You can guess the crossover. Ranma won't wear a fuku, and also no tuxedo. He won't be some re-incarnation. He is just... Ranma. I want to avoid numerous stuff that became the norm in these crossovers but that actually is pretty stupid. I also will make it clear that while Ranma and the Senshi learn new techniques, I won't sink to the insane levels of the canon, where it became an absurd arms race in the later parts of both series. It's a common weakness in anime series that the power level increases to ridiculous levels. (In my opinion, DBZ is the worst offender in that regard in the anime world) I will try to stay on Earth and try to give everything a bit more realistic feeling (as much as it as it is possible) but don't worry... hilarity will still ensure!

Needless to say that I will slaughter the canon of both series, but I guess you expected this. Also I don't have any rights to both series, but I guess you know that, too.

Since this chapter is quite important, it took me time to actually write it, and it also grew quite a bit beyond what I was planning - mostly due to needed exposition. Please note that I felt the whole thing about Phoenix Mountain had been poorly executed in canon, thus there are many changes, but more about that at the end notes.

I do have a page for the story at TV Tropes, the link is found in my bio. Please help to contribute to it if you feel like it.

As always, I try to answer all reviews and I'm always happy for reviews.

Note that specific notes are at the end of the chapter, to avoid spoilers.


Chapter 39: The Shadows of Mt. Phoenix, Part I - Attack of the Birds

"Damn it!" Ranma cursed, taking hold of the girl before jumping aside to avoid the charge.

The Saotome school of martial arts was specialized in aerial combat, but that didn't mean he could predict someone who literally fought like a bird of prey. After all, having narrowly missed Ranma, the guy quickly gained height again, clearly already preparing for his next attack. That was something Ranma had never trained for.

"Let's see how long you can keep this up!" the bird-man laughed, then swooped down again, clearly knowing that Ranma was handicapped while having to protect the girl.

Again barely avoiding getting shredded, Ranma knew he had to do something.

No way I can catch him while he charges; not while I have to protect the girl. I must shoot him down. Decision made, Ranma was about to charge up an emotion-fueled attack, when suddenly...

#"Ya-Hah!"# He barely avoided the charge from a second bird-man, who had suddenly shown up. That one had brownish, patterned wings and looked equally willing to kill to get what he wants. Ranma's ripped jacket spoke volumes how close it had been.

#"You've found our prey?"# he asked him comrade.

#"Yes, but there's a little problem we have to take care of first,"# the bird-man with the black wings said, pointing a clawed hand at Ranma. Ranma didn't need to know any Chinese to understand what they were talking about.

"I have no idea who you freaks are, but I won't let you touch this girl," Ranma told them under no terms, already preparing for the worst.

There was no way he could charge up an attack with two of them double-teaming on him. He then pulled the sword out of his storage space, hoping all the sword lessons with his mother would now pay off. Now was not the time to mess around; he had to use lethal force if being forced to, as much as he detested doing so.

"Ah, so it's fighting you want..." Both of them chuckled, then the one with black wings drew his own sword, while the one with patterned wings readied a bow. Ranma knew this meant deep trouble; being around Ami he knew how dangerous arrows could be.

However, fortune must have been on Ranma's side that day. Just when the one with black wings was charging him, the skies finally opened the flood gates and rain poured down onto them. Ranma barely noticed her own change, mainly because of seeing in amazement how her two attackers suddenly turned into ordinary men, with no wings and normal hands and feet.

#"Oh shiiiiiit!"# -Womm- The one who'd had patterned wings suddenly got robbed of his uplift and fell several meters, impacting hard onto the pavement.

His comrade didn't fare much better, as losing his wings made him fall and stumble onto the ground, directly into the way of Ranma's foot getting slammed into his stomach. #"Oooouuuurrgghhhh!"# he wheezed, before a fist to the neck made him go down.

They changed with cold water. They do have curses as well, like me. But, doesn't that mean that their form with wings and claws is what they really look like? Now Ranma was completely weirded out by whatever was going on.

She got little time to ponder this development however, when seeing the other guy having regained his senses from the fall. While still sitting on the ground, he was not reaching for his bow, but instead was trying to pull out something from a shoulder holster. Whatever it was, Ranma knew it would be another weapon and made a run for him to get him down as well.

However, she was not fast enough... -BLAM!-

A gunshot echoed through the streets and Ranma felt the bullet rip through her left shoulder, shattering her shoulder blade in the process. She did not register the intense pain right away, as she was too busy with running and then kicking the guy hard against the head, causing him to go down like a sack of potatoes.

For a few seconds Ranma stood there in shock at actually having been shot - an experience she certainly could have lived without - then the horrible pain from the wound broke through. While she was trained to harden herself in battle against impacts, there was no way you could protect yourself from a bullet - especially since it was so fast, you could never see it coming.

"Oh fuck..." Ranma gasped, already seeing the blood on her jacket. Even attempting to move her left arm just a tiny bit shot spikes of agony though her. Getting shot was even worse than she'd imagined it to be.

"Oh no! Honored customer got hurt!" the girl cried in despair.

Ranma knew right away she needed some urgent magical fixing, or her arm would probably be useless for the rest of her life. There also was no time to make sure these two would stay down, as there very well could be more of them on the way. Not to speak of the fact that someone must have heard the gun going off and Ranma was not keen on having to explain everything to the police.

She knew she had to bite her teeth together and make it home in order to get help.

"Can you run?" Ranma asked the girl.

"Yes. I'm very fast as well," the girl said.

"Good, because we need to get out of here... fast" Ranma knew this would hurt a lot, but she had to get some serious distance to these two freaks, who surely would not stay down for long.

Both of them ran away, and it was a good thing they did so.

Several moments later, someone else turned up. Someone very annoyed.

She knew the authorities would be here soon, as her underlings had surely caused a huge ruckus. After all, both of them weren't the sharpest tools in the shed, much to her embarrassment. Wearing a yellow, long plastic raincoat with a big hood that not only hid her wings but also protected her from getting wet, she walked down the street until arriving at the sorry sight.

#Idiots...# she groaned, feeling that after this was over, she had to put them trough harsh training to fix their deficits.

#"You morons! I knew I shouldn't have let you out of my sight,"# she cursed, kicking both of the groaning men hard into the side to motivate them to get up faster. Considering the steel-clad boots she was wearing, both of them wailed in pain.

#"So tell me, how did you screw up this easy job? Can't you even catch a twelve-year old brat?"# she accused her underlings as soon as they were back on their feet.

Both men looked embarrassed. #"Someone interfered. Normally not a problem, but it started raining at the most inopportune moment,"# the formerly black-winged man defended himself.

#"Really, Koruma?"# she asked.

The other man piped in while holstering his gun. #"Yes, Captain Kiima. The jerk does have a curse as well, he changed into a girl. I managed to put a bullet through his shoulder, though, before I got knocked out."#

#"Interesting..."# Kiima was silent for a few seconds, then nodded. #"All right, Masala, I won't give out additional punishments. Now let's go, there will be unwelcome company soon."#

While they walked away, Koruma did have a question for Kiima. #"Captain, how long do you think it will take to again track down the brat? After all, we can't exactly use out powers in this weather."#

#"Look at me and tell me what you see,"# she asked him, pointing at her raincoat. #"After you got dry, put on your rain gear, then call for your spies."#

Hearing how disappointed Captain Kiima was in them for their failure, both men decided it would be wise to not annoy her any further. After all, they were not keen on getting a punishment - which in Kiima's case would be quite painful.


...Hikawa Shrine, a bit later...

"Ahhhhhh... Oh, much better," Ranma sighed when feeling the shattered bones in her shoulder move back into their original position before they started fusing back together.

"You are doing really well, Hotaru. You are a big help while I'm busy with repairing the bone," Mamoru told Hotaru with more than a little pride while carefully repairing Ranma's shoulder with his healing magic.

If anything, this caused Hotaru to blush quite hard, being unused to so much praise. "I... I just like being able to help."

"Oh, no need for false modesty," Mamoru added, then saw to his amusement that Hotaru now was as red as a tomato.

"Thank you..." Hotaru almost squeaked while trying hard to concentrate on what she was doing.

Things had become incredibly hectically as soon as Ranma had returned home with Pu-Leong in tow. Nodoka had almost had a stroke when seeing that her son had gotten shot and was now bleeding quite badly. She had been about to call the hospital when Hotaru had put her hand on the wound and the bleeding stopped almost instantly, while Ranma's pain was numbed.

There was no chance Ranma could rely on the normal way to heal, as that would probably cripple her arm. Hotaru openly admitted that while she was happy she could now use her healing powers freely, she didn't dare to do anything more serious, since she had no idea how the human body looked on the inside, fearing she could cause more harm than good. That meant Mamoru had to help, which in turn alerted everyone else, resulting in the current situation.

Everyone was disturbed when Ranma finished recounting what had happened. These bizarre people who had wings in their uncursed form were bad enough. However, Ranma, whom they had always seen as unfazed by almost anything in battle, getting this severely hurt by a simple bullet was a reminder how nasty things could turn in mere moments.

"Good thing Luna is not here. She would probably have freaked at the idea of one of you getting shot," Deimos commented where she was perched on Rei's left shoulder.

Phobos, perched on Rei's right shoulder, agreed. "Yes, her pregnancy makes her quite emotional. We have to thank Arty for keeping her occupied and spare her a panic attack."

This needs getting used to, Rei thought. These two perching on her shoulders was a recent development; a display on how comfortable she had grown with them.

"Be glad you didn't bleed out. The bullet did serious damage. It's not like in movies, where a shoulder shot is just shrugged off," Ami told Ranma, scanning the wound with her computer to aid Mamoru. "You also could have been a bit more tactful when I called."

"You told me you felt horrible panic through our bond. How was I supposed to react? I was not exactly calm, you know?" Ranma defended herself.

I don't need a reminder. Strange how active emotions sometimes can push through so clearly, Ami thought, still pondering the issue.

Ami knew Ranma had been through a lot, thus Ranma's reaction to hearing how she got kicked out of the library after she'd suddenly jumped up and screamed loudly was understandable in context. Still, Ami got her pride. "Let's just chalk it up to bad timing, OK?"

"Good, let's just forget it. I don't like us being at odds; makes me feel bad," Ranma said.

Ami felt something warm brush over her mind and she knew Ranma was honest that she disliked arguing with her. After all, she couldn't hide how she felt from her. Now feeling a bit bad for having been cross with her, she silently apologized by imagining embracing Ranma in both genders at the same time and kissing both of them fiercely. She saw in satisfaction that Ranma blushed a little at the emotion this stirred in her, which Ranma could feel being so close to her.

Ami then felt a rebound effect and gulped hard, rubbing her legs together on instinct while also blushing a bit. I forgot about that...

"Dear goodness. Both of you are so obvious when you exchange naughty thoughts!" Minako said with a laugh in order to lighten the mood. That finally opened the floodgates to Ami's blush.

Trying not to get as red as Ami was, Ranma looked to Nodoka. "Mom, could you please stop holding my hand? It's starting to embarrass me."

"Ranma, once you become a parent yourself, you'll understand why I do worry like this until I can see you are fine," Nodoka told her son.

Well, I can't exactly blame her, Ranma admitted.

Khu-Lon, who also was present due to things obviously having to do with her home, looked disturbed. "I had not thought they would travel this far..." She then looked to Pu-Leong. "Child, what happened, and why are you even here?"

"Yes, and who are you? You knew I was cursed just after meeting me," Ranma added while following Mamoru's instructions on moving one finger after the other.

The young girl knew she had not exactly followed proper custom, but there had been no time for it. "I'm Pu-Leong, and my father is the guide to the Pools of Sorrow of Jusenkyo."

Ranma remembered the guide and what he looked like. The guy's married? Either his wife really loves him, or he must have looked a hell of a lot better in his youth.

"Things have turned really, really bad," the young girl continued, then pulled a letter out of her pocket. "I was told by my father to give this to you."

Khu-Lon accepted the letter, opened it and stopped after a few seconds, having become a bit paler. "This is serious. I'll translate and read it aloud."

Honored Elder,

if you read this, then my daughter has reached you safely. It grieves me that I had to send my daughter onto such a long journey on her own, but the situation here has deteriorated so much, that I feel she would be safer with you.

The whispered news that have reached me are dire indeed. Saffron, the king of the Phoenix, is nearing the time when he will grow into an adult again. For that they need to temporarily redirect the flow of the waters to the pools, and I have the only remaining map of Mt. Jusendo needed to do so safely.

However, I can never allow that to happen, as the whispers also spoke of how Saffron's latest re-incarnation did not go according to plan. He has turned cruel and heartless and it frightens me what he will do, once he is an adult and at full power. Thus I did send my wife to your tribe and my daughter Pu-Leong to you, so that she can give you the map for safekeeping.

I impress on you, that the Phoenix can't be allowed to get hold of it, or Saffron matures and will unleash a reign of terror.

Sadly, these are not the only worries that are troubling our area.

Rumor has it that tensions are running high within the Musk. Ever since Prince Herb returned, locked as a woman, the monarchy has slid into a succession crisis. The common people of the Musk, already disgusted with the nobles and military, are seeing this as their chance to finally throw off their rulers, who have alienated themselves from them so thoroughly. I fear it will come to violence soon.

Your own tribe, the Joketsuzoku, are also experiencing troubles. The tensions are boiling over and the village is starting to fall apart. There are now people leaving it daily and it's only a matter of time before the village becomes unsustainable. Those nominally still in power are sure to do something stupid to stop the base of the village crumbling away.

I fear for the future and what happens, once widespread violence breaks out, dragging the army into it as well.

Please keep my daughter safe.

Cheng Dwang, Jusenkyo Guide

"I had no idea letting Herb stay locked could have such consequences..." Setsuna said, now actually wondering if the lesson had been such a good idea considering the possible consequences.

"You couldn't have known," Minako told Setsuna, seeing that the woman was beginning to blame herself. "Don't blame yourself for the actions of others."

"I'm trying, but it's not easy." After so much stuff that actually was her fault, Setsuna still at times had trouble to acknowledge that someone else was at fault.

Xian-Pu and Mu-Tsu said nothing. Due to their feelings about their home village, now hearing that it was starting to disintegrate left them feeling not a lot. It was the fact that they felt so little about it which disturbed them. While Mu-Tsu had expected it, Xian-Pu was a bit frigthened at how she'd already divorced herself emotionally from her former home.

"OK, we know your village is falling apart and we certainly know who these Musk are, after all their habits were disgusting enough to hear, but who are these Phoenix? The winged freaks?" Ranma asked.

"Ranma, please don't move too much, or something grows together the wrong way," Mamoru told her, while giving her an annoyed look.

"Sorry..." Ranma made sure to sit still while Mamoru finished his work on her shoulder.

"I'll keep the explanation short. The Phoenix essentially are a tribe that lives on a mountain very close to where the water originates that feeds the Pools of Sorrow. Part of it actually flows through the mountain, although that water is not nearly as potent as the final product. Countless birds drowned in their main water reservoir and centuries of drinking it and using that water for all kind of things mutated them into the form you have seen."

"Sounds like something I would read in my comics," Rei commented, having to think of some American comic books.

"I still don't see what's supposed to be so great about those..." Deimos muttered, wondering why their charge would read such stuff.

"The Phoenix are highly insular and arrogant, thinking of themselves as superior life forms. They are remote enough that the communists haven't bothered with them yet." Khu-Lon then frowned. "As for Saffron, that's their ruler. Not much is known about him, only that his ability to get reborn gives the tribe its name and that he's supposed to be highly powerful. In fact, no one outside of the Phoenix has ever seen him. The guide actually told me some things I didn't know."

"Just what we need on top of everything," Haruka grumbled, after having listened to the explanation. "We already have our hands full, we don't need this problem as well."

"I think it's a bit ironic. If the Dark Kingdom had destroyed the mana tree, there wouldn't be a problem now. Though the point is moot, as that would have meant world conquest instead," Ami mused, while constantly watching if Ranma was in any pain.

"You know, you are awfully calm about the fact that your own village is falling apart," Naru observed, confused about the lack of reaction.

Khu-Lon didn't look fazed by the observation. "Live as long as me and you become wise to many things. I've been expecting something like that to happen for decades, thus my surprise is limited. As for the youngsters, both of them no longer have emotional ties that bind them to the village, thus why they aren't too broken up over this. It's hard to feel for a home that's no longer home."

Makoto's eyes widened when she remembered something. "The letter from your sisters!" she told Mu-Tsu.

Mu-Tsu pulled out the letter and gave it a quick look through. "Now it makes sense why they were nervous. They are strict followers of the old regime, and the village falling apart would of course put them into a panic. Though I guess the Musk would be reason for concern as well, should they descend into civil war."

Pu-Leong meanwhile fished something out of her backpack and gave it to Khu-Lon. "Here. This is the map the Phoenix are after."

Khu-Lon took the small metal cylinder, screwed it open and took out a parchment. After looking at it, she put it back in. "It's the genuine map. I'll keep it safe."

Naru gave the young girl a look. "Doesn't it faze you that you see magic in action?" she wondered, being a bit concerned that they weren't hiding anything from the girl.

"Should it? I grew up with magic all around me; it's nothing unusual to me. To me, all of you having magical powers is the most normal thing in the world," Pu-Leong said, wondering why Naru was so concerned.

Naru had to admit, that made an awful lot of sense.

"There, all done. Should be as good as new now," Mamoru told Ranma, indicating to Hotaru she could stop now.

Carefully moving her arm, Ranma was relieved all was in working order. "Feels as good as new. Thanks man..." She looked to Hotaru. "And thanks to you as well. Was quick thinking from you."

"It was... no problem." Feeling how hot her face had become, Hotaru vowed to learn how to accept praise. She felt stupid getting embarrassed for being told she did well.

"See, Mom, no need to worry," Ranma told her mother, showing her that she got full control over her arm back and that the wound had vanished, before she put on a shirt.

"Oh, thank goodness. Even though I often hide it, I always worry when you walk into danger." Nodoka then looked to Hotaru. "Hotaru, dear, you do look a bit tired. Now that I know Ranma is all right, maybe I should take you home," Nodoka then offered.

However, Hotaru got no time to answer.

"Who are you?! Leave this holy site right now!"

"Grandfather!" Rei gasped when hearing the shouts from outside. She knew right away her grandfather was in trouble and jumped up, causing Phobos and Deimos to fly off in surprise. However, before she could open the sliding doors...

-CRAC- The thin sliding doors shattered when the old man was thrown through them - he only escaped injury due to the fact it was built from thin materials. He flew straight into Rei and she barely managed to catch him before she was was knocked to the floor by the impact.

Standing in the shattered door were three people. Three people with wings. Ranma recognized the two gorillas from the privious encounter, but their obvious leader was new. The blonde woman sported huge white wings on her back that made her look like a caricature of an angel. She held herself with confidence.

"Phoenix..." Khu-Lon hissed. In her long life, she'd had several run-ins with them, all of them ending in violence.

"There are the little nuisance, and the brat," Masala said, pointing to Ranma and Pu-Leong.

Kiima took a step forward. "Good, and right where they can't run away. I'm Captain Kiima of the Phoenix, and these are my warriors, Koruma and Masala. I'll spare you further introductions, since the presence of three Joketsuzoku makes it clear you already know enough."

"I was told you Phoenix are now using guns. You don't respect the rules of battle anymore," Khu-Lon said coolly, remembering that particular nugget from what Ranma had told them.

"We are not interested in a fair fight. We are interested in winning, so we decided to go with the times. Something your tribe forgot to do until it was too late." Kiima saw to her satisfaction that the insult had hit home. "But enough chit-chat, let's get to business. You know why we are here. Where is the map?"

"If you think we'll release it to the likes of you, you are wrong," Xian-Pu growled while accepting a mace Mu-Tsu was giving her.

The non-combatants tried to get out of the room as quick as possible. This clearly was a job for physical fighters and the untransformed girls knew they right at the moment were nothing more than mere targets. These were not magical monsters but trained soldiers willing to use modern weapons to kill in order to get what they want.

"Well, then it looks like we have to be a bit more forceful..." Kiima said, disappointed.

Seeing one of Kiima's goons reach for a weapon, Ranma knew that while fighting outside meant giving them the air, inside they would have been at the mercy of their weapons. "Oh no, not this time! Kayeeeeee!" With an enhanced flying kick, Ranma smashed Koruma through the wall beside the door and into the yard.

The Phoenix clearly hadn't expected their foes to get aggressive on the drop of a dime, thus why Kiima only just managed to avoid having her head smashed in by Xian-Pu's mace by jumping back outside. Masala was a bit less lucky, being catapulted outside after a hit by a ball-and-chain from Mu-Tsu.

Despite the heavy hits however, the Phoenix were already back up and in the air.

"Very stupid of you! This time there's no rain to save you!" Kiima called. "Koruma, Masala! Kya-kya-kya-kya!"

Ranma, Mu-Tsu and Xian-Pu had to scatter when projectiles flew out of the rapidly beating wings of the three Phoenix. It had to be some sort of ki-attack, as there was no way they could lose that many feathers and still fly. That it was no laughing matter became dreadfully clear when the summoned feathers embedded themselves deep into the cobblestones, being sharp beyond belief.

"Hah, let's see how long you can keep up with... Oooof!" Masala gasped when suddenly he got hit by a thrown dumbbell.

Down in the broken door, Akane got ready to throw the other dumbbell she got. I hope Rei doesn't mind me using her dumbbells for this, she thought before throwing and managing to actually nail Kiima into the stomach.

"Ahhh! Urgh!" Koruma meanwhile cried, Mu-Tsu having used the distraction to whip a chain around his ankle and swing him into a tree.

However, to their astonishment, all three of the Phoenix recovered very fast, even staying airborne. You've got to be kidding me!They just look a bit winded! What are they made of?! Akane wondered in horror, knowing that shrugging off being hit by five kilograms of solid iron was no easy feat.

"You!" Sailor Mars had appeared. "I could feel the disturbance from far away! Leave this place now, or suffer the consequences!"

Mars was livid for multiple reasons. She was angry that these winged freaks dared to violate her home, brutally attacked her grandfather and and for generally pissing her off. It was times like these where her temper, which nowadays had calmed down, flared up and only control prevented her from being surrounded by flames fueled by her anger.

"And you are supposed to be...?" Koruma mocked, feeling this girl was nothing more than a stupid-looking cheerleader. He then spotted the two crows perching on her shoulders. "No matter, I'll just make them claw out your eyes."

He made strange sounds, which were difficult to describe. Phobos and Deimos however understood what he was saying all too well and suddenly both crows gasped and shook in horror, as if being hit by a seizure.

"No! Urgh! Argh!" Phobos gasped, while his sister Deimos could only cry in pain, both of them falling off Mars' shoulders

"Eh, what?" Koruma wondered, never before having seen speaking crows.

"Phobos! Deimos!" Mars cried in worry, though thankfully her friends didn't hit the floor, as Venus dashed out of hiding an caught the paralyzed crows before they could get hurt.

"You bastard..." Mars hissed while Venus carried the mystic crows to safety. Fire erupted all around her, bathing her in flames, it even looked like her hair was made of flames. Koruma paled when seeing how the girl he'd dismissed so casually now looked at him literally with fire in her eyes. "Feel the pain!"

The Phoenix had to scatter when Mars' screaming was underlined by her literally breathing a huge stream of flames at them. Koruma screamed like a girl and beat his wings faster to put out the burning feather tips.

"Curses!" Kiima cursed, seeing as this was getting out of hand fast. They had not expected having to deal with magic users. She pulled out her gun. "Say goodbye!"

Reacting fast, Mars pulled her shield in front of herself. While Pluto had reassured them that normal bullets couldn't hurt them if shot in low quantities and cause bruises at best, she didn't want to get hit by bullets at all. -clang- -clang- Two bullets impacted hard against her shield, the magic ensuing that the thin metal wouldn't even get scratched. Still, the kinetic energy made her stumble a bit.

"Enough!"

All fighting stopped when Khu-Lon appeared, looking hard at the Phoenix.

"You want to get the map? Well, you won't get it this way. You are fighting against superior forces. Go on like this, and you will die," she told them coldly

"Then what's stopping us from simply taking one of these weak girls and do her harm until you give us the map?!" Masala challenged her.

Khu-Lon's eyes narrowed. "If you dare to do so, then I'll not only personally destroy the map, but all of us will hunt you down and put you to death."

"You are bluffing," Kiima said, though the risk that the map could get destroyed made her hesitate.

"Try me..."

Kiima right now didn't want to risk her mission being a failure just because she couldn't keep her temper in check. Thus, they needed to retreat for the moment in order to find a way around this new problem. Giving Koruma and Masala and hand sign, all three of them flew away.

"I have the feeling we haven't seen the last of them..." Ranma said, looking around and spotting the girls converging to where Venus had carried the crows to safety. "Oh crap, how are they?"

"I don't know what exactly he did. He clearly was trying to control them, but since they are fire spirits in the bodies of crows, something went gravely wrong," Mercury said, frantically scanning the two crows, then looked in disgust when they regurgiated their latest meal. "They are not injured, but..."

"It hurt..." Phobos coughed. "Imagine feeling like your insides get twisted into a pretzel."

"He thought we are ordinary crows... Which we are not. His power clashed horribly with our nature," Deimos added, almost falling over.

Mars looked absolutely sick with worry. "Could he have...?" She didn't dare to say it.

Phobos shuddered. "If this had gone on longer... We would have been reborn, of course, be don't think we like getting killed."

"Great gods..." Mars then remembered someone else and looked even more worried. "Oh, no! Grandfather!" Remembering the old man had been thrown through a door, she left quickly to check on him.

"I nailed them perfectly, and they went on as if nothing happened," Akane said, picking up the dumbbells. "Is it training, or are they that tough by nature?"

"Considering you hit them by surprise, clearly naturally," Ranma answered, going through the entire confrontation. She then saw her mother escorting the elder Hino outside. He looked a bit unsteady on his feet, but otherwise OK. Rei on the other hand looked about to freak out.

"Rei, I'm not made of glass, despite my age! It's not like I'm in a wheelchair!" Grandpa Hino told Rei.

Knowing how stubborn her grandfather could be, she held Mercury by the arm. "Please check him. I can't stay calm until I know nothing is wrong." Mercury nodded and pulled out her computer, knowing how stubborn some people could be.

The whole confrontation had only taken a few minutes, but even after all the fighting they had done, the quickness of how things had escalated had caught them by surprise.

o

Landing on a high rooftop after their second failure to gain the map, Kiima looked furious, though Koruma and Masala were glad that her wrath this time was not directed towards them. Masala still had the claw marks to prove that provoking Kiima's anger was a bad idea. No way the two of them would dare to again call her 'middle-aged'.

#"This is intolerable. Our lord relies on us to ensure he can go through his ascension sooner rather than later and we do need this damned map for that. We can't afford to disappoint Lord Saffron,"# Kiima hissed angily while starting to pace in a circle. The twitching of her wings was a sign of her agitation.

#"Problem is, how can we get the old mummy to release the map to us? I don't think a direct assault will help,"# Masala supplied, then gulped when Kiima turned her attention to him. #"I mean... we tried that and it didn't work. Not to speak she threatened to destroy the map, should we try anything with these weak girls."#

#"Hiding behind these weaklings to deny us whats rightfully ours."# Kiima again started to pace. #"Direct violence against the old bat is out. Instead we need some kind of leverage to force her to release the map to us. Something that she can't simply shrug off. What are you standing there?! Help me find a solution to this problem!"#

While Kiima continued to pace, her wings twitching more than ever, her underlings were left to strain their brains to find a solution. It looked like hard work, since Koruma and Masala were mainly the muscle of the operation, while Kiima was the brains. Minutes went by, until finally Koruma seemed to have an idea and spoke up.

#"Eh, Captain...?"#

#"Yes?!"# Kiima snapped.

#"I... eh... I got an idea,"# Koruma said, hoping to not get hurt.

#"Then what are you waiting for?! Out with it!"# By now Kiima had little patience left.

Koruma knew he now had to spit it out fast. #"Well, I thought the old lady relies too much on her threat. We have to call her out on it. Let's select a target that hits close to home and force her to come clean. There isn't much else we can do."#

Kiima stopped for a moment, processing it, then she calmed down when realizing that it was true and she already knew how to use that fact to their advantage. #"You are not as dumb as I thought you are. Now, just a little patience, then we can use that to finally get what we want."#

#"And what, if the old fossil does make good on her threat?"# Masala asked, shuddering at the possible consequences.

Kiima looked a bit uneasy. #"Then I'll take responsibility and beg Lord Saffron for mercy that it'll take a long time to reconstruct the needed information."#


...at the late evening...

It was somewhat difficult to go on as if nothing had happened, but after Khu-Lon had openly threatened to destroy the map as soon as she got wind of the Phoenix doing anything to their friends, they were pretty sure there wouldn't be any incidents involving hostages. Nevertheless the others were nervous, and Xian-Pu couldn't blame them. After all, what if the Phoenix simply decided to take the risk? They couldn't be sure to get there in time, after all.

#After all, suddenly getting attacked from the sky is some sort of nightmare,# she thought while collecting the trash in order to dump it into the bins at the back of the Neko-Hanten.

Xian-Pu herself was unsettled by the Phoenix. Perhaps it was because of the fact that one of their warriors had brutally killed her mother years ago. Considering she had been denied seeing the body with the words 'it's too horrible', it made her shudder when imagining how brutal Phoenix warriors had to be.

She tried not to think of it anymore. She disliked the emotions it stirred in her.

Having an additional house guest was a bit unusual, but Pu-Leong felt better in company where she could use her first language, and the young girl wasn't any trouble. In the contrary, Xian-Pu even enjoyed having a lengthy conversation in her first language with someone who wasn't Mu-Tsu or her great-grandmother.

Walking into the dark backyard, Xian-Pu was about dump the trash when she felt something and her warrior instincts kicked in.

Dropping the bags, she whirled around, lashing out violently. Her strike did hit, causing Masala to be thrown back before he was able to compensate despite the pain. However, when Koruma and Kiima descended onto her as well, it turned into a very unfair battle. All three of them stayed off the ground and instead attacked her with the claws on their feet while at the same time delivering vicious kicks.

Not that Xian-Pu didn't fight back. Despite the serious disadvantage she was at, she delivered devastating attacks against her opponents. However, while that certainly hurt them, they in return were hurting her much more with their claws. A normal girl would have been dead by now and only her toughening training protected Xian-Pu from a similar fate.

Grounding her teeth together, she vowed to fight until the bitter end, but the deck was stacked way too much to her disfavor, with her enemies not going to the ground and the darkness around her making things much more difficult. Unlike her, the Phoenix were quite good at seeing in the dark.

Finally, a heel-kick against her head downed her and while she was dazed, her enemies swooped down like vultures, immobilizing her.

#I'm going to die...# Right now she was no warrior, only a very scared teenage girl. The idea she could find her end like her mother froze her with fear.

#"COME OUT HERE, OLD BAG! NOW"# Kiima shouted while pushing a gun right into the side of Xian-Pu's head to ensure she would not do anything stupid.

It took only a few moments before Khu-Lon and Mu-Tsu stormed out of the back door, while Pu-Leong clearly was told to stay inside for her own protection. They stopped when seeing Xian-Pu being held hostage by the Phoenix. She didn't look good, bleeding from many cuts and being severely bruised.

Khu-Lon right away feared the worst. The Phoenix liked ambushes at night, that was how she had lost Xian-Pu's mother. #"Cowards..."# she hissed, looking at the guns the three winged attackers were pointing at Xian-Pu.

#"No, not cowards. We are calling your bluff. Let's see if you are still willing to destroy the map with her life at stake. However, if you still do so, we'll not only kill her, but also prey on all that mean something to you, pick them one after another when they least expect it and torture them to death. You can't stop us before several of them are already dead. Then you can see what your stubbornness got you,"# Kiima threatened.

Khu-Lon had no idea if they were bluffing or not, having no idea if they were willing risk the map getting destroyed. #"No, you certainly won't risk the map getting destroyed. You are not that desperate."#

#"You think so? We'll see..."# Kiima looked to Koruma. #"Koruma, show her we are not bluffing."#

Suddenly Koruma grabbed Xian-Pu's left hand. The girl's eyes widened, realizing in horror what was about to happen when he pressed the muzzle of his gun against it. #"Ahhhh! NO!"# -BLOM!- #"AAHHHHHRRGGHHHH!"#

Xian-Pu had been raised and trained as a warrior. However, despite that she also was a teenage girl and human being. Having a gun at point-blank blast a hole through your hand had the same effext as on everyone else. Her loud scream of terror and agony echoed through the backyard, slowly petering out into crying and sobbing at the intense pain she was in.

Khu-Lon and Mu-Tsu were stunned at the sheer brutality and sadism the Phoenix were willing to unleash without a second thought. They had known the Phoenix were brutal - Khu-Lon knew it all too well due to a personal loss - but to witness it first hand was something else.

#"She's got more limbs we can shredder. Should we now give her matching hands? It's your call,"# Kiima said, Masala now pointing his weapon at Xian-Pu's other hand.

Khu-Lon paled. She had really thought the threat of the map getting destroyed would be enough to deter the Phoenix, but clearly she had been naive, considering these were people willing to walk over dead bodies. She got little choice now; she had to hand over the map over as not only Xian-Pu, but the others lives as well were in grave danger. Many in the village would have called her weak, but after seeing too much death over the course of her life, the threat of even more loss was crushing.

#We should have killed them.# She now cursed having them let escape earlier the day.

#"You've won..."# reaching into her robes, she pulled out the metal cylinder and threw it to Kiima.

Kiima caught it, screwed it open and then looked at the map. A nasty smile grew on her face. #"That's what we wanted. Men, it's time for us to take our leave."#

Suddenly they threw Xian-Pu away and to the floor, causing her to scream again in pain. Kiima took a glass sphere out of her pockets and smashed it onto the hard floor; fire erupted around the three Phoenix, but it didn't seem to hurt them. They were all engulfed in a massive fire sphere, which then took off, blasting away into the night at incredible speeds.

o

"You have no idea how complicated it is to repair a human hand. These are really tricky," Endymion said while observing Xian-Pu testing her newly healed hand.

"It feels a tiny bit numb," Xian-Pu observed, though it didn't restrict her movements in the slightest.

"I think I overdid it a little with the anesthesia..." Sailor Saturn admitted, the sight of the badly damaged hand having caused her to go a bit overboard.

"It should go away in a few moments," Endymion reassured Xian-Pu.

Saturn did give the older girl a look. "Were... were you scared when they were about to hurt you?" she asked, still unable to forget the bloody sight.

She truthfully wanted to lie, her pride rebelling, but then Xian-Pu knew lying to the young girl would do no good. "Yes, I was scared... Very much so. I was helpless and couldn't stop them from hurting me. I was told being afraid is a weakness, but what would it have said about me, had I not been afraid?"

Saturn gulped when hearing this. "And we are about to confront these people..." Nonetheless, she tried to be brave.

#"This is a disaster!"# Pu-Leong meanwhile wailed, looking very distraught. #"Papa counted on me keeping the map safe, and I disappointed him!"#

#"Child, nothing is lost yet! Only now we have to stop Saffron from ascending. I admit that this will be much harder and violence is now the only option,"# Khu-Lon told her, hiding well how recent events had shaken her.

#"Oh, he'll tan my backside good for disappointing him like this. Him, and Mama as well,"# Pu-Leong whined, rubbing her backside when imagining the punishment.

#She can't understand her parents will be more concerned with her well-being than about the stupid map. Shows her age and that she hasn't become as cynical as she thinks she did,# Khu-Lon thought.

This was the second time they met that day, and this time the situation was much more dire. After all, there now was the threat of an insane immortal being running amok and cause untold damage. Without being asked, they'd gotten drawn into a conflict that had not been their own. It was a testament to how much all of them had grown that they accepted the responsibility to do something about it right off the bat.

Though, perhaps some were a bit too eager.

"I don't understand why you insist on coming with us, Akane. After all, you are under no obligation to do so," Ranma wondered while watching the girl closing the thick jacket that would help keep her warm - after all, Khu-Lon had warned them it would be somewhat cold during this time of the year.

Rolling her eyes, Akane was reminded that seldomly Ranma could still be quite dense. "Ranma, why did you decide to do this in the first place? I mean, before Ami getting her powers." She waited for a moment, seeing he was starting to understand. "Look, I know this will be really dangerous, but I have the chance to help and would feel horrible for not doing anything."

Ranma felt a bit weird that Akane was using his own words against him. "Just be careful. I think what we've already seen is only a taste of things yet to come."

Akane thought about her family back in Nerima. "Daddy would get a heart attack knowing what his 'little girl' is about to embark on. Kasumi would probably faint like a proper lady and Nabiki would declare me totally insane."

"Hey..." Akane stopped what she was doing when Mu-Tsu gave her something. "You've seen what the Phoenix are like, so I think being armed is better. Can you use this weapon?"

Akane looked a bit offended that he'd given her a big warhammer - something she was able to lift with ease despite its big weight. To her, being told to use a hammer was playing at an insulting stereotype. However, she couldn't deny that a weapon that utilized brute stength did fit very well with her fighting style. Also, no way Mu-Tsu could have known the stereotype in question.

"Eh, thanks..." She waved the hammer around, surprised at how easily she was above to use it. "I think I better not ask why you were carrying this around."

They were interupted when Pluto returned, Helios in tow.

"While I should feel offended that I'm about to be used as a taxi service, I know your teleportation options are not suited for what you want to do," Helios said, then looked around. "You know you have to call on me again if you want to return home?"

"That will be the smallest problem, thanks that it doesn't inconvenience you," Pluto thanked Helios.

"No, after hearing what's going on, I can only hope you succeed. Oh, and concerning the pools of Jusenkyo, I implore on you to stay far away from them," Helios warned them.

"I don't think that we need to be warned. After all, we don't want to end up cursed like Ranma, especially since there are a lot more nasty curses than turning into a girl," Mu-Tsu said, remembering the horror stories they'd been told as children to keep them away from the pools of sorrow.

"It's not only that. Jusenkyo itself is cursed. Get too close to it and it starts to drain the magic that's not it's own and add it to itself, even though nowadays the process would be quite slow," Helios warned them.

Mercury looked interested. "You mean it sucks up magic like a sponge?"

"That's a good analogy. Jusenkyo is an anomaly; a parasite. After the first age of magic ended with the destruction of the Earth Kingodom, the imbalance of magic on Earth's surface somehow caused Jusekyo to come into being. Only few nowadays have the power of magic, because Jusenkyo siphoned most of it away over the millennia, severely disrupting the mana tree's job to evenly distribute its magic over the planet. Thank all goodness it's mostly saturated nowadays."

"Theoretically, what would happen if it doesn't do so any longer?" Mercury asked.

"In theory, it would return magic as a more prominent power on Earth, starting the second age of magic. Don't understand me wrong, magic and science are not enemies, they can exist in fruitful symbiosis. Magic is not illogical, it can be explored and explained with science," Helios told Mercury. "However, that's not exactly important right at the moment."

"Ah yes. Staying away from the pools shouldn't be too difficult." Mercury then gave Sailor Moon and Endymion a look. "I hope you two remember what I showed you."

Moon fiddled with the moon scepter. "Well, it certainly is easier than making sure we don't suffocate on the moon. Let's do it."

Sailor Moon and Endymion allowed their crystals to touch. There was a bright flash and then everything was back to normal, except there now was a bag filled with something sitting at their feet. For a feat of impressive magic, this one looked rather anti-climatic. Picking up the bag, Moon looked into it.

"These things are supposed to help us overcome the language problem?" she asked, holding up a pearl. "These don't look special."

"Yes, not understanding the local language would be way too much of a hassle as we can't ask for a translation all the time." Mercury then took a pearl and didn't hesitate to put it into her mouth and swallow it down. "Don't worry, it will be full digested and there will be no residue to lave at the - ahem - other end."

Mercury then looked to Xian-Pu. "Please start talking to me in your first language. I'll see when it takes effect."

At first nothing happened, then Mercury blinked. "I can now understand you perfectly, Xian-Pu. To me you suddenly started talking Japanese in the middle of the sentence. It must be working."

"You pronounced my name correctly. Oh, and to me you spoke in perfect Chinese, though with quite a strong accent," Xian-Pu said, impressed at seeing such practical magic at work.

"Bizarre. To us, she still spoke Japanese. Sometimes, magic is confusing," Uranus added, whistling in awe.

"Better don't get too used to it. The effect is going to fade away after a few days," Mercury said while handing out the pearls to everyone else, though Pluto declined, being perfectly fluent in the language.

(Note: From now on, Chinese speech is no longer marked)

Venus was impressed. "Wow, can I keep some of these? Would be really useful during English classes."

Pluto quickly took the bag and let it vanish. "Bad move to talk about blatant cheating while a school official is present." She then looked pleased when Venus paled a bit.

"It wouldn't have gotten her an advantage anyway, as it only translates the spoken word. Reading and writing is not included, since even magic does have its limits," Mercury added, her sensibilities being offended by witnessing such a blatant attempt at cheating in school.

"Sorry, but I have to cut this short. We are on a time limit, after all," Pluto called, getting everyone's attention.

Not wanting to waste more time after that announcement, they all stood together to let Helios do his thing.


...entrance to the village of the Joketsuzoku...

There was little fanfare, just a flash of light and they had arrived. However, unlike they had expected, it was not dark, as flickering orange light illuminated the area. Seeing what the source of this light was, there were a few gasps and he sudden realization that things had just gotten much worse.

"By all ancestors...!" Khu-Lon said when seeing the sight.

The village had been set ablaze and was still burning. Many dead bodies littered the streets of the village, some of them being in horrible condition, their blood having dyed the ground red. Pu-Leong, not having seen something this horrible before, had to vomit when seeing the carnage. Saturn managed to hold it down, though only with much effort.

Khu-Lon, Xian-Pu and Mu-Tsu looked over the dead bodies. These were people they had known, even if most of them only distantly. Khu-Lon closed her eyes, being reminded of that horrible day when their village had payed the price for arrogance. Xian-Pu and Mu-Tsu, being too young to have witnessed said day, were trying to understand what they were seeing. Part of them didn't want to accept it.

"Gone... It's all gone." While he had renounced the village, Mu-Tsu had never wanted them all dead.

Xian-Pu allowed some tears to escape. "Who would do such a thing?"

"THERE ARE SOME STILL ALIVE! LET'S GET THEM!"

Whatever shock there was, they had to shelve it when hearing the loud shout from above them. They knew right away what that meant. They had guessed correctly when they saw several Phoenix warriors dive through the orange smoky haze to attack them.

The Senshi hoped their protection would work against these. After all, all the battles up to now had been against enemies who had enhanced their physical attacks with magic in order to hurt them easier. Only Mercury had experience outside of that. Plain and simple, they had yet to test out their great resistance against normal attacks. Question was, if the alterations the Phoenix had gone through did count as them being magical in nature.

They scrambled, drawing their weapons while doing so.

"Don't think running around like headless chickens will help you!" one of the Phoenix gloated, zooming in on Jupiter and fully intending to rip the girl's face off. After all, her reasoning was, that girls dressing that ridiculously could only be cannon fodder.

Big error.

Having trained extensively with her mace, Jupiter by now could use it with great skill. She threw herself to the side and used her momentum to put it into a strong swing. -crunch- The ugly sound of shattering bones was audible when the mace shattered almost half of the winged woman's ribs, swatting her away like a fly. Slamming to the ground, the female Phoenix clearly was in tremendous pain, but that didn't stop her rage.

"You little, ground-dwelling bitch!" she cursed, suddenly drawing a gun!

-Bang!- Jupiter was unable to move in time and was thrown off her feet.

"NO!" Mu-Tsu screamed in horror, before unleashing the next best thing he could get from his storage space.

Too bad for the Phoenix warrior that it turned out ot be a 50 kilograms lead sphere. With the force of a cannonball it smashed into her face, turning it into a shattered and bloody mess that no longer was suitable for staying alive.

"Yaahrgh!" a Phoenix-warrior screamed, attacking a target that wasn't dressed in white - in this case, Akane.

Akane for her part didn't see anything else, just the warrior diving towards her. Her heart was hammering and adrenaline was pulsing through her, yet all the time getting better had paid off and her focus was great. Rolling aside she avoided getting cut in two while at the same time using the momentum to slam the hammer into her opponent.

The warrior screamed loudly, but managed to get back up into the air.

"Damn monsters! Are you actually proud of what you've done!?" Sailor Uranus cursed, barely avoiding the charge of a Phoenix warrior by falling backwards.

She then thrusted up the Space Sword while he was still passing by just above her and... It was a massive mess when he fell onto the ground a few feet away from her. Sliced open like a cardboard box, his innards were spilling out.

"Regroup, they are no pushovers!" the leader of the Phoenix called and his warriors quickly flew out of melee range, now warned after two of their own had gotten killed and some more injured.

However, it was clear what they were planning on doing when some of them reached behind themselves to pull forward SMGs they'd had strapped to their back. Obviously, they were now intending to use superior firepower.

"BEGONE!"

Saturn's cry heralded dark energy erupting from the Silence Glaive. Like a shockwave, it threw the Phoenix warriors further back into the sky and prevented them from opening fire. It would grant enough time to bombard their winged attackers with magical attacks and projectiles.

The Phoenix felt cold, like Death itself had touched them, but nonetheless they were about to attack again, when suddenly gunfire erupted from the darkness - and it didn't come from them. Bullets filled the air, two of their warriors getting ripped apart by full salvos. The remaining ones realized the danger and fled back into the night - clearly in order to call for reinforcements.

Everyone blinked for a moment when some flashlights lit up.

"It's OK, they don't have wings!" The light dimmed considerably and now the could see soldiers of the PLA approach them - thankfully not with their weapons pointed at them. The Sergeant of the group approached them, not looking too happy. "What were you thinking, being..." He stopped when seeing Khu-Lon. "I thought all the elders are dead?"

Now Khu-Lon knew things had to be very dire. "I was abroad and returned when I heard things have went badly. However, not in my worst nightmares would I have expected this."

"Would you believe it all just happened this morning? We've all suffered horrible losses... It happened too sudden and too fast..." The Sergeant looked pained at the memory. "Nonetheless, we need to get out of here. Being out in the open at night is suicide. It's only thanks to our night goggles that we spotted you."

"We're grateful for that. So, what happened here?" Khu-Lon inquired.

"To be honest, I'm not the right man to discuss this. The Major can give you all needed information." He then took a look at the Senshi. "Is this supposed to be a joke?"

Mars rolled her eyes. "We don't have time for this..." A big fireball formed between her hands, hovering for a moment before she snuffed it out. "There! Don't even think we're some sort of cheerleaders who like prancing around."

The Sergeant gulped, suddenly realizing that these girls were armed to the teeth, only it wasn't visible. Doctrine stated that magic didn't exist. However, being posted in this area you tended to see some weird stuff - though being attacked by people with wings and claws still had come as a shock.

Meanwhile, Mu-Tsu had ran to Jupiter's side, watching the girl slowly getting back up. "Are you...?" he didn't dare to say it when seeing her covering her stomach with one hand.

Jupiter grimaced, then removed her hand from her stomach. There was no blood and also no wound, though there was a hole in the uniform and he could see an angry purple bruise through it. "The force knocked me down. Now we know we are bulletproof, though I don't want to imagine getting one into the face." She grimaced. "Damn, that really hurt... I now have additional respect for Ranma. The bullet went straight through him."

"You really scared me when you got shot," Mu-Tsu confessed, only the presence of so many strangers stopping him from hugging her.

Jupiter had less such reservations. "Here, you deserve this one." It wasn't a spectacular kiss, but the gesture was what counted.

"We need to go!" the Sergeant called. He then led everyone towards the nearby woods.

On the way, Pluto was being busy with consoling Pu-Leong and Saturn. Both young girls were not used to such violence - in Saturn's case she was not used to such a bloodbath, having always only fought against monsters. Pluto got an idea how a concerned mother had to feel. And while Pu-Leong had become somewhat cynical due to where she was growing up, witnessing battle to the death still was shocking to her.

They are way too young to witness such a carnage, Pluto thought. She knew these two would never forget this night.

While walking, Ranma checked the tears on his jacket. One warrior had managed to rip it with her foot claws, but other than that, there was no damage. Others had been a little less lucky and there were numerous scratches that needed to be healed in due time. They had been lucky, but luck could only get you this far before something bad happened. His father, despite his questionable training methods, had drilled into him to never rely on something as random as luck.

He then noticed Akane looking at her weapon; the hammer having some blood on it. "Is something wrong?" he asked her.

"It's just... I realized every time I did help out, it was against monsters - something not exactly alive. However, despite the Phoenix being so horrible, they are still people. I never before fought real people to the death," Akane said, looking a bit disturbed by it.

Ranma knew how that felt, yet couldn't find any words he felt could reassure her.

o

They had walked through the dark forest for some time, the only light coming from the dimmed flashlights. Otherwise, the yellowed leaves of the trees blocked out most other light. All of them had kept silent, the bleakness of the brutal reality surrounding them having sunk in. Especially to Ranma the contrast was jarring, since at his first visit this had been little more than a peaceful backwater.

Finally, they reached a refugee camp, covered lanterns producing just enough light to navigate without trouble, but not too much in order to avoid creating attention. The refugees were a very interesting mix; civilians, Amazon warriors and armed soldiers. They even spotted men that clearly had to be Musk warriors - though not many of them. Most were just sitting there, clearly having saved nothing but their lives, but here and there small shelters made of camouflage-printed fabric were visible.

Their arrival did create attention and one Amazon walked up to them, her eyes widening. "Elder, you are back?" she gasped, clearly not having expected to see Khu-Lon again.

"Yes, and things are more dire than ever. I have seen what happened to the village, did any of the other elders survive?" Khu-Lon asked the warrior.

The warrior shook her head, looking devastated. "No... The Phoenix... they knew where to strike. Several warriors did vanish over the weeks. We thought they'd left, but now it's pretty obvious they were tortured for information. The elders are all dead; these animals shot each of them multiple times, before ripping them apart with their claws like vicious beasts."

"We've seen it. Thank all goodness they are not into eating corpses," Neptune said, still shuddering a bit at the gory display right after their arrival and the quickly following life-or-death situation.

The warrior's eyes widened when seeing the Senshi, and especially when seeing Pluto. "Oh... OH! More of these warriors from afar! Every help is good; everyone in the village was still talking of her victory, even after months!"

"Yes, but that can wait for the moment. What exactly happened to the village?"

The warrior looked shaken. "They attacked just before dawn and killed indiscriminately, like we are just cattle to them. Everyone capable fought back - they fought back really hard, but it was an uneven battle. In the end all that was left was to retreat with those who survived into the forest. Here they can't attack from the sky. Almost half of those who'd lived in the village gut butchered."

"In all my years I never expected this... Get us to those who are in charge here," Khu-Lon said, making it clear they should not waste time. It was a bit of a strange situation to her, that she now practically was the most senior leader of the Amazon remnant forces by virtue of being the only one still alive.

"Oh, yes. This way..."

The crowd parted for them and the warrior led them to an area that was set apart by some camouflage nets. It was no trouble to hear agitated voices coming from beyond them.

"We have to hide until the reinforcements have arrived. I won't lead my men into a massacre, only because some people's wish for revenge is bigger than their common sense."

"Typical weak male! You are not even brave enough to strike beck."

"Well, there's a difference between bravery and stupidity. I thought your village learned that difference in thirty years, but maybe I gave you people too much credit."

"This is pointless! Infighting is the last thing we need right now!"

That last voice, they actually knew, though they didn't have the fondest memories of that encounter.

The warrior pushed a net aside and they saw the people who those voices belonged to. An army officer at the rank of Major was flanked by two soldiers and leaned over a field table with maps of the region on it, looking like he was at patience's end. Opposing him were two Amazons in their early fifties, giving him looks of contempt. Standing a bit back from the confrontation was - to their surprise - Prince Herb, while Mint and Lime tried to keep their distance, clearly being intimidated by the confrontation.

"Musk, you... !"

"I think we have heard enough," Khu-Lon said, finally drawing attention to herself.

"Elder Khu-Lon?" one of the Amazons said in surprise. "When did you get here?"

"That's the first thing you ask me?" Khu-Lon knew no one had expected her to ever return. "Now, the two of you are wonderful representatives of our people. We are in the middle of a crisis, and both of you can't help but to repeat the worst stereotypes about our people."

"We did not...!" the other Amazon hissed, but got cut off.

"You did. Both of you were present when our people got put into their place 30 years ago, but clearly you have learned nothing from it," Khu-Lon lectured them. "Don't test my patience. Now go and let the adults talk."

Both Amazons knew the insult, considering that Khu-Lon's group mostly consisted of teenagers just a third of their age. However, they knew there was no chance they could win this one. All survivors of the tribe would defer to her, thus removing any kind of influence the two of them had had. To keep at least some of their dignity, they left quickly.

"Quite remarkable how nice you are, if that kind of behavior was common," Ceres whispered to Xian-Pu.

"Believe it or not, there are some even worse than them. Some people simply never learn," Xian-Pu replied.

"Thanks, I was losing my patience with them. It was as if they simply refused to grasp the seriousness of the situation," the Major said, looking tired now that the confrontation was over.

Khu-Lon, after experience with military officers, knew he meant it. "Good. So, what happened? Please the short version."

"The Phoenix commenced a surprise attack onto the base just before dawn. They were armed with military-grade handheld weapons and made great use of them. My soldiers fought back valiantly, but the attack came all too sudden and with too much force, thus we were unable to make use of heavy equipment. I'm the highest-ranking surviving officer and we were forced to retreat into the forest after losing over 2/3 of our men."

Khu-Lon looked to Herb, who seemed strangely subdued. "I was cut off from most information. What happened with the Musk?"

Herb looked... defeated. It was totally unlike the Herb they'd met some time ago. "The Musk... are no more. My father told me at my return, that unrest had been brewing for some time. No, don't blame yourself. Me being unable to take the place as heir to the throne due to my locked curse only accelerated the inevitable. The Musk descended into a murderous civil war and the insurgents were winning, when the Phoenix attacked. In the end, both sides could do little more than running for their lives."

"You seem awfully calm, considering what happened," Pluto observed.

"I'm forcing myself to keep moving on. All the power we prided ourselves on, I prided myself on, meant nothing to them. Their weapons ripped even the most powerful warriors apart. Mint and Lime had to drag me away while I watched my father getting brutally murdered. I have only little power left now and as soon as this is over, what's left of the Musk will scatter into the winds."

I know he was acting like a complete jerkass, but now it actually seems downright cruel to still leave him locked as a woman, Pluto thought, now seriously considering to actually release the lock.

"You see how bad things have become. Thankfully, we did manage to salvage a few vehicles and sent couriers on the way to get reinforcements. The reinforcements should arrive soon and then these Phoenix will see the error of their ways," the Major said.

"I hope they arrive in time, because things are about to get worse," Khu-Lon started to explain.

"Please don't tell me Saffron is ready to ascend!"

Seeing someone new enter, some of the Senshi drew their weapons and looked downright ready to attack, causing Mint and Lime to grimace in phantom pain. Little wonder they were on the edge, since the man who'd entered did have big brown wings on his back and scaly hands and feet. He was a Phoenix.

"What is one of them doing here?!" Xian-Pu hissed.

"Lower your weapons! He is not our enemy," the Major called, fearing a huge misunderstanding could happen, resulting in violence.

"Peace. I'm here to help, not to harm. My name is Hatake," the winged man introduced himself.

"You seem to have good manners," Khu-Lon observed, wary of him.

"You think all of the Phoenix are supremacists without a fail? Though I can't blame you, as up to now you have only witnessed the worst parts about my people, there is more to us - we are not one-dimensional. There have always been those who disliked the way we prided ourselves to be superior to people without wings," Hatake explained.

They had to think about these words. All of their enemies up to now had been organizations hell-bent on getting what they wanted, even if it meant going over dead bodies, using monsters to do their bidding. The Phoenix were different in that they were a collective of people and therefore of course couldn't all feel the same. They had forgotten that a bit too easy.

"We are sorry. It's just that your people have shown themselves in a horrible light and we had little reason to think different," Sailor Moon actually apologized. While she hadn't said anything, her thoughts had been quite obvious.

Hatake was a bit surprised at how sincere this teenage girl was. "No need to blame yourself. As I said, you've only seen the ugly side of my people."

"Any explanation why this is happening now?" Mu-Tsu asked, still being nervous around him.

Hatake shook his head. "No. I wonder if it was having lived many lives surrounded by the bigotry against wingless people, but when Saffron got reborn several yeas ago, his character had changed. Before, he had only been concerned with the welfare of our people, even though he had been strict, but now he wants the Phoenix to gain what he thinks is their rightful place."

"I presume you didn't agree with that?" Pluto asked Hatake.

"Not at all. Believe it or not, there are decent people in the Phoenix who don't believe in being superior. With Saffron's growing hostility to the outside world, we started to lose faith into our own people. When the attack was ordered, we fled, probably to never return."

"We probably wouldn't have made it without their help, though you kind of understand why the others are keeping out of sight," the Major added. It was obvious the refugees would react badly to someone with wings.

Sailor Moon gave Hatake a questioning look. "How was Saffron providing for your people?"

"Well, his most important tasks are keeping us warm during the winter and warming the waters," Hatake explained.

"You've got to be kidding me..." Endymion groaned, facepalming at that explanation. "What's wrong with you people?"

"Eh, sorry?" Hatake asked.

Ranma shared a look with Endymion. Even he knew how stupid this was and after a nod decided to take over. "Honestly?! A being that gets reborn, has incredible powers, and you use him for heating and to have warm bath water?! This is so many ways of moronic I don't even know where to start."

"Geez, that guy is acting as a glorified warm water heater? I would laugh if the situation weren't this serious," Ceres remarked, really wondering about these Phoenix.

Scratching his head, Hatake looked embarrassed. "Now that you say it... I guess that also was a reason why others want to rush his ascension after the past few winters."

Everyone shook their heads at the mere idea that a being of such incredible power had only been used for something as mundane as heating water. Sometimes people either could be incredibly stupid or short-sighted to no end. Though, perhaps they should be glad for that, since the Phoenix king actually getting aggressive could have been disastrous years ago, when no one could have stopped him.

"There's something I don't understand. Who came first? The Phoenix or Saffron? We know how your people came into being, but where does Saffron fit in?" Mercury asked, relieved to finally have a reliable source for information.

"To be honest, we don't exactly know that ourselves. You see, many don't even want to talk about how we got our wings in the first place - after all that doesn't help you feel superior - so there was no serious research into our early days. Scripts are vague and it appears as if Saffron just appeared one day, down and ready to support us. As if by magic," Hatake explained.

Pluto looked up when hearing this. "You said as if by magic. Could it be possible that Jusenkyo's magic created him?"

Hatake scratched his chin in deep thought. "I can't rule that out, though that also means he's next to impossible to kill at full power, if he really is connected to the pools. Thank all goodness it'll take months without the map to prepare his ascension."

"Well, too late," Khu-Lon said.

Stunned silence greeted her.


...some time later...

Everyone knew that it was an emergency plan. Due to Saffron now being able to go though with his ascension at Mt. Jusendo, he had to be stopped before he could do so. They knew they weren't needed for the moment and Khu-Lon and Pluto could help with the details on her own. Truth to be told, they didn't need to know all those things in detail, so they had excused themselves to get some rest before the whole thing would start.

They had only walked a short distance, when Pu-Leong suddenly squealed. "Mama, Papa!"

The young girl ran to a couple and threw herself into hugging them. Ranma recognized the guide right away - after all, a guy wearing a maoist uniform nowadays really stood out - thus the woman next to him had to be his wife. She was not exactly what Ranma had pictured her to be. She neither was playing into the 'ugly husband hot wife' category, nor was she as overweight as the guide. Best way to describe her was being a homely mom-type who was a bit unhappy with having gained a few pounds more than she would have liked.

"Pu-Leong? Where did you come from?" her mother wondered.

The guide then noticed the people she'd been with and did recognize one in particular. "Honored customer, so we do meet again. Why is my daughter here when I specifically sent her away to be out of harm's way?"

"Papa, don't blame them! I forced them!" Pu-Leong pleaded, only now realizing why her father was displeased.

Pu-Leong's mother sighed, then hugged her daughter. "Oh, Pu-Leong... Sometimes you love us a bit too much."

Trying not to intrude into that mother-daughter moment, Ranma looked to the guide. "After seeing all that, she's kind of lucky both of you are still here."

The guide was a bit surprised that Ranma answered in perfect Chinese. He couldn't have learned the language in less than a year, but then simply shrugged. "Very nasty affair. We barely made it out alive. Jusenkyo is now under firm control of the Phoenix and I don't even want to imagine the damage they can cause with it."

"Won't the pools get destroyed once the water source is cut off?" Mercury asked, having wondered about that since the guide's letter.

"Oh no, since the Phoenix king resurrected many times, that clearly isn't the case. The pools just keep a minimum amount of water and get refilled, once the water flow is restored." The Guide gave Mercury a deep look. "Are you planning to get close to the pools?"

Mercury held of her hands. "No way! I'm not insane. While Ranma's particular curse is mostly harmless, I certainly don't want to get hit with one of the nastier ones. I'll stay at a healthy distance, thank you."

The guide's wife was done checking if Pu-Leong was all right and chuckled when hearing this. "You are smart. I wish other people would be as wise as you, then there would be less tragedies."

"Well, look who we have here..."

They had not noticed two young Amazon warriors approach them. They looked pretty unremarkable, but Mu-Tsu suddenly looking quite displeased surprised them. They knew Mu-Tsu had not been happy growing up in the village, but such a negative reaction meant there had to be a more personal aspect to it as well.

"Who are these two?" Venus whispered to Xian-Pu, who also didn't look thrilled to see these two warriors.

"Mu-Tsu's sisters." Xian-Pu grimaced. "This could get ugly."

"Bu-Roash. Lu-Foah." Mu-Tsu's voice was so frosty, it felt like it could freeze the air around him.

Bu-Roash, the elder of the two, snorted. "If this isn't our little brother. Our blind, hopelessly obsessed and worthless brother, who had hidden himself away safely while our village got massacred."

"Just as expected from a weak male. It still is embarrassing that we have to accept their help," Lu-Foah added, clearly looking for a fight to release pent-up anger.

Angered by these hurtful words, Mu-Tsu now wanted nothing more than to tell them off. However, Jupiter beat him to it. "How dare you?!" she growled, giving both of them a piercing look. "You have no right to treat him like this!"

Both Amazons were taken aback for a moment, most likely knowing of how Pluto had humiliated three upstart warriors, then Lu-Foah laughed humorlessly. "Oh, and why would you care? Can't be that he means anything to you, considering he only has eyes for one girl. Ha, and she certainly won't give him the attention he craves!"

"Well, it certainly does have entertainment value," Bu-Roash added, then looked to Xian-Pu. "It always was fun to see you deck him, Xian-Pu, after another of his idiotic ideas to impress you failed."

Xian-Pu's eyes narrowed. These two had always been jealous of her position. "I don't think you are gonna believe me, but we are getting along well enough these days."

"He told me you two are horrible excuses for human beings, but I had no idea that he had tried to spare me from how much worse it really is." Jupiter was very tempted to beat them up with her mace, but controlled herself.

"Oh, really? I wonder what you are to him. After all, he normally is too busy following Xian-Pu like a lovestruck puppy to even acknowledge other girls," Lu-Foah needled Jupiter.

Jupiter felt even more annoyed, but then she felt Mu-Tsu's hand on her shoulder. "No, that's not worth it. Let me give them the lay of the land."

"You are awfully calm about this, while a moment ago you looked ready to rip into them," Jupiter observed while stepping aside.

"I just realized getting angry would give them too much credit." Mu-Tsu then looked to his sisters. "Both of you clearly haven't changed, even in face of the destruction of all both of you stand for. Somehow, this doesn't surprise me; being attached to something that had started to die even before your time."

"How dare you spit onto the dead!?" Bu-Roash roared looking ready to grab for her weapon.

Mu-Tsu snorted. "I never spoke ill of the dead and I'm as horrified as anyone. No, I'm fed up with the old ways you cling onto; the ways that led our people into ruin. These ways are finally dead and thank all heavens! And don't worry. Once this crisis is over I'm out of your hair forever."

That announcement stopped his sisters short. "What do you mean?" Lu-Foah finally asked.

"It means that I have found a place I actually can call home; a place that in less than a year has given me more a feeling of home than the village did in all these other years. A place that has given me someone very precious who made the decision easy for me." That said, he held Jupiter close.

"Oh, Mu-Tsu... I..." This came very sudden and in front of her friends! Jupiter blushed a little.

If anything, that infuriated his sisters even more. "You renounce our culture for... for THIS?! Oh no. No way this is the truth, you liar!"

"You can believe what you want. Your opinion doesn't count; only hers." That said, Mu-Tsu gently kissed Jupiter, no longer caring at the audience. Truth to be told, both of them felt the need to make a point and Jupiter gently surrendered into it, enjoying every second of it.

"You little...!"

However, before they could do anything, a wall consisting of eight Senshi, two martial artists, an Amazon warrior and a protective Earth prince closed like a wall in front of them, cutting off their path to their target. Bu-Roash and Lu-Foah were taken aback by the hard looks aimed at them, being confronted with a phalanx of friends who would not take kindly to any kind of attack.

"Don't even think about getting close to them," Sailor Moon said, her arms crossed and actually looking like someone you don't want to cross.

"What is it to you?!" Bu-Roash growled, though being intimidated by so much unforeseen opposition.

"We are their friends. We all stand up for each other," Ceres said, playing with her sickle to show she was in no mood for bullshit.

"We stand together and protect those dear to us," Venus added, holding her chain like a whip ready to strike, making it clow for extra effect. "Also, as the Senshi of Love, I certainly won't let you come between them."

Saturn then held her Silence Glaive forward, which was amazing considering the weapon was taller than her and looked quite heavy. "You are not welcome here. Leave us alone."

Looking around, Mu-Tsu's sisters noticed that many people were now watching them, also clearly disappoving of them. Seeing this, they decided it was better to make a tactical retreat, before things could turn ugly onto them.

"Just be glad you will be far away..." Lu-Foah tried to save some face, while she and her sister retreated.

Jupiter was moved at so much support after her lips were released. "Guys... I don't know what to say."

"Then don't say anything and just know we are always there for each other," Neptune said, actually feeling really well. She really felt like she belonged now. "It also felt really good... eeek!" Rubbing her ass after Uranus had smacked it playfully, Neptune looked a little annoyed. "What was that for?"

"Just to lighten the mood a bit. All this gloominess is starting to get to me and I felt after this little declaration of love, a bit more was needed before we go into the fray," Uranus said innocently.

"Only you..." Looking around, Neptune saw that the others were smiling a little. While looking somewhat awkward, it was genuine and clearly Uranus' plan to lighten the mood despite all the bloodshed had worked. "When we're home, prepare for the spanking of your life."

Uranus said nothing, just being glad her plan had worked and a bit of the tension had fallen off them.

Suddenly, clapping filled the air. First just a little, but it became more. People around them were applauding them, but most likely Mu-Tsu in particular. He did recognize them as people from the village. It seemed not only were they relieved that he had moved on, but that they could find something positive in such a day full of horrors.

In such total despair, it were the small things that were important.


...at the same time, Mount Phoenix...

"This is taking too long," a child with wings complained, looking over the dark mountain peaks towards where Jusenkyo was located. The darkness was pieced by the fires of the chaos his warriors were causing to the ground-dwellers.

"Lord Saffron, you know as well as me that the ritual can only take place after the sun is up. Without it, a crucial element is missing," his chamberlain told him, giving the child a concerned look.

Saffron held tighter onto two staffs, right now looking every bit like an impatient brat. "Of course I know that! Every additional moment I have to stay like this is annoying me more and more. I can't guide our kind to its rightful place as a little snot!"

"Quite understandable, my Lord," the chamberlain admitted.

Deep inside however, he was concerned. Saffron before his current re-incarnation certainly hadn't been an especially nice person, but first on his mind had always been the welfare of his people. However, something had changed, and not for the better. While the Saffron of old had been arrogant but also benevolent to his own people, even shortly after hatching from the egg some years ago it became clear that something had changed when he'd nearly bitten off the nursemaid's nose.

"And you are sure everything will go as I want it to? I can't exactly remember the previous time," Saffron worried, now sounding like a child who feared the chocolate was gone.

"Most certainly, my lord. We do have extensive records of something this important. It was a mere stroke of bad luck the map got lost a long time ago and we had to obtain a replacement," the old man reassured his king.

Saffron looked a bit sour. "Too bad I can't punish anyone for that! At least Kiima solved that problem."

The chamberlain sighed. With Saffron getting older over the past few years, his new priorities had colored how his subjects behaved. While they had always felt nothing was wrong with killing land-dwellers, as they saw them as worthless, Saffron openly spewing hatred onto those he felt beneath them had created a highly dangerous atmosphere on Mount Phoenix.

Nowadays the Phoenix were riled up in a frenzy of outright hatred towards those they deemed sub-creatures. It greatly worried him that the people were down and ready to wage war on the world outside of Mount Phoenix, ignoring the fact that isolationism had served them really well over the centuries. Despite having spied extensively on the outside world, he feared that the bulk of their people, who were eager to spill blood, were painfully ignorant of the fact that it in the long run would mean their destruction.

After all, the world was big, and they only were few.

However, Lord Saffron's word was law and there was nothing he could do about it. The previous day, open warfare had broken out. Seeing the troubles the Amazons and the Musk had descended into, Saffron had declared it the perfect moment for the initial strike. There now was no going back, though he had a feeling his people would pay dearly for their actions.

Interestingly, a number of the Phoenix had become uncomfortable with their lord's new ways. When it became clear what their lord was about to order, they had deserted the tribe; something unthinkable a mere few years ago.

Ignoring his chamberlain, Safforn looked to Kiima, who stood a short distance away. "Kiima, will everything be ready once the sun is up?"

"Yes, Lord Saffron. You can divert the waters at Mt. Jusendo as soon as the sun is up and start your ascension," Kiima told him, looking excited at the prospect. "All preparations will be finished according to instructions some time before dawn."

The boy Saffron giggled, before controlling himself. "This young form is still getting to me. I need to ascend as soon as possible."

to be continued...

Next Episode:

"The Shadows of Mt. Phoenix, Part II - Trial by Fire"


Notes:

Here the notes.

Now, you probably noticed I took many liberties with the Phoenix arc, and that's because it was pretty much a mess in canon. Problem with canon is, that it tried to mix a serious story with the by then usual random-events plot and sociopathic comedy. It did not fit together at all and cheapened the whole thing immensely. It glaringly showcased the series' main flaw of not having a focused narrative and just relying on tons of cheap gags.

Now, this will go into detail.

The whole thing in canon was an embarrassing comedy of errors and nothing bad would have happened had no one done anything - just give Saffron the stupid map, let him have his bath and then he again is orcus on his throne. Since that was unusuable, I needed to create a real threat. Thus, why here Saffron did change after his latest rebirth. He's now actively aggressive and a genuine threat.

In canon the arc also was annoying since, in the end, it didn't change anything. That was a general weakness of the series and a reason why it has aged badly. Not so much here. The whole thing at the end will have SERIOUS consequences, and looking at what happened to the Amazons and the Musk, some consequences have already arrived. It WILL tie strongly into the main plot.

You've probably also noticed the violence. That also was intentional, as it no longer is a comedy of errors. The stakes are high now.