September Changes by Ali
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A 'G-Force:  Alternate' Fanfic
Shiroi Tsuru no Ali-cat
characters from Gatchaman owned by Tatsunoko  obvious changes owned by me
characters from 'Kung-Fu: The Legend Continues' owned by Warner Bros.
Thunder roared outside Shimada Guard.  Dawn should be breaking, but given the weather no sun would break through today.  It looked to be one of the bleaker days Kikei Shimada had ever seen.

His dark blue eyes grew even darker.  "The time is near."

He focused on the sky outside, reading its signs, understanding its stories.  Birthright gave him that ability -- the last of the Shimada Clan.  He had wondered when this day would come, dreaded the time it did come; now it arrived, and he felt all the heaviness in his heart.


Kikei did not turn.  "Yes, Kira?"

Her hand clamped around his wrist.  "It's not time, is it?  It can't be..."

"If it happens, Kira, please, don't dwell on it, and don't let it hurt your brother."

Kira's eyes -- identical to her Clan-brother's -- grew wild with fear.  "'Niisan, Ken...  he'll -- you have to tell him."

He shook his head.  "No.  If he knows they will find him, and that will end everything."

"The Clan?"

Kikei turned to face her at last, met her eyes, and stroked her dark hair, the same shade as his own.  "We are the last three, Kira.  No matter what, Ken has to be the last one of us."
"What's the news, team?"  Kikei said as he strode to his desk at the 101st Precinct, seated neatly between his two partners in crime, Peter Caine and Mary Skalaney.

"Boy, you must have really slept well," Peter said.  "You don't know anything about this new slasher yet?"

Kikei's brows knitted even as his heart took a quick skip. "Slasher?"

Mary dropped the files she and Peter had already gone through in front of him.  "Two victims last night.  One reported missing day before, found in a mess you would not believe last night, and the other was murdered in her own home."

"What's the M.O?"

Peter looked up, eyes dark.  "Other than this killer is a barbarian?"

"Not methodical, is he?"

"He's not clean, if that's what you're asking, Shimada," said a voice from the corner room.  Kermit, dark sunglasses and all, had his head stuck out his door.  The trio could not help but be interested; rare enough that Kermit Griffin ever came out of that room, even just a part of him, much less move away from the computer.  "Get in here, you three."

In single file they walked into Kermit's office, a decent-sized room with a desk, some file cabinets and his computer with every single computer peripheral known to mankind.  The blinds were closed, the room lit only by the overhead lighting and the glow of the computer screen; Kermit still kept his sunglasses on.

"You, my friend, have excellent taste in interior decorating," Peter quipped.

Kermit turned and grinned.  "I know.  Ain't it great?"  He dropped into his chair and instantly his fingers flew across the keys, typing in things none of the three could catch immediately for speed.  "Any of you Three Musketeers gone to see the bodies yet?"

Kikei shrugged.  "I just got in.  These two just told me about it.  I intend to go a little later.  Why?"

A snicker.  "Don't bother.  It's amazing how fast things get posted up Internet websites these days."  He keyed in a few more commands.  "Almost as amazing as how badly secured these things are.  I get in, I get out, and nobody would have any idea I'd come and gone."

"Point being, Kermit?"  Mary asked.

Kermit clicked the mouse.  "Feast your eyes on Death incarnate."

Mary gasped before turning away.  Peter looked on, gaping, unbelieving.

Kikei nearly collapsed from a mental flashback.  He gripped the side of the table.  [Oh God, no, not them.  Dear God, no...]

On screen there was something to see, but then again nothing to see.  Something in the form of a photo someone had taken before the police got their hands into the incident, nothing in that the photo bore any resemblance to a human being.

An actual skeleton could be identified, but beyond that, not much else.  Flesh ripped to pieces and strewn about around the remains, blood pooling beneath the body, splattered around the area.

"Savages..."  Peter finally managed to look away.      
"Kikei, where's your brother?  Where's Ken?"  Sayuri Shimada raised her sword and downed another Scavenger, leaving whatever remained of it writhing on the ground.  "Where is he, Kikei?"

A fourteen-year-old Kikei looked around, but saw no sign of his six-year-old brother.  "He was here!  Mother, I swear, he was here!"

The mirror shattered, and the shards of glass rose to Sayuri's will and darted forward to impale more of the demonic beings. "Go!  Find him.  We have to get out of here!"

Dagger in hand, Kikei sped away searching for Ken.  The walls of Firebird's Hiding were crumbling, many of the pillars fallen in the wake of the attack.  Many rooms were now empty, many corridors filled with dead ruptured bodies of the people -- the Clan Shimada -- who used to live within the sanctuary.

He turned a corner, and found his brother lying on the ground in a puddle of blood, a deep gash across his chest.  And he stood in horror for a few seconds more before he realized a Scavenger was there, inhuman claws ready to end the desperate gasping breaths of the child.

"Ken!  No!"

He blinked once, twice, took a slow look around the room. Kermit's office, Kermit, Peter, Mary, still standing, not down on the floor.  "I'm okay."    

"You're not," Peter said plainly.  His brown eyes were questioning now:  he had known Kikei for a good part of his life, was raised in Shimada Guard with him, went to the police academy with him.  That Peter was also of Shaolin descendence gave him all the advantage he needed to see into Kikei's soul. "Something's wrong, 'Kei."

He'd been holding his breath without realizing it; a natural reaction to 'seeing', a practice he'd maintained since his birthright came to full growth.  He could almost feel his eyes change color, lightening again from its previous darkness. "Peter, you sound more and more like your father all the time. So what's the move, Kermit?"

Dark sunglasses didn't do much to hide concern, but a mercenary at heart, Kermit took duty firsthand.  "No move, not yet. Whoever--"

"Whatever," Kikei whispered.

"-- this is, he has no real target, no real purpose.  Random and reasonless.  There's no way we can track him down now."

Mary spoke at last.  "So what do we do?  Just sit here and wait for more people to be ripped apart like this?"

Kermit shrugged.  "Some miracles even I can't make, Skalaney. That is all we can do for now."

"No, no."  Peter fidgeted.  "There has to be some way, any way. Kermit, this killer will strike again.  I know it and you know it.  So we wait for more to die?"

"More or less.  Sorry, kiddos."

None of them had noticed that Kikei had moved to the window, where the sunlight shone through at last, breaking past the thunderstorm clouds and into his eyes, warming him.

[Tonight.  Farewell, sunlight.  Farewell, earth.]

He heaved a deep breath.  It hurt.

[Goodbye, Ken.]
Far in the outskirts of the city, Kikei stood and waited.  He never carried so many knives at once in his life, but his bullets were not going to do much to one -- or perhaps more -- Scavengers.  Beneath his trenchcoat he could feel the weight of his last and most faithful resort on his waist; a sword hung close to him.  He had to stop this before more died.

After all, he was the reason they came to begin with.  All in the course of time.

Not long after the collapse of their first home, Firebird's Hiding, named after the legendary realm of the Seven Shields of Heaven, Sayuri had found only three of them alive:  herself weary, Kikei near hysterical and Ken gasping and bleeding in her arms.  As they ventured away she found one more child, about three years old, this one named Kira.  And she soon learned they were the last of their Clan, four of the already limited number of Shimada, now no more.

She Shrouded the children, as well as herself.  A spell that made them visible to all, yet invisible to those of the Darkness.  No Scavenger, no Mage would ever be able to find them all.  Not for a long while, at least.  Herself, Kikei and Kira were half-Shrouded:  the powers of their birthright would remain, but Ken, for reasons, wore a complete Shroud.

The same reasons why Kikei decided that this day was the day he died.

"Shroud, remove," he whispered.  And almost instantly he felt exposed, naked, a huge weight lifted off his form.  So used to having that invisible cloak around him.  Yet at the same time he felt his powers loosen, become more flexible, ready.

"So are you here?  You sought me.  You have me.  So now face me."

A flash of red eyes.  He whipped around and leapt high into the air, the winds keeping him aloft, as they had kept his ancestors aloft.

All it took to kill a Scavenger, really, was a sharp blade.  Any kind of blade.  A knife, a shuriken, a arrow's tip, even a shard of glass would do well.  It all depended that the Scavenger that moved like lightning itself did not strike you first.  A detail many tended to forget, only remembering as they were torn to shreds.  Scavengers knew only to kill, and given the proper Master, *who* to kill.

For many, many generations, their target had been the Clan Shimada.

Every last one of them.

Kikei had seen only one pair of eyes, but his heightened senses of a Shield descendant told him there were lots more.  He watched all directions, noting he was surrounded beneath -- Scavengers, thank Lord, could not fly-- and dived for attack.
He bled.  He couldn't tell from where anymore; felt like from everywhere.  Sticky dampness tickled his skin.      

So many of them.  He knew there were many, but where did they all come from?  Neverending, wave after wave they attacked him, till he ran out of knives, exhausted him, slashed his blade in half and leaving him with only the powers of his birthright with barely enough strength to conduct them properly.

His wounds were no longer healing on their own; they'd stopped doing that a while back.  More and more of his life-carrier flowed out of him, and from where he lay on the ground where the battle was waged, where he was left to die mercilesly, where they didn't kill him straight away in malice, he could see tricklings of dawn coming through the rainclouds from the previous day. Sunlight was bright, sky was blue, clouds were white...

And as time passed, they faded to a dull grey.  Duller and duller.

Then black.      

Had he stayed awake, he would have seem crimson creeping in from the edges of his vision.

He didn't.

[I tried, Ken.  I tried.  The battle is now yours.  You will know.]

[Shield of Mercy.]
Exhaustion didn't begin to describe.  There existed another level that he'd become familiar with over the years, but now, he defied even that.

"Ken, wait for us!  Wait!"

Ken ran on, up the steps, into the lobby.  The nurse there was expecting him; she led him straight to the Intensive Care Unit. Joe and the others followed close behind, but agreed on silence until they felt necessary.  They stayed back when Ken was allowed into one of the rooms, and waited outside until he would return.

"What happened?"

"Something...  bad, Jinpei," Joe replied.  "They're not telling us.  Something they don't want to let out."

"Wasn't Kikei investigating the slash murders here?"  Ryu said. "Think they got him?"

Joe folded his arms, fists clenched.  "Whatever you do, don't ask Ken things like that.  You saw how upset he was already."

"Neechan, is Kikei going to be all right?"

Jun shook her head.  "They said, this may be his last night here."

"Does Aniki know?"

Joe sighed.  "More than anyone else."
[Who did this to you, Niisan?  Who?]

[Why couldn't I sense this?  Why couldn't you tell me?  You could have.  You know you could have.  I would have come.  Why didn't you?]

[And why don't I feel any anger?  Why don't I feel like seeking out the ones who did this to you?  Why do I feel like I know something but can't begin to figure out what it is?  Why do I feel like this is the end of one thing but the beginning of another?]

Ken sighed, folding his hands over his brother's limp own.  He knew it would not be much longer.  They'd done all possible to try and fix him, nearly put him back together again, but the strain of the injuries and the surgery had taken its toll, and if depended on him, Kikei was too exhausted to fight.

[I wish you could tell me, Niisan.  Just a little.  Just before you go.]

Kikei let out one long breath, leaving Ken's wish unfulfilled.
To describe a heart shattering to pieces a piece at a time is something almost impossible, because in most cases, no one actually survives it to describe it at all.
September 30th, many years ago, was the day Sayuri Shimada passed away.

September 30th now, recorded the day Kikei died.

They, as Ken, were born on the same date.

Ken would expect nothing different in death.  Only the year was uncertain, he knew, as he stood there oblivious to the rest of the funeral, eyes intent on the new gravestone next to his mother's.

He'd dreamt the night before, asleep on Kikei's empty hospital bed.  Dreamt of strange things, of flight without wings, of obedient fire and ice, of legends long ago, tales his mother used to tell of the Seven Shields of Heaven.  Of stormlight and stepping stars, age-old battles between the dark and the light.

Some destiny awaited him, he was certain.

Whatever it was, Kikei died for it.

Ken made sure he wouldn't forget that, so that some kind of justice could be served.

[For Mercy is my name.]

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