Ranma found herself standing in the school lunch room. About her was the din of many students talking as they ate. Outside the window the sky was slate gray and overcast. There was a chill in the air, more noticeable after the tropical heat of Aqua. Across the room someone opened a door and a cold breeze blew across Ranma's bare belly, and tousled the hair at the small of her back.
Ranma said, "We're back!" She looked around. All of the girls in their club were still seated at the table. Their lunches were still in front of them.
"What, have you guys been waiting all this time?" Ranma asked. "It's like you didn't even move."
"Move?" Akane replied. "What are you talking about? You didn't go anywhere."
Ukyo said, "You just shimmered for a second… and your clothes…."
"We were gone for nearly an hour!" Ranma exclaimed. Her bracelets jangled as she waved her arms about.
"Don't be daft," Akane said. "All that happened was that your clothes changed…."
"Um… Ranma?" Ukyo asked. "What's with the genie getup?"
Ranma glanced down at herself. She wore a tight choli top of bright purple, trimmed with gold, that exposed quite a bit of cleavage. Wispy, poofy sleeves of a sheer lavender fabric covered her arms. There was a gold-trimmed purple bikini to match the top, and filmy, see-through lavender harem pants. Gold bracelets chimed at her wrists, along with her silver Angel Strawberry bracelet, and gold anklets nestled atop her feet. Her fingernails and toenails were painted lavender with flecks of gold. She wore gold colored sandals. She wore rings of gold on half of her fingers, including the one that Fatima had just given her. A gold belly chain encircled her stomach. Gold hoop earrings dangled against her neck. A gold choker-style necklace encircled her throat. Although she couldn't see it, her red curls were much longer than normal, and bound up with gold hair ornaments into an elaborate coif like that of a goddess.
"Nyaa!" said Ragamuffin, who had appeared next to her. "I told you not to use that door!"
"Gaah!" Ranma yelled. "Where did my clothes go? My uniform!"
"She used the wrong portal," Ragamuffin said. "There's a special gateway so that Fatima doesn't have to change when she's in a hurry."
"Wow, Ranma," Kaida said. "That's a very sexy look."
Rin agreed. "Just seeing you in that outfit makes me hot."
"Don't be crude!" Akane growled, although the look in her eyes indicated that Ranma might be having the same affect on her.
Ranma blushed. "Crap. How do I change back?"
"Don't worry," Ragamuffin said. "Your uniform is back in Aqua. We can go back and get it."
She clapped her hands together. "Oh, you can test your ring," she said. "Just concentrate on it and imagine being in Aqua! Oh, wait! How about the rest of you?" She looked around. "Do you all want to come? It's really fun, and it won't take any time at all. Honest!"
"Do we have to dress like Scheherezade here?" Nabiki asked.
Ragamuffin giggled. "No, silly! Of course not! Now, everyone hold hands..."
Moments later, all fifteen girls – and one rabbit – were standing on the villa patio. The others looked about in amazement.
"Where is this?"
"Where did the school go?"
"Oh my God! Are we in the Mediterranean?"
It took several minutes for Ranma and Ragamuffin to explain everything, and they were still answering questions for a good fifteen minutes after. Eventually everyone understood that it was a magical dimension outside of time. When they realized that they could spend the whole afternoon here and return to school while it was still lunch period, they grew excited.
"I want to lay on the beach!" Kaida said. She frowned, then added, "Oh, I wish I had my bikini!"
"Oh, that's no problem at all," Fatima said, appearing behind them. "There are swim suits available for use inside – hundreds, in fact. Take whatever you need."
The girls spun about to stare at her. She smiled. "I'm Fatima," she said. "I run this place."
"Hello there, Fatima," the bunny Octava said.
"Why hello there, Octava," Fatima replied. "How's tricks, Darling?"
"Good, good," the bunny said.
"I must say, you make an adorably cute bunny," Fatima said with a smirk.
"You two know each other?" Nabiki asked.
'Oh my, yes," Fatima said. "Your little pet bunny here and I go way, way back."
"So how did the 'house call' go?" Ranma asked.
Fatima made a face. "Gods spare me from idiots," she said. "His first wish was that everything he touch turn to gold. Baal's blood, doesn't anyone read the classics? The Midas Touch isn't a blessing, it's a gods damned curse!"
"But he's got two more wishes," Ranma said. "One to make it worse, and one to fix everything."
Fatima flashed a brilliant smile. "Exactly!" she exclaimed. "We'll make a djinn of you yet!"
Fatima led the girls to the house and into her "fall-in" closet. It really was massive – a row of clothing on hangers on each side, that disappeared into the distance perhaps a mile back. Fatima led them between the two rows until she came to a section composed of nothing but swimsuits.
"There should be sizes to fit everyone," she said. "You can use the bathroom to change in, then feel free to join me by the pool, or head down to the beach. There's a dock with a boat too, if you like."
Ukyo scanned the long row of bikinis and one-piece suits. "Are there any swim trunks for guys?" she asked.
"Nope, sorry," Fatima said. "Guys aren't even allowed in here."
Ukyo looked at Konatsu. "But... Konatsu..." she began.
Fatima smirked. "Oh, that shouldn't be a problem," she said. Konatsu blushed a deep red. Fatima picked a black string-tie bikini from the rack. "Here," she said, handing it to Konatsu. "I think this would look smashing on you, Darling."
"Konatsu can't wear that!" Ukyo blurted out. "He's a guy!"
"Um," Konatsu said, her face flushed crimson. "I... ah... when I entered, there was this voice in my head... it sort of gave me a choice..."
Konatsu unbuttoned her blouse and pulled it open. The other girls just stared, while Fatima laughed and laughed and laughed.
Shiori Watanabe, leader of the Holy Loli Puritan Sisters of Strict Orthodoxy, fierce rivals of the Anything Goes Angels ever since earlier that morning, stared at the talking black cat
"Who" she asked, "are you?"
"Who I am is not important," the cat said. "What I am, now that's what matters. You girls want to become a real magical girl team? I'm the guy who help you do that."
Shiori's hands flew to her mouth. "Oh my gosh! A talking cat that can teach us to be magical girls? Guys, don't you realize? It's our very own Luna!"
The cat frowned. "I'm not Luna," it said. "Luna is a fiction character from a rather silly and melodramatic magical girl show..."
"Yeah, Shiori, wake up," Kemi added. "He can't possibly be Luna. Just look at him! He's all black!"
"That's right," her twin sister Remi echoed. "Luna is white! Not to mention that Luna is a girl kitty! And here I thought you knew about magical girls. If anything, this cat is our very own Artemis..."
"No, my name is not Artemis either," the cat replied. "Oh, what the heck. Call me Artemis if you like. It's as good a name as any."
"But that's not your real name?" asked Aoi.
"I repeat, who I am is not important. Now if you girls would just stop talking and listen to me, I have a few things to say..."
Once he had their attention, the little cat began to pace back and forth.
"Now, as you girls have discovered, Miyuki Goji and her little band of do-gooders have managed to become real magical girls. That's because they ran into someone like me. Think of me as a kind of magical girl agent or catalyst..."
The black cat sighed. "Yes, just like Artemis. Only where Miyuki has got herself mixed up with a goody-two-shoes organization that believes that good intentions somehow triumph over the letter of the law, I come from a rival organization that is less concerned with what your intentions are, and more concerned with whether you actually follow the rules. They're there for a reason, after all. Right?"
"Absolutely!" Shiori exclaimed, nodding emphatically.
"Good, good!" the cat said. "I feel you girls are just the types we're looking for. If you qualify, then I can give you real power – enough to stand up to those rule-breakers. You girls interested? Then hear me out."
"Are you kidding?" Shiori gushed. "Of course we're interested!"
The cat's eye twinkled merrily. "Good to hear!" From nowhere it produced a stack of paper. "Now, I have some standardized tests that you'll need to take before we get started... just a formality mind you, I'm sure girls as smart and talented as you will have no problems passing them..."
Manami frowned. "We have to take a test to become magical girls?"
"Not a test," the cat replied. "A series of tests. You girls want to do this by the book, don't you? That's the very essence of your group name and image, isn't it?"
The others glanced at Shiori, then nodded.
Ranma sat in her mother's office after school. The Vice Principal of St. Hebereke gave her a very stern look.
"Daughter, I understand you were in a fight before school this morning?" she said. "Right in front of school grounds, so I heard."
"Yeah, Mom," Ranma replied. "There was this demon, and…."
"Haven't we had this conversation before, Ranma? There is to be no fighting during the school week, and especially during school hours or on school grounds."
"There's not much I can do about demons showing up, Mom," Ranma said. "They're going to manifest whenever and wherever. It's my duty as a martial artist and as a magical girl to deal with them. I gotta protect the weak."
Nodoka Saotome inclined her head. "I understand. Still, you made me a promise. Perhaps you should have just explained to this demon that now was not a good time, and asked it to come back later."
Ranma stared at her mother for a long moment.
"Y-yeah," she said. "Look, I really doubt that woulda worked. Anyway, it's sorta school related, since it's a direct result of our school club. If it weren't for that stupid club that you made me join, I wouldn't be a magical girl, and I wouldn't have demons appearing at random, trying to take me down."
"That's really no excuse, Ranma," her mother said. "Your other friends have learned to respect the rules. Miss Kuno has gotten the message, for example."
"Well, yeah, but Kodachi's not exactly a demon from a hellish dimension – not exactly anyway – so however nutso she is, she can be reasoned with, sorta."
"Daughter, please do not refer to your fellow students as 'nutso'."
"I say that not just as your mother, but as Vice Principal." Nodoka began straightening the paperwork on her desk. "Now, I hope we understand each other. The next time a demon appears on campus, please do not be so hasty attack it. I want you to try to reason with it first. Is that too much to ask?"
"Good," Nodoka said. "That is all. You may run along to your dress-up fantasy club now."
As Ranma stood, she said, "It's not a 'dress up fantasy club', Mom. It's a martial arts club. Well, except that Miyuki sometimes forces us to dress up as magical girls... but actually we've become a real magical girl team now, and..."
"No need to explain," Nodoka said with a smile. "After all, when I was a little girl, I liked to imagine myself as a beautiful Princess. Girls and their games of pretend don't really change that much over the years, do they, Daughter?"
"Ah... sure Mom. Whatever you say."
The girls of the Anything Goes Magical Loligoth Cupcake Girl Appreciation Society gathered in their clubroom after school as usual.
"Can we hold the meeting in Aqua?" Ukyo asked.
"Shampoo agree," said the Chinese amazon. "Like ocean best!"
"Oh, yes, let's," said Kaida. "I love seeing Ranma in a bikini!"
Ranma frowned. "Geez, we spent a whole day there just during lunch," she said.
"Yeah, but that was hours ago," Miyuki added. "I wanna hold our meeting by the pool!"
The others agreed, and so, fifteen minutes later, they were all lounging in swimsuits around the pool at Fatima's villa in Aqua.
"Okay," Miyuki said. 'First things first. Several of us were attacked by a demon in front of the school this morning..."
"Plus a really pathetic group of magical girls who apparently oppose us, or at least Miyuki," said Nabiki.
"That part is hardly worth noting," Miyuki replied. "I wasn't even going to bring it up. But a demon appearing out of nowhere to attack us? We need to know where it came from, who sent it, what was its purpose, and if we can expect more such attacks. Nabiki, do you have an analysis for us?"
Nabiki raised an eyebrow. "No. Should I?"
"Well, of course," Miyuki replied with exasperation. "You're the Ami of the group, remember? You're our genius girl! You're supposed to take computer readings of our enemies and analyze their defenses and, I don't know, gather data and explain things to us. Right?"
"Sorry," Nabiki said. "Is this in my contract? If so, does the job come with a magical girl analyzing laptop?"
Miyuki rolled her eyes. "How about you, Kohana? Is there anything you can tell us about our foe?"
"It was a demon," Kohana replied.
"Yes, well obviously," Miyuki said. "You're our magic expert; is there anything else you can tell us? What about it's power level?"
"Over nine thousand?" Kohana suggested.
"I'll... uh... see if I can get you two some sort of analyzing equipment," Octava said.
"A magical girl analyzing laptop?" Nabiki asked.
"Yeah, something like that," the bunny muttered.
"Cool then," Miyuki replied. "Now second: yesterday we helped the Kingdom of Rocky Road and we succeeded admirably..."
"Was it really only yesterday?" Akela asked. "It feels like we've been doing this thing for weeks."
'That," said Nabiki, "is because we were three days in Rocky Road, but only a few hours away from home. Then today we spent a full day here in Aqua. It's no wonder if your sense of time gets thrown off."
'It's got me completely turned around, that's for sure," Ukyo said.
Miyuki said, "Yes, well, for you guys it's been like a full week. For Tomari and I it's just been a couple of days, since we were so unfairly left out of the first big adventure..."
"You're going to complain about that forever, aren't you?" Octava said.
"I have a right to!" Miyuki shot back. She glared at the bunny for a second, then added, "We received the magic ice cream tub and scoop, of course. The whole club agrees that it's a wonderful gift, yes?"
There was no disagreement. Fatima, who was lounging nearby enjoying a bowl of blackberry ice cream, said, "Indeed, you girls have done really well for yourselves so far. I wouldn't mind having something like it myself."
"Third," Miyuki said, "we've contracted with King of Korat of the Kingdom of Ailouros to teach his daughter Princess Ragamuffin here how to become a magical girl."
"Yay!" Ragamuffin said. "Being a magical girl is fun because I like ice cream!"
Miyuki smiled. "Fourth," she said, "is the induction of three new members to the group – Tomari and myself, and Princess Ragamuffin, who has become our junior member..."
"Unfortunately," Miyuki added, "the three of us are still waiting for our official transformation charm bracelets." She paused to stare at the bunny.
"You girls have already got one of the largest magical girl groups I've ever heard of," Octava complained. "And you still want to add three more? Not only that, but three girls who contribute virtually nothing to the team?"
"Nyaa!" Ragamuffin exclaimed, miffed.
"Hey," Miyuki said, "I contribute everything to the team! I design the costumes! I organize events! I document our adventures!"
"You're useless in a fight," Octava replied. "You're a liability when it comes to actually fighting evil."
"That's only until you give me my special attack," Miyuki shot back.
"One special attack and you think you're ready to take on the world," the bunny replied. "Get real."
"Hey, bunny, look!" Miyuki said. "I know magical girls backwards and forwards, and they're almost always normal girls like me! It's really amazing that you get to work with such talented martial artists as Ranma, Akane, Sachiko, Ukyo, Shampoo, Konatsu, and Akela. Don't lie to me!"
"She has a point," Tomari said. "Look at Sailor Moon. Not only was she not a world-class martial artist, she was a klutz and a ditz."
"Don't bring up Sailor Moon," the bunny warned darkly. "That's a fictional magical girl, anyway."
"So you're saying your average magical girl is a world-class martial artist like Ranma?" Tomari replied.
"Well… no, of course not," said Octava. "But I do want to protest one point. Miyuki, you are in no way, shape or form a normal girl."
Miyuki opened her mouth, then shut it. "Okay, fair enough," she said. "So where's my bracelet already?"
The bunny sighed. He produced a cigar, lit it, and took a puff.
"No smoking inside the school," Miyuki said.
"So sue me," the bunny replied. "And in case you didn't notice, we're not at the school." He glanced at Fatima and held up the cigar. "The genie don't mind, does she?"
"Not at all," Fatima said. "But Octava, Darling, I don't consider cigars to be very ladylike."
"Bite me," the bunny growled.
"Octava's a boy bunny, you know," Akane said.
"Oh, but she isn't," Fatima said with a smirk. 'Not while she's in my realm anyway..."
Everyone stared at the bunny, who managed to look embarrassed. She waved the cigar around. "Yeah, yeah, what are you looking at? It's part of the rules for this pocket dimension. It's not like any of you girls would ever have noticed, you know, and since I'm not looking for any bunny love it hardly matters, does it? The point is," she said, turning to Miyuki, "I can smoke if I wanna."
"Fine," Miyuki said. "But just remember, no smoking on school property. It's not my rule, you know. I can get in trouble if they find out, since I'm club leader."
The bunny frowned. "If someone reports a white bunny smoking a cigar, I don't think you'll have much to worry about," Octava said. "You want the bracelet, or not?"
"Yes, please," Miyuki said.
The bunny produced three bracelets. One had melon charms dangling from it. This he handed to Miyuki. The second had mulberries, and went to Tomari. The third was identical to Ranma's, with strawberries on it. This he handed to Ragamuffin.
"Yay!" the cat girl exclaimed.
"Awesome!" Miyuki added.
Tomari raised an eyebrow, and slid the bracelet over her wrist.
"I already know what to do!" Miyuki yelled. "I've been paying careful attention! Watch this!" She stood, held her hands out before her, and yelled, "Pretty Angel Melon Transform!"
"What's wrong?" Miyuki asked. She shook the bracelet experimentally. "I did it exactly right. Your bracelet's a dud."
"You didn't use your full name," the bunny said.
"What?" Miyuki exclaimed. "My full name is Angel Melon!"
'No it isn't," the bunny said. "Just like Shortcake here, I added an extra word."
"You did? Why?"
"To annoy you," Octava said.
Miyuki stared at the bunny a moment.
"Whatever," she said. "The only thing that annoys me is that you haven't told me my name already!"
The bunny shrugged and took a long puff on her cigar. She stubbed it out, paused for another moment as Miyuki fidgeted, and then said, "Oh, very well. The name is Angel Melon Sorbet."
"Great. Thanks!" Miyuki said. "Pretty Angel Melon Sorbet Transform!"
Miyuki spun about in the air. When she landed, her bathing suit had been replaced by... nothing. She was naked.
"Aaaah! What happened?"
"You haven't stored your magical girl outfit yet," Octava said, laughing. "You don't know exactly what to do just yet, do you?"
Miyuki ran immediately into the house. She returned minutes later, still struggling into her costume.
"Tomari, you and Ragamuffin go get your outfits too," the bunny said.
Ten minutes later the three girls were transforming into and out of their costumes while everyone else watched and applauded. Octava handed them the matching earrings that allowed team communication, and the necklaces that did nothing but match the earrings.
"How about you two?" she asked, looking at Rin and Kaida. "Last chance to board the magical girl train."
"I didn't join this group to become a magical girl," Kaida said. "I joined for my own reasons – namely to see Ranma in a bikini." She eyed the redhead appreciatively. "Mission accomplished, I think. I've got zero interest in becoming Magical Witch Sally, or whatever. Besides, you've already got thirteen members, why do you need any more?"
"Ditto," Rin said. "It's fun enough just to watch."
"Good," the bunny said. "But talk to me later, you two. I've a special proposition in mind that you might agree to."
The bunny spent the next half hour teaching the three new angels their special attacks. For Tomari, there was a non-attack maneuver called the "Pretty Angel Mulberry Tart Sugar Buzz". This, said Octava, was to be used on other team members. It would increase their energy and strength for a time, allowing them to move and attack faster and with more power.
"I would have liked to give all three of you girls non-attack support powers like this," said Octava. "None of you three are fighters and heavens know this team has enough offensive power already. But I promised an ice-based attack to the next member to join, damn me."
Thus, Miyuki's attack was the "Pretty Angel Melon Sorbet Ice Blast", the promised ice attack. Lastly, for Princess Ragamuffin, there was the "Pretty Angel Chibi Strawberry Jam Fascination," which was quite a mouthful. This power sprayed a substance that looked like strawberry jam and stuck to enemies like a powerful glue, making it very hard for them to move.
"Okay then. Fifth," Miyuki said, once they were finished. She held up a sheet of parchment, "We're contracted with Prince Uro of the Lands of Kahotep to defeat Kemnebi the Merciless. This was actually our first contract, and I agreed to it. But I didn't realize it was real.
"The reward for completion of the task is the granting of a wish bestowed by Bastet, along with 'other such treasures as Prince Uro shall deem appropriate,'" said Miyuki.
"Wait a second," Nabiki said. "Do you mean Bastet, as in the Egyptian goddess?"
"I've got no idea," Miyuki replied. "Maybe."
"Very likely," Fatima said. "Some incarnation of her, at least."
"In the meantime, our team leader Magical Princess Pretty Angel Strawberry made all of these other agreements," Miyuki continued.
"Great going, Shortcake," Nabiki said.
"Hey!" Ranma snapped. "How was I supposed to know they were real?"
"And so," said Miyuki, "we come to our Sixth and last point. I now have a contract that we apparently made with the Sorceress Sabine in the Kingdom of Gothshire to take out a demon that's terrorizing their town. There's a reward for that one as well."
Miyuki smiled. "That one sounds easier than the Kemnebi thing, so we should do that first. After all, we've already defeated one demon today!"
"Yeah, okay," Ranma said, "But how are we supposed to visit these places? Did they send someone to transport us, like Nutso Goodbar?"
Miyuki smiled. "Why, Angel Strawberry, I'm glad you asked!"
The sky was soot gray. The ground was flat, black and barren. It looked like a massive firestorm had recently blown through, burning everything in sight.
"Where are we?" asked Kahoru Ochi, aka Sister Cucumber. She and the other members of the Holy Loli Puritan Sisters of Strict Orthodoxy stared at the foreign landscape about them. "How did we get here?"
"Pocket dimension," the little black cat replied. "This place is outside of time, so we can spend hours practicing and you'll still get back for the end of lunch. Your enemies are using one similar to this, so I made one too. Neat, huh?"
"It's... ugly," Manami said.
"And bleak," Aoi added.
"Is this the best you can do?" Shiori asked.
"Hey, Sister, I'm doing this on short notice," the cat said. "I had to assemble a self-contained pocket dimension located outside of time in less than twenty-four hours. If you think you can do better than me then be my guest."
Shiori looked mollified. She nodded. "Then Miyuki's group has got a pocket dimension too?"
"What's a pocket dimension?" Mary asked.
"This is a pocked dimension," the cat replied. "It's a place to go where time doesn't move. Don't think about it too much. And yes, they're using one too. Theirs wasn't provided by their magical advisor, but hey – they cheat, I cheat. It all works out."
The cat took a breath, then began, "All of you have passed the test to become magical girls..."
"Only because you helped us cheat," Tooka pointed out.
"Yes," the cat said, "but the important thing is that the letter of the law was followed. All I'm required to do it give you the test and see if you pass it. You'll find that my organization always follows the letter of the law. As long as you do that, you can get away with anything."
"It sure sounds like you're breaking a lot of rules," Shiori produced her book of rules. "This says what we can and cannot do. I wrote it myself."
The cat's tail twitched, and the book in Shiori's hand burst into flame. She screamed and dropped it. In seconds it was nothing but ash.
"You girls are members of the Angelic Council now," the cat growled. "They have their own rules, and trust me, I'm following the letter of the law."
"Where are these rules?" asked Remi Maeda.
"We ought to have a copy," said her twin Kemi.
"If we're expected to follow them," said Remi.
The cat frowned. "Fine, I'll get you a copy. Now, you've also signed the contracts, so let's get on with things. We'll start with your items of power. These will be your henshin pens, so to speak – the keys that unlock your magical identities, that transform you and provide you with the magic that lets you take on the other group. Don't lose them. In point of fact, you girls are what we call Henshin Heroes - you gain your superpowers after transformation. Now, since you're going with a nun theme, I've decided to make them silver crucifixes."
The cat's tail twitched. Silver crucifixes appeared before each girl, spinning and flashing in the air like stars.
"Grab them before they fall," the cat said. "Put them on and wear them at all times. In a moment we'll practice using them to transform, but first, I got matching earrings for communication purposes, that's standard magical girl team equipment."
Aoi said, "Not that I'm actually Catholic, but isn't this kind of sacrilegious?"
"It is, isn't it?" The cat laughed nastily. "I gotta tell you I love that angle. Magical girl sexy nuns? Great idea. Brilliant, just brilliant. Evil is always best when hidden by a cloak of righteousness."
"Evil?" Hama said. "We're not evil. Are we?"
"Nah, not really," the cat said. "You're sort of the opposition. Evil's just a label anyway. See, they claim to be the good guys, but are they really good? They're not following the rules. That's why you formed your group, right? To show these Anything Goes Angels how to do it right. So the good guys aren't really good, and the bad guys aren't really bad. It's all just labels. Trust me, real life ain't black and white like in the movies."
"Well, sure. Miyuki has no idea what she's doing, she's going about things all wrong," Shiori said. "She knows nothing about how magical girls are supposed to work."
"Precisely. You girls are here to punish Miyuki and her do-gooders. You've seen Magical Project S right? Is Pixy Misa truly evil? No, of course not. She's just there to mess with Sammy's head. And let's face it, Sammy is so pure and innocent and, to be quite frank, stupid, that she needs someone to mess with her. She deserves it. And messing with the heads of the goody two shoes types is fun."
"But Pixy Misa was acting as an agent of people with bad intentions," said Shiori. "They wanted to upset the balance of the world."
"So? She was having a blast."
"She was possessed. You're not going to possess us like that are you?"
"Not unless I have to," the cat muttered.
"I said no, of course I won't. Now, for those that break or ignore the rules, such as our Anything Goes Angels, my governing body explicitly allows for us to act as adversaries. Good shall overcome but it should never be easy right? You serve an important function in the greater scheme of things, to oppose good, to test or prove their devotion or expose their hypocrisy. So you see, opposite magical agents are not only actually sanctioned under the rules, they're absolutely essential to the overall magical girl process. If it weren't for you girls we'd have to recruit someone else; the position of opposing force is open and needs to be filled."
"Okay," said Mary, "but what do we get out of it?"
"You're joking, right?" the cat replied. "Power, for starters. Nifty costumes. Adventure. Magic. Power."
The girls were hardly all friends, and broke off into their own cliques at a moment's notice. Aoi and Hama were Shiori's friends, for better or worse, and clung to her. Shiori's older sister Manami stuck with her own friend Kahoru. The twins from down the street, Remi and Kemi, stuck together. Shiori and Manami's cousin Tooka hung back with her gangster friend Mary.
The black cat explained their powers. Unlike their counterparts, each girl in the Holy Loli Puritan Sisters of Strict Orthodoxy got the exact same set of powers.
"All of your powers are based on things familiar to a Catholic schoolgirl," said the black cat. "And specifically to Shiori's experience as a school monitor. So for our first attack, we have the Special Attack: Hall Pass Defense, which provides you with a short-duration personal force field.
"This is especially useful right after you use your Special Attack: Sleeping Chalk Dust Cloud." The sleeping chalk dust can't penetrate your Hall Pass Defense force field, so you can't put yourself to sleep."
The cat quickly ran down their other abilities – two attacks, the Harisen Smash and the Ruler Slash; a confusion spell, the Rule Book Citation; an attack that could stun and also do damage, the Infraction Whistle, and a final attack, the Detention Slip Cage, which produced a cage of energy around the enemy.
"Each of you have more special attacks at your disposal than your adversaries," said the cat. "You'll need those, since most of the enemy are trained martial artists. I didn't have time to create individualized attacks, but then, I think this way gives each of you more flexibility. You're not dependant on each other for support.
"My only concern is that the Anything Goes Angels have thirteen members, and your group only has eight. I'd like to increase that number if possible."
"Where am I going to find that many people?" Shiori asked. "I've already asked all of my friends."
"We'll ask Goku if he knows a few," said Tooka, referring to the street hoodlum. "Mary will ask around. Goku still has a beef with the redhead, there's bound to be a few girls in his gang that want in on this action."
"Good," said the cat. "Do that. In the meantime I think we're done here. I'll contact you girls again tomorrow. Same place, same time."
All thirteen members of the Anything Goes Angels crowded into a tight circle on the beach in Aqua. They were wearing their uniforms per instructions from Miyuki, although she promised this was for demonstration purposes only. Princess Ragamuffin brought out her glowing ball of yarn and tossed it into the air. "Miffy maffy moofy eek!" she called out. "Yarn ball, find the place we seek!"
The ball whirled about, leaving a trail of glowing yarn in the air. It traced a large rectangle and spun around and around, faster and faster, leaving layer upon layer of glowing thread. There was a soft "pop", and the rectangle became a doorway to... somewhere else. On one side was the sand of the beach; on the other was smooth dark stone.
"Let's go!" Ragamuffin exclaimed. She stepped through to the other side.
"Hurry!" Miyuki added. "The doorway only stays open for a short time!"
"Where does this go, exactly?" Nabiki asked. But Miyuki and Tomari had already stepped through.
Ranma shrugged. "Guess we'll find out," she said, and stepped through.
The air was cool. The girls appeared in a shadowed walkway of gray stone, with one side open to a beautiful blue sky. Nearby flags rustled in the breeze, and birds called in the distance.
"So where are we, again?" Nabiki asked.
"Nya! This is The Kingdom of Ailouros, silly! This is my father's castle!"
"Your father's castle?" Akane echoed. "Then this is another world?"
"Of course it is," Miyuki replied. "Princess Ragamuiffin's yarn ball can take us just about anywhere. See? We've got travel to other worlds covered!"
Several girls approached the stone parapet and looked down over it. It was quite a drop. To the left and right rounded stone towers jutted out from the stone walls. Far below were rocks, and then fields sloping down to a brilliant blue ocean in the distance. A town of bright white buildings jutted up against the shore.
"Look, Ranma!" Nabiki said. She pointed off to their right, where a winding road led from the town up to the castle. A caravan was making its way up the steep road. Even from here, it was easy to see that every merchant and guard in the caravan was a cat person like Princess Ragamuffin.
Ranma shivered involuntarily. "A... a whole country of cat people?" she asked nervously.
"Nya! Of course."
They heard footsteps coming down the corridor. "Who goes there?" a voice called out. "You are trespassing in the private suites of the Royal Family..."
An officious and self-important looking cat man strode into view. He wore dark gray robes and a strange pointed hat that Ranma instantly dubbed "magical government pope hat". There was a silver insignia on the front of it that, Ranma was certain, stood for "Government Official Not To Be Messed With."
"Grand Vizer Don Sphynx!" Princess Ragamuffin exclaimed. It wasn't an especially friendly exclamation.
The Grand Vizer glared at the princess over his glasses with the severity of a head librarian. "Princess? Mrrrr. What are you doing here?" He peered at the other girls. "And who are all of these... these hairless monkeys..."
"Nya!' the catgirl exclaimed angrily. "These are the Anything Goes Angels. They're humans from Tokyo, in the Kingdom of Japan!"
"It's a democratic country, actually," Tomari said. This news did not appear to please the Grand Vizer, who looked to be in a permanent bad mood in any case.
"Mrrrr. And what are they doing here, Princess? We sent you away to learn the ways of a magical girl. Should not these... these human girls, as you call them... be training you in exactly that?"
Ranma stepped forward. "Ah... yes Sir. My name is Ran... that is, I'm Magical Princess Pretty Angel Strawberry Shortcake, at your service." She bowed low.
The Grand Vizer frowned. "Don't tell me you're done training Princess Ragamuffin already? I should think she has much more to learn..."
"Oh... yes, Sir," said Ranma. "We were just... the Princess was demonstrating the use of her magic yarnball thing."
"That thing, as you call it, is not a toy, Princess. That is a magical artifact that Master Wizard Ojos Azules and Sorceress Chartreux spent many weeks creating. It is a very valuable and important kingdom asset! It was not designed for frivolous excursions to and from whatever world you fancy to visit next!"
"Nya! We're using it to go help people in other lands!" Princess Ragamuffin exclaimed. "That's what magical girls do."
The Grand Vizer folded his arms and stared. "No one needs your help here in Ailouros, Princess. I do not approve of you bringing these monkey girls here. You've demonstrated how the transdimensional yarnball works - now it's time to head back."
"But... I was going to give my friends a tour of the castle..."
"Do you want me to report this indiscretion to Master Azules? Or worse, to your father, King Korat?"
The catgirl princess looked downcast. "No, Grand Vizer," she said. "We will return now."
She tossed the yarnball into the air. "Miffy maffy moofy eek! Yarn ball, find the place we seek!"
Moments later, all thirteen girls were back in Aqua, where Fatima waited with Kaida and Rin.
"No offense, Princess," Ranma said, "but that Grand Wizard Dawn Speaks has a stick up his butt."
"Ranma!" Akane scolded. "You shouldn't talk like that - especially to such a young girl. She's a princess, you know! A real one."
"Princess Strawberry-sensei is right," Ragamuffin said. "Mr. Scree does not like Don Sphynx at all. He is my father's closest adviser, but he's not a very nice man."
The catgirl sighed. "And I didn't even get to see Captain Coon... how depressing."
"Anyway," Miyuki said. "Thanks to Princess Ragamuffin, we shouldn't have any problems traveling to Gothshire. We'll go tomorrow after school, so everyone needs to get a good night's sleep. Got it?"
Somewhere in another world, a black cat sat by a red fire in a room full of shadows. He watched as a bald man with dark skin studied an ancient scroll in the dim light. The room stank of sulfur and acrid chemicals and ink and dust and burned flesh.
Finally the man glanced up and noticed the cat. "Bes," he said.
The cat frowned. "I prefer Soot," he said. "Or Artemis. That is what my girls have named me."
The man leaned back, rubbing his eyes. "Your timing is good, Bes. For too long have I been studying the prophecies. My eyes dry up liked raisins in the sun. You have come to report?"
The cat inclined his head. "I have assembled my own team," he said. "I am training them now."
"Ah, good. And are they capable enough to defeat Queen Mhotep's avatars?"
The cat looked irritated. "They're not avatars, Priest. They are magical girls. And no, I doubt it's possible for me to field a team of girls the equal of the Anything Goes Angels. But then, my girls won't need to be."
"They are sorcerous maidens imbued with power by otherwordly entities," the man said. "Thus I call them avatars."
"Yeah, that's one way to look at it, I guess," the cat replied. "In any case, my plan proceeds apace. The Angelic Council suspects nothing. I will strengthen my team by several more members, and then lead them into confrontation with the Nibiru group."
"So soon?" The man looked up sharply. "I did not think they would be here until just before the coronation..."
"This will not be here, but in a much different land," the cat said. "A cold, horrid place known as Gothshire. This will be a test run, you might say."
"Very well," replied the human. "I leave it in your capable paws, Bes. Queen Mhotep seeks to thwart us with her godling witches, but we shall prevail. The prophecy will be fulfilled. Lord Kemnebi shall be restored to his throne."
"Just as you say, Priest Aapep," the cat replied, bowing. "You will inform High Priest Oshiarana?"
The man waved a hand dismissively. "What and when I tell Oshiarana is my business alone, little demon. You are dismissed."
For several weeks now, Ranma had been taking miko lessons from Tochigi Honda, the grandfather of Tomari and Kohana. A limousine would arrive at the Saotome home and drive her to the main Honda estate, several miles from the house where Tomari and Kohana lived. Ranma felt this was not quite in keeping with the humility required of a shrine maiden, but in the interest of not having to walk across town she accepted it.
The Honda shrine was small and not very public. It was built near a large, ancient, sacred tree. There was a room nearby where Ranma could change into her miko outfit - the red hakama and the white haori top, with the sock and sandals. She tied her mass of red curls back with a red ribbon, then proceeded to sweep out the shrine and perform the sacred cleansing.
She stood before the temple and began to practice katas. Presently Mr. Honda appeared. He watched Ranma for several moments, until Ranma had finished her current kata. She bowed and greeted him.
Mr. Honda was dressed in a black gi. He bowed to her in turn, and then he attacked.
Ranma defended herself. Mr. Honda was, in truth, a good martial artist - but not on the scale that Ranma was used to. This had confused her at first, until she realized that these sparring sessions were not meant to teach her anything - the were meant to teach Mr. Honda. It was, Ranma realized, sort of a payment offered in exchange for what Mr. Honda was teaching her.
Therefore, Ranma never went easy on the old man. She also had no trouble moving about in her miko costume. Ranma had practiced martial arts rhythmic gymnastics, figure skating and even martial arts tea ceremony, after all.
The two went back and forth for ten or fifteen minutes, until Mr. Honda was winded. He called for a halt. Sweat beaded his forehead.
"Tonight," said Mr. Honda, "I think we will set aside the divination training..." Ranma had proven quite poor at divining anything at all. "Instead, I thought we would learn the kagura - the ceremonial dance."
Ranma frowned. Such dances were mostly for show, as far as she knew. Miko performed them for visitors and tourists. It was true that the were performed in worship to the kami, but...
"Is this something I need to know?" she asked.
"All miko should know how to dance," Mr. Honda replied. "Kagura may be used by the miko to channel the kami and speak, sing, and dance as the god itself. Dancing may be used for ritual purification, celebration of auspicious days, and to reenact folktales. They may also be combined with yudate - boiling water rituals - and may be used to drive out evil spirits.
"Plus, visitors to the shrine really like seeing a beautiful dance from a pretty miko." He grinned, looking momentarily not unlike Master Happosai. "Also, I have an instructional video for you to watch!" He produced a small laptop computer. "And while you're practicing that, I have other business to attend to this evening."
Ranma frowned. "So... I'm learning ceremonial dance from a video so that you can have the night off," she said.
"It is not a night off," Mr. Honda replied severely. "You've faced several demons recently, is this not correct?"
Mr. Honda held up his hand. "I know you've grown proficient in the use of the ofuda and sutras," he said, "at least in terms of banishing demons. But I feel your magical girl team would benefit from a second person with such knowledge - and it is a family tradition that I have intended to pass on to one of my granddaughters for a very long time now..."
On trash-strewn concrete beneath a bridge, several tough-looking boys and two girls were gathered, huddling against a strong January wind. One of the boys had a stubbled chin and blond hair that stood straight up. The girls wore long jackets, yanki-style; one was a tall Japanese, with long, straight black hair, while her friend was an even taller, blonde-haired foreigner. The foreign girl went so far as to wear no top beneath her coat, save bandages binding her breasts..
"Hey, Goku," the Japanese girl said. Red flashed bright like brake lights on a nighttime freeway, as she lit a cigarette. She held out a pack to the others.
"Tooka," the blond guy replied. He took a cigarette and lit it from hers. "And Mary Kieran. Heard you two were looking for recruits for a big rumble."
"Something like that," Mary said, lighting her own cigarette. "Figured you could help us."
"Tell me what's going down," Goku said. "Maybe my gang can back you up."
Hair whipping about her face, Mary breathed out a trail of smoke, which the wind ripped away.
"It's not a gang war," she said. "Not exactly. It's... well... hard to describe."
"Try me," said Goku.
Tooka smirked. "Here," she said, tossing a book his way. "Check that out. Tell me what you think."
Goku frowned, turning the book over. "What's this? Magical girl manga? Not my style, Tooka..."
"Look at it," Mary said.
Goku frowned. He studied the cover, then flipped through several pages. His eyes grew wide. "This... this that red-haired girl! The one we fought..."
"The one that kicked your butts," Mary said. "She's our target."
Anger flashed in the gang leader's eyes. Then he lowered his gaze. He tossed the manga onto the ground.
"Sorry, girls," he said. "I told Taoka's girl that I wouldn't mess with Red anymore. Can't do nothin' about that."
"But that's the best part," Mary said. "It won't matter, because they won't even recognize us."
Goku raised an eyebrow. "How do you mean?"
"This manga," said Tooka, picking it up from the ground, "isn't complete fantasy. Red and her gang actually transform into magical girls, with special attacks. I've seen it."
"Yeah - I don't think so," Goku replied.
"They fought a demon, Goku," Tooka said. "Right in front of me!"
"I've seen crazy things too, Tooka," Goku said. "When I was high. But then the high wears off, and I can distinguish between fantasy and reality..."
Mary said, "It's no lie, Goku. I was in a different world just this morning. Magic is real."
Goku laughed. "Look, girls, I don't know what your game is..."
"There's more," Mary said. "But it's probably best if we just showed you." She glanced at Tooka. "Ready?"
"Yeah," Tooka said. She made a face. "The outfits are the biggest downside. Promise not to laugh, because everything else about this is pretty cool."
"I got no idea what you two are talking about," Goku said, "but if you're done wasting my time..."
The girls brandished silver crucifixes. "Sister Cabbage, Transform!" Tooka yelled.
"Sister Brussels Sprout, Transform!" yelled Mary.
The two girls spun about in the air as their clothing vanished. The four boys stared in amazement. Seconds passed, and both girls landed, now dressed in their nun lolita outfits.
"Detention Slip Cage!" Sister Brussels Spout yelled. Instantly a cage of glowing energy materialized around Goku.
"Hey!" Goku grabbed the bars of the cage. They could not be moved or bent. "What gives?"
"Just a little demonstration," said Sister Cabbage. Sister Brussels Sprout snapped her fingers and the cage vanished. "We have several different attack and defensive spells," Sister Cabbage continued. "Not only that, but we are faster and stronger while transformed. You see? This is how we're going up against Red's magical girl team."
"Not a gang war, but a battle between two groups of magical girls," said Sister Brussels Sprout. "Not a fight in the streets of Tokyo, but a fight in another world. Yoriko Taoka can't complain that you're making a move against her red-haired friend, because she won't know who we are, and her father's not going to lean on you over a magical girl battle in a different world is he?"
Goku blinked in surprise. "Could... could I see that transformation again?"
"Sure," Tooka replied. "Sister Cabbage, Return!" she called out. There was a flash and she was back in her gang clothing. She smirked. "Now, boys, watch carefully," she said. "Sister Cabbage, Transform!"
The eyes of all four guys were glued on Tooka as she transformed again. "No freakin' way," one of them breathed.
"Artemis," said Tooka, "wants more recruits. He's the guy who granted us these powers."
Mary added, "We came to you, Goku, because you're one of the bigger gang leaders in the area. You have several girls in your gang, and you have a personal vendetta against Red here," she indicated the manga that Tooka had picked back up.
"So, Goku," said Tooka. "What do you say? Got any girls who you think would join us?"
"The transformation increases your strength?" Goku asked.
"That's what I said."
"How strong?" Goku asked. "Strong enough to beat me in arm wrestling?"
"I think so," said Sister Brussels Sprout. "Want to test it?"
"Nah, just curious," said Goku. He flexed his arm, looking thoughtful. "Strong enough... to beat Red?"
"That's the idea," said Mary.
Goku grinned. "Yeah. Yeah, that sounds great. You've convinced me. I'll help you."
"Then tell your girls," said Cabbage. "We want four recruits - Artemis wants an even number. We want to do this tomorrow. Tell them to meet in front of the Yamano Girl's Academy after school hours."
Goku nodded. "Got it."
Tomari Honda followed the family butler Mr. Khan through the Honda mansion and into the family dojo. Here her sister Kohana waited, along with a regal white-haired gentleman in a black gi. Tochigi Honda was one of the richest and most powerful men in Japan - but he still liked to spar in the dojo whenever he could.
"Grandfather,' Tomari said "You wanted to see me?"
Sweat dripped from the man's beard. "Yes, Tomari," he said. "Put on a gi. I wish to train with you."
"I'm not very good," Tomari said, but she obeyed anyway. Not following an order from her grandfather was unthinkable.
Her gi was also black. All of the gi's at the Honda dojo were black.
Tomari took her place opposite her grandfather. They sparred for a few minutes. As was typical, the old man went easy on her at first, then increased the strength and intensity of his attacks until she was sent sprawling to the mat for a third time. This seemed to satisfy him.
"Your elder sister informs me that you will soon be battling a demon," her grandfather said.
"So we are told, yes," said Tomari, getting back up. "At least, that's what the contract says."
"Is there any reason to doubt the veracity of the contract?"
Kohana said, 'Our first agreement turned out to be somewhat disingenuous."
Mr. Honda nodded. "Nevertheless," he said, "there's a chance you may need to banish a demon. Am I correct?"
"I suppose so," Tomari replied. "I hadn't thought about it. I usually leave all of that to Miyuki and Ranma and the others."
"You need to think further ahead, granddaughter. None of your friends, save Ranma, are prepared to banish a persistent demon. Did we learn nothing from the encounter with Guagua two months ago?"
Tomari bowed. "Forgive me, grandfather. You are, of course, correct."
"Yes. I have trained Ranma, of course, but her training is incomplete, and she is only one person. Should you group need to banish this demon, for safety's sake, you, Tomari, must be capable of doing it."
Tomari's eyes flew open wide. "I? But..." She glanced at her sister.
"As a practitioner of the dark arts," said Kohana, "Grandfather tells me that I am not qualified."
The surprise in Tomari's face vanished quickly. She glanced from sister to grandfather. She nodded.
"Very well, Grandfather," she said. "Train me."
The next day after school the girls of the Anything Goes Magical Loligoth Cupcake Girl Appreciation Society, all of whom, aside from Rin and Kaida, were also members of the Anything Goes Angels, met in their club room.
"Miyuki, are you certain that we can go there and return again and only an hour will have passed?" Ranma asked. "Just like when that little wizard guy Buddy Hockeypuck did it?"
"Nutty Coconut?" Miyuki asked. "Princess Ragamuffin says we can, and she's your protege, Ranma. Isn't she living with you? Isn't she sleeping in your bed?"
Ukyo glanced up sharply. "Ah... we've got a catbe... I mean a futon for her now," Ranma replied. "It's kind of crowded, but..."
"Nya!" exclaimed the catgirl. She held up her stuffed monkey. "Mr. Scree says we'll be back here in less than an hour, guaranteed!"
Ranma rolled her eyes. "Well. As long as we have the assurance of a stuffed monkey, then okay I guess..."
Speaking directly to said stuffed monkey, Ragamuffin said, "Don't worry, Mr. Scree. Princess Strawberry is just jealous because Alice and Jackie won't talk to her."
Ranma frowned. "Alice and Jackie? I don't even know who..."
"Your stuffed bears, remember?" said Miyuki. "The two I got for you after... well, after your father..."
Ranma's eyes went wide. She'd almost forgotten - in her first weeks as a girl she'd picked up a teddy bear dressed as a martial artist, and then a second dressed in a black gothic lolita dress. Akane had bought her a third - a bear in a pink gingham dress. Not long after, Genma Saotome had burned them. He'd burned everything Ranma owned, in a bizarre attempt to prevent Ranma from becoming a girl.
Afterwards, Miyuki had bought two new teddy bears to replace the old ones. She'd named them Alice and Jackie, after Alice in Wonderland and Jackie Chan. They regularly sat atop Ranma's dresser. But had Ranma given Ragamuffin their names? She'd barely remembered the names herself.
Then again, Akane could have done it. Or even Miyuki.
"Alice and Jackie are sad," Ragamuffin continued. "They said that you never talk to them. Also, they wanted you to hold a funeral, but you never did."
"For Bruce and Anne and Kimberly," said Ragamuffin.
"Your original bears!" Miyuki exclaimed. "Those were their names, remember?"
Ranma removed her glasses, cleaned them, and put them back on. She stared at the stuffed monkey warily. "Mr. Scree told you all of that?" she asked.
"Nyaa! Of course! Mr. Scree tells me everything." She paused to stare at the plush doll. "What's that, Mr. Scree? Oh, yes." She looked up. "Mr. Scree says that we have to hurry. It's almost time to go. It would be best if everyone was in costume..."
"Yeah, okay," Ranma said. "You heard the monkey, everyone - time to transform!"
The girls who comprised the Holy Loli Puritan Sisters of Strict Orthodoxy met at the gates of Yamano Girl's Academy at the end of the school day. All of the current members were present - leader Shiori Watanabe, her sister Manami Watanabi, Shiori's best friends Aoi Yamamoto and Hama Fujiwara, Manami's friend Kahoru Ochi, Kemi and Remi Maeda their twin neighbors, their cousin Tooka Miyagi and Tooka's friend Mary Kieran. They only had to wait a moment before the black cat know as Artemis appeared.
"Okay," Artemis said. "Tonight the Anything Goes Angels are headed another realm, a place called the Kingdom of Gothshire. They mean to do battle with a demon there, at the behest of a sorceress named Sabine.
"We want to interfere with their plan. But we'll have to work fast." The cat glanced to Tooka and Mary. "Did you two find any more recruits? We'll go with what we have if we have to..."
"Goku said he'd have some girls here," Mary replied. She glanced around. "Ah... here they come now."
Up the street strolled several obvious thugs. Girls leaving the Academy glanced at them in alarm and hurried away. Mary frowned. There were two girls in the group - members of Goku's gang that she'd met before - but the other two were Goku and his sidekick.
"This the right place?" Goku asked. A cigarette dangled from his mouth. Hama and some of the other girls shrank away from him in alarm.
"Goku," Tooka said. "I thought we told you to bring four girls."
"You said you needed four recruits," the gang leader replied. "You didn't specifically say they had to be girls."
"It's a battle between two magical girl teams, moron," said Mary. "I'd have thought the gender requirement was obvious." She smirked. "You're going to look real cute in a dress, dumb ass."
"That ain't happenin'," said Goku. "I did some research. Magic boys do exist. So you tellin' me that there's a rule against magical boys on your team?"
Mary shrugged. "I guess that's up to Artemis..."
"Yeah, that's what I thought," said Goku. "Where is this brilliant leader of yours anyway?"
"Oh, I'm right here," a voice said from near the ground. Goku glanced down, but the only thing at his feet was a black cat. The cat stared up at him. "You boys want to join our little magical girl group?" it asked.
Goku jumped back. "That - that cat talks!"
Mary picked the cat up. "Of course he does, moron. Magical girls always have talking pets. This is Artemis. He's our guide."
Goku recovered enough to say, "Uh... nice ta meet you, ah... Mr. Artemis. I... ah... heard you were looking for four recruits for your gang..."
"Oh, we are, we are," the cat replied. It leaned in against Mary's chest, purring. "I take it you four are the recruits?"
Goku gestured to the two girls with him. "This here's Ujana Tsuda, and the dark girl is Julia Vasquez. They're two of my best girls. My name is Goku. I'm pretty well known about here. And this is Akira; he's sort of my second in command, so to speak."
The cat looked them up and down. "Good, good. It'll help to have a few gang bangers on the team, people with some kind of experience in fighting. Mind you, I wasn't expecting boys..."
"Magical boys exist too, don't they?" asked Goku.
"Oh yes," the cat replied. "They do indeed."
"Then does anything say guys can't be on your team?"
"Not at all," said Artemis. "If you want to be on the team, then I can make a spot for you."
Shiori frowned. "Artemis, I don't have any designs for boy team members. I don't have the time to make them. In fact, I only have one extra uniform, the one that Naoko used, and I'm not sure it will fit either of these girls..."
"Oh, leave that part to me," the cat replied. "I will give them crucifixes preloaded with their outfits and everything they'll need. You won't have to do anything."
Shiori brightened up. "Cool then! We just need names for them." She frowned, staring at the four thugs. "You," she said, pointing to the Hispanic girl. "You'll be the new Sister Scallion. No sense wasting that name just because Hama's cousin used it once. Our first appearance was only a test run anyway." She stared at the other girl. "You... you'll be Sister Garlic."
Akira sniggered at that. "Yeah, laugh all you want," Ujana Tsuda said. "Your turn is next, idiot."
Shiori looked Akira up and down. "I guess you'll be... Brother Radish," she said. Ujana laughed. "And Goku... you can be Brother Snow Pea."
"Snow Pea?" Goku replied. "Sounds girlish. Give me something better."
"They're just vegetables, moron," Akira said.
"Too late," Artemis said. "Shiori's the leader, it's her right to hand out names. I've already registered the names, so let's move on to the important part... the tests and contracts..."
The cat's tail twitched. Pens and paper materialized in the air before them, and continued to float there. "The tests are a mere formality," the cat said smoothly. "I'll help you fill them out. Let's get started..."
Only a few minutes later, the cat declared, "Okay, that's done. Let's move on."
"What's the point of taking a test if you feed us all the answers?" Goku asked.
"Appearances count," said the cat. "We follow the letter of the law here, and that says you have to take the test. It doesn't specifically say I can't help you. Besides, we're in a hurry." The cat's tail twitched, and more papers appeared in the air. "These are your contracts, girls. Sign them quickly and we'll get going."
"Akira and I are guys," Goku growled.
"Oh yes, my mistake," the cat replied exaggerated sarcasm. "We've got two wannabe magical boys here. Just sign the damned contract already."
Goku looked at the contract, which was multiple pages of small, dense print. He glared at the black cat. "What's all this say?"
The cat waived a paw dismissively. "Standard Magical Girl contract between you and the Angelic Council. Same thing the other girls signed. Don't sweat the details."
Goku glared at the cat. "Only in our case, it's a Magical Guy contract. Right?"
"The contracts for magical boys and magical girls are virtually identical," Artemis said. "You wouldn't be able to tell them apart. And we don't have time to cover the specific details and differences. If you're worried, don't sign the contract. Nobody's forcing you to join. But I thought you wanted magical power - enough to kick Pretty Angel Strawberry Shortcake's sweet ass. Am I right?"
Goku stared at the cat for another long moment. "Yeah, okay," he finally said. He signed. Akira followed suit.
The contracts vanished. "Great," the cat said. "We leave immediately. Is everyone ready?"
"Yeah," said Goku. "I was born ready."
To Be Continued