Phoenix Ascension

Chapter 17

Disclaimer:- Someone else owns the characters I'm using. If you have an issue with this I'd suggest taking it up with them. Me I'm just a lowly unpaid fanfiction writer with all that implies.


A few notes, Ranma isn't being given an instant power up. It's dormant, though he will gain other powers due to what he just did in the last chapter. Someone asked what happened to all the soil under Ranma, this chapter will explain, hopefully in a credible manner.

As always, please review. When I get down about things, I go through those reviews and use them to renew my writing spirit. Whether good or bad your views are appreciated greatly. I also forgot to mention that Brindani2000 proof-read this for me making it much easier to read, so my thanks go out to him.

/ Kanakita - Sunday afternoon \

Nosaku barely saw the white blur as it passed him at shoulder height, and he definitely didn't see Ranma move as she plucked the blur out of the air and pinned it to the ground. Once there, he barely had time to register the fact that it was a massive white furred fox before the creature morphed into a very attractive and very naked woman. An irreverent part of his mind informed him he'd been right, Rumiko was a very well put together woman under that concealing robe she wore. The reality nearly caused him to swallow his tongue as here was proof, in the flesh, so to speak, that he'd been right.

The sight overloaded his mind for vital seconds as the next thing he saw was Ranma reacting to the fact she had a beautiful naked woman pinned to the floor by her neck.

A look of total incomprehension rapidly followed by panic flashed across the young red-heads face as she realized just what she'd caught, and then she attempted to jump away only to face-plant into the ground, a matter that Nosaku would have to look into latter. A moment or so later Ranma rose to her knees and keeled over backwards with a trickle of blood coming from her nose, Kami knew Nosaku felt like doing the same thing even though he was over ninety years old, he still had a pulse and the view of Rumiko rising to her hands and knees from his angle had him reaching for the bridge of his nose.

Kaoru raised her eyes to the ceiling and snorted, 'Men!' as she watched both Ranma and Nosaku react to the presence of Rumiko in the room. Yuriko, the nurse, was left doing a credible impression of a stone statue for a few seconds after the white haired nude rose to her feet and declared her vengeance, but she came out of it in time to hear the fox-lady say, "Um I can explain?" sheepishly as she turned to the clans elder.

"I certainly hope you can. I'd hate to think you were starting to attack members of my family randomly and for no reason." Rumiko winced at the harsh tone in his voice, and then smiled as she realized he was trying to talk through constricted vocal chords. The mental imagery running through his head was extremely revealing though.

"It's all his fault." The Kitsune's imperious finger swung in Ranma's direction.

"Ranma? What did he do?" Nosaku asked curiously.

Yuriko shook her head as she heard the strange woman and the clan leader talking about Ranma as if she were a he. Mind you, after seeing a Kitsune up close and personal she was beginning to loosen her grip on what she would and wouldn't believe since Kitsune were renowned pranksters. This sounded just like the stunts they told of in the old stories.

That harsh sound was back in his voice when he spoke for the second time. Rumiko tried to fathom what could be wrong with the usually staid Clan leader. Cross-referencing the expression on his face with his current thoughts led her to look down at herself.

"Eeeeep!" she exclaimed even as her hair rose around her, concealing her current state of undress from view. When her hair dropped again she was fully clothed in her usual robes, much to Ranma's relief, as she lay directly behind the Kitsune, panting for breath before she hyperventilated in shock at what had just happened. The 'It's his fault.' Comment had her paying closer attention as she looked up to find the strange lady pointing a finger back at him.

Ranma was about to say, "Yeah! What he said! Wha'd I do?" Only she was sidetracked as the door sighed open and a familiar face appeared.

"Is everything alright in here? It's just I heard some loud noises."

"Yes Rio, everything's fine now. We're just sorting out a few things." Nosaku said

"Oh, so is Ranma awake yet?"

"He was for awhile but then he seemed to pass out again."

"I'm alright." A quiet voice was heard from on the far side of Rumiko, this time loud enough to be heard.

"Good. Then won't you join us and maybe we can get to the bottom of this?" He gazed pointedly at the strange white haired lady in the centre of the room. Rio couldn't remember ever seeing her before and hair that colour would be truly memorable.

Rumiko, seeing that the situation was escalating by the second, decided to choose total honesty in how she answered the question.

"He did something a little while ago that knocked out both me and my daughter."

"Hey lady! I ain't never seen you before. So how could I knock you out? And there's no way I'd ever hit a child!" Ranma exclaimed from the floor.

"Are you sure it was Ranma?" Nosaku asked.

"Well, it wasn't the boy who was with him. He only had enough Shen to account for his curse."

Rio, who knew about Ranma and his curse, was quickly joining Yuriko in the belief there might be more magic in the world than she'd ever thought. Oh alright, she'd never believed in magic before; but here was Ranma serving as living proof of its existence. Then there was this woman who was speaking so casually about it all as if she were merely commenting on the weather.

"Er, could someone fill me in on what's happening here, and who's the lady in white?" Rio asked, her curiosity peaked by the tableau before her.

"Hello," the lady in question bowed slightly in her direction, "I'm Rumiko."

"Rumiko, this is Rio, my great grand-child by Kogane and Saito."

"Ah yes you've mentioned her to me. It's a pleasure to meet you Rio. I have an uncle named Rio, but he's a nine-tail and we don't see much of him anymore." Damn the energy restrictions that meant nine-tails had to hibernate for long stretches of time.

'Hold on, nine-tail?' Rio looked at her closer as if trying to figure something out. "Nine tail?" she asked, fearing the possibility that Rumiko was delusional.

"We're Kitsune," Rumiko stated simply.

"There's no su…….ch thing?" Rio watched in disbelief as the woman transformed into a creature of legend right before her wide eyes. That was the largest damn fox she'd ever seen, its white fur shone blindingly under the artificial lights of the infirmary.

"You were saying Rio?" Nosaku always loved to introduce his long-time friend to new people. It reminded him so much of the day his father had done the same thing to him all those years ago.

"Erg, what hit me?" Ranma moaned as she managed to raise herself to her elbows and groaned even louder in protest when she noted that the damn fox was back.

"I believe that was Rumiko." Nosaku looked quickly away as a sparkle entered his eyes; he was having a great deal of fun at the youngsters expense.

"Who's Rumi..mmmfl ptah!" Ranme tried to say as she suddenly found her mouth full of white fur. Making a grab for the offending tail, she managed to subdue it only to be attacked by all of the others in a similar manner as Rumiko sat nonchalantly wagging her tails in apparent happiness. Rio decided that it was really too hard to tell if a fox was smirking in amusement or not, but the feeling she was getting from the animal was heavily tinged with the emotion.

Ranma for her part was getting extremely frustrated. No sooner would she manage to get the situation under control than the fox would slip her grip yet again. It was nearing the point when she was about to retaliate with a low power Mouko Takabisha to singe the tail end of the fox when the tails vanished along with the body they were attached to. When the white haired lady reappeared, she was peering over the old mans shoulder sticking her tongue out at him.

"When you two are quite finished, I'd like to get to the bottom of this sometime before dinner if you don't mind," The old man turned so that he could once again see both of them, "So Rumiko-sama, would you care to tell us what is happening?"

"I would, but first I need to show you something. Come with me." The smile slid away from her face as she tried to impart just how serious the situation actually was.

Nosaku shrugged, he'd follow his respected visitor if only to find out the answers he wanted. He thought as he watched her walk sedately from the room, 'If she's moving that slowly, she's either being considerate or this isn't as serious as she first implied.' Deciding he'd find out more if he followed her, he motioned for the others to precede him from the room and then brought up the rear as they headed out onto the playing fields behind the Academy.

"So where are you taking us?"

"You need to see the results of what you did, Ranma. You have no idea how close…..just wait and see." Rumiko continued walking, picking up the pace a little as they entered the shade of the trees.

"Hey, isn't this the way to where Ryoga and I trained this morning?"

"Hmmm, that's right Ranma. Patience, you'll see what I want you to see shortly." She wouldn't respond to anything that was said to her after that, thankfully for his sanity the fifteen minute walk didn't seem all that bad. Nosaku was thankful as he wasn't in the best shape even if he was strong enough for short bouts of training.

When they came out of the forest into the bright light of the afternoon, Ranma and a number of the others had to shield their eyes from the glare. Rumiko became a blinding flame of reflected light as she stopped and waited for the others to catch up.

"Don't walk past me. Wait for your eyes to adjust for a moment." Ranma and the rest of the group stopped as she'd bade them and waited. The young red-head was the first to be able to see what Rumiko was standing on the edge of.

"What the fuck?" She looked around quickly and found that they were at the place she'd brought Ryoga. She hadn't been wrong when she said she had something that Ranma needed to see. "How did this….?"

She looked down into the pit and found that it was a perfect hemisphere of smooth black crystal. The sun shining into its surface refracted within turning the dark stone so that it glowed brightly, almost too brightly to look at directly.

"This? Oh, this is what happens when you awaken a Chakra point that you have no knowledge of."

"It's never happened like this before, an' I can guarantee that I didn't know anything about the others before I worked through them."

"Maybe not Ranma, but at least you knew enough to start slowly. For some reason, you chose to shove as much ki as you could through this newly opened Chakra, and in the process I think you came close to killing yourself at the very least."

"Are you serious?" Nosaku spoke up.

"Yes. I'm not sure why he's still alive at all. Look, this crater is formed by an imbalance in the energy conversion process." She looked up and realized she'd lost them all.

"Okay, I'll simplify it. There are eight Chakra, six of them deal mainly with the distribution of ki while the other two are slightly different. The first of them deals with reproduction. It also stores your Ching, the energy that regulates the length of your life. The second of the special cases deals with an energy called Shen; you pour a small amount of ki into the Brahma Chakra and your body converts it and an external form of energy called mana into Shen. Shen can be used by the persons will to cast any number of different spells, from the simplest cantrip for luck to the spells that shape places like Jusenkyou, though that kind of thing is beyond us mere mortals."

"Now in Ranma's case, that's all well and fine. He poured a lot of ki into the Brahma Chakra and thus converted a lot of mana to Shen. The problem arises when there isn't enough loose mana around to convert. One of two things can happen in that instance, the first is that the persons own mass is converted to energy until it no longer exists. You were lucky you were externalizing your ki at the time though as the second thing happened, you converted the soil and rock under you into energy."

"He did what?" Nosaku and Rio spoke at the same time. Kaoru remained in the background and watched everything for later consideration. Ranma was deep in thought about something Rumiko had said earlier and so missed the latter part of the explanation.

"You know that matter is just condensed and structured energy right? That's how things like atomic weapons work; they convert the small mass of uranium or plutonium into energy which then destroys the target. Everything is made up the same way, though most matter is quite stable and not liable to explode like that. Another thing is that energy cannot be destroyed. It can be stored, converted, distributed, but never destroyed. This is where I have a problem explaining why Ranma here isn't so much ash blowing away on the breeze."

That managed to snap the young red-head out of her contemplation that she might actually be able to be the dark sorcerer that Kuno was always accusing her of being.


"Maybe you'd better explain a little more," Nosaku said as he regarded the Kitsune solemnly.

"Let me see if I can explain this to you, I'm a Kitsune, that's obvious you might think. Do you actually understand what that means? I'm a creature of magic, of Shen, my species evolved in a time when mana was plentiful. Humans on the other hand evolved in an environment that was depleted, mana is not as plentiful as it once was and so people can't access as much Shen. Magic overall is not as strong as it once was, though there have been brief flashes of it throughout history, such as the one that led to the witch burning and inquisition in Europe, or the Salem witch hunts. Numerous miracles can be attributed to slight rises in ambient mana energy as well. You see that crater there?" Everyone looked down and wondered how the hell you were supposed to miss a crater that was fifty meters across since they'd nearly fallen into it.

"I could create one like it, if I poured every skerrick of Ki I possess into it, I could form one maybe three or four metres across. A human just couldn't have created one as big as this. You just don't have the potential to do it. My question for Ranma is just what are you? You're certainly not human."

"Hey who're you sayin' ain't human?" Ranma-chan glared at the white haired woman.

"You. There are only three or four creatures that I know of that could convert this kind of energy. Tell me have you ever been near a Kami, a demon, dragon or phoenix?"


"Which one?"

"Um, all of 'em." Rumiko and the others blinked at her as she stated blithely that she'd been in contact with gods and other creatures out of mythology as if she were talking about another day at school or a walk in a park. Of course, who were they to talk? They were currently in the company of a Kitsune.

"All of them? I see.." she murmured, "I think we need to find out which you've become. I assure you we can discount your being a demon though, as I'd be able to sense any evil powerful enough to create a crater like that." She pointed down into the black crystal lined crater.

"Er, how are you going to do that? I mean, I can answer questions for ya, but I don't know anything about me being any one of those things."

"Hmm, I feel the only certain way to find out is to take a spirit walk."

'Huh? What's that, and is it dangerous?" Ranma looked concerned at the woman he'd only just met.

"Well I won't lie, the risks are really quite minimal if I take proper safety precautions but they do exist."

"You sure it's a good idea then. I mean I don't want anyone to get hurt over this." Ranma couldn't figure out where the lady was coming from, first she'd tried to hurt her and now she seemed to be putting herself at risk to help Ranma. It helped that she could sense the Kitsune's aura and felt no deceit even if she wasn't sure that it manifested the same way as it did in a humans aura.

"Don't worry. I don't think we have any other choice than to do this if we want to get the information we need. It could be more dangerous not knowing what we're dealing with." Rumiko frowned slightly as she prepared for what could be a mental ordeal if she made a mistake. Then again making a mistake could very well be the last thing she ever did.

"What do ya want me to do, Rumiko-sama?"

"I need you to sit down, get comfortable, and if you could meditate that would be helpful. Basically, I need you to calm your mind as much as possible."

"Okay, consider it done."

Rumiko watched as the young girl complied with her request, but she was seeing much more than what her mundane eyes could see. The thoughts and memories of the teenager had been awhirl just moments before, but now seemed to be slowing rapidly. "Good. Deep even breaths, that's right. Okay Ranma, I want you to imagine a vast desert, the sky is dark and the stars are hidden. The sand is flat as far as your eyes can see." She spoke calmly, soothingly as she described a scene she'd used before to allow her to synch her mind to that of a human.

"Now shape a door, make it plain and colour it green. Can you see the green door, Ranma?"

"Uh-hunh." Ranma-chan nodded slightly as she spoke in a dreamy tone of voice.

"Open the door Ranma, but don't step through it." Rumiko cast a glance at the old man who seemed about to say something and shook her head at him. She watched in satisfaction as he subsided.

She closed her eyes slowly and then opened her 'eyes', looking out across a dark landscape. She touched the sand and for the first time she could hear the tiny grains grind against each other. Above, the moon hid behind a veil of thin cloud forming a luminous halo. The detail was astonishing to the eight hundred and something(it's not polite to ask a lady her age) year old Kitsune as she had never encountered a human that was capable of this level of mental clarity. Certainly, the fact that he was using memories as a basis for it made it a little simpler, but in another sense it made it a lot harder, as he had to filter out any extraneous images attached to the memories he used leaving only those elements he desired.

Before her stood a green door, just as she asked him, except that it appeared to be made of translucent glass. On the far side she could see a vague shadow that moved towards the door. The door opened further to reveal a blinding light that she had to shade her eyes from and through which the shadow of a tall man could be seen. No features were visible to her at the moment, but she could make out the fact that his hair was made up of individual strands that moved independently. A most unusual occurrence even amongst her own kind as it took a very strong self image to render oneself onto the dreamscape in this amount of detail.

'You see me Ranma?' Now that they were face to face she didn't need to vocalize her instructions for him to hear them, they could talk mind to mind.

'Yeah, I can see you.'

'Good, now hold out your hand.' She watched as he extended his arm out to her, she really shouldn't have been surprised that the hand she beheld was well formed, showing the hard won calluses from his years of training. His short finger-nails and strong blunt fingers, the smooth palm leading to a supple wrist that even she could see was strong enough to withstand a great deal of punishment. The wiry muscles in his forearm leading up to his elbows and the even larger muscles of his triceps and bicep, the shoulders were broader than the muscled chest that tapered down to a slim waist. So taken with her perusal of this man was she that she almost forgot to reach out and take his hand, an act that drew another gasp from her as she felt a shock of vital force battle her own and almost win. Pity he was the wrong species for her or she'd take him up on his attempt to claim her.

'Oh well.'

'Huh? What's that supposed to mean?'

'Never you mind, Ranma. You have a very strong sense of who, and what you are don't you?'

'Look I know it's weird, but what I look like on the outside don't affect who I am in here,' Ranma shrugged to indicate where he meant, ' Here I'm always me, no matter what some dumb curse does to my body.'

'Yes, indeed, a point that many people miss. Well, aren't you going to invite me in?' she asked, her tone let Ranma know that she was vexed that he had left her outside.

'Uh, sure, come on in. Erm, couldn't you just have pushed your way…?'

'I could have, at least I think I could have," she tried not to reveal the true doubt in her mind. "The problem is that if you had fought me, I don't know if I could have won that battle, not with how strong you are in your self image.'

'Run that by me again.' Ranma was unsure of her meaning but assumed she'd explain it for him if he asked nicely.

'Put simply, it's safer if I'm invited; it becomes chancy or downright dangerous if I attempt to force the connection. In the worst case, I might end up trapped in your mind for the rest of your life. Which, if I'm correct, could be a very long time.'

'Just what the hell do you think I am, for Kami's sake?'

'That, Ranma, is what I'm here to find out, along with what you did earlier today.' She stepped over the threshold, she was unsurprised when he disappeared. The door behind her was also gone, but she could feel the reassuring pull of her spiritual anchor so she knew she could leave anytime she liked. Getting in was the hard part, getting out was always easy as long as you weren't cast adrift. Beside her a small mote of light floated at about head height, a very focused energy form that she recognized as Ranma's spiritual consciousness, she probably looked the same to him though she'd be bigger as her life had been longer.

'Are you ready to delve into the deepest darkest recesses of your body Ranma?'

'YES!' The voice echoed around her from all directions wrapping her in a cocoon of overwhelming sound. Rumiko let out a yelp though she shouldn't have been surprised as she was. If she was correct, there'd come a time when entering his mind like this would be dangerous whether invited or not, but if she was right then he was much too young to have any kind of real power in comparison to his adult form.

'Please Ranma don't think at me for now. Your inner voice is overpowering. Just let me do what I need to and then we can discuss it when we're safe and I'm outside.' He didn't say anything in response, but she felt his acquiescence none the less.

She'd noted many times that humans were a totally different species on the energy plane and Ranma was no different, not in the layout sense anyway. He was a bit like that place in America she'd heard of, now where was it? Ah, Texas, that was it, a place where everything's bigger and better.

Following what should have been a thin conduit, maybe a fifth as wide as her energy matrix, which carried his ki she was shocked to see something that was eight times as wide as her energy matrix. As a veritable waterfall of energy flowed downwards cycling back towards his main ki reservoir, delving deeper she found the first of his Chakra, the thousand petal lotus Chakra, his link with the over-mind, Kami, whatever you chose to call the cosmic awareness that shaped the universe, or at least the part of it that his personality was attuned to. Following it downward even further she eventually came to his Third Eye, through which he could see the spiritual plane if he were ever to become that enlightened, and here she noticed the first evidence of his recent activities, the ki node was literally leaking ki in a flood that threatened to wash her away if she got too close. She wasn't that foolish though as she watched the node expand slightly, and again as it attempted to adapt to the load it was currently under. At the rate of expansion it might take a couple more days for it to settle down, but that was something she'd have to investigate at a later date.

Rumiko followed the well worn channel that his ki used, off in the distance she could feel something that pulled her faster and faster as she approached like a piece of iron being drawn to a magnet, and there before her stood a terrifying sight, his Brahma Chakra was massive, much larger than anything she'd ever seen, and she'd been trained by a nine tail, this dwarfed the Shen reserves held by Rin, or by Rio her uncle even, or both of them combined with the rest of her clan. 'What are you?'


'Ow! Stop that, it hurts!'


'And that, I can feel you thinking!' She sighed in relief as she felt him withdraw back into a mental void. She stopped moving as she resisted the pull of pure Shen with great difficulty and moved off in another direction, testing a theory she advanced into his primitive mind and found something she had known would be there. Before her stood a dark void of nothingness, in the fine tracery of ki flows there was just this black shape that when viewed in a certain way resembled the egg that it was. Rumiko knew how to penetrate that dark veil though and after a brief search found another set of jewel bright eyes peering back at her. Resisting the urge to ask what he was again lest he answer she approached cautiously and began to notice more detail, such as the matter that the closer she got the larger the creature seemed until it appeared to tower over her. Coming in even closer she began to be able to make out other features and found that there was definite proof of avian ancestry, or maybe….No that would be….It couldn't, could it? A true Phoenix? Here, in this mortal body? Not one of those fake creatures that infected this world but a true celestial being, a traveler amongst the stars. Could…. 'Oh My Kami!' as understanding tore through her.

As she approached closer still her perspective changed until she appeared as a mote in its eye, a tiny fleck of power engulfed in an ocean of the same, this is where all the energy went as he transformed it to Shen and Ching she thought dazedly. She could feel it as she passed into the second spirit, the true form of Ranma Saotome, the Phoenix. His human body was impressive in scale but this dwarfed that, making the immense power she'd seen before seem like a puddle. What a pity they were of differing species, they could have made such powerful babies together, of course that wouldn't stop her from dallying with him if the chance arose. snicker

Unlike humans the Phoenix is one vast Chakra reserve where all three forms of energy mingle without any kind of organization, in truth the Phoenix was a true creature of chaos for that very reason. Now that she'd seen what she needed to see, she could pull herself out and continue the search of his mundane human spirit, a trek that would provide much information about what had shaped him into the person he was.

She daren't look back as she left the chaotic haven that was his second soul, or maybe that was his first soul? Later she would think of all she'd found but first there was a small matter of investigating an imbalance she'd sensed in her\him the other day when she'd sensed the intrusion into Nosaku's study. Passing down through the throat, she sensed another of his Chakra overflowing with ki. Further down his heart Chakra burned with it, almost incandescent to her 'sight'. She descended past his main ki reserve with her senses dulled as she attempted to shut them down as much as possible so as to not be blinded, and then there was a slight void in which she could 'see' the stunted reservoirs, the ki channels that seemed like any other normal humans, and there, near where she'd expected it to be was subtle evidence that there had once been a pinch where the pressure point had been applied to a young boy. A pressure point that didn't quite meet up with the same point on a young girl.

What did this mean? She knew what she suspected and that was that Ranma's female form was more developed in a maturity sense than his male form. Who would do something like this to a young child? Why would anyone want to keep Ranma so childlike for the rest of his life? How could she tell him that someone had done such a thing to him? The fact was that regardless of her wishes, she'd have to tell him, but for the time being she'd tell him as little as she felt she could get away with. There was no point adding to the stress levels that the youth was already under.

Rumiko had only two more questions she needed answers to. The first of which was what had led to the physical changes in Ranma-chan, though she did have a suspicion as to what it was. After that, she was hoping to appease her curiosity about a certain curse the red-head was afflicted with, and so she delved deeper inside Ranma, hoping to unearth these secrets as she went.

/ Ranma \

Ranma felt as uncomfortable as she ever remembered being. Even the first moments she'd spent as a girl didn't begin to compare to the feeling of having someone rummaging through her mind, her body and her energy. It took everything she had to fight the instinct to oust her guest. Only the thought of having an angry Kitsune take up permanent residence inside her skull for the rest of a possibly very long life halted her in her tracks. Even if this Rumiko woman was wrong and she wasn't some kind of…whatever Rumiko thought she might be, then there was still the fact that with the techniques Khu Lon had been teaching her recently that she'd still have a very long life, maybe into centuries just like the 'Old Freak' and the 'Old Ghoul' but at least trying to fight the seven signs of aging. Ranma thought about the last part of that statement and figured she'd been watching too much television recently.

Ranma was so enthralled with her current musings that she almost missed the quietly asked question from her visitor.

'What are you?'

'Huh?' Ranma wasn't even sure that the question had been asked of her but it was always polite to make sure. Well maybe not, as she'd just been told in no uncertain terms to shut up and wait till the Kitsune left the building to ask the many questions she was sure to have. Being totally sensitive to the nature of those around her, she also picked up on some of Rumiko's current emotions such as awe, and not a little fear. Thinking she might have actually scared the woman, she pulled back and didn't respond to any of her visitors exclamations of surprise. Even refusing to acknowledge the sudden spike of elation/fear/awe/admiration she felt from Rumiko at one point.

Shortly thereafter Ranma lost herself in thoughts about what would happen in the near future. She'd given some serious thought to becoming one of the Itsunagi clan but still hadn't reached a conclusion, people like Makodai had her worried as to her reception from the majority of the people in the clan. If it were only one or two that disliked her then she had nothing to worry about, that about summed up the rest of her young life. Speaking of Makodai she still hadn't figured out how she was going to deal with him, humiliation sounded great at first blush, but there were the repercussions of making a lifelong enemy. Alright, maybe not lifelong, she would definitely outlive him, but it could seem like an eternity if he was a real determined man.

After awhile, thoughts of what she'd do to the Itsunagi master of martial arts lost their appeal and she turned to look for the meddlesome fox that had invaded her mind, even if there had been a tacit invitation. Searching near all of her Chakra she found no trace of the jewel toned energy matrix that represented the white haired woman here on the ethereal plane. Checking the place near to where she'd heard Rumiko gasp in shock and surprise over a discovery that Ranma had no idea about. She didn't find Rumiko, but she did find a void in her ki, a dark inky blackness that no matter how hard she tried could not be penetrated. That though became an insignificant concern as once again she found only minute traces of the energy matrix of the Kitsune.

Following them she found further evidence that Rumiko had indeed 'come' this way, though there was still no actual sign of the emerald and sapphire hued energy of her invited guest. Down past the heart Chakra, and past her main ki reservoir she trailed her quarry like Xian Pu had trailed him across half of China and Japan until she reached one of the Chakra she'd felt open up earlier. 'Looking' around showed that this area wasn't as used as other parts of her energy system, in fact the ki channels were stunted in comparison, thin, unable to carry the sheer tumultuous torrent of ki that the others in his body could. Though she could see recent striations in the surface of the ki conduits that spoke of recently being stretched beyond their capacity.

These discoveries, along with the dark void, were things that she'd have to consider later though as she reached the end of the trail of ki that had depicted the Kitsune's travels through her body. Retracing her tracks brought her to the same place and the same conclusion, Rumiko had vanished without a trace. Ranma was beginning to panic now as she initiated another sweep only to be interrupted by a quiet voice, an external voice.

"Open your eyes Ranma."


"Open them, you know you want to. 'Es ooou dooo!" Rumiko cooed at him.

Ranma's eyes popped open and promptly closed again in protest at the rash action, as the bright light threatening to sear her retina overrode the need to check if Rumiko really had been speaking to her in the tone that Akane reserved for P-chan, well used to until she found out about a certain curse. Anyone else would have recognized it as baby talk, but then again Ranma rarely spent any time around people who barely reached his knees, well if you didn't count a certain geriatric hentai and the 'Old Ghoul', who he was pretty sure would beat you to an inch of your death if you used that tone to address them.

"What happened to my eyes?" Ranma asked urgently.

"Oops, did I forget to mention that you're going to be a little sensitive to light for a couple of minutes?" Rumiko said trying to sound oh so innocent.

"Yeah. Must'a slipped ya mind." Ranma bit off sarcastically while gingerly opening her eyes to bare slits. The first thing she noticed through the tears was that the Kitsune lady had her eyes closed and her body turned away from the sun.

"Hey you ain't got your eyes open either!" she yelled accusingly.

"What? Do I look stupid hatchling?"

'Hatchling?' she thought before voicing the question out loud.

"Oh, just a slip of the tongue, hatchling." Rumiko said merrily to the rapidly increasing vexation of a certain pig-tailed martial artist.

Seeking to derail Rumiko's newest technique to annoy his young relative Nosaku spoke up.

"So doctor, what's the prognosis? Is the patient going to live?"

Rumiko turned and incautiously opened her eyes to stare at the old man, then winced at the bright light. She huffed at the throaty chuckle emanating from the young girl behind her, and the call of 'idiot' as well.

Nosaku wasn't about to let the two start again so interrupted, "Ahem!" he raised an eyebrow inviting the white haired woman to answer his question.

"Hmmm? Oh yes, well I'd have to say that he's going to live. Though there was a slight risk earlier, something I discovered on my spirit walk has alleviated that concern."

"Would you care to elaborate a little more?"

"Right, you want to know what I found. Well, to be succinct, I found that my earlier contention was correct. Ranma isn't as human as he appears."

"What?" Nosaku asked sharply.

"Oi! I'm as human as they come!"

"If Ranma isn't human then what is he?" Rio asked, speaking up for the first time in a while.

"Bingo! That's the right question, and for your prize I'll inform you that young Ranma here has become a Phoenix. Well almost."

"Hey! I ain't nuthin' like Saffron!" Ranma wasn't going to stand for being compared to that freak, after all they looked nothing alike, didn't act alike either. Ranma wasn't arrogant, over-bearing, egotistical….

"No you're not, and I'll explain why eventually. First though I have to find a few answers from my Lord O-Inari."

"Erm, okay but don't think I'm letting you off the hook. So what else did ya find? You were in here for a really long time." Nosaku glanced questioningly at his great grand-child as from his perspective they had only closed their eyes a bare thirty seconds ago. From that, he surmised that things were very different wherever they'd been.

"Well I made so many discoveries that to be honest I'm not sure where to start. I suppose I should start with the least of the problems and work up to the real biggie."

"Fine by me as long as you start talkin' sometime this century." Ranma folded her arms across her chest.

"Right, first up. There's a little known pressure point on the human body, it has no name and you won't find it in any journal or training manual. In fact, it's been a forbidden pressure point for so long I didn't think I would ever see a victim of it. That is until today. Hold on, before you jump in again, I'm getting there, I promise. It'll just take a bit of background information for you to understand how serious it could have been for you.

The pressure point is on a particular meridian in everyone's body, well in you humans anyway, and in fact it doesn't do anything unless activated. This particular meridian distributes the body's supply of Ching where it's needed. This process is autonomous, Ching goes where it is needed regardless of personal whim. Now if you completely shut off the flow of Ching by activating this pressure point incautiously, you die, it's as simple as that since everyone needs Ching to live. That of course is the worst case scenario but there are other ways to manipulate it.

Such as applying pressure off centre to the pressure point, an easy enough thing to do, if say you have even rudimentary ki sight. This will inhibit but not block the flow of Ching to the body. Why go to all that trouble? To put it simply, the person afflicted in this way will mature slower leaving them child-like for longer. Take Ranma here for example…"

"You saying someone used this on me?" Ranma asked urgently.

"Well duh Ranma, after all, this is all about you or didn't you figure that out yet? Getting back to the point I was making. Ranma hasn't actually reached puberty in his male form yet, and only just in his female form."

"Okay there's no way I can let you get away with that statement, I ain't immature!" Ranma was almost nose to nose with Rumiko when he yelled that.

"Let me ask you a question Ranma. What do you think about…girls and romance or sex?"

"Ugh," Ranma took a step back in surprise and dismay, though she had to admit it was more of a conditioned response, a small part of her perked up at the question, just a little bit.

"I rest my case, you react to girls in a similar way to a seven or eight year old boy. Total indifference to their presence and mild revulsion at the thought of sex, oh and total bewilderment at what motivates them. Trust me the bewilderment won't change but the rest would have as you reached about thirteen mentally and physically. So far, you've managed to reach that age physically but your mind is lagging behind. It's also why you have such a short attention span for things like school, though you are taking things more seriously now while you seek your mother's approval. Your girl side on the other hand, is much more advanced maturity wise. Physically, both forms are in the same condition.

You can thank whatever Kami you like that the source of information the practitioner used on you took into account the differences in the male and female meridian system or you might not be here. The meridian that the pressure point falls on in a girl is in a slightly different place, maybe a couple of millimeters, a significant amount of space when considering the fine control needed to inhibit the pressure point without shutting it down. Now as it shifted the other way, it opened up more space through which your Ching could flow thus speeding the maturing process of your female form."

"But why?"

"Well I really can't answer that, but I can guess. As I said, it leaves the victim childlike for longer. In your case Ranma I think your male body would have reached actual puberty when you were fifty or so years old, your female form is pretty much there already. As a child you would have had brief spates of rebelliousness, but over all you would have been more trusting of your parents, controllable even. Ah I see you understand what I mean." Ranma's battle aura had flared suddenly and had gone through the spectrum of reds and was currently approaching a red so dark it was almost black as everyone scrambled back from the towering inferno of angry ki.

"Pops!" Ranma threw her head back and screamed at the heavens, before unleashing a vast ball of ki into the sky. A humorous thing would have been if it rained a small flock of ready cooked birds from the sky overhead, but that would have been inappropriate for the seriousness of the situation and that didn't happen anyway. Thus, I won't tell you what really 'did' happen to the stealthed alien scouting party that was currently orbiting the planet in preparation for a hastily cancelled invasion of the primitive blue planet. After all, they couldn't truly be as primitive as they seemed if they could obliterate an entire ship with a beam weapon of that magnitude. Could they? The ball of ki sailed serenely on through space, uncaring of the fate of the aliens. A few thousand miles later it dissipated into the void.(sorry couldn't resist, this is Ranma and chaos is his forte.)

"Feeling better?"

Ranma looked at her and if looks could kill, she'd have been a smear spread over most of the island. As it was, Ranma hadn't figured out how to do that kind of attack 'yet'.

"NO! I wanna kill him!" She clenched her fists and made rending motions with her hands as if she were tearing an imaginary foe apart. When she opened her hands later she'd discover a number of small crescent shaped scars in her palm where she'd clenched them so hard.

"On the plus side Ranma, you would have lived longer this way." Rumiko stepped back as the girls head snapped her way.

"That ain't funny, furball!"

"You know, name calling like that is almost a confirmation of my diagnosis in and of itself, very childlike. Anyway, you don't need to worry about that anymore, well unless you allow your father to reapply it. On a different note, now that your mind is going to be maturing at a rapid rate you're going to find things even more confusing for a while. I'd suggest you borrow some books from Kaoru over here to learn as much as you can about human sexuality."

"I've already done so, Ranma here seemed very confused about the whole issue when she arrived and sought information. Now that I know about the pressure point, I would have to say that no matter how many books she had read it would still have made no sense to his male side, though his girl side would have probably acted on the urges inherent in maturing."

"Hunh?" Ranma asked intelligently. She really hated it when people talked over her head about this stuff.

"Hold on a moment, from what I just heard you're saying that Ranma wasn't mature in his male form. But that doesn't correlate with what Nodoka told me of his behaviour in Nerima. He had all the typical signs of a young man on the cusp of manhood, the overt aggression, overblown ego, rebelliousness," Nosaku paused as an indignant 'Hey!' was voiced in the background, "How do you explain this? He must have been producing testosterone to be like that."

"Simple, he was trained to act like that. Mental conditioning when young can modify behaviour like this. In other words, it was all an act, a sham, a con started by whoever used the pressure point on him. Moving on, the next thing I found is related in a way. When you converted all this…" she waved vaguely at the depression Ranma had made, "to energy, you converted most of it into Shen, and then into Ching. Currently, regardless of your other form, you could live for hundreds of years even if you had sex ten times a day, and thought of nothing else." Ranma blushed like a neon sign at the suggestion. "So having a normal sex-drive would allow you to live for at least a thousand years."

"Wah? You mean I'm gonna end up a shriveled old prune hopin' round on a stick?"

"Huh?" it was Rumiko's turn to react intelligently, totally missing the reference.

"Khu Lon, she's like this three hundred – four hundred year old woman who looks just like that." A thousand miles away, said crone was currently waving bye-bye to her two charges who were heading back to China when she sneezed. Dismissing the old wives tale, she thought about the current situation and smiled, Xian Lon would eventually forgive her for sabotaging her attempts at Ranma, Mu Lon already had for some strange reason, and soon enough she'd be in the same place as her Ranma. 'Life's good' she thought as she closed the door and headed for her workroom.

"Well I don't know about that, I think you might have some control over your physical form, I'm not really sure though. That covers your Ching reserves anyway, now for your Shen. Shen is the underlying force that makes magic possible, sorcerers, witches, wizards, alchemists, druids, and many other magical practitioners use Shen in their magical manipulations. They may call it by a different name wherever they come from but essentially it's the same thing. Most of them can't do what you did today though, the conversion of matter into energy is dangerous unless you can control the results, though Kitsune will sometimes convert a small pebble for emergency purposes, the normal manner to amass Shen is to draw it directly from the air hence the term, 'Mana from heaven'. Don't do that now as you have more than enough for the moment." 'And that's an understatement!' she thought

"So are you telling me you could teach me magic?"

"I'm afraid not Ranma, or at least not anything complex."

"Why not, I mean…."

"It's not a matter of want to or not, it's a matter of form and style. I don't know any human magic other than simple cantrips' that both species can use, so I never bothered to learn how to cast the more complex stuff. With Kitsune magic the form factor is reversed, you just aren't equipped to cast Kitsune magic."

"So what would I need to do it?"

"Well a tail helps." Rumiko smirked as Ranma face-planted into the ground. "Kitsune magic isn't as limited as people think. Most people will tell you that the number of tails is an indication of the power of the Kitsune. Well that's not true, my daughter is as powerful or maybe a little more powerful than I am and she only has one tail."

"That can't be right, I mean…"

"Shhh! You think I don't know what I'm talking about? What the tail does signify is the ability of the Kitsune, a one tail can only cast the most basic twenty or so Kitsune spells, though they can cast them all day and night due to their innate power. The position of the tail and consequent movements plus the spell incantation allow the caster to use any given spell, thus if the incantation doesn't match the tail's position then the spell goes phhht, or worse it can go haywire. A simple 'Farsight' spell incantation crossed with the tail position for 'Fireball' may not work at all, or it may drop a fireball on the target you intended to spy on. Messy, but kind of amusing if you were there to see it, from a Kitsune's point of view that is."

"Yeah, I'm sure."

"Now a two tailed Kitsune can cast more complex spells, or more powerful versions of the basic one tailed spells that rely on both tails and the incantation. This stops one tailed Kitsune casting spells that they're not mentally prepared for. As an eight tailed Kitsune, I personally can cast for my current level of eight tails and everything below my level, i.e. one through seven. You see why you can't cast Kitsune magic now, don't you?"

"Yeah, but it sucks. Where am I gonna find someone to teach me human type magic?"

"Don't worry about that just yet, I'm sure something will come along. You're going to be around for a very long time, so it's not like you have to do everything right now. I'd be more concerned with other things first. Like how close you came to destroying this island and possibly the planet." Now she had the undivided attention of the four people with her.

"Maybe you'd better explain that to us Rumiko-sama."

"In 1945, the Americans dropped less than a gram of uranium on one Japanese city and six kilograms of plutonium on another and destroyed both cities. Nagasaki and Hiroshima live on as reminders of those weapons. Kanakita wouldn't have. You converted roughly thirty thousand cubic metres of soil and rock into pure energy, right here. The problem is, you did this in ignorance, if you had of panicked, then I think that Kanakita would be on the bottom of the ocean by now. That's only coincidental though. The other side effects of what you did would have been more catastrophic."

"Don't you think that's a little dramatic, to just announce something like that?" Nosaku said, not really wanting to butt into their conversation but feeling the need to lighten Ranma's load.

"No. You know what Kanakita is don't you? It's the core of an extinct volcano after the rest was washed away by the ocean. A very large pillar of very hard dense rock sitting over a thin part of the earths crust, much like a nail sticking in a piece of wood. We could give Ranma here the nickname 'Hammer', well we could if you could say it in the micro-seconds before everything with-in a thousand miles was vaporized. That explosion would drive this plinth of rock, that's fifteen miles across and eight thousand feet long into the planets core. What kind of shock-wave do you think that would create? Oh and just to make sure, there's always a thousand mile wide sphere of explosive energy ripping a hole in the atmosphere to consider. Either way I think if Ranma here had fought the instincts that converted the energy into Shen and Ching then there would only be a few people who'd survive the accident, and they are the Phoenix, oh and the Kami and Demons of course. Not even Dragons could survive such an explosion or exposure to the vacuum of space."

"Kami! You make me sound like some kind of monster!" Ranma was mentally reeling from the information on how close she'd come to ending all life on the planet. Could she really have? She didn't know enough to argue the point with Rumiko, but she knew she surely wouldn't have done it intentionally

"No, not a monster, just ignorant. I can help you with that ignorance by teaching you how to safely convert ki into Shen. You can garner all you need from the atmosphere without having to resort to the conversion of matter into energy. Not that you need to for some time to come. I can also teach you to use your Shen to trigger existing spells or curses." She stopped to let that thought penetrate.

"You can teach me to change without water?" jumping to a correct assumption for once, "Whoa that'd be so cool, never gonna have to fear water again. Hey! If you can teach me how to do that then maybe you could…?" Ranma trailed off as he saw the Kitsune shaking her head.

"I wish I could help you there Ranma, I truly do, but the magic involved is too complex for me to unravel. Not to mention how dangerous it could be, if the curse breaks the wrong way it could kill the both of us."

"Well if I'm a Phoenix I don't have a problem with dieing right? I mean you could teach me everything I need to know and I could do it myself."

"While it's true you could possibly do it yourself, there're two things you need to consider."

"Like what?"

"The first is that to learn how to break the curse could take hundreds of years. Like I said it's very complex. The other is that if you make a mistake it may not kill you at all, it might lock you into your female form for the rest of eternity. It'd be much safer if you waited until the curse ran its natural course."

"That ain't an option Rumiko-sama, there's gotta be another way."

"Weeeel, I suppose there are a few ways that it can be done…Hmmm, nothing in the human realm of magic can touch something this strong, so that's out. Anyone who tells you they have a cure for you is lying. Using an opposing curse won't help either as the curses overlay each other, you could end up part man and part woman." Ranma shuddered at that possibility but really wasn't surprised; she'd thought that might be the case when Pantyhose Taro had returned with tentacles attached to his back.

"Alright, that's the things that won't work. Now let's try the things that will please."

"Right, well the easiest way to cure a curse like this is to die, not really much of an option unless you're say, oh, a Phoenix. Don't get too excited, there are drawbacks to that approach, the main one being that after you hatch you'll be an infant, you will grow rapidly but it could take six or seven years to return you to your present age. Of course you'd still have all of your knowledge at your fingertips."

"Okay, I'll keep that one in mind though if it's all the same to ya?"

"Go ahead, erm, like I was saying, the next is to wait for the embedded timer in the curse to expire and thus free you. That'll take a couple of centuries since the magic of your particular curse was so strong to begin with. The problem here is that you already said you don't want to wait. Moving on, third on the list is the destruction of the curse site, right down to the bedrock, of course you'd have to also destroy anything attached to the springs such as the source of the cursed water, and any other curse victims that are still alive. From what I saw of your nature while spirit walking I'd have to say it's very unlikely that you'd go around killing people just to get a cure."

"Too damn right! It was hard enough killing that maniac Saffron an' there ain't no way I'm gonna go around killing anyone for something like that. So are there any other options?"

"Just two more, but I'll warn you right now they're even unlikelier to happen than you trying out the last one I told you."

"Yeah, well tell me what they are an' we'll see."

"The next is that you find the Kami or Demon that created the curse in the first place and plead for a cure. That's unlikely for two reasons, the first of which is that the Kami tend to be contrary with things like curses considering there must be a reason for you to be cursed in the first place, while a Demon would just enjoy watching you beg and suffer. The other reason it's so unlikely is that the Kami and Demons retreated from the Earth Plane except for brief visits from time to time to renew the humans' belief in them."

"Yeah, well that might be true but I think that they might be comin' back, since I saw two of 'em yesterday in Okinawa." Ranma replied smugly.

"If that's true then the likelihood of getting a cure that way moved up to your third choice, thought I still think they'd be contrary about it." Rumiko allowed her voice to trail off as she considered telling him what the last option was.

"What's the last option then, you said there were two more?"

"Yes, there are, but I don't think you really want to know. The odds of it working are actually ridiculously low, of course if you matured into your Phoenix form for a few thousand years you might be able to pull it off….."

"Would ya just spit it out already?" Ranma asked in a frustrated voice.

"The last one is to kill the originator of the curse." The rest of the group gasped, if they'd understood the information they'd just received it would require the death of a deity. Ranma just stared at her blankly for a moment before turning away.

"So that's it huh? Wait it out or kill a God or lots of people who're just cursed like me? Damn it! Can't I ever catch a break?"

"Hold on a moment Ranma, you're looking at this as an all or nothing proposition. Your major problem with the curse seems that you have no idea 'when' you're going to be what. The thing is, Rumiko-sama here has offered you a way to control that chaos in your life."

Ranma walked along still sulking for a moment before what Kaoru had just said finally sank in. "Yeah, I suppose that's true. It's definitely better than the way things are at the moment. So when do we start sensei?" She might not have liked their introduction, but anyone who'd give her control of her life like that couldn't be all bad.

"Right after I finish explaining what happened to the rest of that energy you converted."

"You already said all that."

"Actually I kind of got sidetracked with talking about what would have happened if you had lost control of it all. Now, once your instincts figured out there was way too much energy for your body to handle, it went looking for some way to shed energy safely. You have, of course noticed that you're taller, broader in the shoulders and the like, haven't you?"

"Well yeah, it's pretty hard to miss. I ain't used to looking down at people when I'm a girl. It's been freaking me out a little. So you're saying that the energy did this to me?"

"When the Shen combined with Ching, it sought to heal the damage done to you through poor diet and repeated damage when you were young. Doing that still didn't use nearly enough energy so you looked for more things to heal, all of your old scars are gone, though it left your calluses alone for some reason. The tree overhanging the hole you made was regenerated, or didn't you notice that there was a great big hole where you converted everything to energy and then there were tree roots sticking out into the hole?" she didn't wait for a reply before moving on, "Then you tried to dump energy back into the world safely. It didn't work, all you did was knock out every magical creature on the island before you managed to shunt the energy into your Phoenix form."

"Er yeah," Ranma scratched the back of her neck, "sorry about that," she murmured sheepishly. Ranma stopped walking and stared at Rumiko's back as she passed as something the fox-lady had said penetrated.

"Hey you said I shunted the energy into my Phoenix form? Wha'd ya mean by that? Are you saying I can change into a Phoenix or something?"

"No, you don't have a Phoenix form, at least not yet. You haven't met certain requirements. You remember I said I had to ask my lord some things?"

"Yeah, what about it?"

"I wanted to find out about Saffron's history, from before he was a Phoenix. That can wait for the moment though. I have a theory about you and Saffron, but remember it's only a theory. I've never met Saffron, but once you attain a certain sensitivity you can't help but feel the way he warps the world around him, similar to the way you're starting to."

"Huh? Warping in what way?"

"It's hard to explain, but think of it as a presence, you don't actually warp the world but more like the energy that flows around the planet. Now given that Saffron has been around for thousands upon thousands of years you'd have to wonder why he isn't very powerful."

"Okay, that's it! That bastard nearly killed me an' everyone with me and you say he ain't powerful?"

"No he isn't. Not in terms of Phoenix. I mean you haven't even hatched yet and you're stronger than he is."

"Heh, I coulda told you that."

"You don't understand, it shouldn't be possible for an un-hatched Phoenix to be stronger than one that's been around for more than three thousand years." She looked up to see if Ranma was following her so far and found a blank stare of incomprehension, "I can see I'm going to have to explain about Phoenix. What are they teaching in school these days? Alright Phoenix studies 101, Phoenix have no physical form. They are a creature composed of energy, given that they have no physical bodies they are vulnerable to certain types of attack. To counteract this vulnerability they join with a powerful physical entity, be it animal or sentient. If the creature they bond with is animal, it must be very strong, eventually over the course of thousands of years that beast will undergo a rapid evolution to a sentient state that they might not have attained for millions of years, if ever.

Now if they join with a powerful sentient being they develop that creature's potential both mentally and physically. Regarding that fact Saffron has had more than three thousand years to develop any hidden potential and you beat him as a human? All I can say is he must have been very lucky to have beaten whatever Phoenix host he gained his symbiont from."

"What's beating a Phoenix got to do with it, and what's a symbiont?"

"A symbiont is a creature that joins with another as a team, where both garner some kind of benefit. For the Phoenix it's defence of its weak spots, for the host it's the development of latent ability. Phoenix multiply very slowly for one reason. The Phoenix host must be defeated in combat, when that happens the Phoenix splits a part of itself off and embeds it in the victor where it matures into another Phoenix and hatches, where it does for the victor what its parent did for the loser."

"So you're saying that when I beat Saffron I got one of those Phoenix in me? Eeeeeeew!"

"That's correct, and when the Phoenix finally finishes melding with you, your power is going to skyrocket. You may even develop new skills, such as psyonics, though I don't make any promises."

"Oh great! It's hard enough now to find sparring partners, who am I gonna spar with if I'm even stronger? As for that psyonics, whatever that is, how'm I gonna learn that along with magic?"

"Well unlike the magic, I would be able to help you with the mental discipline needed to use your mind as a weapon. Psyonics covers such abilities as telepathy, telekinesis, teleportation and a plethora of others. I don't know about all of them but I can direct you to several of my friends who can teach you if they do develop. Okay, now that we've got the basics covered it's time to move on. What is a true Phoenix and what isn't? First up, whatever that was attached to….what's his name's head wasn't a Phoenix, in no way shape or form, neither is Saffron, well at least not a full blooded Phoenix. That leaves you as one of the only two true Phoenix I know. The other is a general of the Celestial armies of the East and under the command of Pak Tai, the Dark Emperor of the North."

"I know that name, he was one of the Kami I met yesterday."

"Oh, how coincidental," she said quirking an eyebrow to inviter further comment.

"Hah! Ain't no such thing as coincidence where I'm concerned."

"Possibly true, but from what I can see, you've got bigger fish to fry than wondering why a Kami chose to get involved in your life."

"You think?"

"Well, at the moment there's a large chance that some dispossessed spirit may choose to take over your body," she paused for a moment to let that sink in, "When I first saw you, I thought it would be unlikely while you were here on Kanakita, but since I discovered you're a Phoenix I feel the danger of it has escalated. Trust me when I say that nothing with any spiritual power missed that flash of energy you released a little while ago."

"So what do I do? I mean, I can't exactly fight something I can't hit can I?"

"Stupid! Of course you can, all I've got to do is fix that big gaping hole in your defences."

"Hey I ain't got no holes in my defence." Ranma blustered

"Speaking in a strictly physical sense that might be right, but on the mental plane you're wide open. Anything that wanted a new body and a powerful one at that need only attack your psyche and you'd be a dispossessed spirit. I'm guessing that's not something you want to have happen?"

"So I do what?"

"You let me teach you some simple shielding techniques, a detection against evil cantrip, which is completely verbal and then I don't have to worry about waking up one morning in the middle of an energy inferno because some rampaging spirit finally got a body."

"Well sign me up. Ain't no way I'm gonna miss someone givin' out free techniques. The way I learn things it shouldn't take long either. But what was that thing you called a 'cantrip'. It was 'cantrip' right?"

"It was indeed. A cantrip is a small spell, merely a few syllables to focus the mind so it expends Shen in the desired way. I was going to mention it earlier but kind of got distracted."

"Spell? Like, magic spell?"

"Yes, of course it's about the only kind of magic I can teach you. Simple cantrips are all that human and Kitsune magic have in common."

"Magic? Cool." Ranma wasn't really one to use the modern vernacular but in this case it was the only word that seemed to fit. Now after all this time of being on the receiving end of magic, he had the ability to use it himself.

"Don't get too cocky boy, magic can exact its own price if you take it for granted or don't concentrate properly."

"Yeah, an' don't everything else I ever did?"

"Yes, but not concentrating while throwing a punch isn't likely to incinerate someone, or turn you into a frog."

"Eh? That ain't possible is it?"

"Says the boy who turns into a girl. I grant you it isn't probable, but I assure you that all kinds of chaotic things can happen when you don't pay attention to magic."

"So like which is it? Shen or Magic?"

"In truth they mean the same thing. One is the Western word and the other is the Chinese word. There are many other words for it as well. Shen is also the type of energy used to perform magic."

"Right, an I've got lots of it?"

"Well yes, if it were my reserve I don't think I'd have to generate Shen for several hundred years, and that's if I cast spells indiscriminately the whole time."

"Alright! When do we start?" Ranma enthused just before her stomach betrayed her with a low squeaking growl of discontent that reminded her she hadn't done anything to relieve her hunger since waking up in the infirmary.

"Hmm, on that note," a chuckling Nosaku said, "I'd better head back to the house, there are things I need to attend to tomorrow. Are you coming Kaoru?"

"Certainly, a nice stroll in the early evening would be nice." She placed a hand on the proffered elbow, allowing the clans leader to escort her home.

Rumiko called out after them, "Don't take too long you two. It's going to rain in the next couple of hours." Ranma perked up at that pronouncement; taking a deep breath she caught just the faintest whiff of an earthy tang in the air. It had always been one of her favourite things when they'd been on the road since it brought a sense of renewal with it and the rain that followed close on its heels washed the world clean and bright. Ranma sighed as she remembered the first time it rained after she'd gained the curse and she realized it would trigger her hated transformation. Now for the first time she thought that she might be able to enjoy it once again.

"So, you coming Rumiko-sensei?"

"Not this night Ranma, I have to move my daughter into our lair before the rain starts. I shall see you in the morning, probably at the break of dawn, meet me in front of the Academy."

"Er… okay, so we gonna train in some of those things ya mentioned?"

"Yes, I'll start on your mental defenses and we'll work from there. Don't worry about it for the evening though, I'll hold a shield over you so nothing can take advantage of your situation."

"Right, so I'll see you in the morning, I'm gonna catch me some dinner while it's still early." Ranma wasn't expecting a reply from the older lady and so turned on her heel and headed for the place she was starting to think of vaguely as home.

/ Somewhere? \

The mountain air was cold wherever he happened to be this time, the afternoon sun had slid behind the bulk of a dark mountain and the world around him was turned into one of gloom. The temperature wasn't what was bothering the wanderer though, it was more the fact that for the first time he felt like he'd made some progress in his life. For an infinitesimal moment he had felt the depression lift by just the slightest amount, like a man looking upon the night sky as the dawn began, just the barest change in the light but telling all the same.

"Damn it Ranma! Why does this always happen!" the word 'happen' echoed off the side of the nearby mountains, mocking him with his inability to do anything or even answer his own question. The rubble around his feet gave mute testament to his distress at the situation as he struck another boulder with the Bakusai Tenketsu and watched in satisfaction as the boulder shattered, spraying the area beyond him with thousands of shards of rock. An hour and a large amount of gravel later, Ryoga Hibiki collapsed in exhaustion and began to shiver in reaction to the energy loss. The problem was that he was currently as drained as if he'd thrown a Shi Shi Hokoudan that never returned to him.

"Damn it!" he whispered hoarsely, as he remembered Ranma's dire threat of what she'd do to him if he disappeared on her. 'Heh! Well this is another fine pickle I've gotten myself into, and I don't think 'I'm sorry,' is gonna cut it, not this time. Think Hibiki.' Ryoga's brow scrunched up as he thought about the current situation, his hands busy with making a quick meal before he set up the rest of his camp. With the practiced ease of a long time camper he was finished in minutes with the tent and sat back down to think as his meal finished cooking..

The only conclusion he could come to at the moment was that Ranma wanted him to practice the techniques that she'd taught him. In truth, he could do that here as well as anywhere else on the planet. After he finished his meal he moved away from the tent afraid that his aura might damage it in some way. He sat in the lotus position he'd used earlier in the day and began to renew the breathing exercises that he'd been shown, a moment after that he was able to manifest an aura that fluctuated between a clean and pure white and the green of his usual depression ki that lit the darkness for many metres around him. It also had the added bonus that the energy traveling through his body caused him to warm up.

In a display of pure pig-headedness he continued to cycle his aura, watching as its colour gradually changed. As the sun finally sank below the horizon somewhere beyond the mountain range, ending the odd twilight world and bringing true night. Ryoga didn't notice the changes in the world, the precipitous temperature drop didn't affect him in the least, the locals coming to investigate the glow came within sight of him and skittered away at the sight of the strange glowing beast, but he didn't care as they were no threat to him. Somewhere beyond the mountains the day began anew, the sun rising majestically over the horizon lighting the world with its warm rays, several hours later it would cast its first warming rays into the valley where Ryoga was meditating, it would be the first thing to penetrate his intense concentration. An hour later, a curiously lighter feeling Ryoga trudged away from his overnight accommodation, knowing that his emotions were happier than he could remember. Looking around, he took his bearings, straightened his shoulders as he strode boldly forth and promptly vanished as he rounded a boulder.

/ Nerima \

Khu Lon, elder and matriarch of her tribe closed and locked the door to her private domain. No one and nothing could be allowed to observe or interfere with her actions here. Not that it would do them any good since to step into this room while the spell was active would be a death sentence but in Nerima it didn't pay to take chances. There were always the foolhardy who would attempt to throw the dice of chance. She smirked a particularly nasty grin as she walked into the centre of the room, it'd serve them right, not that they'd get past the traps at the top of the stairs, or the ones on the ceiling and the walls.

She was about to relax into a sitting position on the floor when she remembered something and trudged over to her work desk. First she placed her staff on the table, an act that felt like she was losing a long time friend she'd had the thing for so long. Then she shucked her robe and folded it as she shivered in the slightly chill room. The mirror across the room showed her diminutive form as she walked back to her place in the circle, she saluted the withered and wrinkled body as if bidding it a fond farewell since it had served her so well for so long.

Sitting down facing the south she began the ritual, she ignited her battle aura with pure ki and allowed it to expand over the entirety of the circles. There was no going back now, it was consume or be consumed, her endurance would either outlast the spell or the spell would unravel her essence and spread it across the room, either way she felt she'd lived long enough as she was. At least this offered her a chance at a new start.

She focused on the first of the runes she'd need to imbue with Shen and Ching, tracing it with her eyes as she focused the needed energy and let it flow, the outline of the rune began to glow until it became almost blinding to look at. A bead of sweat formed on her forehead and rolled down her nose. It would soon to be joined by others as sweat formed all over her body, she cringed slightly as the circles of runes spun like the wheels on a one arm bandit, pulling a stream of energy from her body like a string and overlaying certain runes on the circles.

Suddenly, the whole blurring mess clicked into a new configuration and she searched briefly for the new rune she needed to activate, there, and the whole thing started to move again, the second string of Shen and Ching overlaying the first and activating a series of different runes. Now the first visible sign of the spell working happened, her skin began to smooth out, not because it was tightening up but because her very bones were being broken down for raw materials to extend them. Where before they were dense and compacted calcium, they once again became a lattice, a very fine and brittle lattice but that would be fixed later, first she had to fight against the excruciating pain that wracked her body. She couldn't falter now; the third rune was activated as she panted in reaction to the pain and the circles spun and twisted like before, only twenty eight runes to go.

With twenty runes to go she was a mass of pain, it contorted her face, but she wouldn't give in to it, she was a matriarch, a proud warrior, this would not defeat her. And so the long hours wound down as the spell spun and weaved streamers of energy in intricate patterns, criss-crossing each other repeatedly. With eight runes to go she lost the fight against the pain and screamed a long drawn out sound that echoed, and echoed again as her back arched, through sheer strength of will she suppressed it and activated the next rune. It wouldn't be the last time she screamed that night.

Midnight was a distant memory as her blurred sight sought the final rune, to her it seemed like she was looking at the circle through an intense heat haze as they wavered and danced before her. Now she needed luck as much as anything else since the rune she activated may not be the one she was aiming for, she suppressed the sudden wave of fear as she was so close. Like a snake she struck as the circles seemed to still for a moment and then sighed in relief as the circles spun one last time, if she'd missed with that much power laced into the spell, there was no telling what would happen when it unravelled. All she knew was that it would have been messy and the last thing she ever did. She closed her eyes and waited the final movements of the spell, and so didn't notice that the stream of energy overlay a small mark amongst the perfectly formed runes, neither did she see it flare for the briefest milli-second as a cascade of Shen lit the ancient spell.

Twenty seven minutes later the Amazon warrior Khu Lon carefully straightened her body as she prepared to stand, almost in slow motion she rose and made her way towards the bath tub in which the next phase of the spell rested. It wasn't something she was looking forward to doing as to lay in that viscous liquid while she waited for her body to absorb the vitamins, minerals and other materials needed to complete the body that had been formed out of her diminutive ancient frame. She moved slowly and carefully as she approached the tub and sat down on the cold porcelain and then started to lower herself slowly. In her weakened condition she couldn't support even this miniscule weight and slipped into the bath in an uncontrolled tumble even gasping a lungful of the liquid as it closed over her shocked head. She surfaced a second later coughing and sputtering as the gelatinous mess dripped from her bangs and down her face.

According to her calculations, not that she'd ever done anything like this before, it would take several hours for her body to rebuild itself to her former stature. Over that time the level of the concoction would drop by eight or nine inches until it barely covered her body. In her exhaustion, she dozed as the spell completed the last step of her transformation until the timer went off and jolted her back to an awareness of her surroundings.

"Hmmm, must of dozed off." Khu Lon frowned slightly as she heard the sound of her own voice; she didn't remember ever sounding like that. With a sinking feeling she rose from the bath and stood with the pale liquid sheeting down her body, taking a glance at the full length mirror across the room she started to swear, long loud and fluently in at least eight different languages.

Khu Lon scraped his hands down his body and glared, this wasn't supposed to happen, it wasn't even in the realms of the possible.

"I've got to figure out what went wrong." She muttered as she regarded the still slightly glowing form of the spell circle, nothing seemed to be out of place…except for that small chalk mark.

"How the hell did I miss that?" His mind whirled in confusion, he'd checked the spell over and over and didn't see anything that blatant.

That left only the one question in her mind, unlike many people she knew the progenitor of the 'Pools of Sorrow' so she knew who to blame for this.

"Why Asgaroth, how have I angered you?" Khu Lon, Amazon warrior, Lore Keeper and currently male sat down on the floor as reaction to her newly placed curse sank in.

/ \

A/N in case you missed the one at the front of the document. Please review constructively, even if it's bad I can use it to improve. Well as long as I agree that is. This was proof-read by Brindani and I thank that masked proof-reader for their timely assistance in making this readable.