Over svarte skriigende skoger

"I object to this in the strongest possible terms."

He was a stout man, Miura thought, sparing him a glance, a man whose choice of large wire-framed glasses did nothing to flatter his round face.

"Your objections have been noticed," Miura responded, hands folded behind his back as he continued to stride down the corridor, the shorter man continually keeping step with him despite the disparity between them.

"The Moonbase is a long established international venture, and the notion of any organisation from one solitary nation just coming in here and setting up shop is abhorrent."

Miura nodded.

"Again, I understand your concerns, Professor Kubota."

"If you were a representative of any other nation I would be saying the same thing," the short man continued, his face flushed red, "and if this move was being taken by China or the United States—"

Miura stopped abruptly, and Kubota stumbled forward, almost toppling over as he turned to face the other man once more.

"Professor," Miura said calmly, "during the recent incursion into our solar system by these Evolian creatures, or during the assault from Jakanja, what role did INET's Moonbase play in repelling the invaders?"

Kubota looked him with flustered anger, his face growing redder by the moment.

"We were incapacitated early on the conflict," he murmured.

Naoyuki Miura nodded sharply.

"We all were, Professor, which makes it a wonder why men like Supreme Commander Ichijou are still in power, despite the record of their mistakes. Yet, the fact that the Earth's security was previously left in the hands of—" His nose wrinkled with distaste as he spoke. "—a number of ninjas is not a scenario that any of us are keen to see repeated in the future. To this end, UAOH has been given full power when it comes to reordering defences in relation to potential future interstellar conflict."

He tried to force a smile to his lips, reaching out and putting a hand on the other man's shoulder.

"It's not as bad as you think," he said, his voice softening, "it's simply a matter of preparedness, even Skyforce have acknowledged this."

He tried to keep the smile on his lips, refraining from divulging his recent conversation with Captain Odagiri, and her department's requisition of OhrangerRobo.

Kubota sighed heavily and looked away, his expression easing.

"I understand," he said.

Miura nodded, maintaining his smile.

"Good," he answered, "in which case, you can escort me as I inspect the upgrades being made to the Voyager Machines."

And between such upgrades, he thought, and the use of the old Defence Ministry machine from the '70s, maybe they might just stand a chance if Odagiri really did use OhrangerRobo to do what he thought she might.

Patting Kubota on the shoulder, Miura resumed his path through the Moonbase's lengthy corridors.

Dimly, he became aware of the sound of running water, the sensation of moisture, a drip that fell from somewhere far above and routinely spattered against the cold stone upon which he rested. In pain, he lifted his head, trying to understand where he was, trying to understand what had happened to him. For a brief moment, recollection was absent, and then, with regret, he recalled the other man and his inevitable death, the towering shape of that huge monster, its swollen horn and bulbous eyes.

In the darkness, he tried to move, and found his hands had been bound together by a rope of something coarse, something harsh, his wrists bound one over the other.

This wasn't how it was supposed to have been, he reflected; he had fled his own world in search of allies against the horrendous might of the invading Evolian forces, and all he had found was a world driven almost to the brink of destruction by the foolishness of the people who inhabited it. On some level, Asuka understood that this world was the same as his own, and yet he was persistently horrified by the change in climate, the endless pollution, and, more than anything, the absence of dinosaurs.

When the Dino Braces had fallen out of his grasp during the crossing, when they had been found by the people of this Earth, he doubted that they were capable of inheriting such tremendous power, yet still hoping against hope that they might do what the people of his Earth had not. He had not been disappointed. Despite their levity, Ryouga, Yukito, and Ranru had all lived up to the power they had been bequeathed by his own dead world, and even as he had been unable to transform in the first days of the Evolian incursion, they had fought on his behalf without question, without doubt.

He trusted them, he believed in them, and yet how could he explain to them now what had happened, that an innocent man he had tried to protect had died, that he had failed to live up to the vows he had made them swear when first they had inherited their Dino Braces?

In the darkness, he looked down at his own communicator, the Dino Commander, the likeness of his old friend, Bakuryuu Brachiosaurus, now smeared with dirt and dust. Gingerly, he lifted his bound wrists.

"Brachio," he whispered, his throat sore, his lips dry. "Brachio, can you hear me?"

From the faceplate of the communicator there was silence.

"Hmm, awake, are we?" a voice suddenly called out in the darkness, a frail, warbling voice, that of someone incredibly old.

A chill ran down Asuka's spine, a knot tightening in his stomach.

"W-Who's there?" he stammered.

Amidst the blanket of shadow, a match sparked, trembling hands lighting a candle, and slowly, he heard shuffling footsteps, an elderly woman approaching, hunched over, her silver hair covered by a faded red scarf knotted beneath her chin, a candle held before her watery eyes. She sniffed airily, gazing down at him with apparent distaste.

"So you're the creature of the other Earth, are you?"

He blinked fiercely, trying to adjust to even this pitiful illumination, and then, in the distance behind the old woman, he noticed two others, both women, their eyes likewise upon him. He swallowed hard, biting back the welling panic and fear inside of him.

"Who are you people?" he gazed.

Intently, he gazed upon each of them in turn, turning from the old woman before him to her companion on the right, an austere woman, arched nose, flowing brown hair shot through with silver, the white knuckles of her right hand grasped about a trident, a shield bound to her forearm. Atop her hair she wore an archaic helmet, a plume of feathers rising from the top.

To the left stood a tall woman, no less lacking in nobility, a wreath of laurel leaves about her dark hair, her face lacking in lines, in experience, idealism issuing forth from her very presence, eyes smeared with kohl and lips rich and lustrous red.

And in the centre, again his eyes found the elderly woman, her lips pulled back in a crooked grimace of a grin.

"Hwæt," proclaimed the woman to the right, her voice haughty and aloft.

Again, he swallowed, attempting to dampen his lips with spittle, and again he asked them of their identity.

"Who are you women?"

The elderly crone at the centre straightened her arched back to the smallest degree.

"The weyward Sisters, hand in hand, Posters of the Sea and Land. You know of us, though you may not know us."

A further shock ran through him. Three sisters, yes, he remembered that story, feathered raptor women who could be met at the crossroads; the crone, the maiden, the mother who divined messages of the future in the entrails of sacrifice. He felt his muscles tighten, the oft expressionless paleness of his face contorting with distaste.

"Yes," the old woman smiled, "we have our place amongst your people too, I see."

"I thought you were a myth," he murmured.

At her back, one of the other women—the haughty one with the trident and shield—offered him a look of distaste.

"Where there is a fortune to be told, we are present, raptors on your world, soothsayers to the humans, and—"

"Prophets to the Orugu," the third woman completed, her red lips curling in a smile, a flicker of mischief in her dark eyes.

"Orugu?" Asuka whispered.

The old woman nodded.

"Your captors, saurian," she explained.

"Invaders?" he asked.

The austere woman wrinkled her arched nose.

"Nothing so crude."

"You made a mistake when you came here, saurian," the third woman purred, "you thought that the meteor that split your worlds, one from the other, made all things equal, that your people mirrored the human tribes to whom fate has bequeathed the powers of your world. Not so."

"Before humanity, there was another race," the old woman continued, "an ancient race whose fate the humans are entwined with. From them, the first humans of the Pangaean supercontinent evolved, those people who first made contact with the Dorin, millions of years in the past. As these humans fashioned the Machine Beasts that would ultimately bring destruction to their empire, so their wasteful and arrogant ways gave strength to those they had cast away, that first tribe, too savage to be domesticated by Pangaean society, growing in ranks with the continued extravagance and wastefulness of those they had birthed."

Asuka shook his head in disbelief.

"That's impossible, surely," he murmured.

"Do not blind yourself to the truth of what we speak. The Earth is not the inheritance of the humans you have allied yourself, instead it belongs to an older race, a nobler race, the nation of Orugu."

"This is a dream," he announced, proudly, swallowing his fear, "this isn't real."

The old woman looked scornfully at him.

"Do you know why you have been captured?" the young maiden at her side asked, reaching out from him, placing her hand upon his face, tracing her fingers down his cheek, amongst his whiskers.

He flinched and turned away.

"No," he admitted.

"The Orugu have much in common with you, saurian," the second woman announced, "you may find that, in time, you prefer the company of Orugu to that of humans."

Asuka shook his head with sudden vehemence.

"I will not betray my friends," he swore.

A harsh cackle escaped the old woman's mouth, and slowly, with her sisters, she stepped backwards, retreating into the shadows.

"And what," she asked, reaching out and snuffing the candle's light with her trembling fingers, "if you find that your friends have already betrayed you?"

Asuka pulled himself forward, struggling against his bonds.

"Wait!" he cried, despite the pain that ran through his body. "Don't go!"

But it was too late. Already the flame had faded, and once more, he was alone in the dark, the drip of water somewhere close by, its throbbing repetition resounding through the darkness beneath the soil.