Akane's hands trembled as she opened the envelope addressed to her. It had a China postmark, which could only mean that is came from Mousse. Kasumi and Nabiki hovered nearby in eager anticipation.
It had been six months since they had last seen Ranma and everyone's nerves were frayed from searching for the boy turned girl. Genma had left after the first week claiming to go search for Ranma. No one had seen him since. Several bill collectors had come since then seeking to collect payment for charges made by the fat panda in the Tendo's name. Soun had inconsolable ever since. He would alternately just sit and stare at the pond for hours or he would weep about how the schools would never be joined and how his best friend had betrayed his trust. Ryouga had set out immediately after hearing the news and had promised to bring Ranma back. His revenge apparently could wait until after the baby was born. Even with all of the places that the lost boy ended up there was still no sign of Ranma. Ukyou had attempted to search as well until her finances forced her to reopen the Ucchan.
Mousse had come by one last time before leaving with the Amazons. He promised Akane that if he found out anything dealing with Ranma's whereabouts, he would let her know. That had been five months ago.
Akane unfolded the letter and began to read aloud.
I apologize for taking so long to get back to you about Ranma. However, it was only a couple of days ago that I overheard Shampoo talking to Cologne about a temple near Nekomi Tech. Apparently there was some sort of confrontation there, of what sort I am uncertain. All I do know for certain is that while Saotome is not dead, she is no longer on this plane. What that means I do not know.
You should be happy to know that Shampoo is becoming reluctant to continue her pursuit of Ranma. Elder Cologne continues to force the subject though. We are currently in the Joketsuzoku village where the old ghoul has been spending most of her days locked in her study with her old books and artifacts. I believe she is still searching although I fear her obsession with Ranma has turned to hatred and she means to harm her when she finds her.
I will let you know if anything else of importance occurs.
Akane lowered the letter and looked up at her sisters.
"Nekomi Tech? Where's that?"
"How can Ranma not be on this plane anymore?" Kasumi asked.
"I know where Nekomi Tech is. I think I know which temple he was referring to as well. As for where Ranma is, maybe they can tell us more when we get there." Nabiki supplied.
Akane stared at her older sister. "How do you know where this place is?"
"You'd be surprised at how many contacts I have across Tokyo. Lets just say I know somebody who knows somebody and leave it at that."
"Let's go then. If we hurry, we can make it there before lunch." Akane said with a level of excitement not seen since before Ranma's disappearance.
The three girls quickly prepared to leave. Nabiki opened the front door to see a woman just about to knock. She looked to be in her mid thirties and was wearing a formal kimono. Her auburn hair was short and styled appropriately for a housewife. She also had a silk wrapped bundle slung over her back.
"Um, can I help you?" Nabiki asked.
"I do hope so. I was told that my husband and son were staying here."
"You're Ranma's mom?" Akane blurted out.
"He is here? Oh, I'm sorry, where are my manners? I'm Nodoka Saotome, and yes I'm Ranma's mother. Is he here? Is he manly?"
The three sisters winced at Nodoka's last question.
Nabiki decided to step in and salvage the situation. "Mrs. Saotome, Ranma has been missing for a few months but we just received a lead on his whereabouts. We'd be happy to explain things to you along the way."
"Of course dear, and call me auntie. You say Ranma has been missing? You must tell me everything."
"Of course auntie." Akane replied as the four women left the Tendo compound together for the train station.
Urd sat back from her computer terminal and rubbed the bridge of her nose. She sighed heavily and logged out of the Yggdrasil network. Getting the vague rumor of Ranma's location to Nodoka without being traced back to her was harder than it should have been. She wondered briefly if it was all worth it. She then pictured the look of pain and hopelessness that had been on Ranma's face when Urd had first seen her. Definitely worth it. Ranma deserved a rest after everything he'd been through in his life. Hopefully reuniting him with his mother would add to the poor boy turned girl's stability. Sure, Ranma seemed to be making friends on Jade but that was still no substitute for family. Ranma would need the help and support during the last phase of her pregnancy.
After her encounter with the Amazons, Urd had been called into Kami-sama's office. He had been pleased to see her efforts on behalf of the young martial artist but had been disappointed that she still neglected official channels to accomplish her goals. It was because of her half-assed corner cutting that she kept being suspended. He had told her that since she was so interested in Ranma's life that she was now assigned to his case. She was to help sort out his life by the book. That meant no spells, no potions or interfering directly by using her powers. She was to operate behind the scenes as much as possible.
Grabbing a bottle of sake, Urd took a quick swig to recharge herself before heading back to earth. She had to hurry if she was going to get there before the Tendo girls and Mrs. Saotome. She smirked as she turned on a nearby television. Just because she couldn't interfere with her powers didn't mean her sisters couldn't. With that thought, Urd disappeared into the TV.
Up in his office Kami-sama watched Urd leave her workstation. He shook his head at Urd's scheming. She wasn't breaking the rules he laid down on her but she was bending them into interesting shapes. She was so much like her mother. He reached over and turned off the display.
Nodoka looked nervously rattled as she walked up the hill with the three Tendo girls. If even half of what they had been telling her was true then she needed to have a serious discussion with Genma when she found him. Nodoka regretted letting her husband take her only son away to train almost since the day they left. Even more so after hearing the kinds of torture Ranma was subjected to in the name of martial arts training.
It was the other things she had been told that really disturbed her. She didn't know what to make of this whole Jusenkyou business. At first, she thought the girls were making a cruel joke. But after seeing the seriousness in their eyes as they related Ranma's last days with them she began to wonder.
Nodoka figured they were in denial of some sort. It sounded like Ranma had gotten a girl pregnant and there had been a fight of some sort with the other girls. She feared the Chinese women had killed her son and the poor pregnant girl was in hiding from them at this temple. After all, curses that caused people to change their sex, magic didn't exist here on Earth anymore, right? There was also the disturbing thought of the seppuku contract Genma had forced upon her when he left all those years ago. Ranma had to be a man among men or die. She dreaded finding out it was all true and that her son was now her daughter. Would she dishonor her family by sparing her only child or worse, would she enforce the pact and serve as her child's second. It didn't help that Genma seemed to have abandoned everyone.
Everyone was quiet as they reached the temple. Each of them was absorbed with their own thoughts. Nabiki thought it was odd that there were no signs telling what kami this temple was dedicated to. Akane was too absorbed in worry to notice much. The simple beauty of the temple grounds however, awed Kasumi. The grass was carefully manicured. The flowerbeds were carefully tended and the Zen rock garden painstakingly raked. There was nothing extravagant or overwhelming and Kasumi could feel a quiet sense of nature all around.
They were all standing in front of the main temple when Belldandy came out of the caretaker's house.
"Oh my, we have guests!"
Everyone did a quick double take, even Kasumi wondered who the goddess's voice reminded her of.
"We don't get many guests. My name is Belldandy," Belldandy said.
Nodoka managed to collect herself first and replied, "We're looking for my son Ranma Saotome. According to an acquaintance of Akane's here, this is the last place he was seen."
Belldandy face became troubled. She knew who these people were from reading Ranma's file. She also knew they would cause no harm to Ranma but she wasn't sure if Ranma was ready to see them again so soon.
"Won't you come in and have some tea and we can discuss it?" Belldandy offered.
"So you have seen him," Nodoka concluded, "Very well. Shall we?" she motioned to the three girls.
As everyone entered the house and became seated around the dining table, Urd arrived in her room and rushed down the hall.
"Oh good, I'm not too late." She said from the doorway.
"Is this your doing sister?" Belldandy asked, bringing out a tea tray with snacks.
Urd nodded, "Don't worry, I have permission."
The four visitors looked on in confusion.
Urd bowed slightly before introducing herself, "Hello, my name is Urd, Goddess of the Past, Second Category, Second Class. This is my sister Belldandy, Goddess of the Present, First Category, First Class.
Nodoka was a little confused as well as upset. She had come following a rumor of her son's whereabouts only to be sucked into some fantasyland of curses and goddesses. She had come to Tokyo originally to get away from all that nonsense. Her temper was fraying and it was becoming increasingly difficult to maintain a calm demeanor.
"Do you know of my son's whereabouts?" she asked, ignoring the whole goddess bit for now.
"Yes I do. Ranma is currently somewhere safe where the Amazons cannot easily find him until after the baby is born."
"Ranma's ok?" Akane interrupted with a hopeful expression.
"She's doing just fine. There have been no complications and Ranma has made plenty of friends to help her out," Belldandy answered happily.
"What do you mean she? My son is a man, a man among men. He must be to satisfy honor."
"Oh right, the seppuku contract," Urd said in a dead tone. She had forgotten about that, "Look Saotome-san, I understand honor and promises and all but even you must see that holding your son to a promise he doesn't even remember signing is a little too much don't you think? Heck, it's not even his signature, it's a bunch of handprints that look like he was finger painting."
Nodoka was shocked, how could this woman know so much about the contract? Collecting herself, she responded calmly, "Even if he doesn't remember, if he's an honorable person, a man among men, he will acknowledge it. Only a cowardly, unmanly person would have anything to fear from it."
"Like your husband," Urd muttered under her breath. Louder she said, "And what if he was cursed against his will to assume the form of a girl whenever he was splashed with cold water? Or even worse, forced to carry his cursed form's child because of a spell gone horribly wrong?"
"A girl can hardly be a man among men," Nodoka said, clearly not believing any of this. Perhaps her son was a cross dresser and these people were trying to protect him.
"Your son was recently split from his curse. He and the girl from the curse fell in love due to the spell that split them. While she was pregnant with his child, something happened to her that forced her back into your son's body, killing her. In order to protect their child, Ranma's body locked itself into female form. Are you still willing to kill your son over events even the strongest of people would have buckled under? The fact that your son is still alive is testament to his strength of character."
"This is nonsense," Nodoka snarled, her patience at an end, "There are no such things as curses or magic," she looked at the two goddesses, "or goddesses. If you know where my son is, tell me and I will judge his manliness myself." Nodoka was becoming very uncomfortable. This was just the kind of thing she'd tried to leave behind in her youth.
Urd rubbed her neck. "Well, I tried," she said looking apologetically to the heavens. She then turned to her sister.
"Bell, you've met Kasumi here, I'm sure you remember a certain something from her file."
Belldandy frowned in momentary confusion before her eyes lit up and she smiled happily.
"Of course. You're right Urd. I was going to talk to her next week but now that she's here I can do it now!"
Kasumi looked on in wonder at the woman sitting across the table from her. She wasn't certain what was happening at the moment but could feel the momentum of events swirling around her. Her life was about to change forever. She didn't know why but she was prepared to grab destiny by the horns and fulfill her dreams.
Belldandy turned to Kasumi and bowed politely. "Tendo Kasumi, as a duly recognized representative of the Goddess Relief Hotline I have been authorized to grant you one wish in gratitude for your selfless actions towards your family as well as Ranma."
Nabiki almost spit out her tea. As it was she coughed repeatedly. If anyone deserved a wish, it was Kasumi, Nabiki thought. That didn't mean that Nabiki couldn't help her sister decide on what to wish for.
Kasumi fidgeted while wringing her hands. She was uncomfortable being put on the spot like that and noticed Nabiki's sudden interest.
"I-I don't know... I don't really need anything. Our family is healthy and happy, I just wish we could see for ourselves if Ranma is all right."
Nabiki slapped her hand to her face. Leave it to Kasumi to put others before herself. She looked up to see Belldandy start to glow as she began to float off the ground. She heard Akane gasp and noticed the glowing aura was slowly covering her and her two sisters.
With a sigh of, "Wish Granted," the three Tendo girls faded from sight, much to the astonishment of Nodoka Saotome.
"What happened? Where did they go?" Nodoka practically screamed.
"I granted Kasumi-san's wish. She wished they could see if Ranma was all right for themselves so they are now at the same place Ranma is," Belldandy explained.
Nodoka was stunned. Their story was true? These are true kami? She began to rethink everything she'd just heard earlier. She'd never expected to get involved with something like this again. She had to see her son, to see if everything she'd heard was true.
"Please, you must send me as well," Nodoka pleaded.
"Sorry," Urd said while wagging a finger, "but 'curses and magic don't exist, nor do goddesses,' I believe is what you said. A mother's unconditional love is just what Ranma needs right now but unfortunately you weren't ready to make that leap of faith. Holding on to that ratty piece of paper is what is preventing you from seeing your son."
Nodoka's cool demeanor cracked as tears came to her eyes. "Please, I haven't seen Ranma in over ten years. That paper is all I had of his."
"Get rid of it," Urd said.
"Get rid of that paper. Promise me you will hear Ranma out and judge him based on his actions and life as opposed to his form and I will help you," Urd said flatly.
Nodoka reached into her Kimono and pulled out the old contract. It was stained and faded and was close to falling apart along seams where it had been folded too many times. She looked at it quietly for a few moments.
"What's more important, living alone with your honor or helping your son deal with one of the most difficult challenges of his life. You realize that you are about to become a grandmother. Don't you think your grandchild will want to know its grandmother?" Urd urged.
Nodoka took a deep breath and sighed heavily. Holding the paper up before herself, she slowly and resolutely ripped it in half, then again and again until there was little more than confetti. A lone tear snaked its way down her cheek as she attempted to keep her emotions in check.
"Is it true? Is my son really cursed to be a girl?" Nodoka's voice wavered.
Urd nodded and then proceeded to tell Nodoka about all the things that Ranma had had to live through. She held nothing back. She told of the multiple engagements, the Neko-ken and all the horrors Genma called training. Jusenkyou elicited a gasp from Nodoka and a slight giggle as well upon hearing of Genma's curse. After hearing the last couple of months of Ranma's life that lead up to the whole splitting incense episode and Ranma's pregnancy, Nodoka didn't know whether to be angry, sad, or happy that her son had turned out as well as he had being raised by Genma. She finally just settled for sobbing quietly while muttering that she should never have let Genma take her little boy.
Belldandy got up to make some more tea while Urd waited for Nodoka to collect herself. It took almost fifteen minutes but finally the Saotome matriarch and the two goddesses were sitting comfortably drinking tea.
Finally Nodoka spoke up, "So you can send me to my son now?"
Urd shook her head. "No I can't I'm sorry."
"But I thought... the contract..."
"I said I would help you, but I can't send you to Ranma like the Tendo girls."
"Then how?" Nodoka asked on the verge of tears again.
"I will give you the location some friends of Ranma's. It's up to you to convince them that you should be allowed to see him."
"Why can't you tell me where he is?"
"I can, but it won't help you. You'll need help to get to him. He's not on Earth right now."
Nodoka looked confused for a moment before her eyes widened in comprehension. "He's in the Jade Realm?"
Urd was impressed. She'd have to look through Nodoka's files more closely later. For a supposed non-believer she was quite knowledgeable if she knew about Jade. In the meantime, she had to get Ranma's mother started on her quest.
"There is a family in Atlanta Georgia that has befriended your son. Theodore Diggers is an accomplished aura mage and can easily take you to Jade, where you will find Ranma living in Seer's Hamlet."
Nodoka paled at the mention of Theodore's name. "Theodore Diggers, Husband of Julia Brigand Diggers?"
Urd nodded, not understanding what the big deal was. "Is there a problem?"
Nodoka gulped nervously, she began to show exactly where Ranma had inherited some of his mannerisms.
"Ah, no... no problems at all. Eh heh... are you sure Theodore is the only person who can help me?"
Nodoka's familiarity with Dr. Diggers name and her reaction made Urd raise an eyebrow in a classic Spock maneuver. She was definitely reading her whole file ASAP.
"Dr. Diggers is the closest associated with your son who can help you." Urd replied.
Nodoka sighed and set her teacup down. "Very well. I thank you for your time. I have much to think about and prepare."
Belldandy stood up and escorted Nodoka to the front door. "It's been a pleasure having you by. You are more than welcome to come visit anytime Saotome-san."
Nodoka was a little stunned that she had just been invited to come back and have tea with two goddesses as if they were normal people. She hadn't experienced anything like it since she was a teenager. She bowed respectfully and turned to head towards the train station.
As she wandered down the road, she could have been heard talking to herself if anyone had been in range of her voice. "I can't believe I'm going to have to reconcile with my sister if I'm going to ever see my son again."
It wasn't until she was almost to her doorstep that she realized she should probably let Soun Tendo know that his daughters had gone to visit Ranma.
Ranma moved smoothly through the motions of a low impact kata. Her stomach was now definitely showing signs of the life growing in her womb. She was thankful that Julia had shown her martial art techniques that would help her keep her edge. Rationally she knew it was the baby, but emotionally she still felt fat and bloated. She hated to think what it would be like in another two months.
She finished her practice and grabbed a towel. Wiping the sweat from her face, Ranma looked over the railing of the roof of her apartment to the town below. During the reconstruction, she had helped Nali rebuild her clinic, which had taken the most damage during Brianna's fight against Grave Digger. They had added a small apartment above the clinic that Ranma was renting out while she was studying under the healer. After hearing her tale, Theodore had done a complete magical examination of the redhead. He then proclaimed that Ranma had one of the highest potentials for magic he'd ever seen. He theorized that Ranma's female half was where the potential had come from. The fact the redhead had been able to pull entire trees out of the ground and throw them around by sheer willpower and Ranma couldn't seemed to confirm the theory.
So now she was studying basic magic along with medicine from the healer. There had been a brief scuffle where Gnolia had kidnapped Nali and incapacitated Ranma, gently of course. Even Gnolia wouldn't endanger a pregnant mother. She had still worked guard duty up until the sheriff had been found out to be a personality of Array, a supervillain from Earth. She had saved up plenty of money though and even collected a few bounties so she had nothing to do but study and keep in shape until the baby came.
Going downstairs to her rooms, Ranma decided to take a quick shower before fixing lunch. How they managed to get running water all the way up in a tree like this Ranma had no idea but she was grateful. She washed quickly and dressed in a soft robe, a gift from Brianna. Ranma debated cooking or going into town to get something to eat when a soft glowing light appeared in the middle of her front room. It quickly grew as three figures faded into sight.
Ranma blinked in amazement at seeing the three Tendo sisters. Said girls looked around stunned for a moment before their eyes all settled on the redhead.
"Ranma!" Akane cried and promptly grabbed the shorter girl in a tight hug. She was quickly joined by Kasumi and surprisingly, Nabiki.
"I'm so sorry Ranma!" Akane sobbed. Ranma absently patted her back reassuringly. It took a few moments but Ranma was finally able to extract herself from the three girls. Once everyone had settled down somewhat, Ranma sat down in her favorite chair, favorite because it had excellent back support and it reclined. The three Tendos sat on the couch across from her.
"You know, I kind of expected you to show up earlier than this," Ranma joked, "How did you get here anyway?"
Over the next twenty minutes, Akane, Nabiki, and Kasumi, told Ranma about Cologne and the Amazons, what happened to his father, the appearance of his mother, and the subsequent encounter with the goddesses. Ranma was shocked to find that her mother was still alive and a little scared when she was told of the Seppuku pledge. Akane swore to Ranma that she'd never let Nodoka force her to kill herself. Ranma was curious about the change in Akane's attitude but didn't have a chance to ask about it. Their conversation was interrupted by the sound of someone's stomach growling. Even more surprising was that Nabiki blushed and apologized.
"Well, I guess that decides that," Ranma said, getting to her feet, "Let's go down into town and get something to eat."
Ranma quickly got dressed and led the girls down another set of stairs and through a clinic that reminded the newcomers of Tofu Ono's clinic. Opening the front door, Ranma let the other girls go through and shut the door behind her. After making sure the door was locked, Ranma turned to see the girls looking around in wonder. Being way up in a huge tree was old news to Ranma now but she remembered her first time up here.
"By the way, welcome to Seers Hamlet," Ranma said as she began to lead the girls to the main stairs.
This is the last bit I've written for this story. I'm posting it now because someone was interested in continuing it and I thought I should at least show where I was headed with the story.
Ranma and Brianna would be learning magic, Hanzo would find Jusenkyou only to find the magic fuses with his curse turning him into a male/female hermaphrodite. He would encounter the Amazons and help them get to Jade to get revenge on Ranma for his new curse. Nodoka would reunite with her sister before reuniting with Ranma. The whole thing would culminate into a huge battle between Ranma and friends against the Amazons.
Anyway, I hope to have some new stuff soon for my other stories now that my comic book store is starting to settle in and bring in some money. I will hopefully have more time to write over the next few months.