He knew that person.

Mamoru Chiba clutched at his head as he watched the second-hand copy of a tape of the recent expose on the Dark Kingdom.

Kunzite... he knew him. Some part of him knew the man as a friend as close, or closer than a brother, and the hint of sorrow in his voice when he spoke of his prince's betrayal, for some reason it was like an ice-cold dagger plunged right into his very heart.

But why? Why was that? Why did he feel that way about some stranger that he could swear he had never met before in his life, could not have known, even, given the explanation of the Dark Kingdom?

With all the other wierdness in his life, it was almost too much. Crazy dreams about a girl and formalwear, waking up in the middle of the night covered in sweat and in pain, the almost unnoticeable disappearances of roses from the small bush he'd been tending to in his apartment for years... With this, on top of everything else...

Mamoru Chiba had become quite convinced that he was slowly going mad, and couldn't even begin to work out how to make it all stop.


Lord Ranma


The meeting with the Senshi had gone far better than he'd dared hope. He'd fully been prepared to, at best, have to argue the girls around to his point of view, and more realistically just drop that he wouldn't be unwilling to work out some diplomatic arrangements as he did his best to avoid being hit by magic attacks that could concievably end his long existence instantly if they connected.

What had happened was that everything had went off completely without a hitch! Perfectly, indeed almost too well. If he wasn't so light-headed with the success right now, he'd be paranoid about wondering when the other shoe was going to drop, but it seemed that he'd struck gold with the little jaunt.

Of course, he likely owed a very great deal to that little moon-brat having a panic attack and doing something foolish. They'd been paranoid and jumping at shadows, worrying about their bindings, simply brimming with hormonal angst.

He snorted.

Yes, they had bindings. But they really were blowing the whole thing way out of proportion. What they had were the same bindings that had been in place on the Senshi since the office was created, binding them with a bit of loyalty to the Moon. Sure, the whole thing with that minor geas on Mars' vocal cords had likely come completely out of nowhere for them, but he very much doubted that the moon-brat could reproduce such a feat without similar levels of stress being placed upon her, and while it would indeed dissipate when she simply verbally countermanded the previous order, it would also have worn off inside a few days on its own, a week at the latest.

Really... they were overthinking things. The Silver Queen hadn't placed any other magical bindings on them, most likely because she simply hadn't ever so much as considered the possibility of the senshi's reincarnations doing anything but exactly what she wanted them to do. Indeed, they could simply 'quit' at any time, with no ill effects, and pretend they had never been Senshi in the first place, if they so desired.

They didn't have to know all that, though, and if they caught on that he'd not been quite as scrupulously honest about the nature of their bindings as he could have been, he could always pull the 'whoops, looks like you're right, my mistake' card and claim that he hadn't recognized some 'subtlety' of the Silver magic that had 'degraded' through the whole being-dead-then-alive-again thing.

Besides... if they just stopped being Senshi, then he wouldn't be able to use them to his own ends, and...

There was a telltale sound of rushing air that distracted him from his thoughts, and he let loose a sigh while hurling himself out of the way of a dozen throwing knives. He'd known things had been too good to last.

And then he boggled, as Mousse dropped down into the street to point, and begin ranting, at the lightpole he'd apparently mistaken for Ranma, screaming something about 'his' Shampoo.

Wonderful. The Amazons were getting back into things. Ranma shook his head in disgust and simply walked away, leaving the obvious mental incompetent to rant for several more minutes before striking at the 'fiend' when the lightpost deigned to ignore something he'd demanded an answer for. His shriek of surprised pain was just barely audible to Ranma, still walking away at a measured pace, ignoring the rant about 'that cursed barbarian' somehow dodging him as the man zipped right past and overhead, running along the top of a fence for whatever reason.

It was simply pitiful. It seemed the boy was blind as well as simple. What a shame. Even so, if the Amazons were turning their eyes toward him again, as they likely would be sooner or later, then he'd have to think up some way to deal with them.

Hah... He hadn't had so much fun in all his centuries in the Dark Kingdom as he was having now!


They'd arranged a private mail spot for things to be sent to. Every so often, a youma would teleport in, dump the envelopes that had gathered inside into a sack, then teleport back out again to deliver them to Ranma's rather more palatial, if gloomier, quarters in the Dark Kingdom.

There were already great big piles of letters expressing derogatory scorn and disbelief, and a very great deal more of simple grammatically challenged hate-mail. At least a dozen tracking devices, which would no doubt puzzle a great many people when their signal just disappeared from the map after the Youma brought them here. A very polite, but firmly worded letter from the U.S. that could basically be summed up as 'thanks for the help with that slug thing, but we'll be having none of this 'world government' nonsense', although they had recognized the 'Dark Kingdom' as a seperate country in their own right, apparently, and had decided to consider the Generals under diplomatic immunity whenever they should pass through the states.

Then some more interesting things. Letters from certain countries, suggesting that they could see their way to backing the Dark Kingdom's interest in being the representative group of earth... if they helped out with some of their own problems. Tit for tat.

He'd set those seperate from the rest, most of which would simply be burned, and some few of which would actually be replied to.

After a few hours he'd sat back in disgust at the still inflowing piles of correspondence and gave up, contacting Rumi, as well as a couple of her friends who were adapting remarkably well to spending most of their time in the Dark Kingdom, and set them to dividing the important things from the junk.

He needed a breath of fresh air. All of this deskwork crap was getting to him.

Walking out of the closet and into the house proper, and seeing the Amazon Matriarch and her spawn was probably not the most relaxing way to spend the rest of the day though, and he'd barely registered their presence before his dagger was out, edge set carefully against his own jugular as he stared them down.

"My my. No need for such dramatics, muku-dono-to-be." Cologne chortled. "Do you think we would attempt anything against you here, so near the heart of your stronghold, with uncountable allies mere moments away?"

"Yes." He stated flatly, dagger not budging from his throat.

"Well, at least you have infinitely more sense than that other Ranma." Cologne admitted. "But for now, at least, we've no intention of causing trouble. This is more of a.... diplomatic meeting."

"Airen too, too jumpy." Shampoo giggled, before flinching as Ranma very deliberately pressed just enough for the tiniest trickle of red to start down his neck.

"Shampoo, don't antagonize him into doing something foolish." Cologne chided. "Really though... when I first found records about you Generals, I dismissed them as fairytales and continued looking, but it seems that I was mistaken. Tell me, what do you know of Beryl?"

Ranma frowned, then glanced to the door. Sandstone and Obsidian seemed to leap out of nowhere to close and lock doors, draw shades, and 'turn on' specific privacy wards about the house, nearly causing Cologne to fall off her staff at the suddenness and prompting a soft 'Aiyah...' from Shampoo. When they had finished, he carefully sat down and placed the dagger on the table as his youma took up flanking positions beside him, watchful eyes waiting for just the slightest hint of ill-intent to use as an excuse.

"About our Queen? I know much. Knew much, rather. Unfortunately, what I know is of less and less use, as she has very slowly become less and less rational over the past dozen centuries or so, and I'm afraid that she became quite unhinged when the news was brought that our ancient enemies, whom she hated above all others, had reincarnated and were awakening even as we had begun to claw our way out of the hell their mistress had consigned us to."

"Hrm... I see. Just how 'unhinged' are we talking here?" Cologne asked carefully.

"Her most recent order was for Zoicite to fetch her a large crate full of Belgian Chocolates."

"That doesn't sound so-"

"And then destroy Belgium, and I quote, 'that none less deserving might taste of such confectionary delight'." He paused, then continued in a pained monotone. "'Ohohohoho'."

"That... is far less encouraging than I had hoped." Cologne admitted frankly.

"We ignored the second bit, and she'd forgotten about it long before we returned, fortunately enough. Sadly, our queen has become something of a danger to everything and everyone in the general area, should the mood take her. Even we, her most loyal, are not...!" He cut himself off with a sharp click of teeth before continuing. "She sealed Jadeite in Hard Thought, because while he performed his duty flawlessly, the general failed to instinctively sense her whims and go far above and beyond the scope of the assigned mission." He hissed, his near-impotent rage palpable in the rant.

"Hard Thought?" Cologne wondered, curious, and Ranma snapped back to the current state of things.

"It is... not a pleasant fate. Imagine, if you will, a fly trapped within amber. And yet, the fly lives on. Trapped, unable to move, unable to breathe, unable to feel or to use any sense except, perhaps, sight... unable even to die, and yet mentally linked to every other unfortunate soul deemed treasonous enough to suffer such a fate worse than death, or who simply crossed our Queen in a particularly foul mood, hearing their screaming, gnashing wails resonate throughout every fiber of your being, only dimly able to realize that you, yourself, are one of those many anguished voices, and that you will never, ever be able to escape of your own volition, as your body withers away over the eons but the memory of your agony lingers forever...."

Ranma had begun to tremble slightly somewhere along the line as he recounted the specifics, Shampoo had gone extremely pale and jittery, no doubt due to an overactive imagination, and Cologne had gone wide-eyed, jaw hanging loosely. Ranma forced himself to calmness and took hold of a teacup one of his ever-present minions had offered, allowing the warmth to flow into his hands as he slowly sipped.

"Yes." He continued, in a much more subdued tone. "I knew much of our queen. But as the madness takes deeper and deeper of a hold upon her, she falls ever more rapidly into a twisted spiral, and less of it is of use with every passing moment. Whatever business you have with our Queen, it is best that you consult first with one of we Generals, any one of whom is a thousand times less likely to take personal offense at you and attempt vengeance simply for blinking at the wrong time, or breathing too loudly, or not breathing loudly enough, or..." He cut himself off again, redirecting the conversation. "Fortunately enough, even when lucid, the Queen would never visit the Chamber of Imprisonment herself, and so it was a simple matter to remove Jadeite and smuggle him to a place where he could rest and regain his strength. Even after only a short time he is a mere shadow of what he was before, he will take months at the least to recover from the trial, and we Generals now tread exceedingly warily in the throneroom of Beryl."

He shook himself, and drained the teacup hastily.

"I hope that your unfortunate thirst for knowledge has been quenched, Amazon Elder, for I am no longer in any mood to speak of such things. If not, then I am afraid one of my senior Generals shall have to attend you, whenever they might spare a moment."

"Knowledge was not the primary reason I had come..." Cologne began, before reconsidering. "But yes. Perhaps it is best that we simply return at a later date. Do be careful, Muku-dono to be... it wouldn't do for my granddaughter to become a widow before her wedding night."

"Not that it's any of your concern..." Ranma drawled right back. "But plans are already being put into motion to neutralize this internal threat. For the moment, I believe I am more than capable of surviving a few months more of paranoid days and sleepless nights, wondering if one of the two beings in the Kingdom more powerful than the Generals might take it into her head to summon me at some ungodly hour of the night to fulfill some twisted whim."

Cologne didn't much like the implication that the male underlings were working to be rid of their Amazon Queen, but understood that it was probably neccessary and left without complaint.

And with any luck, once that one had seen reason and submitted to her granddaughter's wiles, a daughter would be born, and with any luck would inherit the by-then vacant throne, restoring things to their proper order.


Avada Kedavra.

The key facet of the problem this Great Britain country, where several of the Generals dimly recalled a Senshi had been sighted for a while before disappearing not long ago, probably to come here, had set before them.

An entire society of humans that had clawed their way back up to the ability to harness and use magical energies, albeit of the crudest sort, and hidden themselves away from the prying eyes of their mundane, 'muggle' cousins.... and then just stopped.

Britain had provided quite a portfolio of classified information on them with regard to their problem. The society was... offensive. Wrong. Not in that they collected their magical abilities to themselves and did not strive to serve those less fortunate, no, that was simply their right as the priviledged few, to live seperate from the huddled masses. Nor was the expected corruption a true problem, as there was almost always some level of that in any society.

It was the stagnation that was offensive. One of the pictures displaying a shop indicated that it had been around since before 600 B.C., by the humans current calendar.

Over two thousand years! And this society of buffoons were still working magics by waving about sticks and chanting gibberish. The most basic, humble, and amateurish of magecrafts at best. Not a sign of any attempt to work any greater, more elegant magics, or more than the slightest hint of the technological fusions that the unified Earth had once gloried in, that even Mercury had occasionally looked towards for inspiration..! The best in that regard were a few spacial distortions in vehicles, and funny clocks and watches.

It was abhorrent to the generals poring through the information. Give any one of them two thousand years and free reign, and they would have crafted an empire filled with a devoted populace, advanced so far beyond the wildest dreams of all the other humans that every little thing one of their citizens did would be considered 'magic', whether it actually was or not.

This situation... it was much the reverse, with these mages lagging behind the mundanes by far in many ways, and in their arrogance refusing to look out of their narrow little worlds to see where innovation might come.

The request wasn't to simply be rid of the society in its entirety, much as the generals might enjoy such a prospect. No, the mundane government had recieved a number of increasingly agitated reports from 'muggle-born' magic users fleeing the place, about a terrorist group, having long been thought dead, resurging into activity with the reappearance of their leader, also thought long dead. And then, a sudden cease of all those reports entirely, as suddenly nobody who entered the 'magical world's borders left again.

What Britain wanted was simply a return to the comfortable status quo. Be rid of the terrorist group, the self-styled 'Death Eaters' and their leader 'Voldemort', and the Prime Minister and Queen would happily throw in their support in getting the Dark Kingdom named a representative of a 'Unified World Government', albeit in name only.

Those two words, though, were the biggest problem. Avada Kedavra. The incantation to the most feared, most evil spell known to the terrorists, with no defense or counter and bringing instant death to any it struck.

No defense, at least, by any means available to the stickwavers. The Generals, even and especially Ranma, had enough layers of arcane protections woven into themselves that the idea of something so simple as a mere stickcrafted deathspell bringing them down was ludicrous. If this society had had even a few centuries to study this curse, and had labeled it so illegal as to make the user unforgivable in the eyes of their society rather than study it in depth and find out its many, many limitations, then there was no hope for them. Such things were simple... they either worked as intended, or they failed utterly, and were easily guarded against. And even after their use, as long as any decent healer got to the body before decay set in and the lingering life force drifted away for good, the victim could be revivified, none the worse for the wear after the stiffness was worked out.

Nothing at all like the Lunarian Senshi brand of magics, which tended to take into account that their major enemies were already wearing the magical equivalent of starship armor and simply counter it by pouring so much overwhelming power into every attack that it rendered those defenses a moot point, each level of attacks being at least twice as powerful as the last had been. Only Mercury's design had shown any innovation on that front, with that blinding mist spell of hers.

No, in comparison the Generals had nothing to fear from so simple a parlor trick, and were rather condescending of the simple instant, painless death that was so feared by the bumpkins.

The youma, on the other hand...

There were, of course, stratagical ways of dealing with the fact that the enemy could kill any one of the vast majority of your forces in an instant. One way would be to layer similar protections as were on the Generals over their forces. It was a time consuming, attention drawing, and expensive process though, so while Ranma decided that he would certainly be putting his two underlings forward for it, it wasn't a feasible plan. They intended to get this done with swiftly, so that they were ready for the next request when it came.

One of the Generals could just go and deal with it all solo, of course. It would be a significant amount of personal effort that none of them were particularly willing to go through, however. A solid Plan B, at the very least.

And of course, the elder Generals were always pleased to kill two birds with the same arrow.

Much the same as humanity, there was a certain amount of the youma population that simply came into existence, born, if that word could be used given they had no real knowledge of how Youma procreation worked... wrong. They would struggle for life from their first breath, pain wracking their bodies, some genetic trouble or other slowly destroying them from the inside out. This small part of the population was dubbed 'Terminals', for indeed, they seldom lived longer than a few miserable decades. The pragmatic course would have been simply to kill off all the dead weight, however, very rarely indeed, a youma or two would manage to shake off its condition somehow, and in that case would always be many times more powerful than any of their simpler brethren, destined for the elite of the elite, just below the Generals themselves, and those youma they specifically favored for whatever reason.

Beryl had decided long ago that they could not afford the chance of losing those possible powerhouses, and had arranged for them to continue on the same rationed amount of life energy as all the others, continuing their agonized existence.

When the seal had broken and missions came up that would almost undoubtedly be suicide, there was always a flood of volunteers from the Terminals, eager to have what they saw as inevitable deaths mean something, rather than simply gasping for breath, spasming wildly, and then laying still as their bodies disintegrated. To die for a greater cause, possibly even being the key linchpin of a successful mission, rather than simply dying.

More than a few of the Youma that the Senshi had destroyed had been Terminals fortunate enough to be selected to accompany Jadeite on a distraction mission. The Queen hadn't been exactly pleased when she'd figured it out, but if she'd objected and refused to allow them to volunteer for those missions, then they would likely have simply commited a mass suicide out of spite, and so she had had little real choice in the matter.

The keywords had been 'Instant, painless death' and 'Extremely likely'. The Terminals, upon hearing them, had become like wanderers in a desert having been offered water by the bucketload. They fell all over themselves, begging to be allowed the honor of following one of the Generals into a battleground where an end to their pain would likely be tossed around like candy.

They wouldn't sacrifice the mission merely to die, of course, but the survivors would very much envy those fortunate enough to fall in battle.


It had been a few hours since Ranma had left, and the Senshi were still discussing matters amongst themselves.

"Don't you get it, Usagi?" Ami pressed, the blonde not really catching on no matter how often she explained it. "They're in the same boat we are!"

"No, I don't! If they're under magic bindings, then that interview makes no sense and contradicts reality, the Dark Kingdom is just lying. But you tell me they aren't, but they're still bound!"

"She picks now to start thinking?" Rei wondered quietly, exulting in once more being able to speak.

"That's what I explained! Not all bindings are magical geases, you know. The point is, for whatever reason, if Queen Beryl gives any of the Generals a direct order, then they can't refuse to carry it out, but as long as she doesn't, they have wiggle room to interpret things as they please."

"I still don't get it! What's Beryl going to do if they disobey?"

"Kill them, probably." Makoto spoke up, having thought it out a little. "I mean... after all, the disobedience would technically be treasonous, if you wanted to look at it that way, and that's just what monarchs do about treason."

"Exactly!" Ami said, glad someone had finally caught on. "And given that Beryl is in charge of the Dark Kingdom, it can be assumed that she's more than powerful enough to kill off any of the Generals, should she have reason. In fact, she may already have... that man did mention and stress Jadeite's disappearance, and while he did seem worse for the wear when he teleported out, he wasn't in immediate danger of death. And yet, he's never once appeared after that."

"B-but why would she kill him!?" Usagi asked, wide-eyed. "I mean... he's on her side, right? And he wasn't actually a traitor or anything, right? Then why...?"

"I don't know, Usagi. But what I'm more interested in is why that person claims the Generals aren't going to kill us if they can avoid it, even though Beryl wants them to, when that's probably treason in its own right, and would leave them risking death." Makoto wondered aloud.

Ami frowned, then went white.

"Oh dear... I've thought of a possible explanation that makes all too much sense. This is mere speculation, but if I'm not very much mistaken about Jadeite's disappearance, then the Generals, once content to simply follow orders, are suddenly forced to consider their Queen as a possible threat to their survival... They can't simply rebel without opening up a large can of worms. Considering that she's most likely more powerful than them, they've probably discarded any idea of assassinations that might in any way be linked to them, so youma or simply paying their queen a visit themselves is out. Tactically speaking, the best option in a case like this..."

"It's to arrange for an enemy to deal with the toxic ally, isn't it." Rei stated grimly, having caught on due to some experience with such matters, her father being a politician.

"Hey, you got it!" A new voice interrupted, and the Senshi tensed as their second intruder of the day made an entrance, fading into view.

"Hi, kiddies. Nice ta meetcha, you can call me Marble." The grayish-green Youma spoke up, settling herself casually into a seat. "'M here because Lord Ranma couldn't stick around long hisself. Beryl doesn't always keep an eye on her pet Generals, but seeing as she might just take it into her head to look at any minute, it's best that the odds of her seein' one of 'em chatting it up with the people she hates the most in all the world, or some humans that bear a passing resemblance to those people, be kept as small as possible, you know? On the other hand, why's she gonna take the time to check up on just one random l'il Youma outta the legions? And if she does take a glance the General's way, talking to me isn't going to be at all incriminating, on the surface of it."

"Then you're a go-between, of sorts?" Ami wondered aloud.

"See? This is why everyone knows you're the smart one. I only had to spell it out for you once, and you caught on right away." Marble teased, prompting an embarrassed blush and a couple of dark looks. And one completely blank one.

"Wait, can we rewind the conversation, please?" Usagi asked. "I kinda drifted off when the monster lady said 'pet generals', and I think I might have missed something important."

Upon repeating herself twice more, in deliberately small words, Usagi had pretty much caught on to the situation and the simmering anger of the others had faded, realizing that while neither of them were 'the smart one', they at least had the dubious honor of being 'not the dumb one'.

"So you're a spy! Are you Ranma's second in command? Can I call you 'number Two'?" Usagi gushed, delighted with her interpretation of things and seeming to think she'd walked into a Bond film.

"Number what now? I told you, I'm just one of the many youma in the service of Lord Ranma. If I were one of his direct subordinates, I wouldn't be here, because those two are pretty well known too by now. Ugh, I didn't come here for a rundown of Dark Kingdom politics..."

"Still, some of us may be interested in such matters." Ami pointed out. "Perhaps you could consider it small talk, before getting down to more serious business."

"Well, fair enough. I make it a point not to go out of my way to cross the whims of people who could kill me without any real expenditure of effort." Marble admitted.

"Speaking of that... you're pretty relaxed, for being where you are." Makoto noted.

"And the reason for that is 'a mouthful of highly acidic saliva' for two hundred. Sure, if you four take it into your heads to take me out right now, s'not much I can do about that. But hell, at this close of a range, I'll definitely take at least one of you girls along for the ride. That's lesson one in DK politics right there. Now back a little closer to business, you should be aware that just like you humans, youma ain't all the same, quite. Mind if I smoke, if I'm going to be here longer than I'd expected?"

Not waiting for permission, Marble tugged out a pack of cigarretes and a lighter from somewhere about her person and took a deep drag before continuing.

"Ah... Tha's th' stuff. You humans think up the greatest stuff. Cigs, chocolate, booze, coffee, oral sex... I think I kinda love your species."

"I.... I'm sorry, what was that last one again?" Ami asked.


"Really? I... was sure I heard something, uh..."

"Don't worry about it, kiddo. Anyhow, us Youma ain't all got the same priority of loyalties. Oh, the loyalties themselves are the same, more or less, for the most part. The Generals, the Queen, Great Metallia, and ourselves. Just, the order of 'em gets skewed around, from youma to youma. Like me, f'r example."

Marble took another deep drag.

"My first loyalty is to Lord Ranma, General number five. Right after that, I'm loyal to yours truly. Then the other generals, in order Nephrite, Jadeite, Kunzite, then Zoicite, then the queen, an' then Great Metallia. Not got much use for self-proclaimed dark gods that ain't done anything but sit on their laurels since the sealing."

"Then-" Ami began with a reasonable, thought out question, only to be interrupted.

"Hey..." Rei wondered. "Now that I think about it... there's something of a naming convention for the generals, and 'Ranma' doesn't quite fit the mold..."

"Hey, 'struth." Marble admitted. "And the reason for that's why my loyalties are primarily to my lord alone. See, of all the Generals in the Dark Kingdom, he's the only one that didn't start out with th' position right from the get-go."

She took another drag, before leaning in conspiratorily.

"Way it's told, were a few humans what got picked up 'long with all the rest of the kingdom and got themselves sealed away with us somehow. Course, most of 'em didn't really adapt well to the abrupt shifts and ended up coming down with a slight case of 'dead', but not much to do about that. If you believe ol' Quartz, though, she found Lord Ranma as just a wee babe, wrapped up in cloth wi' his name stitched careful into a corner, and brought him t' the queen's attention. Course, there's a couple dozen other youma what claims they found the Lord, an' no real way of telling which 'twas, so most take such braggin's with a touch of salt. Anyhow, he didn't have any trouble adaptin' at all, could be cause he was so young. Less than a year old when 'is presence were made public knowledge, so was maybe six months when the seal came down."

Marble took another drag and leaned back.

"Anyhow, he didn't start off as a general, or even a general in training. For the first, oh, fifty years or so, he wasn't much more than a living battery, getting regular drainings to do what he could to keep as many of us alive as possible. Well protected, taken good care of, but kinda a boring job at that. Still, before his reserves swelled up 'nough that he could keep us all just hungry, 'stead of starving to death, alongside what scraps of free-floating energy happened to make its way into the Kingdom, we'd lost at least a quarter of our number to starvation. Heh, looking at it th'right way, if he'd not been 'round, prob'ly woulda been only one outta ten youma would have survived all this time, at best, so we owe him just for that."

Marble smirked and shrugged.

"But in any case, first few centuries after gettin' sealed, everyone was 'specting it to fail just any time, and most of th' days was packed with little war games and tournaments an' such, assumin' that at any time we might be able to get back out and retake control of the world, puttin' stuff back into a comfortable order an' shoing out whoever'd been keepin' the brass' seats warm for 'em. Anyway, somehow or another, just a couple hundred years past the sealing, Ranma gets hisself put in charge of a squad of a few weedy youma that nobody else'd wanted on their teams for th' games, and damn if I know how, but in just one year he took 'em to th' biggest damn tournament there was an' won it all. First time anyone thought of lookin' at him as more'n a mobile food supply. As't happens, there's a long damn story after that 'bout how he clawed his way up to bein' a new General through th' cutthroat ladder of Youma politics, but we'd be sittin' here weeks if I laid that all out, so'll just say he damn well earned the spot, an' got my respect for that."

There was a long moment of silence as the senshi digested the tale, expressions ranging through a wide gamut. Disgust and a vague horror were present when they considered that the Moon Queen had essentially botched the sealing enough to throw an infant into a den of hungry wolves, and a sort of awe when they considered that he'd effectively become an alpha of the pack.

"Then... Ranma was human?" Usagi wondered quietly, lost in thought.

"'Was'? Kiddo, every last one of the generals, and th' queen herself was human once, 'fore Mettallia bestowed her Dark Blessing. Lord Ranma's the only one of the bunch that still is human, 'cause he didn't want to take th' personal power boost at the cost of thousands of Youma starvin' to death after he couldn't feed 'em anymore. Now as we're free, that might change, but Mettallia's whimsical at the best o' times. She might just decide she's not gonna help him out, since he declined th' offer through Beryl once already. But yeah, he's still human. Though while that makes him the technically weakest individual of the generals, he makes up for it in sheer cunning, spite, and a lot of little stuff th'others lack. So while they're all stronger... he'd be the most dangerous enemy you could make among 'em."

Marble casually finished off her cigarette and put it out on her palm, licking off the ash.

"But storytimes done now, been here too long already, back t' business. I'll be keeping an eye on you girlies for my Lord, an' dropping a few hints along th' way. Don't expect to have to stop fighting though, just because we have a little agreement. Things need to keep going pretty much as they have been... Beryl gets suspicious when th' status quo changes all of a sudden. Don't worry about killin' the youma pitted gainst' ya neither. Since a while back, we been using Terminals on missions likely to cross with you lot, and every one of them downright begged for the job." Seeing they were puzzled at the reference, Marble elaborated. "Think like Youma with cancer, of a sort. Odds are really good they're gonna die anyway, usually in screaming agony wit' blood gushing outta their pores and their guts rotting while they're still alive, you're just givin' em a quicker and cleaner way out. And lastly, might be dropping one of my Lord's little hints now and again for ya. Can't help too much, you technically being the enemy an' all, but little things, you know? For one, you."

She pointed at Ami.

"You're the one with the computer, right? Y'never thought of using it for anything but scanning for our weaknesses or whatnot? Y'think that's all it can do? Things got access to the primary servers of Mercury, in labs buried miles below th' surface. Should be all kinds of techie magic goodies for ya to drool over there. The computer will lock onto you being the Mercury Senshi and shut off most o' the protections for you, leavin' just a password. As for th' password to get in, well, can't help ya there. You'll just have to hope your past life memory stuff kicks in, I guess."

Shrugging, Marble left as she came, leaving most of the senshi dumbfounded as Ami quickly transformed and manifested the tiny laptop.



Alrighty, it's a new cross thrown into the mix! Yeah. I can see you're enthused. Anyway, wheels keep turning, stuff keeps happening. I totally ripped off the 'Terminals' idea from someone else, because I needed something like that and hey, they fit the bill.

At some point I'm gonna have to write the sidestory of Ranma clawing his way to General, now. Meh.

Pluto will make her appearance at roughly the same time she does in canon.... that arc with the pink time-travelling joke character, I think. She will be very much Not Happy with how her final gambit turned out, but, eh, that's a ways off yet. It'll be another fine monkeywrench in the gears.

So, place your bets, ladies and gentlemen, place your bets! Which of the generals will head out to obliterate the Death Nibblers and He Who Smells Kinda Funny, and approximately how long will it take them to finish the job?