition on fortieth. Sato's down, but our side's been covered."

"Tanaka, we've got heavy hitters. Tell everybody to load with silver," Nabiki cut in. "Tanaka? Tanaka, are you there?"

"We may be in trouble," Silver remarked, looking towards the end of the corridor. Five people stood there, their skin unnaturally pale, each one holding a weapon of some sort in their hands… Weapons that gave off a powerful aura, at that.

The fact that the fivesome each had fangs and glittering yellow eyes wasn't unnoticed either.

And then there wasn't time to think anymore. Instinctive reactions were the only thing keeping Nabiki alive as she ducked to the side, bringing what little reserves she had up into a small shield that barely deflected an enchanted blade. Her other hand curled around the handle of her sidearm, and she brought it to bear, emptying the clip into the vamp's face and chest. While the bullets weren't silver, these weren't demons either, and regenerating bullet wounds was said to hurt.

Silver roared over the din, her left arm hanging limply, a short sword piercing it. A slash cost the vamp that had done it its head. The werewolf's instincts saved her hide as she moved, the blade that had been meant for her neck coming down on her shoulder. The sensation of burning was a shock, and she ripped herself free after a moment, the wound on her shoulder smoking from where the enchanted blade had caught her.

She lunged forward, powerful jaws closing around the vamp's head, crushing it as if it were an overripe melon.

She dug the claws of her still working hand into his chest, heaving the husk over her head with little problem, and hurled him at the one Nabiki had delayed. The sound of flesh hitting flesh and bones breaking could be heard.

They turned to see Uriel standing in the midst of a pool of crimson, limbs and random body parts strewn about randomly, two heads pinned to the wall with blades driven through their mouths.

"What? Is there something on my face?" he asked, noting their stares.

"Nothing." Nabiki felt her throat going dry. No answer from any of their groups, and Tanaka wasn't responding either. If it was a simple hardware failure… but like they would be that lucky. Ever since the demons had tried to take them down, they'd been attacked by steadily more disturbing odds. All the while she watched her companions…

Silver seemed to react normally enough; at least Nabiki thought that it was normal for the werewolf. Her wounds had healed somewhat and her left arm was again usable, but her agitation had remained. Still, she held fast to her partner's side.

And he was the enigma here. He hadn't even been scratched; at least he didn't look in the least wounded since the fighting had begun, and the ease with which he took down anything that came against him… Either simply ripping it apart with his hands and feet in a display of casual power she hadn't seen since her sophomore year in high school, or dispatching them with that monster of a shotgun he carried. She could feel the enchanted slugs in that thing from five meters away, so there was a fair guess about their power.

And there was something that kept nagging her about his face… something long forgotten.

"I'm going to the top," Uriel said, still keeping that creepy calm of his.

"What?! Why?!" his partner asked before Nabiki could.

"Tell me, Miss Special Assistant to the CEO, what was it exactly that went missing?" the man asked, and Nabiki wasn't even startled by his knowledge.

"I don't know. It was in the special projects department. Something in genetics, though. It was in a cylinder about a meter in height and a meter in diameter," she admitted.

"Now tell me, what could open a Class Five summoning circle? Nothing less would have been able to support the transit of the demons," the white coated man said. Their expressions were enough of an answer. "The sacrifice of someone of divine blood."

"No…" Nabiki's eyes went wide.

"Heavenspawn, Plane-touched; what you will. How did you get your hands on it, I wonder?" He shrugged. "No matter. The circle is still there, and is still calling them in. Somebody should stop it before a Greater can come in through—"

"Fools!" The exclamation came from behind them, and they whirred, weapons at ready, to face an elderly man in a neat suit. "There's nothing you can do about this! You have not the power to seal a circle such as that. It was constructed by seven of the most powerful mages in this city, and none of you has the potential to even attempt the proper ceremony."

The man wavered, and faded away.

"Hologram," the werewolf snarled.

"But he's right; we have nothing of that—" Nabiki began, but found Silver's hand on her shoulder. She stopped, again surprised. "No way!" She eyed Uriel in shock.

"Yes 'way'. He's the one that sealed that Class Seven outbreak in Lichtenstein last year."

The words were a bit too much. A Class Seven could support a member of the Lesser Nobility among the demons. To have the power to seal that…

"What are you?" she asked the man in a hushed tone.

"Pray you never find out." Silver's voice came to her from the side, quiet yet assertive.

She could never let go of a challenge, though…

"Remind me," Silver growled as she slashed at the demonspawn before her, rending its head separate from its shoulders. "Why did I convince you to take this job?"

"Money," Uriel said, unloading a spread of enchanted slugs into the mass teeming on the stairway below them. The projectiles tore through demon flesh and armor with an ease that spoke volumes of their quality, and, to Nabiki's eyes, of the price they had to have been bought at. And the man never seemed to run out.

Her own brief volleys of cryokinetic power pushed back the enemy for a few moments, but did nowhere near the damage; and the werewolf was dealing out damage at a frightening rate to any that came close enough.

"Ah," the silver-haired lycanthrope nodded as she slashed another demonspawn into bloody pieces. "Please, don't let me do it again."

"Noted." The man's tone was casual, as if he were discussing the weather with someone and not attempting to breach a demon-infested skyscraper's upper level. Nabiki had to remind herself that it was probably the safest place to be in the entire building — close to him, that is. If you were on the right side of that shotgun of his.

Silver eyed the Nabiki girl, or rather young woman, cautiously. She'd been discreet about it — and she could be fairly discreet — but she was uneasy about her. If what Ji had told her was accurate, and there was no reason why it shouldn't be, then this could only lead to more trouble.

She snorted, as if they weren't in enough of a bind already. Good luck the girl knew how to fight at least, and fight she did. But if she was as sharp as she looked to be, and as Ji claimed she was, then this could turn out to be ugly…

Or rather, it had the potential to. You never knew with Ji.

The explosion caused most of the windows on that and the three adjutant floors to say bye-bye. It was followed by the loud and rough coughing sound of multiple high-caliber slugs being fired in close succession. The leathery-winged, smoking corpse of a yellow-skinned demon was blown into the room through its heavy wooden doors, sending splinters flying everywhere and coming to lie on top of a crushed table, seeping with blood, its flesh flayed and charred in some places, and huge chunks of meat torn from its sides.

"Sixtieth floor, women's undergarments, executive offices, amateur summoners and company," Uriel's voice stated in a bored tone as the man emerged from the cloud of black smoke, CAWS propped against one shoulder. His clothes were still an immaculate white.

A hastily erected cryokinetic shield barely deflected a firebolt spell that would have hit him dead on, as Nabiki and Silver stumbled into the room.

"What the hell were you trying to do?!" the esper shouted at him.

"Draw their fire," was the dry response. "Unlike you, I can take something like that."

The steel plating that covered one of the room's walls was a good hint where they should try to get to. It was, upon closer inspection, heavily warded with glyphs and spells from various schools of magic, from runic to Taoist.

"Heavy," Silver said, a claw tracing the runes. She knew some of them, but not well enough to breach the protective barrier. "Can you breach this, Ji?"

The man nodded.

Passing them both he put his right hand against the rune covered metal, and frowned.

"What is it?" the werewolf asked, noticing the expression on his face.

"This is good work, serious stuff. He was telling the truth; seven really experienced warders put this up here. It's more tangled than the mess that I used to call my life once." He peered at the wall intently, and grinned.

"Got it?" Nabiki asked, ready to release another blast just in case.

"Heh. You know what? This is probably the best thing I've seen since two years ago in Egypt, and it took me a good hour to unravel it without any side effects," Uriel said. He didn't need to turn to know that Nabiki's expression had turned anxious. "But we have no hour, do we? Therefore…"

His hand glowed faintly, first with the flickers of ki, and then with a faint red glow. The air rippled and Silver felt her fur starting to stand on end. The amount of power being prepared was enough to have the air smell of ozone. Nabiki backed off as the temperature increased dramatically, and the air around Uriel started to ripple from the heat. She could see his eyes glowing like embers, and his hair started to wildly waver around his face, like a flame that slowly got more and more intense.

"It may be a good idea to take cover now," he said to them, turning his head slightly. His face was pale and radiant at the same time, his mouth set in a smile for the first time in days.

Jigokudou Ran grinned as he saw his two companions take cover behind what was left of the doorway. The demons had been a surprise… and a workout. A breach of this strength, a Class Five Circle… he'd have to give Silver more than her usual cut. He wasn't in this for the money anyway.

And now he was, for the first time in two years, standing before a CHALLENGE.

He loved it, the feeling of channeling this much power. He dug in his ki reserves, and pulled out all the stops. At the time he'd been human, this would have been enough to take out a small mountain. Now… Now the powers he'd gained merged with the golden energy of his life-force, casting a sharp scarlet radiance on the surroundings.

Hellfire burned in his veins as it was brought out, and directed through his body as if it were a lens. Magical energies swirled, and the glyphs and runes flared with life. Their cold glow was in contrast with the flaming inferno of Ran's aura, and for an instant he looked overmatched.

"The thing about finesse…" he said to himself, with a faint strain to his voice that he found delighting. He'd been wrong; it had been much longer than two years since he'd had so much fun. "…is that you can make as big and complex weave as you wish, and make unraveling it nigh impossible… But if you have enough juice…!"

His coat flared out behind him as a gust of wind swept through the chamber, blackening the walls where it passed. The area around him was already charred to blackness, and flickers of fire danced along his skin.

The runes flickered, flared brighter than the sun, and went black. Jigokudou's grin didn't waver, and the steel plating started to redden, then whiten. The metal flowed around his feet as it melted from the wall, its heat biting deep into the tiled floor, starting small fires in its own right.

Inside, nine people, all of various power levels, but also very experienced, glanced up from where they were standing around the summoning circle, and stared hard.

"Who in Hel's name…?"

Nabiki wanted to scream as the level of power shown was displayed. This guy… He was most definitely not human. Nothing human had that much power. The only being she knew of which existed on the Earthplane and was rumored to have this much power was Saffron, and he had been, again as rumors go, stripped of it due to something he'd done.

"Who in Hel's name…" she heard, peeked out, and her jaw went slack as she saw the melted door, and the scorched floor and walls. Uriel's clothes were still immaculate.

"Appropriate," his voice was emotionless. "I am Jigokudou Ran."

"You dare interrupt our ceremony?!" one yelled. "You'll burn in the Abyss for this…"

Ran looked at them… and started laughing. It was a sound that chilled everybody there to the bone.

"Perhaps I failed to make myself clear?!" he roared.


Nabiki blinked and looked at Silver, who was shaking her head.

A bolt of lightning shot from one of the mages, heading for Jigokudou but somehow curving around him, missing completely. A hail of enchanted spheres had as much effect as spitballs, dissipating a meter from his form. And the fire arrows that hit him seemed to be sucked into his body.

"I am Jigokudou! Guardian of the Abyss! I am the kami of Hellfire!!! I burn with it, and have done so for decades!!" he grinned again, seeing their shock. "And now it's you who shall BURN!!!"

Flames erupted from him, and the room was soon engulfed by an inferno that turned flesh and bone to ash.

As it died down, Nabiki could see Jigokudou standing in the middle of a chamber the walls of which were covered in perfectly smooth and reflective glass. Air shimmered as the intense heat radiated from ground zero.

And a deep voice rumbled as a hulking mass of red scale, leather, and claws hauled itself through the Circle which was, somehow, still inscribed in the now glass floor.

"Crap," they heard Ran say, very quietly. This was not good. No, this was very, very bad.

"LITTLE MAN. TO THINK THAT YOU WANT TO TOY WITH POWER SO BEYOND YOU," the thing said. It was huge, reaching twelve feet easily, with a wingspan of thrice that. It had four arms, each clawed, and three eyes. Its maw was filled with milky-white teeth, each the size of a knife blade.

'Ooookay, so it was a Class Nine,' Jigokudou thought.

"Hmm, a Lord? I haven't had to deal with one of you before," he said calmly. "This may be interesting."

"OVERCONFIDENT, AREN'T WE? BUT THEN AGAIN, THAT HAS ALWAYS BEEN A FAULT OF YOURS, HASN'T IT JIGOKUDOU RAN… OR SHOULD I SAY SAOTOME RANMA?" the thing said with bemusement. And all color seemed to drain from Nabiki's already pale face as she realized why she had found 'Uriel' so familiar.

"Nice try," the man smirked. "But it didn't work, did it? Name magic is… Shall we say, ineffective against someone who doesn't have a true name, isn't it? And Hellfire purged mine a long time ago."

"HELLFIRE INDEED. STILL…" Without warning, a beam of black power shot towards the man, who managed to duck in the nick of time. The dark energy passed through the walls as if they weren't there at all, leaving holes the size of someone's torso in them.

The demon wasn't one to give up the advantage, and threw itself forward, throwing bolts of darkness at his target.

His charge was met by a hail of spellslugs, which did little but nick him slightly.

"MORTAL WEAPONS. YOU SHOULD KNOW BETTER!" The thing sneered as it launched a fireball of negative energy at its target. Ran called up the Hellfire and threw it straight through the incoming projectile. Both dissipated.

"Then how's about my little playthings?" the kami of Hellfire said, throwing up his hands. A ring of flames shot up around the demon's legs, scorching the floor and causing the creature to rear back for a moment.

It found itself slammed through the wall and into the air, with its opponent hanging onto its back. Ji focused, and flared his aura. Flesh burned underneath him with an acrid smell, and the demon roared in pain this time.

The demon reached behind itself, grasping Ran with its clawed appendages, and threw him off. The man hit a wall with enough force to be carried through it. The demon was little if not experienced, though. It grunted in its guttural mother tongue, and a cloud of black-and-green vapor winding around its way around the Abyssal's legs. It slithered into the hole, and a ghostly shriek erupted as the gaseous darkness was met by a ball of flames.

It wasn't that Jigokudou was flying, no. He was simply riding the wave and spearheading the incredible blast of fire and heat that erupted from the hole. Nabiki and Silver were both very glad that they'd taken cover, especially after seeing some of the walls he'd passed by blacken and slowly crumble.

He hit the Lord with his shoulder, staggering it and knocking it back a few feet. Then he thrust a hand into its chest, the appendage ghastly white in a way the suggested extreme heat. Not that it seemed to do all that terribly much, since the demon shrugged off the impact, even if it was charred slightly by the blaze. Ran had enough time and reflexes to dodge as the being responded in kind. Fighting a larger enemy was always better a thing to do at close range, since the body's bulk would get in the way of some retaliation attempts. He frowned briefly, Hellfire flashing along his body and cumulating on his fingertips, and ducked under a lightning fast swipe of a clawed arm. He was bent nearly parallel to the ground, keeping balance in that odd way that seemed to defy gravity and last for an 'eternal moment', before snapping back into the vertical with his own arms moving in a complicated pattern that was clearly designed as a defensive move. Executing it with hands wreathed in flame that had the rough temperature of superheated plasma and were reeking 'power from beyond' changed that aspect a little, as suddenly the demon's outstretched arm, its side, and a portion of its chest were covered by bleeding, blistering gashes. These flames, despite the fact that they were hotter than most anything in existence, did not cauterize when it was not required of them.

Roaring in pain and more than a little anger, the demon decided that this little one was more of a challenge than previously expected. Maybe more than it could take… and to lose would be almost a death sentence. Death in battle would be preferable to it. Therefore…

A string of guttural grunts in the Abyssal tongue, and the Demon Lord let loose with something that was dreaded even in Hell itself. It wasn't merely an attack… A black globe of non-light and non-sound was little to laugh at, and then there was the fact that reality was warping around it so heavily.

The demon recalled why that particular spell had been banned as the globe proceeded to swallow him whole. Even with his speed… Ran couldn't dodge it in time.

It was similar to a spell called 'Banish', in a way, since it capitalized on the target's own energies to achieve an effect of returning it to its home Plane, or killing it. There was little hope that one could defend against a sufficiently high level… Unless… Well, paradoxes sucked, since the soul in question here held a conflicting set of instructions of a sort. One said that it was designated Uriel — Earth Elemental Angel and the Fire of God, though not aware at the moment. That would have sent it to Heaven… Asgard… Whatever. Another said that it was, in fact, an Infernal Angel and the Guard of the Abyss, as well as a kami of Hellfire. That would have returned it to the, by now familiar, depths of Hell. Yet another would have had the soul sent either to Heaven by a slim margin, or to Purgatory for a year or so before that.

Conflicting directives, no?

As it was, the being would have been simply erased from space-time… had it not been a wee bit on the powerful side.

He felt his body being torn, the forces playing so casual a game around him being too much for the frail shell to handle. The fire that had turned him from Saotome Ranma to Jigokudou Ran was still there though, burning with its life bringing flame in the darkest pit of his despair.

Sorcerous energies erupted from the void, intent on crushing him, erasing the mortal who had become the Infernal Angel, watcher over the Hells, and kami of Hellfire from existence. Their power, combining the demon summons of all he ever destroyed, weaving through the very fabric of space and time as only magic could, streaked along the featureless emptiness.

A human would have died, and so would a mage, or even a demon.

He was neither. The fires of Hell burned within him, granting him power and life. The first fires were taken in the battle against the Immortal Phoenix in China, and had been the only reason why the treachery that had been meant to end his life before had been a fiasco. With little more than that and the power of determination had he managed to survive in the flaming pits of the Abyss and take their fires as his own.

This wasn't manna, nor was it ki. It was a force that transcended time.

As Jigokudou's body burst into flame and turned to ash, something shifted in the very matter of the continuum. His soul screamed as it burned hotter than the sun itself, turning the building to slag regardless of all the people around and in it.

Hellfire hadn't had a master for too long, and it wouldn't give up on this one as easily, even if it meant rewriting history itself.

And in an alley a few blocks away a red-black Ford Mustang suddenly shifted into the form of a huge flaming cat, and sunk through the shadows.

And the world went………



……… Nabiki's eyes shot open as she went from lying down to sitting ramrod straight on her bed, face beaded with sweat. The intense feeling of pain was something surreal in the back of her mind… but the horror that impending demise brought hung heavily in the air. Her eves scanned the room with a feverish gleam to them… and her face slackened as she noted where she was.

Her room in her father's house. She remembered… but it was blurry, like a fevered dream. She remembered getting back from school and spending a bit of time over the finances for the dojo, then going down to watch TV. She remembered the latest manga she'd been reading yesterday night… there it was on the nightstand.

Why was she getting so excited about a silly dream anyway? She could hardly remember any of it. And anyway, she was thirsty. Sighing she stood up and flicked on the lights.

"Damn," she muttered. "Power's out."

Still, she went over to the door to her room and out into the hallway, then down the stairs. It was peaceful, her sisters and father sleeping, but the morning would bring with it the usual hectic of trying to come up with money enough to keep the dojo in the black.

She trudged over to the fridge and retrieved a bottle of milk. Taking a quick gulp she set it back inside, and turned to leave.

She took no notice of the fact that the fridge hadn't been powered at the time, and even less of the fact that the milk had been cold, as if freshly chilled. The two damp footmarks that were on the floor in front of the fridge, where she had stood, would have faded by morning. Nabiki lay back in bed, a slight frown on her face.

Life, she sighed to herself, was so boring at times.



Author's notes: You hate me for leaving it like that, don't you?

Why did I write this? I wonder as I sit at my notebook's keyboard and frown. Well, for one thing, this was to get out of a rut I'd been in since early 2002 when I released Everdark 3. Frankly, I'm not so much ashamed of it as I am embarrassed. Not about the SI part, no, but about the poor quality of it all. Oh well, you live and learn. One thing is that you should never force a story. Take this one for example.

Main intention had been a revenge fic on Pig-boy and an excuse for Ranma to use his line of "… prepare to die!" Didn't work out quite that way, and I'm in no mood to write the brutal demise of Hibiki right now anyway. Let's just say that he'd gotten to finally make true his claim about seeing Hell because of Ranma. Oh well.

Anyhow, the intended gorefest isn't entirely here. Instead of something vaguely longish, we have a short fic that scratches on the surface of an idea somewhere within me, and may evolve with time. I didn't force the story, and I put the overpowered Ran there for a reason… It's cool writing him, for one thing.

But again, the fic had, from the first paragraph, turned around into something different. Alternate universes are fun, and one with Nabiki as an esper (though still relatively new at it) and a Shadowrun-esque setting… Been done, I have no doubt, but what the hell.

I don't expect this to be award winning, nor do I think of it as particularly ambitious, but writing it was a bit of fun and gave me some confidence in my skills back.

And to you all; thank you for reading. If you enjoyed it, drop me a line. If you didn't, criticize in a precise manner if you would. I need the advice. If you want to simply bug me about more of Road to Hell, feel free. Email address is griever@wp.pl. Any and all suggestions concerning the fic are welcome.

And yes, I am well aware that my grammar and sentence structure are lacking. 'S not like I didn't try. I promise to get better, if that soothes you any.

— Griever

Giving credit where it's due:

  • Gregg Sharp, for the 'Bet' and assorted series.
  • Brian Randall, for assorted fics, especially PoE.
  • Chris "HomerNet" McFarland… my pre-reader for this little piece.
  • Larry F, for giving me a place in the Lost Library. Heck, for the Lost Library in itself, without which we would be one high-quality fiction archive poorer. Also, for pointing out my punctuation errors.
  • My aunt and uncle, thanks to whom I managed to locate the machine on which I'm typing this.
  • The fanfic community in general, for eating up all of my spare time. I don't have nearly enough to keep gaming like I used to, you magnificent bastards ^^
  • and to the crew on the 'Couch', for… Well, no idea. I'll think of something. Been quiet there lately, but what the hey.
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