Ranma and Co. is Copyright Rumiko Takahashi/Shogakukan, Inc. 1993 Ranma ½ is a trademark of Viz Communications, Inc.
The One is Copyright Revolution Studios Distribution Company LLC. 2001. First Posting 2002 / Revised Edition 2008

A Ranma ½ Fan Fiction/The One AU by S³

Blue Requiem

Brilliant pinpoints of light flicker, blinking into existence. Suns rise and fall, and the world continues its destined path. Always in motion, spinning a spiral dance. Elsewhere, this view replays on and on, fated to the same end. The same play, but the actors vary here and there. One line ad-libbed now, one part discarded then. A tragic scene of time marked with death and heartbreak, accompanied by the beauty of life and love. For every action, an equal and opposite reaction occurs. This is the Way, the balance of the universe. A balance existing since the beginning of creation itself…a balance that is about to be shattered.

--Delta Universe / Tokyo, Japan / July 9, 2002. 2:16 P.M. UC Universal Continuity -

Kensuke cursed inwardly, glancing at his wrist-crono for what appeared to be the fortieth time in the last twenty minutes. Sitting there in the coffee shop had seemed like a good idea at first, but now he was beginning to regret it. Sure, he could clearly see the front doors of the apartment across the street, but the slight glare on the shop window provided little cover for him. If Kensuke could see his quarry, the reverse would most likely hold true. That was something that he could ill afford, not this late into things.

Taking a sip of cold bitter coffee, Kensuke was just about to relocate himself when movement near the apartment caught his eye. "Shit!" His exclamation caught the attention of more than a few patrons in the small café, which he blatantly ignored; much more important things were at stake than a little scene in public. Stealth and secrecy be damned, she's getting away, Kensuke thought. With that sentiment in mind, he dashed outside and into the street, heedless of the oncoming traffic. Blaring horns and petulant curses filled the air at the spectacle of one desperate man.

As soon as the ruckus started in the road, the raven-haired woman knew that she had been spotted. A quick glance over her left shoulder confirmed it; some idiot was running through the traffic towards her.
Flashing a bemused smirk, she stepped around the corner of the apartment building, and into the long alleyway. As if those bastards from the MVA could catch her, she felt like laughing at the very notion.
She had to admit, they were a persistent lot. Footsteps echoing on the pavement behind her cut her attention back to the matter at hand.

Kensuke un-holstered his sidearm, just as he started running down the long alleyway. Up ahead he caught the tail of his quarry's coat as she rounded the far end of the building. This is getting better by the minute; she just had to make things difficult. Why, why couldn't they cooperate and stop drawing out the inevitable? Reaching the mouth of the next street, he paused. He wasn't too keen on repeating the mistakes of the last Agent. Not that his confidence was at an all time high.

Steeling himself, he spun around the corner of the dead end street. It was empty, he checked twice, to make sure he'd gone the right way. "Damn it, where the hell did she go?" The alley was empty. Nothing, nada, zilch. It was like she'd simply vanished. Lowering his firearm, he looked around for any possible egress. Maybe recon had missed something.

However the surrounding walls were blank, no doors, and no windows, and the wall at the back had to be at least fifteen feet high. Kensuke was getting pretty pissed. He had been tailing her for the entire week, ever since they'd managed to get a lock on her signal back at headquarters. All of that waiting and planning, and they had jack shit to show for it.

Slapping the wall with the side of his fist, he turned to leave, and found himself staring into a pair of cloudy blue irises. Kensuke wondered who'd fucked up the intel so badly this time. Kensuke's gun hand twitched. Maybe if he got off a shot. "Tendou, don't think this means anything. We've got the place locked down. It's over."

"Yes, it is," The woman found herself agreeing with the Agent's statement as she nailed him in the solar plexus with an open palm, almost before she noticed his weapon rising. The force of the blow lifted Kensuke off of his feet and sent him into a wall. The sudden impact released his grip on the gun, and it skittered across the ground. After the slumped form crumpled to the asphalt, she padded over to the weapon. The gun elicited a satisfying crunch as she crushed it under her boot heel.

Then she heard it, a faint beeping sound coming from the direction of the comatose man. Kneeling down next to him, the source of the disturbance was quickly discovered. It was his wrist-crono. Taking a closer look, she only shook her head in exasperation. The idiot was synched to a beacon, of all things. This mess was getting to be damn annoying.

Checking the locator on her own crono, she rolled her eyes. Unless those jerk-offs had a task force deployed in under two minutes, there was nothing to stand in her way, not this time. She jogged over to where she had a clear vantage down the alley to make sure no one was coming while she waited.

Give me three minutes, and I'm home free.

This place had nothing to offer her anymore. With one last look around, she jumped up atop the dead-end wall, landing in a crouch. From there she easily made the next leap up to the roof of the building behind the apartment complex. This was it, the moment she had been waiting two weeks for.

The streets down below suddenly came alive as two MVA vans cut around the far intersection, sirens wailing in warning to the civilian populace. Up on the roof, the woman could only shake her head. Now, it almost made her sick, how inefficient they were growing. Like countless times before, they were too little and much too late. Proving her point, a swirling node pulsed into existence a few meters in the air above the rooftop. Sparing the uniformed peons a last glance, the woman laughed mockingly as she leaped into the node. As the wormhole closed, faint echoes of an agonized scream filtered through from the void beyond.

-- Gamma Universe / Tokyo, Japan / July 9, 2002. 2:24 P.M. UC -

Above an abandoned chiropractor's office the wormhole flashed into existence for the few seconds needed to deposit its wayward passenger. With a painful grunt the woman dropped the remaining ten feet onto the roof with a resonant thud. Normally able to weather a fall several times that height, the woman cursed the dimensional node for disorienting her so. Not one to let something so trivial irk her for long, she gathered herself up to survey her surroundings.

From the sleepy look of the town around her, she doubted anyone had noticed the slight disturbance her entry had caused. After all, wormholes were all but invisible from a few meters away. She also hadn't arrived on ground level, which surely would have complicated things. But, no, by her estimate she was in the clear; free to go about her business in this world. The end to this little game she played was so close, she could reach out and grasp it. And grasp it she would, with all her very being.

Getting down off the roof was but a trivial matter, as there was a ladder access down to a small side street. Leaping down was out of the question, not if she wanted to alert the authorities to her presence prematurely. Of course, once she reached ground level and entered the main thoroughfare, she was forced to reassess her situation. Judging by the large panda publicly sweeping the front steps of the building she had just come down from, the people around here probably wouldn't have batted an eye at her acrobatic performance.

This new world definitely bore some looking into. But what she needed right now was...for the panda to greet her familiarly with a large wooden sign. From the nature of the greeting, it would seem that the panda was acquainted with her analogue here in this world. Things were looking up with each passing minute. Now, the question was how to turn this to her advantage and locate her analogue quickly?

She wasn't quite sure what bothered her more, the fact that the panda could actively communicate with signs, or that it could turn itself into a man with just a splash of water. Or was it the other way around, the man could turn into a panda? Either case, it was something that she would have to work out later, as the panda-man seemed to know her quite well, and was asking her why she was back in Nerima, when she was apparently supposed to be out of town. It was a fair question, one which might require a decent explanation if she were indeed her analogue. The query really only confirmed her suspicions, as the feeling that she normally received when another version of herself was in close proximity lay dormant.

Taking a moment of reflection proved to be detrimental to her patience as the panda-man took her silence as a signal to launch into a tirade about responsibility or something similar. Before it could grow to overbearing, a well placed thrust punch quieted the source of ire. Naturally, it put her in something of a bad mood, when the man pulled himself from the crater he had made in the wall, looking only somewhat dazed. It figures, she thought, that a man who could shape shift would have the fortitude to weather one of her strikes, even one that she considered merely a tap.

Of course, her mild surprise was nothing compared to the look of shock on the man she had struck. It was as if the very act of physical retribution on her part had been inconceivable. This was a turn. This universe had to be one of the strangest she had encountered. What with transforming old men, and a version of her that was not a practitioner of the art. It could only be a sign. Her analogue would die painfully for being such a poor example of herself. But first, how to deal with panda-man? She was already in motion when a particularly vicious plan came to mind.

According to the information she had been so kindly provided, after ten minutes she found herself in front of the house where her analogue was supposed to be living at when she was in town. The sign at the front gate proclaimed the place to be the Tendou Dojo. This made her even more curious as to the nature of her counterpart in this strange universe. Her analogue possibly did not even practice the art, but even still made her home at a dojo. Not that it really mattered in the end, but this turn irked her to no end. To have such opportunity and let it go to waste. Yes, she was going to enjoy putting her analogue out of her misery.

First things first though, the panda-man had mentioned that her analogue was away at school, but that he didn't know which one she was attending. Here at the home of her counterpart, she expected to be able to find out exactly where her quarry was residing.

A light knock coming from the front door gave Kasumi pause, as she briefly wondered who it could possibly be. After marking her place in the book she was reading, Kasumi moved from the couch to attend whomever had come to visit. As far as she knew, Akane and Ranma were still at school, and Mr. Saotome was helping out over at the clinic. Her father was taking an afternoon nap,
and certainly wasn't expecting visitors, so she was at a loss as to whom it could be. The pleasant smile she affixed quickly dropped into momentary confusion upon opening the front door. "Nabiki, what are you doing home? I thought you weren't due back for another month?" Kasumi realized something was amiss just before an impossibly fast strike to her temple dropped her to the floor. As her consciousness faded, her last waking thoughts were centered on Nabiki's eyes, why where they such a vibrant shade of blue?

Mikoshi picked up the incapacitated girl and brought her inside. It wouldn't do to leave her host slumped across the entryway. Already this little stop had proved its worth; she now had a name to go on. The panda-man had been telling the truth after all. That meant this Nabiki she had been mistaken for would be her analogue. No doubt about that.

After laying her burden unceremoniously across the couch, she made her way further inside the house, someone else was home, she could feel it. Her only options lie down a short hallway, or up a staircase, both of which were to the right of the entryway. From her current vantage point, she could already tell that the kitchen was vacant. Deciding to clear the first floor first, she moved down the hallway, only to find a bathroom and an empty room. That left only the second floor.

Since the second floor was much smaller, she found the second tenant rather quickly. Not so surprisingly, the man she found was the analogue of her own father. Of course that mattered little to her at this point, about as much as killing her own analogue mattered in fact.

Soun Tendou slept peacefully, dreaming of the union between the schools that was sure to take place, any day now. A great school united and the thought of grandchildren contented the Tendou patriarch even as death looked on dispassionately in the form of one of his own daughters. The faint traces of a smile that graced his sleeping visage might very well prove to be his last in this lifetime. He would die content in his dreams, if not in his waking life.

Jarred from a pleasant reverie, as someone roused him from his sleep, Soun struggled to focus his thoughts. The first thing his addled mind perceived was enough to make him think he was still half-dreaming, Nabiki of all people, stood next to his bedside, fixing him with a glare that was unbecoming to someone that knew her well. Mind-boggled as he was, Soun sat up in bed to fix her unwavering gaze with a stern look of his own. "Nabiki, what do you think you are doing, skipping out on your education like this?" He was about to continue the tirade when she interrupted, silencing him with an upraised palm.

"Quiet old man, I'm not in the mood for this. Get your ass out of bed before I have to drag you downstairs myself. We have things to discuss." With that she left Soun sitting there, stunned speechless. Nabiki had never talked to him in this manner before. It was enough to bring an old man like himself to tears.

Mikoshi paused out in the hallway as the fool in the bedroom behind her began to wail about his poor baby having gone insane. She had half a mind to go back in there and quiet him in a permanent manner, when suddenly the waterworks turned off, followed by shuffling and footsteps approaching the door. Satisfied, Mikoshi made her way downstairs to check on the girl. It wouldn't do if she woke up due to the pitiful wreck Mikoshi had the misfortune of dealing with soon.

Back downstairs Kasumi was slowly coming to, when she heard footsteps descending on the staircase. The last thing she remembered clearly was Nabiki standing at the door, after that, everything became hazy. She slowly pulled herself to a sitting position, though even that little motion proved a mistake when pain shot through her head to linger just behind her eyes. Barely suppressing a groan, she cradled her head in her hands and squeezed her eyes shut. Even the faint light creeping through the blinds was too much for her at the moment.

With her head swimming like it was, collecting her thoughts was a chore that she didn't relish. To make matters worse, she felt, rather than heard a presence close behind her. Her next thought was that it was Nabiki, but something was wrong with her sister. She felt somehow different. Kasumi visibly shuddered as hands placed themselves on her shoulders. Regardless of how her head was feeling at the moment, she really didn't care to turn around and meet the blue eyes that were surely waiting for her own.

What little confidence Kasumi could muster was bolstered as a second set of footsteps descended the stairs. From the tread, it had to be her father. Was it too much to hope he could make things right with Nabiki again? Ever so slowly, she cracked her eyes open, wincing at the harsh glare of the room. Kasumi craned her neck upward to look upon the one whom was still resting hands upon her shoulders. As she supposed, it was indeed her sibling. Once those blue eyes caught her own, she knew. This was not the sister she had grown up with, and taken care of. It was a stranger in her sister's skin.

-- Tokyo, Japan / Nerima Ward / July 9, 2002. 3:15 P.M. -

Letting out a breath, the eldest daughter of the Tendou household waited for her father to take a seat on the couch. The young woman that she had come to realize was not really her younger sister appeared also to be waiting for the elder Tendou to make his self comfortable on the couch. Kasumi, still recovering her wits, wanted very badly to confirm her uncertainties, but was unsure of how to go about doing so. Their guest had already proved volatile with her arrival, and Kasumi was not eager to have such attention paid toward her in the foreseeable future.

Once she had the two settled in the living room, Mikoshi took a little time to marshal her thoughts and put together what she knew of this universe, and the few people that were familiar to her in some way. Right now, that count consisted of one individual, of who was currently seated before her. If possible, this version of her father was even more pathetic by comparison to her own, not that it said much for either man. The girl before her though, she didn't exist in Mikoshi's world. That labeled her an enigma, but not yet a threat. For her part, the older girl seemed harmless, and more than a little frightened. Which, given her situation was not unwarranted.

One thing was sure, even if the girl was unfamiliar to her; Mikoshi had noticed she was resilient if nothing else. Not too many people would wake so soon after such a blow to the head and remain as lucid as the girl seated on the couch appeared to be. Surely the girl was suffering a terrible migraine about now. A pity that. The dimensional wanderer collected herself; it was time to get down to the important matter at hand. She wanted more information on her analogue, one Nabiki Tendou.

Settling her gaze on each in turn, she decided to start with the eldest, who at this point looked positively irate. Not that there was anything he could do or say to change the way things were going to be. Thus, she began, "I'm sure by now you're aware that I'm not your daughter." Already she had to pause and raise a palm to stop the spluttering comments that lay perched on the tip of the old man's tongue. "Please, let's dispense with the trivial matters, and get right down to it. One or perhaps both of you has the answers to what I want to know, and I mean to get them from you. Either you can cooperate, or I can drag the information piece by piece from you," seeing as she had their undivided attention at this point, she continued. "I would like for you to tell me the whereabouts of Nabiki. She and I have much to discuss. Kindly provide me with directions, and I shall be on my way. If not, I'm sure she can attest to my preferred method of persuasion," Mikoshi concluded her speech with a nod in Kasumi's general direction.

As if waking from a dream, Soun found his voice after a few moments of stunned speechlessness. "You aren't by chance a soul-sucking reflection of my dearest Nabiki are you?" Kasumi seemed to perk up at the statement her father made, which in retrospect did make a strange sort of sense, if it were true. After all, hadn't the same thing befallen Ranma-kun a few months ago? Kasumi and her father waited for the Nabiki look-alike to respond.

Mikoshi on the other hand was only perplexed by the absurdity of the question. That is, until she remembered the stupid panda. "What are you getting at old man? Just tell me where your daughter Nabiki is and I'll be on my way." Seeing the expectant look still on their faces, she amended herself, "No, damn it. I'm not a soul-sucking reflection of your daughter." I just want to kill her for her energy so I can add it to my own considerable power. Shit, that sounds weird, and I've been at it for more than a year already. Mikoshi ran a hand through her hair; this world was fast becoming one of her least favorites. She'd have to remember to wipe it out when she attained godhood after this was all over.

Far from being consoled at his fake-daughter's declaration Soun found himself close to tears, "Wah, the demon-in-the-shape-of-my-daughter is yelling at me"
The outburst proved to be Soun's undoing, as Mikoshi had finally had enough. She picked him up by the front of his wrinkled gi with one hand, easily holding him just off the ground. Amazingly, the show of force all but dried up the tears in Soun's eyes. The situation was escalating past what he could handle in one afternoon, and he was about to blow his top. Unfortunately, a sudden headfirst confrontation with the far wall canceled out any chance he may have had of unleashing his anger at being manhandled by a demon impersonating his daughter.

Kasumi, afraid for her father's life, leapt up quickly from the couch to reach his side and see how badly he'd been injured from the impromptu flight. The faint tread of the other girl approaching from behind caused Kasumi to turn and regard her warily, as one might a poisonous snake. Her father hadn't done anything to deserve such harsh treatment. Not that her own treatment was any more deserved. How she wished Akane or Ranma-kun were back home from school right now. They'd know how to deal with this situation. It seemed the two were always fighting these days. All that practice had to be good for something.

Mikoshi was seething. Normally she wasn't quite so temperamental, but something about these two just set her off. All she wanted was a simple answer to a simple question. If someone would be so kind as to tell her where the hell Nabiki was, she could be done quickly and get on to the next world. One that was devoid of shape-shifters and whiny old men. But, apparently that was just too much to ask around here. Someone else thought so too, because just then the front door opened and two more people joined the lively party at the Tendou place.

"We're home," Akane called out as she walked in, taking off her shoes and stepping aside so Ranma could do the same. The next words died in her throat once she straightened up and actually took a look over at the scene unfolding before her. Her father was in a heap at the bottom of the stairs with Kasumi apparently trying to shield his body with her own from someone that looked just like, "Nabiki! Kasumi, what's going on? What's wrong with dad?" The youngest Tendou strode forward, unsure, but determined to sort things out.

Hearing Akane's confused shout, Ranma quickly moved inside to assess the situation. What he saw was confusing, but not too out of the ordinary for him. Mr. Tendou was out cold at the base of the stairs and Kasumi was huddled against him looking on in fear as Akane moved to defend her family from, Nabiki? "What the heck are you guys doin'?" His question went unanswered as the tension in the room rose to uncomfortable heights. "Hey, I'm talkin' here!"

Mikoshi started forward at the shouts of the newcomers. She wanted answers and she meant to get them, no matter how many she had to go through to get them. The younger girl that had just entered bore some faint resemblance to herself, and the older girl covering the old man. Just what she'd always wanted, another bratty sister. Her opinion of this world dropped another several notches. Oh well, she thought, might as well get started.

Akane didn't even have time to put up a defense before she was blown backward by the sheer force of the kick Nabiki hit her with. Only split-second timing on Ranma's part saved her from smashing painfully through the front door. As it was, they both ended up in a pile in the entryway. Her abdomen felt like it was on fire, and Ranma's knee having somehow found its way into her back wasn't helping matters any.

Considering the matter finished, Mikoshi refocused her attention on older sister. "Tell me what I want to know, and I might make this quick. My patience is wearing thin." She had barely finished speaking when the sound of air being parted caused her to cant to the side, just barely avoiding a flying side blade kick launched at her courtesy of the pig-tailed kid that had arrived with Nabiki's little sister.

"Listen kiddo, I'm only going to say this once, stay out of my way," Mikoshi punctuated her statement by knocking Ranma for a loop with a reverse crescent kick that caught him as he was just about to leap at her again. This time however, she wasn't going to let him get back to his feet. She'd had about enough of the stamina that these people seemed to possess. Another kick plastered the hapless youth through the kitchen wall. "And stay down!"

Akane was no fool and not unskilled in the arts, she made her move as her seemingly possessed sister struck at Ranma a third time. Unlike before, she landed a solid blow. She didn't want to really hurt her sister, just knock her unconscious so they could figure out how to lift whatever spell she was under. A normal person would have succumbed to the pressure point strike she landed to the nerve cluster in the neck, but somehow, Akane found she'd actually done more injury to her own hand than to her sister. This wasn't going as planned at all.

Stunned as he was, Ranma clearly heard Akane cry out in pain. He struggled to right himself, but he felt like he'd been hit by two or three Ryougas combined in just those three strikes. Something was seriously wrong here. How could Nabiki have gained such strength in the month since he'd last seen her? No training could account for such an astounding increase.

Clutching her sprained hand, Akane tried reasoning with her sister, as force didn't seem to be working, at all. "Nabiki, what's gotten into you? What did you do to dad?" Her eyes were already beginning to tear from the pain in her wrist. "Whatever's wrong, we'll get you help, I promise."

"Are you blind as well as stupid? I'm not Nabiki, and the only thing wrong here is none of you will tell me where Nabiki is. Now tell me if you value the lives around you, and your own for that matter."

Sure that her sister could hear her from within whatever part of her mind the demon had confined her to, Akane kept at it. "Please Nabiki, if you can hear me, fight it. Help us stop whatever has a hold of you!" Even though her hand was throbbing, she dropped into a defensive stance as Nabiki approached her. "We just want to help you, please." The last part came out in desperation, anything to distract Nabiki, since she could see Ranma attempting to sneak up behind her sister. Naturally, Ranma had to have a plan. Akane was determined to distract her sister as long as possible for whatever he had in mind.

It looked like Nabiki was putting all of her attention on Akane, giving him an opportunity to strike from behind. This situation was getting out of hand, and adaptation was an area he prided himself in. Oh, he had a plan all right.

Before, Ranma had been too concerned with hurting Nabiki. After feeling her increased strength firsthand, he judged that he raise the bar up a few notches. So she was a little stronger, big deal. He knew he had the advantage in speed and technique. After all, he had bested stronger opponents than this before. Besides, not that he held a grudge or anything, but Nabiki Tendou far from undeserved a little beat down as the Kuno siblings were from sanity.

Ranma launched himself toward the middle Tendou in a flurry of strikes aimed at taking her out of the fight, without causing too much damage. His eyes widened as the initial burst failed to do more than scatter air.

Unfortunately, it appeared there was a slight flaw in that Nabiki's new strength was apparently equaled, if not outright surpassed, by her speed.

Even the lech, and the old ghoul weren't this fast!

Furrowing his brow, Ranma amped up his attack to Chestnut Fist speed flicking out his fists with renewed vigor, this was Nabiki after all. Surely, one or two taps would put the girl down.

Before he realized it, Nabiki had sidestepped his attack, which left a panic stricken Akane right in his path. This was not a good way for things to start going. "Aw, crap. Keep outta the way Akane," Ranma shouted, to little avail.

Ranma plowed into Akane, sending them both crashing into the front door a second time. The door didn't hold up so well on the second go round, and Akane took the brunt of the blow, as her leg caught against the doorframe in the collision.

For the first time that he could recall in recent memory, Ranma had to put more than a little effort into righting himself. Things were not going the way he'd envisioned. Nothing like he'd thought, actually. This was Nabiki here, not Herb!

"I don't know what's happened to you Nabiki, but yer not gonna hurt anyone else, not while I'm still standin'," proclaimed Ranma as he pulled himself to his feet. Wiping the bits of wood from his shirt, he adopted a more mobile stance. So what if she was stronger and faster than he was? That never stopped him before. Saotome Ranma doesn't back down from a challenge! Gaining in self-confidence, he centered himself for the coming battle.

At this rate, he'd have to break out more powerful techniques, if it came down to it.

Managing to sit halfway up on her good leg, Akane realized how dire the situation was becoming. And worse, she was at a loss for what to do. Both her herself, her father were all effectively taken out of the fight. Kasumi wasn't going to be much help; she was still cowering against the unconscious form of their father. Mr. Saotome wasn't due back from his job for a little while yet. Not that she doubted Ranma's abilities. But, he was clearly outclassed at the moment. She really hoped Ranma could save them.

This was turning out to be one of the worst days ever. The thought that his ass was being handed to him time and again by Nabiki of all people was infuriating. His head hurt, his back hurt, hell, it was hard to find a part of him that felt like it wasn't broken. However, he could still get back to his feet. So he did, albeit a tad unsteadily. Raising his guard, Ranma looked for some kind of opening in her defense. Anything he could use, anything at all. He would not lose, could not. Not with everyone depending on him.

Grunting, he weathered another of Nabiki's powerful strikes. Breathing heavily, Ranma forced his body to right itself for what felt like the thousandth time. Almost too soon she bore down upon him with a flurry of kicks, terminating in a lightning quick spinning back kick.

There goes another couple a' ribs. I can't even block 'em, does too much damage!

Mikoshi felt something give through her last kick and grinned. I'll crush every last bone in his body by the time we're through. Letting him have another taste of her superior power, she intercepted his form just before he hit the wall, driving him diagonally into the floor with a downward elbow to his sternum. Leaving him no chance to recover, she planted a heel into his side, thrusting him along the floorboards and into a section of wall. That should finish him, she figured, watching the plaster settle around his limp form.

She darted in again, that preternatural speed which he both loathed and admired forced him to change tactics. Up until this point, Ranma had been trying vainly to meet force with force. Clearly, that approach wasn't working in the least. In fact, it was wearing him down faster than if he'd tried dodging the attacks outright. As her fists entered his space, he leaned just slightly to the side so that her strikes met with air. Making use of her momentarily extended hand, he tapped her wrist with a downward palm to draw her off-center. In that half-second, he snapped out his hands over top of her arm aimed at her unprotected chest. "Mouko Takabisha," he cried out, slamming his chi directly into his surprised opponent.

Mikoshi's eyes widened in the half-second before a blue glow enveloped her, and what felt like a hammer slammed into her stomach, lifting her backwards and away from the boy. She crashed to the floor, rolling away even as she hit. The quick slap of feet on wood told her that the martial artist hadn't wasted any time, and was already bearing down on her with his fists.

Feeling her head whip to the side from his first hit, Mikoshi turned her shoulders in the same direction. Spinning around with the force of the blow, she struck back with a hammer fist of her own. However, the boy must have been expecting the counter, because she felt him jam her shoulder with his palm, stuffing the strike before it could hit.

Not to be outdone, she dropped her stance slightly, altering the arc of her arm, turning it into a groin strike. The boy didn't completely avoid the hit and took a blow to the top of his thigh, just enough to break his flow. And that precious second was all the time she needed.

"Impressive as that was, it's time to end this little game," that said she thrust both her fists into the stunned pig-tailed boy's midsection. The strike sent him flying backwards, smashing through the table and into a cabinet. She was already darting in for the follow up blow as Ranma pushed himself up out of the wreckage.

Mikoshi nailed him with an elbow into his chest that set him back into range for roundhouse. She snapped out the kick to his knee and another to his head as he collapsed on the weakened leg, finishing off the string of attacks with an axe kick that caught him on the back of his neck.

Not content to just leave him lying there, she picked him back up by the front of his shirt. From behind, she could hear the girl near the front door, struggling to get up. That was fine by her. The problem in her hands was just about solved.

Akane was in tears over Ranma's sudden defeat. Nabiki had simply been too much for him; whatever it was possessing her, its power was terrifying. Akane was forced to watch, frozen in a sick sort of stupor, as Nabiki smashed her fiancée through the wall, where his body became lodged around a support beam. She prayed for his sake that he'd already been unconscious before the final blow. Akane now knew where her hope lay. It was broken and useless, imbedded in the kitchen wall. So she prayed...for herself and everyone. Most of all, she prayed for Nabiki.

Far from satisfied, she took one last look around the Tendou residence, feeling as if something were amiss. Some little detail was escaping her notice, meticulous as she made herself out to be. The niggling feeling at the base of her skull only served as a glaring reminder that more important things lie ahead. Whatever the problem here, she no longer had the luxury of time to sort it out. The damn MVA would no doubt be nipping at her heels in hours, if they'd ever manage to pull their head out of their ass, that is. No, Mikoshi knew she was working on MVA time, but after she was done here, well things would be on another level altogether.

As if to prove a point, the moment she stepped toward the front door the phone let loose a piercing ring, shouting out to the world that it was still here. When the itch at her neck increased to a pulsating throb she knew the call was not to be ignored. Things were set into motion that she could not fathom as of yet, but all seemed to be in her favor. Picking up the receiver only fueled her resolve and certainty. The voice on the other end of the line was all too familiar.

Allowing a brief smile to float to the surface, she answered the nonchalant greeting in kind, "Hey, I was just thinking about you Nabiki. No, everyone's here, just lying around. What do you mean,'who is this?' I'd hoped you'd be a little quicker on the uptake. Of course this isn't some kind of joke. You want me to put someone else on? Hmm, I don't think that's going to work out too well. Ok, but you'd do better to come and see for yourself. All right, bye then." Mikoshi replaced the phone on the cradle and smirked to herself. Tracking her analogue just turned out to be so much easier than she could have dreamed. The unfortunate girl was rushing straight to her own death.

True freedom had been too long in coming. Always, as long as could be remembered, there was something to bar her way, some obstacle to be surmounted, or crushed. But now, at the end of it all, the ultimate prize was all but giving itself to Mikoshi. Truth be told, it made her uneasy at some deeper level of reasoning. Oh, she knew what was next; plans had been laid, wheels already in motion, the perfect beginning for a new world diagramed long ago in her mind's eye.

She'd not come this far to doubt herself now, but in taking a look around at the state of the home around her, she had to wonder. Was this place once happiness? If it had been, there was no sign of that now. The father and two sisters were tossed in a pile amidst the remains of the staircase. The boy that had remained more than an inconvenience unto the end was partially imbedded through the kitchen wall, broken. Mikoshi took a second look, as she caught the telltale rise and fall of his chest. He might still be alive, but she could tell he wasn't going to be getting back up now, or anytime soon.

It'd been mildly discomforting to strike the boy in the head like she had. Her hand sported an ache for a few moments afterward. In fact, Mikoshi was surprised the pipes he'd been rammed into hadn't ruptured. The rest of the place was in shambles from the struggle of putting down the two martial artists. Her analogue's older sister hadn't put up much of a defense at all, neither had her 'father'. Two, maybe three minutes was all the fight lasted, and only that because it had been somewhat entertaining. Why, this place rated a six out of ten for the fight alone.

Now, all she had to do was wait a little longer. The little workout she'd had was making her thirsty. Maybe there was something decent in the kitchen. It'd been a while since she'd eaten, for that matter. Walking past the limp legs of the pigtailed boy into the kitchen, she gave the place a once over.

An appreciative smile gracing her lips as she found the cupboards and refrigerator to be well stocked. Someone here liked to keep things nice and orderly. Finding enough to tide her over, she set to making a decent sandwich. Yes, this certainly was a cozy little house. Unfortunately, there was nothing stronger than Oolong tea in the place. Well, she supposed she would have to make due for a little while longer. In her experience it didn't pay to linger long in any once place. Not with agents crawling out from under every rock. Hopefully, she wouldn't have to wait overlong for Nabiki to show.

-- Tokyo, Japan / July 9, 2002. 2:34 P.M. -

"Shit, I can't believe it. This was my last one!"

Resigned, Nabiki tossed the shards of yet another useless mechanical pencil into the waste bin near her small desk. The plastic bits fell onto a pile of similar ruined pencils and pens that had collected in the receptacle over the last few days. Quite the impressive collection, especially considering the damage was literally by her hand. This was the tenth pencil, and she simply could not afford to keep breaking them at the rate she was.

Finals were coming up, and she still needed to finish the outline for her Econ term paper. She'd already tried using a few different brands, but only the ones with thick rubber handles lasted longer than thirty minutes at best. They'd be fine until she got into the flow of writing and concentrated too hard. Inadvertently, she'd start to tense up and then, snap…broken pencil. At this point, Nabiki was deathly afraid to use her personal computer for fear of ruining the mouse and keyboard. Something strange had been going on for a few weeks now, and she was getting to her wit's end to figure out what it was.

Going to a doctor was out of the question, it was just too expensive, and not warranted, not just yet. There was no way a few cups and pencils, plus the odd utensil here and there, were going to stop Nabiki Tendou from completing the semester. Nothing was getting in the way, not with the work she'd put in to get as far as she had. Sure finances were tight, but when weren't they? No, nothing ever stayed a problem for long, not in Nabiki's world. With that though firmly entrenched, she pulled out one of the few remaining pens on hand, determined to finish the outline by dinner time.

As she was coming to find out over the past year, life had other plans for Nabiki Tendou. Divine interruption, going by the name of Chiiko, burst into their shared apartment bearing news of the latest sales downtown at the shopping center. Like Nabiki, Chiiko bore more than a passing interest in the world of business and finance. However, she was more focused on the dividends, and how she could combine success with her impeccable fashion sense. Nabiki loved her dearly for it, but sometimes the girl didn't know when to get serious. Clueless as only the truly beguiling can pull off, Chiiko prattled on, blissfully unaware of Nabiki's mounting irritation.

"Come on Nabiki. You can't fool me; I saw last week's pay stub. Don't pull that 'I'm broke' routine you tried last month. Surely you can tear yourself from that ridiculous assignment to go take a look at the new store opening with me! We'll just browse even, I promise!" Chiiko had a way of dragging out certain syllables in just the right way as to persuade even the most hardened heart. A year of living with such antics had bolstered the Tendou girl's immunity somewhat. Ultimately, it fell to a battle of wills. If Nabiki's was diamond hard, what lie behind the cheerful facade of her roommate was surely adamantine.

"Chiiko, you know full well that this 'ridiculous assignment, as you put it, is more than forty percent of our final grade. I can't just blow this off and save it for later." Solid as her argument was, Nabiki could feel the hollowness within. The broken pencils had only been one of the surface troubles of late. There were other, perhaps even more disturbing things going on. A feather light touch would crumble her resistance at this point. Something Chiiko picked up on, and exploited ruthlessly.

Seemingly brushing aside the pertinent statement Chiiko continued her assault, "The opening sale is forty percent, today only. You know how these boutiques are, they're not going to put on another sale like this anytime soon. If you miss it now..." Chiiko relished the few moments of reflection that flashed through Nabiki's eyes. She'd already won, and they both knew it.

"Ok, fine. But, I'm back here by seven, working on this paper," acquiesced Nabiki.

"Right, seven it is," Chiiko chirped back too quickly for her roommate's liking.

On her way to get her purse, an idle thought gave her pause. Out of nowhere, an image of her home in Nerima rose to the surface. It was gone just as suddenly as it appeared. Shaking her head, she checked the charge on her cell before following Chiiko out the door. Left behind, the half-finished outline lay on the desk, a promise to remain unfulfilled.

-- Tokyo, Japan / July 9, 2002. 3:25 P.M. -

She'd barely been out window shopping with Chiiko for an hour when Nabiki was seized with an urge to check in at home. It was nothing new, really. She'd felt this on several occasions over the past year, and simply attributed it to losing what little security she'd found while living at home. Of course, being out on her own was great in many aspects, but she had family to consider. Even now, a few months after Ranma had found it within himself to finally formally propose to Akane, she felt needed at home. Naturally, that was all in part due to her weepy-eyed father's complaints that nothing was the same since Nabiki left the Tendou home to live nearer to the University.

Leaving Chiiko to gape at an overpriced dress, she'd walked down the strip a ways to use her cell and check up with Kasumi. Lately, the older girl had seemed a little out of sorts. She'd heard, along with pretty much everyone that Doctor Tofuu might be coming back to his clinic in Nerima. If that didn't put a crimp in the waterworks, what could?

Pressing the assigned key for her home, she waited while the phone rang. Barely reaching the second ring the line cleared as someone picked up the phone. Customarily, she waited a second and a half for the telltale chime Kasumi's voice to proclaim the caller had indeed reached the Tendou residence. All she heard was the soft breath of whoever was on the other end of the line.

Slightly put off, Nabiki ventured to ask if she'd dialed the wrong number by mistake. The voice that greeted her only put her off stride even more. So familiar, but she couldn't quite place it. "Who is this," she fairly demanded, for a moment sure that it was one of her sisters playing a crude joke. "Where is Kasumi, put her on," her tone was solid now, with no hint of the former sarcasm.

"You want me to put someone else on? Hmm, I don't think that's going to work out too well," spoke the exasperating, familiar voice.

Seeing as she wasn't getting very far with this person, she ventured once more, "Put Kasumi or my father on now, you don't want me to send someone down there." She didn't even bother to veil the threat in her voice. If she'd not been quite so stressed, she might have given other options, but as it was, she barely restrained herself from shouting into the phone in public.

The voice delivered a parting shot, "Ok, but you'd do better to come and see for yourself."

"What the hell do you mean by that? Damn it, talk to me," now she was yelling, and it ceased to matter. "I'm coming over with the police, do you understand!?"

"All right, bye then," the last line mocking as the connection was severed.

"Shit," Nabiki ran a hand through her hair, slumping down on a nearby bench. Not sure of what had just happened. Why was her world crumpling like this? What had she done to deserve this kind of treatment? A hand on her shoulder shook her out of the daze she'd fallen into. Looking up, Nabiki met with a worried Chiiko.

"Nabiki, what's going on? I could hear you yelling down the block." Taking seat next to the frustrated girl, Chiiko put an arm around her friend, prompting her to talk.

The concerned face of her best friend was not something she could just say 'forget it' to. So she told what little she believed to be happening at her family's home.

Once Chiiko had decided she'd heard enough, she interrupted, "I don't see what we're waiting for, let's go find out what's really going on!"

Nabiki knew her friend was borderline impulsive, but she'd never thought Chiiko was stupid. However exiting it might seem, something like a kidnapper being successful at her home was not something she was in a hurry to face. Two generations of martial artists lived under the roof of the Tendou home. Though she had to admit there had been a few problems in the past, nothing had been irrevocable. If not Ranma, then the recent training Akane underwent would be sufficient to put a stop to any two-bit crook.

As often as she'd explained these things to Chiiko over the past year, there were some things that even a traveled girl could not be expected to believe. Gravity-defying, gender-bending martial artists just so happen to fall into that category.

"Chiiko, I'm going to call the police, and that's it. We'll wait for them and then together to find out what happened." If it fell to Nabiki to use logic, then so be it.

"Or, we can call the police and get to your folks place where we can meet up with them. It's faster if we just call them on the way there, right? You do want to know what's going on, right?" Or Nabiki could just let her friend bowl her over with her own brand of Chiiko-logic. Why not? Wasn't she right, Nabiki really did want to know who that voice belonged to, didn't she?

Giving in, she nodded assent and was rewarded with an ecstatic Chiiko.

"Yes, a mystery! Let's hurry and go," the taller brunette clamped Nabiki's hand like a vise and started dragging her off to flag down a taxi cab.

-- Tokyo, Japan / Nerima Ward / July 9, 2002. 4:00 P.M. -

Traffic had been lax, so the normally forty-five minute drive from the university to the Nerima ward only took half an hour. Twenty minutes too long for Nabiki Tendou. She'd even paid the driver extra to get them there as fast as possible. Right as they pulled up and stepped out of the taxi, she knew something was really and truly wrong. As agreed, she'd called the local police on the ride over. One of the cops from the police box up the street had agreed to come by the house. Domestic disturbances weren't frequent in the area, so the officer likely had nothing better to do and promised to head straight to the Tendou residence.

The neighborhood itself was far too quiet for her liking; even the upbeat nature of Chiiko was beginning to dwindle.

"Nabiki, this feels wrong...is the place always like this? I imagined it would be a little more, lively. From the stories you told me."

"It's, not supposed to be this way. Come on, the officer said he'd wait for us before he left. I don't see any police cruisers around either, so it must not be bad, or they'd be here as back up." Nabiki hated the way her voice made it clear that she was trying hard to convince herself just as much as her friend.

Chiiko was first to the front gate and found it partly swung open. "Looks like the police came here first, huh." Pushing it open the rest of the way, Chiiko stepped onto the grounds with Nabiki at her side. Together they looked at the house wide-eyed. The front door was completely off its hinges and strewn about the yard. "What--," even Chiiko was at a loss for words. Momentarily stunned, Nabiki was past her before she could raise a restraining hand. Never one to be outdone, Chiiko followed suit, breaking into a run to catch up to her friend, preferably before she made it inside the house.

As the remaining Tendou daughter made it up the front steps, what she had assumed was more pieces of door turned out to be the crumpled form of one of the neighborhood officers. This was bad and getting worse by the second. The fact that the house was more or less intact meant that it wasn't one of Ranma's acquaintances paying a visit. The house would've been totaled were that the case, she was sure of that.

Once her eyes adjusted to the gloom inside the house, Nabiki couldn't stifle the gasp that came unbidden to her lips. Behind her, she could feel a slightly reassuring presence; that meant Chiiko had followed her. The scene that lay out before the two girls was something neither one was prepared to witness. The entire living room was in total disarray.

The first body she recognized was Ranma's. He was sticking half in and out of the kitchen wall, pigtail hanging limply, blood smeared across the half of his face that was visible through the plaster dust. She couldn't tell if he was dead, or just unconscious. In shock she began to notice the other things that her mind dismissed out of necessity on first glance. Akane lay amidst the shattered remains of the center table, eyes glassy and unfocused. She noticed the dried blood crusted around one ear and each nostril, before she had to look away, at something, anything else.

It was Chiiko who first noticed that they weren't alone in the room. There was someone else, standing just outside her field of vision over by the remains of what looked to be a staircase. Tugging on her friend's arm, she tried as best she could with a dry mouth to issue a warning, "Na-Nabiki...by the stairs."

This had to be some terrible kind of nightmare, I fell asleep writing my paper and...Nabiki's thoughts were interrupted by a sharp pull. She only caught the tail end of Chiiko's phrase, but it was enough to get her attention and fix it on the third presence that had been hidden to her until now. As she thought about it, she realized why she'd missed the other person; it felt like she was in the room with a distortion of herself!

-- Tokyo, Japan / July 9, 2002. 4:03 P.M. -

This was it, the moment that made this whole ordeal worth every second. She could all but taste the fruits of her labors. Her analogue in this universe, Nabiki, had finally shown herself. Truth be told, she was a bit of a surprise. It wasn't unheard of for an analogue to be of a different age, but this was something new to Mikoshi. There wasn't a difference of days or even months. If Nabiki showed her age, then she was nearly two years junior to the dimension traveler. Nonplused, but determined, she stepped out of the shadows she'd been waiting in. It was far past time.

Chiiko noticed it first, before even Nabiki, which was understandable given the circumstances. The bodies, while quite a shock, weren't those of her family and friends. She was horrified, yes, but not completely grief-stricken, not yet. The reality of the situation was too far out of the ordinary for the brunt of it to bury her. They weren't facing some maniac, as she supposed, but something more. Try as she might, she couldn't find anything out of place with the 'Nabiki' now standing across from them.

But, she realized, there was something amiss, a little thing, hard to pin point. The eyes! Where her Nabiki had chocolate brown eyes, this, doppelganger's orbs were cerulean blue. A true icy stare if ever Chiiko had seen one, that is, until she looked back at the woman standing next to her. That hardened calm was mirrored in full by Nabiki. Suddenly, Chiiko wanted to be here even less if that were possible. This was just not within her realm of experience.

The moment the last Tendou recognized the woman opposite her; she clammed up, frozen to the spot. The voice on the phone had sounded familiar because it had been hers. No, she realized, not quite the same, older, more weathered perhaps. But it had been Nabiki nonetheless. Something was going on here and she demanded to know the truth. Demanded to know what could justify the deaths of her entire family. No, it wouldn't matter, not now. They were dead and this, thing wearing her face would answer for its crime.

It was then that the extent of the situation came to her, Ranma, Akane, and even her father's concerted efforts hadn't been enough. The proof was all around her. With this came a more pressing thought, even more, a desire to prevent any more needless deaths. Chiiko wouldn't suffer this fate; Nabiki would ensure that, if nothing else.

Using what newfound strength she'd acquired these past few months, she tossed her only lifeline out the front door and onto the lawn. A muffled cry of mixed pain, surprise and indignation was her only signal that her friend was alright. If this affected her enemy in any way, it didn't show. Nabiki didn't care either way; she had nothing left and would see to it that this imposter was torn apart no matter the cost.

Mikoshi was surprised however at the speed and tenacity Nabiki displayed. She'd already written this off as an easy win, but hadn't counted on the remaining power between the two of them being split so evenly. As the fight began in earnest, the sheer frenzy Nabiki struck out with was more than enough to set the killer back on the defensive. Soft parries, and near evasions gave way to powerful hard blocks designed to cripple an opponent into submission. A particularly lucky backhand sent the elder of the two into a sprawl amidst the debris.

Breath running ragged, Nabiki flexed her hands, preparing to dive onto her enemy and strangle the life from her. Her revenge would not suffer a delay. Her distance was perfect and the landing nearly so, but the gap in skill between the two proved too great a hurdle. Nabiki's lunge met with a heel thrust to her abdomen. Had the blow been any higher, all of the air would have been blown out of her lungs. As it was, she fell backwards, barely regaining her footing in time to block an incoming open palm strike aimed at her solar plexus. Whoever her opponent really was, she was much faster than Nabiki had anticipated. She knew Ranma's speed and technique well. What she was up against was far greater. Despite her resolve, that one fact scared her more than she cared to admit to herself.

Even though her counter had been roughly pushed aside, Mikoshi could tell that Nabiki was already at her limits. The fight wouldn't last much longer. Even a miracle wouldn't save her now. Smirking, she began a swift three kick combination, the first front-ball kick caught Nabiki in the hip, doubling her over so the subsequent roundhouse caught her temple. As she dropped to her knees, Mikoshi ended with a powerful axe kick that caught her in the shoulder and drove her into the floorboards.

Crumpled as she was, Nabiki struggled to get up; she had to affirm her life, in this one last act. She couldn't let it end here, like this, not when she had to avenge her family. There was still...a chance, a chance that faded away like a wispy cloud in the wind. Rolling onto her back, she looked up to see her face staring back. Mustering only defiance, not strength, she spit at her twisted reflection. Hating all the time, the satisfaction she saw floating above.

Mikoshi looked down at the crushed, but not cowed Nabiki. "Don't be that way. I understand you more than you'd like to think, believe me. But, I can't let you stop me from getting what I want." Out of the corner of her eye she caught motion by the door, knowing that it was probably the other girl making her way back inside. "Think of it like this, you'll live on in spirit, within me as I ascend to my rightful place." Crouching down next to her analogue, she slowly pulled off her leather gloves.

Cradling the prostrate woman's head in her lap, Mikoshi gave her a half smile. "I wish I could stay and chat with you a little longer but," as she paused, her arms gave a swift jerk, "I have places to go and others to dispose of." The warmth faded from Nabiki's eyes, and Mikoshi began to feel it; the rush that always accompanied the death of her other self. Like so many times before, the tingling began in her toes and like a limb waking from sleep spread up her legs, settling warmly in her crotch. Before long it spread again to her stomach and breasts, down along her arms, and finally shooting through her skull like electric butterflies.

Moments later, when she came down off the high she'd been riding, and finally took a real look around, she was mildly disappointed. As much as she hated the MVA for what they'd cost her, she had hoped in the back of her mind that they might somehow track her down and give her a benchmark for her new power level. The only thing remaining was the whimpering girl that had managed to drag herself into the living room, and was now huddled in a disgraceful pile up against the upturned couch.

Upon closer inspection, she noted that the girl probably was suffering from one or more broken limbs. "My, my...Nabiki was careless with you, wasn't she?"

In response the Chiiko glared up at Mikoshi, sorrow and rage warring across her face, "You bitch! Why, why did you kill them? Why!?" Emotionally and physically drained she withdrew into herself once more, wanting to be spared and wishing she could be with Nabiki all at the same time. Moreover, she wanted the monster above her to disappear, for this nightmare to end and everything go back to the way it was. Even if she were left alive, nothing would ever be the same, how could it? All she could do was pray for Nabiki and her family, and offer one last prayer for herself before the darkness overtook her.

Walking out of the gates of the Tendou home, Mikoshi felt better than she had in a long time. "Two," she whispered to herself. "Just two more left to go." A glance at her wrist crono showed the nearest node to be quite nearby. Not as close as the one she'd used to get here, but not more than ten miles away, at the most. As she started walking, she looked down at herself. "This MVA crap has to go." She remembered the officer she'd taken the uniform from a few days ago. Traveling through a core world, it had been the best disguise at the time.

Looking at the poor urban development around her, she figured a change of clothing was not out of the question, in fact, probably prudent. The MVA was a non-entity in off-center universes like this one. The uniform would raise more attention than she was willing to have, since buy the look of it,
the node she was headed for wasn't rural.

Truly populated Tokyo streets would not be the place to be seen in such getup. As far as she was aware it wasn't the weekend yet, then she might have been able to play it off as a cos-player, that was if this world was similar to the last few she'd 'vacationed' in.

Regardless, she would need another outfit. The uniform she wore had picked up a few blood-stains somewhere along the way. Luckily, Nabiki and her friend had been carrying a sizable amount of local currency on them when they stopped by. Mikoshi found that they had less of a use for it than she currently did. "Time to go shopping," she smirked again, this time the smile reached her eyes. Now, that, was something she truly enjoyed. There had been enough drama for one day.

With the frail strands holding her back now reduced to two. Nothing could stand in her way, she would be the One.

In the rubble within the Tendo home, with a shuddering breath a lone blue eye snapped open. "Nabiki--," the word held both promise and a growing anger.