Urban Jungle

(Quadrant Gamma)

WARNING: This story is rated MA-LVS for graphically violent crushing scenes, strong language, and slight sexual scenes. Reader discretion is advised.

She squeezed her eyes shut, unable to bear the light.  It seemed like it was blinding her even through her eyelids.  A deep coldness enveloped her and invaded her.  It emptied her of all thought, feeling, and awareness.

She never felt herself hit the ground.

A slender young woman stepped off the train in Penn Station.  So this is New York, Natsumi thought.  She ran a hand through her wavy brown hair and looked at the hustle and bustle surrounding her.  Would’ve been nice if the New York skyline were the first thing I saw when I got here, but this station is way bigger than anything they had back in Montana.

A large man bumped into her as they exited the train, though Natsumi could tell it was just an excuse for him to grab her rear.  Her first instinct was to belt the guy, but she had to restrain herself.  Sure, she could get away with that kind of stuff when she was a kid in Japan, but she wasn’t a kid anymore.  And she was a long way from Japan.

Japan…  Natsumi shoved the thought – and all the memories that came with it – out of her mind.  She’d moved on and couldn’t afford to look back.

An outrageously expensive cab ride took her to the small studio apartment that would be hers for the foreseeable future.  She dropped off her bags and then made the short walk to the real reason she was in New York: PharmaVög Pharmaceuticals.

She’d just graduated from Montana State University with a Bachelor’s of Science degree in Chemical Engineering.  She was about to start an internship at PharmaVög that would hopefully lead to a real job in a year.  It sure would be nice to live in a big city like New York after four years in Havre, Montana, she thought.  I just wish there weren’t so many homeless people!  Kind of makes the whole place seem a lot less special…  She gingerly stepped over one such person and hurried on her way.

The old man was used to being ignored and even treated with disgust.  He knew he wasn’t clean, and even he couldn’t stand the smell he gave off.  So it was not out of the ordinary for a New Yorker to walk past him without a second’s thought.

Still, there was something about the girl who just walked by.  It wasn’t her short, wavy brown hair that swayed with each step she took.  It wasn’t her hips sashaying left and right with each high-heeled step.  There was nothing unusual in his being ignored by a beautiful woman.  No, there was something about this girl that was somehow familiar.

In days gone by, when his senses weren’t dulled by age, hunger, and other, less mundane forces, he would have immediately recognized her.  As it was, it would only come to him slowly.

But come to him it would.

The first few weeks at PharmaVög had been some of the most mind-numbingly boring weeks Natsumi had ever experienced.  She’d been hoping to work on some really amazing, groundbreaking experiments.  Instead, her work had mostly been centered on getting coffee and making copies for the scientists.  In addition to all that, another intern, a redheaded diva named Valerie Benson, was aiming for a fulltime researcher position, and didn’t care who she showed up to get there.  For the first month of her internship, Natsumi had wondered why she’d even bothered going into science.

That had changed over the course of the year, as she was soon allowed to assist with various projects.  It was routine work, but it led to more important jobs.  After her internship was over, she’d been offered the position of lab assistant.  She had leaped at the chance, and now had a legitimate role in a research project.  Her chemical engineering degree, combined with her specialization in biochemistry, made her a real asset in PharmaVög’s development of a chemical growth agent.  They were hoping it could be applied to crop growth, or for curing developmental disorders in children, or even for strengthening heart cells.  It was all so exciting!  The only downside was that Valerie had also become a lab assistant and was working on the project with her.  Still, Natsumi was positively giddy with the notion that she was doing something good for the world.

It’s almost enough to make up for what happened back in Japan, said a little voice in her mind.  She pushed the thought aside and almost smiled.  Even the guilt wasn’t as strong anymore.

She was sitting at an outdoor table at one of her favorite cafés.  She was waiting for Jake McCoy, another lab assistant who’d been asking her out for a couple weeks now.  She had finally felt comfortable enough to say yes, if only for a lunch date.

Now Natsumi did smile.  Maybe she was finally ready to look forward and not back, to finally move on from Japan and –


The word came from behind her shoulder.  The breath it was carried on reeked, and there was something unmistakably creepy about the voice that spoke it.  But it was the word itself that made Natsumi freeze.  She dropped her mug, spilling coffee on herself and the table.  She didn’t even flinch as the coffee burned her skin.

“After all this time,” the voice continued, “I’ve finally found you.”

Natsumi wanted to get up and run away.  She wanted to close her eyes and put her hands over her ears.  Anything to quiet his voice, to shut out the world.  Instead, she found herself slowly turning around, knowing exactly whom she’d see.  He was wearing the tattered remnants of clothing rather than ceremonial jungle garb, and he somehow looked even older, dirtier, and grosser than the last time she’d seen him.  Still, she recognized him immediately.


The old man leered at her, his mouth twisting into a lopsided grin.  “So, you remember me, too, eh?”

“What are you doing here?”

He shook violently and a disgusting sound emerged from him.  It took Natsumi a second to realize he was laughing.  He gestured around wildly.  “Look around!  New York is practically the capital of the world!  If you can make it here, you’ll make it anywhere!”

He looked at her, as if expecting her to understand this explanation.  The only response she could muster was to drop her jaw in stupefaction.

“Okay, maybe I’ve gone a little crazy,” he said, sighing.  “But what does it matter where an out-of-work God of Earth goes anyway?  The real question is, what are you doing here?”

She stood up.  “No, the real question is, why am I wasting my time with you?”  She quickly strode away from the café.

Despite his unhealthy condition, Ahem managed to keep pace with her.  “If you’re looking for a place where you can escape your past, you won’t find it in New York.  You won’t find it anywhere on Earth.”

She snorted.  “What makes you think I’m trying to run away from my past?”

“I see how you work in that science building.  You think that you can escape what happened by turning to science?  The world needs magic!  You need magic!”

By now they were at PharmaVög.  She turned to face Ahem, all of her former hesitation now replaced with anger.  Anger, she wondered, or guilt?  She ignored the question.

“I’ve gotten along just fine without magic for the past ten years, and it can stay that way!”  She spun on her heel and walked briskly into the building.  Two beefy security guards stepped into the doorway to keep Ahem from following her.  The old man, once the god of earth, was too feeble to force his way past them.  He shouted after Natsumi as they dragged him away, begging her to change her mind.

His sobs echoed in Natsumi’s ears long after the elevator doors closed.

The being had spent more of its recent history asleep than awake.  The last time it had been imprisoned, it was a millennium before it awoke.  The being had no reason to expect that this time would be any different.

And yet, something had roused it.  Something had changed.  It was almost as if the bonds that contained it had… weakened.

Perhaps the being would be free sooner than it had expected.  And when it was, it would be time to exact its revenge on the one who had jailed it.


A finger snapping in her face was enough to drag Natsumi’s attention back to the real world.  She looked up and saw Jake standing in front of her.

“Wow, I actually managed to get your attention,” he said, crossing his arms.  “You’ve been avoiding me like the plague for days.  Were you ever planning on telling me why you stood me up for lunch?”

She looked away.  What am I supposed to say?  This creepy old guy who gave me the power to turn into a busty magical superhero has come back to haunt me?  In the three days since she’d given Ahem the brush-off, she’d seen him nearly every time she was outside.  He didn’t talk to her, or even come near her.  But he always managed to make eye contact.  In his eyes was a kind of sad resignation.  It was as if, despite how badly he wanted her to reconsider, he no longer had the energy to do anything more than just… stand there.  It was almost enough to make her feel sorry for him.

Jake cleared his throat, reminding her that she still hadn’t answered him.  “I’m sorry.  I…  I ran into someone I knew a long time ago and… well, it gave me a lot to think about.”

“Oh,” Jake said, failing to keep the disappointment out of his voice.  “An ex-boyfriend kind of someone?”

What?”  Natsumi’s shriek drew attention from some lab technicians nearby, so she lowered her voice.  “No, goodness no!  Not that kind of someone at all!”

“Oh!”  Jake chuckled with relief.  “That’s great!  Well, I mean, um, okay then.”

Natsumi smiled slightly at his nervousness.  “Jake, after I’ve got everything sorted out, I’d really like to reschedule that lunch.”

Jake broke into a wide grin and stepped closer to her.  “I’m really glad to hear that, Natsumi.”

At the sound of a throat clearing, Natsumi spun around to see Valerie watching them.  Natsumi could feel herself blushing.  The edges of Valerie’s plush lips curled in a smirk, but the light glinting off her glasses did little to hide the annoyance in her eyes.  “Sorry to break this up, but there’s a demonstration scheduled.  Maybe you can continue this later?”

Natsumi and Jake each took a step away from the other, muttering something about how it wasn’t really what it looked like, how they were done talking anyway, and how nice the weather was.  Valerie looked annoyed for a moment, then harrumphed and proceeded in the direction of the lab.  As they followed her, Natsumi looked back and forth between Jake and curvaceous lab assistant.  Did she detect some jealousy on Valerie’s part?  Natsumi blushed again.  Valerie, the over-achiever, was jealous of her?  Maybe things were looking up after all.

Once the other assistants and technicians got there, Doctor Gong began outlining the point of that day’s test.  They were going to introduce the growth agent to a small cluster of plant cells to see if the cells would multiply.  This was the first test with the latest version of the formula, so no one was expecting a significant increase in cell division.  Still, Natsumi was excited to be a part of this – this was the first of many tests that would make the world a better place!

The prep-work took several hours.  The sample was placed in a sterile workstation, which was covered by a glass dome.  Heavy rubber gloves were bolted into the dome for access to the sample.  It was nearly eight o’clock that night when Dr. Gong announced they were ready to begin.  “I hope none of you minds putting in a late night for this,” he said, chuckling.  Natsumi, like everyone else, immediately responded in the negative.  They took their places at the monitoring stations.  Natsumi stood between Valerie and Jake.  Everyone held their breath as Dr. Gong placed his hands in the rubber gloves and, using a dropper that had already been placed inside the dome, squeezed a drop of the growth agent onto the cell sample.

All was quiet for the next several minutes as everyone studied the readouts on their monitors.  Natsumi wasn’t sure how long it would take for the agent to have an effect – if it would at all – but after fifteen minutes had passed, she was beginning to get discouraged.

To Natsumi’s left, Valerie suddenly gasped.  “I’ve got something!  I’m detected trace amounts of accelerated cell growth!”

The lab immediately turned into a flurry of activity.  Everyone began barking their station readouts, trying to confirm the growth.  After a few minutes, it was more than evident that the formula was working.  Jake grasped Natsumi’s hand, beaming.  Even Valerie squeezed her arm, grinning ear to ear.  Natsumi was smiling so hard her face was starting to hurt.  This was the beginning of a new era in science!

An odd blip on her screen caught her attention.  She checked it, expecting it to say that the growth was slowing down, as they’d expected it would.  Her jaw dropped when she saw her readings.  “Dr. Gong,” she called.  “The cell growth isn’t slowing down!  It’s still accelerating!”

“Rate of cell multiplication is exponential,” Jake shouted.  “And…” He frowned.  “This can’t be right.”

Valerie had noticed it too.  “The cells themselves, sir.  They’re getting larger!”

Dr. Gong stared at his own monitor in confusion.  “Any theories on what’s causing this?”

Before any of the technicians could respond, an alarm sounded.  Natsumi shouted to be heard over it.  “Dr. Gong!  I think the cells are somehow producing the growth agent on their own!”

“How could they do that?” Jake asked.

“That’s a worry for later,” Dr. Gong said.  He pointed to the dome, through which Natsumi could see that the cells had spread to cover the entire workstation and were now starting to cover the interior of the dome itself.  “Those cells are about to breach the containment station.  We’ve got to get out of here and lock this lab down before that happens!  He began rushing everyone out.

Once they were out, he entered a code into a keypad next to the door.  A thick Plexiglas door lowered from the ceiling, sealing the lab.  “You folks get out of the building,” Dr. Gong said.  “From here I can purge the lab of oxygen.  That will kill the cells and arrest their growth.”

“Wait,” Jake said.  “Where’s Valerie?”

Movement from the other side of the Plexiglas caught Natsumi’s eye.  “Oh no!”  Valerie was still inside, working feverishly on her workstation.

Dr. Gong looked like he was going to faint.  He jammed his thumb on an intercom button.  “Valerie, for the love of –”

“Can you get these doors open?” Natsumi asked.

“I don’t have the clearance to open a locked-down lab,” he replied.  He thumbed the intercom again.  “Valerie, grab an O2 mask.  We’re purging this room!”

“That won’t work,” she shouted back.  “Photosynthesis!  Those cells are producing their own oxygen now.  We’ve got to poison them!”

Dr. Gong groaned.  “Everyone else, get out of the building, now!  I’ll try to walk Ms. Benson through this to make sure she doesn’t kill herself.”

Beads of sweat dripped down Valerie’s forehead, stinging her eyes.  Not only was the lab heating up – the chemical soup bubbling inside that dome was creating a startling amount of heat – but she was also nervous.  She took her lab coat off to try to cool down.

Dr. Gong was talking her through the creation of an acid that would destroy the out-of-control cells.  Her hands were shaking by the time it was ready.  She picked up the beaker containing the acid – itself a bubbling concoction – and turned to the dome.

She only dimly heard Dr. Gong’s shout of warning as the dome burst open.

Natsumi and Jake were rushing to get out of the building.  More accurately, Jake had grabbed Natsumi’s hand and she was rushing to keep up with him as he dashed to escape.  Red lights flashed in the emergency stairwell and an alarm blared.

Natsumi nearly lost her footing as the building suddenly jolted.  Jake steadied her.  “What the hell was that?  Don’t tell me we’ve got an earthquake on top of all this!”

“I don’t know,” she said.  “Somehow I doubt we’re that lucky.”

The stairs were bucking violently by the time they got down to the first level.  Chunks of ceiling rained down as they raced through the lobby.  Something heavy slammed down directly behind Natsumi, buffeting her with a strong gust of wind.  She knew that Michael, a lab assistant who’d been behind her, had been less lucky.  She and Jake made it out of the building just before the entire first floor ceiling caved in.

They braced each other, each trying to catch their breath.  Natsumi did a headcount – not only were they missing Michael, but she also didn’t see Jane or Kevin – two of the technicians.

“Do you think,” Jake said, gasping for air, “Dr. Gong is okay?”

Natsumi looked up at the quaking building and froze.  Dr. Gong’s safety was the least of their worries.

Stepping out of the collapsing building, 200 feet tall if she was an inch, was Valerie.

The streets of New York are never empty.  Whatever the time of day or night, the streets in New York City are always busier than one would expect them to be.  The corner that hosted the PharmaVög Building was particularly congested as employees in lab coats fled the crumbling building.  A rather large crowd of onlookers had assembled, all eager to see what the commotion was about.

In short, there were far too many people around to be considered safe under normal circumstances.  So when the circumstances soon became far more dangerous than normal, there was no question that many people were going to die.

It all began with Valerie’s first step.

Natsumi was frozen in shock.  Valerie’s 25-foot long right foot burst out of the PharmaVög Building, followed by a 90-foot long leg.  To Natsumi’s mild annoyance, the leg was just as shapely as it ever was.  Soon her hip, chest, and face also penetrated the wall.  It all seemed to be happening in slow motion…

Until she heard a loud splud.  Natsumi looked to the source of the sound to see Valerie’s high-heeled pump planted in the middle of the crowd – and on top of more than a few people who, just a second ago, had been three-dimensional.  Suddenly things began moving very, very fast.

She grabbed Jake’s hand and began elbowing her way through the now-terrified crowd.  Concrete boulders fell as Valerie shifted her left foot, preparing to remove it from the building.  Acting on instinct alone, Natsumi dove left, dragging Jake with her, narrowly missing one such boulder.  Several other bystanders weren’t as quick, but Natsumi couldn’t grieve for them now.  She had to focus on the one person she could help – Jake.  Behind them, there was a sound like an explosion.  Looking back, Natsumi saw that Valerie’s left foot had stepped through the wall, and that he building was no longer even pretending to support itself.  She looked away just before Valerie’s foot came down onto several people, but she couldn’t shut out the terrible noise it produced.

Terrible, and too familiar.

Still, she had seen enough, and she knew what was coming next.  She had to get Jake out of there now.  Even more than Valerie herself, the collapsing building was the most immediate threat.

They managed to get clear of the crowd and across the street before the bulk of it came down.  The shock wave pushed Natsumi and Jake off their feet, but they were otherwise unharmed.  As Jake helped Natsumi up, she saw with horror that no one else had survived the building’s fall.

Except, of course, for Valerie, who was now brushing the dust off her skirt and unbuttoned blouse.  Unbuttoned!  Natsumi thought.  It’s not enough that she just killed hundreds of people – she’s got to show off her assets while she’s doing it?

“Oh god,” Jake said.  He was looking back and forth between Natsumi and the tragic scene, but his eyes were unfocused.  She was afraid he was in shock.  “This is our fault.  The growth agent must have somehow…”  He buried his face in his hands.

Natsumi gently took his hand and began leading him into an alley, hoping that Jake might snap out of it if the gristly spectacle didn’t lay before him.  It also took them out of Valerie’s sight, which couldn’t be a bad thing.

“All those people,” Jake was muttering.  “And there’s nothing we can do!  Everyone else who knew anything about that growth agent is dead!”

He was starting to sound frantic, and Natsumi wasn’t sure how to talk him down.  “Then let’s concentrate on keeping ourselves safe,” she said, leading them around a corner.  “That’s all we can do.”

“Is it really?”

The question hadn’t come from Jake, but rather from a dark corner in the alley.  Suddenly Natsumi realized that, whatever the danger presented out on the street, maybe ducking into a New York alley in the middle of the night wasn’t all that safe either.  She heard someone walking – well, shuffling, really – toward her and Jake, then stepping into the light.

It was Ahem.  “Are you sure that’s all you can do, Mii?”

Natsumi nearly leapt backward in surprise.  Should’ve realized it was Ahem, she thought.  That stench and raspy voice were giveaways.  Nevertheless, despite having the same stink as he had the last time they’d spoke, there was something different about Ahem.  He was standing a little bit straighter, holding his chin a little higher.  It was almost as if this horrible situation had given him hope.

Apparently the incongruity of this was enough to shake Jake from his shock.  He looked at Ahem and then at Natsumi.  “Do you know this guy?  Did he just call you Mii?”

Natsumi’s eyes shifted back and forth.  “Uh… Look, he’s just some crazy homeless guy.  We should keep moving.”

“Running away from your responsibilities again?”  Ahem was coming closer.  “Haven’t you learned by now that that doesn’t work?”

Jake stepped in front of Ahem.  “Hey, pal, it’s in all of our best interest to get away from here.  Why don’t we all get on our way?”  He raised an arm to gently turn Ahem around, but Ahem grabbed it with surprising strength.

“There is something that can be done,” he hissed at Jake, then turned to Natsumi.  “Natsumi thought she buried something years ago, but it’s come back.  Now she has to decide whether or not she’s going to do anything about it.”

Jake looked at Natsumi in confusion.  “Is – is this true?”

Natsumi decided to avoid answering.  Looking at Ahem, she said, “You’re saying… that thing we sealed so many years ago is responsible for this?  But that’s not possible!  There’s no way!”

Ahem shook his head.  “I didn’t think so either, but apparently it found a way.  Will you let it?”

Jake finally wrested his arm free from Ahem’s grasp.  “All right, I’m officially lost.  Natsumi, you know this guy.  What the hell is he talking about?  What are you talking about?  What am I missing here?  What does he expect you to do?”

Natsumi looked from one man to the other and felt tears welling up in her eyes.  “Jake…  He’s right.  All this – it’s not your fault, or PharmaVög’s fault.  It’s mine.”  Jake stared back at her, shock and confusion written on his face.  Before he could say anything, she pressed on.  “It was almost ten years ago…”

It was months after she’d had her first true test as Mii and defeated Ongo.  There hadn’t been any major evil threats since then.  Nami was acting a little less creepy, and they’d even managed to get Ongo out of Takuma’s head!  Things had been so easy – maybe that’s why they were caught so unawares.

In retrospect, all the signs had been there.  The local magicians they’d stopped from robbing banks and armored trucks had been growing in strength and increasing in number.  In the days leading up to the attack, such small scale sorcery seemed to occur almost hourly.  Still, none of them, not even Ahem, had known what was coming.

The first attack came swiftly and mercilessly.  The entire western half of the city suddenly exploded, wiping it and its inhabitants from the face of the earth.  The next attack came before they could figure out what was going on, taking out what remained of south Osaka.  By then, Ahem had begun to realize what was happening and, along with Natsumi/Mii, Ongo, and Nami/Rongo, was able to protect Northeast Osaka from the third blast.  Apparently, this made the being angry enough to show itself.

Mii couldn’t been able to look at it for long.  Black and formless – almost more shadow than physical – it was huge.  Bigger than Ongo had been, anyway.  But that wasn’t what made it so scary.  Mii couldn’t shake the feeling that, if she looked at it for too long, she would lose her mind.

They didn’t think it would work, but Mii tried the “love” approach that had saved Ongo.  Growing to the same size as the being, she tried to show it the unconditional love of a mother.  Love, apparently, was an emotion that did not exist within the monster, and Mii was blasted back, destroying one of the few neighborhoods still standing.  Still, this diversion had given Ongo and Rongo enough time to mount a legitimate counterattack, which seemed to be stalling the being.

Mii was still picking herself up when Ahem reached her.  Apparently, his worst fears had been confirmed; this being was tapping directly into the source of all magic, just like each of them was.

“So it’s just as strong as we are?” she asked.  The tiny Ahem nodded.  “Then how can we stop it?”

Ahem looked at the monster.  It seemed to have their allies on the ropes.  “I hate to say it, but I’m not sure.  This isn’t the first time that thing’s threatened the Earth, but I think it’s from before my time.”

Mii bit her lip.  If it was before Ahem’s time, then it was before Mii’s time too.  When they were fighting Ongo, she’d had Mii’s memories of how to defeat him.  There was no one to walk her through it this time.

Remembering Ongo, though, she had an idea.  “Ongo and Rongo were both imprisoned in artifacts.  Can we do that to this thing?”

“I don’t think so.  Ongo’s a wood spirit and Rongo is a water spirit – that means it’s possible to cut them off from their sources of power.  But the source of that being’s power isn’t so transient.”

“Right.  You said his source was the same as yours and mine…”  She looked at the being again and saw Ongo get hit with a blast the size of a four-story building.  Mii’s vision turned blurry with tears, but she’d already seen enough to know that Ongo was gone.

She stood up, almost losing sight of the small Earth God amidst the rubble.  “We’re out of options, old man!  How many more need to die before we banish this thing?”

Ongo looked at the battle in the distance, then back up at Mii.  His shoulders sagged.  “Fine.  But you know what this means, don’t you?  The only way we can get between that being and the source is to shut the door – for all of us.”

Rongo’s last scream made Mii’s decision for her.  “Let’s do it.”

Ahem led her through the dance.  The being did not wait.  It unleashed a massive blast that tore through the streets and sizzled the air.  The hair on the back of Mii’s neck was standing on edge by the time they finished the dance.  The blast was inches away from her when everything turned white.

 She would never know how many hours – or days – had passed from the time she lost consciousness to the time she woke up.  All she saw was sky.  There were no buildings impeding her view.  There were no rescue workers, checking to see if she was okay.  There was nothing.

What was once Osaka, Japan, was now a crater.  And Natsumi Robadura was its only resident to survive that day.

By the time Natsumi finished her story, she was crying.  She was sitting now, and Jake sat across from her, leaning back against the side of a building.  He had his face in his hands.  He sighed.

“Natsumi,” he began, “it obviously took a lot for you to tell me that.  But – and I’m not saying that something didn’t happen, because your tears are obviously real – but, what you’re telling me is a little hard to believe.  I mean, Valerie ballooning up to 200 feet and rampaging through New York, that’s bizarre, but at least science can explain it!  Magic?  Think about it – you’re a scientist, you must know that it doesn’t make any sense.”

Natsumi closed her eyes.  “I knew you wouldn’t understand.”

“Of course I don’t understand – it’s incomprehensible!  The details don’t even add up.  Even if your story were true, what does it have to do with what’s happening here, today?  You bottled up all magic, then ten years later Valerie Benson gets splashed with some growth chemical and turns into a giant.  Makes sense to me!”

Natsumi stared hard at him through blurred vision.  “All right, Jake, you’ve said your peace.”

“I’m not trying to be mean,” he quickly added.  “But what’s happening is traumatic for both of us, and it’s natural for us to blame ourselves.  But I don’t think you’re dealing with it effectively.  I think you’re combining today’s trauma with whatever actually happened to you in Japan years ago –”

“Damn it Jake, SHUT UP!

Natsumi’s shout startled both herself and Jake, who banged the back of his head against the wall in surprise.  After taking a deep breath to calm herself, she spoke again.  “I don’t expect you to understand, but please, for a minute, accept my assurances that I’m still the rational, logic-minded scientist you’ve been asking out for weeks.”

Jake looked like he was about to reply, but instead simply nodded.  Natsumi continued.  “The reason I told you about that story is because I do think it pertains to what’s happening now.  Think about how the lab test behaved so differently from every simulation we’d run.  I think the being – the one we imprisoned years ago – I think it managed to get passed the seals we placed between the Earthly realm and the magical realm.”

She turned to Ahem.  “What we did – it wasn’t something you’d ever done before, was it?”

He harrumphed.  “Of course not!  The idea that an earth god would cut himself off from the very magic that sustains him is unthinkable!”

“Right,” Natsumi said, ignoring his obvious bitterness.  “So maybe we didn’t really do it right.  The seal seemed unbreakable, but how would we know if it weren’t?”

Ahem seemed to mull the idea, though Natsumi guessed he’d already made up his mind.

Jake spoke up.  “So, you think that maybe, after years of pounding against the walls of its prison, this being put a crack in those walls?”  He sighed again.  “Makes about as much sense as any other theory.  But other than restoring my faith that we didn’t make some horrible miscalculation when we developed the latest version of the growth agent, how does it help us?  We’re still no closer to solving the problem.”

“No – having an idea how this all happened might give us a clue about how we can reverse it!”

“Exactly,” Ahem broke in.  “But we don’t need clues – we already know how to reverse this.  And it’s not with science.  The only thing that can reverse magic is magic.”

“So you’re going to reopen the door between our world and the source of all magic?” Jake asked.  Natsumi nodded.  “Do you even know how to do that?”

Natsumi looked at Ahem.  “I guess we’ll figure it out, just like we did when we shut it in the first place.”

Jake still looked distressed.  “But what about that monster you locked away?  Won’t it get free if you do this?”

“That thing will eventually claw its way out on its own,” Ahem said.  “It’s already created the beginnings of an opening.  By the time it opens the door for itself, it’ll be too late for us to stop it.  We have to meet it now, on our terms.”

Natsumi nodded.  “You’re right.  This is how it’s got to be.”

Jake placed his hand on Natsumi’s arm.  “Are you sure this is the right thing to do?”

She offered a grim smile.  “I wish we had time to doubt ourselves.  Ask me again when this is over.”  She then took a step to Ahem.  “All right, old man.  Let’s dance.”

The dance was not unlike the one they’d done to close the door years ago.  With every shake of her hips and thrust of her shoulders, Natsumi felt herself get a little closer to the door, and a little closer to Mii.

I’d forgotten what it felt like, she realized.  How could I have lived so incomplete these past ten years?

With a final twist of her foot, she was there.  She was at the door – no longer in her body, per se.  She was in an empty space, yet she sensed there was so much there she couldn’t see.  It reminded her of the first time she met Ahem.  But this time, it wasn’t empty.  There was a door.

She wondered how much of this was real, and how much was actually taking place on some level of her subconscious.  It seemed odd that the very metaphor they’d been using to describe how they’d bottled up magic was the very means it was represented here…

She smiled at herself. Even now, she had a scientist’s mind.  Shaking the thought away, she reached for the doorknob.

It wouldn’t turn.  Natsumi tried again, and again it wouldn’t turn.  It was almost as if it were locked.  Maybe we did a better job sealing this than we realized.  But if we created this seal, we should be able to undo it.  She placed both hands on the doorknob and turned, willing it with every fiber of her being to open.  After a moment, the doorknob obligingly clicked open.

Then Natsumi felt herself die.

Natsumi thought she’d run out of horrible new experiences and sensations.  She’d lost friends, she gained and lost magical powers, even been at the actual brink of death.  But none of that prepared her for what she was experiencing right now.  She could feel her life flowing away from her body, through her hands, into the door…

Of course, Natsumi thought, and was certain it would be that last thing she ever did think.  We locked the door, so it needs a key to open back up…  I guess that’s me.  Maybe it’s no worse than I deserve…

Just before everything went black, she felt a hand on her shoulder and instantly felt fine again.  She turned and saw that it was Ahem.

“Sorry I’m late,” he said.  “Maybe I’ve lost a step in my old age.”  He gently pried Natsumi’s hands from the doorknob and replaced them with his own.

“Ahem, that door needs a life force as a key!  It’ll kill you!  Maybe if we work together–”

“No, Mii,” he interrupted.  His weathered features were growing paler by the second, and his skin almost seemed to turn to ash before her eyes.  Nevertheless, his voice was fuller than it had been in ten years.  “The world…  The situation you now face will require you to be at your best.  The Mother Spirit was always more important than the God of Earth, anyway…”

“No!”  Natsumi lunged forward, but it was too late.  Ahem was gone, and the door was open.  She fell through it, her scream echoing in the abyss.

It seemed like she fell forever.

She landed in Jake’s arms.  Or, at least, that’s where she woke up.  She slowly realized that he was calling her name.

“Natsumi, wake up!  Please, say something!”

“Jake, I’m okay,” she said, not sure that it was true.

“Thank god!”  He planted a kiss right on her mouth.

They looked at each other in horror for a second.  “Uh, sorry,” he said.  He awkwardly helped Natsumi to her feet.  “What happened?  You were both dancing, then suddenly the old guy disappears and you collapse.  What happened to him, anyway?”

Natsumi looked where Ahem had stood.  “He sacrificed himself to bring magic back.  Time to make sure it wasn’t a waste.”  She took a step and thrust her hand in the air.  “Hai!”

It was as if no time at all had past since the last time she’d transformed.  The dance came naturally, as did the embarrassment that always accompanied it.  When it was finally done, she felt a familiar rush of tantric energy fill her.  She stood taller, prouder… she was Mii.  And she had almost forgotten how orgasmic that was.

She was brought back to reality when she saw the look on Jake’s face.  “Hey,” she said, snapping her fingers.  She pointed to her face.  “Eyes up here, Jake-o.”

“Oh, right,” he said, blushing.  “So, uh, what happens now?”

She stepped out of the alley and caught a fleeting glimpse of Valerie moving between skyscrapers.

Mii looked at Jake.  “Now, we meet Valerie on her own terms.”

Jake looked puzzled.  “On her own terms…?”

Mii offered a half-smile and thrust her hips, starting another dance.  She felt the power flow around and into her.  And yet, when she was done, nothing happened.  She looked around quizzically.

Jake cleared his throat.  “Um, so, what was supposed to happen?”

“Well, I – ayyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyye!”  Mii’s body exploded upward and outward.  She rolled her eyes.  How could I forget?  That dance always takes a moment to take effect.  She looked down at Jake, who backed nervously into the alley.  He didn’t even come up to her ankles.  She couldn’t resist a supercilious smile.  “That was supposed to happen.”

A loud booming sound got her attention, and she realized it was another building going down.  She’d wasted enough time.

“And now,” she added, for Jake’s benefit, “it’s time to teach that girl some manners.”

Eighteen stories of building collapsed, dooming all those inside as well as dozens of people on the street.  Valerie moved away from the wreckage, stepping on three people who hadn’t been otherwise endangered by the building’s destruction.

In the twenty minutes or so since she’d grown to 200 feet, Valerie had killed scores of people.  She didn’t know exactly how many.  Not because she’d lost track in all her “fun.”  It was because she could barely see.

Right after Dr. Gong had tried to warn her, she’d been caught in an explosion.  Her body had felt like it was on fire, and the last thing she could see clearly was the lab closing in on her.  After that, her glasses had shattered.

She’d been disoriented for a moment, but the cold night air on her face – and legs? and chest?! – had brought her to her senses.  Obviously, she’d been affected by the growth agent, and it seemed to only affect organic objects, hence the reason her glasses hadn’t grown with her.  It also explained why her legs were cold – she’d grown through her nylons.  She used one hand to pinch her shirt closed – the plastic buttons were history too.  Good thing I don’t wear polyester, she thought.

She smiled to herself.  Only took fifteen seconds to figure out the situation.  Dr. Gong would be proud.  She squinted, trying to pick him out of the crowd.  While she couldn’t identify anyone in the crowd, she was, just barely, able to make out what looked like concrete.  Concrete in the form of small rocks and powder.  She was standing in a small pile of it, in fact.

Oh god!  The building – it’s collapsed.  Because of me!  Dr. Gong, Jake, even Natsumi…  They’re all dead!  She looked around, but couldn’t get her bearings.  She could barely figure her way around Manhattan normal sized, never mind as an almost-blind giantess.  Still, she knew that she had to get someplace safer or she’d kill more people.  Maybe the river.

She headed in what she was pretty sure was the direction of the Hudson.  Even if I’m wrong, she thought, I’ll eventually hit some river.  For once, I’m glad Manhattan’s an island.  It was slow going, as she had to feel her way around to make sure she didn’t walk into any buildings.  Some buildings proved a little more fragile than others, and she inadvertently took out a few balconies along the way.

Feeling her way along did little to keep her from crushing people on the street.  She knew that those little lights must be cars, so she tried to avoid them, but she could hardly tell if any people were on the street.  She could make out the occasional blur here and there, and she thought she sometimes felt something squish under her shoe –

No!  She couldn’t think about that.  If she did, she knew she’d throw up.  At least.  And one thing this situation did not need was a thousand gallons of vomit added to it.  Still, it was all she could do to keep herself together.  As her hand went through another balcony – pushing straight into the sixteenth and seventeenth floors of the building itself – she felt hot tears stinging her eyes.

Then she felt a stinging on her skin to match.  On her legs… two, three… they were coming fast.  They almost felt like bee stings.

She turned to see what was going on and saw small red and blue flashes – the police were here!  They’ll be able to help, she hoped.  She crouched on her hands and knees to see them better, accidentally crushing a police cruiser under her left hand.  “You’ve got to help –” she began, before getting cut off by multiple stings in the face.

The jerks were shooting her!  She had half a mind to swat the little pigs into Brooklyn.  Stay calm, she told herself.  They’re just doing their jobs.  You probably do look like a monster.  Just get out of here!

She got up, opting to keep her face covered rather than keep her shirt closed, and backed quickly away from the still-shooting officers.  Too quickly, in fact, as she backed directly into a shoulder-high building.  She quickly extricated herself, but it was too late.  She backed away from the collapsing building and felt a familiar squish under her pump.

It was all too much.  She never asked for this.  She had joined the PharmaVög team to make the world a better place – not kill people!  To make matters worse, the cops were still following her, pelting her bare legs with their microscopic bullets.  Is this my choice?  Run and kill people or stay and slowly bleed to death from a thousand bee stings?  She put her hands to her face and began to cry.

She felt a hand grasp her shoulder.  A hand… the same size as hers?  She turned to see who it was.  Through her blurred vision she could make out one thing: a fist, aimed straight at her face.

Mii had had no trouble catching up to Valerie.  Even in a city where most of the buildings are taller than her, a 200-foot redhead is impossible to hide.  All Mii had to do was follow the trail of busted buildings, smashed cars, and red stains on the road.  It made her sick.  She’d never liked Valerie, but she’d never imagined she could be capable of anything like this either.  She’d make her pay soon enough.

But how?  She’d been wondering just that.  She certainly couldn’t just throw down with Valerie – not without destroying most of Manhattan, anyhow.  Maybe when she caught up to her, she’d figure out just the right dance that would solve things.  I sure hope so, at least.  If not, it’s not like you can ask Ahem for help anymore.  She bit her lip.  This wasn’t the time to grieve.  Not yet.

Mii heard a crash and turned the corner – Valerie had just taken out another building, and then stepped on three people who were trying to escape!

Softer popping sounds caught her attention.  She wasn’t the only one who’d caught up to Valerie – the police were there, too, and they were shooting at the giantess.  All those shots were going to do was make Valerie angry, though.  Better step in before the city loses a bunch of its boys in blue.

She grabbed Valerie’s shoulder, ready to spin her around and hit her with a roundhouse.  Yes, she’d already questioned the wisdom of getting into a fistfight with Valerie.  But, hey, Valerie had already leveled half of this block anyway, and this situation was going to escalate with or without Mii’s intervention.  She clenched her fist and prepared to swing.  Let’s see how you like picking on someone your own size!

Her fist went limp when she saw Valerie’s tear-streaked face.  Not much, apparently.  Valerie flinched and tried to back away, her foot landing only an inch or two away from one of the police officers.  Mii quickly grabbed hold of Valerie again to prevent any more accidents.  Could all this really be an accident?  The confusion on Valerie’s face told her all she needed to know.

“I’m not here to hurt you, Valerie,” she said.  “But we’ve got to get someplace safe.”  She quickly led Valerie away.

A few minutes later and a neighborhood away, they stopped.  Mii carefully guided Valerie into a crouch near the El – she realized that Valerie had been destroying so many buildings because she was all but blind without her glasses.  Their pace had been too slow to stop already, but Valerie needed a minute to pull herself together.  Mii could hardly blame her.

Still, she thought as she glanced from side to side, it won’t be long before the police catch up to us.  We’re not exactly inconspicuous.  “We should keep moving, get to better cover,” she said.  “That’ll give us more time to think of something.”

Valerie finally seemed to have her breathing under control.  She looked at Mii with curiosity.  “How did you know my name?  And how did you get as big as me?”

“Magic,” Mii said after a moment’s hesitation.

Valerie chuckled as she shook her head.  “Yesterday, I would have said that magic didn’t exist.  I placed all my faith in science.”  She leaned her head against a building.  “Look where that got me.”

Mii sighed, reminded of her argument with Ahem the other day.  “I agree that placing one’s complete faith in science isn’t the best course, but I don’t think that it should be abandoned, either.  We might need both magic and science to figure this out.

“Now,” she continued.  “You were working on a chemical growth agent, right?”

“Right,” Valerie said, eyeing Mii warily.  “But it didn’t behave as we’d predicted it would.  It was just supposed to speed up cell division, but it actually increased the size of the cells in the plant sample we were working with.  It burst right out of the containment apparatus.”

Mii nodded, already knowing all this but trying to keep her identity secret.  “I suspect that the plants’ growth is being aided by the negative energy of a malicious magical being.”  After explaining it both to Jake earlier and now to Valerie, Mii had to admit to herself that it sounded unbelievable.  “But there was no giant plant residue at the lab site.  There’s a chance that this plant also needs you to maintain this size.”

Valerie’s brow knitted in concentration.  “You mean, it’s not so much that the plants made me grow, as much as they used me to make themselves keep growing.”

Mii nodded.  “It’s as good a theory as any other at this point.”

“It makes perfect sense.  If they’re acting as parasites – or, at best, symbiotes – they could only affect other cells.  That’s why it only affected organic compounds!”  Valerie gestured for emphasis and accidentally elbowed a building.

“Right,” Mii said, “explaining the lack of glasses and, uh, buttons.”

Valerie blushed at this and reached to pinch her shirt shut.  Instinctively glancing at Mii’s chest, her eyes widened.  Mii shifted uncomfortably.  Being Mii brought such conflicting feelings.  She loved the feeling of power, and even how beautiful it made her.  But it sometimes made her feel so self-conscious.

“Wait a minute,” Valerie suddenly said.  “How’d you know I wear glasses?”

Mii smirked.  “Come on, a little obvious, don’t you think?”  Valerie seemed to accept this.  “Anyway,” Mii continued, “if this theory’s right, then all we need to do is get those plants cells out of your body.  That’ll restore you to normal, and it might stop their growth too.”

“But how do we do that?  Magic?”

“Exactly,” Mii replied.  “You’re looking at the genuine Flower Spirit.  Plants are no problem for me.”  She took a step back.  “Now, just need to find the right dance…”  She struck a pose.  “Hya!”  She started the dance –


Mii looked down to see that she’d stepped on a newspaper stand.  Woops.  Well, at least no one was in there at this time of night.  She backed up a little further and checked the area to make sure she had enough room.  “Hmm… maybe we should go to Central Park for this…”  She placed a hand on Valerie’s arm to lead her there.  “Come on, let’s –”

A sudden explosion sent them flying in opposite directions.  Mii was sent through a four-story building.  Shaking her head and trying to clear the ringing from her ears, she saw that Valerie had landed on the El tracks, taking out a large chunk of the bridge.

Where did that come from?  Mii wondered.  Have the cops caught up to us?  There’s no way they’d have that kind of firepower.  She was picking herself up and clearing her throat to ask Valerie if she was okay when her voice died on her.

Standing just a block away from them was the being from Osaka.

She felt the blood rush out of her face the moment she saw it.  Oh god it’s here now and it’s going to kill us it’s going to kill us itsgoingtokillus!

“No!” she shouted, as much at herself as anything else.  There was no way she’d let what happened in Osaka happen now.  The lock that she and Ahem had placed on magic had been strong – she was sure of that.  Getting past that must surely have drained some of this being’s magical reserves.  It was weakened – she could take it!

She hoped.

Letting loose a scream that shattered windows for a mile, Mii bolted toward the being.  She kept her eyes on it, intent on her goal, determined not to succumb to the madness she felt creeping in from the edges of her mind.  She leaped, magic glowing around her fists, ready to strike –

The being backhanded Mii, its long, thin arm snaking out at her before she even saw it.  It sent her flying into an apartment building.

Damn!  Couldn’t even get close!  She looked at the rubble beneath her.  They were in a residential area.  She couldn’t afford to be thrown into any more buildings.  Counting the two building’s she’d already hit, over a hundred people must have already been killed!

A squealing sound caught her attention, and she saw a train falling off the El tracks that Valerie had destroyed.

Make that a hundred and fifty, Mii ruefully amended as the train hit the ground.  Wait – where was Valerie?

“Hyaah!”  Mii turned and saw that Valerie was the source of the sound, slapping the being.  She tried slapping again, but now the being was struggling against her, raising its hand.  Dark energy encircled the hand, and Mii knew that it was about it kill Valerie.

Valerie!  Of course!  She’s the solution!  Suddenly it all made sense, but Mii wasn’t sure that she’d figured it out in time.  Still, she had to try.  She took a step and started to dance.  “Hyai!”  (A taxi cab was ground underfoot as she moved.)  Valerie managed to hit that thing because she could barely see it – looking at that being messes with your mind, and that’s what kept me from connecting.

Hwa!”  (A fleeing pedestrian was smeared into the ground.  An ambulance was kicked across town.)  And if the plants that made Valerie grow really are powered by that being…  She finished her dance with a stamp of her foot (underneath of which, unfortunately, was a mother and father trying to get their daughter to safety) and unleashed a blast of energy that wasn’t aimed at the being.  It was aimed at Valerie.

Valerie started to glow as the magic hit her.  Millions of tiny bright green spots lit her skin for a moment.  Then they flew at the being, slowly at first, then picking up speed as more and more of them lit up a flew away from Valerie’s body.

Mii almost sighed with relief, but it wasn’t over yet.  She’d managed to send the plant matter that had been infused into Valerie at the being, but would her gamble pay off?  She was about to find out.

But first she had to catch Valerie.  As the last glowing plant cell left her body, she was restored to her normal size, though she was suspended at 200 feet in the air.  As soon as the magical glow left her, she started to fall toward the ground.  Mii rushed forward to catch her, and Valerie landed safely in her gigantic hand.  To Mii’s relief, she looked dazed but okay.

A sound from the being got her attention.  She held Valerie close to her chest to protect her as she turned to face it.  The being was held immobile, covered by the green points of light.  The lights grew brighter as the plants grew to cover the being.  Her plan was working!  The plants, feeding on the being’s negative energy, were growing out of control.  And the more the plants drained the being’s energy, the more powerless it was to stop them!

But this was only step one.  Now that the being was weakened for real, it was time to land the killing blow.  Or dance, in this case.

She held her hand before her face.  “Um, sorry,” she said to the tiny Valerie.  “But I need both my hands for this dance.”

Valerie’s face took on a look of confusion.  She didn’t know what Mii meant.  Blushing, Mii lowered her hand.  Valerie’s eyes went wide when she saw where she was headed.  As gently as she could, Mii squeezed Valerie into her cleavage.

Well, here goes nothing, she thought.  With a spin, she began a dance to make those plants kill the being.  Her feet rained destruction, as cars were kicked and people disappeared messily beneath her slippers.  But she was more aware of the thwack of her breasts as they shifted violently to and fro, slamming into each other over and over again.  Mii suddenly realized that placing Valerie in her cleavage might not have been the best idea.  With each step (splat – there went a dog), twist (squish – there went its owner), and hip thrust (boom! – there went the top three floors of a high-rise), she was painfully aware of how, to Valerie, her breasts were each a bouncy hundred-ton orb of doom.  She was afraid that, in trying to protect her friend, she’d sentenced her to death instead.

Friend?  Was that really how she thought of Valerie?

She finished the dance with a final jiggle, and the being seized up in pain.  The plants had converted the energy they’d absorbed into positive energy and were sending it back that the being.  It started glowing brightly.

For the first time, she heard the being speak.  Its voice seemed to be made of the absence of sound, and it sent chills down her spine.  “Foolish girl – do you think I can be defeated so easily?  As long as magic is used for evil, I will endure…”  With that, it faded away in a burst of light.

Mii slumped against a building, feeling very tired.  Could it really be over?  Had she really defeated the being (at least, for now) and restored Valerie to her normal size?  Oh my gosh, Valerie!  Mii quickly reached into her cleavage and extricated Valerie, who looked woozy but otherwise not-squished.  “Are you okay?”

Valerie looked up at Mii to reply a promptly threw up in her hand.

Mii stared at her for a second.  “Oh, no need to thank me.”


Valerie stared at the remains of the PharmaVög building.  In the days since the accident, rescue teams had combed the site and found no survivors.  “I can’t believe it.  So much death, all my fault.”

“It wasn’t your fault, Valerie.”  Standing beside her, Jake put a hand on her shoulder.  “You can’t blame yourself for what that monster put you through.  And the one silver lining in all this is, at least, um, no one’s identified you as the giantess.”

Valerie smiled slightly.  “That could have something to do with the fact that I squashed most of the people who knew me.  Still, it’s something, I guess.”  “But I still can’t believe all this about magic.  As a scientist, I find it so hard to understand.”  She looked past Jake to the person behind him.  “Don’t you think so, Natsumi?”

Natsumi rolled her eyes.  Maybe she shouldn’t have let Valerie in on her secret after all.  “Look, I’ve thought a lot about it, and I don’t think there’s anything paradoxical about being a scientist and the Goddess of the Earth.”

Valerie raised an eyebrow.  “Goddess of the Earth?  Jake, did you know about this?”

“Hmm…  Well, I knew she was the Flower Spirit and the Mother Spirit, but I didn’t know about the Goddess of the Earth part.  Does this mean I can’t date you?”

Natsumi playfully slapped his shoulder before taking his hand.  “Look, someone’s got to fill Ahem’s shoes.  He gave up his life to bring magic back, and it’s up to us to make sure it doesn’t get abused.”

Jake looked confused.  “Us?”

“Well, I’m going to need help keeping the world free from evil magic users, you know.  I think that being was the embodiment of all magic used for evil and greed.  The best way to keep it from coming back is to keep magic from being misused.”

She looked at each of them.  Days ago, she would hardly have called Valerie a friend, and Jake was just a cute guy she worked with.  It’s amazing how a few days can change things.

“Are you with me?”

Jake and Valerie looked at each other, then at Natsumi.

“We’re in.”