The Sapphire Bet, Chapter Four
The First Assault
Formerly: A Bet Too Much, Blue Side.
I liked Dogbertcarroll's latest 'Storybook Hero' Fragment so much I offered him anything if he'd continue it.
This chapter is the result of our bargain.
Nabiki and Kasumi arrived at the top of the stairs, somewhat discomforted by the fact that about halfway up they had gradually turned from fairly ordinary stone steps not unusual for a shrine to glass and gold (or was that crystal?) with fluted arches overhung with growing vines and fed by sourceless sunlight and fountains whose mechanisms they could not see.
They came to a landing blocked off by a pearly gate hung on gold hinges and when the steps ended Nabiki couldn't entirely be sure the mists they had gradually been walking in hadn't turned into a solid cloud.
The gate turned out to be locked and both sisters hurried on their ways down the strange steps, feeling a bit humbled from a brush with something beyond the mortal.
Ukyo oozed in the bath, stretching and soaking and wishing for only one thing to complete the utter happiness of her life in that moment. Ranchan wasn't there, though, so she got to talking with Shampoo.
"How do you figure that Ranchan got caught up so much with your tribe, anyway?"
Shampoo floated in a sea of purple hair spread out and encompassing her like ivy. "Is no secret. Shampoo is great-grandmother heir. Great-grandmother is matriarch to tribe and once husband known to have accepted marriage he very, very important male. Not hurt status he turn into girl at need, either."
"So how did the furniture and things get here then?" Ukyo lazily stretched forth a leg, wondering at the temperature of the perfect soak combined with nary a barrier as far as her limbs could reach, unless she deliberately put her back to a wall, that is.
"Have to happen that tribe involved deliberately by new wife. She not care to have rivals for power over husband and so make peace by having tribe acknowledge her as first. Hard to do not hurt Shampoo position, but from way things seem nice-nice she found way. Not give marriage bed save as highest amazon honor. No give to dishonored heir."
The house shook, interrupting their conversation a bit with its rumbling.
Ukyo stood, wading across and grabbing for towels. "C'mon sugar. Something tells me a long soak's not on the agenda. Ranchan's probably up to something and I want to see what's going on."
"Is good idea. Will return with husband later!"
Ukyo's cheeks went rosy pink. That's just what she'd thought too!
From out of a seemingly clear blue sky Pantyhose Taro came down upon the damaged shrine roof, smashing it with one hoof while chasing down the much smaller fleeing form of Happosai, who responded with several paper bombs - some that immediately exploded, others with time delays so as to provide continual clouds of smoke and cover to shield the little man's retreat. The immediate detonations ripped apart what was left of the roof after Pantyhose's initial attack, before the battle moved on, both combatants repositioning off the property, not even noting where the unexploded bombs fell.
Since many of the time-delayed bombs had fallen through cracks to lodge inside of the building, when the fallen explosives went off, the house, predictably, got destroyed.
From the smoldering wreckage of what used to be a house, that was once a much confused shrine, Ranma emerged wearing a puzzled yet oddly pleased expression and mumbling under his breath about how he could get used to this.
He also had his shirt on backwards but was a bit too discombobulated to notice.
An oddly strained smile splitting his face nearly in two, the mage noted the ongoing martial arts battle that had destroyed his new home had moved on to the roof of their restaurant, which thanks to its sturdy, Amazon construction, weathered the brief exposure to violence just fine, before the battle moved on yet again, to a different part of town.
Most magical wards were designed to stave off magical assault. They couldn't even slow down high-powered martial artists, as he well knew. And the protections he'd laid down were still only of the most basic nature.
Strangely too happy to care about the recent destruction, the young mage simply went to work on the repairs he would need to put his house back fully into working order.
Although, with a few renovations included.
Sturdy went without question. It was what he built anyway, even going to extremes at times. As for the shrine motif; it didn't have one. That actually encouraged him because it meant he didn't have to preserve anything, so it didn't conflict with any of his current plans.
That was a good thing, as he'd been making those plans for years.
Sets of blueprints appeared in the air before the mage, products of a study he'd made of several palaces he'd seen during his adventures. These included sweeping staircases, grand ballrooms, and other frivolity made for the sole purpose of impressing other nobles, although they did look nice. However, while nobles knew how to build grand, they did not also at the same time build practical, so he'd refined those with practical tips he'd picked up in villages, from housewives and handymen, engineers and common laborers.
In fact, he'd made a particular practice out of quizzing the servants and staffs of those very palaces whose designs he had studied, gathering information about what, in the servants' eyes, could have been done to make those buildings better.
It went without saying that he'd also consulted with dwarves on this issue. One simply didn't build things without consulting with dwarves. It was unnatural.
Elves also made for great interior designers for aesthetic appeal.
Then Ranma had gone one step further, and done something only an archmage of his caliber *could* do, and made grand scale, full life-size, semi-real illusions of what the final products of these plans would be, and had those same nobles and servants and dwarves walk through them, adding commentary and refinement to his designs. In effect testing them out for flaws before any final commitment was made in actual stone.
He'd even tricked several different varieties of dangerous monsters into attacking his semi-real illusionary castles, to test out where the defenses might be weak.
Ranma pitied those mages who didn't study architecture.
Once approved by those nobles for grandeur (many of whom had then gone on to add refinements to their own homes based on his designs), elves for aesthetics, dwarves for defensibility and sturdiness of construction, servants for practicality and himself for all of the magical concerns and issues of an archmage's abode, he'd then gone on to make several different scales of these plans.
After all, while a mage of impressive level could never truly have enough space to spread out in for his libraries and workshops and so on, there are certain limits of what is allowable on other people's property. So he had small, cottage-scale dwellings that managed to fit a great deal more space inside than it seemed, guest cottages without the added space, all of the way up to a grand castle that was both a magical skyscraper as well as a palace and incorporated all of his other house designs as elements of one master plan.
Seeing as how he'd never planned on having more than one wife, the extra space of his largest plan appeared to be called for. Besides, having gotten married to a literal goddess, only his best would do.
He selected the grand castle design for his replacement shrine.
Once more turning the first spadeful of dirt himself, opening his bag and calling out to his tools, he commanded, "Gloves, Trowel, Chisel, Shovel, please construct this little hovel."
An amusing little rhyme, as most shopping malls had less internal space than this castle, and it was also a literal palace. They'd be days constructing something this size, despite blurring into action. Once more he had to tell the trowel he preferred white blocks, and once more he set the first stone himself. It really was not hard, and the mystical connection was important, as it gave him that much more oomph when he went about enchanting the place.
So with that he set to spinning several symbol bearing circles in the air before him, blew a long breath out through the hole their pattern created, and began to reweave the little hill their shrine had stood on. His tools would be forced to reconstruct the wall after he did this, as the magic barricade would not last through the scale of expansion he intended. But the scope of this design called for a certain amount of space, and he would have it.
Ranma merely had to reverse an Elemental Transference spell to pull in enough material from the plane of elemental earth to make room, because the Grand Castle design called for one mile diameter between the inside of the outermost walls.
Warping the space around the place he was expanding so it could accommodate it without shattering houses or roads or the like was the job of the rest of the spells he was casting.
Of course, doing anything on this scale broke all the rules of good manners, far too fortified for placing in someone else's domain. So he simply had to hide it, that's all. A few Distance Distortion spells and the right illusions and from the outside no one would even know it was there. Besides, if that demon attack from earlier was anything to go by, whatever mage considered this territory home hadn't responded politely to Ranma's attempts to be a good neighbor. So it was time to fortify against direct assault.
And fortify heavily, given the nature of the last attack. Summoning high-level demons and making them immune to hostile magic before launching a surprise attack did not telegraph good intentions.
Tall, elegant stone spires grew out of the ground, vaguely reminiscent of Greek columns and birch trees, both at the same time. And, like trees, they began to morph, sending out elegant stone branches that would be the supports for their new ceiling, a theme that would be repeated inside and out, especially in the gardens.
An elvan druid had taken him to task for weeks over his garden plans, before settling down and simply designing it herself. And her plans called for an arbor. Several, actually.
Ukyo and Shampoo emerged at the same time as Nabiki and her sister came out from another exit, all four of them converging on Ranma's position as soon as they'd spotted him. "Is the expansion really necessary?" Nabiki asked, watching the inner side of their little compound walls fade into the distance.
The mage smacked his lips thoughtfully. "It only just occurred to me, Nabiki, that the shrine gave us barely enough quarters as we are now."
"What husband mean?" Shampoo wasn't really thinking, just watching columns rise while new walls grew outward in sinuous splendor.
"What I mean is that the group of us have rooms, but we are hardly going to be staying just us, now are we? There are going to be joyful little packages arriving, and it would be nice to have the space to put them." He tactfully stated.
Every girl there went completely quiet, with a slight blush and contemplative smile. Ukyo was not alone in giving their shared husband a speculative look.
"So Ranchan, you don't have to say why, because I think they're pretty. But why are you doing so many buttresses and columns?"
"I just don't like the look of a ceiling that isn't prepared to keep boulders from raining down on my head, Ucchan." Ranma confessed, stretching forth his hands and flexing his fingers differently to guide the support posts into the patterns imagined.
"Um..." Was the usual consensus. That wasn't a need they *typically* saw ceilings rated for. Usually people asked if they were swept clean of cobwebs.
"Who throw rocks at husband?" Shampoo was the sole member of their group to figure out his reason.
Ranma shrugged. "Oh, just about anybody. It's a typical way of waging war, really. In this world they use exploding shells, but the principle is the same. After living though a few sieges, let me tell you I don't like to think about rocks raining down if I've not got something above to deflect them." He blinked at the girls. "Well, you've seen those lovely braced and fluted arches in old pictures of European castles, haven't you? That architecture didn't come about because some designer said 'let's build something that looks funky.' It was a natural result of wanting to keep the ceiling overhead where it belongs when some enemy or other is raining down half ton stones upon it. Later they improved on the designs to make them prettier, but the overall function is the same."
He touched a finger to the side of his head in thought. "Which makes me wonder, as I can't ever recall seeing any examples of Asian architecture that could survive a prolonged barrage of catapult stones. It leads me to suspect they never did develop siege weapons to the same extent here. But then, as I recall, the focus here was always more on personal combat and individual heroics than properly developed armies."
"You sound like a professional soldier, Ranchan. " Ukyo joked.
"I've won a war or two." Was all he would say, though he shrugged to make light of it. Then he clapped his hands together vigorously. "Okay, now let's turn out a place I could store my greatest treasures in." He caught up a double armload of girls, shining confidence down on them. "As well as something pretty enough not to detract from their own beauty."
"Aww! So sweet!" Astrild emerged from the partially reconstructed house to say, batting her eyes girlishly at the group of them and clasping her hands adoringly at the picture thus displayed. "Ranma, you really aren't all that different, are you?"
He paused, unsure how to respond to that, setting the blushing girls down.
"Well, *I* like him!" Ukyo blushed, happy and invigorated.
"Shampoo like too."
Nabiki smirked. "Well, our dear husband has his strengths." She began ticking points off on her fingers. "Let's see, he's strong, handsome, good in a fight. Apparently he makes a ton of money and to judge by my sister's reaction I'd say my hunch proved true that's he's matured alot."
She turned to her dearest. "Right, Ranma darling?... Ranma?"
"Kasumi!" All three other girls shouted simultaneously.
Kasumi leaned back from where she'd been lying across and necking Ranma. "Yes?" Seeing their angry faces she amended. "Okay ladies, I think that's been taken care of. Now, on to the most important question. Who's on first?"
"Second. I was first." Astrild glowed, earning her a look of both disbelief and envy from the rest of them. She departed, waving a hand merrily as she left them some privacy. "I'll leave it to you girls to figure out the rest. Don't be too long about it, husband. But don't disappoint them either!"
The sunset was gorgeous, the most fascinating array of purples, blues, oranges and pinks. The slight of clouds only augmented the peaceful serenity of the scene that could have inspired monks of devout nature into poetic wanderings that could have changed a nation.
Pity Akane was too busy screaming to pay any attention.
"HOW COULD YOU!" She bellowed at the top of her lungs into the face of her father, sending all his long hair streaming straight back from the force of the wind thus generated.
"But, Akane..." he mumbled, as confused as if a pet rock had just bitten him. "My friend Genma and I thought it for the best." He apologized.
"THAT FURRY FREAK NEVER HAD A THOUGHT IN HIS LIFE!" Akane made what was perhaps the most accurate statement of her mortal existence at the top of her lungs, pushing her father's ill-worn gi to the limits of its old fibers as it strained to stay intact in spite of the wind of her shouting.
"But Akane," Genma interceded, never afraid of anything that hadn't already registered as able to place him in mortal peril. "You have to understand. The nature of the schools..."
"YOU NEVER CARED FOR ANYTHING BUT YOUR OWN FAT, STUPID HIDE!" Akane shrieked, on an amazing roll as far as the truth of her statements was concerned. What was regrettable was that she didn't mean any of it, it was just her anger seeking for any excuse at hand, and she would forget this remarkable discovery about the nature of her father's houseguest the moment the rush of air left her lungs.
Bits and tufts of panda fur spread out in swirling patterns across the Tendo back lawn from the force of her gust, which prompted Genma in panda form to hold up a sign. [Say it without the spit next time, girl!]
"Akane." The Tendo patriarch pled, groveling before her feet while tugging the hem of her skirt. "You don't have to be this way. Please, just accept what we've done as best for you. If you go along..." he wept, wanting to say **so** much about how they could afford to repair the house, cleanse the place, buy a new kitchen, rebuild the dojo, and even hire a cook! But it was all in vain, he was completely subject to his whims, and his daughter could not be ordered about whenever she got it in her mind to bully him.
"NO! I WON'T! AND THAT'S FINAL!" Akane stormed out of the parlor and up to her room, leaving both fathers with the hurricane-force words having blown them out the patio and rolling in the yard.
Nobody paid any notice to the thick, billowing clouds of smoke coming out of the kitchen windows. It was a normal enough occurrence since Akane took over cooking, anyway.
A shrill shriek lit up the air as Akane discovered a deformed ape demon had been waiting in her room, hoping to receive instructions from its summoner.
Ryoga checked about the chamber, having taken forever to get a fire going and torch lit. Normally he would've just relied upon his chi to glow and give him that nice green light of depression, but something in this chamber sat upon chi emissions like a sumo pig on a delicate pastry.
It was slightly disconcerting to Ryoga. His chi had made him powerful, even more than his muscles ever did. It was chi that focused and fueled his every attack. To have that out of reach to him presently was as much a warning of caution as the storm now raging out the entrance to this cave, increasingly covered in a rising tide.
Raising a torch above his head, the Lost Boy could discern runes upon the walls. Strange to most but familiar to him. They were Celtic in origin, but the pig boy mistakenly believed they were from Cincinnati. "So," he mused. "I'm somewhere in the Congo. Lucky it's not anywhere near Cleveland."
After a break for marital reasons (during which several girls tried hard to imagine what Astrild had been mixing up virility potions for - there wasn't any need THEY could see!) the newest mage of Tokyo got back to rebuilding and fine tuning their home and fortress.
Elves liked the slopes and curves of living in a forest, and their architecture evoked that feeling. It was way too costly a way to build for most humans, and dwarves preferred a different style altogether, but Ranma liked that style and, unlike most men, had the magic to make it happen.
So, after meeting and greeting his wives *as* wives for the very first time, relative to their new perceptions, and all of the kissing and fondling and other things that entailed, the small but deliriously happy family all met in the gigantic tub for a soak, and Ranma, from there, worked his spells to complete the rebuilding and remodeling of their shrine home.
Tendrils of magic spread forth and transformed the place even as they bathed.
Cologne lurked in the kitchen.
Very simply, that first wife of Ranma's was preparing potions that the amazon tribes had NEVER figured out (or they wouldn't be quite so small). Ranma might know a recipe, he'd said so, but then again having practiced magic on another world his formula might still require ingredients you could not obtain on this one. She was certain this goddess, however, WAS using the local available herbs and things, so was determined to get her recipe.
Unfortunately, the matriarch couldn't find anything close to a tome or book of spells in the kitchen, and with the house beginning to mutate around her, didn't dare try searching in another area where she might get lost - and with the very walls undulating into new shapes could never be certain that she was performing anything like a thorough search anyway.
So the elder found herself standing alone in son-in-law's kitchen next to a bubbling pot of pink brew. It HAD to be magical. No way the elder could mistake it for that mostly-complete virility potion, but then her tribe didn't rise to greatness by being fussy about turning down opportunities to learn great secrets.
Anything magical qualified as a great secret, and the tribes had so much of it only because of brave Amazons taking advantage of every opportunity to learn some. Doing things like taking notes on Ranma's lectures was only standard tribal procedure. You did that any time a mage paused to explain some magic, as that stuff was useful.
Cologne was accomplished enough a cook to judge ingredients by taste and smell the same as Ranma had done. With a rough idea of the makeup of this brew she could likely ask charming and innocuous questions to learn most of the rest. Enough partial secrets like these had been linked together over the years to be of great value to the tribe. Several of their most devastating martial techniques had similar origins to this. Tales were still sung of those amazons' bravery, who had dared to do among hostile warriors as she was now considering with a potion.
As matriarch of her tribe, Cologne didn't have much to be unsatisfied about as far as pride in her accomplishments went. But still the lure of songs sung commemorating her was a pull too cherished to resist. She lifted the ladle and took a sip.
The new palace was still taking shape when there came a knock at the door of their partially-completed castle, which Ranma answered to see a stuffy older gentleman in a drab business suit. The man immediately demanded. "Are you the owner of this property?"
Ranma nodded his head. "Yes, I believe I am. What can I do for you?"
The man produced an envelope and pushed it toward him. "You can remove that wall. There's been no building permit filed for this unauthorized construction. I ought to know, I'm on the planning commission and a building inspector..."
Ranma's eyed blazed with blue-white light, becoming miniature suns affixing the man. When he spoke it had an odd reverb effect. "There has been an error. All the requisite paperwork has been filed. You found evidence here worthy of all acceptation. Perhaps you should return to your records and correct their mistake."
The stuffy little official returned the envelope to his coat pocket hypnotically. "Yes."
Ranma nodded, gratified. "You could even be so kind as to retroactively file all of the paperwork that might have gotten lost."
The man nodded again. "Yes."
Smugly, Ranma retreated a little back behind his door, eying the little man critically. "Smoking and cheap wine are bad for you. You should give them up. And be a better father to your children. Goodbye." He closed the door.
The bureaucrat turned dazedly and began to wend his way out of the gates, his features becoming more normal as he went. By the first gate he was cursing the glitch in the paperwork that had caused this fool's errand. By the time he'd reached the second he was wondering what his wife's response would be if he came home today instead of going out with his buddies. For some reason he didn't feel like hanging out with them tonight. That cheap sake was making him sick.
But first he had some work at the office. There were all those misfiled forms he'd have to resubmit before going home today. He didn't want anyone else falling across this error and wasting their time. As he passed a public garbage receptacle he threw in his pack of cigarettes.
Nabiki met Ranma as he closed and turned away from the door. She caught the fiery light dying from his eyes. "What was all that about?"
He grinned down at her, appreciating the beauty of her in a kimono. "A cheap and small man who just had a miraculous change of heart, that's all. He'll smooth over a few bureaucratic tangles for us."
"Oh! How nice of him." Nabiki totally missed the point, appreciating instead the help. "Maybe Kasumi could help me make cookies for him or something. Anyone who takes on Japan's bureaucracy for our sake deserves thanks."
Ranma put an arm around her waist and led her back into their castle. He still had a palace to finish, and it wasn't going to do all of the work itself.
Although he was going to put up the new set of perimeter wards first.
By the time Happosai returned from his latest outing, having been delayed by running into Pantyhose, he saw the entire Tendo compound already engulfed in flames.
"Hmm, started in the kitchen, probably," the old man mused as he settled on a wall and took out his pipe, watching Akane chase some deformed ape around, so focused on her anger that she did not even appear to be aware that her home was on fire, while those two useless students of his were just bawling away, not doing anything to help.
"Well, it's a small loss. I've been expecting this for a while now," the pervert took out a policy for fire insurance and smiled at all of those lovely round zeros. "After all, a prime tenet of Anything Goes is to profit on another's loss."
The founder of Anything Goes was then left to gape in shock and confusion as the contract paper got snatched out of his hands.
"Thank you, Master," Soun, who'd snatched the contract, bowed deeply. "Your foresight and generosity will be most appreciated."
"Hmm, I don't see your collection listed under 'assets'," Genma, who'd snatched the paper next, mused as he read over the thing while Soun flexed his now-empty hands in shock.
"AHHHH!" Happosai jolted, freaking out. "My Collection! My silky darlings!"
Genma laughed uproariously as the master leapt off to save what he could of the vast stash and piles of girls underwear he'd hidden in his room, and probably other treasures secreted in floorboards and hidden cubbyholes about the house.
Only then did Ranma's father note he wasn't holding the paper anymore.
The passing ape had snatched it as it dashed pell-mell away from his summoner, hoping desperately to find it was the written version of the soul contract it had been called to complete. But no, it was useless human garbage.
He tossed it in the face of his pursuer, causing her latest strike with her hammer to miss, coming down instead on a semi-intact floor joist, which sprang clear of the rest of the broken and burning floor to catapult the stove from the kitchen, striking Happosai direct in the face.
Time seemed to hold still for a moment.
As it resumed, Happosai hung in the air, the stove falling away before he did, revealing a large iron pot covering his head. Also the contract wafted on the breeze towards the fire, and both Soun and Genma lunged for it, only to get batted aside by the cartoon monkey as it renewed its sprint to get away from Akane.
Happosai came down, a pot still over his head, dripping with what would have been a familiar substance to a certain deformed demon rushing about the yard trying hard not to get killed.
To everyone's horror, he was LICKING it!
"Akane! Where did you get this?" The old man's voice demanded even as his tongue swept every last scrap and particle of the ooze from out of the pot on his head. "You can't have made it yourself. It's delicious!"
Akane paused to glare murderously at the old man.
Soun and Genma both took this moment to panic and raced off for the horizon, in different directions so no pursuit could catch them both.
Now catching the fleeing deformed demon effortlessly in one hand, Akane squeezed until the monster popped and dissolved into greasy ooze dripping from her fist, without the girl even noticing she'd done so.
"DIIIIIIEEEEEEE!" She smashed the old pervert flat with her ooze-encrusted hand.
Smiling smugly over the weakly twitching man whose head she'd just embedded into the ground, Akane got struck in the face by a fluttering piece of paper. Idly, she wadded it up without looking and tossed it back over her shoulder into the blazing wreckage of her home, where the fire insurance policy promptly got consumed in the blaze.
She began to have doubts over her victory when the pit formed by Happosai's head still in its pot began to emit a weird green glow along with the smell of brimstone.
Ryoga entered what he hoped was the final passage, holding a torch high, wary of another trap, like the last time he'd tripped a pressure plate in the floor and released a set of chariot wheels with an axle between them studded with swords and axes.
That had been on a thirty degree slope, with a good dozen yards to accelerate before it hit him. Since the object had stretched from wall to wall, and somehow the Breaking Point did not work in these tunnels, the Lost Boy had taken quite a beating. He bore bandages over at least a dozen gashes.
When he'd first entered a darkened cave on an icy shore in Norway he'd been thinking of nothing more than a brief bit of comfort for the night. A dry place to sleep, in other words. Instead he'd found a tomb complex filled with traps and magic guardians.
The pit traps would have been a joke, it they hadn't all been studded with spikes at the bottoms. The last shaft Ryoga had fallen into had been eighty feet deep and filled with some sort of water monster that attacked the moment he'd fallen on those blades.
Defeating some sort of living water creature after being gashed by three foot spikes, not to mention that he'd also been turned into a pig by the first attack, had not been any kind of pleasant. The Lost Boy was also discovering that, without the ability to use the Breaking Point, he didn't care for being underground much. It had taken him forever to climb out of that pit, and then he'd had to contest with thirty ton slabs of rock having slid down to cover the corridor out!
It was all Ranma's fault, of course.
Vowing revenge kept the Lost Boy moving through these death trapped tunnels.
Gosunkugi could hardly believe his horribly sunken, unhealthy looking eyes.
Since getting those copies of spellbook pages, first a love spell had failed miserably, leading to despair until he'd noticed a potion for detecting magic. That had gone off correctly, exactly as advertised, and revealed the voodoo-enthusiast's whole family had been under a curse that no spell they cast would go correctly.
Mixing a potion had neatly sidestepped that. Then brewing a Nimodes' Nifty Nullifier had at last put an end to that family curse, freeing up his spellcasting ability forever.
After a lifetime obsession with the occult, Gosunkugi was finally a mage!
And, as final proof of that statement, a genie stood before him, hovering in the air above a flawless summoning diagram, saying, "What is your first wish, my master?"
"Make me more powerful than Ranma!" The vindictive and pathetic teen shouted.