Sayuri opened the door to her family's house with a smile. "Come on in, girls! We've been waiting for you."
Katt, Nina and Patty entered. Sayuri's mother, who had just been watching a late movie with her husband, came to greet them.
She was a bit surprised at Nina and Patty's wings, as well as Katt's fur and tail, but she was a nice hostess and just dissembled it.
"So, you must be the nice two girls my Sayuri met this afternoon, right? It's a pleasure to meet you."
"The pleasure is all ours," Nina said as she gave the middle-aged woman a bow.
Then Sayuri's mother took a look at Katt. "My, is that you, Ranma? Sayuri already told me about your change, but seeing you like this certainly is a surprise."
"Mom..." her daughter hissed. "Her name's Katt now!"
"Oh, of course, you already told me... how silly of me! Well then, Katt, as you are now a girl as much as the others, I hope you behave yourself."
Katt gave her a bow as well. "I will do so, ma'am."
Yuka was already present when Sayuri lead her other three guests into her room. "Hey, everyone!" the brown-haired girl waved. "I know Nina and Patty wouldn't have had any sleeping bags, so I brought a few from back home."
Nina frowned as she looked at the sleeping bag Yuka handed her. "THank you, but... do my wings really fit in there?"
"Oops, I completely forgot about those," Yuka blushed.
"Well, I can always do this," Patty grinned and raised her arms, wrapping her dragon-like wings completely around her body. Now she looked as if she was wearing a leathery, dark blue cloak.
"Well, you can always sleep on top of the sleeping bag," Sayuri told Nina. "Katt, did you bring your own?"
Katt shook her head. "No, I preferred to bring a futon... with that fur, sleeping in a sleeping bag will only cause me to sweat like crazy."
"Sooo..." Yuka then asked. "Shall we all get changed into our jammies? It will feel much more like a slumber party this way."
Nina hesitated. "You mean... change in here, with all of you around?"
"Aw, that's all right, Nina!" Patty grinned as she started to undress. "We're all girls here after all."
"That's true, but I never... never had..." She blushed. "Never had changed with anyone else present in the same room..."
"Um, you can always change in the bathroom if you prefer..." Sayuri suggested.
But Nina shook her head. "Uh, that's okay... if all of you don't mind, then I'll do it as well." And with these words, she pulled the brand new pajamas she had bought at the mall that day.
Later, they were all sitting on their sleeping bags, futons or on Sayuri's bed.
"So, what do you want to do?" Sayuri asked. "Yuka and I have a nice selection of DVDs here... but maybe you want to do something else first?"
Nina and Patty looked at each other. They had no ideas what girls in this world were doing together.
"I have an idea!" Yuka suddenly grinned. "You ever heard of that game called 'Truth or Dare'?"
"No, I can't say I have," Katt shrugged. The two winged girls shook their heads as well.
"Well, its actually pretty easy: Someone asks 'Truth or Dare', and you have to choose either one. If you take Truth, you will be asked a question and must answer it truthfully. But if you choose Dare, you have to do whatever you are told."
Patty grinned. "Sounds like fun! Let's do it!"
Nina nodded as well. Katt sighed. "Okay, I don't mind... but only if you don't ask me first!"
Sayuri smirked. "Fair enough! Okay, let's begin... Yuka, Truth or Dare?"
"Truth!" Yuka said.
"Okay... is there a boy at school you like?" Sayuri grinned, while Nina and Patty started to giggle.
"Um, actually..." Yuka blushed. "I think D-daisuke is pretty cute..."
"Daisuke?" Katt asked in surprise. "One half of the perverted duo? Why him?"
"I know he's a bit perverted," Yuka admitted. "But, um... I just think he's cute, that's all. Did you ever see how he looks like when he's ashamed? The way he blushes, it's just too cute..."
Sayuri giggled. "Okay, good enough for me. Now Yuka has to ask someone."
"Well then..." Yuka pondered. "Katt, Truth or Dare?"
"Okay then, Truth... What is the most embarrassing thing you have ever done in your life?"
"The most embarrassing thing?" Katt thought about it... and winced when she remembered the time when she had to kiss the frog prince Jean to free him from his curse. "DARE! I choose Dare!"
"Well, okay, but you have to do it! I dare you to... tie this ribbon around your tail and wear it for the rest of the evening!" And Yuka pulled a pink ribbon out of her bag.
Patty, Nina and Sayuri laughed when they saw how Katt was staring at the piece of cloth. "You've go to be kidding me!"
"Now, now, you accepted the Dare!" Sayuri scolded the Woren. "It's either the ribbon... or the tale of your most embarrassing moment in life!"
Katt groaned. "Okay, okay, but only until we go to sleep..." She reluctantly accepted the ribbon and gave it to Nina, to the princess could tie it around her tail as a bow.
Nina smiled. "I think it suits you, Katt!"
Katt blushed through her fur. "I would never wear something like that in public... I think it's just too girly for my tastes." She then glared at Yuka. "You planned for this, didn't you?"
"Sure I did, but can you blame me?" she snickered.
Patty grinned. "Well, I can't... you really should consider wearing this thing more often, Katt!"
"No, thank you!" Katt grumbled. "So... it's my turn now, isn't it?"
"That's right!" Sayuri nodded.
Katt looked at Nina. "Nina... Truth or Dare?"
"Um, I choose Truth!"
"Well... is there a boy YOU are interested in?"
Now Nina was blushing even more than before. "W-what? B-b-but I..."
"Hey, it's no big deal," Yuka said. "If you don't want to tell us, you can always choose Dare."
"W-well, there is one, but..."
"Really?" Patty asked in surprise. "Wow, I never knew! Who is it, Nina? C'mon, give us all the juicy details!"
Nina buried her face in her hands before she muttered: "Sten..."
"Sten?" Katt gasped. "No way... But, I mean... does he even know?"
"Why Sten?" Patty asked at the same time. "He's so lanky and... furry!"
"Hey, I'm furry, too," Katt protested.
"Well, I have never told him, but he... he is always so courageous... and funny. He makes all these silly jokes... but I always have to laugh at them. But he also can be nice and gentle if he wants..."
"But wait... isn't Sten betrothed to the Princess of HiFort?" Patty asked.
Katt shook her head. "No, didn't you hear? Elforan chose Sten's old friend, Trubo, instead. I don't really know if Sten had any other feelings for her than just friendship... but I have seen him and Rand sitting together in a bar a few weeks ago... and they were lamenting their existences as singles."
"Awww, those poor guys..." Yuka cooed. "Say, this Rand guy... what's he like?"
"Well, he's big, strong and silent..." Katt began.
"Oooooh, one of those guys, eh?" Sayuri said teasingly. "You haven't got a boyfriend, do you, Katt?"
Katt blushed through her fur. "Well, er, that is... Ikindaalreadyhaveaboyfriend!"
"Whaaaa..." Sayuri gaped. "Run that by me again?"
"Didn't you hear?" Patty grinned. "He's a brave hunter, a real sweetheart and is as cute as a puppy."
"Wow!" Yuka said. "What's his name?"
"B-bow!" Katt muttered.
Sayuri snickered. "Did you already kiss?"
"S-sayuri..." Nina gasped in surprise.
"Um, actually... yes, we did!" Kat admitted.
"Really? So, how was it?" Yuka asked.
Katt blushed even more. "Wet..."
She had to grin when the other four girls broke out in giggles.
"Poor, poor Akane... let's hope she never finds about this," Sayuri sighed.
Katt winced. "Um, yes... let's hope she never finds out..."
'Too late for that now...' she thought to herself.
"Okay, who's next?" Yuka asked.
"It's Nina's turn!" Patty reminded them.
"Okay then... Patty, Truth or Dare?"
"I choose Dare!"
"Oooh, a bold girl!" Sayuri winked.
"Well... I dare you to... stop playing the pickpocket whenever you see a rich man's wallet."
Patty laughed bashfully. "Eheheheheh, I have no idea what you are talking about..."
Nina smirked at her. "You know what I mean. I know it's hard, but that's my dare!"
Sayuri whistled. "Patty, you little pilferer... can't keep your fingers to yourself, can you?"
"Oh, all right, I choose Truth!" the dragon-girl huffed.
"Very well then... Okay, here's the question: When you first met Ryu, did you instantly recognize him?"
Patty suddenly looked as if something was bothering her. She didn't answer right away.
Nina looked at her in worry. "Patty? Are you all right? I-I didn't ask you anything... inadequate, did I?"
"I didn't recognize him right away," Patty said quietly. "But, when you got me out of SimaFort and I traveled back with you to clear Bow's name... I got a closer look at him. And somehow, I thought he looked familiar to me... I didn't really remember much from my childhood, but I always had the image of a bigger brother, a strong boy with blue hair... who I always looked up to. And... there was this scene in my head... I think it was something that happened back when we were kids. I saw a giant monster leaping out of the bushes... a monster with a beak. And just when it was going to attack me... the blue-haired boy stepped in and protected me."
"Ryu must have been pretty heroic even back in his younger days," Nina smiled. "How cute!"
"But that's not all," Patty sighed. "You remember when Habaruku tricked us and made you bring me back to Gate?"
"Yes," Katt muttered darkly. "I remember very well..."
"He... he captured me with his magic," Patty said. "And I felt so helpless... almost as helpless back when that monster attacked me. And the scenery... everything around me looked almost like back when I was a child. And I was so afraid... I couldn't do anything. So I did the same thing I did back then: I called for my big brother!"
She sighed. "And he came. The white dragon may have distracted Habaruku, but it was Ryu who saved me and defeated the demon worshipper. It was then when I finally realized: Ryu and that boy from my childhood - they were the same person! Ryu was my big brother!"
"Wow..." Yuka whispered. "What a sad and beautiful story..."
"Do you see him regularly now?" Sayuri asked.
Nina and Katt looked at each other in worry, as they both knew how Ryu sacrificed himself and turned himself into a dragon to seal the gates to the underworld.
But Patty smiled. "Yes, I do... Every night, I talk to him... in my dreams!"
"Where the heck am I NOW??"
He had been walking through the forest, all the time looking for Akane, still hoping that some time, he WOULD catch up with her.
He then ended up inside some cave, in which strange creatures were living that could only utter 'Upa!'
Later, he came across a pair of travelling monks, which tried to teach him a weird dance. According to them, this dance would be used to worship a certain deity called 'Namanda'.
Ryoga looked around in confusion. This time, he didn't even notice when he entered the underground cavern.
But he didn't quite dare to call this a cavern... somehow, the walls, the floor and the ceiling that surrounded him looked as if it was made from some... ORGANIC matter. Strange things were pulsating in the walls, and bony spikes and grinning skulls were jutting out of the strange substance. An icy wind was blowing past him, although the air around him was so hot that he sweated. And then, there were the sounds... It was a dreadful chorus of horrible screams, blood-curling screeches and deafening roars.
Ryoga had tried getting out of this place a couple of times, but the strange tissue the walls were made of didn't break when he used the Bakusai Tenketsu on them. The only things he could make explode in shards of splinters were the bones that were sticking out of the walls.
"I've got to find a way out of here..." he murmured. This place was giving him the creeps, and somehow, he felt as if he was being watched.
"I shouldn't be here..." he grumbled. "I should be out there and search for Akane. Damn you, Ranma... um, I mean, Katt... THIS IS ALL YOUR FAULT!"
Suddenly, he felt... no, he KNEW that someone was standing behind him. It was a powerful presence... but it wasn't the sheer amount of power that made him shudder, but the unbelievable amount of EVIL it radiated.
"Well, well..." a voice as deep as hell itself rumbled. "WHo do we have here?"
Ryoga slowly turned around... and froze when he stared at the huge, vertical eye that was in front of him.
The eye was glittering in various colors and was slitted like a snake's pupil. It was scary, but he also could feel how this horrible eye was staring deep down into the depths of his soul, reading every single one of his souls and uncovering all of his deepest secrets. He knew that he couldn't move as long as this eye was staring at him, no matter which demonic creature it was belonging to.
"You are not from this place," the booming voice continued. "And the seal is still intact. So how did you come here?"
Ryoga wasn't capable of giving an answer, he didn't even feel capable of moving. Spellbound, he continued to gaze into the depths of the pulsating eye in front of him.
"Whatever the reason of your appearance down here might be... as long as you have this intriguing ability of getting anywhere within seconds, even if you aren't aware of it, I may have use for you..."
The demon snickered. It had been a long time ever since he had taken possession of a human being, as he had been the elite warrior of his master's troops, the second-in-command, the spy and herald who was only used on very special occasions, the harbinger of doom who let his paralyzing eye of fear fall upon the worst enemies of his lord.
But now, that his lord was gone, and he and his followers were trapped within the bowels of the earth itself, Barubary had to resort to every chance he and his kind had if they could hope to crawl up to the surface once again...
And this mortal's soul... it was filled with anguish! With despair! Such powerful anger! And for a human, he was a powerful creature indeed. Yes, this one would serve him well... not as a slave, a minion or even an equal ally... no this one would have the outstanding honor of being Barubary's vessel... the body he would be using to once again infiltrate the land of man and beast!
Ryoga didn't feel anything when Barubary entered his body. He only saw that the eye which had kept him frozen in fear suddenly disappeared... but he still couldn't move his body. For the fragment of a second, he could feel a strange power inside his body... and then, he knew nothing.
Ryoga blinked. He was back in a forest... was it the same one in which he had searched for Akane? How did he get back here?
He didn't remember leaving the spooky cavern, but then again, he didn't really notice how he got there in the first place.
He shook his place. "No time to ponder that now, I have to find Akane!"
With no trace of memory left of ever having seen an eye of doom or having heard a demonic voice, Ryoga continued his search for the one he was caring for...
Deep inside his soul, an evil presence was hiding unnoticed, cackling with glee...
The following hours (Or maybe days? Ryoga really couldn't tell...) the eternally lost boy tried to find a trace leading to Akane... or at least the way back to this 'Windia'. But to no avail...
He tried asking for directions several times, but every time the people showed him the way, he ended up in a completely different region than those they had described to him.
In the end (Was it still the same day he started his search? He couldn't tell...) he found himself in what looked like an agricultural region, with many farms, wide fields and pastures filled with cows and horses.
When the sun was slowly vanishing behind the horizon, he sighed. "I need to continue my search by tomorrow..." he murmured. "Maybe I can find Akane after a good night's rest..."
He could have asked one of the many farmers for a place to stay, but he was used to camp outdoors, so he searched for a nice place.
After searching for a while, he found the entrance to a huge cave, but unlike the very strange caverns he was in earlier, these looked actually appealing. Huge torches were illuminating the cave and warming it up, while old rugs were lying on the floor and hanging from the walls. He could also see small wooden, carved statues that were standing around. They mostly looked like farm animals.
"Hello?" he shouted. "Is anybody there?"
He didn't have to wait for long, as two tall men came to greet them. They were wearing orange robes and their heads were bald.
"Welcome to the Home of Namanda!" they said with a pleasant smile and bowed.
Ryoga frowned. "Wait a minute... didn't I meet you earlier? Aren't you those two travelling monks?"
"You must have met two of our brothers," the right man smiled. "I am Brother Geoff and this is Brother Percy!"
"Namanda's Children are travelling all over our world to spread His words," Percy explained. "Don't you want to become a follower of Namanda as well?"
Ryoga chuckled and scratched the back of his head. "Sorry, but... I'm not interested. I was just coming here because I hoped this could be a place to spend the night..."
Percy and Geoff bowed down again and made a welcoming gesture. "Please come this way, my friend! Namanda's Halls are open for all weary travellers! Please follow us and feel at home!"
Ryoga followed the two monks through the tunnels, where he saw more wooden carvings and carpets hanging from the wall. One giant bust looked like the head of an ox.
"What's this?" he asked.
"This is the image of our god, Namanda!" Brother Geoff explained. "He is the Earth God of Farming, the cultivator of crops and the protector of animals!"
"Well, it makes sense that this temple is surrounded by so many farms, then," Ryoga murmured.
They brought him to a small door behind which was a small, secluded chamber with a sack of straw, a small table and a chair.
After they brought him some vegetables, bread and cheese, they excused themselves.
"We have to get ready for the evening prayer," Percy said. "But if you need anything, just ring the bell."
"Have a good night!" Geoff said, and then they left.
After finishing his dinner, Ryoga lay down on the straw sack and quickly fell asleep. It had been a stressful day...
In the middle of the night, Ryoga's eyes opened. But behind his eyelids weren't his normal pupils, they were red-glowing demon eyes.
The demon that was controlling Ryoga chuckled as he stood up from the ground and bared his fangs, which were even longer and sharper than normal.
"The idiot brought me directly to the one place I have been hoping to reach..." the demonic entity chuckled as it let Ryoga's body walk out of the small chamber. He walked through the tunnels until he reached the entrance to the great main hall of the temple, where the two monks were praying in front of two huge bonfires.
Startled, they jumped to their feet when the demon forcefully pushed the door open. "Wh-what do you think you're doing?"
"Shut up and take a look at this, you fools!" the demon grumbled and removed Ryoga's bandana.
A third eye of doom was staring at the surprised monks.
"Oooooh, so it was you, Lord Barubary!" Geoff said and fell to his knees.
"Had you revealed yourself earlier, we would have brought you to a much more befitting domicile..."
"Stop that pathetic whining and let me talk to your master... and take on your true forms already, there are no humans around."
"Right away, my lord!" Geoff said as his image turned into that of a lanky, goat-headed demon with a forked tail. Percy, on the other hand, turned into a stout pig-demon.
Barubary strode past the lesser demons and approached the huge, wooden statue of the bull-like Namanda.
The statue's eyes flared to life. "Barubary..." a demonic voice grumbled. "How did you find this place?"
"Nice to see you too, brother!" Barubary sneered at the imprisoned demon. "I must say, you managed to build up quite the religion here... how nice to see that you manage to fool a bunch of moronic farmers!"
"As soon as I find enough followers, I shall break free from this statue and wreak havoc on the mortal plane," Namanda roared. "But how did you get here? I thought you and the master were still imprisoned within Infinity? Aren't you supposed to stay in hiding until the Church of Eva has completed its mission?"
"Shows me how much you notice in this backwater region..." Barubary grumbled in annoyance. "For your information, Master Deathevan is no more!"
"WHAT?" Namanda shouted in outrage and terror. "How could this be?" He didn't even question his brother's claim, as he knew that Barubary never lied.
"A heir of the dragon race..." Barubary snarled. "A young upstart and his friends of meddling adventurers unveiled our masterplan and descended into the depths of Infinity to slay Deathevan."
"OUTRAGE!" Namanda's voice thundered through the cave. "Our master's death must be avenged! Show me where those infidels are that dared to lay a hand on our master, so I can crush them!"
"YOU are still bound to that statue, dear brother, and don't you forget it! You know that the seal put on that thing is so powerful that even I can't break it."
"Then how did you manage to break free from Infinity?" Namanda asked.
The three-eyed archdemon chuckled. "The young mortal whose shell I am currently inhabiting somehow stumbled across my lair, and I swiftly took possession of him. He has a very interesting tendency of getting lost in all kinds of places... no matter how impossible it normally would be to get there."
"I see..." Namanda murmured. "You decided to use this mortal's abilities to get free... By hell, you are one lucky bastard!"
Barubary sneered. "I know! Now, I have come for a certain reason."
"I knew you wouldn't come just for a family reunion..." Namanda grumbled. "So what do you want?"
"I have a plan to take vengeance on those who sealed us away and killed our master... a plan that will allow us to wipe out all of humanity!"
"You want to kill all living humans? How do you plan to do that? You have no army at your disposal."
"I know that, and I didn't say I want to kill them. I just said I want to wipe out all of humanity. But for that, I need something from you..."
"You are asking for MY help?" Namanda asked and roared with laughter. "Why should I help you?"
"The sooner the meddlesome humans are gone the sooner we can find a way to free you from that statue, fool!" Barubary snarled.
Namanda was intrigued. "I'm listening..."
"I know you are specialized in demonic venoms and potions, and your powers more than often have poisoned the ground of those farmer's fields, destroying their crops and infecting their cattle. But the plague I want to spread is of an entire different nature...
"What kind of plague?" Namanda asked. "I can make you any potion you want, as long as it helps to eradicate humanity..."
"Not eradicate, Namanda!" Barubary chuckled. "Transmute them, change them, transform them into something that will be easier to control. You know my specialty are curses... so if I combine my curse with your venom, we'll be able to create a potion so powerful that it will be able to change all of humanity, including those bestial races, the Woren, the Grassrunners and the accursed bird-people of Windia!"
"Transform them... into what?"
Barubary grinned. "You know how once all of the bestial races have developed from lesser animal races, right?"
"That's common knowledge even for the humans," Namanda growled. "So what's your point?"
"My point is that animals are much easier to control than intelligent beings such as humans. If we manage to regress them to their feral states, they will succumb to our powers easily."
"But what about the humans?" Namanda asked. "They have a different origin, you know that."
"I know," Barubary smirked. "That's exactly why we are changing them into such beings as the Windians and the Worens... half-animals that can be regressed to feral animals. When there are no intelligent beings left on Earth, we demons can do as we please, and no one will be able to stop us!"
Namanda laughed. "I like that plan, brother! We will ravage the earth to our liking, poisoning the seas and covering the skies with clouds of darkness!"
"And without the aid of the mortals to back them up, not even the all-powerful dragons will be able to stop us!" Barubary added. "So, what do you say?"
"I'm willing to give you both my venom and the help of my servants, as I am still bound to this cavern, unfortunately. But knowing you, you'll take care of everything, right?"
"Of course!" the archdemon smiled. "The plague will be spread through the air, water and living beings alike. First, it will only affect humans, transforming them into half-beast creatures. Later, my curse will make them all regress into their feral state. It will take several weeks until that point, maybe even months. But we have waited for eternity... we'll be able to hold on a few more months."
"Well spoken!" Namanda said. "SERVANTS! Bring me a goblet!"
The goat-headed Geoff and pig-headed Percy came running, carrying a golden goblet with their hoof-like hands.
"Here it is, master!"
"Place it in front of me!" Namanda ordered, and the two lesser demons obeyed.
The wooden mouth of the bull statue moved, and a sickening, green liquid came oozing out of it, dropping into the goblet.
Barubary picked up the goblet and made a gesture over the venom. His eyes glowed bright red, and the liquid changed from green to a dark violet.
Barubary raised the goblet high above his head. "This shall announce the beginning... of the NEW era of demons!"