"All must find their own path, Child. You, Mara, Ranma and yes, even Hild-chan. I can on occasion, stack the deck, however. Just as Ranma is finding his own way, Hild will as well. Now, they will find it together. I have not yet given up on either."
Hell is a Martial Artist
Only a few days ago the bedroom had been hers and hers alone.
The space devoted to an actual bed and wardrobe were fairly small considering, but she insisted on elegance even if there was no actual reason to sleep or store garments since being a deity eliminated the necessity for either. Instead, a full third of the room had been taken up by an elaborate chemistry set that no Earthly scientist would recognize, and on any other day that chemistry set would be bubbling and smoldering with compounds any earthly scientist would sell their soul for.
Some actually had.
But that was the work of a different agency. Her mother's agency. Urd's brow crinkled with the errant thought but pushed it aside to focus on the here and now. As such, the desk and its chemistry set sat silent, accompanied by the least likely of scientific implements: A pair of scissors and a sizable length of red ribbon cut haphazardly at both ends. They were also ignored in favor of the wall opposite of the set, a wall dominated by nearly two dozen three by four glossy photos of various individuals tacked to the wall in question. Less than twenty four hours ago all of those individuals had been interconnected by the severed ribbon lying on her desk. The photos still remained, but only two individuals remained connected now and the Goddess of the Past silently contemplated their meaning.
"She can't be serious about this," Urd murmured, more to herself than anybody else as she sought to derive sanity from the insanity of the last twenty four hours. Hild. The Daimakaicho. Queen of the Damned. Her very mother. The woman's picture remain pinned to the wall, one of the two still interconnected by the red ribbon. The other was Ranma Saotome. Martial arts heir. Gender jock. And now apparently her half sister.
Urd's brow crinckled with overt irritation at the thought. On one hand, Hild couldn't be serious about forming such a pact. She was never serious. About anything. On the other hand the Grand Mistress of hell had overwritten reality to formalize that bond. For a game, it was complete and utter overkill on an epic scale...
"I think she's quite serious, Urd-chan," Belldandy spoke softly from behind. The Goddess of the Past turned to find her sister waiting patiently in the bedroom doorway. The tanned woman simply pinched the bridge of her nose in frustration.
"This is seriously screwed up," She grumbled and turned to fully face the brunette as she began to vent. "One moment we were trying to save the kid from eternal damnation and the next I have a half brother! Sister! Whatever! What the heck just happened?!"
"I don't think this is a game to her anymore," Belldandy shook her head softly, stepping fully into the room to join her sister. The Goddess of the Past stared as if failing to comprehend her statement, so she elaborated. "Remember when you explained to me that everything she does has a purpose? There's always a reason behind her actions?
"Sure. And her purpose is to mess with our-" Urd's irritation began to spin up again before being shushed by the single finger held up by Belldandy in a bid for patience.
"When we were first introduced to the Saotome child I accused Hild of the very same," The Goddess of the Present explained, her gaze passing over the picture covered wall before returning her attention to her sister. "I accused her of using Ranma for her own selfish ends and while her response wasn't necessarily a rebuke, she turned my own accusation back upon me and even insinuated that heaven was at fault for his circumstance."
"This is my mother we're talking about, Bell." Urd commented dryly, failing seeing the point. "She'll blame everybody but herself when things don't go her way."
"But you said it yourself," Belldandy pushed back gently. "She knows my feelings concerning Keiichi and yet she turned my accusation back at me. I'm certain now she was actually offended by my words!"
The platinum blond stared at her sister for several long seconds before responding. When she did so her tone was careful and deliberate. "You realize what you're implying, don't you? You're saying that the Wicked Witch of the West actually has a heart."
"She does," Her younger sibling replied with certainty. Urd's mouth opened to reject the premise but Belldandy inserted herself once again. "Perhaps not as you or I see it..."
"And how does Saotome fit into all of this again?" The Goddess of the Past raised a skeptical eyebrow, but allowed her sister to continue with the improbably hypothesis.
"Perhaps she sees something we don't," Belldandy shrugged, but traced the ribbon connecting the pair of photos with a light fingertip. Hild to Ranma. Ranma to Hild. "Hild-sama was attracted to her for a reason, but that reason has apparently transfigured..."
"Transfigured into my half sister." Urd rolled her eyes. "Or brother. Flip a coin."
"I simply can't see her utilizing the ultimate force for her own selfishness." The brunette shook her head, returning her attention to her sister.
"And I can," Urd stated blandly. "I can see her tugging on the Ultimate Force just to mess with us; justas easily as she turned Keiichi into a-"
The Goddess of the Present's cheeks pinkened. "I believed we agreed not to mention that again."
Her elder sister merely smiled knowingly, but it vanished into a look of consternation as quickly. "You just don't tweak the Ultimate Force for fun and games, and even then the dual lock out should have..."
Belldandy watched as her sister's expression faded into perplexed curiosity.
"The dual lockout." Urd stated, now completely distracted by the new train of thought. "Why didn't the lockout prevent...Oh my Kami-sama..."
The Goddess of the Past's head snapped up, her focus renewing with intensity. "The dual lockouts should have prevented this. Hild would have initiated the request from the Nidhogg, which would have passed it to the Yggdrasil..."
"Which should have declined the request outright." Belldandy concluded easily, even lacking Urd's IT expertise.
"We were... We were hacked!" The blond's expression turned grim. The Goddess of the Past was suddenly quite animated as she stepped around Belldandy for the bedroom door. "I'm going to call in the breach. We're rolling everything: Anti-virus, IO lockdown, attack protocols, the works. That woman hacked the Yggdrasil and Lord knows what she's been doing since."
With that declaration, Urd was gone from the room leaving belldandy in wonder. After a moment of thought, she followed, resolving to make her own inquiries.
"Calm down, Tendo."
"She's what?! My condolences, old buddy. Nabiki-"
"By a witch?"
"No I haven't seen him. Maybe he's-"
"Yes. Yes. Spirited him away? Impossible."
"White hair? Tan?"
"Alright. Yes, I'll be right over. We'll get to the bottom of this."
Genma Saotome set the receiver of the phone back onto the cradle with a light click and considered his best friend's words now that the said best best friend was no longer sobbing in his ear. It was an implausible tale to say the least- one with a tragic ending. The bespeckled martial artist stared at the phone with a measured look, weighing the components of the story as it was related to him: A witch, home invasion, murder and his own boy nowhere to be found through any of it.
On one hand he sincerely doubted that his son could simply be spirited away by anyone; witch, fiancee or otherwise. He'd never acknowledge the fact other than in the privacy of his own thoughts, but the boy was just that good and Genma couldn't help but to attribute Ranma's absence to another factor- The fight between Tendo daughter and his son.
'Boy just doesn't know what's good for him,' Genma concluded irritably and turned to the more troubling topic at hand. Nabiki Tendo, Soun's middle daughter was dead. Killed. While his own boy had been spirited off or not was very much in doubt, the murder of Soun's daughter was hardly conjecture or hearsay. 'And at the hands of a so-called witch, no less,' Genma thought grimly. If his old friend was to be believed she had not only murdered Nabiki, but betwixt the local law enforcement into believing the whole thing was merely an accident. In a world of pressure points, magical curses and memory erasure techniques, the balding martial artist was more than willing to take that portion of Soun's tale at face value; certainly it was more plausible than his boy getting kidnapped by the witch in question.
'Ridiculous,' Genma snorted mentally, finally turning away from the phone to walk the space of the dining room. He leaned into the kitchen, finding his wife preparing the morning's breakfast in a long royal purple nighty. A leering grin crept along the martial artists' face as his gaze lingered before catching her attention by clearing his throat. "There's been an incident at the Tendos. Soun needs help."
The chestnut haired woman blinked back curiously, pausing in the stirring of the soup bowl in hand. "It's not serious, is it?"
"I'm afraid it is." Genma shook his head. "I'll try and be back before noon. If Ranma comes home, send his butt over."
The Saotome patriarch was just turning away from his wife and the kitchen when her next question stopped him cold.
"Ranma?" The woman stared after her husband with a perplexed look even as he slowly turned back to her. "One of your old friends?"
Genma stared. And stared. Words failed him in that moment as Nodoka Saotome considered him curiously. The martial artist's mouth opened, then closed as his brain processed the unlikely question. The playful and downright sarcastic responses to her question were discarded as Soun's own description of events trickled back to the forefront of his mind. Foreboding settled around him like a cloak and he composed his answer simply.
"Ranma. The boy. Our son."
"Our what?" His wife blinked, her expression turning incredulous, then skeptical as she stepped forward to scrutinise her husband further. "Were you out drinking last night?"
"I-" It was the only word Genma managed as his spouse stepped into his personal space to give him a sniff.
"Or is this some kind of distraction?" Her countenance turned accusatory. "You had better not be looking for an excuse to haul off with Soun and the Master again. Don't think I'd forget how that used to go, Dear."
"Nonononono!" Genma waved his hands in the face of her menace, stumbling back a step. "Tendo's daughter. Nabiki. She's passed and he needs help sorting it out."
Nodoka's eyes widened as the news forced a mental reset of her attitude. "Oh, how unfortunate!"
"Indeed, happened sometime last night,." He answered quickly in order to divert her further from the topic and the possibility of a katana in his future. "He thinks there may be something more to it, so I'm heading over to give him a hand."
"So tragic..." His wife's voice trailed off in concern as the events of the last two decades flashed through her mind. The man had already been unfortunate enough to see the death of his wife, but now a daughter as well? Nodoka's attention returned to the here and now after a moment's reminiscence. "I'll make a few calls while you're out. Maybe some of the other wives in the neighborhood can help Kasumi and Akane through the grieving."
"I'm sure he would appreciate it." Genma nodded, thankful to have averted the subject of Ranma until he could get a better handle of just what was going-
"And about this Ranma?" 'Damn,' He muttered from the privacy of his own thoughts. He could only watch as she continued her scrutiny of his person. "Last I checked, we didn't have a son."
"Ah, I meant like a son." The martial artist ad libbed quickly. "He's like a son to me. If he drops by, send him over to Tendo's."
Genma waited with nervous anticipation as she continued to stare at him skeptically, then signaled his reprieve with a simple nod. "Of course. Perhaps I will send lunch along with him. Tendo must be a basket case and will need all the help he can get. What does he look like?"
"This 'Ranma' friend of yours," Nodoka pressed patiently as she turned back to kitchen and stepped past the counter to open the refrigerator.
"Ah, uh.." Genma's mental stumbling continued as the implications to her question were rammed home through his thought process. Soun had mentioned that the local police had no recollection of Ranma and that the boy had somehow been erased from their pictures. 'The witches' doing, no doubt,' he surmised grimly, but to affect his wife as well? What was even the point? Nodoka turned back towards him with another questioning look and Genma realized he had been quiet for too long. "Ah, about my height. Black hair. Wears it in a pigtail. blue gray eyes."
"Now that you mention it, he does sound vaguely familiar," Nodoka Saotome paused, placing a finger to her lips while tilting her head inquisitively. Genma's hope was just beginning to blossom with the recollection, only to have them dashed by her next recollection. "Didn't we have him over for dinner once a while back?"
Genma's staring returned for a solid minute until Nodoka turned from the kitchen counter to scrutinize him once more. She tapped the kitchen knife she had retrieved upon the cutting board with a subtly menacing frown. "Are you sure you're not hiding something?"
"Nope!" The bald martial artist stiffened as if plainly caught up in some sort of subterfuge. "Not hiding anything! At all!" Genma edged for the kitchen exit. "And if you see Ranma... Who is clearly not our son... Send him over!"
His wife cocked her head to the side doubtfully but Genma had slid out of the kitchen and beyond her ability to pry any further information from him via spousal browbeating.
Nodoka rolled the name around on her tongue, trying to remember the occasion they had hosted him in the first place, but drew nothing based on Genma's description of the young man. She stood in silent thought for another moment before abandoning the effort with a slight shrug. The chestnut haired woman repositioned the kitchen knife in hand and resumed her chopping, secure in the fact that a visit from Genma's friend was sure to jar her memory.
"No, I don't suppose remaining at Furinkan would be the best idea," The brunette on Ranma's right arm mused, her tone harboring a wistful tone even though she was resigned to accept the idea. The twenty some year old disciplinarian brushed a strand of her long mane off to the side of her cheek and considered the topic further. "While I won't pretend to understand it all yet, I will, of course, insist on his continued education."
"Oh, insist, shall you?" The white haired woman on the martial artist's left arm chuckled slightly but nodded in kind. "I have already arranged a special tutor for him, but I suppose a continued education in the here and now might be of some benefit."
"I've been called upon by a number of schools for special assignment in the past," The brunette offered as they walked down the sidewalk. Off to the side, a man walking in the opposite direction tripped and stumbled into a curbside store display. Miss Hinako didn't even register it as she continued. "I can compile a list of schools I would deem acceptable for Ranma-kun."
"I'm right here, you know?" The pigtailed boy raised his hand and waved it as if seeking permission in class. Both women continued on as if he hadn't spoken. Ranma rolled his eyes and let his attention wander as the pair continued.
"I have already deemed Juuban High an acceptable alternative," Hild offered, having already settled the matter well before miss Hinako's unnecessarily helpful input.
"Juuban..." The educator cocked her head, considering the woman's choice in educational facilities. It was one that she was quite familiar with. "Juuban's principle is Setsuna Meiou as I recall. I spent a few years straightening up a bullying element within several classes at her request. A strict woman, but fair."
Whereas the other two women didn't even bother to glance back at the street, Ranma did and found three cars joined bumper to bumper via warped fenders and mangled plastic. The collision had obviously been low speed in nature, but that didn't stop at least two out of the three occupants from staring at the three women far longer than propriety allowed for, causing the the black haired boy to smirk slightly. Their state of distraction was understandable, of course.
Miss Hinako, for example, was wearing her traditional pale yellow skirt that, while quite modest on the nine year old girl that was her alter ego, became a scandalous mini on her curvaceous twenty something adult body. Hild's wardrobe, on the other hand, consisted of nothing but scandalous clothing, and her current state of dress was no exception. Her skirt was black. Shiny black. The garment seemed to devour sunlight, intimately stretched across her tan skin until falling upon her upper thigh where it turned into a garter and stockings of the same rubber-like anybody else, they would have been stripper clothes.
'Or fiancee clothes,' the martial artist amended mentally, before rationalizing her fashion. This was Hild and therefore quite acceptable in Ranma's eyes. Trailing behind, Mara was wearing tight red leather pencil skirt and similar bodice; her charms all but bouncing out of the red leather crop as her heels clicked in time with Hild's.
Then there was Ranma himself. Where he could have gone just as ostentatious as his guardian or her entourage, the last twenty four hours had left him mentally exhausted and playing the bombshell just wasn't in the cards. In the end, the marital artist kept it simple with a button up tee and a pair of pants. It was the least he could get away with after Hild's wardrobe intervention, which made him just a guy... A guy surrounded by three of the hottest women in Tokyo. While actively participating in causing three car pile ups would have certainly been fun, the looks of pure envy were one hell of an ego boost in and of themselves. Not that he needed any more guys looking to kill him or girls looking at him like he was a piece of meat, but without the obligations of honor attached, he had to admit it was a hoot.
Regardless of the fun, the conversation hadn't gone unnoticed and he had to clarify a single point.
"Hey, isn't Meiou-san also that chick-"
"Her reputation precedes her," The Daimakaicho overrode her son with a gentle, slightly mischievous smile that Miss Hinako failed to notice. Ranma took the hint and decided not to pursue Hild's association with Miss Hinako's mutual acquaintance. Instead, he made the requisite mental note to ask about it later and took a conversational backseat.
"I also suspect that the lack of conflict will be equally beneficial," The Furinkan educator postulated as she considered the method by which her former student was extricated from his former life. "Though I must admit to some concern over the means by which it was executed."
"A little magic trick, nothing more," Hild waived her concern away even as Ranma fought to keep the incredulity off his face. The woman had rewritten reality to make this happen. 'A little magic trick' was perhaps the understatement of the millenium and the pigtailed boy fought to keep his face neutral as his mother continued. "Certainly no worse than the various tricks initiated by the parties seeking to take advantage of my son."
Now that was hardly an exaggeration in the martial artist's not so humble opinion.
To that the part-time adult educator could only produce a silent nod. Delinquency was rampant in the Saotome's life and most of it was actually not of his doing. Still, there was that single nagging question, and Ninomiya Hinako indulged in it. "...And to coincide with the loss of Miss Tendo, no less..."
"The loss of Miss Tendo?" Ranma's attention focused sharply, glancing from woman to woman. "Which Tendo? What happened?"
Miss Hinako eyed the ambivalent tanned woman for a reaction before continuing for Ranma. "I don't know the details, but it's sounding like Nabiki Tendo passed away of heart failure sometime during the storm last night."
"Ah, so, so tragic," Hild's voice dripped with melodrama that was clearly evident to her subordinate and Ranma. Mara smirked to herself while the teen beside her eyed his mother warily as she continued. "To be cut down in the prime of her young, innocent life... like chaff from the wheat."
Ranma stared at the white haired woman with wide eyes, who turned a sweet smile down upon her son. "Don't worry. I'll be sure to support you through this oh-so-tragic loss, Ranma-chan."
"Eh, right," The former Saotome hesitated, nodding mechanically while all but certain that something very, very bad had happened to the middle Tendo sister... beyond that of simply dying. She watched the woman that was now his mother sigh with regret.
"As will I," Miss Hinako agreed solemnly, completely missing the cues that Ranma and Mara had already picked up on. The educator rested a consoling hand on the teen's shoulder. "I'm sure we will all have time to reflect on her loss."
'...For better or worse,' Ranma added blandy but produced a nod for the woman regardless. The moment Ninomiya's eyes left the martial artist, Ranma was staring at his tanned patron with an incredulous stare; one that clearly communicated his need for more information.
'All in due time, son,'
Ranma nearly stumbled as the sound of Hild's voice intruded on the wild speculation of his thought process. Surprise wedged itself between the curiosity of Nabiki's fate and the warmth realized through Hild's acknowledgement of their bond. He was barely able to conceal the shock over his adoptive mother's voice resounding in his head while a myriad of question bubbled up like a wellspring though his thoughts. Even as Ranma was picking over which to address first, Hild glanced over with a smile.
"Only those thoughts you care to broadcast loud enough, dear," She supplied warmly, her lips never moving. Still, Ranma's unspoken question now had an answer, as did another major point of curiosity. "Of course you can. You are my child, after all. Go ahead and give it a try."
Ranma tried to shut out the distractions around him and did exactly that.
"Mrfff fflllfrr luuuff rrrf."
The results were less than optimal, causing the martial artist's brow to crinkle with annoyance. Miss Hinako witnessed the odd expression and decided to address it aloud. "Are you okay, Ranma-kun?"
"Ah, yeah," the martial artist ad libbed all while the light jingle of Hild's amusement echoed in his brain. "Just, uh, kinda shocked about the whole thing with Nabiki and all."
"If you need anybody to talk to, I'm here of course," The brunette offered with a sympathetic pat on the shoulder, none the wiser.
"I as well," The white haired grand demoness added amicably.
"A fine first attempt for one not innately gifted in telepathy," Hild complimented even as she emoted outward sympathy herself. The lesson continued within Ranma's mind, who in turn readily consumed it. "Think at me. Picture me or look at me before composing your thoughts."
"Mrglgrlgrlgrlgrlgrlgrldammit…!" The martial artist thought at her in frustration, somehow knowing that what he was saying and what she was receiving were two entirely different things.
"Mental sideband," The Daimakaicho supplied, picking up on the note of curiosity through the annoyance. "Still, I would be remiss in not mentioning that this would be much easier if you were to ascend."
"I thought not," Ranma could feel his mother's mental confirmation and all but see the nod in his mind's eye as she continued. "That being the case, master this technique and I shall indulge your many questions concerning our dearly departed Nabiki Tendo."
Ranma Testarossa could barely suppress his eagerness with the overt challenge.
Fifteen kilometers away, the famous- or infamous, depending on one's perspective –Cat Café was busy. The lunch rush was upon the proprietor and her two charges, taking and dispensing orders with a flare the establishment was well known for. Watching dishes fly and martial arts performance easily justified the slightly elevated price its patrons paid, which more than justified Cologne's ability to continue operations in the heart of the Nermian suburb. Since actual profit wasn't out of the realm of possibility, the Amazonian elder had taken to hire part time help, which in turn freed the others to run deliveries.
"Five orders, all within the business district," Cologne confirmed the separate receipts, sliding them across the counter to her great granddaughter. "Number three special, Pork buns, Five Season Delight, Kung Pao pork and…" The old woman stared as she watched her great granddaughter assembled the orders into the carry box for her bicycle. "…Why do you have six orders?"
"One is for Airen, of course!" Shampoo replied enthusiastically. She elaborated on seeing the confused look upon her Great Grandmother's face. "Too bad thing happen to mercenary girl. Shampoo take food to celebrate!"
The mercenary girl she knew, but something wasn't quite right. The Green robed Amazon elder pressed for an answer to the unspoken question. "Husband?"
"Of course, who else?" The lavender haired girl responded offhandedly as she put the final touches on securing the delivery box. It took another thirty seconds of staring to get her great granddaughter's undivided attention. "Shampoo do something wrong, great grandmother?"
"Deciding to elope, for one," Cologne started, cocking her head with curious suspicion. "Not telling me with whom, for another."
Completely at a conversational loss now, the young girl forced a smile. "Is kidding, yes?"
"Do I look like I'm kidding, granddaughter?" The old woman frowned, likewise trying to reconcile the missing piece of the puzzle.
To be fair, her great grandmother never looked like she was kidding, but even she could tell there was something intrinsically wrong with their communication. Shampoo did the only thing she could and elaborated. "Is Ranma, of course. Great grandmother know well?"
"A Japanese male?" Cologne frowned deeply, now looking even more unamused than before. "Do not tell me you are wasting your time with one of these Japanese weaklings. I would even give Mousse my blessing if that is to be the case."
"Aiyah! Is not so!" Shampoo reeled with the threat while warning sirens finally sounded within her thought process. She glanced quickly around the restaurant as if trying to locate something or someone. "Is something wrong if not know Airen!"
Cologne restrained herself with the girl's sudden panic, also sensing something was amiss; if not for the same reason. "Then why don't you tell me about this 'Ranma'?"
"Ranma Saotome," Shampoo elaborated quickly and launched into a shortened version of their mutual history. "Is too-too skilled martial artist. Broke Amazon law by eating challenge feast! Was girl at time so Shampoo give Kiss of Death?"
Cologne's eyes narrowed as she remembered the feast in question. "You won that feast."
If there were sirens in Shampoo's brain before, they were full-on air raid alarms now, and she eyed her great grandmother carefully. "You… no remember feast correctly?"
"Of course I do," The Elder shook her head, deciding to resolve this mental lapse one way or the other. She turned from the counter and directed an order back to the kitchen door. "Mister part-time, front and center!"
Several pans rattled within the kitchen but Mousse appeared seconds later, adjusting his coke bottle glasses with a sigh. "What now?"
"Shampoo's tribal challenge back in China," Cologne asked, temporarily ignoring the male's impudence. "Who won?"
Mousse blinked at the old woman, wary over such an obvious question. "Shampoo did, of course."
"Is not so!" Shampoo blurted, shaking her head with growing trepidation and utter confusion. "Is not right with both of you!"
Mousse stared curiously at the purple pastel clad girl through his thick glasses. Nor was he alone. Cologne didn't like where their conversation was going and where it pointed to. She had been around long enough to know a memory technique when she saw it and right now Shampoo's situation screamed memory alteration. Still, most were quite easily defeated and the elder was quite certain she could defeat this one as well. They always came down to details and once those unraveled, so did the technique. The old woman began with that premise in mind, focusing on the most obvious discrepancy.
"You gave her the Kiss of Death, yet we speak of a male," Cologne began carefully, wondering just as to the width and breadth of the memory alteration. "Please explain in the native tongue."
"Ranma is Nyannichuan cursed, great grandmother," Shampoo switched to Mandarin, explaining with equal care while her thoughts all but mirrored her great grandmother. She had firsthand experience with those same memory techniques, but for her the questions became who and why? Regardless, she continued the recollection with the same goals as her elder: To break the technique through a deluge of detail.
"He- she at the time –had set upon the challenge banquet unknowingly and I took offense," Shampoo continued the tale. "I took her too lightly and after the days' many matches, found myself easily defeated."
"And thus you gave her the Kiss of Death," Cologne concluded, to which the girl nodded.
"You later took me aside and told me that my actions were foolhardy and frivolous, but that I was bound by them nonetheless," The lavender haired teen explained with a measure of regret. "So I pursued her across China and into Japan, later finding that the person I had deemed a mortal enemy was actually a male skilled in the Art."
Cologne continued to watch, carefully measuring the girl's behavior while waiting for the proper fulcrum to present itself. "You would be obligated to him if this were truly the case."
"It was so," Shampoo continued, sighing. "The attempts on his girl-type's life had made Ranma wary of me and he was yet promised to another... Several others as I would come to find out. My limited grasp of Japanese also worked against my efforts and I was forced to return to China with neither goal accomplished."
"That bastard!" Mousse blurted and found the matriarch's cane applied to his cranium with a solid 'thunk'.
"Silence, male," Cologne ignored the boy massaging the painful knot out of his head and got right to the point, already knowing what such a theoretical failure would entail for her great granddaughter. "And your punishment?"
"Remediation, grandmother," Shampoo answered unhappily. "You challenged my skills over Jusenkyo itself and I was found wanting. I fell into the Spring of Drowned Cat."
"Indeed," Cologne arched a withered eyebrow, weighing the statement itself. After silently studying the Amazonian teen for another moment, the elder turned to Mousse. "Fetch us a glass of cold water."
Shampoo watched as the white robed teenage boy made his way to the nearest facet while the Joketsuzoku elder made her case with blunt force honesty. "You are a bright girl, so I will be succinct: You are under the influence of a memory erasure technique. We will determine who and why later, but our first priority is to return your perspective to that of reality."
"Great grandmother, you must believe me!" Shampoo pleaded as Mousse returned with one of the restaurant glasses. "It is you who have been affected by—"
Cologne swung the tip of the staff up, tapping the glass with just enough force so that it was jarred from the boy's grasp and upturned into the air. There could only be one target and cold water splashed across Shampoo's person even as the glass itself landed upright on the countertop without breaking. It twirled along its base and customers clapped at the old woman's antics, but it was Shampoo who stood by shell shocked.
"Who has been affected now, great granddaughter of mine?" Cologne posed the question to the dripping girl. The teenage Amazon stared at her hands as if they were alien to her body.
"You were never cursed," The Joketsuzoku matriarch corrected. "The reality is this: You won the tournament you supposedly lost and ate your prize that night with many of your sisters. There was no vagabond martial artist, no kiss of death, no ill-fated romance."
"Then why are we here?! In Japan?! There is no other reason but for my husband!" Shampoo was all but hysterical now, torn between the elation of being cured and the possibility that there was something distinctly not right with the world.
"Your win at the tournament secured a number of opportunities for you," Cologne released a patient sigh, humoring the teenager. "One of which was a training sojourn to expose the Amazons to the customs of the outside world."
"I... That's... not right..." The lavender haired Amazon all but fell into the nearest seat, dazed by her grandmother's recount of the here and now.
"The empirical evidence lies in the absence of a curse, supported by our very testimony," That elder shook her head sympathetically. "Rest, granddaughter. Take some time to reflect on my words. We will talk more when you are less addled."
The wide eyes persisted even as Shampoo stood, still unable to comprehend what had just happened. Last night all had been right with the world. Today she was being told everything she knew was wrong. Worse yet, even the complete lack of a curse seemed to support that point of view...
...But she remembered. In detail. It was directly counter to everything she knew of memory alteration, having been a student in the techniques herself. The very first thing they were taught was to keep it simple since a complex alteration had a higher chance of being seen through. Shampoo thought back to her early encounter with Akane as a prime example of such execution. That had been a simple alteration and would have withstood breakage if not for the strong affect her husband's insults had on the Tendo.
"No." Shampoo's resolve firmed as her own memories withstood the test of logic and detail. Cologne frowned even as Shampoo turned away, rounding the counter to make her way to the exit."I am right and there is something very, very wrong here."
"I will return with proof, Great Grandmother." The teen announced and was gone through the exit. Cologne shook her head with regret and turned back to Mousse.
"Follow her," She ordered sternly. "She is not in her right mind and the perpetrator will undoubtedly still have interest in her."
For once, Mousse completely agreed with the full time thorn in his side and set out after his unrequited love.
The moment Shampoo had exited the establishment she was yanking her delivery bike from its position leaning against the storefront, destination firmly in mind. Something had altered the memories of her great grandmother and there was only one place she would achieve final closure as to who was actually the afflicted: The Tendo Dojo. The Amazon ignored Mousse's cries to wait up and pedaled hard out into traffic, dodging cars and trucks with prenatural agility before hopping a curb, using the bump to achieve the height necessary to mount a nearby fence.
Without traffic, the girl quickly picked up speed, silk and lavender hair buffeting with the wind as her velocity increased. Her thoughts turned to more strategic matters as she negotiated the fence top route; matters beyond her personal plight.
Who would do this and what was their motive?
The 'who' had to be quite formidable if they could successfully alter the memory of an Amazon Elder. She had never seen great grandmother bested in any challenge which meant her shadowy opposition had to be exceptionally good and that she had to step carefully in her pursuit. 'Why', on the other hand, was quite obvious to Shampoo. Her husband was a desirable commodity, plainly put. She had been willing to resort to mental manipulation more than once, so why not another fiancee in waiting? It made sense, but there was still one other glaring discrepancy...
'...Why not me?' The teenage girl wondered as she kicked the bike just enough to clear another fence segment before departing it entirely for the sidewalk. Three pedestrians scattered, but Shampoo was through them before they could finish their terrified yelps. Her mystery opponent had already established the high end of his or her skill by subverting her own great grandmother. They had also determined what they considered loose ends by including Mousse, so why not include the primary competition- Herself?
Shampoo continued to chew on the various theories as she banked into a hard turn to around a street corner. A car honked at her trespass but she left it behind at high speed. There was also the question as to what she would find once she arrived. Her husband completely deprived of his memories? A new fiancee inserting herself into her rightful position? Maybe even-
The Amazon warrior's chocolate brown eyes picked out a pedestrian through the alley on an adjacent street. Shampoo suddenly re-prioritized her transit. The lavender haired girl kicked the back wheel out, executed a hard skid and went sideways into the alley wall where she peddled into the horizontal plane along the wall briefly before returning to the ground. She cleared the alleyway and locked up the brakes, skidding to a stop.
Silver steel was already swinging to behead her.
The Amazon teen abandoned the bike outright and watched it get cut in half by an oversized spatula as she flipped over the attempt on her life, landing just out of range of the okonomiyaki master. Ukyo Kuonji reset her guard, twirling the combat spatula as she tracked the girl with a menacing glare.
"Not in the mood right now, Sugar,"
Shampoo merely acknowledged her warning with a nod. "Is okay ask question?"
"You just did." Ukyo replied irritably, but waited, her weapon lowering slightly.
The lavender haired martial artist took the comment and lack of hostilities as license to continue. "What Shampoo change when cold water splash?"
This time a look other than irritation found its way to the chef's face. She arched a skeptical eyebrow and answered the overly obvious question. "A purple kitten?"
"Aiyah!" Shampoo exclaimed, bouncing into Ukyo's personal space to hug her violently. "Pizza girl do remember! Shampoo not crazy!"
"Off! Get off or I'll beat you down on principle!" Ukyo attempted to pry the enthusiastic girl from her, finally succeeding thirty seconds later. "Why are so excited about... Oh. That."
"Is nobody remembers, Airen!" Shampoo blurted, eager to tell her story to somebody who at least had a correct recollection of current events while missing the chef's turn of depression. "Great grandmother and Mousse have memory erased! No remember Ranma!"
"And they're not likely to anytime soon," Ukyo mumbled, instantly gaining the Chinese girl's undivided attention.
"Not likely what?" Shampoo blinked, cocking her head as her words demanded answers. "Spatula girl know something?"
"It'd be just deserts if I just left you to find out yourself," Ukyo shook her head, finally sheathing the spatula. She shrugged lifeless and decided. "What the hell. Misery loves company, right?"
"The white haired chick, remember her?" The Okonomiyaki mistress began and Shampoo lept to the most obvious conclusion available.
"Is her fault!" The Amazon all but screamed. A jian blurred into existence as the target of her frustration was realized. "I kill!"
"Not quite, kitten," Ukyo shook her head, attempting to explain in a lifeless tone. "It was her mother. Or sister. Or something. They look nearly identical. But Ranma..." She couldn't bring herself to actually say the next part for several moments, then continued after a deep breath. "...It was Ranma that pulled the trigger."
"Pull... trigger...?" Shampoo tried to conceptualize her words without much success.
"He wanted out," Ukyo could all but feel the tears threatening to break once more. "He was done with the whole fiancee thing... With us. The chick's mother made it happen."
"Not believe you," Shampoo eyed the Japanese teen skeptically. "No reason to leave, have beautiful Amazon wife."
"Ha!" The okonomiyaki heiress laughed bitterly. "And here I was the cute fiancee, go figure."
The Amazon teen could all but hear the heartbreak in her tone, forcing Shampoo to at least hear her rival out. "So what mother do?"
"Beats the hell out of me, Sugar. She's an evil sorceress or something and..."" Ukyo admitted readily, then seemed to catch herself mid sentence with a put-out look.
"...And God, i'm starting to sound like Kuno," She berated herself, rubbing her forehead. After a moment, Ukyo managed to reboard her train of thought. "Anyway, she's more dangerous than your grandmother if that serves as any sort of measuring stick. She did some voodoo, cast a spell or did something... But after she was done, nobody remembered Ranma Saotome. Not the class, not the teachers. Miss Hinako did, but nobody else."
"Is like great grandmother and Mousse," Shampoo admitted with growing concern over the talk of scary powerful witches with the ability to influence memory on a massive scale. She clutched the handle of her sword, determined to see her mission through, however. "This one is going to Tendo. Come along, yes?"
"Count me out of this one," Ukyo her head solemnly.
"Call me what you want, but I looked into that witch's eyes," Ukyo Kuonji simply turned away and began to walk. She paused and glanced back with depressed resignation in her eyes. "Besides, I think Ranma might be right."
Shampoo merely waited, and the teen turned back to the sidewalk, finishing the thought as she did. "I think we all need a break... From this."
And Ukyo simply walked away.
Be it ever so humble, there's no place like hell.
At least that's what those that worked there thought. The realm had its good points and its bad points, and as long as you didn't piss the Daimakaicho off, you more than likely wouldn't be paying a visit to those bad points. For the rest of hell's population- that is to say the legions of the damned sentenced to an eternal stay -hell was one bad point after another.
A good portion of those souls were simply the unpleasant sort, like rapists and murders. Some had unwittingly slipped into a life of unrequited damnation. Salvation was refuse as a matter of principle and there was always occupancy available. Others were luckier. Their stay in hell was transient in nature until they balanced their karma by participating in less tortuous tasks...
...Such as tugging on a multi megaton iron gate under the infernal gaze of an all seeing eye.
There were a special few that were universal pitied, however. They weren't simply damned... They were on Hild's shit list. She didn't have the time or patience to manage the eternal suffering of every pissant serial killer and megalomaniac that found his or her way to hell, but for some people, she made the time. Nabiki Tendo was one such soul. The second daughter of Rumi and Soun Tendo hadn't been an especially bad person, certainly not when compared to the rest of hell's denizens, but she had entered into a personal contract with the grand demoness; a grand demoness with an axe to grind against the Tendo family as a whole.
It went a long ways toward explaining why the middle Tendo sister was plying a heavy steel shovel to a 150 kilo pile of smoldering, gaseous dragon manure. She was caked in grime. Bone tired. Anorexic. Yet she somehow summoned the strength to plunge the rusted shovel onto the pile of stench and extract a sizable mass of the excrement to be dumped into a battered wheelbarrow along side it. The devilish winds around her shifted and the fumes coiled around her, causing Nabiki to nearly lose consciousness as the stench invaded her olfactories. She suppressed the urge to gag. In fact, she didn't' have time to gag. Nabiki Tendo was on the clock and if this pile wasn't disposed of by the time-
The orangish glow of hell disappeared suddenly, replaced by a cooling shadow. The former Ice Queen froze, slowly turning around to her fate. Red scales and two malicious yellow eyes stared into the remains of her soul and the shovel fell out of her suddenly trembling hand. The air vibrated around her as the twelve story tall red dragon craned its neck down to her level, nearly giving her second degree burns simply by breathing on her. Nabiki whimpered and fell to her knees on the stone dungeon floor. The dragon spoke.
"Why is this not cleaned up?"
The logical answer was that the dragons who had produced the waste in question had feasted on particularly stringy souls over the last week and had thus produced more excrement than usual. Nabiki Tendo and one or two select others had been hard pressed to keep up with their output and by extension had fallen behind on their waste management duties. Nabiki had long since learned that such well composed explanations were largely unappreciated however, and instead appealed to the dragon's moral sensibilities.
"Please don't eat me again!" The girl squeaked, clutching herself in a terrified shiver.
"I think I shall," The dragon rumbled, and calmly dipped down to snatch the girl up with its jaws.
"EEEEEeeeeEEEEEKKK-!" They snapped shut and with it, Nabiki Tendo's primal scream of terror ceased.
Ranma winced from a balcony hanging far above the pit, her cheek twitching every time the dragon crunched on something sounding suspiciously bone like. Wide eyes stared, her mouth hanging open as far too many thoughts sought to make their way to her lips. She turned that stare on to her own benefactor, who was likewise watching the scene play out next to her with a satisfied air. The redhead turned back back down to the dragon as some of the words managed to finally clear a way to her vocal cords.
"She just got... What the... That's pretty damn..." Hild merely watched the girl struggle for a coherent thought with a tilted head until one finally found dominance amongst the others. "Wait... 'Again'?"
"It wouldn't be much of a punishment if she were simply eaten once, Dear," The supreme ruler of hell gestured to the dragon below, explaining. "Now she will be digested over several weeks within the dragon's molten stomach. There, she will burn in agony until she is expelled like the waste she is to begin the cycle anew. Time dilation is quite a wonderful tool."
"That's... that..." The martial artist shook her head, her eyes locked onto the dragon as it stretched for a nap. She turned back to Hild. "Isn't that... Kinda... I mean it's that a bit much?"
Her adoptive mother looked upon her with curiosity as her daughter continued to sort her thoughts out aloud. "And I'll be the first to agree she was pain in the ass and all, but... That ain't exactly justice..."
"Justice, child?" Hild mused with a kindly smile. Her lavender eyes glowed with malice however, as she took her daughter's hand gently. "Justice is a flawed ideology arbitrarily assigned to sate the bloodlust of society. Who deems what retribution is fit and what is not? I do. The girl down there has struck against my blood and this is my retribution, Ranma-chan. My justice."
Once more Ranma's mouth opened, but words failed. Completely.
The white haired demoness took the opportunity to drive her point home, pulling the still pliable girl into a protective embrace. "My family is very important to me. Just as Urd is my daughter so are you... And there is no obstacle that will keep me from those seeking to inflict suffering upon my own."
Ranma simply allowed herself to be held. That alone was something she had never experienced and it was... Emotion warred within, preventing her from fully resolving the sensation. On one hand the woman holding her hand- her very mother by universal decree -had taken it upon herself to protect her after a fashion. It was no small thing in Ranma's eyes, nor was the feeling of belonging that flowed through her mother's embrace. On the other hand, her version of justice was overkill... Overkill on a massive scale. Overkill she just couldn't overlook.
The redhead took another selfish minute to enjoy the embrace before slowly withdrawing from it, looking up at the taller woman. "But I can't... What you're doing to her is... It's just..."
"More than once she tried to sell you... Like a common whore," Hild tipped the redhead's chin up toward her eyes to ensure she had full understanding. "She deserves this."
"It's just... It's just too..."
Hild watched the girl as she struggled with her words, recognizing the obvious pains she was taking not to offend her. The woman sighed, stroking her daughter's head. "Never let it be said that this mother does not dote on her children. Wait here, dear."
Ranma watched as the tanned ruler of hell simply step off the ledge and begin to float down as if she were merely a leaf on the thermal currents buffeting the sheer white wrap she wore. She touched down gently before the yawning dragon thirty seconds later who immediately perked up at her presence. The giant red beast stood up, bowing head and wings differentially.
"What service may this one perform for you, Daimakaicho?" The creature rumbled, awaiting her decree submissively.
"You already have," Hild assured him, then made her orders known. "Expel the Tendo,"
The dragon's massive cranium tilted with curiosity, but it ultimately shrugged its wings in compliance. The reptile heaved and choked, its hacking reverberating off the cavernous walls as the Daimakaicho stood by, merely content to watch as a slight bulge reversed its way up the beast's gullet. Its gigantic maw opened and the dragon gave one last heave, violently depositing a steaming, sulfurous blob of phlegm directly onto the stone floor.
The Queen of the Damned nodded her satisfaction, dismissing the dragon as she turned to the sickly orange-green slime. "You may go now, Koratha-kun. I have business with this one."
The dragon respectfully dipped its head once more before leaping skyway, dust to peel away from its launch site. None of it touched the white haired woman, who merely watched as something struggled within the regurgitated mass. After several more moments, a female hand thrust its way out, clutching at the open air. The squirming intensified as the body dug its way out of the steaming phlegm, gasping for air as its head finally cleared the goo. Nabiki's nude body flopped clear of the scalding slime and onto the bare stone, pink in some spots while obviously burned in others like a badly cooked steak. The former Tendo continued to hyperventilate from her fetal position for several long minutes until a new voice intruded on her world of pain and suffering.
"I assume you are quite done with the theatrics?"
That voice alone stilled the girl instantly. It was one ingrained in her darkest nightmares. One she would never, ever forget. Her frozen state lasted barely seconds, only to be replaced by full on trembling as she uncurled just enough to confirm the presence standing above her.
"Pleasedeargod..." Nabiki whimpered, only to watch the Daimakaicho's smile widen.
"Oh, he'll be of no help to you here, Nabiki-chan," Hild's eyes glittered with malevolence, but instead of inflicting further suffering upon the girl, she merely held out a tanned hand. "You instead owe your salvation to my daughter."
Nabiki stared at the hand as if it were a snake. Or worse. After a full thirty seconds of staring, the whited haired woman grew bored. "I would advise taking my hand... Or you may return to your former duties."
The middle sister hesitated, as if weighing the evils of cleaning after and being eaten by a dragon to those represented in the smiling woman standing over her. The former Tendo whimpered a little more, shuffling away from the hand. Hild merely sighed, becoming thoroughly irritated over the girl's abject terror.
"Meet my expectations and no harm shall befall you," The grand demoness offered matter-of-factly.
Nabiki continued to stare at the jeweled hand as indecision waged a war in her mind, indecision that last only as long as it took for the woman to turn to walk away. Nabiki Tendo snapped out for her hand desperately. Hild's evil smile renewed with the frantic contact and dark streamers of black energy coiled from her palm to flow over the teen's arm and around her body.
The mercenary cried in terror and tried to recoil from the tendrils of magic, but found the hand interlocked with her own unyielding. The black coils tightened around her body, nearly asphyxiating Nabiki as they healed her burns and cleansed her body before settling lightly around her to form clothing. A black, skintight cheongsam wove its way around her, leaving a long slit up her left leg while black six inch stilettos were grafted to her feet. Black lace stockings rose to her upper thighs and a steel cuff flashed into being around the girl's neck before the black magic wound back up around her head, depositing two diminutive bat wings into her refreshed hair before dissipating entirely. A two meter chain hung from the cuff and Hild gave it a slight tug to pull the girl out of her petrified state.
"Such irony," Hild appraised her handy work with amusement and resumed their dialogue as Nabiki scrambled to her feet, gaping at the changes. The Daimakaicho led the way as the chain bound girl trailed behind her. "My expectations are quite simple: You will serve my daughter in any capacity she sees fit. If she wants you to run errands, you are to run errands. If she wishes you to entertain her, you are to entertain her. If she wishes to use you as her sexual play thing, you will quite happily attend to her with every fiber of your being. Are we clear Miss Tendo?"
"Yes, Daimakaicho," Nabiki answered lowly, hoping she wasn't merely trading a bad deal for a worse one. Gravity suddenly lost its hold and both women drifted upward.
"If your service to my daughter does not meet my expectations, you shall find yourself... demoted," The white haired woman glanced back with an evil smile. The former Ice Queen gulped and Hild merely smiled. "I see we have an understanding."
Nabiki nodded furiously. The grand demoness merely turned back to their upward transit and Nabiki could now see the cliffside they were approaching now. Of all the things she didn't expect in hell, it was some girl wearing a white button down t-shirt and blue jeans. She focused on the wide eyed girl, knowing that there was a connection she wasn't making. They settled on to the ledge and Nabiki studied her new master- 'owner,' she mentally corrected herself -carefully. Recognition was firing through her brain now. It was definitely somebody she knew... but she had been down in the pit for so long. Cleaning and being devoured. Being devoured and cleaning. Years of circular torture without ceasure...
That question, or rather the voice, broke the dam. Nabiki Tendo sucked in a breath as recognition hit her full force. The corresponding name finally found its way to her lips. "Ra... Ranma?!"
"Kneel." Hild ordered sternly, squashing the slightest glimmer of hope that had sprouted while reminding the girl of her place instantly. Nabiki fell to one knee but was unable to tear her gaze away from the pensive red headed martial artist. The teen watched as the mistress of hell walked around her person and handed Ranma the other end of the chain. "Serve my daughter as you would serve me. Fear my daughter as you would fear me. Treat her words as if they were from my very lips."
"Y.. Yes, Daimakaicho!" Nabiki stuttered, barely covering her lapse in respect through the shock. Hild dismissed her presence, turning a more kindly countenance upon her child.
"You will undoubtedly feel the urge to treat your new pet gently," The tanned woman took Ranma's hand in hers while lecturing her instructionally. "Such familiarity breeds contempt. Remember that you are her master at all times and do not fail to discipline her as necessary. If you should lapse in your duties to do so, they will fall to me... And my discipline can be quite unpleasant."
This time both teens gulped, but Ranma found her head nodding mechanically, already and knowing just how unpleasant her mother could be when she put her mind to it. Only two words came to mind in light of that realization.
'I have imbued her with enough power to make her useful until you see fit to ascend yourself,' Hild's voice echoed in her mind as she stepped alongside Ranma, stroking her child's head. 'Likewise, I have instilled with her numerous incentives to see to your well being. Between these and her lessons below, you should find her quite pliable.'
'Yes mom,' The redhead reiterated mentally, but was unable to keep the gnawing guilt from her mental tone. Hild merely gave her a kiss on the head.
'Be at ease, my child,' The queen of the damned returned, her voice flowing through Ranma's thoughts like a soothing wind. 'In time you will learn your place. I am your mother and you are my daughter and all are beneath us. Your new minion will come to enjoy her role and you will see she is much better off for it.'
Ranma produced a half hearted nod and her guardian gave her a final reassuring squeeze before stepping away, speaking aloud this time. "I suspect you will need time to reflect on this development. Your apartment?"
"Ah, yeah," Ranma agreed faintly, staring at the cheongsam clad tendo while tracing the chain from the girl's neck to her very hand. It was all the redhead could do to maintain her hold on the leash as Hild spoke once more.
"Very well then," She nodded, snapping her fingers.
Ranma Testarossa and Nabiki, formerly Tendo, disappeared in a gout of three meter fire.
"Status report," Urd, Norn Goddess of the Past Class Two, Category One ordered as she we strode onto the command deck of the Asgard mainframe, studying the focused flurry of activity born from the various other deities tasked with managing the Yggdrasil's well being. Melodic stringed tones echoed through the white chamber as the gods and goddesses pulled the relevant data from eternities supercomputer by plucking on the golden harp strings.
Their tones coalesced into a melodic symphony while secondary visual holographic displays provided further information. A cyan haired goddess caressed the strings at her station once more, eliciting several more notes before turning back to the tanned goddess. "Firewalls answering full lockdown, Ma'am."
"Anti-virus down and running," Another reported as she keyed her own data into holographic structure that teamed with activity. "No contacts to report."
"Diagnostics clean, Ma'am," A god advised from across the room as he analyzed the musical resonance that the Yggdrasil was reporting back to him. He turned back to Urd as she made the rounds. "No unusual activity for the last two weeks."
"Except for the complete rewrite and permissions change of a mortal file less than forty eight hours ago," Urd replied as she leaned over and keyed in the god's data for him. "Look further back. Bounce it off the hard copies if necessary."
"What exactly are we looking for, Ma'am?" A goddess with a pixie haircut and pink hair asked, raising her hand as if in grade school.
"Lexia, right?" The Goddess of the Past walked over to her and scrutinized her display before answering. the young goddess nodded in response to her name and the Norn continued. "Anything that would enable the Nidhogg to push through a request to alter a mortal file."
"That's impossible!" The god she had just left blurted, staring at Urd as if she had grown a second head. "The dual lock out would have prevented-"
"-Such a thing from happening in the first place," The white haired goddess finished for him, agreeing in full. She turned to the open air and addressed the supercomputer directly. "Yggdrasil, display last Nidhogg access."
The air shimmered just above their mutual heads and the main chandelier of golden wind chimes shimmered, displaying the requested information as light blue symbology.
「Last Nidhogg access request: 2236 minutes ago.
Request type: File modification, Genealogy.
Originator: Nidhogg Terminal 0001.
File: Saotome, Ranma.
Notes: Surface level rewrite of local events required.
Dual Lockout polling required.
Decision: Nidhogg  : Yggdrasil 
Verdict: Request Declined.
Outcome: Request executed 」
"And that is what we are facing," Urd announced after giving the room time to parse the data for themselves. Her serious gaze swept across every deity in the command center. "If they can do it once, they can do it again, so lets get moving on this one. They've got a thirty six hour head start on us."
It only took a moment for the information to sink in and when it finally did, the room exploded with activity and music as each operator deviled into their own resources to work at the threat that the Goddess of the Past had uncovered. Urd found an empty station and began to strum the harp interface herself in order to pull up further information on the event. First there were the logs of Ranma Saotome.
'What did I miss?' She question herself silently as she went through the major events of the cursed boy's life, all of which abruptly ceased thirty six hours ago with the Daimakaicho's interference. It didn't take much to see that they both had things in common. They were cocky. Arrogant. Narcissistic. The problem with that was her mother wasn't big on charity and that there were cocky, arrogant and narcissistic people everywhere. Why was Saotome so special?
'Must have sent her a mother's day card or something,' Urd rolled her eyes with the sarcastic thought and continued to scroll through the file as her thoughts turned to different tactics. 'Could be the kid himself is actually the penetration aid into the Yggdrasil?'
She clicked her fuchsia nails on the desk station she was sitting at, contemplating the possibility, then decided. 'Alright, a core dump it is then.' Urd gave the harp several notes and the overhead chimes sung back. The holodisplay occupying the open air to her right began to flow with dense symbology that she began to pick apart. The curse was certainly a corruption in Ranma's mortal basecode and even that reeked of Hild. The goddess highlighted the relevant section and began to run a search. Another screen materialized off to her right seconds later.
「Jusenkyo; Cursed Springs.
Threat Level: Six.
Specifics: Death magic reservoir.
Source: Jusendo ley line. 」
'Now we're talking,' Urd nodded to herself, sensing a lead. She pulled up a holographic keyboard this time and began typing furiously, digging deeper into its creation logs.
「Administrator: Sing Ho Fong [INACTIVE]
Affiliation: Monk, Chaos.
01132905BC - 05202761BC [truncated]
Status: Deceased 」
The Goddess of the Past's study narrowed as she eyed the Monk's affiliation and the terminal header associated with it. Her typing began anew and this time, the results came as no surprise.
'Gotcha,' she crowed mentally, reading through the output.
「File: Sing Ho Fong [deceased]
01132905BC - 05202761BC [truncated]
Custody: Niflheim, Hel
Last Known: VP of Curses and Hexology Division
Oversight: Daimakaicho, Hild. 」
Jusenkyo was no random occurrence. It's creator not simply some chaos sympathising monk. It had been created by a minion of Hild... Who was now vice president of her Curses and Hexology division. The implications were dire. 'Just far back did that witch plan this crazy-?'
"Miss Urd?" Lexia's hand popped up once more and the white haired goddess sighed to herself as her train of thought was broken by the interruption. The goddess managed eye contact without looking overly put out and the junior analyst continued. "I think I may have found something."
"I think you had best see for yourself, miss Urd," The pink haired goddess looked slightly uncertain. Urd grumbled to herself and sauntered over to her station, eyeing the logs she had pulled up. Lexia picked one specifically. "I've been tracing the path of the interrupt that caused the override and-"
"And you found Hild's fingerprints all over it," The Norn finished blandly, only to watch the younger goddess shake her head
"But the origin is internal!" The girl insisted, causing Urd to blink with surprise at her statement. Lexia rushed to shore up her case, pointing at various coding blocks. "Here, here and here! Asgard codes and authentication up and down the pipe!"
Urd simply stared. She was right. It was all legit. New conspiracies began to congeal within her head. 'An inside job?'
"I ran the codes as far as I could with my access, but..." The pixie haired goddess shook her head, clearly at a loss.
"I've got this," Urd frowned and began to manipulate the access string with her own access privileges. The fact that the codes were completely above board was worrying in and of itself. It turned their situation from one of external forced entry to one where the door was opened for them... from the inside. Even as she pulled on the access path, her brow crinkled. "Just how high up does this crap go?"
The access list narrowed as she continued her own high level incursion into the Yggdrasil encrypted database, already combing through class one, category one deities. She knew she was raising red flags just by being there and running the trace, but if she could make the source of the...
Urd, Category Two, Class One stopped her typing cold as a the latest authentication protocol was unencrypted. Her eyes widened and she slowly removed her hands from the keyboard as if they were directly wired to a bomb or software virus. Next to her, Lexia's eyes had also widened. "It's that...?!"
A phone rang. The old fashioned bell was a sharp contrast to the melodic information gathering that permeated the atmosphere of the Yggdrasil command deck and all eyes turned to an antique brass phone sitting politely at the center of the room, perched atop a marble pillar that looked almost roman in origin. All activity stopped as it rang again. This time the IT staff stared at the room's senior officer.
Urd swallowed the nervous lump in her throat down and walked over to the phone. It rang a third time before she mustered the nerve to ply her tanned fingers to the receiver, pulling it off the brass rocker with a light click. The goddess put it to her ear with a weak smile.
She had cried for an hour straight.
Ranma Testarossa, daughter of Hild and heir apparent to Hell itself watched helplessly as the the former Ice Queen of Furinkan High sobbed, curled up in a fetal ball on the living room's massive chocolate brown suede sofa. The redhead was at a loss of what to do with the woman. The pleas to stop crying had done nothing to placate the girl and after fifteen minutes of that, Ranma could only watch. At half an hour, her nervous pacing had stopped completely and she sat beside the former Tendo, hoping to calm her.
No such luck.
In the end, An exasperated Ranma simply reached for the TV remote control and decided to wait it out next to her by watching something. 'Martial arts flick,' the teen frowned as the picture clicked to life, forcing the arduous task of learning how the remote control and its myriad of buttons actually worked just to change the channel upon her. Two minutes and some experimentation later, Ranma finally fondled the remote with enough competence to extricate herself from the settings menu and various blank input screens to switch channels. The martials arts show and its bad choreography was banished, replaced by something with cars. Another click found an American serial Western. The redhead watched the bad acting and gunplay for all of about two minutes before thumbing the remote once more.
'Iron chef?' Ranma cocked her head and set the remote aside, watching as Chairman Kaga began to unveil the secret ingredient for the show. The large silver platter came off, revealing...
Ranma blinked at the voiced observation, finding the puffy eyed girl next to him partial uncurled from her fetal position and watching the show. The martial artists studied her with a bit of surprise but smiled slightly, returning her attention to the show. The snails on screen were actively trying to escape from the platter, but their highest attainable top speed made the feat impossible as the various chefs gathered around to make short work of them.
"Guess you could make some decent Escargot out of 'em," Ranma commented as the chairman enthusiastically began the match. Activity exploded on screen as the chefs rushed to their stations with the intent on outdoing their opponent via extravagant culinary means. "Get some garlic butter, maybe wine..."
Ranma's voiced trailed off as she found Nabiki staring at her intently. The black haired girl averted her eyes suddenly, speaking in a shaky tone. "I wouldn't have figured you being the french cuisine connoisseur, Saoto- I mean, Master?"
The quick correction to 'Master' caused Ranma a mental flinch, but she put on a smile for her regardless and shrugged with amusement. "Hey, you try getting locked up in an iron bodice and see if you don't learn a thing or two about french cuisine."
A fractional smile found its way to the edge of Nabiki's lips, but if faded with her downcast gaze. After a long moment of silence, she finally spoke again as a tear trailed down her cheek. "Please don't send me back, Master."
The redhead's shoulders slumped with her utterly defeated tone of voice, and this time she put her own hand on Nabiki's clenched ones. "I ain't gonna send you back, alright?"
Eye contact was hesitantly made. Hope dimly shown in the former Tendo's eyes. "R-Really?"
"Yeah, really," Ranma sighed, shaking her head. "Mom may be good with that, but I can't do it. Some people really deserve it, but... but I think the job gets to her sometimes."
"Thank... Thank you, master," Nabiki smiled gratefully, but Ranma's own mood soured.
"Don't thank me," The teen shook her head with regret and guilt. "I know Mom well enough to know she ain't just gonna let you go because I ask. Maybe in time, but..."
"I deserved it," The mercenary admitted firmly, surprising Ranma. "I was stupid, greedy and short sighted. I entered into that contract willingly and have had a lot of time to reflect on just how arrogant I was."
Nabiki pulled Ranma into a firm embrace, clutching at her as if she were drowning and the redhead herself was a life preserver. "You saved me from that pit! From that woman! I'll do whatever you want! Be whatever you want! Just don't send me back!"
"I already told ya I wasn't gonna," Ranma pried the frantic girl from her gently. "And the only thing I want ya to be is Nabiki Tendo... Just with the bitch end pointed at someone else."
It took Nabiki a moment to register the faint smile the last was spoken with and she couldn't help but to produce one herself. It wasn't full of that same spark of life Ranma once knew, but it was a start. The former Ice Queen nodded faintly.
"That... I think I can do that, Master."
Author's Notes- I had to rewrite a significant portion of this fic, which is what ultimately contributed to the delays in writing. Part of it was procrastination- yay, a rewrite -another part was just crazy life schedules. I appreciate you sticking around for it tho. Hope it doesn't disappoint :)
Wrap Up; Some readers have been dismayed by the assumption that it's all downhill from here; that there is little left of the plot to be be told beyond the wrap up and ending. To those harboring such assumptions I must report that neither Elvis nor the fat lady has left the building. Or Tupac. He's still here too. And you pissed him off.
A Bad Day; I had to balance Nabiki's torture out to a degree against the overall tone of the fic. Technically this is hell and it probably should be a lot worse. On the other hand I didn't want to sugar coat it either. I hope scooping crap and being digested by dragons provides some meaningful penalty for you while not completely blowing the mood.
Special thanks as always to... Um, Materia Blade, DCG (who always says boobs are a sound writing strategy) and DD.