Mirrors Reflected: Shadows on the Moon

formerly Rune With A View 2

DISCLAIMER: once upon a time, in a land far, far, away, there was a not-so-magical kingdom with sarariman, OLs, and middle management hell. So a whole bunch of people came up with a whole bunch of situations and characters that helped the people of that kingdom (and a few others) cope with their nonmagical existence. This story is one such story, involving characters and situations from these other storytellers, hopefully in a new manner.

by metroanime@mindspring.com, though many many less flattering names have oft been suggested. most of those who have done so go on the spam filters immediately thereafter. the following is meant for entertainment, a light reading that will hopefully amuse those who are not out for an Epic or Great Art. If i were capable of Art or Epic, i would not be currently making $8.50/hour as computer helpdesk/physician contractor/billing troubleshooter. (wear a lotta hats for such a low amount, ne?) note: a fair amount of C&C indicated that this was due for a darker flavor than i usually favor, so it is.

============================== The hilltop looked different to different beings. Even a shift in mood would cause the environment to subtly alter.

There was always the Well at the center, whether it took the form of a projection TV, a well of water, or a crystal ball. Surrounding the Well were three arches on a hill, whether they were menhir arches, golden arches, or palatial ruins was another variable as was the condition of the slope. Surrounding the hill was a field, sometimes a desolate wasteland, sometimes a field of poppies, sometimes ruins of an ancient kingdom. It wasn't unknown for it to appear as a hexmap or boardgame surface, but those manifestations were rare.

Mimir's Well was one of a handful of places where multiple Realities overlapped. Or it might be more accurate to say that the Shadows of various Realities flowed together here before continuing their course elsewhere.

Mimir's Well also had the distinction of being one of those few places where one could literally meet yourself, or at least the Self that had grown up under entirely different circumstances. Which was how the first millenial Belldandy Convention had occurred.

Here a former demon, recently returned from a failed test where his flesh had been eaten away, sat brooding over his most recent efforts. He'd discovered that a job he'd done for the Rival Relief Office (substituting over at the Spells R Us store) had gone sour, a spell on the door of the cursed shop sending people across the Shadow Realities. While he *had* successfully altered the program of the spell so that the destination wasn't "Place The Victim Least Wants To Be" it still deposited them elsewhere. Grey had tried to set things right. He'd helped two, the third had gone sour and he'd made things worse.

In one, a world where the Tsukino family had frozen a fertilized embryo for raising a child later, the Phoenix Mage had a spellbook. It was all Grey could do there, despite that the Mage and Sailor V were badly outnumbered and underpowered against the threat of Metal'la. Without Usagi, the other Scouts had yet to awaken. Sort of like going into a ballgame with one inning left to play and the other team had an overwhelming advantage.

It wasn't like a VX-500 Triax "Manhunter" full conversion cyborg was exactly inconspicuous in 1990s Japan. Especially with some of the modifications. Most people would assume he was a "boomer" or something similar.

In the second, a lonely young man had found an android girl-of-his-dreams. HE, at least, had been given shelter and a basic translation program, as well as the proper documentation for staying in a foreign country. It looked like with the Sabre Marionette Kasumi doing the art, Mr. Jamieson would go on to become a great manga artist. Particularly with things that had never been released in THAT Reality. But then that was how extradimensional merchants usually worked.

The third had been bad. A young man had gotten greedy, sought the power to become a god himself, and had ended up in the Arena of the Dimensional Market of Splynn. While he had Ultimate Power over tea cozies and a fairly nifty energy blast, rescue or aid had become impossible. The little bit of assistance Grey had been able to give had merely indicated the new slave had required... disciplining.

This had proven again, this was a form built for combat, and that job would have been better accomplished by someone who could blend more into a crowd. Grey was rather hoping that a called in favor to the rogue mage Chasaji would pull victory out of the jaws of disaster.

So, with almost no sense of smell or taste, sense of touch reduced by 60%, and a lack of anatomical correctedness, the full conversion cyborg looked into the Well apparently without seeing or speaking. He was in one of *those* mind-numbingly depressed angst attacks. It happens. Especially after the subject had spent more than four years in such a level of pain that had driven him insane. Especially after said individual's mind had been slapped together, but was missing a few pieces.

A few yards away, the drow elf Edema traded shifts on the "suicide watch" with a vaguely concerned Amazon named Miya. There was a certain curiosity, but there was one hopeful sign. Though there was a superficial resemblance to those "boomer" artificial lifeforms from the BGC hub of timelines, the cyborg was engaged in not only a human but a peculiarly *male* activity.

The camouflage-painted cyborg was channel surfing.

Label: Wishbringer 4

"...I am *not* VIOLENT!"

"So you no dispute pervert?"

Kasumi didn't look up from her sewing. Nabiki snapped a couple of pictures of Akane snarling at Shampoo. Ukyo started to cuddle against Ranma only to have Shampoo *and* Akane take exception to this.

Ranma fingered the sword Wishbringer in his right hand even as his left was massaging his left temple. As happened too often, he reacted without thinking. "Geez, I'm just a bone of contention here, ain't I? Sometimes I wish you all got along better, or actually did love me instead of seeing me as an excuse to get mad or possessive, or... uh oh." Brain caught up with mouth and was registering what was going on.

"Your wish is my command," said Wishbringer as it teleported away.

"Eeep," said Ranma, summing it up quite nicely.

Label: TM-RN-WH 20217

"Son, no practitioner of Anything Goes could master this manuever." Genma was reluctant to admit it, but the entire thrust of Anything Goes was action without thought. This was diametrically opposed to Anything Goes.

"There ain't no martial arts manuever I can't learn!" Ranma was angry at the implication. Hadn't baka oyaji always insisted that Ranma was worthless if he wasn't the best?

Nabiki found an opportunity to be both honest (mainly) and engage in one of her favorite activities: baiting Ranma. "Get off of it, Saotome. The scroll says that in order to unleash this technique, you have to reach a zuzen trance state. To be able to put aside all Self and resonate with the Universe. Even if this manuever is possible, *YOU* simply aren't up to the challenge."

Kasumi, of all people, winced. Nobody noticed.

"I'll show *all* of you," said Ranma as he assumed the familiar (often called mule-headed) attitude. "I *SHALL* master the Eternity manuever!"

Nabiki continued to smirk, as she'd found the old scrap of blank scroll and had written it up herself. This would really be a joke to pull off on him, and maybe make a few bets here and there on how long it would take him to learn the manuever. Of course, since she had made the whole thing up just to hit Ranma with something he couldn't do, she'd clean up when he failed to do the manuever.

label: SM-TM-OMG-341241

"Welcome to Jeapordy. Please welcome our returning champion, Ami Mizuno..."

label: Haurvatat's Bet Entry

"Ranma, do you recall how Nabiki was trying to sell you back to Akane for 500 yen?"

Ranma nodded, sighing deeply.

"And how Akane refused?"

"Yeah yeah yeah," grumbled Ranma. He knew what would come next, he would be told to make up with Akane, but it wasn't like he'd done anything wrong! It wasn't his fault!

Kasumi held a piece of paper in front of Ranma's face. It was... a receipt?! Handwritten by Nabiki, indicating the sale of one Ranma Saotome to one Kasumi Tendo, no exchanges, substitutions, or refunds. A moment later a book was being thrust into the stunned Ranma's hands. The title reading "Relationships For Dummies" but someone had pencilled "Martial Arts" over the word "Relationships."

Kasumi smiled proudly. The "wa" of the household would be maintained, and when everyone had settled down Akane could have her fiance back. In the meantime, if he read that nice book she'd spotted on sale - he might actually stand a better chance of getting along with Akane. She'd put "martial arts" over the title in an effort to get Ranma interested in the book.

Ranma stared at Kasumi, then glanced down at the book, then back at Kasumi. He'd never noticed her to the extent he was noticing her now. Kasumi tended to fade into the background, always nice and helpful and there. And he had *never* seen this coming! Ranma watched as Kasumi's smile brightened a little and she went off to another chore. His gaze came back down to the book.

She wasn't selling him. She wasn't betraying him. She wasn't telling him to make up with Akane for something he hadn't done. She wasn't yelling at him or beating on him. "...she must really want this to work out..." Ranma swallowed, scared and uncertain, and began to read.

label: Meetings three, Viper's entry

"There was a pervert in the bathtub," Akane dusted her hands off as she walked into the living room. "Don't worry though, I just acted glad to see him, then held his head under until he stopped moving. Oh, sorry Kasumi, I guess there's a little mess for you to clean up in the bathroom."

label: Journey 4

Ranma brushed hair away from the girl's face. "It didn't work? Wake up! I couldn't have beaten Saffron without you... Don't leave me! I... I... didn't even get the chance to tell you that I loved you..."

Ranma screamed Ukyo's name to the heavens.

"R-R-Ranchan," moaned Ukyo. "Can you be a little quieter? I've got a really nasty migraine."

label: MM-547146 Mirrors Multiplied Home Universe

Ranma tackled Ukyo, the two tumbling to the grass in a laughing heap. Nodoka looked on approvingly beside Kasumi and Belldandy. Things had been so hectic lately that a chance to unwind was more than welcome, it had become a necessity. Rae came in, noticed the two in a tangled heap, and decided to get in on the fun.

It had been rough on Sailor Mars lately, too.

label: POK4 "So all the Nurse Joys, the Officers, and all are genetically engineered?!"

"Ash, you're such an idiot. EVERYONE knows that!" "Yeah, they were developed at the same time as the Pokemon." Brock sighed. "Just imagine if the original Masters had perfected the process! All the pokemon would have a female humanoid evolved form."

"Brock, you're giving me a headache."

The cyborg stopped as he ran across something that sparked a bit of interest, then rewound and began watching in earnest.

-------------March 12, 1992-------------------------

"He's a couple all by himself! Pervert! Peeping tom!" Akane turned away from the (ugh) BOY. "And if you ever--"

"Goodbye!" Ranma spun on her heel and started stalking off. Her father had hid the backpack to keep her here, but this was just intolerable.

"Where are you going, boy?" Genma glared at his son-turned-daughter. Ungrateful whelp spoiling this beautiful moment where both Genma and Soun's dreams of uniting the schools were being realized.

"Back to CHINA!" Ranma growled. "I have to find a way to change back for good. This is no time for 'fiancees.'"

Ranma partially turned, saw the hostile look on Akane's face and wondered why she had ever thought the youngest Tendo was cute.

"By the way, YOU took a pretty good look at me, too. And I'm better built!"

Ranma stepped down the hall, just one step ahead of a thrown table. She was pursued by a number of hurled heavy objects all the way outside.

When Akane got back from chasing the perverted jerk outside, Ranma's father was chuckling.

"He'll be back, Tendo. I hid his backpack. Besides, I've spent years manipulating him, teaching him to be dependent on me, discouraging any hint of being able to actually think about situations. Why, just his social skills alone are abyssmal."

"So that he'll be dependent on Akane when they're married, very clever Saotome!"

"I WILL NOT MARRY THAT JERK!"

Kasumi blinked, turned to her middle sister and asked for help with the dishes. Time for another little meeting. WITHOUT Father.

------------April 1, 1992-----------------------

Ranma poked the fire. She'd almost done it, and Jusenkyo was less than five miles away. Tomorrow this girl's body would be gone *forever*. And then what?

Ranma started speaking aloud, hoping that this would help him focus his thoughts. "NOT going back to oyaji. First the bit with the c-c-c-cats, then getting dragged all over the damn place, getting me cursed, engaging me without a thought to some girl that'd rather kill me than kiss me. NO, I am *not* going to let him run my life ANY MORE! Couldn't even bloody stick around long enough for him to find out if there was a cure. No, we gotta go running off to visit some *friend* - pfeh!"

Ranma allowed herself a small smile as the water heated. Taking control over one's own life. No roof over her head, food was scarce, but she felt *good* about herself.

"RANMA! DIE!" A purple blur launched itself from the shadows.

Ranma smashed out, a flaming log from the fire making a glowing arc in the manner of a baseball bat making contact with the projectile.

Shampoo landed in a heap, eyes crossing.

Sighing, Ranma tied the girl up to a tree, and considered her options.

1) Let her go, and Shampoo would continue with the "Die Ranma" stuff. This was unsatisfactory, as Ranma now had control over her life and was discovering that she liked being independent and able to set her own course in life. At least for the moment. She still liked the idea of a permanent address, warm baths, and regular meals.

2) Kill Shampoo and be done with the matter. Ranma considered this briefly, but decided she just couldn't do it. She didn't want to kill anyone, even girls who had major attitudes.

Ranma decided she needed more options and moved back to her position near the fire. After a few minutes, she judged the water hot enough and the kettle cool enough, and Ranma dumped most of the water over herself.

A ragged gasp told him that the prisoner was awake and that Ranma would not be able to change genders for a quick disguise.

"You... boy?"

Ranma watched the shocked girl for a moment before nodding. "Yeah, I'm a guy."

"Was girl. Now boy. Which real?" Shampoo trembled under the shock. It couldn't be, could it?

"Like I said, I'm really a boy." Ranma paused, curiosity swelling. "Okay, since we're playing twenty questions, it's my turn. Why did you always give me warning before attacking. Sometimes you were real subtle, but you always gave me a chance to dodge."

Shampoo continued to stare but managed to reply in a soft voice. "You mistake. Shampoo no warn target. You is boy?!"

Ranma watched as Shampoo suddenly started struggling with the ropes. "Nah, I don't think so. I think you just ain't a killer."

"YOU LIE! SHAMPOO WARRIOR!"

"Same as me, you just ain't a killer." Ranma waited for a moment. The girl had gone from shocked to angry, and now was looking ashamed and sad. "No big deal, but I gotta sleep. So YOU keep quiet or do I have to gag you?"

"Shampoo be quiet." Shampoo hung her head, shame overwhelming her.

Ranma waited for awhile until he was sure that his knots were going to hold the Amazon. Tomorrow he'd get cured, come back, knock the Amazon out again, leave her behind, then back to Japan and leave China once and for all. It was the *after* he got back to Japan thing that was still a mystery, but he'd worry about that later.

-----Mimir's Well---------------

Edema exchanged a glance with Miya, who looked over at the newest arrival.

"What'cha got there, Tennyson?"

The Beholder god of "Live and Let Live" (supported by a small but fanatical sect of beholders who'd use their Disintegrate beams on anyone who'd suggest this wasn't an enlightened philosophy) lowered the case to the ground via telekinesis. "Current tasks for cyborg Grey. He to try bring up karma level by make up for past mistakes before go on Twelve Labors. First Labor is to track down Ranma analogue in dimension Fiddlesticks and get him to help with update."

"Fiddlesticks?" Miya shook her head at this. Well, she supposed it was a better name than a near infinite string of numbers. "Ah, the 'Planewalker's Guide To The Continuua' - I've heard of it." Edema smiled at the Amazon. Hmmm. Maybe she ought to suggest Miya go work there.

"Planewalking Ranma to get offer. Take Guide along, scan when in new timeline or Reality. Help assimilate data for next update."

"Why not use that Yggdrasil thingie?"

Edema mouthed 'Yggdrasil thingie' a couple of times while stifling a chuckle.

"Bureau that do 'Planewalker's Guide' is seperate system. Update and maintain if Yggdrasil ever compromised. Form backup of important data."

"Ah," agreed Miya. All the powerarmor manuals suggested backing up the OS before adding enhancements, so this made sense. "How work?"

The Guide flipped open at Tennyson's telekinetic nudge with a sensor pointed at the pool Grey was watching.

"Reality: Relat's Bet Entry. Temporary Timeline RAN-SM-MK-SF 547147. Divergence point: Manipulation of emotional state vs rational framework via neurochemical variance of .000071% Analysis: Unresearched. View of main subject at this point indicates that pride is now reinforcing decision to 'grow up' and 'take responsibility for self' leading to a more self-reliant individual. Ranking: Unvoted. Relat's entry disqualified. Secondary divergence placed by Warnas Redsword in major branch of which this is a sub-branch as part of long standing animosity between Relat and Warnas. Secondary divergence was family Tsukino moving out of the Tokyo area in 1984 to Hiroshima area due to employment opportunity. Effect of Secondary Divergence: Queen Beryl was not awakened by emanations of the awakening Princess Serenity until much later. Sailor Senshi not active at this point. Remainder of timeline unresolved. Scanning."

Miya eyed the little black box with interest. Maybe she could make use of such a thing.

----April 4, 1992--------------

Shampoo blinked herself awake and realized that she was not alone. "Great Grandmother?"

"Ah, awake at last, eh child?"

"Great Grandmother, what happened?"

"Apparently the girl you chased wasn't a girl after all. You caught up with her at Jusenkyo after freeing yourself from her ropes, do you remember?"

"Yes, but I..." Shampoo's voice trailed off into uncertainty.

"He thought you were attacking again and dodged. You slipped and fell. INTO one of the pools. It was an uncursed one, and you were drowning. Do you remember what else happened?"

Shampoo shook her head, gently though as she had a headache that seemed to extend further than the boundaries of her skull.

"Not only did this male defeat you twice, child, he saved your life. He had a long talk with the Guide, and the Guide contacted me. You were asleep for most of two days. Tell me, Shampoo, what did you think of this young man? You observed and tracked the girl who had defeated you, surely you have some opinion."

"Well, he's cute. He's *very* different away from his panda."

"The panda is his father according to the Guide, and no doubt holds considerable influence over his behavior. Further, the boy appears to be on a journey of self-discovery. He is learning to think for himself instead of simply following his father's lead, and is using his solitude to explore who and what he is. Go on, child." Cologne nodded, her conversation with the Guide had been *very* interesting.

"The girl,er -boy, is fairly skilled at living off the land. Very good martial artist. Uhm..." Had she mentioned that he was cute?

Cologne waited for a few moments to see if Shampoo would figure anything else out on her own. "And what does the law say if an Outsider *male* defeats an Amazon in combat?"

"But I TRIED to give him the Kiss Of Marriage!"

"Well, if it's any help, I don't think he'd be willing to be your husband anyway, Shampoo."

"WHAT?!" Shampoo looked shocked at first, then saddened. "But... why?"

"He's apparently decided, based on your attacks, and something that happened in his homeland, that he doesn't like violent girls. He was quite adamant on that point." Cologne shook her head. It was too bad, certainly the boy had to be fairly strong and therefore good Amazon breeding stock, but his conversation with the Guide had strayed to that area and he had been quite clear. "No More Violent Chicks."

Noting that Shampoo still looked saddened, Cologne smiled at her daughter. "Come now, Shampoo, you're still young and beautiful, it's just you couldn't possibly learn discipline enough to stay your temper and win the boy's heart after that REALLY bad first impression."

Shampoo winced. Yes, chasing after him and yelling "die!" a lot probably hadn't convinced this Ranma that Shampoo was a particularly desirable woman.

"And, after all, there's still Mousse..." Cologne suppressed a smile at Shampoo's look of revulsion. Well, at least she wasn't being depressed about getting dumped.

"What was it you were saying, Great Grandmother, about a 'journey of self-discovery?'"

Cologne raised an eyebrow at the unexpected question. "Do you know of Amazon wanderers? This is the same principle. You get out on your own and try to figure out who you are, what your place in the world is, and what you want out of life. It sounds as if the boy needed it."

Shampoo nodded, looking thoughtful.

Cologne was not surprised the next morning to find Shampoo had vanished. Cologne shrugged. Shampoo would either be back, or she had better send her Great Grandmother the wedding invitation!

-----July 12, 1992---------

Ranma woke up and found himself wondering exactly where he was. Then the smell of food reached him and drove less demanding concerns away.

"I guess you really were hungry!" A girl's voice sounded amused after Ranma had begun inhaling the food that had been set out.

He blinked and looked up at the girl standing near the stove and wondered why he hadn't noticed her before. Well, it *had* been several days since he'd eaten. He tried to slow down, knowing from experience that a lot of people didn't like to see that sort of display.

"Anyway," the girl continued. "I wanted to thank you. Azabu Juuban had been a quiet little place up until a couple of weeks ago. Now we've got these 'youma' things battling 'daimon' things. We've got crazed martial artists attacking the Rhythmic Gymnastics team, we've got other crazed martial artists fighting other crazed martial artists, vampires attacking cat-girls, and... sorry. I'm rambling a bit."

Ranma grunted as he shoveled food into the pit that was his stomach.

"Oh by the way, my name is Makoto Kino. That was cool, what you did with the bottle of water."

"Name's Ranma," he managed after finally swallowing. "That's it though, I was saving that bottle of Nannichuan for later. Next time it won't be so easy."

"You called that easy?" Makoto shook her head, causing her ponytail to slide to the side. "Well *I* thank you and my friends thank you."

Ranma grunted again, having a mouthful of rice.

"Uhm, you've been out of it for awhile, haven't you? I mean you look like you haven't had a roof over your head for awhile, and you haven't been eating regularly either. At least, that's what Ami says and she's pretty much an authority on things like that. You're also running a slight fever."

Another grunt, and Ranma tried to slow the rate of inhalation down again. He was just *so* hungry. And the food was *good.* It had been quite some time since he had food nearly this good.

"Ami was the one with short hair." Makoto hesitated. "Uhm, you know, you really look a lot like my old sempai."

Ranma stopped inhaling food with considerable effort. He was feeling a little nauseous now, adequate indication that he was still fighting that cold.

"So, uh, where are you staying?"

Ranma considered the girl for a moment. She was *certainly* nothing like that crazy Shampoo chick or that violent tomboy. Maybe he could let his guard down a little. It would certainly be nice to have a friend again. "One of those vacant lots they use to store construction materials out by the canal and Shinohara Street. Got a tent set up there."

"You're kidding," began Makoto then shook her head. "You're not kidding. Why? I understand if you don't want to say, but I'd really like to know."

Ranma considered a moment longer then motioned Makoto to take a chair. "Hang on, this'll take awhile. Uhm, you might ask your friend to take a seat too."

The short haired girl from earlier stood up from where she thought she had been concealed and smiled a little.

Ranma sighed and began speaking honestly. While he might have details wrong, he was giving a subjective account that had been analyzed over some serious soul-searching time.

"I don't know anything about my mother, I assume I've got one but I'm not sure if she's alive or dead. I've been raised by my crazy father to be a martial artist, and only a martial artist. It was the focus of my life, and I ain't sure I want that to continue."

"You mean you don't enjoy the martial arts, you were *very* good out there." Makoto said sincerely, she'd been wanting lessons.

"Ain't sure," Ranma sighed and settled back in the chair. "It's all I've known, and when I've accomplished something with it - yeah, it's a rush. But is it what I want to do with my life? Is the Art all there is? Or is it a means to an end?"

"That's fairly deep," noted Ami, who hadn't expected anything like that from such a rough looking young man. Especially with his mode of speech.

"My pop's run my life up until two weeks ago. Since then, I spent a lotta time thinkin'. It's been kinda a change of pace." Ranma considered, trying to put into words the ideas he'd developed. "My pop's been wrong. Wrong about a lotta stuff. For him, the Art was everything. I cut ties with him when he pulled a couple more just plain fool stunts. So now I ain't got no family. Home, that ain't something I've had in years."

"So why did you leave your father?"

Ranma considered the two girls before deciding how many problems in his life could have been solved if he actually had friends. If he could trust someone, and they understood where he was coming from. It had been a revelation four days ago, that while he'd always *wanted* friends, his pop had always opposed the concept. And he had to start somewhere, didn't he?

Ranma started speaking. He started with his earliest memories, of the Cat Fist training. He spoke of barely remembered friends, of being dragged around for years, and of the rare occasion when he had a roof over his head - usually an abandoned building. Yes, it had made him tough, but had it made him happy? He spoke of getting cursed, coming back to Japan, finding that his Pop had engaged him to some violent maniac, and his departure with "baka oyaji" and his ways. Going back to China, some boy (that looked oddly familiar) had attacked him. Then some crazy Amazon chick had done the same deal, then he'd gotten cured, then he'd had to go rescue the Amazon because it was his fault (kinda sorta) that she was drowning. Then he'd wandered around making a little money in these street-fighting tournaments until he'd lost almost everything a week and a half ago. He'd figure out how those "Hadoken" thingies worked eventually, he was just *so* tired and hungry.

"Well, I suppose if I can believe in those 'daimon' things, I can believe in curses, but it's kind of..."

Ranma frowned. Trust or not? His father would never have done so. Wasn't he trying to be different from his father? He checked the tea, judged it cool enough, and dumped the cup over his head.

"Now do you believe?"

The two girls facing Ranma nodded.

"Anyway, I had the one bottle there because I was planning on using it," the purple-haired girl said with a frown. "I have another bottle back that I was debating whether to send to my Pop or not. He may be an idiot, but he's still my father, and I didn't want him to remain cursed if I could help it."

"Why did you wait?" Ami was curious about the change. Center of gravity was different, weight redistributed, and a vast number of other alterations were quite apparent. She wouldn't get *too* personal until Ranma knew her and she knew how he'd react to getting examined. He still looked a little bit like a wild animal that was considering a baited cage. The boy (even in girl form) had such a lack of a poker face that Ami was having no trouble reading him.

"Something about the curses stabilizing. Also you need to use a full dose. Anything less and you end up mixing the curses. The Guide wasn't real clear, apparently some people can just jump into the right spring and get cured right away. Some others, well, he turned kinda green while he was talkin' about 'em so I didn't press too hard."

Ami turned a bit green herself as she pictured Ranma being stuck with the likely consequences of mixed curses.

"So, uhm," Makoto hesitated. "You're..."

"One of the 'crazed martial artists' - yeah. Problem is that there's three circuits out there, and I just ain't ready to do much in any of 'em yet." Ranma sipped at the tea, feeling a lot more contented with a warm meal inside her. "Oishii, by the way."

Makoto nodded at the ritual compliment, but doubted that the now-girl had actually tasted any of it.

"Anyway, you've got the usual 'Streetfighter' circuit. I did OK in that one until I ran into that 'Ryu' guy. The other two are basically by invitation only. One involves 'creatures of the night' and the other is some kinda hidden tournament. You gotta be enhanced somehow for the second circuit, and ya gotta have a really strong rep for the third. Right now, I ain't got either."

"And right now you're reassessing whether or not you want to continue in the martial arts," Ami concluded.

"Up until recently, I didn't even realize I *had* other options. From what I heard from the people at that match, that guy Ryu is into martial arts but he ain't exactly happy. More like me, kinda, but I ain't sure that's how I want to turn out, y'know?" Ranma closed her eyes, trying to find the right words. Words were something she wasn't particularly skilled at. "Least not anymore." A warm kettle being placed nearby provided Ranma-kun a chance to restore himself.

"You have to be true to yourself," agreed Ami.

"Right. And I'm still trying to figure out who that is." Ranma shrugged. It had been easier to just follow Oyaji's lead, but it was more rewarding to blaze his own path here. "Hey, I just realized, where's your parents?"

Makoto looked sadly down. "They died in a plane crash. It... I'm alone too."

"Hmmm. Well, if you need anythin' done, I owe you one for the meal."

"Oh no, you saved us from that daimon thing, *we* owe *you*," Ami shook her head, mind flashing back to that battle.

Makoto looked up, a decision forming. "Hey, Ranma, most of the recipes I know are for more than one person, why don't you come by for dinner? In exchange, you can teach me some of those martial arts you *do* know."

Ranma was about to reject the concept, but the prospect of regular dinners at least was too strong a lure. He accepted.

-------August 5, 1992------------

The workout had been hard, demanding, painful, and exhausting. Makoto had also found it exhilarating beyond belief. For two weeks now, Ranma had been determining the levels of the three friends and had been working out ways to improve their skills. It appeared that he had studied dozens of martial arts styles over the years, and had chosen to train each of them in a way to emphasize their natural strengths and "nature." He'd also spoken of how everyone had a sort of elemental nature to them, and that various styles could compliment those tendencies.

Makoto's big advantage, he had decided, was strength and reach. Weight training and kempo. Earth was her element, or close enough to Ranma's estimation. As she was the most enthusiastic about the martial arts, he took her through the paces even more thoroughly than Minako or Ami.

Ami was learning aikido. Minako, with her dancing skills, was learning something called capioera. All three were also learning something of Ranma's Anything Goes style.

Makoto began to recover consciousness, sprawled across the top of her bed. She remembered all the instances where she had gotten to lean on Ranma or be held by him during innocent training. Well, *he* had been innocent. Makoto had found herself feeling rather less innocent about such things.

A wonderful smell reached her, and Makoto pried herself up to her aching feet to go investigate. She blinked at the sight of Ranma fixing a large meal. She noted the second plate and hobbled as quietly back to bed as she could.

Ranma could cook. He was fixing her breakfast in bed. He looked like her old sempai, but had a warm and caring nature. He also genuinely liked, respected, and trusted her.

Makoto held back a sniffle. So this is what they meant by having one's heart sing...

Ranma entered, eyebrow raised. His father had been lavish with harsh tasks and harder training. Genma had also been sparse with affection and praise. In his travels and observations, Ranma had learned that everything could be martial arts training, but that not everyone was cut out to be a martial artist. So Ranma was taking a *different* approach here, with a more gentle and positive manner of being sensei. He was trying to encourage the best from his students and it seemed to be working.

"You did good. I'm also glad to see you're stretching out and bathing after these workouts."

Makoto nodded, remembering how stiff she'd been after the workouts had first started, then winced at the growl from her stomach as the aroma of food intensified.

"Good," Ranma said with a smile. Makoto and her friends were his first students, and while they lacked the focus necessary for martial arts mastery of his level, they were showing improvement. He admitted some pride there, different from mastering a complex manuever himself. He had taught, and his students were doing well. It was a different warmth, but still welcome.

Ranma watched his student begin inhaling her meal. Maybe she was *too* good a student.

--------August 12,1992------------

"I think it's sprained," Makoto said, holding the area as she sat on the ground.

"Who is this 'Kodachi' person, anyway?" Rei looked at the leotard-clad girl tied up and hanging from the branch of a tree.

Ami hesitated before speaking. "I've heard of her, she is with Saint Hebereke's Rhythmic Gymnastics Wrestling Club. Their opponents have an odd habit of forfeiting the match."

"Mmmmmfffmm!" Kodachi protested, however one of the loops of ribbon tying her up was currently forming a fairly effective gag.

"Well, she shouldn't have badmouthed Mako-chan." Ranma said, flipping his pigtail back. "Attacking from ambush and all too. If she wanted to fight she could have at least issued a challenge letter."

Minako waited for her opening. Watching the two dance around anything actually like saying they liked each other was *torture* to her. The two had been steadily getting closer for the past month. They kept looking at each other, glancing away when the other noticed. The way they apparently didn't notice the way they kept leaning towards each other.

Ranma knelt to examine Makoto's knee. Minako chose her time and angle of attack precisely and struck, "accidently" falling against him.

Ranma fell against Makoto. His face a matter of inches from hers. There was a quiet moment as the two stared into each other's eyes. Makoto closed the distance.

Even Ami sighed. Makoto had that martial arts hold down perfectly.

--------August 14, 1992-----------

"Where, where is Crossroads High School?"

The young boy being lifted by the collar managed to point at the sign on the wall nearby.

"Crossroads High School... AT LAST! Now, where is Ranma Saotome?!"

"Do you mean Tenma Kazeno?"

Ryoga snarled. (That's right! He changed his name to hide from me!) "You know him?"

Umari pointed. Ryoga followed the direction of that arm until he saw his hated enemy! Standing there, laughing, some girl hanging onto him. AND he was surrounded by other girls! How dare he!

Ryoga charged forward. "RANMA! PREPARE TO DIE!" (Whoa, deja vu.)

Ranma flipped away from the impact point. Ryoga landed, and an impact crater formed. Ryoga was ready to say something scathing when he noticed that Ranma had landed, the girl with the ponytail in his arms, and she was *blushing*!

"Still good at running away, Ranma? And now you're molesting girls?"

Ami blinked. "Tenma, is this someone you know?"

"Actually, I'm Tenma Kazeno now, whoever you are. Ami helped me get my name legally changed and all. Uhm, well, I..." Ranma puzzled. "He *looks* kinda familiar."

"You really don't remember me?" Ryoga grimaced, revealing fangs.

"A VAMPIRE!" Minako declared, pointing at Ryoga.

Tenma found himself flanked by his students and felt a moment of pride as he noted that they had slipped into credible martial arts stances. From that basic Anything Goes stance, they could dodge or attack quite easily.

"I AM NOT A VAMPIRE!" Ryoga yelled sufficiently loud that echoes formed in the school courtyard despite the number of students present. "Tell me, Ranma, why did you run out on our fight?"

"AH!" Tenma slapped his right fist into his left palm. "I remember you now! It's Ryoga Hi-something, and you were in Junior High with me!"

"RYOGA HIBIKI! Answer the question!"

"I waited three days at the appointed place," argued Ranma. "It was the vacant lot right behind your house, wasn't it?"

"When I arrived on the fourth day, you had already fled!"

"Four days to reach a vacant lot behind your house?" Ami blinked. "Is this some kind of directional curse, perhaps?"

"Maybe it's just a bad sense of direction," offered Minako.

"Very bad," agreed Makoto.

"That's awful," said some girl with a really awful odango kind of hairstyle who was wondering if this was just a very weird area or was she just getting a bad impression on her first day?

"Breaking a vow between men, and running to China with your father!"

"In other words, you want to have our little duel now?" Tenma was again pleased with his students as he noticed they had subtly fanned out now. If this was a duel, they'd stay back. Well, he hoped they'd stay back. Makoto could be a little *enthusiastic.*

"'Little duel'? How feeble!" Ryoga's umbrella snapped out. "This is about revenge!"

Tenma dodged the spinning umbrella, again idly noting that his students dodged the returning umbrella without significantly shifting their combat readiness. Excellent. "Revenge? Revenge for what?"

"As if words could convey the depths of my suffering!" Ryoga grabbed the returning umbrella. "No matter what it takes, Ranma. I shall destroy your happiness!"

One of the girls blushed furiously. Ryoga gaped as he realized that all THREE of the girls were blushing, one delicately, one turning a strawberry tinge, and the last was actually sweating!

Ranma frowned. "Ain't gonna happen. I ain't sure what you're going on about, but you do *not* mess with any of my students. You gotta complaint with me, you name the time and place, fang-boy."

Ryoga's stomach growled. Ignoring it, he charged forward. "HERE AND NOW!"

"HADOKEN!"

Umari pulled a microphone out of his bookbag. "It's another great day here at Crossroads, young challenger Hibiki leads with a charge attack while the current champion Ranma builds and releases his powerful Hadoken technique. OOH! It doesn't look like the challenger was expecting that. He's tough, ladies and gentlemen, and is attempting to retaliate by using the Iron Cloth manuever on what seems to be an endless stream of bandanas."

Ranma leapt and twisted, causing the bandanas to miss. They swept out over the heads of the audience.

Usagi came back down after leaping up, trying to get a better view of the battle from her position behind the crowd. Something was wrong. Something...

Usagi looked down at the two long ponytails sitting on the ground and maintained a calm dignity worthy of a future princess of the Moon Kingdom. "EEEEEEEEEEEEEeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!"

"Ooooh, and the new transfer from Hiroshima has gotten a really bad cut at the hands of the challenger. The Champion responds with a devastating Twister Punch but the Challenger blocks. Ah, the Challenger attempts to retake the offensive by attacking Kino-san!"

Ryoga rolled forward, intent on reaching his umbrella. There was just some girl in his way, the one that Saotome had been holding hands with earlier!

Makoto Kino saw the figure darting towards her and reacted accordingly. The snap-kick was just as she rehearsed it. Unfortunately Ryoga's jaw was somewhat harder than what she was used to hitting. "Owie!"

Tenma, on the other hand, saw Ryoga lunge for Makoto and reacted a bit... harshly.

"Oh it looks as though Champion Kazeno is reacting in exactly the sort of fashion one would suspect to protect his 'cousin.' A forty seven hit combo! Oooooh. The Challenger seems to be only slightly inconvenienced. OH! THAT's gotta hurt."

Usagi had lived up to her name and delivered an unexpectedly accurate and powerful rabbit-kick.

Ryoga squeaked. Ryoga fell down.

Ranma winced in sympathy.

-----August 15, 1992------

The lunchtime crowd at Crossroads High School had fallen into a sort of pattern over the past few weeks, occasionally broken up by an energy-hungry youma, a daimon seeking something, or some martial artist attack. Or perhaps it was better described as a play, as many of the same lines were spoken by the same players day after day.

"Gah! They're at it again!" Mitsuko looked at the two figures eating lunch in the courtyard and grimaced.

"Yeah!" A fair number of girls sighed, hearts in their eyes. Mitsuko grumbled about that too, feeling the whole thing was sordid and lacked dignity.

Umino looked around. "What're the odds up to today?"

"Well, they've held hands since the 6th," began Ritsuko.

"Yeah, but they've only been doing that since the 10th without looking like they were gonna die of embarassment as soon as they realized they were doing it!" Shoko was quick to point out.

"Then there was *some* sort of breakthrough on the 13th." Ritsuko frowned. If only she knew what had happened!

"AH! They're feeding each other again!" Mitsuko considered, as she did every day, complaining to the principal about this unseemly display.

"Awwwwwwww!" There were a number of girls completely ignoring their lunch as Makoto was quite obviously lost in a giggling fit at something Tenma had said.

"I can't believe this," growled Mitsuko.

"We agree," grumbled a fair number of boys who couldn't believe how that Kazeno boy was acting. And if asked if he had #$(!$ Makoto, he had not only said no but that any further attempt to smear Makoto's honor with such rumors would be met with a short and violent response. When Gamori had followed up with a question about if Makoto screamed when they #$#!, Gamori had discovered that Tenma hadn't been kidding. Or exaggerating. Gamori still had a black eye.

"Mako-chan's got some rice on her cheek," noted Ami with a sigh before turning back to her book. She could just picture herself in that position. She could readily see herself just where Mako-chan was. Not that she could spare the time from studying, but that warm glow surrounding her friend looked so... nice? Comfortable? Strangely satisfying?

"He's brushing it off, he's moving closer," Minako almost fell out the window she was leaning so far from. "He's... YES! Bwahahahaha!" Not as nice as if *she'd* landed him, but knowing that she'd literally pushed the two together was somewhat satisfying.

"Oh, they've kissed before, haven't they?" Naru asked a little timidly.

"Yeah, but it's always been Mako-chan who's been the *kisser* and Tenma who's the *kissee* - now the boy's finally showing some initiative." Minako grinned. "And it's about time! I was beginning to think we wouldn't see this until wigs could fly!"

Usagi sighed deeply, watching the display as Tenma and Makoto's lips briefly touched. Once, twice, then a slightly deeper one. Followed by two people staring into each other's eyes.

"Awwwwwwwww!" Another chorus from lovestruck females. Another groan from the male populace at these displays. Of course, all the girls wanted someone to be romantic with them like that. Of course, none of the boys possessed both the nerve and the necessary amount of "slick" to pull this off to any of the girls' satisfaction.

Usagi smiled, thinking how lucky her friend was, when she noticed a black cat staring at her from the fence. How very odd.

-----August 16,1992------

"He's gone into the Nekoken," explained Makoto to the crowd. "Something he told me and Ami about. Everyone remain calm."

"He's gone into this twice now," Ami explained, and as this was Ami speaking even the teachers started listening. "His father subjected him to a training technique that causes a normally latent animal personality to manifest when subjected to a phobic trigger."

"Huh?!" There were a few teachers asking this as well as most of the students.

Minako opted for a less cerebral explanation. "His father screwed up something in his head, and so he's scared of cats. If he gets too scared, he starts thinking like one."

"Oh..."

"The first time we saw it, a catlike daimon was threatening a little girl, then turned on us," Ami continued. "Tenma went into this animalistic state and shredded it."

"Little pieces of daimon everywhere," said Minako with a grand gesture.

"Oh..." Several of the boys immediately dropped the idea of teasing Tenma about it.

"Cats?" Usagi looked around but couldn't see Luna anywhere. Oh, there she was, she must have been spying on Tenma again and gotten him cornered. Usagi ran forward and checked, relieved when it was apparent that Luna had merely been stunned.

"So why is Kino-san sitting there on the ground?"

Everyone watched as Tenma slowly approached, then began rubbing his whole body against Makoto in just the sort of way a cat does before crawling up into her lap and seeming to take a nap.

"Awwwwww!" The chorus of girls began again.

"They look so cute like that," agreed Minako. She exchanged a glance with Ami. Ranma-neko had proven fairly cuddly with all three on that occasion, though his obvious favorite was Makoto.

"He'll come out of it on his own soon." Ami sighed. Remembering when she'd run her fingers through Ranma-neko's hair and he'd *purred* and rubbed against her. Not that she could spare time from her studies!

"He's... purring?!" Naru sounded startled. "That doesn't even sound humanly possible!"

"I *knew* there was something strange about him," said Luna in a low voice to Usagi. "I'll bet he's connected to the Dark Kingdom!"

"Well, *maybe* his father is..." Usagi allowed.

-----September 20,1992-------

One week, that had been how long it had taken. Tenma Kazeno, once known as Ranma Saotome, was feeling more uncertain and alone than he had since coming to Juuban. Perhaps more alone than he'd ever been.

Makoto had become secretive, was gone for long periods of time, and was often talking to Ami, Minako, and Usagi. They hadn't come out and said it, but he was clearly not welcome in their conversations.

Was he imagining that they'd all suddenly gotten colder to him? That these people he'd grown to trust and even... love(?) were keeping secrets from him? He'd even tried apologizing to Makoto, not having any idea *what* he was apologizing for.

Tenma didn't have anyone to talk to. Nobody at school had a clue, though Tenma eating alone at lunch *had* become a topic of conversation.

He was no longer welcome. Tenma could remember when Ami had *welcomed* the company of him and Makoto as they walked her home from her juku. Sure, daimon or youma attacks weren't that common, but they *did* happen. And now... he was being told not to bother.

Tenma didn't want to think about it, but what if the other boys at school were right? That Makoto had merely been showing sympathy for him, not a real romantic interest. That now she'd found someone she really liked, and was off with *him.*

Tenma had avoided prying, he'd asked her for details. He'd asked her to please tell him what was going on. And she'd gotten a phone call and been gone a moment later.

He was a man, and he would *not* cry, damn it!

He looked up at the clock, noting the time now at 11:00pm. Tomorrow they would have it out. He had to know.

And he'd seen a scribble that Makoto had put in her notebook. "Mamoru Chiba." A boy's name. And he'd felt as if Ryoga had reached into his chest and crushed his heart.

"Damn it, Mako-chan," mumbled Tenma to the empty room, "why won't you talk to me?"

------September 21, 1992-----

Makoto entered the darkened apartment, her eyes seeking out the figure at the dinner table watching her in silence. "Err, Tenma?" She flicked the lights on and almost wished she hadn't. The growing tension between them showed clearly on his face.

"Who is it, Makoto?"

Makoto winced. Mako-chan was no longer in use. Bad sign. "It's just us girls, there's nobody..."

Tenma sighed and got up. "Ya won't trust me, but you ask me to trust you. You're off long hours with Ami and Minako and that Usagi. What am I *supposed* to think, Makoto?"

Makoto couldn't meet his eyes. "I promised. I promised I wouldn't tell anyone." (Don't do this, Tenma. Please don't do this.)

"I trusted you. And Ami. Y'all were my friends. Now I'm just gettin' in the way, it looks."

Makoto shook her head. She'd *promised* Luna to keep this a secret. "You can trust me, can't you? When have I ever lied to you?"

"I *have* trusted you. But you keep vanishing without a word, get mysterious all of a sudden, and you're not..." Tenma broke it off. They hadn't done *that* but they had gotten to the point where they could hold each other and be comfortable with their closeness. Finding refuge, no matter how crazy the world seemed to get, within each others arms. Until this past week. "When will you tell me about it, or him?" Was this was what he got for trusting someone?

"It's... give me a couple of days. I'll see... if I can tell you about it." Makoto wasn't sure that Luna would give permission but she had to try. There was still a lot of trust and affection in Tenma's eyes, and she didn't want to see anymore of it die.

"Two days then," Tenma agreed and went to his room.

Makoto watched him go, but once Luna gave the OK she'd tell Ranma and everything would be all right.

-------September 25, 1992------------

Ami followed Makoto into the apartment, Minako and Usagi bringing up the rear with two cats trying to hide nearby. Everyone knew that Tenma was afraid of cats, and watching him go into a panic attack didn't amuse anyone present.

Usagi had finally put her foot down and overruled Luna, with the other Senshi openly speculating about Luna making a trip to the local vet if the little black mooncat didn't make certain allowances.

"TENMA!" Makoto called into the quiet, a little alarm beginning to sound in her subconscious as she noted the silence and dark. "Errr, Tenma?!"

The small group seemed to clump together, the atmosphere in the apartment seemed to be missing something. Makoto went to check Tenma's room. Ami was the first to notice the note on the desk.

Makoto turned pale when she read it.

"Kino-san, For offering me a place to stay, friendship, and stability when I needed it, I thank you. I have learned much since that day I fought the daimon and woke up in that bedroom. I thought that we were developing a relationship that went, well, deeper than friendship. Clearly I was wrong. I have learned that there can be no relationship without trust, and while I was able to trust you, clearly you could not trust me. I have learned much, and I wish you well with your new and mysterious friends. I hope that one day we can meet again as friends, but frankly it will be some time before the hurt wears off. Till that day, farewell, Ranma"

"I thought his name was 'Tenma'," said Luna as Makoto slowly crumpled.

"His name was originally Ranma Saotome, he changed his name to 'Tenma Kazeno' to break with his past."

"I guess maybe we should'a told him before now, huh?" Usagi speculated.

Luna scowled and defended her refusal. "He isn't of the Moon Kingdom, and therefore.... gakkk!"

It took Usagi, Minako, AND Ami to pull Makoto off Luna before she set about finding a new way of skinning a cat. She probably wouldn't have done it, but why take chances?

--------December 24, 1992------------

"Aw c'mon, *another* Streetfighter match? They're booorrring!" Usagi fingered her bangs. Her hair now long enough for a single ponytail since that Ryoga person had used bandanas to shear off her odangos and longer ponytails.

"Except when youma or daimon or those challengers show up. THEN we get to transform and kick butt!" Minako said with a grin, trying to get Makoto to show a bit more life again. "Besides, a few of those Streetfighters are hunks! That Guile is *so* fine!"

"Uhm," said Makoto without any real enthusiasm. She appeared to be searching the crowd for something.

Their newest addition, Rei Hino, was clearly excited. "Guile was nice but a little humorless. Don't you think that Ken Masters had a certain wild charm?"

"Uhm," said Makoto with even less enthusiasm.

"I'd like to examine Blanka myself. Such an extreme mutation seems unlikely without some sort of manipulation or mutagenic agent." Ami looked thoughtful, as usual.

"Uh----AH!"

Everyone stopped to see why Makoto had stiffened and was staring off at one corner of the makeshift arena. As one their heads swiveled to traverse her line of sight.

Purple hair, silk clothing, two bonbori held in a ready position.

The announcer got to his position as the two fighters finished stretching out. "From the depths of China, in this corner... that can't be right? Who names their kid after hairsoap? Oh well, Shampoo!"

"Isn't that the girl who was tracking Ranma down so she could kill him?" Ami remembered Ranma telling her about this, he'd defeated her twice, saved her life, then left her in the care of some caretaker of the Cursed Springs. "Makoto, it isn't Ranma. He *cured* himself of that curse, remember?"

"What, you know Shampoo?" Rei blinked as suddenly she was surrounded by her new teammates and the focus of intense scrutiny. "Eeep."

"How do *you* know her?" Makoto had a fire back in her eyes, and Rei wasn't sure she wanted to see anymore of it.

"She stayed at the temple a few days just before I met you. She fought off one of those daimon long enough for me to slap some spirit wards in place. Uhm, is it important?"

"And in this corner, local favorite E. Honda! Round one, fight-o!"

"Yes, it's important," hissed Makoto as the sounds of combat commenced behind them. "Is she still trying to track down and kill Ranma?!"

"No, nothing like that." Rei made a dismissing gesture. Though she *was* curious, she'd only known Makoto for a month now, and there was a spark present she'd never seen in the taller girl. "She's after some guy who defeated her in combat, then saved her life, so she's going to give him the Kiss Of Life and marry him. Urk!"

"SHE'S HUNTING RANMA FOR WHAT?!"

"Mako-chan, please put Rei down."

"Oh, sorry Rei. Heh heh. Uhm," Makoto visibly calmed herself down. "Did you say she was hunting my Ranma down so she could marry him?!"

"Put Rei down again, please, Mako-chan. Maybe someone else defeated her and saved her life."

"Maybe she knows where Ranma is?" Ami suggested.

"Ranma? You know where is Ranma?" A different voice interjected.

Everyone turned to look at the cute Chinese girl, then over at where the large sumo wrestler was being pried out of the floor.

"Uhm, No. Tenma, that was his name. Ahahahaha!" Makoto tugged her ponytail, unconsciously copying a gesture.

Shampoo blinked. "Shampoo was sure she heard name of Ranma."

The others quickly affirmed that they had been talking about *Tenma* and gee, wasn't it getting awfully late!

Shampoo watched the girls leave. Well, she wasn't the best tracker of her tribe, but she wasn't a slouch, either! She left the arena keeping to the shadows.

One of the *other* shadows followed, checking that "his" combat spatula was in place. "Ranma... tonight I gain vengeance for ten years of betrayal!"

-----------

Shampoo snuck closer to the two girls, now aware that some boy (NOT Ranma) was pursuing HER. If she turned to deal with the intruder, she would likely lose the trail of THAT one. The one with the ponytail had seemed the most suspicious. Why Rei was with them, she didn't know, but she could always claim that the priestess was a friend of hers and she was just following out of concern.

She'd track down Ranma and PROVE she wasn't just violent. She still wasn't sure *how* to go about doing that, but she was certainly going to try.

-------------

"Luna," came Makoto's voice, a note of curiosity creeping in.

"Uhm, yes, Jupiter?" Luna's voice cracked. The mooncat was *quite* aware that while Sailor Jupiter was devoted to her Princess (whoever that turned out to be), Luna was very much still on Makoto Kino's sh*t list.

Makoto wasn't slowing her walk down any, nor was she looking down at Luna. "The Silver Millenium. Did *any* of us have husbands, boyfriends, lovers?"

"Well... " Luna began. "Yes. Princess Serenity had a boyfriend, I think. Prince Endymion of Earth. I can't remember all that clearly..."

"How convenient. I take it then, that *I* was alone, as were all of the other Senshi?"

Luna didn't have to look to know that more than one of the Senshi was frowning at this revelation. Japan didn't have a Fifth Amendment, but Luna was ready to invoke it anyway.

"Yup." Artemis interjected, completely missing the various expressions. "The Senshi were completely devoted to the Princess and the Kingdom. Outside interests, careers, families, these would have all detracted from your duties."

"Hmmmm," said the various Senshi as they considered this.

Ami wasn't that anxious to have a boyfriend, but someday she at least wanted the option! And no career? She'd have to put off becoming a doctor indefinitely?

Minako fumed. Prince Endymion and Princess Serenity? If she wasn't the Princess, she was doomed to never have a career or boyfriend? This was intolerable!

Makoto looked down at the perspiring little black mooncat as she considered the possibility that Luna had *deliberately* torpedoed her relationship with Ranma.

Rei frowned, most guys were jerks but she didn't find the idea of a potential lifespan of thousands of years *without* boyfriend/husband/lover nearly as appealing as Artemis obviously thought it would be. What about her dreams of becoming a seiyuu (voice actress)?

Usagi pouted. No career didn't sound too bad to her, she could certainly slack in her classes. No cute boys? Spending thousands of years alone with Rei didn't sound amusing. "What about Tuxedo Kamen?"

"We still don't know who he is or why he shows up. Since there are more evil forces than just the Dark Kingdom, we can't take any chances. He could simply be assisting us because he serves one of the OTHER villains." Artemis quickly pointed this out. It never hurt to be too paranoid, that was Artemis' view. Besides, he'd never quite forgiven Ranma for almost coming between Venus and himself. She'd joked about putting him up for adoption after they'd learned that Ranma was afraid of cats.

"Afraid one of us might get close to him and thereby have an outside interest?" Makoto's voice was cold enough to send a chill up Luna's back.

"Not at all," huffed Artemis, though that *was* a concern. "I just don't think we can afford to trust any outsiders."

"So that's why you two wanted to get rid of Ranma..." whispered Makoto.

"That's right," agreed Artemis, who then stopped as he considered what he said. "I mean... that's why I and Luna advised caution."

"You dolt." Luna winced as she felt the heat coming off of Makoto. Minako and Ami didn't look too happy either.

"Whichever one of us turns out to be the Moon Princess, there are going to be some changes!" Makoto growled.

There was a chorus of nods at this.

"We keep our duties as Senshi, but we are allowed to have careers," offered Rei.

"We are allowed to have husbands and families!" Makoto's look at Luna just DARED the mooncat advisor to disagree.

"If we find friends we can trust, then we DO trust them. And if they can fight alongside us, we let them," Minako suggested, rubbing a portion of anatomy that was still tender from a fight two days ago.

"No, absolutely not," began Artemis. He didn't get any further.

"The Moon Kingdom's future depends on you, and finding the Princess," interrupted Luna, hoping to head things off before Artemis' mouth caused the Senshi to disband.

"Shampoo is Princess, or at least Heir to Clan Matriarch, is close enough?"

Everyone stopped in mid-argument. There was an eerie synchronized blink with accompanying sweatdrop.

Shampoo smiled sweetly at these "Senshi" she'd heard about and wondered if *she* could get a fuku.

----

Ukyo watched from the shadows as the girl she'd been trailing joined the others, followed by an argument.

Something was wrong. They apparently all knew Ranma, but none knew where he was.

Then an idea struck Ukyo Kuonji with sufficient impact that her head rung. Maybe *all* of these girls had been abandoned. Betrayed by the same young boy and that rotten excuse for a father. (Those... ENEMIES OF ALL WOMEN! How many times did they pull this scam anyway? How many lives have they ruined? How many...)

Ukyo's mental rant was interrupted as someone picked her up by the back of her collar and rear of her belt, hoisting the disguised chef over their head, and walking back to the group.

"Sneaky Boy shouldn't sneak around Amazon warrior. Time for boy to tell everyone why he need to follow Shampoo and Rei's friends."

---December 27, 1992---

The shrine had become a meeting spot shortly after Ranma's departure. Everyone noted how little time Makoto wanted to spend at her place, where the phantoms of what could have been were all too obvious. Over the past three days, however, the tension level of the shrine had gotten rather high. It was ebbing now, but even Rei's grandfather had commented on the feeling that a match brought into the room would spontaneously combust.

The uneasy truce was still in effect. Ukyo had promised to observe and judge later, the crossed fingers behind her back duly noted by two of the observers. Shampoo promised not to try and kill OR marry Ranma immediately, not that anyone thought she could manage either very easily.

Once bitten, twice shy. Ranma had been bitten three times now, at least in his understanding of events.

Not surprisingly, two mooncats were being eyed with suspicion by most of the girls present. Ukyo was looking at them as potential allies. Shampoo was alternating between potential allies and sharing the other girls' desire to pound vile manipulating romance-trashing felines into pancakes. Rei was somewhat sympathetic to Luna and Artemis, but wasn't about to say anything of the sort near Makoto or Minako OR Ami.

The overall plan was to have someone other than Shampoo or Makoto make the approach when/if Ranma was found. Someone neutral like Rei or Usagi.

If/when Ranma was found, and the whole sordid mess straightened out, two mooncats were planning on heading back to the moon for a little vacation while tempers cooled off.

Shampoo eyed the group warily, but was trying to sincerely cooperate. Attacking one of these "Senshi" wouldn't be good. Not only would she be proving herself a "violent chick" but she'd be attacking one of these sworn protectors of Earth. The Amazons might isolate themselves, but they were still a part of Earth's populace. Besides, this Silver Millenium thing was a matriarchy- and therefore a sensibly run society that her Great Grandmother would approve of. She didn't think the others would mind that she had sent a quick letter off, in her native dialect, advising her Great Grandmother that there were matters here of concern to the village's survival and that the Matriarch's advice could help enormously. In the meantime, she could and was training these "warriors of love and justice" in Amazonian Wu Shu. Even if she couldn't power-up into a Senshi, Shampoo was determined to help protect the Earth and her Village. It was part of the duty of the Amazon Champion, after all.

If Shampoo was wary, then Ukyo was as nervous as a long tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs. A quick "friendly sparring session" had revealed that she was better in the martial arts than any one of the Senshi, providing they didn't power-up. Shampoo was better, much better, but had said that Ukyo was a better workout than some guy named Mousse. If Ami, Minako, and Makoto attacked at once- they worked sufficiently well as a team that they could hold their own against Ukyo. Ukyo had no illusions as to what would happen if the Senshi powered up and attacked her, with or without Shampoo's help.

Makoto had a bit more "life" showing than she had since Ranma had left. The first few days after Tenma had taken his old name back and left, Makoto had been rather listless and depressed. She had thrown herself into her duties as a Senshi after that, but there had been something missing from her eyes. Now something was showing again, and that something was determination.

Minako and Ami nodded to each other over the improvement. They'd given up on Ranma when it had become apparent that Makoto and Ranma were getting closer. Concern for two people they thought of as close friends had made the collapse of that relationship painful all around.

Rei frowned, wondering if she really wanted to bring this up. This might be a match and there were a lot of explosives here. "Uhm, well, y'know... I..."

Everyone turned their attention to Rei. This didn't help. Yeah, she was the tough Shinto priestess, she was forceful and strong. About the only one around here she could intimidate physically was that klutz Usagi though. In a sparring session, the little bookworm Ami had proven capable of holding off Rei pretty well. Minako and Makoto were both better than her. As for Shampoo, so far Rei had avoided any sparring sessions because she privately felt it would be too humiliating.

"I was doing some fire readings. I got the usual recurring stuff about the dark figures." Rei noticed the blank looks from Shampoo and Ukyo. "A queen with pale skin, clothed in darkness. A Chinese man, surrounded by serpents, sitting on this really loathsome looking throne. A really muscular looking vampire ruling over a court of shadows. A pale prince on a black crystal throne. A skeletal dwarf. A demon with three eyes. A giant formed of flames. There were others but one by one, they've gotten eaten by the remainder."

"We've been calling 'em Nasties for a reason," quipped Usagi, nudging Shampoo with her elbow and winking. Usagi caught the look Shampoo shot back at her and decided that level of familiarity might be a bit much at present.

"Last night," continued Rei, "it was a little different. There were the various dark figures again. There was also a Princess of Light and some Chinese guy with lightning playing around him. This time there was a circular table with a lot of miniatures in the center. Most of the figures didn't make any sense, but there was a big one that looked like a winged horse."

Makoto restrained herself. Shaking Rei wouldn't help matters any. "Tenma Kazeno. Sky Horse Of The Wind."

"I saw the pegasus leave the pack in front of the Princess and get snatched up by the Dark Queen..." Rei flinched as she saw the look on Makoto's face. She was *really* glad she wasn't Luna, the recipient of that gaze. "Errr. Anyway, the various pieces in the center were being snatched up by most of the figures around the table. And for some reason there was a panda and a pig moving through the pieces, looking for something. Uhm, the pieces in front of the Princess were us, plus four others I didn't know dressed in seifuku. Some older woman with a sword. Shampoo and a few other girls, including someone who looked kinda like Ukyo but she was a girl."

Ukyo nodded, though a little surprised that nobody had figured out her disguise yet.

"Lunnnnaaaa," growled Makoto, to absolutely no one's suprise.

"Anyway, the Dark Queen clapped her hands over the pegasus, and when she removed them the horse had a big black splotch on it that kept getting bigger. Errrr. Makoto-chan, could you please calm down?" Rei could have sworn Makoto was glowing blue, which had to be a trick of the light as she was currently not in Sailor Jupiter mode. Oddly enough she wasn't looking at Rei but seemed to be focussed on a cushion from which a black tail protruded.

Shampoo blinked and whispered to Usagi that she had no psychic abilities but she could somehow see this image of something nasty occurring to Luna. Especially if left alone with Makoto for any length of time. Usagi nodded, having a succession of the same images occurring to her.

Ami was about to comment further when her computer bleeped. "Sensors have picked up Dark Kingdom activity near the Crown Arcade!"

"So do we go?" Ukyo wasn't sure how this would work. She had a mask she could flip on, but wasn't sure about going into a fight against youma.

"We go. We fight. We continue discussion later, yes? Maybe find further clue to 'Tenma', yes?" Shampoo was up for a fight. To her, it was a good way to release stress. --------------

"Luna," said Artemis, watching their young charges leave the room.

"What?" Luna said sadly. Even Usagi didn't trust her anymore.

"Maybe we shouldn't have..."

"They have to be completely focussed on the Princess. There can be no room in their hearts for anyone else."

"Well..." Artemis began fidgeting.

"You know that as well as I do! This thing would *never* have been allowed in the Silver Millenium. Having lives outside of their Senshi duties, that's almost as bad as allowing the common people to have free will."

"I wasn't proposing anything that radical," said Artemis with a huff. "When the Princess awakens and begins the Crystal Millenium, she will use the Crystal and purge the evil from her subjects, right?"

"Well, yes."

"At which point, things like 'free will' or 'independent thought' are moot points, right?"

"Well... yes."

Artemis pounced. Cats were good at that. "So we let them develop these relationships, forming more allies for the new Moon Kingdom, and when the Princess uses the Crystal those relationships will dissolve anyway!"

"That isn't one hundred percent and you know it," Luna grumbled. She started batting at cushions in her unease. "They're not cooperating, and it's all that damn Tenma's fault. I *knew* he was bad news."

"I don't know. I didn't particularly like him, Venus kept talking about him in her sleep, but he seemed to be a good trainer."

"Usagi did a lot of that, too. Girls these days, nothing like the properly trained and educated young princesses from OUR time."

"Yeesh, the worst were when she had the erotic dreams. Squealing and moaning, and... not proper at all."

"Usagi did the same thing. Honestly. If Queen Serenity could see these girls, she'd be *so* ashamed."

"I know, but I..." Artemis looked at something that Luna's fidgeting had revealed. "Uh oh. Is that what I think it is?"

"It's a transmitter. No doubt placed here by the Dark Kingdom." Luna sounded hopeful.

"Uhm," said Artemis past a suddenly dry throat.

-----------------

They continued to run even as they listened over their communicators.

Minako had turned scarlet and was sweating heavily. Usagi was doing the same. Ukyo was snickering. Shampoo merely wondered what the two girls were embarrassed about, as this was just healthy behavior as far as her culture was concerned. Makoto looked back and forth at the two blondes and wondered if anyone else had been interested in her Tenma. Ami was thanking the kami that she slept alone.

"Shampoo think need new advisors," Shampoo seized the opportunity and ran with it, as a martial artist should. "Anyone mind if contact Great Grandmother? She Warmaster of Amazon Tribe and Matriarch. Know many many things may help."

"About so tall with a staff?" Rei indicated, glad to focus on something else. "I saw her in the vision. She was one of the pieces the Princess Of Light gathered to her."

"We can't simply get rid of Luna and Artemis," Ami advised Makoto. "They are our sole link to the Moon Kingdom and have knowledge of the Dark Kingdom. Without them we wouldn't have the Mercury Computer, our hensshin sticks, or communicators."

Makoto frowned but allowed that might be true. "Still, if they want to make it up to me, they can help find Tenma and give *him* a powerup so he can fight alongside us. That way there won't be any conflict."

Everyone blinked at that. Shampoo grinned at the thought of a Senshi powerup. Besides, defending the world didn't count as far as being a "violent chick" or something.

The Crown Arcade finally came into view as thoughts of felines with hidden agendas were tabled for the moment.

---------------------- The air ripped open and rubbery-limbed youma stepped forth. They swarmed forward, one casually draining the energy of the Jusenkyo Guide the moment he stepped out of his hut.

Tenma grinned evilly at Jadeite.

"Are you *sure* about this?"

"Read 'The Art Of War' sometime, will ya? I'm positive. A few minor youma back in their home territory to draw off those Senshi *and* our other opponents. They'll think it's just another minor energy raid while we hit our real objectives. Misleading the enemy about your own goals and objectives weakens their chances of countering them." Tenma shuddered slightly as the original personality beat against the walls of dark energy surrounding it. The moment passed and the spirit inside weakened again. "You look at this place and see what kind of energies it holds."

Jadeite didn't like this upstart. Not at all. Still, Beryl had commanded and Jadeite knew the penalties for disobedience. Reluctantly, Jadeite focussed on the area with "over 100 springs" and took in the flow of energies. "Dear kami..."

"Enough dark energy, you think?" Tenma smirked at the Dark Kingdom General. "Set up a 'tap' on the magical forces here, and we can overwhelm that Prince Diamond fellow's Dark Crystal. Or, better yet, take control of it ourselves. Then the Dead Moon and Nemesis can be stripped of power. THEN we might be able to take on Shang Tsung and his Emperor."

"Shang Tsung is not concerned with us. Yet. He might be after some of our warriors, particularly those we culled from Shadowloo." Jadeite considered. "With this sort of magical power, we can further enhance those youma and warriors we already possess. Those four are the strongest of the springs. If we do too much right now, we'll draw attention from the others. We are still too weak to withstand all of them. So if we place a youma here, we can then direct that youma to draw on the energies here and channel them directly to us at need. Then, when we are more consolidated and the playing field is level, we can more openly drain the area of magic."

"Queen Beryl should be pleased, then."

Jadeite could not help but agree. ======================================= Rune 2. part 2/2 yo people, standard disclaimers apply. intended as light reading and an attempt to work out a divergent history. Don't expect an Epic or Great Literature.

----December 31, 1992-------

The gnome looked over the assembled girls and realized that she had to work with worse. Not terribly inspiring for saviors of the world, but it could be worse.

"She is *not* of the Moon Kingdom!" Artemis protested.

"Could'a fooled me," whispered Rei to Usagi. "She looks like she could have been around back then..."

"No reincarnation, either," agreed Usagi.

"So, Shampoo gave me indication that you could use some help with a major task..."

"No! How do we know she's not with the Dark Kingdom!"

Cologne jumped slightly, then realized that whatever the talking black kitty cat was, a god of mischief wasn't on the list. A relief to be sure. "What an odd crew we have here."

"We're just normal teenage girls?" Minako tried.

"Other than you have talking cats, magical auras, a girl disguised as a boy, and a handful of magical items?"

"A girl disguised as a boy?!" Rei, Usagi, and Minako squeaked.

Ukyo groaned. Busted.

Cologne waited a few moments as exclamations, questions, and recriminations (punctuated by Luna exclaiming that this proved you couldn't trust these Outsiders) before using a minor chi attack that amplified the noise of her clap to aircraft-taking-off levels.

She waited a few moments for the various ears to stop ringing. "Again, my great granddaughter indicated that the matters were unpleasant. So I used my own sources to determine the reality of the situation. I arrived here two days ago and continued my research. My goodness, I haven't been on a major Quest since I was a little girl!"

"I told you she was around in the days of the Moon Kingdom," whispered Rei.

"The most I expected out of this," Cologne continued, "was that Shampoo had some problems acquiring her groom!"

"TENMA IS NOT HER GROOM!"

"Mako-chan can be scary..." Usagi said into the silence that immediately followed.

Makoto hid her face and dropped back to her cushion. "sorry. sorry."

Cologne grinned. "Well, child, you've also got a claim on the boy. I understand this. You let him go once and you've been kicking yourself ever since. We're all young once and make such mistakes, it's part of growing up."

Makoto made an embarassed sound.

"Since Shampoo's letter indicated something supernatural involved, I took the precaution of checking some resources. While fairly ambiguous against day-to-day events, the I Ching and the Tarot are fairly accurate in divining supernatural threats. Let me know if I'm off the mark at some point.

"There are several menaces but only one you need to worry directly about. There is one menace tied directly to you, and that is where Shampoo's groom has been taken. He's now been possessed by the Darkness."

Makoto made a reference to a trip to the vet, just so that two mooncats would have less distractions from *their* duties.

Rei considered making some anti-possession spirit wards. "The Queen of Darkness. I've seen her in my fire readings."

Ami and Minako exchanged a glance and nodded. There had been a sort of voyeuristic quality to watching Makoto and Tenma, seeing the two hold each other and imagining themselves in that situation. (Not that Ami would admit it aloud like Minako would.) It looked like keeping sharp instruments, the two advisors, and Makoto seperate would remain a concern for a little while. Not that they thought Makoto would actually do it, but why tempt fate?

Cologne raised an eyebrow and filed more data. My goodness, this at least looked like it wouldn't be boring. "The horse has led the Queen to victory over several of her other opponents. A pity, as they have largely been concerned with each other until now. You have never been considered enough of a serious annoyance to spare the effort while their rivals have posed adequate threat."

There were several winces but no disputes to that statement.

"I still say we shouldn't trust..." Artemis began, being interrupted with a stout piece of wood bonking his head.

"I found other allies for you. With your permission, I can contact them and see how well you mesh as a team. They do not know you, but I have promised each that if they come I will help them with problems each deals with."

"Allies, Great Grandmama? Shampoo thought you bring other Amazons."

"Yes, child. But... well... you know Sash. She spotted an Ani-mart and I suspect it will be some time before Sugar and Spice can get her out without causing a major scene. Tigar is hunting on her own." Cologne shrugged. Having someone else do a lot of the footwork seemed a wise move, especially as she might have enough here to keep her hands busy.

"What kind of allies?" Luna said distrustfully but was keeping the Elder in between her and Makoto.

"A werewolf who could benefit from certain Amazon techniques to control the beast within. A catgirl who seeks acceptance..."

"A catgirl?" Artemis said, only to be fixed by glares from Luna, Makoto, AND Minako.

"...a couple of exceptional streetfighters who have cause against the successor for Shadowloo. Allies. They may not be of your 'Silver Millenium'or have access to great magical powers, but they are powerful in their own way."

"Werewolf?" Ami blinked. Well, there was a moon connection at least. Time for her own contribution. "Speaking of Shadowloo, I've got some data from the United Nations Special Taskforce computers." She brought the pictures up on the Mercury Computer.

"TENMA?!"

"RANMA?! Oh, Shampoo mean 'Tenma'?!"

The two rivals looked at each other before returning their attention to the picture on the computer screen.

"Shampoo think Tenma look good in uniform, pants tight right in all areas."

"Yeah. Something wrong with his eyes though."

"Shampoo agree. Also uniform would be better if different color."

"Yeah," Makoto agreed thoughtfully. "Who's that big guy he's pounding into the pavement?"

"His name is Balrog. One of the lieutenants for a man named Bison," Ami answered and pulled up an appropriate text file.

"So we have this balance of terror which is currently rearranging. I would expect events very shortly to get to the point where all of you are in danger from this Dark Queen..." Cologne looked out the window. To the Senshi she looked philosophical.

Actually, Cologne was just wondering how long it would take Sugar and Spice to pry Sash away from the "Secret Of Blue Water" display. --------

Ranma's feral grin was in place as he lifted the severed head of Prince Diamond into the air. "FOR BERYL AND THE DARK KINGDOM!"

The youma cheered as best they could.

Others were less thrilled.

"Young upstart," grumbled Jadeite.

"Punk kid. Lucky but just a punk kid," put in Zoacite.

"Pfeh," agreed Malachite.

"As his power and favor with the Dark Queen waxes, so does ours wane." Nephrite had really gotten to dislike punk kids.

"The taint and our Queen's control isn't complete yet," noted Malachite thoughtfully. "Up until Prince Diamond produced that sword, I was certain that Tenma wasn't going to kill him. The original spirit of the boy is fighting for control still."

"So we produce a situation where his old loyalties and friendships are conflicted with Beryl's orders, thereby either crushing the boy's resistance or causing him to betray the Queen." Jadeite grinned at the thought of being allowed to crush this upstart personally.

"Do we know of his past? We corrupted him because the Queen saw his fighting potential, but what do we really know about him?" Nephrite glanced back at the young warrior, noting that he'd tossed the head aside with an expression of disgust.

"When he went down finally, he called out a name. 'Makoto' I think." Jadeite had been cursing that he had left the boy alive for some time now, and that night had been engraved in memory.

"Under torture he had mentioned that name again," smiled Zoacite. "Also an 'Ami' and a 'Minako'. His resistance was sufficient that there were few details, and finding out about some sordid affairs wasn't high priority then. However just the amount of resistance he put up on behalf of those names *was* intriguing. So how about we arrange to put those names into a scrying, then go off on other missions. When we get back, either Tenma has betrayed the Queen *or* he has slain those he loves. Delicious, is it not?"

They were evil Dark Kingdom Generals. They practiced their 'Demented Villain With A Plan' laughs for just such an occasion.

-----------------

"WAIT! WAIT!!" Sash grabbed at the pile of stuff on the counter. This was made more difficult by the fact that both of her arms were immobilized and she was literally being dragged out of the store. "My life sized Ryo-oh-ki! My Totoro stuffed doll! That's the last 'Secret Of Blue Water' Nadia's Pendant they've got! A cutscene garage kit of the Space Battlecruiser Yamato! A 'Bird Of Prey' technical manual! Gotta get 'em all!"

Sugar grimaced. ""

"" Spice sniffed. Privately she thought that some of the boys looked cute, but how would one arrange to lose to an outsider like *that* boy? Besides, some of them might be put off by being part of a threesome, fragile male egos and the like.

"A 'Dagger Of Kamui' wallscreen! AAaaaa! A Belldandy cookset! They've got the newest collection of Psychic Fighter Midori tapes!"

"" Sugar turned suffering eyes heavenward.

""

"Aw, c'mon, let me at least get the 'Technomage Zen' art book. I've gotta... "

Sugar and Spice let out a sigh of relief.

------January 1, 1993------- cue music: Mortal Kombat theme

Shang Tsung smiled as Beryl's newest recruit took a position on one side of the ring, his own warrior already in place. The two facing each other were similarly dressed and had similar potential if he was any judge. Both were part of the recent surge in recruits, each of the various forces seeking to bolster their own ranks with appropriate fodder. Some only required a little bit of power to release their own gifts. "BEGIN!"

"WORLD SHAKING!"

"DEEP SUBMERGING!"

Shang Tsung watched, delighted smile on his face as the two began doing their level best to kill each other. Beryl had decided to play the tournament, and this was just the most recent of her corrupted soldiers.

"SPACE SWORD!"

Shang smiled and stood as one of the corrupted Senshi fell.

Shang held his hand out and the mists rose around the fallen warrior. She would make an interesting addition to his forces, after Beryl's taint had been replaced with his own. "Haruka! You have done well. You shall join Sagat and Akuma in recruiting new participants for the Tournament."

Sailor Uranus knelt at the feet of her Master without thinking about it. Not that she could think of much anything anymore. Her opponent had looked vaguely familiar, but had been defeated as easily as any of the others who had come before her. "Yes, milord." "Sagat," commanded Shang Tsung.

The balding and scarred figure formerly of Shadowloo stepped forward, giving a cold glare to SubZero and Scorpion. Mind control had not been necessary in his case, but in the case of those two it had been required just to get them to keep from killing each other. "Where do you want me to begin?"

"Tokyo is the current area we're fighting over, it being one of the easiest places to open a Gate to." Shang Tsung made a dismissing wave as this wasn't one of *his* limitations but it was a consideration for his opponents in this game. By enslaving their warriors before his opponents could likewise recruit them, he was both weakening them and increasing his own power. "Take Haruka, Akuma, Mako, and a few of the faceless minions. I think you should continue the 'dojo destroyer' roles. Challenge the master, and if they are sufficiently skilled to meet my minimum standards, capture them and bring them here for recruitment."

"And if their talent is insufficient..." Sagat inquired. Beating on people without permanently hurting them was a talent. There were parts of this job he didn't like but he did owe Shang Tsung a debt for getting him out of that mess, and Sagat always paid his debts.

"Punish them as you see fit. Mako may have some interesting ideas in that regard." Shang returned Sagat's smile. It was so nice to work with a kindred spirit. Even if the bald Muay Thai warrior seemed a bit squeamish at times. "Oh, and if you run into those minions of either Raideen or Beryl, be sure to respond appropriately."

"What of this Moon Princess?"

"A minor player of no consequence. Try not to kill any of them though. I may start a collection," Shang made a gesture towards the Sailor kneeling before him. "Or perhaps I may yet use them as a catspaw against another opponent."

"Of course," Sagat agreed, anxious to go bust some heads. It was better than sticking around here, at any rate.

------------------

Ranma glanced at where the Queen had taken that young man to her couch again. (Well, at least this means she's gonna be in a good mood.)

"My newest general, you have done well so far." Beryl moved past the sleeping Endymion to regard the youth.

Ranma knelt. "My Queen." As far as jobs went, this wasn't too bad, after all. He mainly was used to go kick behinds on the opposing teams.

"Shadowloo has fallen and two associated with it have become our servants. You have done well in the Streetfighter battles, and two of those you defeated have likewise been 'persuaded' to join. Strengthening our own ranks while keeping that Outworlder from acquiring their talents."

Ranma didn't bother to point that out Queen Beryl wasn't exactly a Tokyo native herself. Not that he could, though the level of mind control on him had been slightly relaxed of late.

"Your defeat of the Darkstalker Lillith was quite ingenious. Now she serves my cause as well." Beryl paused and strengthened the control she had over her pawn. "We have recently lost one of our newest recruits, the Sailor Neptune, and what I originally planned was to send you in her place to battle through Shang Tsung's childish tournament."

Ranma remained silent, but nodded, having heard the rumors.

"Instead, I think that I shall send the Lost Boy. You, on the other hand, had students of your martial arts style, did you not?"

"Yes, my Queen," Ranma saddened as he remembered Makoto, Ami, and Minako. Throwing him over for that Mamoru guy. (Well, maybe she's happy with him now that I'm out of the way.)

"Find them. Capture them, bring them here that they may be properly recruited." Beryl's eyes widened slightly as Ranma's full force of will started beating against the walls of dark magic enslaving his mind. She was impressed. Endymion was a prince, and not nearly so strong of will or such a fighter. "If you need to, hurt them. But bring them alive before me. You will take Vega, Sasquatch, Bishamon, and Lillith with you."

"Sasquatch and Bishamon are in Hokkaido. Lillith, Honda, and Cammy are all in the Jusenkyo region. Vega is doing the 'dojo destroyer' schtick in the Kansai area."

Beryl frowned, accidently opening a lip on one of her fangs. "Well, at least take a few of the Senshikiller youmas..."

"Currently all are being used by your other Dark Generals."

Beryl continued to frown. "Well, with the power sources we've available now, we have plenty of faceless minion youma."

"With all respect, Great Queen, the typical 'faceless minion' youma is about as bright as an alligator and about as threatening. Against a typical Japanese, fine. Some of the police are now carrying firearms or stunsticks and could quite likely kill one or two. Not to mention the problems with trying to sneak around with a large number of youma."

"Point taken." Beryl *was* impressed with her newest general. The Dead Moon and Dark Moon kingdoms had fallen, as had Shadowloo and that vampire's castle. Admittedly, many of the stragglers and survivors of those battles had been snatched up by Shang Tsung, but many of their artifacts and items of power (Beryl's main interest) had been added to the Dark Kingdom's resources. "As tipping off the Outworlders is not desirable, you will have to go alone then."

"Of course," Ranma agreed. He worked best alone anyway.

-----January 4, 1993----------

"GET OVER HERE!"

Sailor Moon eeped and fell over, narrowly avoiding the living spear extending from the yellow-garbed warrior.

"CRESCENT BEAM!"

"SHABON SPRAY!"

"SUPREME THUNDER!"

Scorpion was hit by all three attacks. He struggled to his feet and reached up to remove his mask.

"HADOKEN!"

"TENMA!?" Sailor Jupiter stopped to stare at the figure standing atop the cafe.

"MOON TIARA ACTION!" Sailor Moon finally got her "finishing move" in, then went into a staring mode along with everyone else.

"Hmmmph, the Sailor Senshi. Pathetic. I'd defeat you now for the Dark Kingdom, but I'm on a mission for the Queen. Maybe later."

"...tenma...?!" Sailor Jupiter looked at the figure leaping away, feeling sick to her stomach as his words echoed within her.

Mercury watched him from behind her visor. "He's filled with dark energies. And he's heading in the direction of your apartment!"

"I *knew* he couldn't be trusted!" Luna said smugly.

Sailor Jupiter twitched. A fitful blue glow formed.

Luna realized that she was suddenly alone on the street, Sailor Moon currently hiding behind Rei.

The rapidly-becoming-familiar routine of Sailor Jupiter attempting to pancake a cat into the ground was interrupted by, of all individuals, Sailor Venus.

"What if Sailor Moon used a Moon Healing Escalation? Wouldn't that free him from the Dark Kingdom influence?"

Luna hid under a car while Sailor Jupiter came to a stumbling halt. She'd been kicking herself for NOT forcing the issue, or for so getting wrapped up in her new role that she'd given the completely wrong message to Tenma. Guilt had been driving her up the wall and the mooncats and their agenda had been a do-able target. "You think it would work?"

"Worth a try, isn't it?" The plucky blonde superheroine gave a thumbs up to her colleague.

Ami started working up a simulation based on the data she'd received earlier.

Luna prayed.

-----------------

Makoto was nervous. Changing back from Senshi mode had been necessary, but without the added protection coming from being Sailor Jupiter, she wasn't sure how long she'd last against a Dark Kingdom general.

As expected, Tenma was waiting just outside her apartment complex.

"T-Tenma?" Makoto winced at her stuttering but noticed the name caused a number of emotions to pass across his face. She hoped that the video pickup that Ami had linked to her computer was picking this up, and that Tenma just thought it was a brooch.

"It's back to being Ranma now," said the boy sitting at her table. "Well, Kino-san, how's things going with your *new* boyfriend?" Ranma gave a short, humorlesss, laugh.

"I wanted to tell you, Te- Ranma. But I gave my *word* that I wouldn't say anything." His voice was different. A definite cruel, sneering, quality to it.

"Nervous, Kino? Why? It's just me."

Makoto was about to answer when she noticed something. His expression kept changing, especially the eyes. Why was Ranma going into shaking fits?

"Run, Mako-chan."

Makoto started. That had sounded like the Tenma she had gotten to know, almost.

Ranma shrugged off whatever had been going on. "Anyway, Kino-san. There's someone I want you to meet. You can come with me of your own will, or..."

Makoto added several things up and lost her nervous edge. "No."

Ranma sneered. "Well, if you insist."

"Stop it, Tenma. You're not like this. You said you trusted me. Can you trust me one more time?"

"Puh-leeze, K-Kino." Ranma frowned as another bout of shaking occurred. "Don't think you can appeal to my good side, I don't have one. Nor do I have any trust for you, you managed to kill that off quite effectively."

"I'm not talking to YOU, Ranma. I'm talking to Tenma." Makoto offered a silent prayer that she had come to the correct conclusion, and was rewarded by seeing a flash of uncertainty and a pleading look in those eyes before the arrogant mask resumed. "I'm not talking to the Dark Kingdom general. I'm talking to my boyfriend Tenma who was prepared to wait for me. The boy who trusted me when I *really* mishandled a secret I should never have sworn to keep by avoiding him.

"No. A man. He came to me as a lost boy, trying to find himself. He matured into the man who proved he could overcome a bad childhood. The man I loved." Makoto's eyes widened, she hadn't intended to say that last. Now that she thought of it, though, it was true.

"M-Mako-chan?" Ranma had sweat pouring off of him and was shaking so badly that Makoto was afraid he'd fall over.

She went to him, gathering him into her arms, feeling the shaking continue so badly that her teeth rattled as a silent battle went on within the Dark Kingdom general. "Fight it, Tenma. You're stronger than this. You're better than him. You can do it."

"Moon..."

Makoto cursed Usagi silently as she felt the body in her arms stiffen. Her arms involuntarily tightened around Tenma as he shifted in her grasp.

"...Healing..."

Ranma broke the girl's grasp and flipped upward to a windowsill. There was a brief look of betrayal on his face as he looked down at Makoto. She knew that look had come from Tenma and felt sickened anew.

"...Escalation!"

The burst of white light hit, but Ranma was already gone.

"Usagi... your timing sucks," said Makoto, looking in the direction Ranma had vanished. -----------

Night had fallen and the dreams of one Rei Hino were troubled. She saw the familiar pegasus, the dark stain still spreading like a cancer across his hide. She saw the hands of the Dark Queen (who could really use a good manicurist, some odd part of Rei's mind noted) close a second time around the pegasus.

Black mists jetted between the Queen's fingers.

When the hands were removed, the pegasus was sickly, the wings broken. And the darkness moved visibly across the skin, and where it passed the once-shining hide was leprous.

The horse's eyes came up to meet her own and the look in them was of a soul being tortured and pleading for release.

The scene changed. She saw a Citadel of Light where Usagi (Usagi?) sat upon a crystalline throne, surrounded by the rest of the Senshi and the mysterious Tuxedo Kamen. Except that there was someone who *wasn't* Makoto who was wearing the Sailor Jupiter uniform.

The dream changed. Rei saw a rustic-looking village of women carrying martial arts weapons welcoming... her and the other Senshi. And then some boy in glasses attacked telling them to stay away from his shampoo. How odd to be that obsessive over hairsoap. Oh, wait a minute, maybe he meant Shampoo?

The dream changed again. Rei saw herself, and herself, and lots of herself. Dozens of Rei Hinos, some were Sailor Mars, some appeared to be ordinary Japanese schoolgirls, some were dressed in the garb of a Shinto priestess. One looked to be in an "Indiana Jones" role, another was composed of living fire, yet another was dressed in a manner similar to that Amazon Sash, there was even one wearing a skimpy harem costume!

A quick look around revealed the same thing with her other friends. There was a small procession of Ami Mizuno (Ami Mizunos?) in various costumes. There were Sailor Mercury Ami copies, Ami in a number of different school uniforms, and even one where she was wearing wizardly-looking robes. There was an "Indiana Jones" Ami, an Ami with dark glasses and a white cane, even another Ami whose skin was blue and looked like she had gills!

There was Makoto in a similar crowd. Except that there was something wrong with one of the Sailor Jupiters. She stumbled and fell from the pack. A Makoto Kino in a harem costume moved past her, apparently unseeing. Another Makoto, this one dressed in some sort of fantasy warrior costume, hesitated before moving past, shifting the elaborate hammer in her hands as she did so.

Rei looked past and recognized the figure further on from a trip to Makoto's apartment. There was a picture on the real Makoto's dresser, showing this boy and Makoto leaning comfortably together on a bench. There were versions of this boy, whom she knew from that photo to be Tenma Kazeno. Some dressed in Chinese clothes, some in a Japanese boy's school uniform, some in a gi, a few redhaired girls (for some odd reason), and a powerfully built one whose eyes met hers briefly despite the surreality of the scene. There was also one sprawled on the ground near the "dead" Makoto, their hands almost touching.

Again the shifting and Rei saw the table again. More figures on the table were distinct, and fewer players were present.

The man resting on a loathsome throne had gathered several pieces to his side. The muscular vampire lord and giant of fire were now pieces in his pile, not players on their own. There was also a skeletal figure, another that had four arms, and yet another which wore elaborate samurai armor. There was even a snowman. There was also a few pieces that she recognized from Streetfighter tournaments, such as that Bison fellow.

The Princess Of Light had a few more pieces as well. A cat-girl stood beside a wolf-man. A thickly muscled and unhandsome fellow, a woman with batlike wings, three more of the streetfighters she had seen, and others she didn't recognize.

The Chinese man and the Dark Queen also had larger rows of troops. As soon as she saw the Dark Queen, though, Rei's heart felt like it would stop. The Queen was about to try and steal some of the pieces from in front of the Princess!

Rei woke, shuddering, and wondered if she ought to mention any of this to anyone.

Sometimes, she knew, ignorance could be bliss.

Sometimes, Rei also knew, ignorance could be fatal.

------January 5, 1993----

It had started right in front of the Osa-P. First had been a few "faceless minion" youma. Then others had started showing up, until the scene was now a chaotic tangle of warriors doing their level best to kill or at least beat the snot out of the others.

"Look out!" Sailor Venus threw her chain up into the air, having seen this manuever on "Saint Saeya" and having wanted to try it. "Venus Chain Rolling Defense!"

"Karame Dama!" Bishamon's spirit blast impacted the chain and was mainly deflected.

"Ahhhh!" Sailor Moon added helpfully. "Which ones are the bad guys?!"

Ken Masters smiled as he passed the young girl. "The ones trying to kill you are the bad guys."

With a howl of bloodlust, a werewolf named Jon Talbain started tearing into a four-armed half-dragon named Goro.

A tangle of chains marked where a Chinese ghost named Hsien-ko was fighting a Chinese boy named Mousse.

"Ring Defense!" Sailor Venus called out one of the manuevers that Cologne had coached them on. Sailor Venus lengthened her Venus chain to mark a circle. Sailor Moon and Sailor Mercury ran to the center. Venus, Jupiter, Mars, Shampoo, a huge man who insisted on being called "Frank", a street fighter named Blanka, Sash, Sugar, and Spice formed the outer ring.

"Where's Felicity?" Mars looked around but couldn't spot the cat-girl.

"She buried in store. Flattened by fat boy in diaper." Sash answered.

"That's E. Honda, he's a streetfighter. Apparently under Dark Kingdom control." Mercury started reading off her screen. "I've identified the ones apparently on our side as an American actor named Johnny Cage, Interpol agents Sonya Blade and Chun Li, and I don't know about that girl with the spirit ward stuck to her face. I'm getting some dark readings from her and from the girl in the odd leotard."

"Gee, you think the batwings are a clue?" Rei said drily.

"HADOKEN!"

Sailor Jupiter jumped at the familiar attack phrase only to realize that it wasn't Tenma.

"Shampoo! At last I've found you, Shampoo!"

"Who're you calling Shampoo? SOUL FIST!"

"Jupiter. The big guy on three. One, two, three. BURNING MANDALA!"

"SUPREME THUNDER!"

The one identified as Chun Li grabbed some blonde girl's pigtails and slung her towards the circle. Frank leapt up and demonstrated a volleyball spike.

The battle was beginning to wind down when the air rippled and a gateway formed.

"Quickly, forces of the Dark Kingdom, retreat while I cover you."

"Tenma?!" Sailor Jupiter gasped at the haggard appearance of the boy standing in the gateway. The Dark Kingdom General held his hands about a foot apart, darkness seeming to grow in the space formed there. The sphere burst, forming several jagged spears which slammed into the majority of still standing opponents. The Dark Kingdom forces poured through the gateway behind Ranma, taking their wounded with them as they escaped.

"Meowwww!" Felicity moved forward at high speeds, counting on what she had heard of the cat-fear to take out this Ranma with minimal damage. Ranma merely held his hand up and another sphere of darkness formed, this one blasting out fully at the cat-girl.

"Anyone else want to get hurt?" Ranma looked at those remaining upright and dismissed most of them as being a threat.

The werewolf leapt, only to be blocked, spun and thrown. He was still in the air when four Hadokens slammed rapidly into him.

"SHABON SPRAY!"

"CRESCENT BEAM!"

Ranma leapt over the attacks, landing in front of Sailor Mercury. Mercury stared at the smirking general just long enough for him to dodge again as Hsien-ko's chains shot through the recently occupied space and around the Senshi.

"FLAME SNIPER!"

"Whoah, not quite as pathetic as you used to be, eh?" Ranma sneered as he flipped out of the way of the flame blast. "I guess you might be silly little girls but you ain't *total* losers."

"Tenma! Don't!" It was easy for Makoto to think of Ranma as the Dark Kingdom general, Tenma as the boy she loved.

Ranma frowned as he regarded Sailor Jupiter, idly throwing a Super Hadoken towards the approaching Ken Masters. His face slipped once more into a sneer after a moment. "Makoto? You're one of these Senbei?"

"That's Senshi!" Mars attacked. Ranma struck her in the throat. Mercury went to help Mars recover as the other Senshi started choking.

"Well then, Makoto, tell you what. The gate behind me is open. If you can beat me, then you have a chance to deal directly with your Enemy. If I beat *you*, I'll take all of you to see her. Once you've been properly subdued, of course."

"Jupiter, he's radiating Dark Kingdom energies. I don't detect anything of Tenma left."

"I... I..." Jupiter fidgeted.

"Let me make it easy on you," Ranma said, looking for the Senshi who had struck from ambush earlier. "YOU!"

Sailor Moon squeaked as a black aura surrounded the general and he did another of those incredible leaps towards *her*, a sword forming in his hands.

"JUPITER THUNDER DRAGON!"

The blast, to almost everyone's surprise, struck.

---------------------------

Makoto held the figure in her arms, ignoring the smoking hole in his chest as she wailed to the heavens.

"There must have been some of him not completely corrupted," opined Ami. "He let your blast strike at the end."

Makoto laid Ranma down gently, her tears dampening his uniform. Her shaking slowed as she regained control. "I swear by all the kami, Moon Kingdom, or whatever forces of Good we're to represent. I've lived before, and the next time, if it is even slightly possible, we *WILL* be together. Ranma, no, Tenma. I love you."

Nobody within earshot doubted any part of that for a moment. Even Luna and Artemis.

"We've got to go," Rei hissed, feeling some sympathetic tears form herself. She had never met Ranma prior to his corruption, and judged from the expressions of grief around her that she had really missed out. "They'll be sending more forces after us."

Luna, wisely, kept her mouth shut.

Makoto took a moment to watch Tenma's form dissolve in a manner similar to the youma, the usual effect of Dark Kingdom energies consuming a human body. This seemed just a little different, somehow. "Next time, Ranma, it doesn't matter who stands in our way. I *will* save you."

"Got it!" Morrigan looked back at the small group. "A few of you can go through while the rest of us anchor or guard the gate. Sash, I'll need you to help me keep the gate open." After all, Sash would generate power just from being shown the Arion Roman Album that Morrigan had stashed away for just such an emergency.

"I'll go," said Makoto, shifting back to Sailor Jupiter without a perceptible transformation sequence. Nobody wanted to argue.

"Shampoo go." Shampoo didn't have any noble reasoning. Vengeance sounded good to her.

"Well, I'll have to go, and I think Sailor Moon should go." Cologne glanced around. "Just a suggestion, mind you."

Sugar and Spice exchanged a glance and nodded. The swordswoman and the spear-maiden put in their vote to be part of the protection. They had rapidly developed into the role of shield-maid to two of the Senshi. (Though they were hoping for some powerups soon so that they could take more active roles.) Shampoo was sticking close to Moon as she could since Cologne's privately revealed suspicion that the "Moon Princess" was likely the air-headed ditz.

------------------------------

"BERYL! IT ENDS NOW!" Sailor Jupiter seemed to ignite as she launched herself at the Dark Queen.

Artemis gasped. "She's drawing on the full power of her planet! She'll burn herself up at that rate!"

Ami looked sadly as the green comet rocketed across the chamber. "I think that's the idea."

"SUPREME THUNDER!" Jupiter snarled and threw blast after blast as soon as the patterns emerged from her mind, reaching further and further for something to smite this blotch. "JUPITER CRYSTAL POWER MAKE UP!" She was aware that she was reaching past her safe limits. "SUPREME THUNDER DRAGON!" There was a lingering sensation of heat building on her. It didn't matter. "JUPITER PLANET POWER MAKE UP!" This wasn't about revenge, this wasn't about pride, it wasn't even about being pushed into Seriously Pissed Mode. "SPARKLING WIDE PRESSURE!" This was about duty. "OAK EVOLUTION!" Duty to the Princess, duty to the Moon Kingdom, duty to love and justice. "JUPITER AVATAR MAKE UP!"

"She can't use that yet!" Luna watched as events she had set in motion moved to a conclusion. "Her body can't handle that level of power until she's reached full maturity as a Senshi!"

---------

Cologne watched from across the cavern as Sailor Jupiter began her final attack. She smiled and reached out to tap the Dark Crystal in front of her. She could sense the intricate web of energies between the various energy focuses that Beryl and her minions had collected. Ah, if one had to go, one might as well go with a bang, eh?

"BAKUSAI TENKETSU!"

-----------

Beryl's smirk failed as her shield abruptly weakened. She could draw power from Jusenkyo to replenish it, but it would take time. She scrambled for the power she needed.

"VENGEANCE OF THE HEAVENS!" Sailor Jupiter felt the power burst through her, burning away the frail mortal body trying to channel the forces.

Beryl's time ran out.

Sailor Moon and Sailor Mercury found themselves being lifted up and carried away at breakneck speed ahead of a massive series of explosions. Each of the Senshi being carried by an Amazon.

"MAKO-CHANNNNNN!" Sailor Moon kicked. "Let me go! Mako-chan is back there."

"She is dead," said Shampoo at the apex of a thirty foot leap. "Shampoo see. She go out like proper Amazon."

"No! No, she can't be dead!"

Shampoo kept moving, feeling the heat of another wave of explosions toasting her backside. "She go out like Amazons of legend. Shampoo will see she be honored as Amazon, her story added to Village Lorekeepers. Shampoo honored that if have competition for Tenma, Makoto Kino be rival." Shampoo silently added her Great-Grandmother and Tenma Kazeno to that list. It was in genre for the heroes to win, but not all to survive.

Usagi blinked and watched another set of explosions reaching for them as the two exited the citadel into the cold air beyond.

Behind them, two cats, one with her tail on fire, exited from another tunnel.

-----------

Beryl lifted herself from the smouldering ruin of her throne and staggered upright. Scarred, dying, and low on power, she still possessed enough energy to summon a clairvoyance globe. There were those filthy Senshi, escaping the destruction of the citadel that still raged around her.

Dark Queen Beryl fancied herself an epic villain, and there are certain things expected of epic villains. One of those things is the Vengeful Rant. "You think you can attack me personally and escape? Fools! All it will take me is a few moments to stabilize the web of magic here and I will awaken great Metal'la from the slumber I have bound her in. You and this world will be consumed by the forces therein and I shall..."

Two gloved hands grabbed Beryl's head from behind as a blistered leg swept in to lock the Dark Queen in place. There was a twisting motion accompanied by a grisly little noise. Beryl fell.

Sailor Jupiter looked down at the Dark Queen, noting the surprised look on Beryl's face. "I don't think so."

Looking up at the underground palace collapsing around her, Sailor Jupiter managed a bloody smile even as she sank to her knees. She'd been reincarnated once, was it too difficult to believe that it would happen again? "Next time... I promise!"

----Mimir's Well--------

Edema frowned as she passed Miya a cucumber sandwich. "That doesn't look very cheerful at all."

A short distance away, Grey watched as the temporary line merged with a more major line.

------------------------ Newly merged timeline: MM- 547146

Lita Storm rubbed sleep out of her eyes, feeling as if she had just come through a major battle instead of a "bachelorette party" for her friend Rae. A glance over at where Rae was sprawled revealed that she *still* had that Wedding Dress Mars doll nearby. Except that today it was Rae herself who would be wearing a real version of the same.

Lita's eyes focussed on the doll, and a memory rolled over her. "Tenma..."

Sitting back on her futon, Lita wondered what she was going to do about *this* development.

------------------------ author's notes: first off, i *like* Makoto Kino. The young romantic whose heart gets constantly stepped on, yet recovers to try again. The friend who tries but gets overwhelmed through no fault of self - a role i can readily identify with as i spent years like that. hmmm. Makoto (SM) + Krillyn (DB)? It would have to be prior to meeting 18. This was one of those where i started writing, and it just went off on its own. This was intended as a Mirrors Multiplied tie-in once i started receiving C&C requests for a Tragic ending. In Mirrors Multiplied, for those unfamiliar with the story, Ranma has lived a thousand incarnations of himself. Some good lifetimes, some bad, some merely weird. In his current incarnation, he's about to marry Rae/Sailor Mars. (Among others.) mirrors multiplied can be found at: http://www.fortunecity.com/skyscraper/seagate/131/mirrors/

oh well.

OMAKE OMAKE OMAKE OMAKE

something i've been accussed of, that i thought might be fun to actually do intentionally. If Teresa, Cheryl, Glory, Patricia, or one of the other man-haters i've met recognize some of themselves in here, it's intentional as you've been such inspiration over the years.

WHAT IF AKANE *WAS* A "PSYCHO-BITCH"

"Kasumi, Nabiki, Ak..." Soun started, then reconsidered. "Kasumi! Nabiki!"

Kasumi demurely took a seat at one end of the table, Nabiki uneasily in the middle, and Akane flopped down at the end.

"Uhm, Akane, this, er, doesn't really concern you," Soun said uncertainly.

Akane glared at her father, taking this the wrong way. "Having a family meeting *without* me, father? You KNOW how I feel about that."

Soun swallowed nervously and decided to just bull ahead. "Kasumi, Nabiki, I've just received word that an old friend of mine is coming to visit and bringing his son, Ranma."

"A BOY?!" Akane growled angrily. "WHY do we have to put up with a MALE presence in the house? It's bad enough that there are BOYS at school!"

"I-I-I'm sorry, Akane. It's a matter of honor that the Tendo and Saotome families be united, so if Nabiki or Kasumi marries him..."

"WHAT?! How DARE you make such an arrangement!"

"Is he cute?" Nabiki wanted to know.

"Oh my," said Kasumi with a slight smile. There was a chance to get out of this house?

"It's an arranged marriage. It's not unheard of." Soun cringed.

"Do you HONESTLY expect me to sit still for this?" Akane wondered if she had been too lax with her father of late. Males needed to be put in their place, unfortunately the law would only allow her to go so far in that regard.

"...but of course, I'd never consider you for such a thing, Akane." Soun quickly said, after all they were supposed to *unite* the two schools. If Genma's son turned up missing some day, then there wouldn't be much uniting done.

"WHAT?! Are you saying I'm not good enough?"

"Oh no, Akane. I'm sure father was just thinking about providing for us." Kasumi shifted slightly, trying to favor the injured leg. Akane hadn't meant to break it in three places, she just got enthusiastic. Kasumi was mainly sure about this.

"LEMMEE GO YOU OLD FOOL!"

"OH! It must be Ranma!" Nabiki ran for the door. First come, first served. First away from Akane.

Akane watched Kasumi start limping towards the door and felt a momentary pang of guilt. No, if she were to save Kasumi from a loveless relationship, she had to keep her from spending time around Doctor Tofu. A few threats to the Doctor kept him from doing much (other than falling apart) and eventually Kasumi would realize the truth. As an American feminist had once stated "the only true love is that between two women, everything else is rape."

"Lemmee go, you're scaring 'em spitless!" A short person being carried along by a panda caused Nabiki and Soun to run back along the hallway.

The short person indicated this this *was* indeed Ranma Saotome. Then Nabiki made an observation about the newcomer's gender. Soun and Nabiki started arguing, but upon Nabiki's discovery that the boy was actually a girl, Akane's attitude transformed.

"You *can't* be a girl!" Nabiki held the girl by her shirt and was shaking her. "You *can't* be! The kami can't be that cruel!"

"No..." Kasumi sniffled. There went her chance.

Ranma looked at the two older girls and wondered exactly what was going on here.

"Oooo. You're cute," Akane said, already thinking of ways to find out how this newcomer would look without her clothes. And once she was sufficiently "broken", there would be many pleasures she could explore at leisure. If the girl *was* a martial artist, then she'd be a little more durable than most of Akane's previous recipients of affection.

Akane smiled. "Hey, you're a martial artist. You want to see the dojo? I'm Akane, do you want to be... friends?"

Kasumi and Nabiki winced as they watched Akane lead Ranma out.

"Father, this is such a disappointment." Kasumi sighed. She was the oldest, she was the one her father should be arranging to be married first.

"No duh! Really Father, did you think we were *all* lesbian psychopaths?" Nabiki could admit that she *might* bend in more than one direction, but whips and chains and fish-hooks were *not* her style.

"But I thought Genma's son was a boy!" Soun watched the puzzled-looking panda briefly. "Well, Akane won't kill another girl, so that's *some* consolation."

"I thought I'd have an excuse to get away," grumbled Nabiki. "A chance to get away. Do you have any idea what I have to go through when Akane isn't getting any from those girls at school?"

"Or when she hasn't been able to 'vent' on any males," Kasumi added, rubbing her knee.

"Look! Akane's chasing the girl around the backyard."

"So, she's a better martial artist than Akane?"

"Hmmmm," hmmmed Soun.

"Needs to work on her 'avoiding large thrown blunt objects' skills," noted Kasumi as a stone lantern connected with Ranma's head.

Akane immediately grabbed the girl up and shook her, threatening worse if the shorter girl ever crossed her again.

"Well, maybe she can get a bath, then maybe I ought to warn her to leave while she's got a chance."

"Don't do that, Nabiki, you *know* how poorly Akane will take that."

The panda blinked.

-------------------

"Well, your problem isn't so bad is it?" Soun laughed. "These are my daughters. Kasumi, Nabiki, and, er, Akane. Pick the one you want and she'll be your new fiancee."

Akane drew a finger across her throat and mouthed the word "die." Give her half a chance and *she* would show this fake-girl what she thought of the male gender. She wouldn't kill him, but all sorts of "accidents" could be arranged. Or he could be taught the same lesson those jerks at school had. She only had to come near the gates before the (lowly disgusting) males fled like the vermin they were.

"I... I don't have time for this, I need to go back to China and look for a cure!" Ranma got up, preparing to exit stage right.

"What a wonderful idea!" Nabiki produced a backpack out of nowhere. "The perfect chance for me to get to know my fiance better!"

"Nabiki, we have to let Ranma choose." Kasumi shouldered her own backpack. "I've always wanted to see China, anyway."

"What?!" Ranma managed as he was dragged out the door by two girls.

Akane blinked. "But... I just got some new toys..."

Genma glanced over at his old buddy Soun, who had a cigarette in his mouth and a blindfold covering his eyes. "Uhm."

---------------------

"I can walk by myself!"

Kasumi and Nabiki stopped dragging Ranma.

"Well, come on, Ranma. China and your cure is waiting."

"Oh, uh, right..." Ranma said hesitantly after a moment. He wasn't at all sure about this, but oyaji could stay with his friend and he could go to China and get cured.

That didn't sound so bad. Certainly it could have been worse.

ALTERNATE ENDING FOR MIRRORS REFLECTED: SHADOWS ON THE MOON

----Mimir's Well-------------

Edema went over and changed the "channel", bypassing the armored figure of her depressed friend. "Honestly, can't we find something a bit more cheerful here!"

Label: RN-30701

Cologne watched as Shampoo was knocked from the Challenge Log and landed on the ground. The Outsider Girl was declared the winner, but was looking a bit sad.

Shampoo, no doubt conscious of all the Elders watching, gave the Kiss Of Death to the Outsider Girl. This naturally shocked all of those present, as someone with less pride would have come up with a different solution. Once done, though, it was pretty much set in stone.

The Outsider looked shocked for a moment, then began to tremble. Then, to the complete and utter shock of everyone present, launched herself at Shampoo to engage in a brief RETURN kiss and a heavy glomp.

Cologne noted that the Outsider was babbling in Japanese. That finally someone accepted her, that she finally had a friend, that somehow Shampoo had known that she was really a guy (?!), that all her life she had been unwanted and alone except for her stupid father, that getting cursed and all had just been too much for her to handle, and that this was the happiest moment in what had been a horrible horrible life.

Cologne also noted that Shampoo was turning blue and gasping for air as the Outsider was apparently not aware of how tightly she was gripping the Amazon. "Uhm, pardon me, young lady."

"Oh, you speak Japanese," the Outsider didn't let loose of the glomp but turned a happy tearful face towards Cologne. "My name is Ranma. Ranma Saotome. This has been just so... and then this wonderful wonderful girl..."

"Uhm, young sir," the Guide had apparently finally recovered enough to speak. "That one just give you Kiss Of Death."

"Excuse me," Ranma said, her grip loosening and the smile and life draining from her face. Shampoo collapsed in her arms, apparently unconscious. "What?"

"That one just give you Kiss Of Death. Is promise to track you to ends of Earth, and KILL." The Guide sounded a little reluctant. Cologne couldn't blame him. It was along the lines of finding a friendly previously abused puppy and then beating on said puppy. Chinese delicacy or not, a lot of Amazons didn't eat dog meat due to similar squeamishness.

Cologne wasn't the only one to take a few steps back at the howl of despair and look of betrayal on the redhead's face. She hadn't heard such a "lost soul" wail in quite a few years, the level of grief there communicated even across the language barrier quite effectively. Cologne caught the dropped Shampoo before she hit the ground, but when she looked up, this "Ranma Ranma Saotome" was a speck running down the road with her panda.

The other Amazons were still standing around trying to figure out what had just transpired.

"Tigar! Track them. Sugar, that was the Jusenkyo Guide, go check his registry and if he ends up back there, be sure he knows that I want to speak to him immediately. Spice, get Lilac, I'll want Shampoo checked before I let her go chasing down those two." Cologne silently added that this was also a stalling tactic. If what she was suspecting was true, then Shampoo would have to change which Kiss she had given. Besides, she had to check the Laws herself.

What did it mean when the Amazon was defeated by an Outsider Girl and gave the Kiss Of Death only to get the Kiss Of Life in return? And if the Outsider Girl was an Outsider Boy? And (again just a suspicion) an *abused* child such as could be adopted into the tribe?

This could be complicated.

-------------

"Hmmm, not quite," said Edema. "How about..."

------------- Label: RAN-SM 547146

"Fiancee? Pfeh, I ain't got time for fiancees!" The redhaired girl made a rude gesture to her companion. "I've got to go back to China."

"But it's been arranged since before your birth! A pledge of honor made between your family and hers. Your mother and her mother made the pledge when they were in high school! It's a matter of honor and duty!"

"I. Don't. Care!"

"She's cute."

"I said I don't... How cute? NO, this is just gonna be another lame plot of yours, ain't it?"

"Cute and graceful, talented, strong but feminine."

"Really?" The redhead had stopped her trudging away. "No. I gotta get back to China and find a cure. That crazy chick's liable to have stopped chasing us by now."

Time to use the trump card. This might not be accurate, but he knew what had to be done. "She's a good cook too."

"A good cook?" Ranma stopped, hair dripping from the cold rain.

"We can go back to China AFTER you've met her. That also gives us more chance of missing Shampoo."

Ranma looked back to his longtime companion. "What's your real motivation, Artemis?"

"Well, she's one of the Princesses we've got to help protect. Her name is Minako Aino."

---------------

Edema blinked. "Artemis was one of the cats thrown into the pit? Well, it's closer at least. Let's try..."

Label: RAN-SM-MK-SF 547148

-----September 20,1992-------

"NO! If I can't bring Tenma into this, you can do without Sailor Jupiter. He lives with me, he trusts me, he's my sensei! I will *not* continue lying to him," Makoto slapped her hand onto the table and glared at the cat. "Do you have any idea how much this is tearing us apart? I can't even deny all the rumors that are going around the school because he might figure it out. Either let me tell him or find someone else for the job!"

Luna, for her part, wasn't backing down. "It's entirely too dangerous, Jupiter. This boy isn't even of the Silver Millenium, how can you trust him? If you *did* tell him, he would want to get involved, wouldn't he? And what good could he do against a youma?"

Makoto faltered, the image of Tenma being ripped apart by a youma's claws unsettling her. "I..."

Ami mustered her courage, and instead of remaining silent as she had on a neighboring timeline, spoke up. "The henshin pens and other tools we have. These are the result of long periods of R&D, are they not?"

"Well, yes," Artemis allowed. "It took vast amounts of time and energy to create and empower them. The same with the Mercury Computer and Moon Sceptre."

"Then," Ami said, taking a deep breath before continuing, "there are other Items Of Power. Any Development project would have turned out lesser prototypes and tools. The Moon Kingdom was a matriarchy, but any similar governmental setup will have had advisors, councillors, even bodyguards. You've also stated that while the Senshi were the Moon Princess' guards and servants, that there were the corrupted generals from Earth Kingdom who served Endymion in a like capacity."

"Which is why you can't trust males!" Luna quipped.

"Beryl, our principal opponent in all this, is not of the male persuasion. Unless you're suggesting she's a crossdresser? No." Ami's voice developed a certain degree of strength as she continued, treating this as a scientific debate or essay was helping. "So, there were other servants besides the Senshi. And more tools than we currently have."

"Mercury has her computer, Usagi has her sceptre AND Luna, shouldn't *I* have some gadget or weapon too?"

"You've got me, Venus!"

"The way you keep ragging on Tenma, whom *I* consider a close personal friend, that isn't nearly as much of a plus as you consider." Minako frowned prettily at the white mooncat. "I was thinking more along the line of a Venus Hurt-You-Real-Bad Cannon."

"What kind of servants would we have had in the Moon Kingdom?" asked Usagi in a quiet aside of Ami.

Ami blinked and started typing furiously on her keyboard.

"No such thing," said Artemis of Minako's cannon request. "Honestly, I..."

"Got it," said Ami, turning her Mercury Computer around so that all could see the display. "I ran a search routine. The SENSHI had their own servants, mainly to do the 'scut work' around the palace and their high level servitors had to be able to act with some degree of autonomy. I just now finally found a trigger phrase to pull up a display of Jupiter's 'seneschal' and look what I found."

Artemis and Luna gulped and attempted to look innocent. Of course, this made them look more guilty.

There, standing behind Princess Jupiter, was an old man in simple clothes who wore bracers emblazoned with the symbol for Jupiter.

"What about him? Is he around nowadays, too?"

"He would have died when the Kingdom of Jupiter fell. Prior to the Millenial Spell being cast with the Crystal." Luna's own feline curiosity and desire to seem the wise advisor overwhelmed her desire to remain silent. "The bracers are obviously magical but wouldn't have nearly the power of a Senshi transformation."

"So, I'm suggesting," Makoto said sweetly, "that we let Ranma know about our little group, and if he wants to fill a role similar to Tuxedo Mask and mainly act as support, we get him those bracers."

"But..." Luna said in reflexive protest.

"He'd do almost anything for Makoto, you know," mused Minako. "I think we've got to at least TRY to salvage their relationship."

"But..." Artemis began.

"Okay, maybe he doesn't have the power level we do in Senshi form. That doesn't make him useless, does it? And how many times in these fights could we have used some help?" Ami nodded at her own summation of the situation.

"But..." said Artemis and Luna simulaneously.

"Hmmmm," Usagi said thoughtfully. "You know, while that Tenma guy isn't *nearly* as cute as Tuxedo Mask-sama, it would be nice to have someone else available to do rescues. On the other hand, wouldn't it be nice to have someone ELSE go fight youma for a change?"

"But the Senshi are most effective fighting as a team, reliant on no one but each other! As the Senshi your lives are completely devoted to the Princess," Luna was trying her best to project convincing. "Outside lives, commitments, friendships, these would all have detracted from your duties!"

Usagi seemed to consider something. "Luna. If we don't have anyone we can love, no outside friends, no life, wouldn't we be nearly as bad as the Dark Kingdom?"

"No! Don't even think that!" Luna was aghast at the very thought of such a thing. "The Dark Kingdom are energy vampires, who would conquer the world and set up something along the lines of a military dictatorship and..."

"Well," Makoto said, her glare cutting Luna off. "I'd say we need to make some changes so that the Dark Kingdom isn't able to cause any rifts in the Moon Kingdom THIS time." Makoto held up her right index finger. "When we find the Princess, we'll serve her, but we DO get to keep our boyfriends!"

Minako held up two fingers. "We get to keep friends and outside interests!"

Ami reluctantly held up three fingers. "I still want to be a doctor, so we can have careers outside of guarding the Princess."

Thinking of Naru and Umino, her newest non-Senshi friends, Usagi held up four fingers. "We get to keep our friends."

All four said the same thing in unison. "Or in the name of the Moon, we'll punish you!"

Artemis and Luna agreed that for some reason it didn't sound nearly as silly directed at THEM like that.

-------September 21, 1992---------

Sailor Jupiter waved her hand in front of Tenma's eyes. No blinking. "Oh my."

It took five minutes before a grin slowly spread on Tenma's face. "It *wasn't* another guy like Hiroko said."

"No," Makoto agreed, knowing that many of her classmates had been giving Tenma this misinformation.

"It wasn't a mass lesbian love affair like Akemi and Kensuke said." Tenma relaxed slightly. "They were so convincing..."

There was a synchronized blink at that.

"Akemi's the one who uses the plaid ribbon in her hair, right?" Minako looked thoughtful.

"And Kensuke is the guy who's got the 'Lyonsflare' cloissone pin on his school uniform, right?" Makoto likewise looked thoughtful.

"Man, those two laid out quite a case, even photos of you four sneaking off to the gym supply room," Tenma gave a deep sigh. "I am *so* glad they were wrong. Heck, even Umino and Naru were beginning to have..." "AHHHHH! If that sort of rumor reaches my parents!" Usagi looked stricken.

"Hurt," suggested Makoto.

"Oh my," remarked Ami.

"Kill," indicated Minako, half-seriously.

"Actually, that was pretty much the case in the Silver Millenium," said Artemis from where he was hiding.

"Who?" Ranma looked around.

"My cat talks," warned Minako. "That's him in the closet." Then her eyes widened as she considered what the mooncat had said.

Ami and Rei exchanged a glance that said that here was something ELSE to change from the Moon Kingdom days.

"AAAAAAA! C-c-c-cat?!"

"Ranma, we've really got to work on that problem of yours."

--------December 31, 1992----------

"Ten-chan, you know we're being followed, right?"

"Yes, Mako-chan. One who's pretty good at remaining hidden, and another one a little further back."

"What, two of 'em?" Makoto started to look back but caught herself.

"Positive on that," Ami agreed, using a useful skill of walking and typing on her laptop at the same time. "No indication of Dark Kingdom energies, but they may be martial artists or supernaturals concealing their abilities."

"When we turn this corner, continue on. I'll duck into the alley, wait for the second one to go by. That way, I should get a good look at both." Ranma silently vowed that if they WERE supernatural types, they wouldn't get a chance at Mako-chan's friends.

"Think they're after us? They might be tracking YOU, Ten-chan."

Rei was a recent recruit, and was bound and determined to show her usefulness. "I'll hide. If they're after the Senshi, then they might not expect me. If they're after you, they won't even notice me."

"No," Tenma said simply.

"We're not fragile, you know! Luna tells me that the Senshi did just fine before you got involved!" Rei glared at Tenma, sure that this was just pure male-foolishness.

"True, but I'm the one who's been going to the various matches. If they're in the streetfighter circuit or their among the supernaturals, I've got the best chance. If it's gonna be a Senshi, I'd say Ami would be the best choice."

"What?!" Ami blinked, looking up.

"With your computer, at short range, you could get much more accurate readings." Tenma nodded. That he felt like protecting them was beside the point and he really didn't feel like having them do that transformation thingie and start demonstrating how UNfragile they were. Not again. At least not this week.

Though Tenma thought that was preferrable to Makoto giving him the Hurt Look. Or worse, the Hurt Look & The Speech. A hissatsu waza (finishing move) if ever there was one.

"Sounds good, Tenma," Minako agreed. "Think they're working together?"

"Don't think so," Tenma said as they turned the corner. "Now!"

The girls continued forward, walking forward as if nothing was unusual, and that the boy with them hadn't leapt up and caught himself on a ledge on the second floor of the building.

The first pursuer eased around the corner a moment later and stopped to look for something.

Tenma noticed this and figured the jig was up. HE was the one being stalked, and he recognized the one doing the stalking. He dropped, noting that the stalker was moving into a defensive position the moment he did so.

"Ranma," said Shampoo quietly, repeating it louder a moment later.

"The name is 'Tenma' now," corrected the boy confronting her.

Shampoo wasn't sure what to do now. She'd gotten lucky and ran across him at a martial arts match, but now what? "You listen. Shampoo need talk to you."

"RRRANNNMAAA!" The bishonen fellow who had been tracking Shampoo came running forward as soon as the overheard name penetrated. "FOR TEN YEARS OF HUNTING..."

Shampoo shook her bonbori and the assailant staggered back.

"Ou smished by node!" The fellow with the large spatula held his nose and glared at Shampoo AND Ranma now.

"Let me guess, you're now with the Dark Kingdom, here to get revenge on me?" Tenma looked at this boy and tried to figure out why he looked familiar.

"Huh? Beah bat's wight! Cwose enuff."

"SUPREME THUNDER!"

Shampoo and Tenma looked down at the fellow in the smouldering clothes with the partially melted large spatula.

"Oh wow, Sailor Jupiter! So good to see you again!" Tenma frowned at the seifuku clad warrior. The sarcasm was thick enough to cut. "Don't you think this guy was a little too much of a pushover to be a Dark Kingdom general?"

"Urkle," agreed the boy, realizing that "no" would have been a much more reasonable response. He made a mental note that: "when someone asks you if you're a Dark Kingdom general, you say NO!"

"Shampoo not understand any of this, but Shampoo really need to talk to Ran...Tenma."

"Iblle!" The twitching boy on the ground made this announcement, but was having a bit of a hard time with the aftereffects of even a low power lightning bolt striking a metal spatula.

Tenma sighed. "Look there's a kissaten over there. Why don't we go take a booth, you can talk to me, then we can find out why the guy with the spatula fetish wants to kill me. Honestly, I think I need to get one of those 'take a number' gadgets sometimes. 'To kill Tenma Kazeno take a number and stand behind the red line.' I'll bet this is something that Mister Saotome did, no doubt." Tenma's voice went to muted grumbling briefly.

"Uhm, sorry, citizen," Sailor Jupiter recovered. "I was just passing through and heard something about a Dark Kingdom general. Err, uhm, I'll just be going now. Youma to fight and all, y'know."

A small group of untransformed high school girls groaned at the display. Makoto was getting to be a worse actor than Ranma...

-----January 6, 1993------

"Shampoo! How could you break our confidence like this!" Artemis glared up at the Amazon.

"We asked her to," said Minako after a few moments. Usagi, Rei, Makoto, Tenma immediately nodded in agreement. Ukyo shrugged as she hadn't been in on it.

"WHAT?!" Artemis would have turned white if he hadn't already been.

"Look, you and Luna REALLY seem to be way too stressed out and busy, so..."

Cologne chuckled as she watched the two cats go into a "kitten fit." Yes, this *would* be interesting. Hardly anyone at the Village ever asked her advise or much anything anymore. Here she had just arrived six hours ago and had already found three things that had delighted her. 1) They listened. She spoke of tactics and Amazon lore, and special martial arts manuevers, and a rapt audience had developed. Admittedly the boy was more interested in the special manuevers than anything else, but each of the girls showed enormous interest in one or more of the Arts that she had learned. Cologne had often delighted in the role of teacher, and here were students of Great Promise. 2) It had been YEARS since she had been invited over for dinner or had people trying to be friendly towards her. That Usagi may be a bit of a ditz, but was quite friendly and nice and respectful (well mainly) towards her. Maybe she was just being flattered to convince her to be an advisor, but it warmed her heart nonetheless. Besides, that girl wasn't sufficiently clever to be doing this out of subterfuge. 3) There was a Cause here, and it was a worthy one. She was playing a part in a life or death struggle that could determine survival for thousands at the very least. Cologne wasn't sure how many years she had left in her, but was quite taken with the idea that if she had to go - she'd do it in proper Amazon fashion. In a blaze of glory so bright that her enemies would still be looking over their shoulders a decade after her death, just in case it had been a trick.

Jon Talbain watched her from his position across the room. The werewolf wasn't quite sure what to make of the dried up old troll, but when she recognized his curse and told him of methods to control the Beast and mute its bloodlust... Well, he was a sucker for a sob story anyway. And if the werewolf's bloodlust was sated on these youma creatures, then innocents wouldn't be harmed.

Frank grumbled slightly. This was mainly because he'd fallen asleep again.

-------------------

He knew exactly where he was. A martial arts dojo where he could fight the current champion, win, and then get lodgings for the night. Not that he recognized this particular one, but there were so many of these little family dojo, and he had proven himself against so many of them. As to where he was otherwise, he was lost.

"RANMA SAOTOME, THIS IS ALL YOUR FAULT!" Hmmm, as far as battlecries went, it was lacking a little but it would do. It *did* have an oddly satisfying ring to it.

"Ranma Saotome?" The dojo's owner blinked. So did the panda on the sidelines. "You know Ranma Saotome?"

"Thanks to him, I have been through HELL!" Righteous Declaration Stance, one, two, switch to Pose Of Barely Controlled Fury. (Hmmmm, that Martial Arts Interpretive Dance stuff is pretty addictive.) "I shall make him suffer before he dies, no matter WHAT he is calling himself nowadays!"

"You've seen him recently then?"

Ryoga Hibiki glanced towards the speaker and appreciated the girl's beauty for a moment. Though there was something about her that spoke of danger, just not a physical danger. "Why, has he destroyed your lives too?" (More to hold against that damn Ranma! The list grows endless!)

"He abandoned his father and his fiancee!" Soun Tendo began weeping copious amounts. "I would have gotten them married by now!"

A frying pan flew from the house to impact upon Soun's head. "THERE'S NO WAY I'D MARRY A COWARD LIKE THAT!"

"Akane's in the kitchen," Nabiki noted aloud.

"Saotome!" Soun shook his head as he picked himself off the ground. "We must hurry without delay to fetch your wayward son! We'll have the wedding as soon as we drag him back."

The panda growfed and held up a backpack.

"Uhm," Ryoga started to run things through in his head. A panda? Where had he seen a panda like this before? "But he's in Azabu Juuban..."

"No time to waste," Soun declared.

"Going somewhere, boys?" A short little man appeared out of nowhere.

Soun switched from Cry#34 "The Schools Will At Last Be United" to Cry #7 "My Youngest Daughter Is Fixing Dinner And Wouldn't This Be A Good Time To Visit Out Of Town Relatives?" It was hard to hear his voice under the sound of running water but one got used to it around Soun. "Ranma is in Azabu Juuban. Where did you say he was?"

"Crossroads High School. He's going by a different name now." Ryoga looked around and wondered if this wasn't the Addams Family Dojo again. No, it said "Tendo Dojo of Indiscriminate Grappling" on the sign. (Hmmm. Sounds kinda etchi.)

"We'll camp out in the schoolyard! Come on, Saotome!"

"Hmmm, young schoolgirls..." The little fellow seemed to vanish in a blur of motion.

"Uhm," said Ryoga as the two older men vanished in a cloud of dust. "But I wanted to challenge the dojo." Besides, he'd never catch up with those two.

"I'll fight you," said a girl's voice. Ryoga tentatively identified it as the one who'd thrown the frypan.

Ryoga turned and looked over this new girl. Going through dojo challenges had allowed him to assess this girl's threat potential quickly. "Hmph. Pathetic."

"Pathetic?!" The girl stopped in shock at the door of the dojo.

"Pathetic," repeated Ryoga. "Don't waste my time. Not even a decent warmup."

"You'd better take me seriously," said Akane angrily as she took a basic stance. "I'm no pushover."

"I don't fight girls anyway. Why don't you go back to cooking and leave the fighting to men?"

"You see women as weak and fragile, then?" Nabiki smirked as she watched Akane.

"Well, of course," agreed Ryoga, glad that one of the girls was being reasonable. The other had gotten angrier at the question and still angrier at the answer. Girls, who could figure them?

Nabiki nodded. "Begin."

Ryoga gave way as the angry girl began an appropriately furious assault. Before long he realized that he would *have* to fight back. He lightly struck the girl over the head with his umbrella, and was satisfied when she went stiff and glazed in the eyes.

"Timberrrrrr," said Nabiki, clearly unable to resist. As soon as Akane hit the floor in almost exactly the same manner as a felled tree, Nabiki was checking on her sister.

"She should be okay. I held back. Now, as I have defeated the dojo's champion, I get the dojo sign. Or, you can keep the sign, but I'll expect room and board for the night."

"Is that how this works?" Nabiki shrugged.

"You cheated!" Akane groaned. "I wasn't ready. You used a weapon. Let's try that again."

"Owie!"

"That was just a simple grappling throw, but then she's not much of an opponent," said Ryoga sadly. He needed strong opponents otherwise he'd lose his edge and he'd need every edge he could get to defeat Ranma.

"T-take that back!" Akane slowly got to her feet. "You won't beat me this time! NOW I'm ready for you."

"Please stop. I don't enjoy picking on the weak."

"Aaaaaaaa!"

Nabiki looked at the holes in the dojo wall. "I declare the challenger to have won. Hmmm. She's out cold. Hey, Mister Challenger, can you help me move her inside? I'll see if there's anything edible in the kitchen."

----January 7th, 1993--------

"THERE! That's got to be him, Tendo!"

"You sure about that, Saotome? He looks taller, more muscular, more..."

"Of course, Tendo. Don't forget, this is our chance to unite the two schools!"

Soun was a little bit cautious. "Who are all those women with him?"

"Sh-Shampoo?!" Genma's eyes bugged as he noticed the Amazon huntress chatting amiably with another girl. And was that a troll on a stick hopping along behind the group?

"What kind of loose morals have you taught your son, Saotome? Look at the way those two are hanging onto each other's arms. I may puke just from the warm-and-fuzzy levels here!"

"HOTCHA!"

Soun flinched. Genma flinched. Both hunkered down a little further into their concealment.

"Maybe we should wait, Saotome."

"Indeed, Tendo. Information IS the first principle of any conflict."

Soun's eyes widened as he watched from between the leaves. "Saotome? Isn't that an Anything Goes stance?"

"IT'S A DEMON!" One of the girls was busy proclaiming at the top of her lungs.

Genma felt a moment of relief at the girls breaking stance and fleeing, but then the little troll-on-a-stick started fighting the Master.

The appearance of several girls in cheerleader outfits distracted the dreaded Master. "Whoa momma, come to Happi!" "BURNING MANDALA!"

Happosai dodged easily to the left. Genma's eyes bugged.

"SUPREME THUNDER!"

Happosai flipped quickly up over the lightning. Soun's jaw dropped.

"VENUS LOVE ME CHAIN!"

Happosai danced back and gathered himself for the remaining few yards.

Just as they'd rehearsed for dealing with fast opponents. "MOON TIARA ACTION!"

Genma and Soun began to cry as they saw their dread Master, the founder of their style of martial arts, get slammed into a wall by some magic frizbee. The statements about how terrible this was seemed at a distance from the way they were dancing around.

Of course, that meant that they had left their concealment. Unnoticed by them, Tenma saw his father, scowled, and entered school while the Senshi changed back. He felt, not without some justification, that he had enough problems without having to deal with HIM again.

Tenma also felt, again not without some justification, that this meant that Genma Saotome would be trying to run his life again.

Or should that be *ruin* Tenma's life again?

Tenma began to consider ways to negate these little plans. One, something he'd thought of a few times, seemed a near perfect way to make sure he wasn't married off to someone he didn't know.

----------------

Happosai moaned, pulled himself out of the rubble he'd made out of a segment of the outer school wall, and considered a change of tactics.

Those girls, that shriveled monkey, those girls, those odd attacks, those girls, that boy that those two useless pupils had indicated was Ranma, but especially those girls! Beautiful long-legged young maidens. Taut, well rounded, lithe, an eyeful even when they were trying to blast him to a fine red paste.

Time for Happi to do what Happi did best. Sneak, steal, and ogle. He needed a recharge.

-----------------

"Shampoo no want go school. Want to find powerup!"

"I told you, Shampoo, we need to do this... Excuse me?"

The thickly built man and the dark haired one were blocking the entry to the school. After studying them for a moment, the portly fellow adjusted his glasses and spoke. "Uhm, where to begin?"

"You were with Ranma, weren't you? We need to find him immediately, it is a matter of the *utmost* importance." Soun rushed in where Genma was cautious.

Usagi spoke first. "We gotta get to class!"

"But we..."

The tall girl rushed between the two, and the remainder followed. One girl apologized as they sped into the building.

"Well, Tendo?"

"We'll just have to go from room-to-room, won't we?"

Genma looked at the three story building. "Maybe we should wait. We can attack when they leave."

"And he'll marry Akane just like we planned!"

"Of course, Saotome, we simply have to convince our errant children that Father knows best."

----------------

Tenma looked at his friends, nodded, then opened the door. He was a little surprised not to be immediately pounced on, but wasn't going to look a gift horse in the mouth.

Cologne hopped out of the bushes, not having any idea what these two were doing other than they were talking about ambushing HER pupil. That would be fine and good, but the two cats had told her (however reluctant they were to trust outsiders, they were discovering that the ancient Amazon was capable of basic military strategy) of some youma problems. First things first. THEN these two fools could help her train her charges, however unknowingly on their part.

What was of more concern to Cologne was the presence of her old "friend" Happosai.

One can choose one's friends. Relatives, neighbors, and enemies were more difficult propositions. Perhaps he had gotten better with age, like red wine? Or like white wine, had he merely turned to vinegar?

Happosai himself, bounding across the courtyard with what looked like the Girls' Tennis Club in hot pursuit, was sufficient answer. No help from that quarter after all.

------------------

"Perhaps we should get the girls," said Soun after finally awakening.

"Why involve them? I'm sure that between the two of us, we can drag my ungrateful son back." Genma groaned as a familiar "pins-and-needles" sensation shot through the leg that had been pinned under him. "After we've had a chance to recover."

"Because this *does* involve them." Soun frowned. "Besides, do you remember the days when the Master sent us into the mountain villages to forage?"

"So that while they were beating on us, the Master could slip in and out and raid everything. I remember it well, Tendo." Genma grinned. "Perfect, while everyone is beating on your daughters, we can capture my errant son."

"Beat. On. My. Daughters?!" Soun went from speculative to full demon-head mode without approaching any state in between.

"B-b-but, Tendo, you said..."

"I was speaking ONLY of having them distract the other girls. HOW DARE YOU SUGGEST WE SEND THEM INTO DANGER?!"

"Errr. I was just kidding?"

"Actually, boys, if you want to know where to find that boy," Happosai dropped down onto Genma's head, "I happened to see where he went with his friends."

"Ah, perfect, Master! How wonderful."

"Yes, Tendo, this time for sure. We'll force our stubborn children to marry!"

"Of course, Nabiki DID say that Akane had announced at school that 'she would rather marry Kuno than that coward who had fled in the middle of the night' so maybe we should choose Nabiki or Kasumi." Soun broke off to look thoughtful. Actually he was just trying to figure out what Happosai's motive was for being helpful.

"I thought she was just making the point that she'd rather remain celibate for the rest of her life than have anything to do with my son. Which, of course, makes them the perfect couple." Genma considered this. Certainly all the chances Akane took to protest the arrangement and the male gender in general indicated that she was the passionate sort. Reminded him of his own relationship with Nodoka, or the way *his* parents had laid into each other. Ah, the tears Genma's mother had shed when she realized that she had beaten his father into a ragged red pulp - proof of their great love.

"True, Saotome, quite true. Why, I remember when I'd leave change on the floor, and my dear wife would use the shinnai," a fresh bout of tears erupted from the Tendo patriarch. "The way she wielded common kitchen implements as instruments of torture. How I miss her!"

Happosai looked askance at his two pupils. Had they figured out that he wanted them to go in and kidnap the boy so that he, their Master, would be able to go in and fondle the young ladies without any outside interference? Why that tall one with the ponytail, or the one with the purple hair, or even that one with the bow in her hair! Sweeto!

"So, Master, where did you say my boy was hiding?"

-----------------

"Fight it, Tenma!" Sailor Jupiter held her lover close, feeling him tremble in her hands.

"Give it up, Stupid Senshi, now he belongs to the Dark Kingdom!" Zoicite postured from his position, on the roof of a midsized sedan. "He will serve the Dark Kingdom as well as Tuxedo Mask does!"

"No, Tenma, don't do it." Jupiter felt him begin to shove her away.

"He's now MINE!" Zoicite began the Maniacal Villain Laugh(tm) as it was apparent that Tenma was under his control. He stopped as something momentarily entered his mouth.

"Oops. Shampoo really sorry about that. Will try to put next arrow lower. Oh, that one too low. Very sorry, but Shampoo just not that good at this 'violence' stuff."

Even a few of the genderless youma were wincing at where that last arrow had struck.

"Impossible," squeaked Zoicite, from his new position curled up on the pavement. "Normal missles can't penetrate my defensive field..." He pulled the arrow out, discovering at that time that the arrowhead was barbed. He immediately summoned energies to regenerate, which caused some of the summoned youma to vanish.

"Shampoo know trick for charging weapon with chi. Make cloth like razor, make bonbori strike like wrecking ball, think maybe make arrow go through Dark Kingdom defensive field." Shampoo spared a glance at where Jupiter and Tenma were cuddled together. "Not that Shampoo is violent chick or anything like that!"

Ukyo looked over at Tenma and briefly entertained a thought of beating him up while he was collapsed like that. She was actually standing next to him when Fate took her life in a different direction.

"Moon, Mars!" Cologne called out from the sidelines, hoping they remembered some of her advice about combining attacks. "Combination: Moon Exorcism."

"Moon Princess Halation!" "Akuryo Taisan!"

A burst of white magic hit Ukyo, Tenma, and Jupiter at the same time.

---------------

"Here they come, just as the Master said!" Soun shifted further into the shadows.

"Ranma's unconscious! This is a Heaven sent opportunity." Genma gloated, thoughts of the boy's inheritance (when Ranma married) finally being within his reach. Then, if the boy died afterwards, his mournful father would have to take control of the money. Despite that the money being left to Ranma after marriage had been to specifically exclude Genma from the process.

Sure enough, their position outside what Happosai had insisted was Ranma's new home was proving accurate. A blonde girl and a purple-haired one were carrying Ranma, another blonde and a dark-haired girl were carrying some pony-tailed girl, and some older pair of guys were carrying some spatula-wearing girl.

"You sure they'll be okay? They've been out of it for a half hour or so now." The girl with the long dark hair seemed concerned.

"They're unconscious due to the conflict between the dark energies and the purification. They should be fine with a good night's sleep. Though maybe we ought to practice combining attacks a bit more before we use them again." A short haired girl stated, bringing up the rear with some troll.

"I've got the keys here, somewhere," said Minako, putting her burden down to search.

"Mako-chan's unconscious right? Well, did Tenma ask any of you about IT?" Usagi couldn't hold back any longer.

"What's 'it'?"

Genma blinked. He could have sworn the voice came from a little black kitty cat.

"He's getting ready to propose to Mako-chan!" Usagi hoped that this would give certain OTHER male associates of the Senshi ideas. Well, as soon as he was rescued, but Cologne had a Plan. That was a heckuva lot better than what Luna had come up with lately.

Makoto's eyes shot open as if an electrical charge had just been pumped into her. "REALLY?!"

"Nice going, odango-brain," Rei commented with her usual tact. She'd actually been the one to find the ring for Tenma, and she thought it would do fine. For now.

"Well, he wanted to know if I thought the ring was too plain..."

Makoto was still feeling weak, but was ready to go over and check Tenma's pockets. If she hadn't been firmly held by two of her friends she might have tried. Of course, she didn't realize that Rei was the one holding onto the ring.

"NO!" Luna groaned. Just what she needed. Now ALL of the Senshi would be getting all misty eyed and concentrating on other things than the fight against the Dark Kingdom.

Everyone was distracted, this was the perfect time to strike! Genma prepared to signal, noting that one of the guys was suddenly sniffing as if he smelled something suspicious.

"Sweeto!" Happosai crashed through the door to Makoto's apartment, carrying a large sack of something. He flipped past Minako (still fumbling with her purse), around Shampoo, bounced off Rei, and tumbled past Amy. Grabbing a quick feel or pat on each of the girls as he did so.

"YOU!" Cologne immediately began her pursuit of Happosai, a battleaura snapping into place around her. The two men shrugged and began their own pursuit.

Minako dropped her purse, staring off into space as if in shock. Shampoo took a deep breath. Rei reached into her sleeves and drew a set of spirit wards. Ami blinked.

"Dead man." "Shampoo no tolerate this." "Demons deserve no funeral." "KILL!"

Everyone conscious briefly stared at Ami before deciding that she had the right idea.

They were even more distracted. Now was the perfect time. "NOW TENDO!"

They dropped as one. Genma casually knocked aside the tall girl, who looked pretty unsteady anyway, to scoop his son up and begin running off with him. Soun did a quick legsweep, and followed his old friend a moment later.

"They got him, that was his father." Minako groaned as she picked herself up. "They're going to go back to that house he told us about."

"But I filled out all the paperwork, he's no longer legally a Saotome. He even has a different hanko now." Ami was slightly upset. There was no real choice here, though she would have liked to have gone after that pervert.

"Heck, the way Tenma sounded about his ex-father, he might not even wait for him to wake up before he marries him off or sells him again." Minako stopped as she heard a broken sound from Makoto.

"Someone help me up. I am not giving up without a fight."

-------------------

Tenma came to. Slowly. He was aided by the sound of a girl's voice raised in complaint.

"...coward and a pervert. I will *not* marry him!"

"I couldn't agree more," groaned Tenma as he lifted himself up.

"You *must* marry, it is a matter of family honor!" Soun glared at the awakening boy.

"Oh dear," Kasumi said from the sidelines, trying to cope with the situation.

"Yeah, right. Well, I got news for ya. I ain't a Saotome anymore." Tenma quickly explained the legal name change and change of status.

"This cannot be tolerated! As your father I will simply change your name back." Genma glared at his son. How dare he do something like this? What if Nodoka found out?

"Nope. Besides, there's a girl I already like..." Tenma said as he finished getting into a ready position.

"THAT'S RIGHT!" Someone came rushing into the room to perform a glomp on Tenma's right side.

"Who?"

"I'm Minako Aino, Tenma's cute fiancee!"

"WHAT?!" Three voices raised in astonishment.

"Oh miai!" Kasumi exclaimed a beat later.

"Th-this is of no consequence," Soun stated, shooting a glare at Genma. "The Saotome-Tendo engagement is a matter of family honor and has been..."

"Oh, TENMA-SAMA!"

"WHO ARE YOU?!" Akane squealed at someone who looked like a wimpy version of herself, with short hair, glomping Ranma's left side and calling him some strange name.

"I'm Ami Mizuno, Tenma's smart fiancee!"

Soun rounded on Genma. "WHAT KIND OF LOOSE MORALS..."

"TEN-CHAN! I'm so glad you're okay!"

Nabiki blinked from where she had been watching all this. "Let me guess. You're 'Tenma's' TALL fiancee?"

"Don't be silly. I'm Ten-chan's wife!" Makoto cuddled up against a Tenma who seemed to be paralyzed right at the moment.

"WIFE?!" Genma's jaw dropped and he started looking for someplace to hide.

"WIFE?!" Soun began to manifest his demon head attack.

"Wife? Congratulations," Akane said brightly, glad that she was off the hook.

"Airen!"

Nabiki blinked again and her mouth opened and closed twice before she could speak. "You wouldn't happen to be..."

"Tenma's cute AMAZON wife!"

Kasumi started to say "oh my", decided the situation was beyond such a phrase, and tried to think of something inoffensive she could say. "That must make for very crowded evenings."

A girl in Shinto priestess garb, and another girl (dressed in a seifuku with spatulas) grabbed a part of Tenma not currently covered.

Akane blinked. "When I said 'pervert' earlier, I was displaying a gift for understatement that appears almost criminal in level."

"Tenma's spiritual advisor." Rei winked at the girl who was trying to fill a cup of tea with what was apparently an empty teapot.

"Tenma's childhood buddy and other fiancee. Hello, Genma, I have something to discuss with the person who ran off with my dowry!" The seifuku clad girl rested a finger on one of the spatulas in her bandoleer suggestively.

"Huh?!" Tenma said with a gulp.

"I'm not a fiancee, nor do I play one on TV," Usagi announced, trying to step in from the backyard and tripping over the steps. "Aaaaa"

"Sa-sa-sa-SAOTOME?!" Soun was too shocked to even summon the "demon head" effect.

[I'm just a cute little panda.] The sign flipped. [Besides I've never seen any of them before in my life.]

"Oy vey," commented Kasumi, not entirely sure what the phrase meant but trying to branch out a little. She noticed that the tea she had been pouring was from an empty pot. "Oh darn."

"Daddy." Nabiki tried to be calm, collected, and in control of the situation. That her hair was now sticking up in wild cowlicks kind of blew the effect. "Exactly how many girls do you expect to marry Ranma?"

"SAOTOME! How many girls did you engage your son to?!" Soun wasn't sure what to look at, so found the familiarity of the panda to make for a good choice of target.

[Eh-to...] Sign flipped. [Recently?] Sign flipped again. [It must have slipped my mind.]

"Dozens," suggested Rei, happy to assist Makoto in this endeavor.

"Hundreds," indicated Minako, who also wanted to get even with the man who had slammed her face into the doorframe while kidnapping her friend's lover.

"More arriving each day," said Ami with a blush. It wasn't true. Hugging Tenma like this, though, felt... kinda nice. She happily snuggled a little closer.

"eep" said Tenma in a small voice.

Soun Tendo went past the level of maintainable shock-ability. He fainted.

"Saotome-san," said Tenma as he tried to pull himself back together. "I am no longer a Saotome. If it should prove necessary, I will join a monastery and swear the oaths that cut all ties of family and honor to become a Buddhist monk. If you attempt to interfere with my life, I will consider you my enemy."

[Stop speaking nonsense, boy.] The panda's sign flipped. [You're going to marry Akane and that's final!]

"Come on, Mako-chan. Let's get out of here." Tenma started to disengage himself from the various girls latched onto him, having to gently pry Ami off. Amazing how she was getting into her role!

"No rings," noted Nabiki. Her BS meter was indicating heavy levels of dishonesty. There was some real affection between the tall girl and Ranma/Tenma but *nobody* was wearing a ring. What to do about this? She wasn't too sure about two of them, she was getting the impression that her usual blackmail wouldn't work too well here. She needed more info first.

"Ai caramba." Kasumi was getting into this mental game now. It was something to think about that didn't involve the mental picture of: 1 (one) Ranma Saotome, sometimes girl 5 (five) other girls (Makoto, Ami, Minako, Shampoo, Ukyo) moaning, sweating, silk sheets, etc. shaken, not stirred, and probably served regularly. With a recipe like that, "oh my" just didn't cut it. Yes, Kasumi was trying very hard NOT to think of that scene.

Genma attempted to get up and interfere, when a spirit ward was slapped on his forehead. Nobody (even Rei!) was prepared for the yelp of pain as the panda went running off.

------------------

"Father, you need to stop. You've been crying for four hours, and Tenma left FIVE hours ago." Kasumi was a bit concerned about dehydration of the father, as well as warping of the wooden floor. It was weatherproofed but how long could it hold up?

"But the joining of the schools!" Soun wailed to the heavens. "Our family's honor - ruined! My lifelong dream - destroyed! All that money - out of reach!"

"Money?! How much are we talking about?"

"Well, my wife's mother's family had some wealth, but they disapproved of our marriage," began Genma.

"Well, THAT I can believe," said Nabiki drily. "So they cut you and her off from everything but a modest allowance?"

"Yes. Typical in such arrangements," agreed Genma, his own tears flowing. "Our child, on the other hand, once married, stood to inherit if he could prove himself capable..."

"Running the dojo would have done that," put in Soun. "And now.... Waaaaaaaaaa!"

"How much money are we talking about?" Nabiki wanted details.

"My wife's maiden name is... Otomi," Genma wiped crocodile tears away.

There was dead silence in the room.

"THAT boy is directly related to one of the Ten Families?!" Nabiki recognized the name, the chairman of the Bank Of Tokyo was an Otomi.

"Aiyah, so he can trace lineage back to the Imperial Family?" Kasumi considered the boy who had briefly been present and who had gone stalking off. Yes, it was possible that there had been a certain nobility in him.

"He's been kept intentionally ignorant of all this, so that he could become a skilled warrior, just like MY father," Genma's eyes misted over as he remembered his dad. How he'd get beaten on for any infraction by the loving hands of his father. He'd tried to keep up the tradition, but clearly he hadn't been lovingly harsh enough. "Hmmmph. So your wife grew up in luxury, samurai and daimyo, of noble blood. And she falls in love with YOU?!" Akane offered a silent prayer to the kami that SHE had the good taste to have a crush on someone like Doctor Tofu. Here was a powerful reminder that there were worse alternatives.

"Well... yes," Genma said, not seeing what her point was.

Nabiki pondered a moment. "Daddy. Twelve thousand yen for a solution to your problem."

"Eh?!" Both of the males in the room stopped weeping as if a switch had been thrown.

"A Saotome-Tendo joining of the Houses may *still* be possible," Nabiki said slowly. "Twelve thousand yen for me to research it."

"Waaaaaah! The family honor is dead and my daughter's trying to make a quick buck off the funeral!" Soun went back to crying.

"Nabiki. Father doesn't have that sort of money. You know that."

Nabiki sighed, knowing it was true. Still, she couldn't help but try to wrangle for the best deal she could. "Twelve hundred yen, then. He's got that stashed away for his cigarettes."

"DONE!" Soun exclaimed and placed the money on the table.

Nabiki used her confident "I've got all the answers" smirk. "You've just been scammed. He was telling the truth about changing his name, but as he's a minor there's only so much he could do. He'd have to know someone fairly important to overcome THAT obstacle. Therefore, Mister Saotome can get his name changed back without any trouble.

"Second. None of those girls was wearing a ring. From what I saw, most of them were a little uncomfortable being that physical with him. Most of whom looked a little guilty as the were looking at that tall girl. The tall girl looked VERY comfortable with him. So did the 'smart fiancee' and that girl with the red bow in her hair though they started out looking uncomfortable. The Amazon - MAYBE. The tall one - POSSIBLY. The rest I'd expect to turn out to just be friends who were out to pull one over on you."

"You hear that, Tendo!" Genma pulled himself up, a fire in his eye. "We can still drag the boy back here to unite the two houses!"

"Ahem." Nabiki held up a finger to caution them against this course of action, figuring that their chances of success as being less than 1%. Of course, by then it was too late and the two fathers were already out in single-minded pursuit of their goal. "Oh well. They can pay me later when that fails."

"You don't think they'll be able to beat him?" Akane was willing to admit that he was skilled, he had beaten her in that little dojo challenge. Even though it was likely some trick. But a few matches with Mister Saotome had impressed her with HIS skill level, that is, when he could be motivated to spar with her seriously.

"Even if they do, what then?" Nabiki regarded her empty teacup for a moment. "Suppose they do beat him unconscious. He has a home with friends who care about him at least enough to go through that little skit. Did you notice the way that the tall girl leaned into him? Well, unlike with all the others, he leaned BACK with her."

"I see," said Kasumi, setting a fresh kettle on a burner. It looked like it was going to be a long night.

-------------------

The train had been crowded, and everyone had noted Tenma nervously twitching most of the way back to the Shrine.

"You know they'll be after you again," said Ami as they cleared the door, guessing that this was why he was nervous.

Tenma straightened slightly and nodded. "That's why I'm going to do this now. I would've preferred a better time and place. Even now he's running my life."

"Tenma?" Makoto glanced sideways at him. (Why is he acting so distant?)

"C'mon, Usagi, I've got the newest compilation manga of 'Bishonen Senshi Tuxedo Tenchi' and you don't need to be psychic to see this coming." Rei sighed and motioned the other girl towards the door.

"Huh?" Usagi didn't get it but she loved the little moon-cabbit in that story.

Ami and Minako shared a sad look and stepped outside.

"Guys?" Makoto looked around at the suddenly empty area. She could hear Ukyo and Shampoo exchanging heated words with Cologne. Who was probably being backed by Jon and Frank if their talk on the train was any indication.

"Mako-chan, I've got something important to ask you..." Tenma got a startled look and started searching pockets.

"Pssst!" A hand with a small box came in the window, Makoto guessed it was Rei from the nail polish.

"Oh. Arigato yo. Uhmmm, Mako-chan."

Makoto Kino's eyes grew round. Tenma was on one knee he was holding a box out. She could hear her heart beating so loud that anyone right outside the room could have heard it. He was...

"Mako-chan, sukii da. Kekkon-shite kureru? As Kazeno isn't a real family name, I'd have to take yours..." Tenma came to a stop. (Why is she just standing there? She probably hates the ring. Or is this too much for her?)

-------------

Rei winced as a "YES!" echoed from the top of the shrine. (May have to replaster the walls.) Her eyes went down to Usagi, who had apparently found something more interesting than the manga for once. "C'mon, Usagi, we need to give 'em some time ALONE!"

"Aw, but I wanna..." Usagi ran out of steam under Rei's glare. "Okay, okay."

"That's right, we have to plan on how to take our battle to the Dark Kingdom!" Luna put in. "We can't afford to take time off for mmmmmfffff!"

Usagi carried Luna off, still holding the mooncat's mouth shut. "Yup, we need to make some plans alright! For a wedding!"

-------------

The werewolf's head came up. (prey? no. enemy. two. one has prey smell. bear? where? there.)

"ArwooooooooooooooooooooooOOOOO!"

"Saotome?!"

"Tendo?"

"What the HELL was that?"

"I'm not sure I want to know, Tendo."

(prey scent? unclear. kill? threaten? on packmate territory. advise trespasser.)

"Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr."

"Errr, Saotome?" One of the bushes inquired of another.

"It wasn't me, Tendo."

"Then that isn't *your* furry legs behind me? I was also going to advise you to use a breathmint."

"No," the fat bush said to the thinner bush. "Could it be Ranma?"

Soun reached behind him and felt the furry powerful legs. Swallowing heavily, he turned slowly to regard the white and blue limbs. His eyes tracked up past the Chinese drawstring pants (a borrowed pair from Tenma, thickly muscled chest, ending his visual survey with the snarling wolflike head and golden eyes that regarded him as if deciding what he'd taste like.

Soun swallowed again. "Uhm... Saotome..."

"Hush Tendo. My son will soon be here and we must strike quickly and decisively!"

"Grrrrrrrrrrrr." The werewolf opened his jaws slightly.

"Tendo School Of Martial Arts Final Technique! Run For The Border!"

"Huh?" Genma stuck his head out of the bush to regard his friend's departure from the scene. "What got into him?"

"Grrrrrr!" (territory encroached. trespasser not fleeing. pack threatened. secondary scent is of bear? puzzle later, defend territory now.)

Genma turned physically around, followed by turning as white as his gi (and as it was one freshly laundered that morning by Kasumi, it was a great deal whiter than one of those he had been wearing for days-at-a-time.)

"Saotome School Final Attack: Run Away!" (But I'll be back as soon as I convince the Master that this apartment needs raiding. With the Master either dead of the werewolf, or the werewolf defeated, there will be NOTHING to keep me from uniting the two schools!)

(Territory protected. Pack defended. Hunt not needed. Will remember scent.) (Packmates return. Horseboy, pfeh... ?! Scent of girl different? Heh.)

Jon returned to human form with the information being passed on to him from the wolf, who was becoming much more wolf-like as opposed to simply savage with Cologne's help. His knowing smirk told the couple nothing. Though when Frank showed up a few hours later, well, he could tell Frank. Oh, and he couldn't WAIT to tell that Ukyo person. (Call me a mangy fleabag, will she?! Heh.)

-----------------

Morning, when the light of day disperses the cloaking illusion of night.

Or, looked at another way, when the sarariman and OL and factory worker is forced to get up and spend another day's energy mostly doing things that have no real significance.

And, if you were to look into a certain room in a certain household, in a certain ward known as Nerima, you would find two bodies locked in combat. Sweaty, writhing, struggling... Oops. Wrong household. Three houses down. That's the one.

Genma looked like some bespectacled Buddha (if you didn't know him better) and proclaimed the newest Unite The Two Schools Plan: Operation Yujo Wa Wakare (Break Up Friendships). Yes, he and Tendo would go find the various girls that had come to Ranma's defense earlier. One by one they would frighten the silly girls (they were just young girls, how hard could this be?) and tell them all about what a loathsome person Ranma was. IE: they would threaten, intimidate, and lie their heads off. Once he had lost the support of his newfound friends, Ranma would have no choice but to return! Nabiki groaned and shook her head. The two had come up with this one based on ONE idle comment from her. Even SHE wouldn't take odds on this one working. In fact, she would be willing to bet that if the two succeeded in frightening his friends, Ranma would be after the two with a vengeance. She knew that if it had been HER, that someone trying intimidation tactics and a smear campaign against her would have resulted in a terrible vengeance.

Akane grumbled, complained, griped, and *almost* got to the point where she was threatening her father. She pointed out that he was a pervert who had looked at her when she had come to use the tub. She pointed out that he was a coward who had not only refused to fight her, but he had fled into the night rather than face her. She pointed out that all men were jerks and perverts and stupid.

Akane was about to go on when an idea popped into her head. Something that Nabiki had said earlier about how "Kasumi wasn't getting any younger but..." Akane had tuned it mainly out because it didn't really involve her, but maybe she could use this to shift this away from her.

"Besides, Mister Saotome, Dad," said Akane with an unfamiliar sly expression. "Wouldn't Kasumi be a better choice?"

"Akane?!" Kasumi blinked and looked startled.

Nabiki studied her sister for a moment before smirking. Akane obviously had a plan. About time.

"She's the firstborn, Ranma's the firstborn. I'm clearly the superior martial artist (why else would the coward have fled) so a match between me and Ranma couldn't possibly work."

"We'll consider this AFTER we bring that damnfool son of mine back," agreed Genma, though any input from the girls was beside the point. Akane WOULD marry Ranma. Then the Legacy would be complete!

"Akane, this isn't appropriate..." Kasumi said with a betrayed look.

Akane didn't pay any attention. No WAY would they force her to marry some cowardly pervert! Kasumi thought the Houses should be joined, then let HER do it. "Besides, Mister Saotome, you compliment Kasumi's cooking but won't even TRY mine. What are you going to eat if you do force us to marry?"

Genma stopped. He'd tried Akane's cooking before. He had to admire her inventiveness, as certainly HE would have never thought of such dishes as curried watermelon with eel. Squid souffle, and with crunchy bits he wasn't sure he *wanted* to identify. Hmmmm. "You know, Tendo, she's got a point."

"Huh?!" Soun wasn't ready for the shift in Genma's opinion.

"Akane and Ranma have a great deal in common, and Kasumi IS the firstborn. Maybe we should make it an engagement between Kasumi and Ranma." Genma tried to look thoughtful.

"Father...no!" Kasumi looked on in horror as her fate was being decided. After all, Ranma was three years YOUNGER than her. Not so bad if it was the other way around, but this was most improper. The image that occurred to her earlier, involving Ranma and several of those girls from earlier, popped into her head. This resulted in a furious blush and her inability to look at anyone present.

Soun saw and misinterpreted the reaction entirely. "Kasumi *would* seem the wisest choice then."

"Oh dear."

Soun and Genma shared a look, then nodded in unison. "Kasumi Tendo, I choose you!"

Kasumi opted for fainting, though she did so in as ladylike a manner as she could.

-------------

Tenma, the martial artist once known as Prin... er, Ranma, leapt from his bed as if nearly jet propelled. The morning was bright and cheerful, the possibilities nearly endless and beckoning him onward. He had a great deal of energy this morning, feeling that he was taking positive steps towards controlling his own destiny AND reaching for future happiness.

He looked in Makoto's room briefly, spending a moment in tender reflection, before heading to the kitchen. (It's strange, I've only known her a few months. Now, now I can hardly picture life without her.) Without thinking about it, he began fixing pancakes - having learned that his Mako-chan enjoyed the odd breakfast food.

The door exploded inward.

"To protect our futures from devastation, a long retirement sought with elation, To denounce dishonor and lies like love, To unite the families by the stars above, Surrender now or prepare to fight, Team Panda with its righteous might!"

Tenma sighed, turned down the burner, and looked towards the guest they had sleeping in the living room. "Frank, you want to do the honors?"

"Just use the catfist stuff, Tenma," came the sleepy response. "Jon kept me up last night with talk about how you and Makoto had apparently been close enough that you had each other's scent rubbed all over each other."

Tenma blushed. The two fathers' jaws dropped.

"Saotome!" Soun turned towards Genma.

[I'm just a cute lil' panda!]

"Saotome, could you at least transform before trying that excuse?"

"Oops." [NOW I'm just a cute lil' panda!]

Makoto glided in, hand held up, the ring in full view. It wasn't so much the ring, only worth a thousand yen- a plain gold band, it was what the ring symbolized that fascinated Makoto.

Soun's eyes locked on a ring, on THAT finger, with an audible click. In an instant he was across the room and had grabbed the girl's hand. "I'm sorry, but Ranma cannot be married to you, that ring is for Akane!"

[I thought we were agreed on Kasumi.] The sign wielded by the panda was ignored though, as other things were going on.

Tenma had been working on the cat phobia, and could now tolerate being within a few yards of Artemis OR Luna. As long as they didn't hiss or meow. Threatening his Mako-chan, on the other hand...

Genma's eyes widened as Ranma hissed like a steam engine, baring teeth and glowing a fitful blue that seemed to brighten with every second.

Frank, not wanting to see this lovely apartment splattered with the sort of blood and gore that MIGHT occur if either of these two actually hurt Makoto Kino (though if they did that the two parents might well find more than one opponent ready to rend them into tiny little shreds) was already acting.

Soun found that the view of his grip on the offending jewelry, was obscured by a massive hand that covered his own hand, the girl's hand, and a fair amount of both forearms.

"Leave. NOW." Frank said. He preferred the simple and straightforward approach.

Genma was being simple and straightforward himself. The attack was a crippling pressure point attack on the big fellow's unprotected back. When it failed to produce any results, Genma became a little concerned.

Tenma calmed as Frank started dribbling a panda as if it were some large hairy basketball.

"Errrr," noted Soun Tendo at the sound of a panda being bounced out of the room, down the hall, off the balcony, down the stairs, and what sounded suspiciously like the third floor balcony.

"Tendo-san," said Tenma calmy and gently, as if speaking to a child. "Makoto is my fiancee. Touch her again, and I will kill you." It wasn't a heated declaration, spoken in battle or anger. The sincerity came across.

"Well, I..."

Makoto got tired of having this person holding onto her. She put a snap kick out where it could do her the most good.

------------------

Three more mornings, a Dark General named Zoicite being beaten into hamster food, two really interesting (Usagi would add painful) training sessions, the gaining of another ally (someone that nobody really trusted except Cologne and Usagi) named Morrigan Aesland, and twice having to haul Sash away from the Azabu Juuban "Manga No Mori" (her protests that the manager had defeated her in combat and she was just spending time with her airen were dismissed as wishful thinking) followed. There was also a brief attempt by Shampoo and Cologne to convince Makoto that if Shampoo didn't have a previous claim, then a proper Amazon marriage was at least worth considering.

Besides, it looked as if Shampoo was getting along rather well with that Talbain fellow. Therefore the loss of Tenma to Shampoo was seen as less of a problem than it could have been.

There were also three attacks. Ukyo was attacked by a mailbox. Since this was obviously some youma attack, Rei had used a Fire Soul on it. The mailbox managed to escape somehow, but Rei was still checking around for any suspicious postal containers. A Chinese fellow named Mousse had shown up, yelling something about rescuing his precious Shampoo. Wrapping chains around Sailor Jupiter was not terribly clever, especially when he was still holding one end of the chains as she threw a lightning bolt along the metal links. Finally there had come another attack by the mysterious panty thief. Ever since Sailor Moon had tagged him with a Honeymoon Therapy Kiss, the little fellow had been hospitalized and mumbling something about bean jam.

Makoto was with Usagi when a timid-sounding knock at the door came. Upon opening it, she was surprised to find that it was not two fathers out to ruin her happiness. (Though they usually didn't knock, being more fond of sudden attacks.)

"You're one of Tendo-san's daughters, aren't you?" Makoto looked her over a little critically. She didn't *look* violent or hostile, but neither did a few of the youma before they transformed.

"Yes, my name is Kasumi. May I come in?" The nervous girl at the door half bowed. "I really must speak with you regarding the matter of my family's honor."

Makoto considered briefly, then allowed the eldest Tendo in. "As you like, Tendo-san. We may talk."

-----------------

"There he is, Saotome." Soun pointed out the boy training in the yard of the Shrine. He was apparently listening to the instructions of some old woman. Now was their chance!

[He doesn't have a chance!] The sign flipped. [This time for sure!]

"Kasumi will convince that tramp he's been staying with to let go, and we will crush his friends one by one. There will be no interference with the marriage!"

[Our headstrong children will be married before they know what's hit them!] The panda chuckled as he edged forward from concealment.

"Grrrrrrrrrrrrr."

Soun felt the unpleasant sensation of some sort of muscle twitch right along the right hand side of the spine. "D-d-did you hear that, Saotome?"

The panda nodded, and shifted into a defensive stance.

(Intent: hostile. Actions: furtive. Scents familiar. Not packmates. Not outsider-who-is-not-to-be-attacked. Enemy.) The werewolf grinned. (Prey.)

Soun managed a strangled sound as a "Beast Cannon" manuever threw him the length of the shrine and into a tree on the far side. He groggily got up, started staggering back to the fight, and knocked over the pushcart of an ice cream vendor named Matoko Kitsunagi.

Unfortunately for Soun, Matoko was a practitioner of Ice Cream Vendor Martial Arts. A strange but effective style using popsicle-stick shuriken, scooper-nunchakus, and special attacks like the "Thirty Onederful Flavor Blitz."

--------

Genma was finding that werewolves seem to have a bit of eel in them. He was having considerable difficulty landing a blow.

[Go away!] Genma was trying to hit the unwanted opponent with the signs, since Anything Goes style meant you ignored whatever rules were inconvenient at the time. So someone who disdained weapons would use them if it gave them a momentary advantage. [Look! Alpo!]

The portly panda practitioner of perverse pummelling practices was practically perplexed. Where did this werewolf keep coming from? Why did he keep showing up when all Genma wanted to do was unite the two families, get wealthy, live a long retirement, and get rich off his son's insurance money and inheritance?

Jon in werewolf mode was no longer the savage, but thought more like an actual wolf. Cologne being able to correct the imbalance between Man and Beast that caused the Bloodrage to erupt. (No fear scent? Anger scent? Prey not concerned? Play with prey?) "Rawwwrrrrr!"

Genma stared for a half second at his forearm. Where a black and white pattern of fur had four rapidly reddening slashes across it. "B-b-b-blood?!" Something clicked at the back of his head and the "inner panda" saw clearly that there was a large carnivorous predator in front of it.

The seals were coming off the hidden techniques. Vaccuum blades were followed by the Heartseeker. The panda would have been more comforted if the werewolf hadn't dodged both attacks, then GRINNED in a manner that suggested he was beginning to enjoy this. [Can't we just be friends?]

(Special techniques? Fight now serious. Fear scent from prey. Reply in kind.) The werewolf had been fast. Fighting youma and training under the Elder Cologne had increased that speed. He slashed and danced and tumbled as a high speed blur that made a quick orbit around the massive panda. (Wolf pack attack. Ah-ta!)

The pain receptors relayed their message. Genma howled. His fur was now covered in what looked like hundreds of little papercuts.

It wouldn't be until later that Genma discovered his back had a set of deeper cuts that spelled out kanji reading "Wolves rule, pandas drool" in sloppy but readable calligraphy.

Being an Equal Opportunity Employer of techniques, the wolf decided to finish this quickly. That Heartseeker had looked like a deadly technique, so it was perfectly fine to strike back at the same level.

Instead of a clawing slash, this technique had the werewolf summon forth vast chi reserves and unleash them in a manner similar to the Beast Cannon. This, however, was termed the "Dragon Cannon" by Cologne. That the "head" of each of the seven chi-comets looked like a hungry wolf's head was ignored by practically everyone.

Genma's eyes widened as he desperately blocked.

-------------------

"So I gotta maintain this 'soul of ice' thing for the technique to work?" Tenma tugged his ponytail. "I dunno. Mako-chan says I'm pretty passionate."

Tenma, of course, had no idea why Ukyo and Shampoo acted as if they had just been slapped upon hearing that.

Cologne chuckled and hoped that the girl Makoto took up the offer of tribal membership. As an orphan, she could be adopted. Not only would it further justify all this training, but there were traits other than simple strength that the Tribe could well make use of. Strong fighters were always welcome. Strong, smart, fighters were the sort that the Amazons wanted dragged into the gene pool even if it required kicking and screaming. Both Makoto Kino and Tenma Kazeno qualified. Any children the two had would be considered an asset to the Tribe.

Besides, Cologne had heard the girls and their cats arguing about the New Moon Kingdom and the improvements that the girls wanted. The idea of being an Amazon Advisor to the throne, sticking in the background and dispensing ancient wisdom and watching over large number of Amazon children - with the Tribe being an integral part of this new kingdom - well, Cologne found the image had a great deal of personal appeal.

The musing was interrupted as a slightly smouldering, badly cut up, panda slammed into the ground nearby.

"Geez," Tenma exclaimed. "What's he doing HERE?"

"Stupid panda!" Shampoo glared at the figure lying splayed out on the ground. "If not for him, Shampoo would have chance to work on prior claim to Ran...Tenma."

"That panda has caused TOO much suffering in his life," Ukyo agreed. "Get in line, sugar, ten years of vengeance has just located her target!"

"Maybe you ought to push up the date for the wedding if they're tracking you that effectively," suggested Cologne, earning her glares from both Ukyo and Shampoo.

"You may be right," Tenma allowed. "Damn old man, he's still finding ways to run my life!"

--------------

Mimir's Well

"So, is this at least happier?" Edema asked, forwarding it past a wedding scene where three aged martial artists attempted to break up the nuptials. Past where a certain younger martial artist, goaded by her father and his houseguest, attempted to crash the same wedding only to find her elder sister had been recruited and that even a superior martial artist like herself had some problems dealing with odd special techniques like "Venus Love Me Chain."

Edema paused at the mayhem that occurred when the bridal bouquet had been tossed, wincing at the mad scramble.

Edema fast forwarded to the end. "Hmmm. Looks like Cologne got her wish after all."

And while Tenma & Makoto Kino had their disagreements from time to time, they found that mutual trust and respect gave them a strong foundation for their marriage. They lived long, and full, and prospered.

But that is a tale for another telling...

--------------------

End sequence (Fly Me To The Moon, instrumental version)

Picture: Dimitri Maximoff, teeth bared while holding a swooning Sailor Venus in his arms. Picture slowly expands out to show the point of Cologne's staff is about to go straight through the vampire's back.

Picture: Wedding Dance, with Makoto and Tenma in the center of a vast crowd of wellwishers. Picture slowly expands out to show Frank restraining Ryouga with a Soun Tendo being restrained by a Venus Love Me Chain.

Picture: Frank rubbing the back of his neck and looking embarassed. As the picture expands it is revealed first that he is offering a flower. As it expands further out it is revealed that he is offering the flower to a startled-looking Sash while various other characters cheer in the background.

Picture: Crystal Millenium palace, Cologne is sitting on a windowsill and sending smoke rings out into the night air. As the picture expands, you can see a werewolf silhoutted by the Earth on the roof.

Picture: Interior Crystal Millenium palace, Neo Queen Serenity is addressing her subjects. As this picture expands behind her, more and more others become visible (left to right) Sailor Venus, Sailor Jupiter, Tenma, Sailor Mercury, Sailor Mars, Endymion, Cologne, Sailor Uranus, Sailor Neptune, Shampoo (dressed in Amazon formalwear ie: combat tights), Frank, Jon Talbain, Sailor Pluto, and... Kasumi Tendo.

Picture: Makoto and Tenma holding each other close, looking down on a baby. As the picture expands, you can see two other children looking up at the baby, one of whom has purple hair.

Picture: Genma and Soun, being chased away from the Palace by what seem like hundreds of Amazons. As this picture expands, one can see Nabiki and Kasumi in the sidelines looking embarassed.

Picture: Nodoka Saotome, with bundled sword, being led into the Jupiter Mansion. As the picture expands, it is revealed that there are a number of bodyguards ready to pounce if the sword is drawn.

Picture: Crystal Tokyo in background. Makoto and Ranma reclining on a hill, cuddling as they look up at the stars. As the picture expands a little bit, first you see the figures of Soun and Genma sneaking up. After expanding further, it becomes clear that the ambushers are about to become the ambushed. One of those about to pounce on Genma is clearly Nodoka.

fade to end.