The Phantom and The Silence: Chapter 4

"Uh, mom...isn't your name Nodoka?" Ranma asked, puzzled. Sure, his
mom was weird, but she didn't go around claiming to be someone that
she wasn't.

The green-haired woman got the same stunned expression on her face as
she had when she first saw Hotaru. Setsuna's head swung from side to
side, taking in Hotaru and Ranma's confused gazes. Her mouth puckered
into a little 'o' and she sat down in a nearby chair heavily, looking
more worried than scared.

"Are you all right, mom?" Ranma asked, walking over to the distressed
woman.

Setsuna looked up at her son and said,"Ranma, you know I love you.
You do know, don't you?" She sounded desperate for acknowledgement of
this simple fact.

Growing more confused that ever, Ranma answered,"Come on, mom, don't
ask stupid questions, I know you love me, just like I love you." Ranma
looked at Hotaru, his eyes pleading for help. Hotaru was frozen in
inaction, unsure of what to do.

Her eyes hardening with determination, Setsuna stood back up, using
Ranma's arm to aide her."Ranma, I'm not really Nodoka Saotome. That
name is little more than a false birth record I created to keep the
government out of my business." Without looking back, Setsuna strode
out of the room purposefully.

Ranma shrugged, hoping his mom wasn't going crazy, and followed her,
beckoning Hotaru to join him.

****

They found Setsuna in a richly appointed parlor, the furnishing
somehow managing to convey wealth but doing so with gentle warmth.
Ranma knew his mom loved this room, for reasons he couldn't figure
out.

Setsuna was seated on a green and blue divan, her legs folded beneath
her and a peculiar staff lying in her lap. Both Ranma and Hotaru
thought it resembled an enormour key."Have a seat," Setsuna said,
determined yet apprehensive.

Ranma and Hotaru took a seat on a small sofa upholstered to match the
divan that Setsuna occupied."Mom, if you've decided to have a midlife
crisis, that's fine, I hear that everyone does eventually, but could
you wait till we don't have company?" Ranma had wanted to make a good
impression on Hotaru, but now he just wanted to get through the next
few minutes without having to commit his mom to a mental institution.
At least Hotaru probably wasn't thinking about her academic problems.

Setsuna chuckled hollowly."No, my son, not hardly a midlife crisis."
As she spoke she caressed the shaft of the staff she held, seeming to
coax a flare of garnet colored light from the jewel at its crown. She
sighed and continued,"I don't even know where to begin. I mean I've
thought about it before, and planned what I'd say, because I knew you
would one day discover the truth, but now that the time has arrived, I
find myself speechless."

Awkwardly, Hotaru said,"Ranma, Ms. Meiou, if this is a bad time, I can
leave and come back later." Happosai was the only family she'd ever
known, and while they cared for one another, she'd never had a very
deep family bond with anyone. To intrude on another's felt wrong,
somehow.

"No, stay, this involves you too, Hotaru." Setsuna stared into the
large gem on the head of her staff for a moment longer, then with a
negligent flick of her wrist, threw it into the air. Ranma winced,
hoping that nothing valuable was broken, not even thinking of
retrieving it himself. Much to his amazement, though, the staff
disappeared into thin air almost exactly like Hotaru's did when she no
longer needed it.

Ranma's mouth hung open. To perfrom such a feat, a person had to have
strong chi control and years of practice, yet his mother had neither.
Before he could enquire of what he'd just witnessed, Setsuna began,
"Throughout the cosmos there are Powers. Neverending Time, the Void
of Death, the everpresent Silence, Life's eternal battle. They are
numerous and in our simple understanding, all powerful. For longer
than any civilization has reigned on this planet, I have represented
Time. When enemies from the past or future threaten our world, I hold
vigil over the Time Stream, the true form of the Universe." The woman
paused, surveying the rapt faces of her audience."Times are ripe for
Change, another Power, to exercise its dominion. With my meager
powers I have divined the future, subtly manipulating events to bring
about the rise of an empire on Earth that would forever embody peace.
Twenty years ago several thousand possible futures came into alignment
without explanation. I was dismayed. The avatar of Silence would
soon walk the Earth, a being of great power, enough so to utterly
destroy Earth."

Setsuna shifted, her eyes going to the floor as she continued,"As is
within my power, I searched through the Time Stream for information
that could help me temper the Silence, to stop it from carrying out
its mission. To my amazement, I found the avatar as a small girl.
She was horribly weakened, the results of an accident in her father's
laboratory, and her power was being usurped by an entity long thought
dead. Even with Time on my side, I could not change the course of the
future in the few short years available before the Silence was born
again. Desperate, I sought out in my own future, a way to alter
upcoming events." Setsuna's voice echoed with timeless authority and
experience. Hotaru and Ranma found themselves instantly believing
her, unable to comprehend anything beyond her words.

"To my shame, I saw in one possible future, one out of several
billion, the creation of a new soul. It was the Void's messenger but
on its own it would take countless millenia to travel across the
immensity of space. I bound that soul into a child of my body. As a
father I chose a simple man, easily controlled by his vices, who would
trouble me little over the years as our son grew into his Power. The
proper attitude and bit of cold steel turned Genma into a little puppy
dog." Setsuna coughed nervously.

"Ranma, you would have guided and protected the Silence's avatar until
she grew strong once again. The Silence, though not evil, seeks to
bring about utter Silence among the cosmos, and is anathema to Life.
If the need ever arose, you would be there to eliminate the Silence's
avatar before it could destroy Earth."

"Anyway, shortly before you were born, Ranma, the avatar of Silence
was stolen by a being of such a chaotic nature that the Time Stream
flowed around him. In the advanced stages of pregnancy, I could not
access my powers without endangering you, so by the time I could mount
a search effort, it was too late, Hotaru Tomoe was beyond my power."

Hotaru shifted uneasily, a few uncomfortable flashes of long dead
memory running through her mind. A glimpse of a glaive slicing
through a cybernetic demon's torso. A reflection of herself wearing a
sailor fuku in the congealing puddle of blood from an octopus-like
alien. The images, thankfully, disappeared as she blinked her eyes
rapidly, unwilling to even imagine herself dressed like that.

"My plans and machinations for the future instantly became useless, a
massive jumble of random possibilities indiscernable to even me.
Heartborken, my duty unfullfillable, I gave up, turning to my family
for comfort. I learned to love Genma and made sure his compulsive
urge to create a martial arts juggernaut didn't harm you, Ranma, by
creating an image of myself as an honorbound woman fully intent on
murdering her husband if he harmed her child." Tears sparkled unshed
in Setsuna's eyes as she finally looked back up.

"So you see, I manipulated time to bring you two together, but my
failure only served to fulfill my earlier intentions. Now Hotaru is a
healthy, vibrant girl capable of taking up her mantle as Silence and
Ranma, my son, you need never carry out your own Duty as the Void's
representative." Setsuna had tried so hard to squeeze in so much that
she feared her son and his friend would not understand what she had
intended, but confronting ones own demons is a struggle that can take
a lifetime and she wasn't yet up to the task.

Silence(not that kind, no pun intended) held sway for over a minute
before Ranma spoke."...You gave birth to me just to play nursemaid or
assassin to Hotaru?" Ranma knew his mother spoke the truth, but
accepting the truth for what is was took more maturity and experience
that he possessed.

Sadly, Setsuna nodded."Never believe for an instant that I don't love
you, no matter why you were brought into this world!" she stated
vehemently.

Ranma shook his head,"You even chose my soul for me..." he trailed
off, unable to comprehend the implications of that act alone."Has
anything in my life just happened on its own, or did you arrange that
too?"

"Son, I had no choice, plea-" Setsuna began, only to be cut off in
mid-sentence.

"Don't call me that!" Ranma shouted, jumping to his feet."I'm not your
son! I'm just a tool for you to use!!" Reflexively, Ranma drew in his
chi, warping it and his environment so as to make him disappear.

****

Hotaru was left in a situation she wasn't equipped to deal with.
Setsuna was crushing the life out of her, sobbing into her shoulder
pitifully, bemoaning her very existence. The teenager patted the
distraught woman on the back and said,"Don't cry, he's a boy, they say
stupid stuff all the time. When he gets hungry he'll come back,
apologize, and everything will be fine."

So, Happosai, her grandfather, the only steady adult figure in her
life had kidnapped her as a child. She would deal with him later.
Right now, she had to help Ranma's mother.

"He hates me now," Setsuna claimed between racking sobs.

"Shhh, he's just taking it hard." Hotaru herself wasn't taking the
revelation all that easily. Silence, huh? What was Silence, and why
would she, better yet how would she, destroy the world with it? That
line of thought led her to Ranma's intended roll. Guardian or
assassin. Why was she comforting a woman who had engineered the birth
of a person who's sole purpose in life was had been to take care of
her until she became too great a danger, then to kill her?

The green-haired woman just clutched Hotaru more forcefully.
Eventually, when she had no more tears to shed, Setsuna pushed Hotaru
away from her and wiped her face with the corner of her apron."I-I
apologize for burdening you with my troubles Hotaru, especially since
you are as much a victim of my plotting as my son."

"You were just looking out for the greater good, Ms. Meiou. I can
understand that. I've lived a good life so far, I don't suppose I
mind finding out that it wasn't as spontaneous as I once believed,"
Hotaru assured her. Grandfather, on the other hand, had a lot to
answer for.

Setsuna managed a tight smile."You're a good person, better than me.
Here, take this, it's part of your legacy." The woman's arm
disappeared into thin air, returning a moment later with the glaive
Hotaru had seen in the flash of memory earlier. Almost as soon as the
polearm was free from wherever its resting place had been, Setsuna
dropped it, unable to compensate for its great weight.

Hotaru grabbed it before it could strike the floor, amazed at just how
heavy the weapon actually was. It had to be solid iron to weigh so
much."What is this?"

"You'll know soon enough. Now, please leave me, I'd like to be
alone," Setsuna requested. Thousands of years without any emotional
release, compounded by Ranma's ire with her, had drained Setsuna of
energy more completely than if she had been fighting her way around a
black hole in the Time Stream.

"I'm gonna try to find Ranma. Do you want me to tell him anything?"
Hotaru asked. While the weapon Setsuna had given her was well within
her strength range, it would be rather conspicuous to carry it around,
so she slid into weapons space with her normal staff, surprised that
it fit so easily.

Setsuna's eyes reflected the pain she felt at the mention of her son's
name. Tears began to gather again and she sniffled
repeatedly."Please, give him this."Again Setsuna repeated the trick of
pulling objects from nowhere, this time returning with an odd, foot
long blade that curved in opposite directions on either end."If he
never wants to see me again, at least he'll have what is rightfully
his. Tell him that I love him more than anything."

Hotaru nodded, accepting the...whatever, and slipped it in with her
staff and the odd glaive. If the glaive was heavier than it should
have been, the weapon for Ranma was lighter than it's size should have
allowed. As she wound her way through the house, towards the only
exit she knew, Hotaru couldn't help but hear Setsuna's renewed
sobbing.

****

Though no one would have blamed him if he had cried, Ranma wasn't the
type to get weepy. No, Ranma was angry. When Ranma got angry he had
to fight his aura constantly, lest it break loose and wreak havoc on
his surroundings.

His own mother, the woman who had given him life and helped to raise
him, had betrayed him. It went beyond betrayal. His entire existence
was nothing more than a lie. He'd depended on his mother over the
years when the training became too much, when he felt that the
pressures were too great.

Ranma couldn't see how he'd been fooled for so long. He knew he
wasn't the most perceptive of people, but over sixteen years of time
should have been long enough to figure out that something wasn't
right. Well, at least he still had his father, as little comfort as
that was, and he knew the man to be as in the dark about his wife as
Ranma had been.

****

Finding Ranma was easier than Hotaru had thought it would be. All she
had to do was follow the energy drain. Ranma was sitting in the
rafters on the underside of a small bridge, unaware of the havoc he
was causing. Birds that happened to fly over the general area near
Ranma fell from the sky, drained of energy and dying on impact with
the ground or surrounding buildings. Hotaru herself had to fight
tooth and nail to keep her own aura intact.

She was thankful that an average person's aura was so weak and wrapped
up within themselves that anyone driving across the bridge wouldn't
suffer complete loss of energy, maybe at the worst feeling slightly
tired.

"Idiot, stop that!" Hotaru shouted, tossing her staff like a spear at
Ranma. Ranma didn't even try to stop the projectile and it slammed
into his stomach at full speed.

"Oooof!" Ranma barked, his breath soundly knocked out. He leaned
forward convulsively, overbalancing himself and falling uncontrollably
into the water below.

****

"Usagi, I think you should stop worrying about what that girl thought
of our outfits and help us decide whether or not the girl are new
enemies," Makoto said.

"But, guys, we look good in our uniforms, all the magazines say so!"
Usagi wailed. If only that big mean demon hadn't shown up, they
wouldn't have to worry about this. Why couldn't all the mean people
go bother America or maybe China?

"Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, Usagi," Ami advised.
Ami's opinion ran toward Usagi needing to shut up, let her think for a
while, and maybe getting some target practice in real soon before she
threw around anymore energy beams.

Usagi sniffled pathetically, but kept quiet on the subject.

"I think we should treat them as enemies until we know for certain
where they stand," said Rei."At least until I can do a thorough fire
reading for both of them."

"If they were evil, why did they help us today?" Minako asked."I mean,
they could have just stood back and let us get thrashed by that big
ugly demon woman." The boy couldn't be evil, he was just too cute,
then again, all the guys they'd fought against had been anywhere from
cute to gorgeous. Sigh. Oh well, he was probably evil incarnate with
a smile like that.

"Well, Ami, what do you say?" Makoto asked. All eyes turned to the
bookish Senshi of Mercury.

Ami shrugged."I didn't have my computer running. All I can say is
that they didn't use traditional methods that we've come to associate
with Negaverse representatives. No portals besides the demon's were
open in the area, they didn't fly, and seemed to be dressed casually.
Other than that, I have nothing of value to add. My opinion, though,
whould be to trust them until they give us a reason not to.

That sparked Rei's temper, and pretty soon the senshi meeting
degenerated into another session of who can scream the loudest.

****

Ringing water from his pigtail, Ranma glared at Hotaru. He wasn't
angry with her, too consumed with hateful thoughts about his mother,
but he was angry at himself for not dodging such an obvious and slow
attack.

"Don't look at me like that. You were draining people's aura up
there, and killing birds." Hotaru liked birds."Even if you are angry,
that's not a reason to lose control of yourself," Hotaru snapped,
looking down on Ranma with her fists planted firmly on her hips.

Ranma dropped his eyes and began to ring the moisture from his
shirt."Yeah, well, I'm sorry, ok?" he muttered.

"What, you gonna cry now?" Hotaru asked, poking Ranma in the side with
the toe of her shoe.

"Don't go there, Hotaru, do not even go there." Ranma stood up and
stretched, creating a swirlling breeze of warped air to aide in drying
his clothes.

"Did you know that your mom cried like a baby after you left? She
thinks you hate her," she told Ranma, trying to appeal to his lighter
emotions.

Ranma stood still, not responding as he continued to bend the air
currents to his will.

"Are you listening to me, Ranma? She thinks that her only child hates
her. Quit whining and deal with it." She stomped up to Ranma and even
though he was a inch or two taller than her, she managed to appear to
look down on him."I just found out that the man who raised me, who I
thought was my grandfather, stole me from my parents when I was an
infant. Am I being a little bitch about it? No, I'm not even gonna
kill my grandfather. Your mom said that if things had worked out how
she had seen, I would be a weak girl right now, but I'm not. Happosai
helped me become a martial artist and now I can take care of myself.
Setsuna raised you and cared for you even though she thought she'd
failed, when she could have just left you to Genma's mercy."

"You don't know what you're talking about, Hotaru. Happosai raised
you, but you never knew your parents. How can you know that 'Setsuna'
didn't cause you to be injured in that other possible future? She's
manipulated the whole world." Ranma met Hotaru's gaze and held her
transfixed."Think what your parents must have felt like when they
couldn't find you. Their little baby just disappeared in the night?
How many people held them responsible? Maybe they were carrying you
down the street and the little pervert just snatched you out of your
mother's arms."

Hotaru growled, then, with full amaguriken speed, bitch slapped Ranma.
The irate boy's head snapped back and blood splattered from a split
lip.

****

Author's Notes: Uh, I'm not really satisfied with this chapter, but I
couldn't think of any way to make it much better. I'm not good at
emotional stuff, angst especially, so this may be rather lacking.
Setsuna isn't an evil bitch, oh my. What else? Oh yeah, would Kasumi
make a good avatar for Life? Death, Order, Chaos, Life, Silence,
Void(these are not stolen aspects from the delphi forum, it just seems
that way) are what I have in mind so far, but any others you could
think of and send me would be good, too. I might have the senshi
being avatars of their respective elements, but I'm not sure. Well,
thanks for slogging through my attempts at humanizing Pluto and making
Ranma an insensitive ass. Next chapter promises to be more action,
destruction, and power-up packed, like normal, really. C&C and
suggestions to my questions can be sent to me at
dark_phoneix@hotmail.com