Chapter 3:
Red Herring
Or: False Trails And Tribulations

The stately walls of the Middleton Museum and their fluted columns had a pearly, glowing look as the afternoon sun filtered through their marble surfaces. Ron was inside the museum, in a quiet, secluded area that displayed older exhibits. He was staring at a statue of Ronacus, which had been moved from the main exhibition area some time ago and placed in this more out-of-the-way section by the sidelines. A dusty cobweb trailed from the statue's ear to the shoulder. He sighed, glancing at the statue of a masked warrior, which had been placed in a position of greater prominence.

His echoing footsteps sounded lonely in his ears as he made his way back to the main exhibition area, which had been temporarily closed off. Wade was on his knees at the foot of a large plinth, and was fiddling with a lot of wiring that he was connecting to various components which were being installed in a circular ring in the floor.

Kim was there as well, looking over things closely. There was another person standing next to her, a short man with a roundish belly, wearing pointed shoes, an immaculate pin-striped suit, and stroking a pencil moustache on his face. Kim turned to the museum administrator. 'Thanks again for helping us out, Mr. Curio.' she said.

Curio smiled affably. 'It is no trouble, Ms. Possible.' he said with a thin French accent. 'It is the least I could do after you saved our priceless portraits from that horrible Camille Leon.'

'No big.' said Kim. 'Anyone could have spotted her trying to smuggle them out underneath a mu-mu. So not the brightest penny in the fountain.'

Ron found himself chewing his lip. Despite his good performance on their previous mission, he couldn't help wondering if Kim still considered him a 'dull penny'. He had thought Kim would be pleased that he'd done so much better, even if it was mostly luck. But after that night, he had felt some definite frosty vibes.

'How's it going, Wade?' Kim said, stepping up to the raised dais where Wade was busy welding components and checking sensors.

'We'll be good to go pretty soon.' he said, smiling. 'I've had this on the drawing board for some time - can't wait to see how she rides!'

Mr. Curio looked with some trepidation at the circular rut which surrounded the plinth. 'If I may ask, Ms. Possible, what is your friend doing to my floor....?'

'Don't worry.' Kim answered. 'He's just installing additional security. We'll have your floor as good as new once we're done. But depending on how well this works, you may want us to leave it in.'

Ron dug the gleaming, polished floor with his heel. 'How do we know she'll even come here?'

Kim turned to him and smiled. 'Actually, you can help us answer that question.' she said. 'You and your new contact, Russ Cueler.'

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On the outskirts of Go City, there was a mountainous region. At the peak of one of the mountains was a bizarre structure in the shape of a huge bird nest. But instead of twigs or logs, the nest was made out of welded girders painted brown and had an array of communication equipment set at the top, several dark windows and a heavy set of double-doors.

Grimm Probable and Rhonda Fatigable walked toward the doors, which hissed open in front of them, then closed behind them as they entered.

'Nice place.' said Grimm, looking around the interior of the lair. They were in a circular enclosure lined with shelves. Cluttered on the shelves was an assortment of gems, gilded statues, crystals and other such items which sparkled and cast patches of rainbow which danced on the surrounding walls. It was like being inside a skating rink with disco balls. In the center of the area was a throne, which was also built to resemble a birds nest with a high back and armrests. In front of the throne was a semi-circular desk with various controls and equipment.

Rhonda stroked Rueful's head as he lay draped around her shoulders. 'I can't remember hearing you mention who the client was.' she said. 'Aviarius?'

'An understandable presumption, but incorrect!' came a dramatic, booming voice. 'Aviarius is competent in his own right, but he pales in comparison to the power of... The Magpie!'

Rhonda turned and saw a man entering from a door on the far side of the chamber. He was dressed in a black outfit with a cape that was attached to either wrist and draped behind him to form what looked like a pair of feathered wings. He wore a bizarre helmet with a protrusion at the front that looked like a long, sharp beak. A white circle with a black bird in the center was emblazoned on his body suit.

'Magpie.' said Grimm, nodding while Rhonda's mouth fell open at the sight of their client. Her eyes twitched and she quickly closed her mouth again to stifle a chuckle. Grimm took off his pack and opened it. 'As promised, we present to you the BFG emerald with our compliments.' And he took the glittering gem from his pack. It was struck by several beams from the other shining objects in the room and lit up like a green flame.

The Magpie's mouth fell open in his own turn and Rhonda could see a trickle of drool running down his chin as he gazed at the emerald. Even behind the small narrowed slits of the eye holes in his helmet, Rhonda could tell his eyes were sparkling and vacant looking. But he recovered quickly and held out a briefcase, moving to his throne and setting it down on the desk.

'You have done well!' he said in a deep, resonating voice that he was obviously trying to make impressive. 'The Magpie congratulates you on your work and is pleased to give you the promised payment!'

Grimm and Rhonda moved to the desk as well, where Grimm set down the emerald which the Magpie immediately seized and held aloft. Grimm took the case and gave it to Rhonda with a nod. She opened it and checked the money, nodding back to him. 'Well, enjoy your jewel.' said Grimm. 'And if you need anything else, beep us.'

'The Magpie will do so!' he thundered ridiculously. Rhonda raised an eyebrow at him, but he was posturing, still holding the emerald like the Statue of Liberty holding its torch. 'The Magpie has many friends who may need your services!'

'Why does the Magpie keep referring to himself in the third person?' said Rhonda.

Grimm quickly leaned and whispered in her ear. 'The same reason the all-powerful Ninjella does.' he said.

The Magpie glanced at her, his face looking slightly discomfited. 'I.... uh, The Magpie now requires solitude in which to conceive his next brilliant plan.'

'Oh yeah?' said Rhonda, sounding skeptical. 'And that is....?'

'It is of no concern to you what the Magpie does with this prize!' said the Magpie mysteriously. 'Suffice it to say that the Magpie operates on levels of thought that far outshine those of normal men!'

'You're just going to put it on a shelf and look at it, aren't you?' said Rhonda.

The Magpie seemed annoyed. 'Hey - I like shiny stuff OK?' he said.

'Of course you do.' said Grimm, now pulling Rhonda towards the exit. 'We'll be on our way now - and again, thank you.'

As they left the Magpie's hideout, Grimm spoke, his voice sounding confused and concerned. 'Not a good idea to make fun of the client.' he said.

Rhonda shrugged. 'Come on.' she said. 'The Magpie? He just made it so easy....'

'If the money's good, they can dress in tutus and call themselves The Foofie Squad.' said Grimm. 'It's important to keep them feeling good about whatever gimmick they've got going so they'll keep the money rolling in. Bottle the sarcasm until we're at home - you can diss them all you want behind closed doors.'

Rhonda looked down. 'Sorry GP.' she said softly.

Grimm took out their helmets from the trunk of the bike and laid a hand on Rhonda's shoulder. 'I know how it is.' he said. 'You're feeling more confident now, and you should. It's only natural to feel a little more relaxed, both in action and with clients. But that's the next phase of training we'll need to cover. How to rope it in. Confidence is a great thing, but only when it's justified. If you let it get you carried away it's a recipe for overconfidence, and that's the sort of thing that can have the reverse effect in a fight, leading you to do things that invite defeat. You want an example, keep a close eye on Adrena Lynn.'

Rhonda looked surprised. 'I donno, she's been doing great so far...'

'Yes, she has.' said Grimm, getting onto the bike. 'So look for her to make a totally dumb move any time now.'

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It was several days later, and Kim stood in the Middleton Museum looking on from the side of the room at the main exhibit area. The area had been roped off and several museum-goers were looking on with curiosity as news cameras were being set up inside the enclosure. It was none other than Dibble and the MIDX news crew. Dibble was chatting with Russ Cueler, who was also there, and standing next to Russ was Ron. Ron looked slightly nervous, as if he was wondering how he'd gotten there, but Rufus was standing on his shoulder, already hamming to the cameraman.

Kim looked into her wrist Kimmunicator. 'Is it all set up?' she said, keeping her voice low. 'Russ agreed to it?'

'He did indeed.' said Wade, also speaking warily as if he were afraid of eavesdroppers. 'So the only people who'll know are Cueler, Curio, Ron, me and you.'

Kim looked at the floor surrounding the plinth. If she hadn't seen Wade working on it with her own eyes, she would never have guessed that anything had been done to it. It was smooth, flat and innocent looking. 'And the prop?' she said, 'Will it be good enough?'

Wade shrugged. 'Unless someone physically inspects it. But as I gather, that's the whole purpose of this.' He paused, looking nervous. 'You know it could backfire, right? Dibble and the MIDX crew might not take to this once they learn the truth, and who knows how the museum goers will react...'

Kim sighed. 'I know Wade.' she said. 'I don't like it much either, but as long as the ending headline reads "Adrena Lynn captured", it'll be worth it.' She looked up at the dais where the plinth shone dimly under a soft spotlight. The MIDX news crew was signing a 3-2-1 countdown while their lights bathed Dibble with a diffused glow.

'This is A. U. Dibble reporting at the Middleton Museum,' The smiling, energetic face of Dibble was close to the camera, which was mounted near a set of raised stairs near the display podium. 'Where Mr. Russ Cueler is making a personal donation to this fine establishment.'

Kim stood off to the side from where the camera was pointing at Dibble, with Russ Cueler and Ron standing behind him. The idea had come to her to use Dibble and his crew as a follow-up story to cover her ruse, and the fact that Russ owed Ron a favor made the setup that much easier. Plus, after being dissed by the MIDX news crew, she didn't mind using them as a tool to bait the trap. Dibble was still speaking.

'Cueler, who was recently attacked in his home by criminal daredevil Adrena Lynn, was rescued by local hero Ron Stoppable, who thwarted the robbery along with Kim Possible. Most of the items which Lynn had been attempting to steal were recovered during the struggle. Mr. Cueler has decided to show his gratitude by arranging with Ron Stoppable to set up a new exhibit for charity.'

'Least I could do after being saved by my man Stoppable the other day.' said Cueler, putting his hand on the dais. 'And besides - this thing was just gathering dust in my locker.' he said with a grin. 'Might as well put it on display so the whole world can enjoy it.'

'Generous words and generous deeds.' said Dibble, turning to the camera. 'An impressive act of charity and a national curiosity, sure to appeal to sports fans and museum-goers alike - the world's only diamond-encrusted.....'

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Adrena Lynn sat in her exercise chair, surrounded by treadmills, bikes, weights and other equipment. She paused in her dumbbell curls, staring at her TV screen. 'Oh man!' she said, 'I am so on that!' She let the dumbbells fall to the foam-padded floor with a thud, and reached for her phone....

Rhonda Fatigable stood in a wide expanse of grass in the middle of a wooded field. The green trees a distance away were slightly obscured by a high fence. A network of other fences and walls turned the enclosure into a maze, and there were sections with swaying ropes, sections with practice dummies, sections with other equipment that she knew and loathed, having long associated them with hard work and pain. She was sweating and gasping in her gi, the eagle feathers hanging from her left ear waved in the breeze.

Across from her, Grimm was smiling and going into a ready stance. 'All right Rhonda,' he said, twitching his fingers towards her, 'One more time!'

Rhonda moaned. 'Aw c'mon!' she said. 'Do I have to? I'm really done up for today....'

Grimm smirked. 'We either put in the time now and get it over with, or take it up again later.' he said. 'Better a sharp stab than a lingering pain....'

'But this is lingering....' Rhonda whined, rubbing her aching shoulders. Rueful was imitating her posture of exhaustion as he leaned against her leg.

Before Grimm could answer, there was a familiar beeping noise from his gym bag, which was laid off to the side of the training yard. He dashed over to pick it up, with Rhonda following and sitting next to the fence with a tired sigh.

'What's the sitch, Jade?' Grimm said as Jade's face glowed on the tiny screen.

Jade looked slightly confused. 'It's Adrena Lynn.' she said. 'She wants to talk to you.'

Grimm paused. 'All right - blank out video and distort our outgoing audio as usual.' he said. A moment later, Lynn's voice came through the speaker.

'Yo, is this my mystery man?'

'Lynn.' Grimm replied, and Rhonda heard Lynn's voice sounding a bit more put out as she responded.

'Still don't trust me enough to let me see you?'

'Don't take it personal.' said Grimm. 'I don't trust anybody.'

There was a pause. 'Fair enough.' came her answer. 'I just called to say it's not necessary for you to suggest another job for me to do.'

Grimm raised an eyebrow, looking towards Rhonda. Rhonda shrugged and mouthed silently to him. 'She on to us?' Grimm shrugged as well, then turned back to his communicator. 'Are you dissatisfied with the jobs I've referred?'

'No, they've been great.' she answered, sounding chirpy again. 'You said they'd restore my reputation and you were right. But I've spotted a job on my own now that I'll be working. Just wanted to let you know.'

'Another job?' Grimm answered. 'Do tell.'

'I just saw a news story on the world's only diamond encrusted bungee cord.' she answered. 'Like I'm gonna pass that up! Don't get me wrong Mr. Unknown electronic voice guy, I'm still up for anything interesting you can think of. But this one's mine.'

The speaker hissed with static for one brief instant and faded to silence. Grimm looked like he was about to try calling her back, but he stopped. 'Jade, is this for real?' he said.

Jade reappeared, and her face looked totally deadpan. 'Doubtful.' she said. 'I just checked this 'news' report, and guess who the museum set up the exhibit in behalf of? Russ Cueler and Ron Stoppable.'

Grimm sighed and shook his head. 'A diamond encrusted bungee cord?' he said, his voice thick with disbelief. 'Jeez Kim.... could you be any more obvious?'

Rhonda shrugged. 'Hey, nothing says 'I love you' like a diamond-studded bungee cord.' she said, personally glad that Grimm seemed momentarily distracted from their exercises.

Jade's voice piped in from Grimm's communicator. 'I can make sure she gets a warning before she gets there....' she said, but Grimm held up his hand.

'Forget it.' he said. 'If she's dumb enough to fall for this, she deserves to get caught. Besides, we've gotten about all the mileage from her we could expect. This accelerates things a little, but that doesn't worry me so much anymore.' He shut off his communicator and got to his feet. He held out his hand to Rhonda and grinned. 'One more time....' he said, and Rhonda groaned, reluctantly letting him pull her up...

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The Middleton Museum was dark in the shadows of the night. The moon and stars were hidden behind veils of cloud. The walls and pillars were as dull and black now as they had been gleaming and bright during the day. All was quiet and even the air was still.

Above the rotunda of the main exhibition area there was a set of frosted glass skylights. There was a squeaking, scraping noise far up near the ceiling, and a circular section of glass fell away before being neatly caught by a gloved hand and pulled back through the hole that had been left. The arm snaked through the hole and found a latch, which clicked softly. Then there was a creaking noise as a panel in the skylight opened and a slender figure descended on a zip line.

Adrena Lynn stopped a few feet above the floor, hanging nearly at eye level to the plinth, the sparkling coils of the bungee cord were barely a few inches in front of her. She licked her lips, her eyes gleaming almost as brightly as the cord. But she put down a pair of goggles and checked out the plinth first. She could see no infra-red or ultra-violet beams, no tripwires. She reached out to the cord. 'Girl, you have got it goin' on....' she said softly.

She took the cord in her hand and began lifting it off the plinth. As soon as she had a good grip on it though, she started wildly, bobbing around on her zip line. She heard a hiss and a sharp metallic clang. She instinctively tapped her belt to activate the winch of her zip line and pull her up. But she felt herself slam against something and felt pressure on her back.

Lights flooded the room. She looked around wildly and saw Kim Possible and Ron Stoppable, flanked by at least four police officers, stepping out from the hallways and surrounding her. She also saw that she was inside a cylindrical cage which had snapped up from the floor. It was closed off at the top with heavy bars, holding her down while the motor of her zip line winch whined and began grinding it's bearings at the pressure.

Ron blew on a party noisemaker. 'Happy Birthday!' he shouted, and the stony expressions on two of the police officers flickered momentarily.

Adrena Lynn looked furious. She seemed to be trying to force her winch to pull harder, maybe hoping she could squeeze through the bars that held her in, or perhaps even tear the cage loose from it's housing on the floor. Instead it merely kept her pinned against the bars at the top of the cage, her face looking more and more purple.

Kim smiled. 'I guess we should do something before she hurts herself.' she said to Ron. Ron nodded and held Rufus gently in his hands, placing him on top of the cage. Rufus grinned and skittered across the bars, climbing up the zip line. There was a white flash of teeth, and a snapping noise. The zip line was reeled quickly up and out through the skylight while Adrena Lynn tumbled to the floor with a loud grunt.

'Good one, Rufus!' Ron said, giving him the thumbs-up. Rufus grinned and waved, but flailed to keep his balance as Adrena Lynn threw herself against the bars.

'Really cute.' she growled. 'How did you pull this off? There weren't any laser grids around that thing.'

'Pressure sensitive.' said Kim, looking at her with smug satisfaction. The instant you tried to lift it, booyah.'

'Should have brought a bag of sand to swap it out with!' Ron laughed. 'That's what Indy would have done....'

'Who?' said Kim.

But Lynn held out the bungee cord. 'Then let's talk trade.' she said. 'You let me out of this thing, and maybe I won't tear this cord to ribbons!'

Kim laughed. 'Go ahead, I don't care.'

Lynn looked momentarily baffled. 'You think I'm bluffing?' she said, twisting the cord in her hands. 'What's Cueler gonna think of you using his diamond rope like a poker chip?'

'I think he'll be fine with it,' said Kim. 'Considering he never had one.'

Lynn's face went totally blank. Ron's face broke into a wide grin and he laughed. 'Don't you get it?' he said. 'There's no such thing as a diamond-studded bungee cord! A real diamond studded bungee would weigh a lot more and work really lousy.'

Lynn looked at the glittering rope in her hand. 'Then... what is this...?'

Kim put her hands on her hips, smiling broadly. 'You're the proud owner of nearly forty dollars worth of cubic zirconium and rhinestones.' she said.

Adrena Lynn looked angry, but there was a curious expression mingled with it. 'You set this up with the press and everyone?' she said, letting the cord fall to the floor at her feet. 'You lied to the whole city just to get to me? Maybe I'm not the real crook here...' Kim frowned, but gestured to the waiting police officers.

It was only a few minutes later when they had retracted the cage. The police had surrounded her on every side and Kim had kept a wary eye on her as they handcuffed her and took her burglary tools.

Ron held a small remote in his hands and was tapping a large red button. The cage sprang up and down several times, the bars at the top extending out from housings at the tip of each bar that lined the roof of the cylinder. 'Pretty cool.' he said. 'Wade outdid himself this time.'

But Kim's attention was still on Adrena Lynn. 'Before we send you off to Cell Block D,' she said, 'I feel reluctantly obligated to tell you that you could get a reduced sentence if you turn in your boss.'

Lynn frowned. 'I don't have a boss.' she said. 'I only take orders from the best daredevil stuntwoman in the world. That's me.'

Kim frowned as well. 'Get real Lynn.' she said. 'You weren't even smart to keep your show from getting cancelled. Do you expect us to believe you did all these robberies on your own?'

'Of course I did!' Lynn answered, looking angry. 'You think after all those losers in the media bailed on me two years ago that I was gonna give them any more fodder? All the heists were 100% grade-A me, Kim. The only thing I didn't do was pick out targets....' But she caught herself, stopping abruptly.

Kim zeroed in on her at once. 'Really? Who did?'

Adrena Lynn glared at the two cops who had her by either shoulder. 'I don't know who he was.' she said. 'And he never actually told me to steal anything - he just suggested jobs he thought I'd like.'

'Come on, Lynn.' said Kim, putting a sly edge to her voice. 'Whoever it was obviously isn't coming to help you. You don't owe him anything - are you telling me you never saw him?'

'Oh I saw him.' said Lynn sarcastically. In a darkened doorway at night, in a dark alley at night, in a dark area of the city park at night, are you deducing the pattern here? I'd finger him if I could - except I can't tell you what he looks like. But when he first contacted me, he gave me something he said I should pass on to you.'

Kim stared. 'What?' she said.

Adrena Lynn stared at one of the burly policemen who braced her. 'If one of these guys will reach into my left jacket pocket, he had a note delivered to me some time ago, with instructions to give it to you if we ever met.'

Kim gave her the most suspicious stare she could muster. 'So why did you wait until now?'

Adrena Lynn cocked her head to the side. 'Must've slipped my mind.' she said defiantly.

One of the policemen quickly produced a yellow sticky note. And scribbled on it in rough letters was '011100100110010101100001011100000110010101110010'. Kim looked back at Adrena Lynn. 'That's it?' she said.

'That's it.' she answered. 'He said seeing it would cheese you off, if you were smart enough to figure it out. Looks like you weren't - and you aren't.'

Kim glared at her. 'Take her away, boys.' she said. And with a final venomous look, Adrena Lynn was hauled off towards the waiting police wagon.

Later, she and Ron made their way back to the Sloth. Wade had joined them, after inspecting his cage to see how well it had held up under Lynn's struggles. 'Am I right?' she asked.

'Yep.' Wade answered. 'It's binary code, just like the other one. Most computer information can be digitally encoded as a series of ones and zeroes - it's how the whole jargon of bits and bytes got started.'

'So what does this string say?'

Wade looked at the screen on his scanner and shrugged. 'It says, reaper.'

Ron took the note and stared at it, squinching his eyes and rotating it in his hands. 'Reaper.' he said. 'Well, that sounds cool, but usually our villains have a name that's some kind of pun....'

They stopped, standing next to the Sloth in a mini-huddle. 'It's not a name.' said Kim, shaking her head. 'If it was really done by the same guy who wrote the other note, then he may be giving us a message.'

Wade brought up both notes on the screen of his communicator, displaying them side by side. 'It's the same kind of post-it note.' he said. 'And the same style of writing - but it's deliberately crude and most likely won't match the natural handwriting of whoever wrote it.'

'The other note said 'first half.' said Kim. 'And this one, 'reaper'.'

'First half and reaper?' said Ron. 'So the guy behind this is named "Rea"?'

'No.' said Kim. 'They were sent in binary - which is another word for two. It's a two-part clue. Two separate notes - two separate clues.' She thought, her brow knitted in concentration. 'First half... reaper....' Then her eyes went very sharp and her face went into an almost vicious frown. 'Two separate words. The first half of reaper. The Grim Reaper.'

Wade's face broke into sudden understanding. 'Grim.' he said. 'Grimm Probable.'

Ron's face pulled into a worried grimace. 'Oh... them.' he said.

Kim nodded. 'The sitch just got a whole lot grimmer.'

Kim was hunched over the wheel of the Sloth as she drove back towards her house. Her eyes were narrowed and she was scowling as if the road itself had done something to anger her. Ron looked at her, and his own face was full of concern, though he was too afraid to break the silence which was filled with so much tension it felt like a time bomb was ticking next to him. He looked over at Wade, who was in the back seat, looking at him with equal trepidation.

Kim had almost forgotten there were other people in the car as she brooded. It all made sense to her now. Grimm had used Adrena Lynn as a red herring, and had kept her running around after the stuntwoman while his own missions went on without interference. He was active again, had probably been active for some time, doing his usual thing, laying false trails, pulling strings and making sure that he himself was untouchable. Kim gripped the steering wheel with her fingers clenched. And flashes of memory darted through her mind.

She was being pulled up towards the large opening of a drain pipe, her ankle twined in the grappling line from Grimm's battle suit. Grimm had thrown a glass capsule out of the pipe over a fifty-foot drop. A capsule which Kim had thought contained Ron's good side. She heard a distant sound like glass shattering and saw a flash of blue light which flared briefly for a moment and then disappeared. 'No!' she whispered, then turned in rage on Grimm, who was pulling her back safely to the rim of the ledge.

'Too late Kim.' he said, backing off until he was just out of striking distance. 'If you want to restore Ron to his old self, you've got a hard choice in front of you. You can still get him back to normal. But to do it - you'll have to use the Attitudinator to steal good from someone else and give it to Ron.' Kim was stricken. It was the one thing she could never do - destroy one life to save another - but this was Ron, the person she loved...

'I'll be interested to see who you target for the process.' Grimm went on. 'What innocent victim will you condemn to a lifetime of evil in order to save your precious Ron?'

'You....' Kim hissed, trembling in fury. 'How could you....?'

Grimm ignored her. 'Will you go after someone you know? A friend? A family member? Or will you hunt down some anonymous loser in the dead of night and rob them of their good?' he paused, a light of cunning shining behind his eyes. 'But maybe I'm giving you too much credit.' he continued. 'Maybe you don't even want to save Ron - maybe you never really cared about him!'

With a scream, Kim charged at him....

Ron bit his lip. Kim had already passed her house and was driving around the block again. Rather than looking absent-minded or vacant, she looked totally focused and sharp. 'Uh.... Kim?' he said and he glanced at Rufus, who shrugged his naked pink shoulders, looking back and forth between his master and the girl driving the car....

Kim stood in a warehouse amid the wreckage of the Mega Synaptic Transducer. Grimm was standing in front of her, holding out a glowing blue capsule. The one he had destroyed had been a fake - used for no other reason but to play her. 'Do you want it or not?' he said.

Kim held out her hand.

'Say please.' he said with an evil smile.

Kim felt anger boiling inside her. But she fought it back and kept her hand held out. 'Please...' she said. 'I want Ron back.' Grimm stepped forward slowly, and placed the capsule in her hand.

'Why?' she said, gritting her teeth, and Grimm's answer, instead of satisfying her curiosity, caused her blood to boil.

'To restore... balance.' he said. 'Plus I couldn't wait to see the look on your face.'

And she was closing in on Grimm and Rhonda after restoring Ron's good, but he was still taunting her. 'How do you feel, Kim?' he said. 'Are you so full of rage that you want to hurt me?'
Kim stared at him, panting, her fists clenched. 'Take your shot, Kim.' he said, spreading out his arms. 'I'll give you one for free. You know you want to, I can see it in your eyes!'

And Kim could not resist the invitation. She punched him hard, and Grimm's head snapped to the side, a grunt of pain escaped from his throat. He turned back to stare at her, rubbing his chin, a slow smile creeping across his lips. 'Welcome to the dark side, Kim Possible.' He turned to Rhonda. 'What did I tell you?' he said to her. 'We didn't even need the Attitudinator for her...'

'Kim!' Ron's voice broke into her reverie and she started, restored to awareness of where she was. 'Kim, the tour's been fun, but our houses are right there.' he said, pointing to her driveway, which she was already moving past again. She quickly hit the brakes and the Sloth lurched to a stop.

When she backed up and parked in the driveway, she turned off the engine and dead silence fell. Ron wasn't sure what to do. It seemed somehow wrong to do the normal routine of saying 'see you tomorrow', and then kissing her good night. Kim hadn't let go of the steering wheel. She was still gripping it as if she were trying to squeeze through it with her fingers. But finally he couldn't stand the silence any longer. 'Are... you OK?' he said timidly. 'You seem kinda... serious.'

'Of course I'm serious.' said Kim, the words hissing through clenched teeth. 'It's Team Probable! The last time we met them they'd taken...' She faltered, unable to finish.

But Ron knew. 'They took me.' he said. 'Kim, I know want to get them in the worst way - but that's the thing. You want it in the worst way.'

'Ron's right.' said Wade quietly. 'Grimm's not like Shego or the others. He tries to win by winding people up and getting them to defeat themselves.'

'So not gonna happen this time!' Kim said forcefully.

'Uh, it's kinda happening already....' said Ron, looking nervously at his feet. 'You're winding Kim....'

'I am NOT winding.' she said.

Wade looked somehow smaller as he spoke again. 'But the evidence clearly indicates....'

'I am not winding!' Kim snarled.

Ron cowered. 'OK....' he said softly, opening the car door and sidling out. 'I'm... glad we cleared that up.'

'Yeah.' said Wade, and despite his bulk, he slithered quickly and easily out of the back seat as Ron opened the door. 'Anyway, Ron wanted to... uh, show me the new upgrades on his scooter. I think I'll hitch a ride home with him after I check it out...' Then they turned and sped down the sidewalk towards Ron's house.

Kim stayed in the car long after Ron and Wade had left. And eventually, she started feeling badly about scaring them off. In all her previous encounters with Grimm, one of his key strategies had been to cut her off from her support network. If she was going to take him down, she was going to need her friends by her side and firing on all cylinders.

The night stayed peaceful and quiet around her despite the turmoil of her thoughts. So much had been left unresolved after her last encounter with Team Probable. The kidnapping of Ron, turning him against her with the Attitudinator. Using the Mega Synaptic Transducer to turn everyone against her, including her own family. And Grimm's parting shot, in which he had revealed to Ron that she and Wade had bugged him with a tracking chip, had nearly destroyed their relationship.

Grimm had used her as a psychological punching bag from the moment they'd first encountered each other. And she fought to keep herself calm as she recalled all of his cutting remarks, his head games, his tactical maneuvers, all calculated to get her to lose her cool and play right into his hands.

'So... not gonna happen this time.' she said to herself.

+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+

Far away in Japan, night had fallen over the lonely mountainous region that housed the Yamanouchi School. And while it may have appeared that the school slept, anyone who made such an assumption would have been mistaken. The ninja academy was ever watchful, with organized patrols of skilled fighters on the walls at any given moment.

Since the destruction of Yamanouchi by the Yono, reconstruction had gone apace. The main buildings were back in order, and teaching had resumed soon thereafter, though many students were obliged to divide their time between training and construction on the other buildings which needed repair.

One such patrol was stationed near a patch of ground within the main courtyard. Though in actuality, the patrol consisted of one lone guard. Hirotaka stood in the night air, silent and tireless. As one of the top students at Yamanouchi, he had been trusted with the special task of making sure no one drew near the site of the buried Yono shrine.

Since the defeat of Monkey Fist, things had been quiet for many weeks. Fewer guards had been required after the general shock and fear of the first few days had passed. They kept the extraordinary events secret, and it seemed unlikely that anyone outside the school would know where the Yono shrine was.

But it was still a task that Hirotaka took very seriously, and to be trusted with it was an honor. And so he stood guard, though it seemed unnecessary. The middle night had passed and all was quiet. He had seen nothing during his entire shift at watch, except for one crow which was perched in the high branches of a tree in the courtyard. He thought nothing of it, though he did think it unusual as the bird simply stood there, motionless until it was joined by several other crows. They were silent, and remained in the tree where they had perched, simply watching out over the courtyard. The moon shone pale through the clouds high above and only a slight breeze from the surrounding mountains gave any indication that anything at all was moving.

Then from the black shadows that engulfed the courtyard wall, a man appeared as if he had stepped forth out of the darkness itself. He stood staring at Hirotaka, who had not noticed him. Then he sat down on the earth and took a small drum from a pouch at his side, tapping it lightly and breathing out a rhythmic chant.

Sipimottakiksi, Sipimottakiksi,
Nikaahtomaana nitaanistsi'toyiiwa....

Hirotaka was aware of him at once. To his eyes, he saw only a cloaked and robed man sitting down and chanting. He seemed thin to the point of emaciated, and Hirotaka didn't feel endangered. He strode almost to where the man sat, half wreathed in shadow.

'This place is forbidden!' he said, calling out to the man. But the man ignored him, continuing to tap his drum and chanting as if he hadn't heard him. 'It is not my wish to harm you, but if you do not leave I will have no choice but to force you!' But the man kept chanting, slightly faster and with more intensity.

Sipimottakiksi, Sipimottakiksi,
Nikaahtomaana nitaanistsi'toyiiwa!

And Hirotaka stared in confusion as the shadows of the surrounding walls suddenly seemed to lance out towards him like an army of tentacled hands...

The man stopped chanting and fell to the ground as if asleep. Hirotaka stared at him in silence for a moment, and then flexed his fingers as if he had awakened from a trance. He lifted the man and placed him near the bare patch of earth where the Yono shrine was buried. Then he took the drum from the man's hand and began tapping it himself, his voice whispering softly in the night air.

Sipimottakiksi, Sipimottakiksi,
Nikaahtomaana nimaataakaniiwa....

The darkness swirled around Hirotaka, surrounding him in misty veils as he chanted, until a bubble of shadow covered him and the Yono shrine. Only then did he turn and walk forward, staring down at the ground. He plunged his hand beneath the soil, and heaving with all his strength, he pulled up what looked like a ring of ancient metal.

There was a loud rumbling, and from the earth, a wide stone platform rose up. It continued to rise, revealing a structure that was shaped like a gigantic monkey head with grotesque fangs.

Hirotaka smiled a wicked smile as the Yono shrine rose from the earth, seeing the still and silent figure of a man standing at the top....

The guards heard the loud rumble and quaking as the shrine rose, and they raced to the scene while one ran to awaken Master Sensei. Soon the entire school was awake, pouring out from their rooms with weapons in hand.

Sensei was there within moments, and saw the ninja guards pushing with all their might against a barrier of solid darkness that kept them at bay. Some were striking with their katana and attempting to cast throwing stars through the shadow barrier, but none seemed able to get through the wall of shadows which now surrounded the shrine.

Maze looked out through Hirotaka's eyes. All was as he had studied. In his hand he held the first half of the Yono scroll which he had taken from Monkey Fist's manor. He looked at the words on the scroll.

Simian, Monkey, A la Oh no,
Awaken, Savant Yono

'These fools.' thought Maze, glancing back at the shadow barrier where he knew the Yamanouchi students were swarming and trying to break through. 'Believing that a force of nature such as this could be imprisoned? Yes - this being is precisely what I need....' Then he threw aside the Yono scroll and reached down into the pack which was still on the back of his sleeping body. He took out a book with strange characters written on it and also took a metallic brand and tied it to his palm with two leather straps. He breathed heavily, as if steeling himself to perform a difficult task, and chanted loudly.

Emet - Sipimottakiksi, Sipimottakiksi,
Emet - Nikaahtomaana nitaanistsi'toyiiwa!

Then he clasped his palm over the hand of the figure standing atop the Yono shrine, and there was a hissing sound. When he drew back, there were three characters that glowed red before fading.

And the figure moved. It had seemed to be the statue of a man with grossly elongated hands and feet. Monkey Fist stumbled and then righted himself, his body feeling strangely heavy and stiff. He looked around, confused. The last thing he had remembered was Stoppable's infant sister, and his attempts to capture her.

He looked down at his hands, which were gray and rough, like heavy stone, but he was able to flex and move them as if they were flesh. He spoke, and his voice also was rough and coarse, like stone. 'What sorcery is this?' he said, examining his body. The mark of the Yono was still on his left hand, but there were now other characters that glowed above it.

'Maokiiwa.' said Maze. 'I am Sskipoyiwa - the Shaman of Shadows. I have freed you from your prison.'

Monkey Fist stared at Hirotaka, frowning. 'You are no shaman.' he said. 'I know you - you're one of Sensei's flunkies!'

Maze laughed softly. 'Of course - pardon me while I reclaim my true body.' And with that, Hirotaka staggered, holding his head. And Maze rose up from his place on the ground, speaking in his deep voice. 'I have freed you because there is a goal that we both strive for - power. And I believe that our separate goals may be achieved by mutual cooperation.'

Monkey Fist looked at him curiously, and then looked at the marks on his hand. 'I'm listening....' he said quietly.

Hirotaka looked at the two figures before him, and recognized the Yono shrine at once. He leaped forward, his hands raised to strike. Monkey Fist went into a defensive stance, but too late. Hirotaka's fist struck soundly against his chest. But there was a loud thunk and Hirotaka drew back in pain, clutching at his hand.

Maze looked on the scene with amusement. 'As you can see, I have not invoked the curse of the Yono,' he said, 'I have circumvented it with a new enchantment that mingles light and shadow. While it has not restored you to flesh, it has restored your mobility and awareness. And I think you will find there are... other benefits. Now - test your new form!'

Monkey Fist needed no further encouragement. He leaped down, striking at Hirotaka, who barely dodged in time. Monkey Fist's hand smashed into one of the outcroppings of the Yono shrine, and he shattered it easily.

Hirotaka's strikes and blocks should have been enough to stop him. But Monkey Fist seemed impervious to pain, and he was much stronger than before. Hirotaka fought skillfully, but eventually he was maneuvered into a position he could not escape from, and Monkey Fist landed a solid blow. Hirotaka collapsed with a moan. 'Such strength!' said Monkey Fist quietly. 'And his attacks did not harm me in the slightest....'

Maze nodded, bending down and removing the brand from Hirotaka's palm, and retrieving the book as well. 'This is only a taste of the power that awaits us both.' he said. 'Come with me, and you will see.'

Monkey Fist looked at his hands again, then looked at Maze. 'You pique my curiosity.' he said. 'Very well - I will hear what you have to say.'

Maze nodded, and held up his staff. There was a noise like a passing wind. Then suddenly the shadow barrier was gone. Sensei and the Yamanouchi students rushed forward, but they found nothing but an unconscious Hirotaka...

Chapter 4

A battle where old enemies fight,
Or a match that comes back to be struck again.
What is it?

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