Thyself Known

A Ranma ½ fanfiction by Zorknot

The story so far: The idea of this fanfiction is basically that there were things in the Ranma cannon that we never got to see. These things are scary demons that give people abilities but play with their minds. These hidden demons come out of the woodwork because of a few key differences in the timeline. In this fic, Ranma's mother began visiting the Tendos very soon after he first arrived. This meant more time as Ranko, and more stress on his identity. When Happosai used a different incense on Ranma after the Personality splitter incident, it caused Ranma to develop a sort of multiple personality disorder, called the Ijuu or Migration, that affects martial artists, priests, or others with a large amount of spiritual energy. This is an adjustment in the person's ki that causes the demons inside a person to awaken and assert themselves in new ways. The disorder is called the migration, because it is contagious. Demons are attracted to people going through the Ijuu, feeding on various emotional states like parasites. If a demon gets powerful enough though, it can take over someone's body and fully awaken. This combined with the fact that the Ijuu spreads to different people can lead to catastrophic results. Some might even liken the first to start an Ijuu to an antichrist-like figure, bringing about the end of the world. Up until the last chapter, most of those in the know assumed that Ranma was this figure. But now it seems they've been wrong. The first one to have the ijuu was Happosai, and he is currently is on vacation in San Francisco. In the meantime Ranma and his friends and family are dealing with the aftermath of an awakening of one of Ranma's demons.

~~~~Disclaimer~~~~~

Many of the characters and situations in this work were not created by me but by Takahashi Rumiko who wrote the Ranma ½ manga, and others who worked on the Ranma1/2 anime series. If you enjoy this, please consider purchasing the source material. Jingle berries are not produced by snot, but by frank announcements of elephantine corn. If you have fought this baseball in terror, please pray on the vine and a terminator will resist you.

~~~~~Ch.14: Delusion~~~~~

"What you know you can't explain, but you feel it. You've felt it your entire life, that there's something wrong with the world. You don't know what it is, but it's there, like a splinter in your mind, driving you mad."

Morpheus, from the Matrix

~~~~~glowing numbers~~~~~

Akane tried to find a better position on her futon. She wasn't used to futons. Not like Ranma, who slept on them all the time. Ranma could sleep on flat stone and be fine, damn him. He always looked so comfortable… not just sleeping but in every part of his life. While Akane had to work so hard. But maybe it was an act. Maybe he was only pretending it was easy for him. Akane wondered again if she had over reacted that morning when Ranma started to act strangely, if it was maybe her fault what was happening with him. And what was happening with Ranma? Akane had been so busy being angry with him that she hadn't really had time to be curious. And now that she had no way of finding out, now that there was nothing she could do, NOW she was worrying about it.

And Sayuri! How was she going to deal with her? It would have been better if Sayuri hadn't treated fusing with Copycat Ken's blanket like the best thing that had ever happened to her. Akane could empathize somewhat. It would be nice to be someone else for a little while. To have Ranma's skills or Kasumi's beauty. But that was childish. Akane grit her teeth. It was a lot easier to sleep back when she was able to blame everyone else for all her problems.

Akane's eyes found the glow in the dark wind up alarm clock she had brought with her again. Five minutes had passed since she last looked at it. It was one in the morning. She was supposed to wake up in four hours to start training with elder Ku Lon. Akane tightened her fists in frustration. She wanted to scream and beat her pillow until it agreed to give her what she wanted, but Yuka and Sayuri were in the same tatami-floored room with her, sleeping soundly. No sense forcing them to join in her misery.

It had been an hour since they all had gone to bed though. Simply willing herself to sleep was not working. It was time to ply the sleep fairies with gifts of warm milk and honey. Akane sat up, asking herself once more if there was any chance that she would be sleeping soon if she laid back down. All signs pointed to no, though, so she stood up, resplendent in her cat's head pajamas.

Akane frowned. She originally picked them out to wear as a sort of tacit "fuck you" to Ranma, the ailurophobic former aquatransexual martial artist insensitive jerk with a recent case of multiple personality disorder. But she had forgotten that even the nekoken, the one part of Ranma that she had always been able to connect with, had betrayed her, had chosen Shampoo over her, and then later, Nabiki. Akane willed the anger to subside. It hurt though. Even outside of his full on nekoken, Ranma had some traits that were cat-like. His fastidiousness, his reaction to sudden noises, his fierce possessiveness. As irritating as it was sometimes, Akane had to admit she liked it when he called her "his fiancée." But then he'd go right back to insulting her. Everything human about Ranma was an arrogant idiot. The only part of Ranma that Akane ever loved was a fucking cat. And Ranma was afraid of that part of himself.

Akane shook her head. That probably wasn't true. It was her old, stupid anger flaring up. She had to start thinking some non-Ranma thoughts or she was going to go insane. She had broken up with him. Not the other way around. Even if he had fucked her sister on live television, the perverted bastard.

Akane rubbed her temples. She took a breath. Ranma is not a boy who betrayed me, she's a girl, she's my rival and I will defeat her. Akane felt herself relax. She smiled. Thinking of Ranma as a girl was amusing, but it also somehow made everything seem less complicated.

She stepped off her futon, the tatami floor giving in slightly to her weight. Akane liked the feeling of the tatami on her bare feet. The floor was better maintained than her dojo back home. Yuka's grandparents were awesome.

The Ryokan was kind of like what in the west was called a bed and breakfast. Yuka's grandparents lived there, and there was an open kitchen. It was kind of like staying over at someone's house, only everything was nicer and there wasn't quite as much furniture. Yuka had shown Akane and Sayuri where everything was in the kitchen, and Akane remembered it all clearly. She got out the milk and poured some into a mug. Then she put it in the microwave for three minutes, remembering to actually turn it on. Then she let it cool a little bit before adding just enough honey, stirring it in with a tea spoon.

Akane smiled. It was one of the things she remembered her mother making for her, and now she could make it for herself. Years before, when she had tried, she had left the metal teaspoon in the mug while the microwave was on. The sparking and subsequent burning smell were unexpected, but what had frustrated Akane more at the time was that her milk was still cold, and that the microwave had inexplicably stopped microwave was never replaced. Kasumi was able to cope just fine without it, and Nabiki was always saying the family was almost broke. Akane had been banned from the kitchen after that up until Ranma came. She had never gotten a chance to learn to cook and shortly after Ranma there was that damnable shiatsu technique and she was unable to learn. Even Nodoka had given up on her, spending all her time with "Ranko."

"There I go again," Akane sighed. "She is my rival," she reminded herself. "I will defeat her." And, just for fun, she added "Obstacles is for killing!" in her best Chinese accent. She took a cautious sip of her hot milk. It was perfect. Things were looking up.

Then something caught Akane's eye, and she looked down.

Sasuke seemed to blip into view like Rockman at the beginning of one of the video games Sayuri had at her apartment. Akane spilt some of her milk in surprise. It fell on the floor, and after she realized it was just Sasuke being his usual ninja self, she set the mug down and retrieved some paper towels from a cupboard to clean up the mess.

"Lady Akane!" The diminuitive ninja yelled as Akane was doing this, "I have terrible news!"

Akane looked at the ninja midget through half-lidded eyes as she wiped the milk up from the floor. "Is Kuno trapped in a well? Is Kodachi's rose garden taking over the mansion?"

Sasuke shook his head. "Mistress Kodachi, Lady Nabiki, and Lord Soun have died! And the pigtailed girl has been possessed and is now threatening Lady Kasumi and others at the Tendo residence!"

It felt like a cold cement slab fell into her stomach. "You're serious? This isn't some kind of sick joke?"

Sasuke nodded.

Akane stood and rushed to the kitchen telephone. She dialed her phone number and waited anxiously as the rings accumulated.

~~~~~awkward~~~~~

Shampoo studied her reflection. Everything seemed to be okay. Her shorter hair actually accentuated her neck nicely. But something was not right.

"What's the problem, Sugar?" Ukyo asked. "It looks like it's just your cursed form that's changed genders and I thought that would be a good thing for you."

"It not that," Shampoo, said. "It something else."

Ukyo threw her hands up. "Well when you figure it out, you can wake me up. I'm getting some sleep."

Shampoo only nodded, smiling a little at Ukyo's exasperation. She had proven to be an indispensible ally. After only a day with the okonomiyaki chef Shampoo trusted her more than any of her Amazon sisters. Of course they knew a great deal about each other from their time as rivals so it wasn't so hard to understand really. He could do worse for a mate.

Shampoo whipped her attention back to her reflection. Where did that thought come from? Ukyo was a woman, and Shampoo wasn't one to …share bamboo with another warrior. The thought disturbed her. Now if she were a man he could imagine kissing Ukyo passionately, laying her on the bed and ripping her clothes off before…

"Shit," Shampoo said.

A translucent ninja seemed to blip into existence at just that moment. "Lady Shampoo!, Lady Ukyo! I have terrible news!"

~~~~~rocks in the back~~~~~

It was a good thing Ryoga had gone through the Bakusai Tenketsu training, otherwise he would have found sleeping here more difficult. As it was, the terrain caused him little discomfort; he was only troubled by the nightmares.

He confessed his love to Akane, only for her to say "You don't love me! I know who you really love." And there would be Ranma in female form. But instead of that smile, that laugh of hers, she scowled. Ranma morphed into his male form. "How could you, man?" he said. "I thought you were a friend. Instead you're just a fucking pervert."

"No!" Ryoga yelled, "It's not like that! I would never-! Who said that we were friends anyway?"

"That's right, we never were friends. We were enemies. Now you're too pathetic to be worth fighting. Get away from me, P-chan."

Ryoga then found himself changed into his piglet form. Akane materialized again. "Oh P-chan! It's you. I know you are Ryoga, but I don't mind. Just stay a pig forever. If you can stay a pig forever I can love you forever. Of course I can never love you as a human, you're too pathetic for that. But as a pet it works perfectly!"

Ryoga woke up in a wave of frustration. Tears were in his eyes. He picked up a stone and crumbled it in his hand in an attempt to relieve the tension. What did the scroll that the strange little man had given him say? Sink your dark, heavy emotions, down, down, until you can no longer bare them, then throw them away…

Ryoga stood up. He imagined Akane and Ranma walking away from him. Over and over again in a loop it played. Sometimes Akane and Ranma were together, sometimes apart. Sometimes Ranma was male, other's female. Some times other people who he knew, like Ukyo, Kasumi, Mousse, or Kuno would walk away. He pushed it all down, down. Down into his center until it was all so packed, so dense that he felt it would explode. Then he let it explode out of his hand. "SHI SHI HOUKODAN!" Ryoga yelled. And a hot blast of roiling black and pea green chi flew out, and tore a tree nearly in half.

Inside Ryoga, a new demon was laughing.

Ryoga felt drained, emotionally numb. That was better than he had been feeling. He sat down on the rocky terrain of the quarry he found himself in. Somewhere between Hokkaido and Istanbul he figured. As long as he didn't think about how lost he was, in more ways than one, he might be able to get some sleep.

A small form appeared before him though, before he could lay down.

"Lord Ryoga! Something terrible has happened!"

~~~~~showdown~~~~~

Tatewake faced the heavy set older man with determination. He would defeat this scoundrel and then he would rescue his love from peril. The man was still trying to deceive him, still doing no more than dodge his attacks in a strategy annoyingly similar to that of the foul sorcerer Ranma. Tatewake was just about to attack again when Sasuke appeared. "Lord Kuno! I've informed everyone of the situation with your sister, the Kitsune, and the pigtailed girl. They will be on their way to help soon."

"Thank you, Sasuke, You have performed your duty well. You are dismissed."

Sasuke bowed deeply and then disappeared.

"Now," Tatewake proclaimed to his opponent, "We resume our battle!"

~~~~~call~~~~~

At ring number five, someone answered in a voice that was somehow both bright and tired at the same time. "Hello?"

"Hi,uh, who is this?" The girl on the other end asked.

"Tendo Akane. Who are you?"

"Um, this is Tomo Hoko? I'm a friend of Nabiki's? You know a lot of shit just hit the fan over here. You might want to come over or stay away depending on your preference."

The name was familiar, but Akane could have sworn Nabiki didn't have friends. Business associates, yes, but friends? "You're her friend," Akane repeated deciding to take the information at face value for the moment. "Is she…?"

"Yeah she's here. She's looking after Ranma right now. Or is it Ranko? I haven't been keeping track. Ranko or whoever's in a coma or something outside. So is your older sister and Dr. Tofu."

"So she's alive? I heard…"

"Oh! Yeah she died earlier, but she got better. Your father's still dead though. Shit, that's probably important to you. Um…look do want to talk to Nabiki? Or maybe Mrs. Saotome? There's an elderly Chinese midget woman and a duck named Mousse here too."

"What happened?"

"Don't know really. I came on the scene when everyone was already on the ground. I heard something about Ranko turning into a heavy metal spider queen? And Dr. Tofu had to give her exercise? I haven't been here long enough to figure anything out. I just got finished calling the ambulance, which is the only reason I'm near the phone. Everyone else is outside. If you're coming you probably ought to head to the hospital, because we'll probably all be there by the time you could get here. Hiro-kun, he's a cop and kinda my boyfriend? We haven't gone on a real date yet, and he's an older guy, but we've kissed and stuff so I guess…anyway he's watching over your father and Kuno's sister, until the ambulance comes for them too; so we're all going to the same place for a sad little rendezvous hullabaloo. If you're coming you should bring tea and cakes, make it a party."

Akane didn't like how this girl was making light of her situation. "I think I'd like to talk to my sister now," she said.

"Fuck! That was stupid, I'm sorry. I'm just trying to keep myself from thinking about things too much, cause it's all a little too deep for me right now. I don't mean to…I'll get your sister." Akane heard the sounds of the receiver settling on the kitchen counter. She took a sip of what was left of her milk, now a few degrees cooler as she waited for Nabiki to get on the phone.

"Hello?"

Akane let out a breath she didn't realize she was holding "Nabiki?"

"It's good to hear your voice, little sister. It's been a rough night." Akane shared the sentiment, but now that she knew for sure Nabiki was okay, Akane suddenly remembered that she was supposed to be angry with her. Her emotions couldn't quite catch up with her memory though.

"Is Dad okay? I heard…"

"No." Nabiki said sharply. Then she sighed. "He's dead, Akane. He was trying to save me from Kodachi. She killed him and I killed her. She killed me too, but a necromancer resurrected me."

"A necromancer…? But why couldn't he resurrect Dad?"

"He... I... I don't want to go into that over the phone. Look, you should probably come home, Akane. Too much has happened. And I think I need you here, even though you probably still hate me. You should know that Ranma, Kasumi, and Tofu are all unconscious. They're all outside still. Cologne, Aunt Saotome, Hoko and I are looking after them. We don't know who's going to make it at this point. Also one other thing. Daddy's will said that if he should die, the Saotomes would take care of us. So don't be too hard on Ranma. She's your step sister now."

"She?"

Nabiki took in a breath. "Ranma's kind of stuck as a girl for now. Just as well since her mother is here."

"Serves her right." Akane said.

Nabiki was silent for a long period. "Ranma's in bad shape, Akane," she said finally. "There's a good chance she...She might not get up from this one."

"So you just decided to sign our mother's name away because Ranma found something she couldn't defeat?"

"Our mother's maiden name was Matsuda, Akane. Tendo was our father's name. And it was his wish that our families would be joined. You don't have to change your name if you're against it. But Ranma is family now whether you like it or not."

Akane was silent. She had no idea how to deal with this information. What did this all mean? Her father was dead? Ranma was her sister?

Nabiki spoke again. "Come home, Akane. You can be pissed at me and Ranma later if you like. Right now our family, our ENTIRE family, needs to be together."

Akane swallowed. "You love her, don't you?"

"Yes." Nabiki's voice was a whisper.

"Why?"

"Why?" Nabiki repeated. "I just do. I don't know. It's like...we both have these wounds inside us, and when we're together they don't seem so bad. We're bandages for each other's wounds."

It just wasn't fair. Nabiki wasn't supposed to be coming up with sappy bullshit like that, that was supposed to be Akane's job! Akane was supposed to be the one in love! Akane was the fiancée not Nabiki! Akane winced at her train of thought. The old familiar jealousy. Now was not the time for it. It didn't even make sense, really.

Akane gritted her teeth, forced herself to let it go. "I'll be there as quickly as I can."

"Be safe, though, okay, little sister? I'm really sick of people I love getting hurt."

An image flashed in Akane's mind of Nabiki holding a gun to her head. Akane dismissed it. She might never be able to truly trust her sister, but now was not the time to be suspicious. "I'll be safe, Nabiki. I'll see you soon."

Akane hung up. She looked around, but Sasuke wasn't anywhere to be seen. She took her mug and poured the rest of the milk into the sink. The ryokan seemed maddeningly quiet now. She was still in her cat head pajamas, bare foot, miles away from where the worst thing that ever happened to her was happening. Part of her wished she could stay and forget what Nabiki and Hoko had told her. But she knew she had to leave. The question that she didn't have an answer to was "how?"

~~~~~tossturn~~~~~

Bedridden in her father's apartment in San Francisco, the window over the bed open to let in the morning air, Rena Charles inhaled.

She exhaled.

In with the life sustaining prana of the universe, out with the terrible pain, the swollen joints, the depression. She had spent the past week at her father's apartment. She couldn't sleep and she couldn't stay upright for very long, so her world became a monochrome, never ending haze. The yoga exercises helped, but they weren't enough. Theoretically, she ought to be able to master her pain if she just concentrated hard enough. Mind over matter. It was her body wasn't it? Her brain? Shouldn't she be able to do something about it?

It was really her only recourse anyway. The last time she tried to get pain medications, her doctor had accused her of being an addict. "I need the pills!" she had argued, "They're the only thing that makes me feel normal!" And then she realized that she sounded exactly like an addict. It was hard to tease out the difference between needing pills for her pain and being in withdrawal pains without them. Rena threw out the pills when she got back from the hospital.

She had taken regular yoga classes with her mother before the pain, but she had always dismissed the spiritual mumbo jumbo that came with it. After she threw out her pills, though, she started meditating hard core. Maybe if she believed in the stuff enough, it would work.

It was really bad for a week or so. Rena almost gave up. But the meditation started to work. It was actually spooky how well it worked. Everything would go quiet, her pain would be gone and she'd see this glow all around her body. It was just in her mind, she knew. She had someone else look at her while she was doing it to be sure, and they didn't see anything, but it was spooky all the same.

For a month, Rena felt better than ever. She was able to go to a few modeling jobs without throwing up. The photographers were amazed at how still she could be. They praised her work ethic. And the cameras loved the anguish in her eyes. It was so easy to reinterpret her physical pain for the pain of a broken heart, or unrequited love, or of being unable to live without a Fennimore brand refrigerator.

Eventually, though, the pain knocked her down again. Her father let her stay in his apartment, because he still believed Rena when she said she wasn't just lazy, she wasn't anorexic, and it wasn't just in her head. She was trapped in bed ever since. Meditating only eased it a little bit now. It was all she could do to get up to go to the bathroom. The sun rose in the morning, moved across the ceiling, down the far wall, and then across her bed to escape out the window again. Then some six or seven hours later, the cycle repeated. That was her day yesterday, and the day before and so on, since the pain came back.

So when the small wrinkled man leapt through her window and started rifling through her panty drawer, it was actually a welcome distraction.

She didn't react immediately. Somewhere between sleep and wakefulness, she didn't want to overreact to something that came from her own tortured mind. She watched the man nonetheless. He was very strange. Small like a dwarf, but he didn't seem to be proportioned the same way as a "little person". And he moved with a gracefulness that made it seem almost like all people were that size and that she might be the one who was abnormal. He had big eyes too, as if nature had taken a wrong turn at "cute" and decided at the last minute on "weird and screwed up" instead. Rena found herself intrigued. She actually managed to sit up, curiosity allowing her to withstand the pain for a moment or two.

It wasn't rheumatoid arthritis. The doctors had assured her of that. There was no reason, they told her, why she shouldn't be a normal healthy teenager. They suggested she be referred to a psychologist. The shrinks she saw tried to find reasons why she might be upset, why she might want the attention. But none of it helped. Except perhaps for the hypnosis sessions, but Rena couldn't figure out the difference between that and meditation, aside from the hypnosis sessions costing quite a bit more.

For that matter she couldn't really tell the difference between physical pain and emotional pain either. One melted into the other. She had already lost all her old friends to her ailment. Her parents had gotten a divorce over it. Even her father was more distant from her. It was almost like she wasn't really there anymore. Almost like she was dead.

Maybe she had died. Maybe that was why this strange midget person was rifling through her undergarments. Maybe that happened to everybody who died, weird midget people went through their things, only she had had the impetuousness to still be alive.

"What are you looking for?" The words came out of her without warning. Even she herself had no idea she would suddenly speak. More surprising than that was how clear her words were. Being in pain for so long her voice should convey some sense of the anguish she was experiencing, but it was more or less unaffected.

The strange little man paused. He turned around. "Pantsu," he said, and then he turned back and started taking panties out of the drawer and throwing them in his sack. He was like a small, non-fat, non-bearded Santa Claus.

"Pan Tsu. Is that some kind of strange, Asian philosophy, like Feng Shui or something? Are you trying to clear my spiritual blockages by culling my undergarments?"

The man turned around, looking confused. "Yes," he said after a moment. And then, "Am I sekusuraru harasumentoingu you yet?"

"I have no idea." Rena squinted, trying to make the weird man disappear. But he didn't. He was there, and he was Asian. Was he Chinese? Japanese? Korean? Vietnamese? Rena had seen enough movies to know that you weren't supposed to make assumptions. Then again maybe it didn't matter. The man was going through her panties, maybe she should be upset with him, and maybe she didn't need to worry about appearing racist. "Do you do this often?"

"Do what?"

"I don't know." Rena moved the wrong way and sucked in a quick breathe when her tendons screamed in protest. "Are you an agent of death or something? Do you rifle through peoples clothes before they die?"

"You are not goingu to die."

"That's comforting." Rena wasn't sure if she was being sarcastic or not. Did she want to live? She wasn't about to kill herself, but assuming things were out of her hands, would she prefer death or another half hour of this shit? She wasn't entirely sure.

The man smelled one of the panties and he face held a thoughtful expression."You have a confurikuto. Your masukurino ki has grown. Why?"

"Huh?"

"Your ki sweeto. Butto troubledo."

"My what is what, now?"

"Ki. KI! Supiruturaru energy!"

"Okay, ki is some kind of energy? And mine is screwed up somehow?"

"Screwed up? Rike screwdriver? Orange juice ando vodka?"

Rena sighed. "Something like that. I suppose you could say 'screwed up' is like how you feel after you drink five or ten of those."

The man nodded. "Yesu. Your energy is screwed up. Why?"

"Beats the fuck out of me."

The man smiled. "I can help you."

Rena raised an eyebrow. "Yeah? How?"

He leapt up to the bed in a supernatural display of agility and three fingers of his right hand jabbed into her right breast. She felt violated, she felt used, she felt…no pain.

Rena blinked. She bounded off her bed, the little man hanging of her like a remora off a shark. "How did you do that? This is amazing!"

The man let go. He landed on the ground and bowed. "Happosai. At your serubisu."

"I have no idea what you just said, but thanks!" Rena twirled around. She had never felt so free. Usually just adjusting her weight caused a cacophony of protests from her nerves and tendons. She felt like she was flying! "You can rifle through my panties anytime!"

~~~~~darkness~~~~~

Voices. Heard as if through water: "It isn't working! We need to get Hiro over here."

"Do you think you can get him and come back before her body dies?" Something about this voice soothed Ranma and at the same time eased her out of unconsciousness.

"Um…I could try, but… no. I don't want to be harsh, but your sister's got like a minute to live, if you can even call what she is now alive. I'm fast, but I'm not that fast." This voice was bright, percussive and a little awkward. It was like a woodwind being played like a brass instrument.

"What about Ranma?" The familiar voice again. Ranma drank the sound in like morning coffee.

The voice that responded was a gravely blanket, warm but rough. "The wounds are already cauterized. I've cleaned them and bandaged them. I'm afraid that's all I can do." Cologne, Ranma thought. Her next thought was Hey! I'm alive!"

"No fancy Chinese herb that will regenerate limbs and repair nerves?"The familiar voice was a cool contralto. But there were definite notes of concern. Nabiki? Nabiki's here. She's alive and she's here! Ranma tried to get up, but she couldn't move. The attempt allowed Ranma to sense the pain that she wasn't yet feeling, like heat behind the door of a burning building.

"Child, you can see her as well as I can. Maybe she was lucky. Maybe she survived the exorcism with her mind intact. But she will not walk again, and will not be able to regrow her hands. Some things can be fixed with magic, other things need miracles. Unless you know any gods or goddesses that owe you a favor, the best we can hope for is Ranma confined to a wheelchair for the rest of her life, helpless. In Nyuchezu, we would have killed her by now out of mercy."

"No." Nabiki's voice was even, but resolute. "This is Saotome Ranma. Ranma doesn't give up. Neither will I. If she wakes up and tells me she wants to die, then I will kill her myself, but not before."

"Ranma is in the habit of defying the odds," the Amazon matriarch agreed. "I wish there was more I could do for your family."

"If you hadn't been here, I would have thought my sister was dying, and Ranma might have died on top of that. I owe you, elder Ku Lon. A lot. I've always been able to pay my debts, but I don't know if I'll ever be able to pay this one."

"Um, Nabiki?" Hoko interjected, "Your sister is dead. She just died. I mean like a second ago."

"She's not dead, Hoko. It's just her body. Cologne explained it to me. She merged somehow with Dr. Tofu. Besides, I can see his aura and hers both inside his body. I don't really understand it, but at this point I've given up trying to really understand what's going on."

"Fine. Just so we're clear, I can stop keeping her body alive with my magic pube feathers?" Hoko was Nabiki's friend, Ranma remembered. She didn't seem much like Nabiki had described her though. For one thing, apparently she had magic pubes. Since Ranma was just regaining consciousness after being turned into a metal spider woman by a geriatric serial killer demon with a molten metal fetish, she couldn't really drum up any amazement for the skill.

"Yes," Nabiki sighed. "Their auras are just too intertwined."

"Nabiki, this is your sister, are you sure you want to let her body die like this?" A more mature voice said these words… Nodoka. "Hoko, do you have to be present for your resurrection method to work? Could I use the down while you get the police officer?"

"I guess you could use my down if I'm not there, but each time I use it, she stays breathing for less time, and I'm kinda starting to run out?"

"Can you give Aunt Saotome enough to keep Kasumi's body alive long enough for you to bring Hiro here?" Nabiki asked.

"I don't know; it lasted ten minutes the first time, then the second time about seven or eight minutes and this last time it was about five."

"Crap, so maybe two more times if it works linearly."

Hoko let out a frustrated "mmh!" "I'm going to need fifteen minutes to twenty minutes to get to Hiro and come back, depending on traffic. I'll probably be half an hour at least, because he'll probably be dealing with paramedics by then."

"It might not be linear though," Nabiki said. "The time the down works might be decreasing by exponential decay."

"Wouldn't that mean it would go away faster?" Hoko asked.

"Well, yes, initially. It's like interest adjusted continually, only backwards, with a negative exponent for e. Like you're going back in time to find the initial investment. But no matter how far back in time you go, the initial investment can't be zero, because then there could be no interest. If this is like that then the down would continue to work, only every…two times you use it, it would work half as long. If we figure Kawagami-chan needs about a minute to do his thing that leaves us… four more times before the down becomes effectively useless. Hoko, how long was I dead before you revived me?"

"It couldn't have been more than five or ten minutes."

"Well was it five minutes or ten? Because if it was five minutes, you've got twenty minutes to get Hiro back here, and if it was ten, you've got forty."

"We don't know how long someone can be dead before it stops working," Hoko said, following what Nabiki was saying.

"Right, and now's not the time for experiments."

"Okay, I have about ten of the little feathers left. I don't think I can use the hairs. If I leave five with you I should have enough time to get back with Hiro if I hurry."

"It's a plan," Nabiki said, her tone suggesting that it might not be a good plan, but it would have to do.

Ranma could hear Hoko's feet on the dojo floor as she rushed out, and later, farther off, the sound of a motorcycle engine starting.

After some time passed Cologne spoke. "Nabiki?"

"Yes, Cologne?"

"You wanted to know how you might repay your debt? There is a way. Your younger sister, Akane, has elected to become an Amazon. She will have to travel to China with me for it to be official, but I have welcomed her into the tribe. I would welcome you as well."

Nabiki chuckled. "And through me and Akane, you hope to get Ranma, is that right?"

"Sadly, no. Not anymore. I want to have your faith, but there has been no one in my lifetime who has survived an exorcism of the type Tofu performed. I am a patient woman. In time I was hoping to snare all the talent I could out of this place. The situation has forced my hand. I would have preferred to take on Akane when she was more mature, and now my plans for the Kuonji girl will have to be rushed. Even so, I've been too focused on Ranma, it seems. I just witnessed a girl of only eighteen find a solution to a problem that would have balked a matriarch. You would be an invaluable asset. "

"I'll think about your offer," Nabiki said "I can't make a decision right now with everything that's going on. Are you going to go after Happosai?"

There was a slight pause then Cologne said, "I'm leaving tomorrow. "

"If you have any problems with money or the government, call me. I might be able to help."

"I'll remember that, child. Get some rest while you can. You've had a long ordeal, and you take on more burdens than you should."

"I'll try, Elder," Nabiki said in a way that suggested she had little hope of succeeding in that regard.

There was a long pause before Cologne spoke again. "Bie Liao, Saotome Nabiki."

"Bie liao, elder Ku Lon."

Ranma was starting to feel the pain. She had gone through so much of it, but pain never really stopped being painful. She was feeling other things though too. She was laying on the grass outside, wrapped in bandages. Nabiki's warm, delicate hand was on her fore arm. It was the closest she could get to grasping Ranma's hand.

"Don't you dare give up," Nabiki warned, "If you ever tell me to kill you, I'll kill you!"

I'm not going to give up, Ranma wanted to say. The shimmering lady that appeared to her, the one that called herself Aurora, had told her that she would survive, and that she would be a man again, as long as she knew who she was. The exorcism tore Aurora apart, but she had smiled serenely through it all, protecting Ranma from the worst of it, allowing Ranma to gather up the most important parts of herself, and become someone whole. So much of her was gone now. It felt like twenty loved ones had been struggling on life support and someone pulled the plug. Part of Ranma felt terrible; part of her felt relieved, but it was only one person feeling both emotions.

The pain was getting more insistent now. Some of it was in Ranma's throat from the screaming she had done. It was starting to feel a little like someone was sawing her limbs off with a rusty blade, but Ranma decided she was through screaming. I'm going to get through this, she told herself. All I have to do is figure out how to cure my severed spinal cord, grow a new pair of hands and get a sex change.

Yeah, piece of cake.

~~~~~mansion~~~~~

Kodachi's body felt like shit and it was also very distractingly female, the leotard making it more obvious than usual. Hiro didn't like that there was a "usual" either. Hiro sat up, gritting Kodachi's teeth. There was also something else, something agonizing in the background. It was like, very far away some one was screaming and even though there was no way to hear it, Hiro could feel it. Only it wasn't as real as a feeling. It was like the anticipation of a feeling.

Hiro made Kodachi's throat swallow against the dryness. "Kodachi?" He whispered. Not to anyone in the room, but to whomever it was that he could almost feel screaming inside.

####

"Yes?" Kodachi looked up at him. She wore a St. Hebereke school uniform instead of her leotard. Hiro recognized the school colors.

Wait a minute…

"There's something wrong here." Hiro was back in his own body.

"Yes, that poor girl and her family. We need to help her somehow, don't we?"

"That's not it! There's no 'we' anyway I don't even know you!" Hiro rubbed his eyes. This was a hallucination. It had to be. Still, he could feel the material of his police uniform on his body. He reached, and there was the comforting weight of his holstered pistol. He could see everything in the palace. Everything held his gaze. Nothing squirmed out the way of his scrutiny as things do in dreams. Except he still felt, or sensed, or intuited the screaming. Getting louder now.

"You saved my life." Kodachi said, walking up to him. "I owe you a debt. I want to help you."She was very cute. Hiro swallowed. It felt good to have a girl thank him like that. It wouldn't have been quite the same if it was a boy he had helped, but the feeling he felt wasn't really sexual either. It was just nice. The fact that the girl was attractive just made it a bit nicer, that was all. It was all he ever wanted. To be able to help people, to save them.

Hiro clenched his eyes shut. This was an illusion. He KNEW that, and still, it almost got him. He'd love for Kodachi to wake up and be grateful. For the little girl he saw to some how be helped. For him to not have to use his power to do it, to not have spend anytime in a body that wasn't his. He knew that wasn't the way things worked though. He could see the allure, but it wasn't real. It was Kodachi's demon. Denial. Like Saotome had said, she had a demon, only it didn't leave when Kodachi died, it stayed in her body.

And that screaming…

Suddenly it came into focus, and it wasn't far away at all, but right there.

Kodachi was screaming.

Kodachi hadn't wanted to die, that was not why he hadn't seen her ghost earlier. The truth was that her ghost hadn't been visible because her demon trapped her inside her body, even as she died.

And now Hiro was inside with her.

~~~~~wits~~~~~

Genma Saotome dodged the Kuno boy's latest attack, but only barely. The kid seemed to be getting faster while he got slower. He had to convince the boy of reality. First he tried the bald truth. "Listen, boy. The fact is that I got cursed in a spring in China called Jusenkyo along with my son. I turn into a Panda while he turns into a girl. This fantasy you've concocted where Akane and my son's girl side are goddesses and my son's male side is somehow controlling them, just does not hold. I am a man that turns into a panda. Not a ninja who knows how to change places with a panda."

Kuno scoffed. "Hearken onto thine own words, you fatuous fart! Know thee not of Occam's razor which dictates that the simplest solution is oft the one with the most veracity? You expect me to believe that some cryptic magic water has the ability to transmogrify a man? One can only begin to think of the plethora of nature's laws that would have to be bent, nay broken! In order for such a thing to be true. Whereas I suggest a mere trick of prestidigitation involving a trained panda and a skilled hand in the silent art."

"All you have to do is splash me or Ranma with water to see if it's true! It's a simple, testable theory!"

"Your perceived simplicity belies hidden complexities. Unless the laws of physics are fundamentally flawed you cannot have actually been a panda. And if the laws are flawed then new explanations are needed for the whole of the known universe! It is far more likely that you have simply created a gripping illusion that has fooled many. I will not be fooled, though for my troubles I may appear foolish." Kuno pulled out a bokken. "Now let us tarry no further. Either we duel or we get back on the conveyance and travel thither. I should warn you that if it comes to battle I will be the victor, for I have youth and the purity of my art to sustain me."

Genma wondered if he might do better to just get on the bike with the boy. That would shut him up for a little while. The boy was sharper than he thought. He had taken such care to train that panda. It was a super secret technique and yet the boy saw right through it.

~~~~~senility~~~~~

Cologne paused on her way back to the Nekohanten. She blinked and then kept going, carrying Mousse's duck under her arm. Why was she carrying Mousse's duck? She'd have to give Mousse a scolding about using the duck exchange technique he had learned at Jusenkyo in the heat of battle. It was a real distraction. She wondered where the blind boy had run off to.

She chuckled. It was really odd of Shampoo wasn't it, to change places with a cat so often when she know of Ranma's phobia? She remembered it making sense at the time, but now for the life of her she couldn't understand it. Oh well, she thought, probably just getting nutty in my old age. Either that or reality was shifting around her. Not really much she could do about it either way.

~~~~~~denial~~~~~

How do you beat denial?

Hiro was trying to figure it out. He tried truth. "I am Hiro Kawagami. I am a police officer."

~But you're not really a police officer, are you? You're not even Hiro Kawagami right now. Right now you're just part of Kodachi Kuno's brain.~ The voice was thick, dark, and insidious, like tar bubbling up through cracks in asphalt.

"No, that's not true! I'm …" Fuck. Denial.

Hiro felt himself further enmeshed in the mess of Kodachi's mind. But it really wasn't true that he was just part of Kodachi's mind, right?

Unless maybe he was. But then so what? Regardless, he wanted to get out and back to his old body. He tried this tactic. "I don't want to be here. I want to be back in my body."

~No you don't. If you do that, then Kodachi here rots, or I continue to consume her.~

Shit. "That's right. I want you to stop bothering that girl."

~No, you don't.~ and the voice seemed to be right next to Hiro's ear, ~Because if I stop with the girl, I start with you.~

"I AM Hiro. I am a man." Hiro tried making broad assertions.

~I suppose you're going to explain to me how that works when you're in a woman's body?~

"I am a necromancer I was able to exchange bodies with…"

There was a terrible laugh. ~You realize how ridiculous that sounds? Face it, you're nothing more than a personality formed by a insane person's fevered mind. You don't exist except as part of Kodachi Kuno.~

Hiro resisted the urge to simply refute what the voice said. That would just be denial. He tried to make his case. "I have memories that Kodachi could never have had. The crime scenes I've seen, the death of my father."

~I suppose no one could have imagined those, huh? Like similar stories haven't appeared in hundreds of cop dramas and soap hack writer is probably concocting something like that as we speak!~

"Not like my memories. They are vivid. They are graphic. I can still see my father, feel his chest as the life seeped out of him."

~Ah, but suppose it was not your father, but Kodachi's father who died. Or rather her mother. Maybe she was so distraught over the death of her mother, and maybe she always wished her father had died instead. Maybe she secretly fantasized about murdering people, but at the same time she felt guilty about it, so she created a cleaner personality that would dissect the crime scenes that she created in her mind?~

"Right. And maybe aliens are trying to communicate to earthlings through my bowel movements," Hiro quipped.

###

He was back in reality. Or at least it seemed more realistic than the place he was before. Hiro blinked. Sarcasm. Why hadn't he thought of that sooner?

He heard the ambulance sirens outside. He had to move quickly. Using his power he called the girl who was in his body back to him and switched back. Now the girl, Kodachi, and her demon were in the same body. Not a good situation for them, but maybe there was some coma patient he could put one of them in later. Coma patients would be in the hospital and that's where the paramedics were going. So he would go with the paramedics and fix the problem at the hospital.

Good enough for government work.

Unforturnately Hiro's girlfriend rushed in at that moment to throw a monkey wrench into his plans.

"They need your voodoo at the Tendo res. Let the EMTs take the dead girl and I'll take you over there. We don't have much time."

Hiro nodded and ran after Hoko, hoping that the night would end eventually.

~~~~~the real world~~~~~

Genma was panting from the exertion of trying to stay away from the boy's attacks. The kid seemed to be getting taller and faster even as he looked at him. This was bad. Really really bad. "Stop being foolish, boy!" Genma growled, "Some part of you has to know that you're wrong. You can't tell me Chinese curses are illogical when half the time you proclaim your love to goddesses!"

Kuno hit Genma with the butt of his bokken, knocking the older man back. "I am in awe of Akane Tendo and the pigtailed girl. I say they are indeed goddesses, for they possess powers I do not understand, just as your wicked filth of a son is a sorcerer, and I call the one who would pretend to be Nabiki Tendo a kitsune for she bears all the historical markings of one. My beliefs are based in documented stories, not in some wild delusion about magic water. Akane is the very incarnation of Diana, she of the hunt. And the pigtailed girl is Hestia, fiery goddess of the hearth. I love them both and I will not redact my feelings because of the words of some low-born trickster!"

~~~~~foxfire~~~~~

Hoko started to slow when she saw the corner of the Tendo's block. It was more difficult to brake with someone behind her, but she didn't mind. She liked the feel of Hiro's warm, solid chest behind her. She also liked his faint aftershave smell.

But she had a life to save. She guided the motorcycle through the gate of the Tendo residence and kickstanded it beside the path next to the fallen tree. Nabiki was outside wearing a pale green kimono. She met Hoko and Hiro on the path. "You are giving me aid yet again, Officer Kawagami. This one regrets being so far in your debt." Nabiki bowed to Hiro.

"Nabiki?" Hoko said.

"Yes?"

"Your ears are showing," Hoko pointed to the rich brown fox's ears coming out of Nabiki's head.

"Oh." Nabiki frowned. She glowed green for a second and her ears looked human again. She was also wearing her favorite blouse with the slit shoulders and a pair of slacks.

"You really don't need to bother, Nabiki. Hiro and I both know you're a kitsune since Kuno outed you. Besides I'm a phoenix. You're not going to get any mythism from me."

"Mythism?"

"Yeah, like racism only for mythological creatures."

Nabiki rolled her eyes. "Kawagami-chan, if you will follow me? Kasumi and Tofu are in the dojo lying next to where the goddess Hestia slumbers."

Hiro nodded and followed Nabiki inside.

"Hey, Nabiki? Could Hestia help your sister?"

Nabiki shook her head. "Hestia has to heal herself from her ordeal with the demon. Besides while she may be able to heal Kasumi, she couldn't separate her from Tofu. I really don't think Kawagami can help either, but we have to try."

~~~~~the hunt~~~~~

Akane, incarnation of the goddess Diana, was just about to wake up Yoko's uncle so she could ask for him to drive her to her house. She stopped before waking him though, slapping her forehead. That enchantment of Shampoos was insidious! Why was she trying to get a car? She was a goddess! She could be anywhere she wanted. Anywhere nature housed its creatures. How could she have forgotten something so important?

Diana supposed it was just as well, if too many mortals knew of her nature it would be troublesome. That Kuno boy was a case in point. Still, at the moment she was the only one up. She walked outside, the night air cool against her glowing skin. Letting the air fill her, she changed herself into a snow white owl and flew unerringly toward her home.

~~~~~twain~~~~~

Nabiki led Kawagami to where Kasumi and Tofu lay.

"So what's the problem here?" Hiro asked.

"Kasumi and Tofu's souls have become intertwined."

"How did that happen?"

Nabiki shrugged. "I guess they were soul mates. In a more literal sense then usual."

Hiro took off his sunglasses and his eyes glowed a pale blue. Nabiki felt an electric tingle on her skin. "All I see is one soul. Maybe a little ragged around the edges."

"No it's definitely two souls, just intertwined," Nabiki said. "See how one has a slightly paler hue and it's a little smoother?"

"Uh…no, I don't. I don't see colors. Souls are just kind of white clouds to me if they're in a living body."

Nabiki grimaced. "Can you do anything with them? Can you take the souls out of the body?"

"One way to find out," Hiro said and reached out his hand. He furrowed his brow in concentration.

Nothing happened.

Hiro let out a breath through his nostrils in apparent resignation. "I have no idea how to help here. If they were dead, maybe I could do something, but they're both 's like I don't have jurisdiction."

"Maybe we could kill them?" Hoko thought out loud. "Then maybe Hiro-kun could do something. We still have a little time."

Nabiki blinked, that wasn't quite as crazy an idea as it sounded. But she still didn't like it. "I don't know. Right now both of them are alive and they're becoming more and more like one person. At this point… well what would you think would happen if you tore a soul apart?"

Hiro frowned and held his chin as he put his sunglasses back on. "Well I guess either the person would be kind of listless and out of touch or possibly they'd go insane. I don't know."

Nabiki nodded slowly. Hiro had basically just described Kasumi and Tofu. They had been getting better, but that was because…Nabiki closed her eyes. It was because they were closer together. "If I could ask their permission, and they said yes, I'd say go for it. But from what I can see… I think this has to happen."

Hiro nodded. "I'm sorry I couldn't be of more help. I met Kasumi-san and Dr. Tofu only briefly, but they both seemed like nice people."

"Like male and female versions of each other," Hoko agreed.

Nabiki held up a hand. "They aren't dead, or Officer Kawagami would be able to help. So don't talk like they're dead. I'm going to find a way to fix this. But for now I have to let it run its course."

The sirens of the ambulances signaled the end of the discussion. The paramedics rushed into the yard like dream fog. They put Tofu and Kasumi's bodies on stretchers and took them away. Hestia looked as thought she was almost finished curing her wounds, but the paramedics put her on a stretcher as well and Nabiki was loathe to leave her side. She followed the stretcher into the ambulance despite the uneasy feely she felt surrounded by so much metal and electronics. Feeling cramped as well, she turned into her fox form and curled next to her goddess.

~~~~~delusion~~~~~

Ranma knew that she wasn't a goddess. But it would be okay to pretend. She would pretend, because if she believed in the fantasy, she would be able to heal her wounds.

She rode the wave of delusion that hit her and worked to make the right parts of it reality. It was tempting to go too far. She wanted so much to protect her family, to ensure that she still had one. Becoming a goddess of hearth and home, with the ability to bring families together, had a definite allure. But she knew that it wasn't her. It wasn't real, and if she depended on something that rested on the opinions of a fool, then she would put herself in danger. The powers she allowed herself to gain were healing her, resetting her bones, regrowing her hands, and with the powers she could also see where they came from. She could see Nabiki charmed into being a kitsune, and Akane flying high over the city. She could see her father fighting Kuno, trying to convince him of reality. And she worried, because if her father killed Kuno, or if he somehow managed to change the fool's mind at the wrong moment...

Because her powers came from the delusion itself, Ranma could not be sure how much reality would be able to bend, or how much would remain changed once Kuno no longer influenced it. She hoped she could heal herself and stay that way, but this was only a hope. Would Nabiki be stuck in the body of a fox? Would Akane be an owl forever? Or worse, would Akane revert back to her regular body while still high in the air? If she accepted the delusion fully, she felt she could become a bird herself and intercept Akane to get her to land or at least stay closer to the ground. If Ranma accepted the delusion, she could heal faster and be able to help her father. But if she accepted the delusion, she would no longer realize there was a problem. There was also a possibility that if she believed in the delusion too much, she would become one with it, and when the delusion was removed she would disappear completely.

"I am Ranma Saotome," she whispered to herself, her whisper sounding like the crackling of burning wood. "I'm not some frilly, girly-ass goddess. I was a man once, and I will be a man again. I'm just going along with the goddess thing long enough to get back on my feet." She felt better for having said that. But the temptation was still there. Power to protect the ones she loved. Power to keep them to her. Power to make sure they never left her. Ranma shook her head slightly. Nabiki hadn't left her. Kasumi and Tofu had fought for her. Genma was fighting for her. Nodoka had adopted her. She was not abandoned. She was still loved.

She hadn't worried about being abandoned for years and there was no reason to worry about it now. But Airanman had dredged the fear up like nugget of ore out of the earth and now it lay on the surface, unprotected. A nightmare from her childhood, when Genma would sometimes leave her with a sensei and not be seen for days. He always came back, but there was the fear all the same. It was back, and she could not deny it. She wanted to be sure she would not be left alone, but there was no absolute assurance. As Hestia, Ranma could have that assurance.

It wasn't real, though. Ranma forced herself to focus on that. It wasn't real. Even though she wished it was.

~~~~~guidinglight~~~~~

A thirty-something woman sat on a plush sofa surrounded by cats. She was attractive, of African descent, with a lithe, athletic figure. Not the typical cat lady stereotype, though she was most definitely a cat lady, down to her obsession with soap operas. Also, whenever she was alone, she had a cat's head.

She went by Sheryl Bast, and she had been pretending to be mortal for the last thousand years or so. She sat on her couch eating out of a tin of cat food, luxuriating in the weekend boredom. She worked as a marriage counselor to pay the bills. Because it was kind of suspicious to be a marriage counselor without being married, she often went out publicly with one of her cats, magicked into looking like a man. She had a picture of a fake wedding between her and Fluffles on her desk in her office.

One might ask why a goddess of once epic power would be watching soaps and working with the petty problems of mortals. Then again one may as well ask, why not? Besides it was pretty much what Bast had done when she was in Egypt.

Many people weren't even aware that she and the goddess Hestia were essentially the same person. If Bastet had relied on the Greeks and Romans, she would have faded out ages ago. Sure there were the university classes on mythology, but those were all taught as fictions. There was no belief there, no faith. Bast, though, was still worshiped, even if her worshipers didn't realize it themselves. Every cat that was loved as a family member, gave a little love to Bastet, who was the first to give them food and teach them to coexist with humans. It was true that, as Hestia, she had a cozy relationship with the spirit of Christmas. She helped with a lot of the better Christmas movies, the ones where the family sits around a fireplace, opening gifts together. But if it weren't for the power she got from people's reverence of cats, she wouldn't have had enough influence, and Christmas would have just been about the birth of some human with divine ancestry, as if there weren't hundreds of those, and there would have been no mention of family. As it was, keeping families together was a losing battle, and Bast, having long ago lost her own family, was ill equipped to truly solve the problem.

It was during a commercial break when it happened. A fast food commercial was just getting started, when suddenly Bast felt exhausted and energized at the same time. As if she had been doing a good run in the park for about an hour. She liked running. When she ran, she felt like she was communing with reality. The exertion helping to keep her grounded, keep her stable. She wouldn't mind dying a mortal death if it came to that, but she didn't want to simply fade away like her husband had.

This feeling was something different, though. Something she hadn't felt in a thousand years. All of the cats in the room turned toward Bast. Several of them yowled in concern.

"It's okay, dear ones," Bast assured them. "It's just someone asking for my help."

~~~~~bluethunder~~~~~

Genma was trying to remember why he was fighting this boy. It was something important. About his son. Or was that his daughter? There were two goddesses and he felt like he was the father of one of them, but that was impossible. He was just a low-born ninja.

"Your name doesn't even make sense!" Genma tried desperately "Thunder is a sound, it has no color!"

"Ignorant old man, know you not even of figures of speech? I do not claim to be literally blue thunder. I merely suggest I have the qualities of thunder and do have a predilection for the color blue."

A snow white owl then landed in the middle of the street, whereupon it transformed in a glowing cloud of feathers into the goddess Akane, clothed in a shimmering tunic, her bow and arrow drawn and pointed at Kuno. "Why do you attack this man, young samurai?"

"Goddess! You show your true form to me at last!"

"I have also asked you a question. Are you ignoring the question of a goddess?"

"No my lady." Kuno bowed. "It is just that this man deals in deceit and was saying many slanderous things about you and the pig tailed goddess."

"What have you to say to these allegations, knave?" Akane asked Genma.

Genma's mouth was hanging open. In winged words he said, "Do not think ill of me, great one! My mind seems muddled as of late. I was convinced that you and Ranma were mere mortals. I don't know how I came to this. My whole life now seems awry."

Akane put down her bow and arrow, and approached the middle aged man. "I can look inside your mind and see the confusions that roil within. Let me see what clarity I can give." Akane laid her hand on Genma forehead.

Genma blinked. Akane looked normal now. Not a goddess, just a teenaged girl. But she still wore a tunic and carried a bow and arrow, and she had a slightly manic look in her eye. Where had she come from? He had become wrapped up in Kuno's delusions so that explained how Akane could seem to have been an owl, but how did she get here?

Akane thinned her eyes. "I see something I was not meant to see. I see lies within lies. An infinite recursion. Kuno!" She turned to Tatewake, glaring at the boy fiercely. Without her aura of holiness the gesture seemed a little silly. Still the boy reacted as if Akane were still exuding power. "This is your doing!"

"Goddess, I don't see how…"

"You doubt my word?"

"No, but…"

"You are trapped in your own lie, braggart. It is only because you have made me a goddess that I've been able to see that I am not a goddess. And it is only because you believe yourself to be infallible that you shall fail. While I retain my power I shall remove the cloud that mires your thoughts . Finally you shall know what is true." Akane slapped the palms of her hands against Kuno's temples. A black, inky smoke roiled out of his ears, screaming. It changed swiftly into a large black python, wrapping itself around Akane before she could react.

"You've got room for me in there, girl. I see it. So tasty." The serpent flicked a smoky black tongue at Akane's face.

Genma didn't have any time to loose. "COW PATTY!" he yelled and as the demon turned its head to look at him quizzically he released a carefully aimed vacuum blade at the creature's neck. The serpent dissipated into nothing as soon as its head was severed.

"Cow patty?" Akane asked dusting herself off.

Genma shrugged. "It was the first thing I thought of."

"I suppose it would have been expecting 'bullshit.'"

Genma nodded sagely.

Tatewake was getting up. "You're not a goddess," he said to Akane.

"No, I'm not," Akane admitted.

"And…Ranma?"

"Is, or at least was, a boy who turned into a girl."

Tatewake nodded. "I thought…I thought I had beaten it. I thought that everything you were saying was the demon trying to fool me. I was so sure."

"Well, you know what they say about denial…" Akane started.

Genma raised a hand to stop her. "Akane, don't."

Akane closed her eyes and shook her head. "I know, it's not at all appropriate. I just couldn't get it out of my head all of a sudden."

"I think we all know what you were going to say, so we really don't need to hear it," Tatewake grumbled, holding the heel of his hand tightly to his brow.

"We've got to get going, Ranma's in trouble," Genma said.

Akane nodded gravely. "It's not just Ranma, Kasumi and Tofu as well. I guess you know about my father?"

Genma nodded.

"He's really dead? I just can't believe it."

"Crap!" Kuno spat out.

"What is it?" Akane asked.

"Now I want to say it!"

~~~~~a river in egypt~~~~~

Whenever Bast traveled, she always liked to make a quick stop at the great pyramids. It was night time in Egypt now, but this suited her fine. She found she could imagine the old splendor better at night. Remember when the pyramids had been lustrous white, with luminous gold leaf along every edge. She could remember when the Sphinx was whole, and the eeriness one felt when passing under its implacable gaze.

She wondered how many of the others, like her, were still around, masquerading as mortals. It was something of a change from the old days, when the mortals would prance around, declaring themselves gods. Then again it wasn't like the mortals had ever stopped doing that. "What do you say, Fluffles, do you think we should visit the tomb for old time's sake?"

"Always agree," Fluffles said in his rich baritone.

Bast smiled. Fluffles was her best husband yet.

~~~~~foxy lady~~~~~

"Thank goodness," Ranma said collapsing into a semblance of a sitting position beside Nabiki.

Nabiki blinked slowly. "I was…"

"A fox. A kitsune. It was Kuno's demon. It made everyone believe in his crap for a while."

"You're okay! You're walking!" Nabiki's aura flashed green before she got control of it again. Then she noticed something. "You look…different."

"I'm very weak still, Nabiki. I just had to make sure you changed back before anything permanent happened." Ranma grimaced. "This is my normal form now. No curses, no ki control. I was able to get most of my muscle tone back, but I'm going still going to have to start training from scratch."

"You don't seem like Ranko."

"I'm not. I'm Ranma. Ranko died. Sorta. A lot of me died. I'm just what's left."

Nabiki tried to read Ranma's aura, but it was very weak. Even weaker than Hoko's. Nabiki would have thought Ranma was deathly ill from her aura, but she seemed more or less okay. "What about…?"

Ranma shook her head. "You were too much a part of me. I didn't lose us. Except I miss being connected like we were."

Nabiki nodded. "So while everyone thought you were a goddess you were able to heal yourself. And you're still healed after the mass hysteria is over?"

"Seem to be."

Nabiki took one of Ranma's hands to examine them. They were very pale compared to the rest of her body, but warm. It almost looked like she was wearing gloves, but they were too alive. Nabiki released the hand and looked Ranma over again. There was something else about her that was off, but Nabiki could figure out what it was.

"I was a goddess so I took some liberties," Ranma said as if reading Nabiki's mind, "I'm not quite as tall as I was as a guy, but I'll have better reach now." Ranma extended out her legs. They looked startlingly thin, but they were longer. Not out of proportion, but it made Ranma seem gangly, where before she seemed compact.

"Hmm…so where are we on the whole boy versus girl thing?"

Ranma sighed. "I'm a girl right now, Nabiki. I don't want to be, but I am. I'm heading to Jusenkyo as soon as I can, but until then I just have to live with it."

Nabiki touched Ranma's cheek with her hand "You don't have to be a boy for me, Ranma. You know that."

Ranma covered Nabiki's hand with her new one, soft delicate, and warm. "If you ask me not to go I won't. You can be the husband and I can be the wife. Or we could just live together as sisters. I don't care. You are more important to me than my honor."

"You don't have to be a man to have honor, either, Ranma."

Ranma shook her head pulling Nabiki's hand off her cheek and grasping it with both hands. "You don't have to, but I do. I may have not known what I was doing at the time, but I signed a contract. I have to be a man among men in my mother's eyes, commit seppuku or live without honor." Ranma released Nabiki's hand and looked away from her out the back window of the ambulance as it sped toward the hospital. "I did this to myself. I was so sick of getting goaded into doing things because of my honor…I became more and more of a girl because I thought it was a way of escaping. I mean I didn't know that was what I was doing, but that's what it was all the same. Back at Tofu's you said I was more relaxed as a girl. It's true I was. I didn't have to be honorable. I could steal, I could pretend to be someone else, I could eat ice cream. I could lie. Because, hey, I was cursed, not my fault right?"

Ranma turned her head toward Nabiki. "There was only one way I could survive that exorcism, Nabiki. I had to admit that some part of me, some very real and integral part, was female. No matter what happens now, that's not going to change. But you see that complicates things doesn't it? It means that I can't escape my duties by being a girl, because that's part of who I am and who I'll always be. I am a man and I am a woman inside. Being female isn't being someone else. It's just me in a different form. If I want to have honor, I have be a man among men. Becoming a woman isn't going to wipe my slate clean. And maybe the whole idea of honor is silly. But damn it, it's too tied up in who I am! If I don't return to being a man, I'll always feel like I've failed."

"But, Ranma, baby, are you listening to what you're saying?"

"What do you mean?"

"You're saying that some part of you will always be female. So how are you ever going to be able to be a man among men?"

Ranma shrugged. "It's up to my mom, isn't it? If I go to Jusenkyo and use the Nannichuan, I'll be a guy with cold water. That's actually a better deal than I had before. If that's not enough for her then…"

"Then what? Ranma, honor may be important to you, but it's not enough to kill yourself over."

Ranma was silent for a moment. "Like I said, Nabiki. If you ask me not to go, I won't."

Nabiki put an arm around Ranma's shoulders. "You have to try, I suppose."

Ranma returned the embrace. "I think I need to lie down again. I'm feeling a bit woozy"

Nabiki smiled. "That's just me, Ranma baby. Relax."

"Yeah, for an ice queen, you're pretty hot," Ranma chuckled. She had to stifle a yawn as she said it, though.

Nabiki rolled her eyes at Ranma's comment as she let her lay on the stretcher. Then she turned into a fox so she could be closer.

Ranma's hand caressed her fur slowly, and then it stopped. Ranma sat up with a jerk. "Nabiki! What the fuck?'

"What?" Nabiki asked?

"You're a fox again!"

"Yes, I thought it would be more comfort-…wait…I'm not supposed to be able to do this, am I?" Nabiki looked up at Ranma's head through eyes that saw only two colors.

Ranma shook her head no, her eyes wide.

~~~~~late~~~~~

Riding behind Hoko, Hiro felt another wave of exhaustion. He had to get to the hospital to make sure that the Kodachi and the little girl trapped insided her body were okay. Or at least not getting worse. But all he wanted to do right now was sleep. He was already imagining making sweet passionate love to his mattress. Of course he also wouldn't have minded making sweet passionate love to Hoko, but would have to wait until it wasn't illegal.

"Aw that's so sweet!" Hoko exclaimed over the engine.

"What?"

"Nothing! "

"Can you read minds now?" Hiro wondered what other powers Hoko might be getting since she discovered she was an actual phoenix.

"Um…no! I could feel your penis!"

Hiro self consciously tried to scoot back a little, but the damage was done.

~You're going to lose your badge. You're going to go to jail~

Hiro's eyes went wide "Hoko! Pull over!"

"Aw don't freak out! I've had to deal with worse from perverts on the train…not that you're a…FUCK!" Hoko slowed and stopped at a curb. "I shouldn't have said anything okay? I just thought rather than feel all weird about it, I'd take it as a sort of compliment I didn't mean to…"

Hiro got off the bike and held up his hand to silence Hoko. "It's not that. I heard something, and I'm hoping it's not what I think it is."

~Surprise! Miss me? ~

"No, it can't…shit."

"What can't shit?" Hoko asked. "Is this a riddle?"

"It's denial," Hiro said.

"Hmm… Well I guess that works," Hoko said. "If something can't shit, then it fills up with shit, and I suppose denial would be something full of shit."

"No. I have a denial demon inside me. I was halfway through denying it, but that would make it stronger."

~No, it wouldn't~ The inky, dark voice in Hiro's head seemed to be amused.

"Why don't you just keep quiet?" Hiro snapped, "Find some more subtle way to torment me?"

~That wouldn't be nearly as much fun! Besides I wanted to see your reaction to finding out how much my uncle duped you.~

"Your uncle?"

~The denial demon inside Tatewake Kuno. The brother of the demon inside of Kodachi kuno. She is my mother and you are my dear dad.~

Hiro took a breath. He had to resist the urge to deny what he was hearing. "I suppose that could explain things," he allowed.

~You actually believed that that Ranma girl was a goddess!~

"I suppose I did."

~And that Nabiki was a kitsune!~

"Wait…You're trying to trick me…"

~No, I'm not~ The demon laughed.

"Hoko, is Nabiki a kitsune or not?"

"What do you mean? Of course she's a…huh?" Hoko scratched here head. "I could have sworn she was a few minutes ago. I remember I telling her I wasn't mythist and I don't know why I'd do that if she wasn't something mythological, but now I'm not so sure."

Was the demon playing with Hoko's perceptions? After all, wasn't its uncle able to make Hiro think someone was a goddess? And Hiro saw Nabiki's foxfire and her ears with his own eyes. That couldn't have been fake, right? "You were trying to trick me. Nabiki is a kitsune."

The demon laughed more this time ~You're a fool! Kitsune don't even exist! Nabiki is just a normal girl.~

"She's far from normal. That girl's a kitsune if I ever saw one."

~Are you sure? What if I'm only trying to make you think she's a kitsune?~

"Look, there is no way that Nabiki could be normal. The way she was able to drive that bike of hers so recklessly, that green aura she has, and besides I saw her fucking fox ears! Just give it a rest already. You're not fooling anybody!"

~Yes I am!~ The demon laughed once more, the laughter echoing ominously in Hiro's head.

~~~~~end of Ch.14~~~~~

AN: I'm not sure about this chapter. The idea of Nabiki being a kitsune was something I couldn't resist exploring. And while I'm not sure adding new characters is really a good idea, I'm setting up two arcs that kind of have to happen before the end of the fic. I feel like the Kuno arc is missing an important ingredient, but I'm not sure what it is. Eye of newt maybe.

Some may take issue with Hestia and Bast being the same entity. The reasoning is that Hestia is the goddess of home and Hearth, while Bast, or Bastet if you prefer, is the Egyptian goddess of cats and domesticity. Scholars might argue that Bastet's Greek counterpart is actually Diana, but I say that's more Sekhmet the lioness-headed goddess. When Sekhmet became Bastet she became more about the home. I would say Bastet gets somewhat higher billing than Hestia does in public consciousness now-a-days , while Diana gets higher billing than Sekhmet. Of course this is mostly an excuse to get Bastet involved in the story, because there's an extremely odd arc that I want to pull off that will play more with the nekoken.

Thanks for all your reviews! I hope you have enjoyed this chapter and will enjoy the next. Comments are always appreciated.

The weirdness shall continue.