Disclaimer: I don't own any Ranma ½ or Sailor moon characters. They belong to their respective owners.

Thanks to prereader, Ranger5! And everyone at Fukufics!

Ranma and Akane stood under the overhang, watching the rain drip down, exploding in even smaller droplets when they reached the ground. Both Nodoka and Makoto were in the store, intentlyhunting down the ingredients for dinner. Ranma wasn't really that good of a cook, having had most of his actual cookingexperience with camp food, and had opted not to go inside. Akane had wanted to go, but felt that she needed to stay with Ranma. A decision that would make the rest of the Tendos very happy, if they had known about it.

"Your mother seems to really like her," Akane observed impassively as she glanced furtivelythrough the window to see Nodoka and Makoto talking animatedly, probably about some kind of ingredient or other, but regardless of the topic obviously enjoying each other's company. She felt only a slight twinge of jealousy that Makoto probably knew what she was talking about. The last time Akane had cooked something, she had destroyed the kitchen and, to top things off, gotten attacked and had her energy drained. For once, she didn't feel like trying to cook anything.

Ranko shrugged. "Common interests? I dunno." Ranko said. "It feels like she is someone else's mom, not mine. I mean, shouldn't I be in there with her? But I'm standing right out here," Ranko said, feeling confused.

"That's probably because you didn't want to get in the way of their animated girl talk earlier, and haven't gathered up the courage to go near them since." Akane muttered.

"What'd you say?" Ranko asked. Akane swiftly shook her head, indicating that she hadn't said anything.

"Well, it seems like your old girlfriend is here to stay. You're probably happy." Akane said with a preppy voice. Ranko glared at her.

"Why do you always do that?" Ranko demanded. Akane glanced at Ranko, a question in her eyes. "You know. You act all sugary sweet when someone new comes after me, then try to beat me to a pulp."

Akane glared at him. "What are you implying?" She asked in a scathing voice, to which Ranko smirked.

"I think you're jealous." Ranko taunted. Akane growled at her, but before she could do or sayanything else, both Nodoka and Makoto came out of the store.

"Well, we got the food. Let's head home now." Makoto said, hopefully, to which Nodoka shook her head.

"Why head home now? We've barely just arrived!" Nodoka declared.

Ranko asked, "Err, but it IS going to be dinner time soon. Don't you need time to prepare the meal?"

Nodoka smiled. "Of course. I'm sure they won't mind it being delayed, though. After all, I'm sure they won't mind if I got to know all the young girls interested in my son. I have to get everything set up for him for the day I can finally meet him."

Ranko cleared her throat. "I'm not interested in him. Can we go home now?" She asked plaintively. She didn't know how to handle her mother, and it was getting rather cold. While her years on the road may have inured her to physical discomfort, why put up with it when a warm home waited?

Nodoka responded by patting Ranko's head and saying, "I'm sure you won't hold out long against his charm. My son must be so manly!"

Makoto grimaced and whispered to Akane, "She hasn't even met him yet! How does she know he has charm?"

Akane whispered back, "It's probably a mother thing. The ability to believe in their child, no matter how much of a jerk they might be." Makoto blinked at her in response.

Ranko herself had responded to Nodoka's comment with a simple, "Gah?" Nodoka smirked at Ranko and held an umbrella over her head, blocking out the heavy raindrops. Over the soft pattering, Nodoka continued, "Well, let's get going. We can fit some more shopping in before everyone at the dojo starts clamoring for food. I have some money left, so how about I treat you all to some ice cream?" Nodoka asked.

Instantly, thoughts of anxiety, cold, and everything else left Ranko's mind at those words. "Ice cream?" Ranko asked, eyes alight with an almost vampiric hunger.

Nodoka nodded. "I can see you don't exactly mind the idea. How about you other girls?" Nodoka asked. They both stared at Ranko, who looked like she was ready to tear apart anyone who disagreed, and nodded quickly.

"You eat like Ranma." Makoto accused as she observed the speeds at which Ranko was devouring the ice cream, seemingly able to ignore the splitting pain that came from too much cold food too fast. Her hands were almost a blur, and only a mind trained watching Usagi do the exact same thing could have caught all those movements.

Ranko's arm stopped in its tracks, flinging a spoonful of ice cream straight into her face. "What?" Ranko asked as she quickly grabbed a napkin and started wiping the big, oozing glob off of her face.

Akane smirked. "What she means is that you're both bottomless pits, have no manners, and can't help but steal everyone else's ice cream." Akane said, although she meant the last one as a joke. That, however, was before she saw Ranko's spoon guiltily thrust into her own sundae. "Ran…ko." Akane growled, fiercely protective of her ice cream. Ranko quickly withdraw her spoon with a guilty grin.

"Hey, I hadn't taken any yet… at least not much." Ranko said the last part very softly… but not quite softly enough for Akane to miss.

"Now, now." Nodoka stopped the feud. She glanced at Ranko's face, which still bore faint traces of a tasty dairy product. "You really should act more like a lady, though." Nodoka said, appraising Ranko, who nearly shrank back from the scrutiny.

Makoto silently ate her ice cream. 'Heh, those two really are family. And Mrs. Saotome certainly seems keen on getting in on the act.' Makoto was halfway tempted to head home. Ranma wasn't here, and instead she was with someone who could be marrying Ranma. Still, she felt a kind of duty to stick around with Nodoka longer. She WAS Ranma's mother, and had been alone for a long time. Although, Nodoka's actions were starting to make Makoto wonder just what it was that she wanted. Makoto couldn't tell if she really meant what she said, because it was starting to seem to her as if Ranma marrying everybody would be the best course of action. And then, of course, the most surreal part. 'If she really means everything, then what's up with that contract?' Makoto couldn't for the life of her figure out how someone as nice as Mrs. Saotome could hold her own child to something like that.

"So where should we head next?" Nodoka asked the red haired girl, who had easily managed to absorb the ice cream like a sponge, and was eyeing Akane's with the gleam of fascination. Akane held on to the bowl with one hand, moving it back and forth, and watching as Ranko's head followed it much like a snake following a flute.

"Home?" Ranko said dubiously, letting the hypnotism of tasty treats fade away, she returned to the problem at hand. The ice cream was a nice plus, but it didn't really fill her up. She wanted food that she could stuff down and gorge on… and probably be told how unladylike it was, if she had any feel for her mother's character.

"Nonsense," Nodoka said, dismissing Ranko, as she expected. "There's still so much to do. I haven't been out on the town in a long time, and I'm sure no one really cares that much about the food at the dojo."

"Food…" Ranko said plaintively as the group was hustled out of the ice cream parlor by the older woman. 'Wonder what pops is doing back at home? I'm sure he DOES care.' Ranko smirked viciously.

It should be noted that the panda known as Genma couldn't really care less about food at this time. Not when there was something more important at stake. Namely, his belly, the most precious part of his body, and keeping it whole and unpunctured.

"Saotome! I'm not cleaning up this mess!" Soun declared, pointing down at the pile of panda claw clippings.

The source of those clippings was a very nervous panda that was wondering just how Ranma had gone with his mother without himself noticing. All sorts of horrible thoughts ran through his mind, most of them involving a sharp weapon of some kind. Unconsciously, the chewing of his panda claws doubled.

"Saotome! That's it, I'm getting a broom!"

Ranko shivered. The wind was blowing the rain straight into her face, unblocked by the umbrellas. The sun was starting to set, although it wasn't visible. Lines of people walked everywhere, forced into the rain by their need to go places. Now was the time when they headed home, and so the wet streets were flooded with people, many of them cursing the cold rain.

"Mrs. Saotome, I really think we should be heading home now." Makoto said, the chill starting to drench her. Where there had been warm rain, there was now cold rain. Each individual drop raised goosebumps along the parts of her body unprotected by an umbrella. Makoto shivered, wondering if the ice cream was trying to devour her from within. She glanced down at her uniform, and shook her head despairingly. Oh, the humanity!

Nodoka pursed her lips. She still longed to personally celebrate finding the trail of her son, but Ranko's dull listless eyes, and emaciated expression were starting to make a point. 'I've got to find out how she can manage that.' Nodoka thought, seeing Ranko put on her best hungry and cold face. Well, there was a point. Dinner wasn't going to cook itself. "Yes, I think we've been out enough," she decided. "Let's head back to the dojo."

"Finally!" Ranko whispered, wondering why her mother had taken so long to see the light. Ranko had already decided that her mother was very weird, and not just a little two-faced. The seppuku contract was jarring with someone who appeared to be a very nice person. Ranko wasn't entirely sure what prompted it, but was somewhat glad that it was actually raining, as there was almost no chance of getting caught by hot water. 'I'll get to the bottom of this… after I've eaten, and get warm, and sleep, and-'

"You shouldn't be so happy." Akane admonished, breaking Ranko's train of that, before shivering. "But it is getting cold."

Makoto nodded. "Let's get a warm dinner prepared, and get out of this rain," Makoto agreed.

"I suppose it's settled." Nodoka said. She angled the umbrella forward, keeping a firm hand on some of the food supplies they had bought. "Already buying new groceries, and the day isn't even out." Nodoka said, mostly to herself. She moved the umbrella slightly, letting her see the sky. 'It certainly LOOKS like the day is out, though.'

As Nodoka forged into the lead, Makoto fell back. "So, what hobbies do you have?" Makoto asked as they started to head towards the dojo, gratefulfor a chance to get to know the other two. She hadn't gotten a chance to really talk to Akane the last time they met, and the red haired girl was a mystery.

"Well, I'm a martial artist." Ranko said dubiously, worried that a small amount of information could doom her.

"Oh. Seems to be a lot of them out here." Makoto guessed. Mentally, she amended, 'Or at least a large collection of very skilled ones.'

"Yeah, that's just our part of the district's thing. Where other districts have demons, magical girls, giant monsters, Godzilla… we've got martial artists everywhere." Akane said.

Makoto turned her head towards her. "You're a martial artist too, right?" As if she had to ask.

Akane nodded and unconsciously puffed up. "That's right! I'm the heir to the Tendo School of Martial arts!" Akane exclaimed.

"Maybe we should spar sometime. I wouldn't mind learning some more martial arts. I haven't really had time to train lately." Makoto said.

"Why not?" Ranko asked, curiously. Makoto had trained constantly back when Ranko had known her. Not nearly as much as Ranko had trained, but still a goodly amount.

"Well, I've had school and… stuff." Makoto hedged, to which Ranko was stunned speechless. The only thing Makoto cared about in school had been Ranma… to find out that she had apparently become a studious schoolgirl shocked the redhead into silence.

"School…is good, I guess." Ranko said, flabbergasted.

Soul Fire crouched on one of the larger buildings of the Nerima ward, his eyes misty and lacking pupils as he stared down at a section of the road. The area was mostly clear, although a few stragglers moved through on their ways home. S.F. ignored them, his eyes viewing below the surface of the road, his attention taken up by a realm below the visible.

"What's she thinking, calling my name stupid." Soul Fire grumbled to himself as he caused several thin rods of magical metal to form beneath the surface. "It's mine. She won't ever say it, anyway. What does it matter?" Soul Fire held a finger up, a shining blue glow appearing and dispersing almost immediately. The rain tumbling down onto his head suddenly seemed to be shunted aside, and couldn't touch him. He grimaced as he looked up into the sky. "This… can't be good."

As he waved his hands, several more uniform rods of metal appeared underground. The rain would force him to change tactics, but it was manageable. The problem was that he didn't even know if he could summon his enemies in the rain. Getting away with energy wasn't the point of this exercise, and he'd be sorely disappointed if he couldn't test out the new weapon. Although… perhaps there was some more benefit to be gained from this.

"So, when will Ranma be back?" Nodoka asked again. Left to think in the rain, her mind kept returning again and again to the same thing.

Ranko rubbed her eyes. The question never ceased. Before she could answer again, Nodoka held up a hand to forestall it. "Sorry… it's just, I can't wait to see him again. Forgive me."

"Um, sure." Ranko replied, wondering when this crazy day would be over. 'I'll get some food, get warm, and figure this stuff out some other time.'

"You WILL be able to stay for dinner, right Mako-chan?" Nodoka asked. Seeing her nod, Nodoka smiled. "This day is almost perfect!"

Ranko didn't feel it was even close, but maybe she'd change her opinion later. Or, maybe not, as a pillar of red light shot into the sky.

"What was that?" Nodoka demanded, staring at where the shaft of red light touched the heavens.

"I don't know… but you need to get to safety!" Ranko commanded. Seeing Nodoka's questioning look, Ranko shook her head. "I don't have time to explain… just get to safety! All of you!" So saying, Ranko tore through the streets towards the origin of the light.

"Come on Mrs. Saotome, Ma-" Akane paused. Makoto had completely disappeared. "Oh no…" Akane grabbed Nodoka's arm and started to drag. Unwillingly, Nodoka let herself be pulled along.

"Do they never stop?" Ranko demanded as she pelted through the slick streets. "You'd think the last experience would have held him back longer than this!" As she cleared the final row of buildings, Ranko screeched to a stop. Rather than the expected presence of a monster, or Elion, there was a metal pole stuck in the ground, a shining light at its tip. The beam of light originated from the pole.

"What is it?" Ranma spun towards the voice. Sailor Jupiter was staring at the pole with puzzlement on her face. Definitely evil senses. Or a really high top speed.

"I don't know… but it doesn't seem harmful…" Ranko said, dubiously. Her forehead scrunched as she tried to figure out what the pole was doing, just sitting there.

"Well, I'll handle it, you should get out of here." Jupiter commanded, to which Ranko shook her head in denial.

"I'm a lot stronger than you think." Ranko said, aware of the fact that Jupiter had no idea she was really Ranma. And, judging by the rain, she wouldn't be finding out today, either.

As they conversed, the light seemed to shrink downward, and disappeared. In its place, a blue light appeared, radiating outward. However, before it got too far, it began to spin around the rod. Four other rods burst from the ground, surrounding the first. Lightning began to crackle along their tips.

"What's going on?" Jupiter asked.

"I don't know, but I don't think we should wait to find out. They're bursting through pavement…" Ranko noticed.

"What should we do?" Jupiter asked, noticing the spikes of lightning jumping from the tips of the rods through the rain. "I don't think I should try any of my attacks… I don't really want to fry myself."

"Yeah, I don't think it'd be a good idea." Ranko agreed. "I guess I'll just have to-" The four outer poles suddenly flashed, bolts of lightning arcing through the air towards the center pole. "-say, 'Ah, crap,'" Ranko finished.

As the power moved between the poles, the pavement began to crack and break, chunks of it starting to rise up and fly out of the way. As the pavement disappeared, the dirt beneath began to rise up as well, becoming soaked in the rain, and floating over to the central pole. Large holes began to form in the ground as the dirt was transferred, starting to form a large ball of mud.

"This scene has everything, except a distinct lack of a maniacal villain," Ranko muttered. Louder, she shouted to Jupiter, "We should-"

"Slow it down!" Jupiter interrupted. "My teammates will be here soon, and their attacks aren't neutralized by the rain as much as mine."

"There's that." Ranko agreed. With a sigh, she straightened up to observe the process that was occurring. Ranko wasn't even sure if it could be stopped at this point, anyway.

"Look, I can't order you to leave… but will you promise to leave if things get too tough?" Jupiter asked.

Ranko shrugged. "Sure." Ranko didn't plan for things to get that far… if they did, then the Senshi had probably better bail as well. Idly, she wondered if Jupiter would have told Ranma that. After a moment of consideration, Ranko decided no. The senshi should be well aware of how capable Ranma was at this point. Ranko pointed. "We may both have to leave anyway."

Glittering, rainbow hued light shot through the mud, from where it dwelt inside. As the ball closed up and grew, almost vein like streams of energy began to pulse along its surface. As the two watched, arms and legs grew, simple structures that housed all the form required. The ball lengthened, becoming more ovular, the top forming into a head.

"It's a monster made of mud." Jupiter said, making a face. Ranko, while agreeing, was trying to analyze this new approach.

The mud monster began to move forward ponderously, each foot pushing it forward a great amount, but taking a long time to occur. The monster's movements were slow and halting, but it continued to grow as it moved, large pits of emptiness appearing in the ground.

"I don't like this." Ranko stated. "It's slow and massive, but it's made of mud. Lemme tell you, I've fought mud before, and you can't win. At the end of the day, the mud's still there, and has you completely surrounded," Ranko paused, thinking hard. "Although, do baths count as victory?"

"What are you saying?" Jupiter asked. "Shouldn't we be more worried about actually fighting it, and leave this mud stuff for later? Where did that even come from?" Jupiter waved her arms wildly.

"That's just the thing… we can't fight it. It's in its element." Ranko said. She pointed to the monster tromping towards them as it ignored incidentals, such large poles sticking up from the ground. As the monster moved over them, they sliced through, but the mud just covered the hole.

"You're… giving up?" Jupiter asked, shocked.

Ranko shook her head. "No, just telling you to MOVE!" The monster, seizing upon their distraction, had raised and was dropping a massive fist. As Ranko leapt out of the way, she circled the monster, heading behind it. "Keep it distracted! The easiest thing to do is wait!"

"Easy for you to say!" Jupiter shouted as she moved out of the way of another strike. "What are we waiting for?"

Ranko rolled her eyes. "Your teammates, remember? This'll be way easier with them around… it'd be way too annoying to have to do ourselves." Having said that, Ranko spun and ran towards the metal poles. Although they still glowed with energy, raw lightning wasn't crackling atop the tips. Instead, they each channeled small streams of energy to the monster. A stream of energy that, Ranko noticed, wasn't nearly as intense as before. As Ranko pulled back a fist to strike one, it pulled underground. Behind her, a pole burst through the ground nearby the monster, and began to channel a stream of energy towards the monster, almost completely uninterrupted.

Ranko narrowed her eyes and struck at another pole. It, too, pulled underground, while another one rose near the monster. "That can't be right…" Ranko muttered to herself as she scanned the buildings. Through the rain and darkness, Ranko thought she could barely see the outline of a figure, intently observing the one sided battle. 'We'll have to deal with whoever is up there… but I'd rather not let the monster rampage around while I deal with him.'

Ranko glanced back. Sailor Jupiter was panting, the monster having completely ignored Ranko's movements and focused on Jupiter. Ranko cracked her knuckles. 'If it's made of the same stuff as the other monsters we've faced, it should be vulnerable to an emotion based energy attack. Ranko began to run towards the monster, her hands starting to glow with energy. Somehow warned, the monster's body began to turn

"HYAH!" Ranko cried out, thrusting her hand forward and unleashing the Open Palm Prismatic Blow. The energy coiled on her hands rocketed forward, blowing through the monster's body. Now lacking a leg and part of its body, the monster collapsed on its side. However, it was not destroyed, and Ranko felt her volition fade, her eyes going glassy as her body entered a short hibernation period.

With a roar, the monster began to recuperate, its leg and missing body part reforming. Ranko stared at it, her eyes blank. As it began to raise a fist, a green blur shot by. Jupiter grabbed Ranko, and leapt out of the way as a fist struck the ground through the blur. Small globs of mud flung everywhere as Jupiter said, "You okay?"

Ranko's eyes refocused as she shook her head to clear it. "Yeah, I'm okay… just tired." As Jupiter set her down, she glanced at the monster, which was now heading straight for them again. "It didn't work," Ranko muttered.

"No." Jupiter agreed. "What was that? That looked a lot like Ranma's attack…"

"He, uh, taught it to me. Your friends here yet?" Ranko said, quickly changing the subject.

Jupiter frowned. "They should have been here by now. See if you can keep that monster occupied. I'll find out."

"Easy for you to say." Ranko mimicked, setting her sights back on her foe. "I REALLY don't want to have to fight you myself." Ranko told it. The monster seemed to care not at all, and answered with another giant muddy fist. Ranko countered by running behind it again. It moved slowly, and it'd be easy to stay out of its reach.

Or so Ranko thought, until she almost got bowled over by a giant ball of mud. "That's playing dirty!" Ranko shouted at it, fighting the urge to groan.

"There's been a problem!" Jupiter shouted, reentering the fight. "There was an attack in the Juuban area."

Ranko's eyes widened. "A two pronged attack?" She asked. She evaded another ball of mud and ran around the monster again. Idly, she wondered if it was getting frustrated yet.

Jupiter shook her head. "No, we think this fight was meant as a distraction, but somewhere, something went wrong. Anyways, they decided to split up. Mars and Venus are on their way."

Ranko took a deep breath. "Could be worse." Ranko muttered. "Could have sent Moon and Venus. Then we'd be toast."

"Is something wrong?" Jupiter asked, concerned.

"Nah, we didn't know what we were facing when you called them." Ranko said. They both backpedaled, staying out of range of the monstrosity that assailed them. It screamed in frustration, and hurled several more balls of mud, which Ranko and Jupiter both avoided by splitting up.

"You know… isn't this fight a little… pointless?" Jupiter asked as the two of them ran behind the monster.

"You mean, in the sense that it can't hurt us very well and we can't hurt it, so all we do is move around a lot? Yeah, I'm aware of that." Ranko replied.

"Hey guys, we're… AGH!" They both turned their heads to see Sailor Mars staring at their foe. Venus stood behind her, her expression one of shock. "You're kidding, right?"

Ranko and Jupiter both scrambled away from the mud monster, which stubbornly began to hurl large globs of mud at anything it could see. Distracted as they were, they failed to notice another pole rise up from the ground. Streams of vibrant energy seemed to form like a rainbow around it, flowing in from some outside source.

"Don't just stand there! Torch it! There isn't anything else that we can do! Not without needing a real big bath afterwards!" Ranko shouted as she backflipped away from a backhanded fist. Nearby, Jupiter stopped to catch her breath as the monster ignored her for a moment.

"Uh, right. Fire Soul!" Mars shouted as she held her hands together, launching a powerful stream of flame at the monster. It screamed as the burning flames washed over its body, but kept moving, the fire seeming to do nothing but cause it pain. "It's not working!"

"Crescent Beam Shower!" Venus yelled as she shot a beam of light over the monster, waves of energy crashing down around it. It howled, but the beams passed through it, the holes it created sealing up almost immediately.

"The rain feeds it!" Jupiter exclaimed.

"Exactly! Not only that, but it thwarts our fire based attack." Ranko replied. As she looked around the area for some other means of attack, she said, "You should have sent Mercury."

Mars scowled. "Well, excuse us. No one ever told us we were fighting a giant mud monster!"

"She has a point." Jupiter pointed out. Ranko scowled, and Jupiter blushed. Maybe she should have figured out what they were fighting before asking for help.

"Why are you fighting, anyway?" Venus asked. "Shouldn't you be at home or something?"

"Well…" Ranko paused. "Mars, blast that thing with as much fire as you can. I'm going to start tearing it up!" Ranko both commanded, and changed subject, at the same time. She hurtled herself toward the monster, her confidence in her ability to at least rip it apart a couple times causing her fists to glow blue.

Mars shrugged and placed her hands together, unleashing another stream of fire. As Ranko prepared to launch a blast of energy, something odd happened. The rain stopped.

Or at least, it was halted. Ranko glanced upwards. The rain seemed to be falling against an invisible barrier, no longer reaching the monster. As Mars' torrent of fire reached the monster, it no longer screamed. It just sat there, taking the fire. As its body began to crumple, steam poured out, bathing Ranko with heated water… something she, now he, hadn't particularly wanted to be hit with.

"We got it!" Mars exclaimed, keeping up the heat. Jupiter, however, stared as Ranko leapt out of the steam and out of the area covered by the strange shield, into the rain. For just a second, Jupiter could have sworn that her hair had been black, and she had been taller than normal. Jupiter frowned. Something weird was going on… A suspicion was beginning to form in the back of her mind, although the rational part was telling her that she was being silly, and that it was impossible.

Having lost the moisture holding it together, and the energy sustaining it having inexplicably ceased, the monster began to fall apart, its body collapsing into dust and dirt. However, the metal pole that made its core was still floating there… and the fire from Mars' Fire Soul was wrapping around it.

As soon as she saw that, Mars ceased her attack, but it was too late. Wrapped in the flames of the Fire Soul, flames that would not go out, the rod shot skyward, disappearing from view. Another rod, having gone unnoticed by them until now, shot skyward as well. Ranko could see, with dismay, some suspiciously familiar energy lining it as it vanished. The four supporting rods, however, instead fell to dust, rusting over then disintegrating.

To top it all over, the barrier holding the rain at bay vanished, getting them all soaked again. The three senshi and Ranko stared at what appeared to have been a theft of their attacks.

"I think we got played." Venus murmured finally.

Mars shook her head. "Venus that's… oh, never mind. It fits enough anyway."

Jupiter nodded. "This seems very… staged." She turned her head to talk to Ranko, but found her to be missing. Jupiter frowned. That cut her time considerably. Although… "Ack!" Jupiter exclaimed as she looked at her communicator. But… "Can you guys find out how things went? I've got a dinner to attend." So saying, Jupiter took off, leaving the other two Senshi to stare after her in befuddlement.

They both shrugged at each other, while Mars activated her communicator. "Usagi, you there?"

"Yeah, I'm here… we won." Usagi's voice responded. It sounded… sour?

"You don't sound very happy about that." Mars observed.

"Our enemy didn't really seem prepared for a fight. She drew out the energy of a bunch of little girls. The monster that formed was too cute for even me." Usagi's voice said, annoyed. It then brightened considerably as it said, "On the other hand, it was a pushover. Haven't had one of those in a while!"

"Sorry I'm late." Makoto said as Akane opened the entrance to the Tendo home. "I ran to get the police. Everything turn out okay?"

Akane nodded. "Yeah… although you didn't need to… Ranko said that the Sailor Senshi took care of it. I doubt the police could have done anything about it anyway."

"You're probably right," Makoto agreed, making a mental note to figure out how Ranko managed to do the same things that Ranma did. She was beginning to have a sneaking suspicion, but her mind refused to bring it out into the open just yet.

"Come on, the food's ready… Ranko's chomping at the bit. You don't want to see her when she's held away from food too long." Akane said, waving Makoto inside.

"Sorry I made you wait," Makoto apologized as she bowed.

Nodoka ushered her over to the table. "Nonsense! We could afford to wait for you, since you went and did something like get the police."

As they dug into the food, Makoto eyed Ranko. She hadn't really paid much attention to her before, but there was something disturbingly familiar about the way she looked. She looked nothing like the other Tendos. Even if she was a cousin, Makoto expected a little more similarity. And the way she ate…

"Something on my face?" Ranko asked, getting nervous from the obvious stare directed at her.

"Yes," Makoto said, pointing at Ranko.

Ranko blushed as she wiped it off. "Oh." Was all she said before she continued her mad spree to finish as much food as she could, as quick as she could.

Makoto frowned from behind her bowl. The sneaking suspicion was starting to grow. And from someone who had seen as much magic as she had, it wasn't entirely impossible…

"You had better have a VERY good explanation for this." Zandain said coldly, sparks arcing along her fingers. The darkness of the void receded as the light was brought into being, revealing an area that may have at one time resembled an apartment.

"For what?" Soul Fire asked. He waved his hand, black astral matter forming itself into a couch. He fell back on it, making himself comfortable. "My plan went off without a hitch. What are you complaining about?"

Zandain snarled, "It was my plan, and you triggered the signal too early. I was unprepared for what I had to face."

"And that is somehow my fault?" Soul Fire asked icily. "Preparedness is a way of life to me. If you weren't prepared, you had no business in attempting this. After all, you could have simply waited before acting, instead of immediately leaping into motion after you received my signal, right?" Soul Fire waved a hand, soft music beginning to play, sound coming in from nowhere.

Electric sparks flared along Zandain's body, revealing the star and planet decorated gown she wore. "Are you asking to be obliterated?" She said, her voice almost aflame.

Soul Fire shook his head sadly. "You aren't usually this easy to rile." He raised a hand to forestall whatever explosion that was about to come from Zandain's mouth. "Even if your task failed, what I have accomplished more than makes up for it."

Zandain suddenly looked wary. "Just what is it you did? Besides test the new gatherer?"

"Besides make you look bad, you mean?" Soul Fire said with a smirk. Teach HER to badmouth his name. "Well, the new gatherer is immune to the energy destruction power of the attack, although they'll still take quite a bit of damage. However…" He snapped his fingers. Two metal rods, one glowing a torrent of rainbow colors, the other one carrying roving fire around its tip, descended from above.

"What are these?" Zandain asked, cautiously raising an arm behind her back, ready to ward off a magical assault.

"I collected the energy from the attacks of two of those girls. I figured you could do something with it."

"You're right…" Zandain said, observing the rods. "But, doesn't this come from the attack the boy used?"

"Well, a girl WAS the one who used it. I guess that means there is two of them?" Soul Fire asked.

Zandain frowned. "We may need to strike with greater force next time then. Very well, I will plan the next course of action. After Elion's bumbling, I'd like to keep this hands on."

As she turned to leave, Soul Fire said, "By the way, I've decided to change my name to Flay Spirit. Remember it." Maybe, just maybe, she'd actually explode…

"FINE!" Zandain shouted as she left. "He's lucky I don't call him moron," she growled to herself.

END CHAPTER 8

AN: Hoo boy, its been ages --

Now I can write other stuff without feeling guilty

So, tell me what you think. It's been a while, so I'm a little rusty, but I hope its good.